The Best Games of 2011

by PopMatters Staff

29 January 2012


18 - 13

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The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

US: 20 Nov 2011

Review [26.Jan.2012]


The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

If you’ve ever played a Legend of Zelda game before, you’ve played Skyward Sword. You’re an elf. She’s a princess (or your sister or a goddess or whatever felt interesting to the game designers at the time). She gets captured. Cue heroics.

Maybe it was the release date then, so late in the Nintendo Wii’s lifecycle, or the realization of the dynamic Wii motion controls, but something about Skyward Sword feels different and better. It’s not the graphics, writing, or lack of voice acting, all of which scream “2002!” anytime that you pick up a new object or launch a laughably grainy cut scene. It may be the shift in gameplay to a purely puzzle-based system (gone are the days of galloping through Hyurle Field—now you’re flipping levers at every turn) or the increased difficulty that the motion controls add. All of that is too clinical, though.

Skyward Sword is joyous precisely because you’ve played it before. It’s that batch of chocolate chip cookies that your mom bakes when you come home for Christmas. Though they haven’t changed in decades, they’re still spectacular. Every once in a while, there will be a change to the recipe that just isn’t quite right, but you keep waiting for that batch that comes out perfectly. Skyward Sword is baked just right. Chris Gaerig


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Battlefield 3

(Electronic Arts)
US: 25 Oct 2011

Review [27.Nov.2011]


Battlefield 3

You cannot call Battlefield 3 revolutionary. It’s not. Ostensibly, the game offers only larger levels, drivable vehicles, and better graphics than the industry standard, the long running Call of Duty series. And yet it is without hesitation or sarcasm that I call it the greatest military shooter of all time (this coming from a devout Counter Strike—beginning with Version 1.3—and Call of Duty player).

What’s brilliant about Battlefield 3 is that it’s not about shooting, nor about killing people; it’s a role playing game. The goal of Battlefield 3 is to accomplish objectives toward your team’s ultimate goal without dying, which means everyone has a role to play, and if your team is going to be successful, you kind of have to stick to it. If you’re a sniper, you’re not going to get very many kills but that doesn’t mean you can’t be the most effective member of the team. The game offers the kind of autonomy (largely because of the enormous levels, vehicular battle, environmental interaction, and gameplay style) that is indicative of more classic role playing scenarios. And yet the game shields itself from the kinds of scoffing and dirty looks that an “RPG” gets by presenting the most fluid, stunning, and emotionally disturbing first person shooter ever made.

It’s tough to call the game “important” because, again, it’s not, but it has undoubtedly changed the way that military shooters can and will be made in the future. Chris Gaerig


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Mortal Kombat

(Warner Bros. Interactive)
US: 19 Apr 2011


Mortal Kombat

Mortal Kombat is one of those rare experiences when nostalgia and reality live together in harmony. The game is a fitting tribute to the much loved series and a worthy addition to the competitive fighting game genre.

Although it has many new features, the 2011 version of Mortal Kombat manages to channel the essence of what first drew me to the series in the early 1990s. The violence is as ridiculous as it is graphic. The hypersexualized, campy, and flat out weird character models sprint past the line of good taste. The combos and special moves retain their unique feel. Whereas games like Street Fighter are largely defined by quarter and half-circle sweeps, Mortal Kombat is about quick directional taps and single, well timed uppercuts. Everything that I loved about the early games has been faithfully updated: from the gross-out appeal to the approachable rules, Mortal Kombat remains a thoroughly accessible game.

Watching people play can be as fun as actually participating. For serious players, Mortal Kombat’s appeal has proven to be more than skin deep. The game has appeared at the Evo fighting game tournament and has been covered by the Major League Gaming network. Smart additions like an attack meter that dictates combo breakers and special moves adds deeper tactical elements to the game. At its best, Mortal Kombat is a ludicrously gory chess game, one that honors the series’s legacy. Scott Juster


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  Shadows of the Damned

(Electronic Arts)
US: 21 Jun 2011


Shadows of the Damned

A brash, bizarre, and tragically under selling game from the twisted mind of Suda51, Shadows of the Damned was a refreshingly obnoxious summer release after the too, too polished sequel to Suda’s No More Heroes in 2010.

Suda’s return to form follows the descent of demon hunter Garcia Hotspur into the depths of hell to rescue his girlfriend Paula. As usual, Suda flips the bird at video game conventions and conceits, especially by turning the basic plot of “saving the princess” on its head by the game’s conclusion. The game is full of scatological humor, grotesque enemies and friends, and a fairly engaging bit of hybridized puzzle-shooting mechanics that involve playing with light and darkness. All of this congeals into a grimy, ugly title that fully intends to be as offensive as possible.

Suda, as long as you are around, punk is still not dead. G. Christopher Williams


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Gears of War 3

(Microsoft Studios)
US: 20 Sep 2011


Gears of War 3

“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it” could have been the mantra behind Epic’s latest entry into the incredibly successful Gears of War franchise. Indeed, much of what made the first two games great remains the same.

The studio delivers cover-based level design as solid as ever and the enjoyability and lethality of the iconic Lancer chainsaw-gun persists. Yet in many ways Gears of War is more daring than either of its predecessors. Tower-defense elements make their way into the game’s traditional Horde mode, offering players a chance to barricade safe zones with barbed wire, to take out armies of Lambent with gatling guns, or even to create a devastating mech-suit with which to mow down enemies, all of which make horde mode more thrilling, engaging, and interesting than its earlier incarnations.

In Beast mode, players turn the tables and control ever more impressive Locust troops, ranging from the infamous tickers to the new Giant Serapede or Berserker, designed to eviscerate AI humans and their constructions. One round of Beast mode will leave you wishing it were part of a much larger competitive multiplayer that pitted locust players against human players instead of just AI.

Epic also surprised players with a far richer narrative experience than the first Gears games and showed that with a little tact, they could actually pull off a moment of sadness and vulnerability within the “shit, yeah!” mood of the franchise. Gears of War 3 manages to tell an inglorious and tragic war story without ever diminishing the rock solid and thrilling gameplay that we know and love. Jorge Albor


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Deus Ex: Human Revolution

(Square Enix)
US: 23 Aug 2011

Review [25.Aug.2011]


Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Rebooting a franchise with a prequel that appears 11 years after its predecessor was released seems like a recipe for mediocrity, but Deus Ex: Human Revolution more than rises to the challenge. In fact, that long wait works to its advantage. As a prequel to a decade old game, Human
evokes that old-school cyber-punk sci-fi that you just don’t see anymore. It wears its influences on its sleeve, but it combines those influences with a unique score and visual style to create a game that feels both familiar and new.

But style wouldn’t matter if it didn’t play well. Human Revolution successfully mixes multiple genres (it’s a stealth/shooter/RPG), and the clever level design ensures that there are always multiple solutions to any problem. Boss fights aside (and the last one really isn’t that bad), this is absolutely one of the best games of the year. Nick Dinicola

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