Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Top of the Scots 2011 | The Best Games

Video games, guys!

I know they aren't for everyone, and I can sympathise with why that's the case for so many folks - particularly having watched someone new to current-gen consoles try to navigate the first few levels of a certain game on my recommendation, I can sympathise - but you must all know where I stand by now: I... I like to play.

In point of fact, I play video games almost every day. And I don't restrict myself to RPGs, or first-person shooters, or racing games, or any such specific thing; in my book, pretty much every genre is fair game for gaming.

So what follows is as comprehensive a list as possible of some of the most memorable experiences I've had with this emerging medium I and others like me hold dear in the past year.

The Best of the Best

5. Dead Space 2
dev. Visceral Games

Who would have believed a game as truly, madly, deeply derivative as Dead Space - which was equal parts Alien and Event Horizon - could spawn a sequel quite so exhilarating as Dead Space 2?

I didn't dare to dream, so when I laid hands on this sequel - the first notable sequel of the year for me - I wasn't expecting much more than a bit of silly fun in space, with aliens. Perhaps better zero-g sequences than the initial game in this frantic new franchise featured.

Well I got that. I also got fun in space, with aliens, almost exactly as I'm imagined, but as it happened, Dead Space 2 wasn't so silly. It wasn't so silly at all. Narratively, I admit, it was still a little on the derivative side, but I had such an thrilling and indeed chilling time with the latest effort from EA's Visceral Games that it'd be criminal of me to overlook it just because it came out in January.

Now the wait begins for Dead Space 3...

4. L. A. Noire
dev. Team Bondi

Oh, L. A. Noire.

It was a long road, wasn't it? And a hard road, by all accounts. Was it nine years? Was it as long as that? In any event, eventually Team Bondi did let you loose into the big wide world... and what a game changer you would have been, if you'd only gotten out of the gate a bit quicker!

I declare L. A. Noire this year's Heavy Rain. Which is to say: too late, but not - as it transpired - too little. In fact if L. A. Noire had been a bit shorter - if those last desks had been DLC, or a sequel - I think it would have placed higher on this list.

But them's the breaks, eh?

3. Deus Ex: Human Revolusion
 dev. Eidos Montreal

Truth be told, I don't hold the original Deus Ex in particularly high regard. Make no mistake, it was a great game, but a couple of year behind the curve as ever, I came to it a little late, by which time several other games I'd played had co-opted Deus Ex's most meaningful innovations.

Does it follow, then, that I didn't hate Deus Ex: Invisible War the way pretty much everyone else who played it did? I don't know. It felt like a very different sort of game anyway, and Deus Ex: Human Revolution is in that sense much the same species of sequel.

But it's been in excess of ten years since the original Deus Ex. Gaming has changed, and I don't think many people would have welcomed the slavishly faithful successor to the first game that some folks had been hungering for very vocally.

What we got instead, in the form of a prequel rather than a straight-up sequel, was more than I for one could have hoped for: a fully formed RPG open to pretty much any sort of playstyle you please. I went for stealth. You could have gone guns blazing, or hack your way through the hardest scenarios. Would that there were more of these sorts of options in gaming today; above all else, that's what I had hoped for from this generation. But no. I got scripted sequences instead.

Long story shot, if you haven't played Deus Ex: Human Revolution yet, I really would urge you to. And if you have?

Well, you could always play it again, Sam! :)

For more on Deus Ex: Human Revolution, read the full review here.

2. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
dev. Bethesda Softworks

What in the name of all that's good and true can I possibly say about The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim that hasn't already been said a hundred hundred times over before I even thought to think it?

Probably not a whole lot. So let's skip the bit where I tell you why Skyrim is one of my favourite games of the year; you must have known it was going to be, given how scarce I've been since the hallowed day of its release on 11/11/11.

As a matter of fact Skyrim isn't the sole reason I've found myself short on time to devote to TSS, but I'll be the first to admit I'm a bit addicted. This fifth game in The Elder Scrolls saga must be the finest of them all, and I'm only 20 hours in... that is to say, 20 hours or thereabouts.

I have so much to say about Skyrim that I can't even begin to express how utterly malevolent/magnificent it is in this small space. But there's going to come a time, and it's going to come sooner than you might think, when you'll all be sick and tired of me banging on about Mammoth Cheese, underwater foxes, and other such delights to be discovered across the length and breadth of the vast, snow-capped fantasy kingdom Bethesda has put together for our pleasure.

For the moment, you must just trust me: Skyrim is quite simply staggering.

But if I'm not going to tip the top hat in Skyrim's general direction - and considering that I still haven't sat down with the games discussed in the Glaring Oversights section - there can be only one other contender for my game of the year.

1. Portal 2
dev. Valve

Portal 2 is not massive, like Skyrim.

Portal 2 is enough of a throwback that it has levels. Quite a few of them, but my point still stands: where Skyrim is staggering in its immensity, first and foremost amongst all its many, many features, Portal 2 will wow you in a whole other way.

Sure, size matters. But it's not all that matters. And Portal 2 doesn't need to pose just so in a shaft of particularly flattering light to look impressive next to my number two.

Truth be told I thought Portal 2 was going to be a huge disappointment. It wasn't, obviously, but initially I'd have rather had Half-Life 2: Episode 3 at long goddamn last than this platformer come physics-sim sequel. For all that Portal the first was wonderful, I struggled to imagine how Valve could expand on such a brief experience without sacrificing some of what had made it so memorable.

I was wrong to be so cynical. After all, when have Valve ever disappointed me?

Portal 2 certainly didn't disappoint. I doubt it'll have the crossover appeal that the first game in the series did, simply because of its substantially increased length, but the mind-bending puzzles are back, and better than ever; GladOS and her passive aggressive comments are always an acerbic pleasure; and Wheatley should go down in history as the best video game villain in years. Sharp writing, mind-melting puzzles, smart character development, and the perfect balance of old and new secured Portal 2 a place in my heart from almost the moment I sat down with it in March.

And then I played the co-op.

If there had been any doubt in my mind that this would be a serious contender for my game of the year, it was gone as of that moment. Portal 2 takes the cake for all the evenings my significant other and I spent together on the sofa, puzzling our way through one impossible challenge after another and playing rock paper scissors with our co-op robots. They were the best of times, replete with memories to treasure.

The many hours I gave over to Portal 2 are among the finest I've ever devoted to any video game. So: it's my Game of the Year.


Dead Island is fundamentally pretty dull, not a little bit broken, and comes complete with a storyline so dreadful that I had to purposefully distract myself from it to keep playing. 

But you know what? I am a master of distraction, and I managed to have a hell of a time with Dead Island anyway. It's Oblivion by way of the zombie apocalypse on a tropical resort, and maybe now that Skyrim's come along and embarrassed the pants off my expectations of open-world RPGs I'd be less forgiving of its many and various faults... but back then?

Back then I couldn't have hoped for more.

For more on Dead Island, read the full review here.

Biggest Disappointment

Let me be quite clear here. Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception is a very good game.

So why's it my biggest disappointment of the year in video games?

Because Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was a truly great game, and moreover it demonstrated such a drastic improvement over the first Uncharted that I had hoped - more fool me - this second sequel would come on in similar leaps and bounds. It didn't. Instead, to my surprise, those few new features it had - or had more of than either of the games which came before it - were features I'd really have gone without: the interminable chase sequences, the new and supposedly improved shooting systems, and so on.

Saying that, you should still totally play it.

For more on Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, read the full review here.

Glaring Oversights

What can I say?

I blame Skyrim entirely.

Just as soon as I can find the time, I'll be on both of these games like a rash. I've played a very little of Batman: Arkham City already, and been a very little disappointed... but I know not to speak too soon. Meanwhile I'm incredibly excited to give myself over to the charms of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, the Wii's swan-song as I see it. Too little, too late? Well we'll see.

But in the interim, Skyrim.

Final Thoughts

Though the influx of triple-A games in October and November shows no sign of slowing down, I am at least pleased to see a few heavy hitters appearing through the rest of year, beginning with Dead Space 2 in January, taking in my Game of the Year in March, and culminating in the dead zone that the summer months still are, sadly.

In an ideal world I'd be drip-fed quality video games all year round, but to be honest there wasn't exactly a shortage of incredible experiences to be had - some of the highlights of which I've still to have - with a mouse or controller in hand in 2011. I truly do believe that video games are improving year on year, and I hope that their potential reach hasn't been completely co-opted by the likes of Call of Duty and Battlefield 3. Fine games in their own right, but the medium has so much more to offer than shooting dudes in the face exponentially less credible locations and situations, as discussed above.

Don't you think?

Anyway, I'm quite convinced I'm missing something in this list, particularly given that I'm a console gamer rather than a PC player, so please, ladies and gentlemen: do chime in in the comments with a few of your favourite games from this fine year.


  1. Good post, great list and fine (on a personal level) argumentation. I haven't played ANY of those games you mentioned mostly because it has been a very hectic, tiring and busy year for me but I think I can identify with you as a gamer (an old gamer). Oh and what about Witcher 2 ? As I said I haven't played a single 2011 game this year but I have heard and read quite some glowing reviews about it.
    So can we expect some more game reviews soon ? ;)

  2. Absolutely, Antonakis! Lots more game reviews to come on TSS, once all the holiday stuff is out of the way... and indeed, there's sure to be something else game-related too; something huge in the offing that I alluded to in the bit about Skyrim.

    As to The Witcher 2: I can hardly wait to play it, but sadly, I've had to. I'm afraid my PC just isn't up to snuff, spec-wise. On the bright side, I understand that it's coming to consoles, and if and when it does, I'll be there on day one.

  3. Don't know if U3 deserves to be the biggest disappointment, if I compared it directly to U2 I'd maybe even say it's the better game. People just had crazy expectations...
    Now, Dragon Age 2, that's a game that earned that title. That was a truly terrible game... And, sadly, after what we've seen so far, I expect the same from Mass Effect 3. Oh, BioWare...

    I've played (or at least tried) all the games you mention and I liked most of them (Skyrim and LA Noire being the exceptions), though I might not put them in my personal top list. All in all it's been a fantastic year in gaming and I can't wait for 2012 and the begining of the next generation.

    And The Witcher 2 is one of the best games of the year for me, I'd only place it a bit behind Dark Souls. It was totaly worth building up a super computer just so I could play it on Ultra settings with ubersampling on. So beautiful :)
    (I think the 360 release date is Q1 2012, so you won't have to wait that long)

  4. I had a blast with Dragon Age 2 when I wasn't at all expecting to. Skyrim has been eating my life away though.

    Battlefield 3 is some of the most fun I've had in multiplayer (particularly with a squad of 3 friends) in a while. It definitely sates my need to see things go boom.

    Have you given Bastion a try?

  5. I'm pretty much counting the days until the college quarter ends and I can get my hands on Skyrim. I plan to head to the game shop directly from my last final. Your write-up makes me even more excited. I can't wait to see what this mammoth cheese is all about...

  6. @Severian - I hear you loud and clear about Dragon Age 2. A horrible game, going from what I played of it. The 10 hours I gave it, before I finally gave in - and it's rare that I admit defeat like that - made me very sad indeed, particularly given how promising the first in the series had been.

    I'm more hopeful about Mass Effect 3, though. The talk about co-op and multiplayer modes hasn't bothered me as much as it seems to have most folks; if they're truly additional features, as the developers insist, then it's no skin off my nose, you know? Then again, after Dragon Age 2, I wouldn't put another bait-and-switch past BioWare...

  7. @kingofthenerds - I have indeed. Beat the thing back when it came out, in the middle of the so-called Summer of Arcade... but I didn't adore Bastion in the way so many game commentators did. The have-it-your-way narration was brilliant, for sure, but the game itself just didn't grab me.

    Saying that, I did consider a few downloadable games for inclusion in Top of the Scots this year: a bullet-hell platformer and a God game, of all things. Neither quite made it through the final cut, but I'd urge you to try both Outland and From Dust if you haven't already, Mike.

  8. @Ryan - So I take it we'll see you in, oh... two or three hundred hours, or thereabouts? :P

    Hell of a game.

    Just... a hell of a game.

    That said, don't buy into all the hype about Skyrim; at the end of the day, it's basically more Oblivion. Incrementally better than Oblivion in almost every way, but still, more of the same.

  9. My stack of shame is rather large at this point adding more titles to it now won't hurt ;) I think I fell in love with the music in Bastion more than the game itself.

  10. My PC-centric top 5, in no particular order: Terraria, Witcher 2, Skyrim, Bastion, and umm, Battlefield 3.

    That said, I have a huuuuge pile of shame, including Arkham City and Saints Row III, so things may change.

    I barely played any console games this year - I think my PS3 was on for about 10 hours for a bit of Disgaea (more of the same) and that's about it.

  11. Yeah, that sounds accurate. Still about a week away from getting my hands on that one though.

    I hope the main quest on Skyrim is improved from Oblivion, because I thought that one was pretty boring and repetitive. Even with a lame main plot, I still logged many long hours with the side quests, so I'm sure I'll be entertained one way or the other.

  12. To all those who haven't played ARKHAM CITY yet, go play it! You won't be disappointed. However, I should say that ARKHAM CITY lacks the unique things that ARKHAM ASYLUM had, but does things that ARKHAM ASYLUM would have feared to do; that goes for story, controls, immersion, you name it! All this wrapped in the faintly ludicrous idea of a city for supervillians, and bam! You got your most entertaining experience of Batman since the Brave and the Bold.

    As to my own merits, I dearly want to play WITCHER 2. Nothing but good things I've heard from that game, but I have neither the time nor the inclination to plomp down my hard-earned dollar for a new gaming rig. Alas, I'll have to wait for it a little while longer...

    LittleBigPlanet 2 is a game that came out this year, too; a video game, I think, that people should not forget. The sheer amount of levels available to play from the self-sustaining community is incredible.

    As for an official games year-end list, I haven't decided yet. Stay with me on that one.

  13. Skyrim will certainly end up being my favorite game of the year, although I don't believe I'll have finished with it by the time the year comes to a close. I am having way too much fun savoring the experience. If only more games were like this. Then again if they were I would get no sleep, would be a vegetable at work, and I would never read nor blog again.

    L.A. Noire was fantastic, a really enjoyable experience. I went through it way too fast but with downloadable content and a little time to forget some of the story lines I will be able to replay it with enjoyment.

    Rage might find its way on my list too if I had more time to play it. I got it late and started it just before Skyrim came out and now all my gaming time is devoted to that game.

  14. Completely forgot about LBP2 since it came out so early in the year, but it's definitely one of the best games of the year.

    And with Skyward Sword now completed I've played all the major realeases of the year, so here's my list.
    1.Dark Souls
    2.Witcher 2
    4.Zelda - Skyward Sword
    5.LittleBigPlanet 2
    6.Uncharted 3
    7.Ghost Trick
    8.Rayman Origins
    9.Deus Ex - Human Revolution
    10.Super Mario 3D Land

    I've left out indies and the various HD collections that came out this year, to make it somewhat manegable.

  15. Marduk/An0mand3r Rak38 December 2011 at 01:11

    Huzzah! Portal 2! Nice, I picked it and yes totally agreed, GOTY ;-)

    Did Gears of War 3 come close to making your list Niall? It's definitely the best GoW game and a nice ending to the trilogy I thought.... at the moment I'm quite enjoying replaying Halo in HD and I had a ridiculous amount of fun flying around New Marais as Cole in inFamous 2, loved that game!

  16. I found myself quite disappointed by Portal 2. That is, I did enjoy it at the time, but only moderately, and it is completely beyond me what the hype is all about. The humour and story are solid entertainment value while you play it, but completely forgettable afterwards. The game is in principle like a mini-game. It was perfect in the compact form of Portal 1. It may may be worth revisiting, with a couple of new tricks, but I wouldn`t list it among favourites or inspirational titles. There`s simply nothing outstanding here, apart from that it`s well-done and kind of has its own style. Maybe that`s just me.

  17. Marduk/An0mand3r Rak39 December 2011 at 01:07

    Oh and did no one like Crysis 2? Personally I thought it one of the best shooters of the year, for sure...

  18. @Ryan - You needn't worry, sir. From what I've played of it, the main quest in Skyrim is much improved over the mess I ended up skipping in Oblivion.

  19. @Marduk - Gears of War 3 came close, but in the end I had to drop it when I started thinking about all the awesome stuff that had come out before the holiday rush of AAA games.

    I'd have picked it over Crysis 2 as well, but of course I had a tremendous time with Crisis 2 too, except for the lukewarm story I had such high hopes for.

    So many great games this year, it really was difficult to pare my list down to five. An odd and not entirely unpleasant problem to have, that! :)

  20. @jc - Think I'm going to have give Terraria a go; it's the only game on your list I haven't played, and though I've only finished a few of them, I remember the rest being pretty great.

    Speaking of PC games: has anyone had a shot of To The Moon yet? Read a review of it on Giant Bomb the other days and it sounds right up my street!

  21. @Severian - Yay, Ghost Trick! Now there's a game I'd totally forgotten. I don't think it'd have made my list even if I had remembered, what with all its zaniness... but oh, what fun!

    I'm hoping against hope to hear news of a sequel some day soon. Saying that I don't think it did well enough sales-wise to warrant one...

  22. Great choice on choosing Portal 2 for the number 1 place... It really deserves it, the game play and scenes are beautiful.. Although, I have to disagree with you about Uncharted... It was really good.. and should of bee at least in the top 5.. Come on! Hehe

  23. To be honest, and I know you hate Oblivion for some reason, but I didn't like Skyrim because I kept comparing it to Oblivion. I really liked Oblivion, so Skyrim came as a sort of disappointment. I mean, sure, it has a good story and all, but it's incredibly overrated in comparison to Oblivion.