Sunday, February 6, 2011

Burying the Needle - the best games of 2011.

2011 has a lot coming down the pipeline. Stuff I'll be more than glad to day-one, like L.A. Noire, The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim or even Rage - but there are a few that are even more promising. Titles that I can all but guarantee will be absolutely stellar products from stem to stern - to the point that I don't really care to read up on previews of them, because (a) spoilers! and (b) I don't need to be sold on them - I already am.

I'm going to try to cover all of 2011, here - and I'll likely miss some - but I feel it's important to try. Let's take a look-see... five... six? I'm going with five. Now, there are two titles that woulda'-coulda'-shoulda' been on this list, but I decided to leave out, because I feel there is an unacceptable risk that they may not be straight-up incredible. They likely will be - but I can offer no similar guarantees. I'm talking about Rocksteady's follow-up to 2009's Game of the Year contender with Batman: Arkham City, and id Software's first major title since (the criminally underrated) Doom 3 back in 2004, Rage.

Now, let's get to the five titles that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, will rock socks, and blow minds. We'll begin with the one coming up in a mere two months...


PC, PS3, 360

If there's one thing Valve is known for, it's working on games until they're done - that, and never putting out anything but exceptional products. If Portal 2 is even half the game the original was, it will still be one of the better titles this year. Throw in all sorts of delicious extras like a full multiplayer campaign and a free (!) copy of the game on PC for those who buy the PlayStation 3 version, and you've got a nearly unheard-of degree of value for your gaming dollar.

Next up, we have what I must admit is my single most-anticipated game of the year. That becomes a bold statement, when you consider the other titles on this list, but I'm not kidding.



When I first played the Sly titles on PS2, I didn't expect to like 'em nearly as much as I did. A cartoony platformer - these are kids' games! But they more than won me over with capable storytelling, gorgeous art direction, liquid animation and the funnest damn platforming to be had on the PS2.

Still, I wasn't particularly interested in inFamous 2 when it appeared in 2009 - I only bought it because it came with access to the Uncharted 2 multiplayer beta.

I was wrong about Sly, I was colossally wrong about inFamous - and I won't make the same mistake thrice. Sucker Punch are one of Sony's best first-party studios, and one of the single best developers at creating games that are immensely pleasurable, infinitely playable experiences. Their titles simply get more and more fun to play.

I'll say it again: if I could only afford to purchase a single game this year, it would be inFamous 2. Fortunately, I have a job, so Sophie can make her own choice while I enjoy the rest of the games listed here.


PS3, 360

In addition to boasting a fantastically atmospheric fantasy world with weighty, visceral combat, Demon's Souls was perhaps the single most capable full-release console title of carrying the "hardcore" banner. It's very unusual for a third-person game to be so damned immersive, but very few action titles are able to make one feel the icy claws of tension, panick and fear as well as this game did - and none approached the sense of satisfaction achieved from a hard-won victory.

Dark Souls promises more of the same, with a list of welcome improvements and - ha! - an even greater challenge to overcome.


It's worth noting, this trailer is 100% in-engine.

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune raised the bar for presentation in 2007 and Uncharted 2: Among Thieves shattered it in 2009, with voice work, animation and a total mastery of technology which remains the high water mark today, threatened only by Sony Santa Monica's gorgeous God of War III.

Games that rely more heavily on story (RPGs, narrative-driven FPSs, Heavy Rain) still haven't managed to overtake Naughty Dog's dedication to capturing the most natural performances. Titles which pursue visual glory - while still gorgeous - are only gorgeous when not compared to ND's last title, and to top it all off, they're great fun to actually play.

The Uncharted series is nothing but strength upon strength upon strength. Among Thieves was an unmitigated masterpiece, and I expect nothing less from Nathan Drake's third outing.



This is, for a great deal of PS3 gamers, The Big Enchilada of 2011 - the game they've been waiting for since the console's release, since that first image of a chain descending into a stone well.

If you don't know what this is, I'm afraid the English language does not adequately supply me with the words to describe it. Let me merely suggest you play Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, and then say that this is what's next.

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2011: it's going to be amazing.