Games of the Year (So Far) 2011, Part I

Before I hit the festivities, an anecdote. I’m doing a feature for which I asked Firaxis if I could interview someone from the Civ World team. Today I got put into a conference call with Sid Meier. I think it went pretty well and the story will be better for it, but I’m not above being a bit starstruck. It was great talking to such a gaming icon.

Moving on…

We’re about midway through the year now, and it seemed like a good time to revisit some of my favorite games this year. This is helpful later in the year when I look back to make my top picks for all of 2011, plus it’s a fun mid-year exercise.

For tonight, I’m going to highlight the big “triple-A” releases. Later this week I’ll be visiting portables, downloadables, and overlooked games. Also, these aren’t games I’d call flawless, just ones with interesting features worth talking about.

LA Noire – This game has its share of problems — it doesn’t feel naturally open-world and the story is too rigid to allow branching investigations — but as an ambitious project with some amazing technology, it stands out.

Mortal Kombat – You could not possibly have been more skeptical about this game than I was, but it totally won me over with solid fight mechanics and a genuinely good story mode that I hope other fighters will imitate.

Dragon Age 2 – Despite its less-than-epic story and copy-paste dungeons, I really enjoyed this game for its characterization. BioWare paints interesting personalities, and allows a great sense of gray morality that I just don’t see in other games. Even Mass Effect choices tend to be pretty clearly good or evil, but Dragon Age presents issues with moral ambiguity.

Dead Space 2 – I’m in the tank for Dead Space. This is one of only two games on my list that I turned around and immediately played again after finishing it. You don’t play Dead Space games to finish them, you play Dead Space games to finish them twice.

Portal 2 – By far the clear winner of my GOTY so far, probably amid all categories. Impeccably written, amazingly balanced, and just such a fine attention to craft and detail. This is the other game I played again immediately after finishing it, and I could go back to it right now and have a blast even though I know all the solutions. Just fantastic.

  • I figured the PSN Welcome Back program would be a nice success for Sony, but I didn’t think it would be this successful. Even not counting the freebies, they saw a sales bump over March. They say there’s no such thing as bad press, right?
  • Purple Rain. Get it? Get it? I skipped Kenshi, but I might be tempted to pick up Rain. I’m a sucker for the ninja characters. I still have no idea who the fourth character might be, but I’m not exactly intimately familiar with MK lore.
  • If Dishonored delivers on these flexible stealth mechanics, it could give that genre the shot in the arm it’s needed for years. Unfortunately, games require extremely complicated mechanics to be so complex that humans can’t see around them, so it’s a hard trick to pull off. Here’s hoping!

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