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Tradition obliges that at the end of the year, we list the best of what we experienced. Plus, list articles are super easy. Especially when you’ve started your New Year’s celebratory drinking about 10 hours early.

What I remember most about 2011 is that it was pretty sparse up until the last quarter. Gamers will solemnly remember the painful drought of games this past summer. It was so bad, people were actually talking about games like Catherine and El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron as if they were actually fucking good. Then, the video game industry blew a hot load of awesomesauce all over our faces just in time for the holiday season. I can’t remember the last time so many great games were released in such a short span. Normally, everyone is afraid to compete with the latest installment of Call of Duty and pushes their release back to January. Not this year. 2011 was the year the industry told MW to go fuck itself, and we were all the better for it.

Oh, and MW3 still shattered like every conceivable sales record. But there were other awesome games too! Look!

Warning! Mad spoilers ahead!

5. Gears of War 3 – Breakneck Run

Gears of War 3 managed to be even more over-the-top than its predecessors, and that’s nowhere more apparent than in the level Breakneck Run. This is basically Michael Bay: The Videogame. The level is all rail-shooter, as you’re riding on the back of a truck wielding a Vulcan cannon with unlimited ammo. You liquefy endless streams of Reavers, Corpsers, and grubs, all while basically everything around you explodes. There’s so much testosterone flowing that Anya somehow grows a dick, then promptly uses it to skull-fuck a Grenadier to death. The absurd finale is the vehicular Brumak decapitation. I can’t even describe it. Just watch the video.

4. Assassin’s Creed: Revelations – The Mentor’s Return

If you read my review of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, you’d remember that I mentioned this level specifically as one of my favorite things about the game. The genius comes from the emotional build-up far more than the gameplay. At this point, the elderly Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad isn’t capable of the dramatic parkour death-dealing of his youth. You must slowly shamble your way up the path to Masyaf, making sure to only kill those guards who have broken the Creed. As you limp along, members of the Assassins flock to your cause. They take up arms at your side and kill anyone who would raise a sword to you. The action builds to your final confrontation with Abbas, the man who betrayed you and nearly destroyed the Assassins. Needless to say, he learned far too late that the Apple of Eden was more than just a sorcerer’s trick.

 3. Portal 2 – Ending

Portal 2 may have been the most well-written game that came out this year. It was equal parts hilarious, intense, and genuinely touching. I’m sure there’s about a billion Cave Johnson quotes that people will list as the best thing about the game, but I actually thought the ending was an amazing payoff. I may have been somewhat…er…altered while playing, but I swear the turret symphony had me laughing to the point of tears. In fact, watching it now and mostly sober, it still warms my heart. Shit man, that was such a good game.

2. Batman: Arkham City – Death of a Princess and a Prince

Not since Heavy Rain have I been so thoroughly depressed after beating a game. I alluded to it in my review. Batman is helpless to stop Joker from killing Talia al Ghūl, the mother of his son. Then, in the ensuing battle, Joker manages to destroy the antidote that would save his life. As Batman watches Joker die at his feet, he admits that he would have saved him. Joker laughs as hard as ever, seeing the dark humor in his fate. However, it’s the things that go unsaid that make this so painful to watch. Despite everyone thinking that Batman saved the day – he stopped Hugo Strange from murdering thousands of people – in his heart he knows that he failed. He failed to save Hugo Strange from being murdered by Rā’s al Ghūl. He failed to save Talia from the Joker. He even failed to save Joker from himself. With his jaw clenched tight, he grimly walks away from Arkham City without even glancing at Jim Gordon. He failed them all, and their blood will always stain his hands.

1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – EVERYTHING

There’s nothing new I can say about Skyrim. It’s the most awesome fucking game ever. Want to go slay dragons? Go nuts. Would you rather spend hours honing your blacksmithing? You can do that too. Do you feel the need to alphabetize the bookshelf in your home? Yep, you can even do that. Would you like to live out those dark, serial-killer fantasies you’re afraid to tell your therapist about? Um…one guy did that. One is enough, though. The point is, you can basically do whatever the hell you want. I haven’t put nearly as much time into the game as my friends, with maybe a meager 20 hours of gameplay, but I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the game’s surface. As far as value goes, you will not get more entertainment out of one $60 video game. I have actually had to have internal conversations with myself, weighing the pros and cons of calling out sick from work and potentially getting fired just so I can stay home and play Skyrim. If that’s not a rousing endorsement, I don’t know what is.

Happy New Year, everyone. We’re gonna kick off 2012 with a bang next week, so check back frequently for updates!*

All future updates to the website are subject to the author’s current level of Skyrim addiction. Jared’s current level is “when is the last time you brushed your teeth?”

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