I started writing about videogames, oh so long ago, because I wanted to help people connect with games that would make them happy. I believe, down to the core of my being, that the escapism that videogames provide can make your life better, if you just find the right game for you. That’s why I wanted to become a game reviewer in the first place, and I’m thrilled that I get to do it on a regular basis.
But that’s not who I am right now.
Right now, I’m not trying to maintain objectivity or give all games a fair shake. Right now, I’m just being Susan the Gamer, and gushing to you about my Five Favorite games I played all year. These aren’t necessarily the best games of the year (though you could make that argument for some of them), they’re just the ones I enjoyed the most. These are the ones I’ll be thinking about after we’ve flipped the calendar over to 2012, and they’ll still be making me smile.
Favorites are personal things, of course, so make sure you share your own list in the comments. And if you haven’t given these games a try, now’s the perfect time!
5. Child of Eden (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)
This was the year that Microsoft’s motion controller, Kinect, really came into its own as a valuable member of your entertainment center, with games like The Gunstringer, Dance Central 2, and hippie-trippy shooter Child of Eden. You can play it with a controller, but this spiritual successor to Rez is best experienced by letting Kinect make you part of the game itself. Motion controls often feel either gimmicky or shoehorned in, but in this case, they are organic, elevating the experience to something more than simply shooting down targets while techno music plays in the background. I forget that I’m playing a game when I’m diving through Child of Eden, as the barriers between me and the game world disappear. It sure doesn’t hurt that the game is also easy both on the eyes and the ears, with a killer soundtrack and visuals that look like they were pulled from a dream. (Ok, yes, a dream brought on by taking way too many drugs, but still. Gorgeous.)
4. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective (DS)
“Quirky” is a word that tends to get tossed around a lot by the other Escapist editors when they attempt to describe my taste in games. I think that’s just their way of politely calling me a total freakazoid, but they’re certainly not wrong when it comes to puzzle game Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, which is pretty wackadoo. The object of the game is to find out who murdered you before your sunup, which is when your spirit will go poof, forever rendering you an ex-person. The puzzles, in which you must suss how to use nearby objects to propel your noncorporeal self across the room, are both inventive and genuinely funny. A game about solving your own murder could’ve been depressing, but Ghost Trick has an endearingly weird sense of humor that matches perfectly with its eye-catching art style – exactly what you’d expect from the team behind Phoenix Wright. I use my DS a lot for gaming, and it was great to have an option that wasn’t a traditional adventure game, wasn’t a sprite-driven RPG, and wasn’t a match-three puzzler. Ghost Trick is definitely quirky, and I mean that as a compliment.
3. Dead Island (PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)
I’m a simple girl, really. Stuff a game full of enough of the kinds of things I like and I’ll probably love it. Survival horror? Great idea. Questing? Naturally. Loot? Well, that goes with the questing. Crafting? I admit, I do have a weakness for that, yes. Zombies? Would it be inappropriate to hug you?
Dead Island is a bit of a buggy mess and I still don’t really understand why, in the middle of a zombie outbreak, I was supposed to be fetching things to make convicted felons a bit more comfortable in prison (seriously, dude, get your own drugs), but none of that mattered as I hacked away at the undead with an electrified machete that I’d made myself. I had so much fun scrounging for materials that I ended up carrying around souped-up weapons I never even used, simply because I found the recipe to make them. Yes, the game’s pacing is wonky round the middle, but my shotgun set people on fire.
Like I said, I’m a simple girl.
2. Bastion (PC, Xbox 360, Chrome)
Every year, I have a game that I tell people is really, really great, and they never quite believe me. Then they play it, and discover that you should always listen to me about these kinds of things. (Really, you should.) Two years ago, it was Plants vs Zombies, last year, it was Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, and this year, it’s Bastion. Now, you’ve probably heard of Bastion, and maybe put off playing it because, hey, it’s just a downloadable action RPG, and you’ve played a bunch of those already, and can it really be that damn good? Yes, it really can.
Bastion is worth your notice just for its fantastic artwork and brilliant soundtrack, but the way it chooses to spin out its story is what really makes it special. A gravelly-voice narrator relates the game’s events as they happen, providing hints about the history of Caelondia and the catastrophic event known as the Calamity. As you fight your way through gasbags and anklegators, you realize that as monumental as your actions may seem to you, they’re really just one very tiny part of a much larger picture. You’re not hit over the head with how you’re The Hero or how Everything Depends on You, you just move on to the next task, because the world isn’t going to rebuild itself. So many RPGs ramp up the drama to absurd heights, but Bastion stays grounded. Maybe you can’t save the whole world, but you can save this one tiny piece of it.
1. Skyrim (PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)
My favorite game of 2011 should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention. You already know the big reasons why I – and a bunch of the other editors here at The Escapist – love Skyrim, but let me tell you some of the little reasons. I love how fluid and snakelike the dragons are as they crouch down to burn my short little hero to a crisp, or the way they move their wings to counterbalance as they lean forward for an attack. I love how attached I’ve become to my dumb lug of a follower, Benor. (His reaction to pretty much everything is “Wow.” It’s really very Keanu.) I love how happy my Flame Atronach looks as she glides across the floor like some kind of demonic ice skater, and I love how Khajits always refer to themselves in third person. Skyrim is buggy, pretty much every guard in The Reach took an arrow in the knee at some point, and the bears are just jerks. It’s an imperfect world, but one that I will enjoy inhabiting for years to come.
And there you go, my five favorite games of the year. If you haven’t played them, you should. Be sure to check out the Favorites from the other editors; they may not be quirky, but they’ve got some good games on there, anyway.