The Greatest Games of 2011 (That You Probably Didn’t Play)
(This is another edition of </RANT>, a weekly opinion piece column on GameFront. Check back every week for more. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not reflect those of GameFront.)
It’s the end of yet another year, and that means it’s time for arbitrary and pointless reflection, as if the last twelve months actually meant something and didn’t exist simply as a means of employing structure in a world that respects only chaos and meaninglessness. Or something equally depressing. Anyway, the point is that it’s time to look back on the year with misty eyes and reflect on the things that have passed before looking forward to another year of the same old bollocks.
2011 was one of the most packed years of releases I can remember in a long time. The so-called “Years of Threes” saw a ludicrous amount of sequels including Dead Space 2, Killzone 3, Gears of War 3, Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3, and Saints Row: The Third. Big franchises, big names, and big publishers dominated these past months. However, like all years, there were games that did not enjoy the huge marketing dollars and excessive spotlights afforded to such powerful properties, and these are the games we would like to pay homage to today. Some of them are obscure and indie, while others you may have heard of, or may even have had the backing of a big publisher, but soon became forgotten in the avalanche of software. If you’ve got some Christmas money in your pocket, a number of these titles may be just the thing you need.
There are weird indie games, and then there are f***ing weird indie games, and Cargo! Quest For Gravity is a definite candidate for the latter. The aim of the game is to build exciting vehicles using a system ganked from Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts and ride around a bizarre island presided over by large God-like masks. These vehicles are used to entice small, bald, naked midgets who will latch onto them and have fun. In Cargo’s world, “fun” is a form of currency, used to advance the game’s progress. Buried within all this nonsense is a strangely allegorical story with Biblical themes and abstract satire.
The game has its flaws — despite all its oddness, player interaction with the world is somewhat limited and there’s not a lot to do beyond building contraptions and driving around. However, for the sheer entertainment and novelty value, Cargo is worth picking up and experiencing. It’s enjoying a 75% discount on Steam right now, and it’s well worth the price.
I was so stoked for Aliens: Infestation that I dedicated an entire column to it on this very site, but something tells me not many of you picked it up. You should. Infestation is the first truly great Aliens game to come out in years, and its atmospheric environments, tense gameplay, and frighteningly tough boss fights makes for an experience that should appeal even to non-Xenomorph fans. Of course, if you happen to be a big Alien fan like myself, it just makes the experience better. It’s packed with references to the movies (there’s even a Bishop knife trick minigame) and the Metroid-like exploration gameplay compliments the foreboding feeling perfectly. It’s incredibly fitting to see a Metroid-style game set in the Aliens universe, since Metroid itself borrowed so heavily from the movie franchise. Now that the two concepts have merged, it’s a beautiful thing.
Infestation is not particularly long, and I’d have loved for more to be done with the interesting character system. If one of your Marine’s dies, he dies for good, and you need to find someone to replace him — a brilliant idea, but you can only collect four Marines at a time, and they don’t really have any differences between them outside of character portraits and stock phrases. Still, you can likely pick this one up at a bargain price and you definitely ought to.
Suda 51 directing, Shinji Mikami producing, Akira Yamaoka composing, what could go wrong? Well, for Shadows of the Damned … quite a bit! Shadows of the Damned has its issues — its graphics are muddy, it suffers from screen tearing, there are glitches, and the whole thing is quite linear and short. Yet … it’s so f***ing brilliant. Despite the banal dick jokes and Mexican stereotyping, Shadows of the Damned is a surprisingly, genuinely funny game, with an honest sense of fun and silliness that betrays the violent bloodshed on offer. This is a game in which a goat-headed demon rides a horse that sh*ts darkness, eats the horses heart, grows ten stories tall, and then pisses darkness into a fountain to create a darkness cloud. It’s a game that features a boy dressed as a crow who can only scream “F*** you” at the people he meets. Oh, and the final boss is obsessed with genitalia.
Underneath the insanity, however, is a solid little shooter that turns ordinary and mundane gameplay mechanics into moments of hilarity. Finding keys to put into doors is boring. Finding strawberries to stuff into the mouths of demonic baby heads? Inspired! This is all before we get to the music, which is some of the best you’ll find in a videogame this year. It’s Yamaoka, after all.
Shadows of the Damned needs to be played to be believed, and if you can forgive its many problems, the rewards are abundant.
Perhaps the most high profile game on this list, Kirby Mass Attack is nonetheless easy to overlook due to it releasing on the Nintendo DS and quickly getting overshadowed by everything else that released toward the end of the year. Still, I cannot say enough good things about it. Perhaps the best DS game ever made, this unique title splits Kirby into ten swarming little puffballs. The way they crawl onto enemies to pummel them to death is somewhat dark and disturbing, but it’s loads of fun regardless. Some of the boss fights are especially inventive, with players needing to learn when to attack and when to call the Kirby army off in order to avoid counters.
As well as a chunky main game, the wealth of minigames on offer is ridiculous. Mass Attack contains a full-fledged shmup, a pinball machine, and even a miniature turn-based RPG. There’s a boatload of content, and all of it’s pretty marvelous. If you have a DS of some variety and you don’t have this game, you’re doing it wrong. So very, very wrong.
Some people dislike this game, but I think it’s a pretty fabulous throwback to the simple era of wave-based first-person-shooters. A whole bunch of developers responsible for Bulletstorm and Painkiller came together to make this, a game about shooting robots and … shooting robots. Although there are only two guns (one for bullets, one for electricity), each one is modified over the course of the experience to throw out different types of ammunition. By the end of the game, you’ll have a machine gun that’s also a shotgun that’s also a rocket launcher, sat next to an electricity cannon that’s also a railgun, that’s also The Force.
Hard Reset is pretty challenging, and it’s the kind of challenge that invites one to replay stages and do better. Considering the game’s only four hours long, that replay value’s pretty important (hey, it launched at $30 — half the price for half a game is fair). Anyway, if you want pure shooting mayhem that’ll test your skills and patience, Hard Reset does the trick. Just guns and robots — it’s what gaming grew up on.
There’s no way I’m letting the year end without mentioning E.Y.E: Diving Cybermancy one last time. By far one of the most curious, disjointed, thoroughly bizarre games to ever be released, this blend of first-person-shooting and complex, micromanaging roleplaying is what happens when developers decide to put all their ideas into a single game, without compromising. Yes, it’s a mess, but it’s a very enjoyable mess. Divine Cybermancy is crammed full of menus — menus you won’t even need, but could seriously help out if learned. It features hacking, that is itself a turn-based combat game, one that can see the player lose and get hacked by the machine they were trying to access. There’s 32-player co-op for no sensible reason. Player characters can become paranoid and mad. One of the monsters is a woman in a white dress with a machine gun, because why not? E.Y.E was developed with no rules, it seems, and it’s actually worked out for the better.
Divine Cybermancy is a game that should, by rights, have failed completely. Somehow, it succeeded brilliantly. If you’re prepared to sink your teeth into an unyieldingly strange game with a daunting set of features and menus, then do it. Just DO it!