Best Games of 2011: WTF Just Happened?

A look back at one of the greatest months for gaming ever.

Well, bloody hell. ‘Tis the season to be jolly, so the song says, and it has never rung truer for gamers than this past November. An absolute barricade-destroying amount of top titles have been released and gained brilliant scores across the board, selling in their millions and in turn making the industry look positively thriving with excitement and genuine quality.

I’m going to take a look back at the incredible month that has been. Yes, I have included some games that were released in October. Before you start, I’m fully aware of this. However, the games I’ve included are literally SO good I felt they deserved a mention. Below, you will find each game, including quotes from the ones we have reviewed, along with their current Metacritic scores, along with a brief look at how the games still stack up since release from myself and the reviewers of their individual games.

Start as we mean to go on then, in no particular order with…

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Thumb Culture score: 8 – Review
Metacritic score:  89 – Site

WHAT WE SAID

As an overall package? It’s worth every penny. Modern Warfare 3 is exactly what you expect it to be. Nothing more, nothing less. Luckily, what you expect it to be is technically brilliant, bombastic, over the top and full to the brim of multiplayer wonderment. The campaign is horribly predictable and bubbling the surface of ‘been there, done that’ – that being said, it’s the third in a trilogy. How much different did you really want it to be? If the story is continuing, why not the gameplay? The forty odd quid you put down for this pays for a wonderful multiplayer experience through Spec-Ops, a campaign that just finishes off the story, makes your eyes drop out of your skull in sheer spectacle but requires you to switch off your brain – think about it too much and you’re gonna wish for something far more concrete and challenging – however if there is a CoD fan still inside you, this isn’t gonna disappoint.

Let’s not deny it: ‘Modern Warfare 3′ is a phenomenon. Selling a quite frankly ridiculous 6.5 million copies in the UK and US in the first 24 hours of release, the very latest in the ‘Call of Duty’ franchise has once again proved that it’s top dog in the FPS world. Of course, if you head over to Metacritic, you will see the general overview of the game from the fans is quite the opposite. Of course, we’ll never really know if it’s just people spouting shit because they want the game to fail (which is was never going too) or if users really feel the way. What we do know, at least I feel, the game is fully deserving of its success and it’s positive response from critics. Yes, the campaign will never deserve more than one playthrough and the multiplayer is full of cheats and stupidly unbalanced advantages but what sells the game is Spec-Ops. It’s incredible choice of diverse game options makes it a fully deserving package. It will continue to sell millions well into 2012 until we all wait patiently for the inevitable Treyarch offering. ‘Black Ops 2′, anyone?

Assassin’s Creed Revelations
Metacritic score:  79 – Site

I’m playing through this little beauty right now and can only say I’m so damn impressed with almost every aspect of it. Yes, it’s ‘Brotherhood’ with a new title, but still – I just can’t argue with that. The similarities are noticeable almost immediately. Of course, this technically being the third in the trilogy makes it kinda-sort-of-OK anyway, given that it’s gameplay mechanics are exactly what people play this game for. There’s nothing else like it out there, and for that ‘Revelations’ thoroughly deserves your attention. It’s differences – there are some, believe it or not – really do change the overall experience, along with playing memories as Altair instead of just Ezio makes all the difference and brings back slight nostalgia, despite the original only being four years old. I’m trying not to go into too much detail here as we have our review of this one coming up this week (providing I can actually move on with the story and stop collecting fragments and hookblading over rooftops), so I’ll just say this: ‘Revelations’ is ‘Brotherhood’ with just more stuff to do and ‘things’ to play with. If that doesn’t make it one of the games of the year I just don’t know what will. ‘Brotherhood’ was my 2010 game of the year, so by that reasoning, is ‘Revelations’ my GOTY for 2011? Well, you’ll have to stick around on TC to find that one out.

Halo Anniversary
Thumb Culture Score: 6 – Review
Metacritic Score: 83 – SITE

WHAT WE SAID

Your love for the game will angrily and loudly diminish throughout the campaign experience as you very quickly remember how repetitive, frustrating and unhelpful the game is, and how for some reason you never seemed to notice this first time round because you were dumbstruck by the awesomeness of it all. Keep in mind this is literally just a graphical overhaul. So little has beenadded to this game that actually benefits or makes the campaign any better it’s hardly worth mentioning. 

Since reviewing this game and completing it a couple of times over now, I still don’t really feel different about this update. While the game is by no means bad at all – it’s still ‘Halo’, at the end of the day – as mentioned in the review it just doesn’t do enough differently to warrant a purchase. Is it one of the games of the year? No. Then why is it here? Well, there’s no denying this was a big release and it certainly has done impressive numbers (3 million and counting since release) so it’s by no means a failure. For that, we have to commend ‘Anniversary’ as a big title in this months epic madness. Rent it for ‘Assault on The Control Room’ and ‘The Silent Cartographer’, everything else? Well, I just want ‘Halo 4′ and I want it now. COME ON 343 FFS!

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Metacritic Score: 95 – SITE 

LINK!! He’s back and he’s incredible again! Our review is coming soon, it’s worth checking out until then this quote from the Official Nintendo Magazine, who I think summed it up quite perfectly:

Skyward Sword is at its prettiest when viewed from the saddle of your Loftwing, with the full brunt of the game’s impressionist art style stretching out from the warm, pinkish, bubbling clouds below to the daubed, dark green hues of distant sky islands.

The plot itself, which we’ve tactfully avoided spoiling, is refreshingly straightforward. A return, almost, to the simple arc of the original NES game, an unironic, uncomplicated and very sincere story of a boy who sets out to save the world with his magic sword.

Skyward Sword stands as an ode to a series that has endured all of recent gaming history. It marks the dizzying pinnacle of both the Zelda series and motion-controlled gaming itself. It’s a huge accomplishment that, even by Nintendo’s own record, stands out as one of their finest.

As mentioned, look out for review soon. It really is the only reason left to buy a Wii. A truly stunning game beyond any possible reasoning. You owe it to yourself to explore this brave new world. Nothing more to say. WOW.

Forza Motorsport 4
Metacritic score: 91 – SITE 

Without a doubt the best racing game of the year (yeah, take that ‘Gran Turismo 5′) ‘Forza Motorsport 4′ can also take the award for the best looking game of the year. I remember when I turned it on for the first time and was completely blown away by the sheer beauty of it all. A truly stunning effort has been made to make this game look as incredible as it can possibly be, a remarkable piece of work by Turn 10 Studios, always under the careful eye of those chaps at Microsoft.

The cracking Kinect integration – the head tracking in particular, allowing you to look at the apex of a corner or nearby opponents, among many other things – was truly masterful. While it doesn’t use the device to its full potential, without a doubt its subtle techniques really makes it worthwhile. The Autovista mode expertly presents the games visual prowess allowing you to stare lovingly at beautiful car models, perfectly recreated. The addition of the Warthog made this all the more incredible. Another highlight for me was the Top Gear test track. Of course, it’s been a staple of ‘GT’ for a while, but never has been recreated this comprehensively and authentically. My best time is 1 minute 44.02 seconds, which I don’t think is that bad considering I don’t drive. Two seconds under Tom Cruise? I’ll take that. Throw in the car clubs, world tours, 16 player online (and offline) racing, a great soundtrack, the seriously good fun Top Gear bowling minigames and so much more, ‘Forza Motorsport 4′ really is the ultimate game for petrolheads, and I imagine it will be until the next one comes along.

Batman: Arkham City
Thumb Culture Score: 10 – REVIEW
Metacritic score: 94 – SITE

WHAT WE SAID

You may have already noticed, but I genuinely cannot heap enough praise on this game. It’s rare for a game to live up to its ridiculous hype and when we were knocked for six by ‘Arkham Asylum’ coming from nowhere to be the best superhero game ever made, anticipation skyrocketed for this sequel. Luckily, the anticipation has been justified. Play it on the biggest, loudest TV you can and fully immerse yourself in the amazing world that Rocksteady has created around for you. This is a game that fully deserves the status of ‘Best….Ever’. How many ‘Best Ever”s is it though? Well, it’s the Best Current Generation Game Ever (so far), the Best Superhero Game Ever, the Best Voice Acting In Any Game Ever, the Best Open World Game Ever, the Best Music Orchestrated In Any Game Ever..the Best Game Ever? Who knows, it’s one that will certainly stand the test of time and forever be spoken of in internet forums and the like, it’s a game that will continuously turn up on Best Game Ever lists and how future open world games should be judged on. 

Well, here it is. Personally, the ultimate game I’ve played this year. It’s rare I award games a perfect score (only once before this) but, my word if this isn’t one of most incredibly crafted masterpieces of all time. The only time this game has left my console is when I’m reviewing other games. Seriously, I can’t get enough. Whether it be finding those final Riddler trophies, tearing Arkham City apart with Catwoman or saving the innocent from the man himself from his dastardly traps. I’m replaying certain missions because you just can’t believe how good the animation and voice over work is. Staring from the very top of the City down on this beautiful apocalypse before you, knowing that the whole place is nothing but your playground. Honestly, I absolutely frikkin’ love just blowing walls up with my Explosive Gel. It’s small, but great fun. The remote controlled Batarang? Oh, wow. Scouring the lower levels of the court to find Calendar Man and kicking off THAT achievement. Following the trails of bullets in the sky to track down Deadshot. The amazing battle with Mr. Freeze. I could go on for a long time here, there isn’t a single part of this game I didn’t enjoy. It challenged me immensely, more than any game I can remember. For that, it’s in my heart forever as one of the greatest games I’ve ever played.

Sonic Generations
Thumb Culture Score: 7.5 – REVIEW
Metacritic score: 78 – SITE

WHAT WE SAID


So while this is easily the best and most concise Sonic game that we have had in years, it is still not without its faults, while it does everything that you want it to do there are some annoying things that are just holding it back from greatness. The game starts off amazingly and I was loving every second of it but the further in I got it just became less fun to complete, which is a real shame since by the end I was left a bit disappointed by the whole experience. Despite this though Sega are still on the right track with their Sonic releases, so it’s a worthwhile tribute to the series and a good sign for the future to Sonic!

‘Sonic Generations’ will be remembered forever as the fixed point in time Sonic became great again. There is no doubt this game has fully deserved its positive reviews from critics and fans alike, ushering in – fingers crossed – a brand new era for the blue hedgehog. You see, ‘Sonic Generations’ was about Sonic. No bullshit (not much anyway), just Sonic going really frickin’ fast around reimagined versions of his worlds. Yeah, Tails pops up every now and then which is cool, we love Tails. Knuckles? Again, can deal with Knuckles. Everyone else gets their annoying moment and thank Sonic Team they are so brief. It’s almost as if they have finally listened to us fans, and delivered a game that, while not perfect is probably as close as we’re going to get for a while. The story is pish, but who cares. The best Sonic games have never been about story, more the levels. Old school Sonic is genius. Green Hill Zone is alive and bustling in 2D and 3D, Chemical Plant looks absolutely stunning either way. It’s when we get about halfway it starts to crack, with introductions of levels from ‘Sonic and the Bloody Stupid Piss Off and Never Come Back Black Knight’, ‘Sonic and the Secret Rings’ and ‘Sonic Unleashed’ come to join in the fun and almost ruin it for everyone. Luckily, the levels look stunning and while not quite as fun as the previous levels, certainly bring their own level of Sonic madness to proceedings. The bosses suck quite naturally and have never been good since ‘Sonic & Knuckles’ and the less said about the final boss the better (WORST. BOSS. EVER.). However, this is Sonic in the truest sense and there really isn’t much more praise you can heap on it than that. It lived up to expectations and we couldn’t be more thankful of that. Just, come on SEGA – don’t screw him up again, please? PLEASE?

Rayman Origins
Metacritic Score: 89 – SITE

No! We haven’t reviewed this one yet, sadly. What we have done though is play it a rather large amount and let me start by saying…O.M.G.

You see, there has been a rather heated discussion in TC Towers about whether or not a 2D platformer can still be justified as a full priced physical release, instead of just finding a natural home on XBLA or PSN. Will the public really go out and spend £40 on something that on paper, can’t compete with the bombastic blockbusterness of ‘MW3′? Could a game designed in 2D even really be good enough?

Well, my position on this is – SHUT UP. ‘Rayman Origins’ is the greatest platformer since ‘Super Mario Galaxy 2′. It could even be better. Don’t believe me? Read these random exerts I’ve picked out of the review of the game from Joystiq and see if you don’t believe me:

Rayman Origins embodies the kind of creativity and craftsmanship that have been largely missing in 2D platfomers since their heyday in the 16-bit era. It harkens back to the likes ofEarthworm Jim, bestowing every moment with whimsy, but still tossing in many of the tricks found in current gems like Super Meat Boy and ’Splosion Man.

Many of the environments, particularly the underwater levels, are at once bizarre, absurd and staggeringly beautiful — the sort of juxtaposition that Rayman Origins pulls off with such regularity that you’d think it was just a part of everyday life.

But the really fun part, naturally, is getting through the environments, a feat Originsmanages with aplomb. In the beginning, Rayman is limited to simply running and jumping. By journey’s end, he acquires a litany of special abilities, from his patented helicopter hair to my personal favorite, running on walls. All exquisitely animated, these abilities seamlessly flow into one another in the game’s later levels, making for some incredible choreographed sequences.

Regardless of how you choose to play Rayman Origins, the important thing is that it shouldbe played. Characters speak in Pig Latin. Upon discovering each secret area, an unseen audience expresses my unspoken thoughts, collectively cooing, “oooh!” The underwater sections have appropriately burbly background vocals. I couldn’t possibly enumerate them all, but every detail, every nuance is positively dripping with goofy, heart-swelling joy.

Well? Have you ordered it yet? I want to share it with everyone how incredible this game is and how it deserves a home in every corner of the planet. The platformer dreams are made of, folks.

Saints Row: The Third
Thumb Culture Score: 8.3 – REVIEW
Metacritic Score: 84 – SITE

WHAT WE SAID

The bottom line is that this game is fun with a whole lot of things to do. You will be coming back to Steelport for a while to come, with a slew of great features and customisation options you can play the game how you want to play it. Saints Row: The Third doesn’t take itself seriously, you can see that from the outset. Sure there may be a couple of issues with the game; you may feel like you’re on your own in Steelport at times and controls can feel a little out-of-place. However, the pros for this game far outweigh the cons. If you want a distraction from the more “serious” games that have been released this fall and want a whole lot of plain stupid fun, Saints Row: The Third will not disappoint.

‘Saints Row: The Third’ is a beast unlike any other. THQ have crafted something genuinely ridiculous with their third offering of Saints Row pie. From the utter chaos of your first mission, to the ‘are my eyes actually witnessing this’ brilliance of the second and all those that follow it – ‘Saints Row: The Third’ just never lets up. What other game lets you beat someone up then use them as a surfboard on gravel? Exactly. While this one hasn’t been out two weeks at time of writing, a huge cult following has hit this game and there is no doubt it’s going to be huge and pave the way for ‘Saint’s Row: Fourever’ or something. The ‘Whored’ mode is already very much alive on my Xbox friends list, with many taking part in that noble sport of beating the shit out of prostitutes with giant black dildos. For some reason it never gets old. As mentioned in Tony’s review, this game is just fun pure and simple. I defy you, I DEFY YOU to turn this on and not enjoy it. Break the mould, ‘Saints Row: The Third’ is actually fantastic. Strap it on.

Uncharted 3: Drakes Deception
Thumb Culture Score: 9.6 – REVIEW
Metacritic Score: 92 – SITE

WHAT WE SAID

So, while we have quite a package here, with the campaign, multiplayer and co-op modes, there  hasn’t even been a mention of downloadable content, which I hope is high on the list of Naughty Dogs agenda. But in the meantime, sit back and revel in one of the greatest, cinematic  games you’ll find.

Retrospective by Paul Collett.

Uncharted 3 has been out for a few weeks now, and  I still love it as much as when I reviewed it. Although on my second play through I noticed some things that could perhaps knock a point or two off the score. For starters, there are too many gunfights, there doesn’t seem to be as much of the platforming antics as the previous games. Enemies still seem like bullet sponges, even when they’re wearing just a vest. But above all, Uncharted set the bar for quality, but now there are are more games that have just as good quality within them that Uncharted no longer feels special. It’s a great game, one of the greatest adventures this generation. In hindsight, Naughty Dog have equalled their reputation rather than surpassed it.

Battlefield 3
Thumb Culture Score: 9 (multiplayer) – Review
Metacritic Score: 89 – SITE

WHAT WE SAID

There may have been a few hiccups when the game launched, but already patches have been rolled out to make the whole experience better for the player. There are still a couple of balance issues within the game, much like many titles these days they will be patched down the line. Fortunately, DICE have always been pretty great at post game support, Battlefield 3 should be no different and already there is new content coming to the game to keep players online for months to come. Bottom line is that battlefield 3 is an excellent shooter. It may not gain the same success of other FPSs out there, but with a loyal fanbase that will continue playing the game until the next iteration is released, even with some of the issues that the game has, it will occupy many players’ disk tray for a long time.

Retrospective by Tony Hicks

Since writing the review (I wrote it a while before it was uploaded), my opinion hasn’t changed a whole lot. The game still needs to have patches delivered but due to the certification process from both Microsoft and Sony it could be awhile before we get anything. Fixes have been delivered for some of the lag that I mentioned which is a plus. I have gotten a bit better at flying, which helps, and have unlocked some cool things. My main issue at the moment is the damned tactical flash light – getting team flashed is not cool because for that while your defenceless I have had a few deaths due to it…thanks team! On the other side when an enemy flashes you it’s not as bad as being team flashed but still very annoying. Actual team play is still missing in some games although I have had some great matches with a solid team but other times it is a slaughterfest because players are still tuned to the Call of Duty mentality. Battlefield 3 is still a great game to play and will be for a while to come, plus Back to Karkand is releasing soon which will add further replay value.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Thumb Culture score: 8 – REVIEW
Metacritic score: 96 – site

WHAT WE SAID

Skyrim is a hell of an achievement, and a huge game, with one of the most diverse game worlds you’ll ever explore this generation. There is also a hell of a lot of content here, and it will last you a long time. The technical issues raised earlier let the game down somewhat only because it spoils the illusion it works so hard to create. The graphics, although impressive, aren’t the amazing ones we saw in the pre-release hype. They do the job, and do them well, but you can hear the PS3 creaking under the pressure. The linearity of many of the missions doesn’t help either. In fact I would go as far as say this is pretty much the same game as Oblivion, which is no bad thing of course since Oblivion was brilliant. I guess I was just expecting a little more revolution as opposed to evolution.

Retrospective by Paul Collett 

Skyrim has been out for just over a week now, and I don’t think that’s long enough to explore the continent in its entirity, even if you played 24 hours day 7 days a week. It’s huge. The size of the map doesn’t make up for the repetitive missions you have to do and the abundance of glitches, though. The world doesn’t quite seem as enchanting and Cyrodiil, or open for that matter; with vast mountain ranges stopping you in your exploratory tracks. It says something when  more often than not the post review posts regarding Skyrim are about the odd glitches rather than the game itself. That’s not to say its a bad game, not at all, it’s a great game, just perhaps more of a Elder Scrolls 4.5 rather than a brand new game.

Well there we go! 12 games, one month (kind of) and whole lot of new experiences for all of us. Honourable mentions must go to those we’ve haven’t discussed here such as ‘Need For Speed: The Run’, ‘Super Mario 3D Land’, ‘Mario Kart 7′, ‘Professor Layton and The Spectre’s Call’, ‘WWE 12′, ‘Mario and Sonic at London 2012′ and many more. If you think we’ve missed out any crucial games do let us know. Why not do a little write up and let us know that way? Your piece may get placed right into this article.

Until then, keep it TC. See you next November :D OOOOHH! WII U! Halo 4! Probably another COD and Assassin’s Creed! Very exciting times. I’ve been Rossko, see you there!

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