10. Deus Ex: Human Revolution
It’s not often that a game will feel dated in the best of ways, I can only assume Eidos Montreal made some dark deals to uncover the secret to make Deus Ex: Human Revolution feel like an ode to the original game, while making sure to nestle 21st century storytelling in between. Human Revolution is confident enough to untie the rope most games fear to remove and give you the power to tackle a situation however you choose. And in between crawling through vents and stacking crates, two sides of society fight over technology’s utility and promise, a rote argument sure, but it’s handled intelligently. Human Revolution worked hard to retain the balance between new and old and succeeded.
9. Dead Space 2
Dead Space 2 did a lot of iterative things, however each of them made for a much better experience. Instead of gore, Dead Space 2 frightened with tension and psychological insanity. Watching Isaac Clarke begin to lose his mind over the course of the game kept me on my toes. Severing limbs with crazy space weaponry wasn’t bad either. I tend to stay away from most horror games because of the cliches they feel the need to run through. Dead Space 2 is one of the rare games that uses its environment to cause an unnerving sense of dread. The January release date didn’t do this game any favors, it stands strong among this year’s holiday releases and shouldn’t be overlooked.
8. L.A. Noire
Partly because of my love for the era and the noire style, L.A. Noire hooked me for a lot of reasons. Team Bondi’s stunningly accurate depiction of a 1940s Los Angeles was a delight to look at. The cases themselves also brought a tone unique to the time period. L.A. Noire’s most important attribute has to be the facial animation technology. We needed a game to take conversation this far. L.A. Noire might not have been perfect, but it was a concept that needed to be seen to completion. It brought a sense of class and maturity few games attempt to do.
7. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
Many of the moments in Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception made me speechless with the sheer amount of technical artistry. No other game developer will let you play inside a capsizing cruise liner like Naughty Dog. Uncharted 3 is all about split-second decisions and when you make them correctly, the game flows better than most summer blockbusters. It’s the attention to detail, the meaningful writing, the character interaction and the puzzles that make Uncharted 3 worth playing.
6. Batman: Arkham City
If Batman simulation were a genre, Rocksteady would be masters of the craft. Batman: Arkham City does what other games still haven’t mastered with flair. The combat walks the line between simple and complex while remaining just as brutal as it was in Arkham Asylum, if not more. Preying on enemies both indoors and out never becomes a chore, it’s just so much fun pummeling fools into the ground. Did I mention it’s also a superb Batman story, juggling the right amount of villians to bring a sense of urgency throughout? Rocksteady didn’t hesitate to shove as much love for Batman in as possible and it’s apparent from beginning to end.
5. Gears of War 3
The Gears of War franchise is blamed for being very obnoxious, what with all the chainsaws and gore, but Gears 3 proves that below the rigid surface the characters have feelings other than anger. Gears 3 feels like a fitting end to Marcus Fenix and company’s story arch. A few moments in Gears 3 are far more touching than they should have been and I think they end up being so because of all the baggage we’ve aided the characters in carrying during the past two games. Gears 3 surprised me this year. It wasn’t the mastery of cover-based shooting this time around, it was watching these characters cope with war. I never thought I’d say it, but it is elegant in the way it portrays damage on its characters, especially in the final scene. Gears 3 rose above with unexpected maturity, if you haven’t finished it, do yourself a favor and fix that.
4. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
It’s hard not to get overwhelmed when The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim shoves you out into the blinding sunlight after the initial tutorial dungeon. The amount of things to do is stunning and the fact that so many of those things aren’t poorly made is even more so. Whether it’s eating bugs, slaying dragons, crafting armor, learning spells, dungeon crawling, bartering or murder, almost everything is under your control in Skyrim. Sure, Oblivion did it before, but Skyrim does it while looking beautiful and packing a crisp looking UI to boot. Don’t listen to the naysayers, Skyrim is a place worth staying.
3. Saints Row: The Third
“A f***ing tiger?! A f***-ing tiger?! What the f*** is wrong with you?!” If that doesn’t sum up most of Saints Row: The Third, I don’t know what will. Despite not having the tightest of controls or the strongest of stories, Saints Row 3 does so many things, so many, in complete service of its tone. It’s also legitimately funny, making it one of the two games this year that had me chuckling more than a few times. But it’s not just the absurdity that won me over, Saints Row 3 is written in such a way that the jokes never fall flat or feel awkwardly placed. Volition knows what works and doesn’t break to justify anything. Saints Row 3 is a romp that’s a pure joy to play.
2. Portal 2
Portal 2 met my highest expectations and more. As expected, Valve pulls it off with the kind of ingenuity only it can provide. Portal 2 expands so wide in scope compared to the first game that you can’t help but to lose yourself poking around in the abandoned testing chambers, with the added ability to tell a story of their own through the deterioration. Working out solutions for the giant rooms you’re dropped in was always an exercise in clever thinking and the jolt of glee upon success is unparalleled. Even the few characters thrown in end up being some of gaming’s greatest. Valve did it again, Portal 2 is a wonderful sequel.
I’m not sure exactly what I expected before I started up Bastion for the first time. A few mentions of Diablo-esque slash-and-forget gameplay without the loot, narrated by a mysterious voice were tossed around, as well as an “acoustic frontier trip-hop” soundtrack. In retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t have been listening prior to playing it, but it was clear it took more than a sentence to describe what made Bastion so brilliant. Bastion’s devotion to the player goes farther than what other games would dare to reach for. Narratively, visually, musically and mechanically, the world builds with your every step. I loved every second I spent in Caledonia. Bastion is unforgettable.