1. Bastion (20)
2. Portal 2 (15)
3. Jetpack Joyride (10)
4. Batman: Arkham City (10)
5. SpellTower (10)
6. Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine (10)
7. Toy Soldiers: Cold War (10)
8. Deus Ex: Human Revolution (5)
9. Shadows of the Damned (5)
10. Tiny Tower (5)
Although 2011 saw a lot of terrific games, nothing truly wowed me in the way the relentlessly bizarre Deadly Premonition did last year. Instead, I chose ten games that I saw as examples of great execution—games that may not have felt revolutionary in terms of design or tone, but that delivered on their premise and showcased their mechanics in particularly effective ways.
Bastion was the highlight of the year for me, since I think it best synthesized mechanics, art, sound, and story into an experience that was both challenging and emotionally resonant. Its dynamic narration system, which deftly complements the rhythms of gameplay, was the most unique and engaging design choice I encountered in 2011. Bastion’s singularity of purpose, its thoughtful interplay between dialogue, plot, music, and mechanics, make it an easy choice for the top spot. It’s got heart as well as polish. Still, at its core, Bastion doesn’t deviate too far from proven action-RPG conventions.
I enjoyed the other nine games on my list, but none of them struck me as particularly revolutionary; five are based on existing IPs. While Portal 2’s puzzles and atmosphere are as fiendishly clever as ever, and Batman: Arkham City once again proves that “I’m Batman” is a viable videogame emotion, neither game alters its beloved predecessor’s formula in fundamental ways. The same could be said of Toy Soldiers: Cold War, another positive example of the power of iteration. Solid execution on a technical level is important, but it’s just as crucial to nail the tone of an established IP, as both Space Marine and Deus Ex: Human Revolution do through art direction and sound design. Shadows of the Damned gets points not only for its oddly winning combination of horror and juvenile humor, but also for the precise, satisfying feel of its controls. And though it flops as often as it hits, Shadows of the Damned probably takes the most risks out of any of the games on this list.
Narrowing down the mobile games to the three I picked was the hardest part of finalizing my list. Each is a solid example of the list’s theme, though. Take Jetpack Joyride, a game I should, by all rights, hate—I could never stand endless running games, and endless grinding for gold and XP drive me nuts. But the creativity Halfbrick Studios infuses into the obstacles, abilities, and particularly objectives drew me in for many more hours than I’d have predicted. I also couldn’t have predicted how deeply SpellTower would hook me. After downloading and deleting lousy iOS word game after lousy iOS word game, I finally found a hybrid that finely tunes its smarts-to-luck ratio. It may be the game that made me care about high scores again. As for Tiny Tower: well, I’ve already written about this one ad nauseam. I haven’t touched it for months and won’t go back to it. But it remains a fascinating (and profitable) example of the freemium game-as-work model taken to its logical end
Games I played & liked that didn’t quite make the cut:
Infinity Blade II
Orcs Must Die!
Saints Row: The Third
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II: Retribution
Dead Space 2
Super Stickman Golf
Avadon: The Black Fortress
Games I didn’t play but probably would’ve made the cut, based on my taste & what I’ve heard:
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
Games that sucked ass:
Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime
Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection
A whole lot of half-assed freemium iOS bullshit
Back to High Scores 2011