1. Yakuza 4 (20)
2. Dark Souls (10)
3. El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron (10)
4. Bastion (10)
5. The Binding of Isaac (10)
6. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective (10)
7. The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile (10)
8. Tiny Wings (10)
9. Karoshi (5)
10. Forza Motorsport 4 (5)
I agonized over where to place games like Portal 2, Gears of War 3, and Skyrim and realized I was having trouble because I didn’t ultimately care about them. I play those games and I can never stop thinking about in what ways they are, and aren’t, what their creators want them to be. I never get to lose myself in a portal. My games of 2011 made an impression on me just like my favorite books and movies and records: as really tight, sequential experiences. The albums I play the most are always DJ mixes. One of my favorite writers, Thomas Bernhard, wrote books with pages of unbroken, run-on sentences. That very physical sensibility—which leads me along like a slipstream—is on display in El Shaddai‘s schizophrenic (yet totally Zen) sequence of styles, The Binding of Isaac‘s sequence of symbols, Ghost Trick‘s sequence of miracles and revelations, Vampire Smile‘s sequence of blows, and the iOS version of Karoshi‘s chiling sequence of surprises and lies.
It’s especially there in Yakuza 4. Early on, I exited my character’s office after watching a context-setting cut scene; rounded the corner and promptly ran into a businessman from a side-quest two chapters back; watched helplessly as we headed back up to the office and started talking about work, only to be interrupted by visitors who told me their entirely different story about a bad domestic situation; got pulled into an arcade-style fistfight with their abuser in the alley outside after they left, which lasted all of two minutes; and ended back up in the office with neither of these threads resolved, and my original mission forgotten. That feels a lot like life, and it’s not a simulation—it’s just a (baroque, reasonless, and life-affirming) sequence of events. It’s been said that Skyrim has a similar effect, but I never feel truly lost in that studio’s games; I make little plans and projects for myself, which is also what I do at the office, which is not play.
It’s even there in Forza Motorsport 4, whose decadent parade of new cars, colors, and carburetors is the authentic, fully varnished capitalist experience. These games each have a keen insight into how one thing can lead perfectly and pointlessly to another, and that’s as pure and timeless an art as I can imagine.
Back to High Scores 2011