Garet, Long Time Gamer and Comic Book Aficionado

Without a doubt my favorite game of 2011 was Arkham City.  It may not be the best game ever made (as we all know that spot was reserved for a 10 year old release that was remastered for a new generation this year), but it was certainly the one I enjoyed playing the most in the last 12 months.  Speaking personally, Batman was always my favorite super hero growing up, and the guys and gals at Rocksteady Games have done a fantastic job of bringing the characters from the animated series my generation grew up with into a more modern imagining.  Uh, Solomon Grundy, anyone?  Arkham City, and Asylum before it, are not children’s games.  They’re honest to God R-rated action epics where death is real and Batman occasional threatens to pull a punk’s bowels out of his body by way of his throat. Okay, he doesn’t really do that, but his version gives off that dark vibe, and how awesome would it be to hear Kevin Conroy say that? I know you’re now reading that again in his voice.  Which brings me to the next reason why I love this game.  The interactions between Conroy and Mark Hamill as the Joker are top notch.  There’s more chemistry between these two than a movie starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie made while Pitt was still married to Jennifer Aniston.  Across the board the voice acting is pretty on point with the exception of a few henchman.  On top of that the story itself ends with quite possibly one of the biggest surprises in both gaming and comic history.

If you’re looking for something out of the ordinary as far as gaming goes this is a good place to start.  City combines an in your face smash ‘em up battle system with the subtlety of good ‘ol detective work.  If you want to rush through the story then you absolutely can but I’d suggest you take your time and do what Batman does best: investigate.  Arkham City is huge and there are all kinds of things that are easy to miss.  Do yourself a favor and do all the side missions as each one gives you a bit of backstory as to how the heck the oldest part of Gotham was turned into a militarized zone.  You can put a lot of time into this game and if you’re a Batman fan it’s completely rewarding.  If you’re not a Bat-fan though don’t worry, you’ll still have a blast. While it’s true you can jump into this before you play Asylum and won’t be missing out on much for the story’s sake, I still suggest you at least give Asylum a go.  Batman: Arkham City is just one of those games that anyone who likes a good story or good game play can enjoy.

GG, Popblerd! Sports Master (and Busy Grown-up Person)

I’m almost entirely a sports gamer these days. As you get older, the amount of time you can spend playing video games shrinks, so you have to use your time wisely. I’ve eschewed all of the fun adventure games that I used to enjoy playing and am now strictly a sports gamer. I have two favorite games from 2011.

MLB 2011: The Show is the next step toward making the most complete baseball game yet. The game is generally the same game it’s been the last several years. And that’s a good thing. But year after year, Sony adds small advancements that please their hardcore audience. This isn’t the Madden NFL series where the goal seems to be to make the game easier for the casual player and killing off former die-hard fans in the process. This is a game that fits both types of players, but the improvements lean toward advanced fans of the game. Advancements like controlling fielding, pitching, and throwing through the analog stick (I think hitting with the analog stick is still off and base running has always been terrible) are true improvements. While you can always go back to original controls, nuances like this help make the game more intuitive and make you feel like there’s less chance involved in your outcome. Next year, it’s going to get even better with improved ball physics and really nerdy things like that.

(By the way, the best way to play is in a franchise. It’s the money mode for the game. Road To The Show is still too much of a simulation and not fun enough for me. What can make franchise mode even more fun is if you have friends, or in my case, kids who each take a team. Then the competition heats up!)

NBA 2K12 is also a game that continues to improve. Last year’s version allowed you to use Michael Jordan and his historic Bulls teams to win challenges and unlock other historic teams. This year’s version goes beyond that. In the NBA’s Greatest Mode, you’ll take 15 historic teams headlined by 15 historic players (like Magic, MJ, Kareem, Wilt, Bill Russell, Larry Legend and others) and face one of their rivals. If you win the game, you unlock the rival teams. While it isn’t an intricate (you just play and win to unlock), it’s the presentation that is killer. Each game is played in its era, so if you play as the Bill Russell Celtics, the game is in black and white. If you play as Jerry West, the game looks a bit fuzzy and the coloring is bland. And if you’re the Showtime Lakers, everyone has knee high socks and short shorts.

Beyond that, the game play is still strong. The game was hurt by the NBA lockout, but now that the game is back in season, as long as your PS3 or XBox360 is hooked up to the Internet, 2K Sports will continually send you the most updated rosters (which is a must because the game had to ship without rookies). While I think some of the expert analog controls are hard to learn, you are given a ton of options to try and mimic your favorite players. There are still some minor things I don’t like such as the collision detection and the very rigid style of calling plays, but basketball is one of the hardest sport to bring to the gaming world and 2K Sports does an excellent job.

I have heard that online play is buggy and the online franchise doesn’t work well yet, but I haven’t really put those to the test. If you’re into those modes, you may want to do a little more research on them.

Stephen, Functioning Game-a-holic

If you have been reading this column at all, my pick for Game of the Year isn’t going to be much of a surprise. But before we get to the inevitable, allow me to list a few honorable mentions:

Best Story: Deus Ex: Human Revolution

A prequel to the legendary Deus Ex series, DE:HR tells of a near dystopian future where massive biotech corporations wage secret wars over the power to create “augmentations”, genetic implants that grant humans what are essentially super powers. As a security expert forced to augment against his will, main character Adam Jensen reflects the moral grey area of human augmentation, and the freedom to pick sides through the story only deepens the tale. Ultimately, the best feature of DE:HR is its willingness to live in the grey. Choices are not always clear “murder a puppy/adopt a puppy” dichotomies, and the flexibility (not to mention the great stealth and gunplay, boss fights aside) of the plot makes it a game worth a replay or two.

Best Multiplayer (Online): Battlefield 3

While games like Modern Warfare 3 continue to tune their gameplay towards super skilled lone wolfs at the expense of the everyday player, Battlefield (on PC at least) offers a massive scale warfront where players can contribute regardless of their speed at pulling off headshots. By focusing on teamwork and objectives instead of kill/death rations, BF3 is a game that is fun even if you find yourself dying frequently. Kills aren’t the best way to help the team; healing teammates, supporting your squad, taking objectives, spotting enemies, repairing tanks, running troop transports, defending bases all contribute to your score and XP and allow smart and coordinated players to make up for a lack of freakish hand eye coordination. Add in the fact that BF3’s warzones are massive, loud, exciting, and absolutely beautiful, and you have the clear winner of 2011’s online game of the year.

Best Multiplayer (Offline): Modern Warfare 3

Remember that time when I ranted and raved about how much I hated Call of Duty games outside zombies? Well tMW3 (more accurately it’s co-op offerings) have swayed me. While Black Ops’ zombies mode was and still is a blast, the split-screen co-op in MW3 is far more varied. Besides a wave-based survival mode where players can buy new and upgrade guns against hordes of militants, suicide bombers, dogs, helicopters and more, the game offers a bevy of unique missions designed for two people. Some are straightforward (like storming a plane), but others use the second player to great effects, letting them control mounted gun cameras to support their teammate or acting as a sniper while their teammate defuses IEDs. It’s nice to know that, in the age of online game, Infinity Ward has given some love for the classic offline party.

Game of the Year: Skyrim

It’s been a good year for games, even if most were sequels. But for me, the latest installment in the Elder Scrolls series stands tall as the highlight of the year. True, the plot line wasn’t as mature as Deus Ex or LA Noire, it’s a fully single player affair, there are glitches a plenty, and long time fans may bemoan the less complicated game mechanics. But Skyrim has crafted a massive, living, breathing world unlike any other of the year, with its own political intrigue, history, mythology, and social tensions. The game demands a huge time investment to be sure, but it rewards those investments in dividends. Whether you’re slinking through a bandit’s hideout, raiding Dwarven ruins, rising to the top of a guild, or battling dragons on a mountaintop, Skyrim is as much an experience as it is a game. With the promise of even more massive content in the future (and this is already a 100 hour game), it’s a real value too. If you haven’t played it (and aren’t like GG in terms of time constraints), do yourself a favor and get it!

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