Happy post-Christmas, one and all! How was it? Did Aunt Agnes do that thing with her teeth at the dinner table again? And did you get Ninja Action Man or did mum cop out and get you Office Temp Action Man again?
Us, we’re not here right now. We’re hibernating and pruning our ear hair for another a week or so, preparing for the many word-based adventures of 2012. However, we have one final new missive for you in 2011: more games from the last year that we’ve loved. Yes, it’s true, we have room in our heart for more than 24 games. All of these deserve your affection and/or money as much as all the others we frothed about – we just didn’t froth about them quite as much. Your suggestions for our terrible, unforgivable oversights yet beyond these are, of course, welcome.
Alec: This was going to be one of the sacred 24 right up until the eleventh hour, but eventually we decided to treat it as 2010 release, as we did with Minecraft. Basically, our logic is this: the first year you can pay for the game in is the year we will consider it for inclusion in features such as our Advent Calendar. Which means I need to invent time travel, return to late November 2010 and make sure Mode 7’s excellent tactical strategy game, which achieves very smart, high-speed twists on the X-COM-esque formula things in both single and multiplayer, is included in our 2010 advent calendar.
Adam: I didn’t exist in 2010, but if I had I would have been hollering about how brilliant Frozen Synapse throughout the latter parts of the year. It’s like a boardgame I would dearly love to play but the action-heavy “we-go” mechanic could only function as it does on a computer. And it functions marvelously, with an elegant visual design and a sensible front-end. It was definitely one of last year’s games for me but I’m determined to become reacquainted in 2012.
Jim: This narrowly missed our 24 and that’s a real shame. It was a game that was overlooked both critically and commercially, for no good reason. It was so ludicrously hyperbolic that it’s impossible not to revel in its trick-shot combat madness. The ludicrous noise made about its perceived vulgarity turned out to be little more than hot air. Bulletstorm was great fun and, more rarely for a game of this kind, actually funny.
John: It was just plain fun. Fun in the same way high-fiving on a roller-coaster is fun – it’s bloody brilliant while you’re doing it, but you don’t really feel the need to talk about it months later. But just like I want little more right now than to high-five on a rollercoaster, I rather feel like having a game of Bulletstorm.
Men Of War: Assault Squad
Jim: One of the highlights of the year for me, and bolstered by waves of excellent DLC. This co-op skirmish variant of the original game gets right what Men Of War Vietnam got so wrong: we want big battlefield challenges, loads of tanks, plenty of meticulously modelled carnage. It’s a minor masterpiece and a beautiful reboot of the original concept. Sure, I do still prefer the variety of a proper campaign, but this can be replayed and played and played…
John: The best times are the times when Kieron is wrong, which happens far less frequently than one might imagine. But about Limbo, he is Wrongy McWrongington. Yes, it’s a cruel game, but it’s brilliantly cruel. Yes, it kills you unfairly, but that’s part of the dynamic, a process you’re in. And no, that’s not the same as Rick Dangerous. It’s cunningly crafted, and exquisitely presented. And there’s that moment when the spider comes back.
Dead Space 2
Jim: It’s hard to be terrified when you’re an armour-clad death-machine, but it was also hard not to be impressed by the sheer spectacle of Dead Space 2. It was ridiculously overwrought and basically horrible. I’d much rather play another one of these than another Call Of Duty.
Adam: I look back over the year and the one glaring omission in the glittering array of high quality games is a horror game worth its salt. There was no Amnesia this year. When I’m not tactically strategising, I do like scrabbling around in the dark, hiding from blasphemous monstrosities. That Dead Space 2 was my favourite horror game of the year shows how unscary 2011 was, because this was like the Cameron take on the Scott original. Not that Isaac’s first adventure didn’t lean a little far toward the action side of things itself, but this time it really does feel like war. It still contained some of the most spectacular set pieces of the year and The Sprawl was a memorable location.
Alec: Like Frozen Synapse, this was technically released in 2011. But we spent most of 2010 playing and writing about it, so it doesn’t get a repeat slot on the Calendar of Calendars. But we do love Minecraft, and it’s without a doubt one of the most important videogames on any format from the last few years. It’s also a cult, but a nice one.
Jim: I played less Minecraft in ’11 than I did in ’10, but it remained one of the most fascinating projects in the gaming landscape. The pull its success is now exerting on developers should not be underestimated, either. We are yet to see the true consequences of Notch’s millions.
John: Like the others, this was a game of 2010 for me, and while I certainly played it a bunch in 2011, it wasn’t in the same way, that obsessive, sneaking another play for five minutes between two things I had to do sort of way. Which I guess is in some ways enormously hypocritical, since the game has recently added a lot of the features I opined it lacked last year. Well, I guess when I finish Skyrim?
Adam: I spent more time reading about it than playing it this year, which is often a sign of something I’ve developed an intellectual fascination with but don’t feel ready to develop my own stance on. I’ve had several stances on Minecraft in the past, all of them positive, but right now I’m watching it and trying to work out what I should do next with it. As a thing that is happening it continues to be as enormous and compelling as the worlds it creates every time I boot it up.
Jim: The year started with the insane (and insanely broken) revelation that was Magicka. Ludicrously difficult to master with its spell system, this tongue-in-cheer fantasy co-op adventure was a haphazard experiment in the joy and silliness of dropping fun mechanics into a game and just seeing how players dealt with it. Hilarious and inspired.
Adam: Magicka is responsible for a few of my most cherished memories of the year and it’s a work of comic brilliance. I might have argued for its inclusion in the 24 if I’d had more time to play it with a likeminded group of slapstick sorcerers, but buggy performance on its part and thundering ignorance on their part conspired to keep many of my friends away.
Alec: Lovely-looking and well-written with TIGHT multiplayer action, it’s simply very sad that Brink didn’t achieve greater things and a wider, longer-lasting audience. Confusing marketing and a mystifying lack of community features kept it from being the game it should have been, but it’s a multiplayer shooter that boldly strove for new ground where others settled on rinse and repeat.
Jim: Brink was so beautiful that its failure to really capture a significant audience genuinely surprised me. I’ve always enjoyed the Enemy Territory way of doing things, and it seemed to work better than ever here. Obviously not too many people felt that way, because it all faded away after the first week. What a shame.
Driver: San Francisco
Alec: A real surprise, this one. A deeply unwell franchise smoothly salvaged, with snappy, funny writing, an insane concept that actually worked and the right balance of freedom and imperatives. I liked it a lot.
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood
Alec: Released in 2010 on console, but the traditional Ubisoft time-dilation effect meant we had to hang on until March 2011 for the PC version. It’s comfortably best AssCreed so far for me, cementing what the second game had done then essentially turning it into a party of old-urban exploration, free-running, money-making and fluid fight-o-biffing. Such a shame that the next game, Revelations (released just weeks ago) was just a bloated repeat.
Alec: Just lovely. Really, truly lovely. It probably should have been in the calendar proper, but it had the misfortune to arrive while we were already part way through that particularly ultromegafeature, plus none of the other Hivemind nodes have had a chance to tackle its delicately clever tri-character puzzling as yet.
Warhammer 40,000 Dawn Of War 2: Retribution
Jim: An astonishing expansion for Dawn Of War 2, and one of the best strategy campaigns we’ve ever played. I feel like this sort lost our attention too quickly, due to everything else that was going on, but its achievements were clear. Brilliantly made, thrillingly challenging, and extraordinarily dynamic. This is Relic at the height of their powers.
Jim: I’ve only dabbled in this over the year, but Quintin was quick to point that it stands out among the free MOBA/PvP games. Free, obviously, and beautifully made. Worth a look if you want that sort of combat.
Atom Zombie Smasher
Adam: A real oddity, which knows how to punish and elicit a guffaw of delight, interspersing the agony of defeat with narrative interludes that don’t give a damn about contextualising themselves and somehow make a game about zombies into one of the most intriguing propositions of the year. It’s merciless, smart, funny and unlike anything else I’ve played all year. Blendo should also be commended for creating a superb aesthetic with top-notch audio and visual design.
Alice: Madness Returns
Adam: Although the repetition causes it vanishes up its own rabbit-hole long before the end is in sight, Alice McGee’s second adventure was gorgeous enough for me to see it through. It’s a visually stunning tour of a Wonderland that is often as beautiful as it is horrid. Not a calendar contender due to the lack of invention in terms of action throughout its arduous duration, but it shows plenty of invention in other ways.
Duke Nukem Forever
What the hell was that?