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2011 in Video Games [GO]
Jan 5th, 2012 by Dan

HAY GUSY! ZELDA GAMES ARE 25!

So maybe I wasn't playing video games at birth nor was this blog running 25 years ago, but this is my 25th year too!

2011 was an odd year in games for me. It started out like any other, filled with joy and happiness, and then it was all wrenched away halfway through, thanks to that burglary, until I was able to start replenishing my stores and getting the ball rolling again for the second half.

This list, unlike last year, will cover the games I played most this year, even if they came out several years ago :cough: Team Fortress 2 :cough:. I think it’s better to reflect upon what I put the most game time into, even if it wasn’t new.

Resident Evil 5 – 2011’s 2009 Game of the Year has to go to Capcom’s co-op survival horror epic. I remember the Giant Bomb guys pimping this game super hard, but I ignored them over and over again for nearly two years because I’m not much of a scary games guy. Then the steam sale happened and I wanted something co-op to play with Min and Lee, so I buckled. This game was so good, guys. According to Raptr, I played 57 hours of this guy just cruising through all the levels, S-Ranking each one, finding all the emblems and upgrading all the weapons, and getting every achievement for the first time on a full-sized game. Then I came back and played it all again with David. RE5 may be some of the best bang I got for my buck in 2011.

Batman: Arkham Asylum – I think it’s hilarious that I played both Batman games this year. Make no mistake, Batman: AA is the better game. Tighter story focus, less wandering and rambling around, and that sharp, crunchy combat system that we all love. It almost literally hurts to watch Batman punch people in the face in this game. Lots of fun, even for a guy who doesn’t really like Batman.

Red Dead Redemption – Man, every game that I played in January came out in another year. RDR has a lot of those Rockstar quirks that I hate (incorrigible supporting cast, homicidal ludonarrative dissonance, etc.), but it also has one of the best realized characters in recent video games in its portrayal of John Marston. Horseback riding is fun, lassoing fools is fun, and the story is frustrating (because of the asshole supporting cast), but also solid most of the time. The only thing that really annoyed me was breaking horses every fucking time. Why? It’s not like it was fun to do…

Magicka – 2011’s Game Most Likely to Make You Strangle Your Friends. Ask Min how many times I killed him by striking him with lightning. I never took this game seriously and mostly tried to speed cast lightning. Fun, but the polish wasn’t there. Buggy as all hell. Not to mention that lightning bolt was the only spell worth using…or maybe it was the only spell I knew?

Ghost Trick – I used this game to try and improve/practice my Spanish. It’s lots of fun, quirky, weird, neat, but I never finished it. I thought it wasn’t taken in the burglary, but I’m having trouble finding it now. I want to finish it soon…Pick it up if you have a DS. It’s quirky and fun.

Costume Quest – Picked this up on sale and played it for a few hours. It’s definitely got that Double Fine humor, but it couldn’t hold my interest.

Pixeljunk Shooter 2 – I don’t know why some of the magic was gone with this one. Maybe the new fluids weren’t as innovative or neat? The fluid mechanics remain super awesome and the game is plenty fun on its own, but even more fun with a partner to troll.

Face Raiders – Shooting at Min’s face is the best thing I did with my 3DS before it was stolen.

Pokemon White (Black) – I got David to try a new Pokemon game with this and I’m super proud of that. Gen V brought a lot of really interesting changes to a game that most people feel is flat and unchanging. I had a lot of fun playing it until the momentum was killed with the burglary. When Grey inevitably gets announced I’ll probably buy it.

Game Dev Story – When this finally hit the Android marketplace I was ecstatic. Then I played it and realized it was a competent, but not overwhelming sim. Worth a few bucks.

Borderlands – Another co-op game for Min, Lee, and I to play. Lots of fun even though the story is stupid as hell. Brings out the loot whore in all of us.

Planescape: Torment – Talk about old! Didn’t get anywhere close to finishing this. It seems interesting, but never captures my interest enough to play it for longer than 20 mins.

Portal 2 – This is, bar none, the greatest example of story and comedy narrative laid out in video game form. Portal 2 has just brilliant writing and pacing. Everything from Wheatley to the history of Aperture Science to the origins of GLaDOS is perfectly realized. Then you have the game itself…Portal 2 is not a bad game at all. It’s just not as hard or interesting, with respect to puzzles, as Portal. This was a result of narrowing the possible solution space (story-justified by the decay of the facility, but still) in such a way that it was mostly obvious where portals needed to go, removing that aspect of figuring things out. It’s still probably the best game of this year, but I wish it they hadn’t pared it down as much as they did.

Pro Yakyu Spirits 2011 (Professional Baseball Spirits 2011) – I had a fun, challenging season going with my 2011 Hiroshima Carp before that jerk (those jerks?) came and stole my copy of a Japanese baseball game (in Japanese, mind you!). What were they gonna do with a game in Japanese featuring teams they weren’t even familiar with?! PYS 2011 was a huge step forward from 2010. Home runs may have been a little easier to hit (ok, a LOT easier to hit), but 2011 looked sharper and had enough new, interesting features (the player development was cool) that I was super stoked…until it was all taken away from me. Assholes.

L.A. Noire – I got about 1/5 of the way through the game before someone stole it. I still remember the forensics guy asking me if it was any good. Here’s the thing about L.A. Noire: It’s an adventure game skinned with GTA. Getting anywhere in LA is unsatisfying because driving is a bummer (and property/car damage lowers your rank), the devolution of most cases into shootouts feels a little artificial, and, worst of all, most of the chases (car and foot) let you see how the sausage is made. What I mean is, you can tell that you can’t catch up to a perp before a certain point and you can also see where the game just makes a perp crash or fall intentionally to just let you catch up. The face modeling stuff is super cool (and eerie if you watch Mad Men) and works pretty well minus one or two people. A tremendous achievement, but ultimately a mediocre game.

Call of Duty: Black Ops and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare – I’m combining these because I don’t have much I want to say about either. The shooting is good, but the missions are kind of lame. I can see where this might be fun, but it’s also not for me.

inFamous – This was my free mea culpa game from Sony after the big hack fiasco. Decent open world game, but it suffers from being an open world game, in my eyes. The electric powers were fun, but the story was stupid. I don’t regret beating this game or getting it for free. Skating on the rails and then getting hit by a train is awesome.

Shadows of the Damned – I wish I’d taken the time to actually beat this game. It plays exactly like a Resident Evil game, has a super cool aesthetic, kickass soundtrack, and some of the funniest, most Japanese characters I’ve ever seen (come on, Garcia Fucking Hotspur is the greatest character name of the year!). Maybe I’ll beat it in 2012.

Hot Springs Story – From the devs what brought you Game Dev Story we have Hot Springs Story. See the entry above. It’s equally meh to me. I think I just don’t like playing games on my phone.

Torchlight – Gave me my Diablo fix a whole year before I’ll ever see Diablo III (I bet D3 is still not out in 2012). It’s fun and addictive, but it can get a little repetitive after a while. Good for loot whores/junkies.

Jikkyou Powerful Pro Yakyu 2011 – I got this expecting to have as much fun with it as I did back when it was the only Pawapuro/Konami-style baseball game I could play. In a post (Dan Mesa) PYS world, the simplifications of the engine don’t quite work for me. I need the extra systems that PYS layers on top.

Team Fortress 2TF2 has always been good. The addition of large-scale achievements made it even better, but the real tipping point for me was Strange Weapons. Once I learned that there were weapons which tracked the number of kills you had on them…well I couldn’t go back. This year probably saw the most TF2 playing from me since its launch. This game is barely recognizable to what it looked like in 2007. It’s free to play now. It’s got so many new maps and weapons and hats. It’s still the best competitive shooter a person could play right now.

Cahterine – Some people don’t get Catherine. They think the block puzzles are annoying and frustrating and find the whole thing to be stupid, too anime-y, and a waste of time. While Catherine makes a turn right near the end that mucks with its interpretation, it’s still one of the most interesting, adult experiences out there, which isn’t to say that it’s got nudity (none) or sex (none on screen), but, rather, that it deals with a lot of grown-up problems. Vincent’s life is in a rut, he’s being pushed into committing to a woman he’s afraid to commit to, and then he finds an escape in Catherine. I have yet to play a more interesting or convincing game about growing up, taking responsibility, and becoming a man. Catherine forced me to take a hard look at myself, my life, the incidences of cheating that have been in it, and just think about it all. A lot of games don’t do that.

Yakuza 4 – Got maybe two hours in before it was stolen.

Dragon Age II – Man, a lot of people have a lot of beef with Dragon Age 2 and I don’t really get it. Maybe it’s because I came to the game knowing all the complaints that everyone had before I got there, but it’s really not that bad. It “suffers” from the Mass Effect 2-ization of Bioware’s properties, but that’s not all bad. Dragon Age: Origins was bloated, over-long, and caused most people to quit right at the cusp of its climax. The way I see it, there were two things that were glaringly wrong with the game mechanics. First was the way that enemy reinforcements just seemed to pop in out of nowhere, artificially extending every fight and turning them into hyper-frustrating affairs. Keeping things limited to the enemies on-screen would have been vastly preferred. The second big miss was the lack of polish/variety of locations. It was very clear that this game was rushed to market because there were maybe three or four map styles recycled to cover a lot of locations. The minimaps weren’t properly reflecting when doors were shut and it was painfully apparent how much recycling happened. These are not sins worth crucifying the game for. The way that it focuses exclusively on Kirkwall and Hawke’s family is actually a good thing. Rather than be as sprawling as DA:O, it allows for a more personal story. Every relationship in this game is way cooler/most interesting than the ones in DA:O and, arguably, any of the ones in ME2. DA2 gets a lot of shit, but it’s a great game.

Bastion – Considering how much everyone just loves this game I really wish I’d given it a little more time this year. I barely played it, but the narrator was cool and the game seemed neat. I’ve got to beat this in 2012

Deus Ex: Human Revolution – I bought this game to get the pre-order items it came with for TF2. I don’t regret doing so. Played about an hour or two of the game. Haven’t felt compelled to go back yet.

Gears of War 2 – This is the year that Min and I beat GoW1 & 2. It took a long time, but we still managed it. These games are really fun in co-op. Easily among the most fun we had in couch co-op this year.

Gears of War 3 – My GOTY comes down to this or Portal 2. I know I’m way late to the GoW train, but god damn these games are razor sharp. Shooting in this game just feels so right, you know? It’s about as polished and good as a third person shooter can possibly be. Fighting the final boss for two hours because I turned on no ammo drops will be memorable for a long time in a way that I don’t often make memories in video games any more. Thank you, Epic, for this amazing game.

The Binding of Isaac – The second I heard that the dude from Super Meat Boy, Edmund McMillen, was coming out with a new game, I knew that I would be buying it and that it would be tons of fun. You’ll remember from last year that SMB was the best game I played. The Binding of Isaac is not quite the best of this year, but it is a more realized game than it has any right to be. I mean, the game was $5 at launch, for Christ’s sake, and it featured a free content patch at Halloween. Isaac took 55 hours of my time this year, assuming every one was counted by Raptr, and I anticipate it taking more before I’m done with it. This game is the best $5 you can spend this year.

Galaga Legions DX – Coming off the awesomeness that was Pac-Man CE DX I expected big things from this game. It’s nowhere near as fun, but maybe that’s because Pac-Man is a way more fun game than Galaga ever was.

Batman: Arkham City – I’m pretty sure you already know that I think this game was a major step back from Arkham Asylum. I really don’t think the open world aspects did this game any favors. It’s still got that super-crunchy, razor sharp battle system, but it’s also marred by too many poorly dressed women constantly being called b***hes. This is a game that aggressively pushed me away from it and I was more than happy to be done with it when I was despite being the best thing to happen to brawlers in ages.

Dungeon Defenders – Tower defense made even more fun by allowing us to run around in the environments. I didn’t put in anywhere near as many hours as Min did, but it was fun while I played it.

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception – Man, Uncharted 2 was fantastic, wasn’t it? Try this new one! It’s a lot like the old one, but with a little less charisma. A little less je ne sais quoi. Despite featuring my favorite video game characters of the modern era, Uncharted 3 was lacking in weird ways that the appearance of the The Last of Us trailer makes clear. Focus was diverted. Glad that we got three of these, but I wish it was as much a step forward as the second one was.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Remember how I wrote that article where I outlined everything I hated about this game? Since I wrote it I played another hour or two and said, “Nope. I don’t want to play this.” Will I ever go back? God, I hope not. It was worth spending $60 to drive in the point that I don’t like Bethesda open world RPGs. Here’s a note to Future Dan: Don’t buy any more Bethesda games, you moron.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword – This poor game is being victimized by the launch of The Old Republic. Had TOR not come out there’s not a doubt in my mind that I would be playing the most charming Zelda game since Wind Waker non-stop. Skyward Sword plays sharply and is tons of fun.

Star Wars: The Old Republic – My life has been sucked into this game in a way that I wasn’t prepared for. I can’t believe that there was a time where I was actively thinking about avoiding this game and staying away from MMOs altogether. Bioware did something fantastic here by adding story to a genre that typically lacked it. This game has already rocketed up the charts for total time played and I predict that it will never be usurped based on how much I truly love playing it. I haven’t even finished one story and I’ve still got seven more to go.

What I’ve Been Doing [F/FB/IB/BT/GO]
Jul 11th, 2011 by Dan

2010 Pine Leaf Boys scene from Treme, Breaux Bridge April 30 (23 of 34)

A performance from Tremé

Tomorrow night’s the All-Star Game, but my coverage might be a little different than usual. I plan on watching it with friends, so there may not be a liveblog, but I will cover it in the morning. In the meanwhile, here’s what I’ve been up to.

Music:

Rx Bandits – Saw the Bandits down at the 9:30 Club on Saturday for their farewell tour. I don’t think anything will match the unparalleled emotion I felt at Five Iron Frenzy’s “Winners Never Quit” tour back in 2003, but it was a special show. They’re not writing off being a studio band, but that may have been the last time I’ll ever see the Bandits and they did not disappoint. Great show. The tour t-shirt puts me up to 5 RxB t-shirts. I think I’ve reached excessive there.

Movies:

Carancho - Ricardo Darín’s strong showing in El secreto de sus ojos attracted me to this movie. In it, Darín plays a carancho (translates to vulture), or an ambulance chaser, who scams victims out of their settlements. The story is a little uneven, but it’s clear to me that Darín is ridiculously talented and I love seeing him in anything. Gotta track down more of his films.

TV:

Tremé – Finally got around to watching the season 2 finale. Good stuff. It’s neat to see the differences between Tremé and The Wire. David Simon is clearly not compelled to make this show more watchable by limiting the live music or giving it a more structured plot, but that’s ok sometimes. It’s nice to see the different storylines just play out because, hey, that’s life. Good to also see the Vietnamese shrimp boats as a preparation for an eventual Gulf Oil Spill storyline.

Dead Like Me – As a fan of Pushing Daisies, I was not surprised to learn that this was a Bryan Fuller show. The same little quirks were apparent in the early episodes and although he left the show rather early in its run, his DNA runs through it. I gotta wonder about Fuller’s preoccupation with death and women with masculine nicknames…Anyway, it’s a pretty solid show that my girlfriend is watching and I hop in for an episode or two wherever she is. The premise, that the main characters are grim reapers who collect souls that are about to die, is pretty neat and I dig the characters. I also like that it was a Showtime show, so the writers are free to let the characters talk like real people.

Mad Men – Last weekend I just blew through S3 and S4. This is a fantastic show. I do love it when a show finds itself continually evolving so it’s neat to see how far the characters have come since S1. It was a little troubling in the 4th season to see Don struggling, but I’m excited to see what S5 brings in 2012. This is seriously one of the best shows I’ve seen in ages. Very good.

Books:

Chew – New issue (#19) came out last week. Toni appears in this one and she’s rapidly grown on me as one of my favorite characters. The latest issue sets up a lot of neat plot points that I’m excited to see born out and also reveals some interesting secrets about the Chu family. Definitely the best so far in the new arc.

S.H.I.E.L.D. – My love affair with Jonathan Hickman’s work has not abated yet. His examination of the secret history of an organization that a lot of Marvel fans kind of take for granted is very interesting. Could have interesting implications for the greater Marvel universe, but it also ties in very nicely with Hickman’s work in FF. Gotta wonder if Hickman has some serious father issues, because it’s yet another book of his thematically dealing with fathers and sons, but this time with a fate vs. free will wrinkle.

Fantastic Four/FF – More Hickman, more awesomeness. I finally got around to reading Hickman’s run on Fantastic Four and I was seriously impressed. I mean, we’re talking a breadth of narrative that’s still bearing fruit in his current issues of FF. FF is one of my most anticipated books every month. I can’t wait to see what The War of the Four Cities will bring and whether or not the issues with the Council of Reeds (first introduced at the start of Hickman’s run back in 2009) will be resolved in this arc.

Ultimate Fantastic Four – Still cool, but man does it pale in comparison to the work being done on FF. Almost done with it, so I’ll continue for now.

Video Games:

Torchlight – Picked this guy up for $2 or so in the Steam summer sale. and it was well worth the purchasing price. Definitely scratching my Diablo itch with some seriously addictive game mechanics. Playing as the pet class and loving all the summons, but on Very Hard the final dungeons are proving challenging. I’m afraid to try it hardcore next, but the challenge is calling me (for those who don’t know, hardcore mode means that death is permanent for a character. THE ULTIMATE CHALLENGE!)

Left 4 Dead – David finally built himself a new computer allowing him to play all the sweet games of the past that we couldn’t play before. We played No Mercy last night and it was a real blast from the past. I can’t wait for him to see the ways the game has evolved in L4D2! I’m sure he’ll find it just as awesome as I do.

inFamous – Beat it on very hard on the good track. Considering an evil run for trophies, but, truth be told, this game is middling, at best, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to motivate myself to play it again with more interesting options on hand.

StarCraft 2 – Played a couple of quick rounds with Dave and one of his friends. Still solid, but I’m not always in the mood.

What I’ve Been Doing [IB/BT/GO/FB]
Jun 21st, 2011 by Dan

Mad Men's Christina Hendricks as Joan Holloway

My favorite part of Mad Men, the lovely Christina Hendricks

Video Games:

inFAMOUS – Handles a little looser than I’d like. Scratches that open world itch that LA Noire hinted at. The powers are fun, but I’m not sure yet if I’ll try and play with evil powers too. Shadows of the Damned comes out this week and that may start sapping playtime away if I decide to pick it up.

TV:

Mad Men – Oh man do I love this show. So great. All of the acting in it is fantastic. Just watched the opening five episodes of Season 2 and wow. Two scenes in particular just blew my mind, the first in Flight 1 where Paul and Joan have that fight after Paul’s party over Paul’s new girlfriend and the other when Betty and Don get into that argument about disciplining their child and get to shoving each other. This show has a way with words and expression that’s just unreal. I love that they respect us enough to see the undertones and show, not tell. Almost forgot about the scene with Rachel, Bobbie, and Don. Just fantastic. I miss her as a character, she was awesome.

Movies:

Blue Valentine – Not a date movie at all, but I watched it with the girlfriend. Watching their relationship in its infancy and in its death throes was a fantastic examination of the ways we can hurt the ones we love. It was also deeply affecting in the way that it mirrored some of the bad breakups I’ve had. A fantastic, raw movie.

Books

Chew – Almost completely up to speed on the book. It even got me to set up a box and pull list at the local comic store. An absolute breath of fresh air. Dark humor, quirky storytelling, and it pays attention to its history. Arcs seem to be set up many issues in advance and I can kind of see where we’re headed 1/4 of the way through the run. That’s another thing: glad to hear the book has a set ending. Keeps the narrative in line and eliminates some of the filler. The timeskip was a pretty funny callback to issue #1 too.

Ultimate Fantastic Four – I love the Fantastic Four. The books are more hero-y than drama-y (like, say, Spider-Man), but I’m still digging it. I enjoy the relationship between Ben and Johnny and it makes me want to start pulling the Freedom Foundation books.

Powers – I didn’t really care for the first two arcs of this, but people seem to like it. It’s not quite the same thing, but I much preferred Alan Moore’s Top Ten brand of superhero crime drama. Maybe the book gets much better in its later arcs, but I’m not seeing it yet. Doesn’t help that I don’t like the art much either.

Whiteout – Another book that was critically acclaimed. I love the challenge of using white versus black, but the book isn’t overly impressive. Solid, but not amazing. Worth a read.

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