The lights are on
This year had no shortage of amazing games that I knew I
would love and put countless hours into. However, there were also a few games I
never thought I'd even play, which turned out to be among my favorites.
Dead IslandWhen I first heard of Dead Island, I was instantly
intrigued. An open-world survival/horror format is exactly what I had been
waiting for in a zombie game. When I got the chance to sit in on a demo of the
game nearly a year before it came out, I went into the meeting with high hopes.
Those hopes were quickly dashed when the developer revealed
the combat was melee-focused. Suddenly, none of the other interesting-sounding
aspects of the game mattered to me. A zombie apocalypse where you're stuck
using oars and broomsticks to kill zombies? Lame. Add to that a rough demo (it
was still an early build of the game), and I walked away thinking the title had
potential, but it wasn't really on my radar anymore.
Eight months later I played some Dead Island co-op with Tim
while he was working on his review and was blown away by what the game had
evolved into. The detailed environments were massive and encouraged
exploration, and the melee combat that I had scoffed at was visceral, nuanced,
and supremely satisfying.
Best of all, zombies are once again formidable foes, which
make them as scary as they are deadly. Stumble into a lone undead corpse, and
you're probably okay, but if there's more than a few, you'd better run for your
life. In most zombie games the undead are weapon fodder, but Dead Island
reintroduces players to the "survival" side of survival horror.
Dead Island wasn't a perfect game by any means, but it's
probably my favorite zombie game of all time. In a way, I'm glad it fell off of
my radar so that I could go into it without any real expectations. For better
or worse, the same wouldn't be true for a Dead Island sequel – which is
something I'm praying Techland is working on.
Dark SoulsWhen I first heard about Demon's Souls, I thought it sounded
stupid. Some people feel the need to play punishingly hard games in an attempt
prove their worth as gamers, but not me. Long ago I stopped butting my head up
against games that are too difficult – if I struggle with a game to the point
where I'm more frustrated than entertained by it, I either turn the difficulty
down or stop playing. In contrast, the community that formed around Demon's
Souls sounded downright masochistic. I didn't think twice about skipping it.
Dark Souls was also on my list of games to not give a crap
about, but it had one intriguing twist that its predecessor lacked: it was
open-world. It also came out a month before Skyrim, and I was craving a
large-scale RPG to sink my teeth into. So, I took a chance on a game I would
have otherwise never played. I'm extremely glad I did, though I wasn't at
At first I hated Dark Souls. The notorious difficulty lived
up to its reputation, and the perfect storm of death penalties (you lose your
progress, souls – which serve as your currency and XP, and all of your enemies respawn) abruptly ended my first
night of play in a flurry of obscenities.
But the next day I wanted to play more. Returning to the
game, I triumphed over the previous night's obstacle (that stupid bridge
monster), only to have my will crushed and night ruined again by another
overpowered foe (that stupid armored boar). The game wasn't just difficult – the core structure felt totally broken.
And yet like Bill Murray in Groundhog's Day, I awoke the following day destined to do it all
over again. But by that point something had clicked. I was playing the game
differently (more cautiously and deliberately than any other action game), I
had conquered a small section of Dark Souls' world, and I was no longer put off
by the challenge, but enthralled by it. I still think the soul system breaks
the game somewhat, but my enjoyment of Dark Souls now vastly outweighs my
frustration with it, and I look forward to (and slightly dread) spending many
more hours in From Software's creative and memorable world.
Email the author Jeff Marchiafava, or follow on Google+, Twitter, and Game Informer.
Nice list. I love it when games pleasantly surprise you.
Another vote for Dark Souls GOTY. I spent over 300 hours on the game so far, one complete blind playthrough, the next and a few others on NG+ with the excellent Futurepress guide and help online. I love the story being told through the little details and the very precise and challenging combat (unless you backstab everything you come to) as well as the no map open world (makes discovery WAY more interesting, especially blind).
Next up, Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Very fun if somewhat limited. I had the most fun when I stopped trying to do EVERY possible route and just played through without backtracking. This led to four playthroughs where I had a different experience each time, investing in unique skills and taking a new route/gameplay style each time as well (once all guns blazing, once stealthy, once as a humanitarian that would never kill (unless completely unavoidable).
Portal 2. Leading up to me actually playing it, I was filled with dread. What if they bleeped it up? The original was just so perfect (for an add-on to the excellent Orange Box, it was actually the stand out title in the entire package, not labeled the best deal in all of video game history for nothing). I should never have worried. For me at least, turning Portal 2 into a bonafide story, incorporating the best parts of the first game without being redundant was just awesome. It was like Dark Souls having an open world structure. Not entirely necessary (as proven by both games predecessors I've mentioned) but entirely more engrossing because of it. The story alone had me convinced (not to mention it's stellar mechanics) that it would be GOTY for this year. Alas, then came that pesky Dark Souls game.....
Lastly, I'll pick a downloadable title I played on XBOX live. Tim Schafer has always made quality stuff, and Psychonauts is one of my favorite platformers of last generation. So it's no surprise Stacking should wrap up this list. Initially for my kids, there were so many scenarios were you could solve the riddle in several different ways, I would eventually blurt out an answer and my kids would yell at me for ruining it for them. So eventually I made my own game and discovered the simple beauty of this game, where different avatars will have unique skills that possess multiple functions. Favorite moment - using the fat-mustachioed man's fart to clear out the dining room (much better than using the worker to travel through the vent using his wrench skill, prompting clearing of room due to unauthorized access of lower class gentleman in elite, posh lounge).
@ Jeff Marchiafava,
How did the soul system break the Dark Souls game somewhat? Care to elaborate?
I was really surprised by Dead Island also, had a blast and want to play more of it.
Your comments on the original Driver mirror my own thoughts exactly. Now you have me curious about this new game. I will have to give it a try *Runs to check Ebay pricing*
I shared your frustrations with Dark Souls and its predecessor. I spent about an hour with Demon's Souls, and about four with Dark Souls... it's good to know that your frustrations were sublimated into a more favorable experience with the game, and encourage me to try it again.
Yeah, i was really surprised with dark souls, I'd only bought it because I heard it was the hardest game this gen. I'd have added bulletstorm and orcs must die to the list aswell
I never thought i was going to play Rayman Origins until i read your top 50 games of e3 back in July i think. I regret nothing.
I totally agree with NBA 2K12. I haven't played a basketball game in YEARS (Dr. J vs. Larry Bird on the PC jr) but my nephew was raving about this game. So when I went to by MLB 2K12, I saw the combo pack for $70. I figured for an extra $10, I could get another brand new game which is a no brainer! I liked it a lot and plan on buying next years combo pack too if they still offer it.