It’s The Little Things: My Favorite Gaming Bits From 2011

by Jeff Cork on Dec 28, 2011 at 07:00 AM

I’m an optimist at heart, in spite of my carefully constructed prickly exterior. I try to find the bright side of things whenever possible, even if I don’t necessarily share my findings. I also play a lot of games. I can’t remember the last time that I’ve played a game that was irredeemably bad. Even the stinkers have an interesting concept or mechanic buried amidst the sludge. While looking back at my top 10 games of the year list, I realized that there were a few titles that didn’t make the cut, but that still deserved recognition for doing something particularly cool. Some of these games are kind of weak, while others are pretty darned good. The one thing they have in common is that they feature an interesting idea or two that I’d like to see in other games.

Two Worlds II
I enjoyed Reality Pump’s action-RPG overall, but a pair of features stuck out. First, I loved being able to bind several different sets of armor and gear to various directions on the d pad. It’s conceptually kind of dumb (instant wardrobe chance on the battlefield?!), but it makes combat much more fluid and exciting. My robed-up battlemage would open up encounters with an overpowered blast of magical fire, then I’d switch to my melee outfit and hack through the burning survivors. Speaking of spells, the spellcrafting system in the game is nothing short of brilliant. It rewards experimentation by letting players mix and match spell and modifier cards to create effects like chain lightning, ricocheting projectiles, or tiny tornadoes that happen to be filled with anvils.

You Don’t Know Jack
Trivia games are one of the most accessible genres around, since anyone who can push a button (and knows an answer or two) can enjoy them. I played THQ’s reboot of You Don’t Know Jack with my parents, and it was made even more enjoyable by one little detail. On the Xbox 360 version, you can use the big-button controllers from Scene-It? To play the game. My folks don’t play games, so stripping the controls down to five buttons was a tremendous help. Better still, the game recognizes the controls and changes the way that answers are displayed on screen to match the alternative controllers’ layout, which has buttons arranged in a vertical row instead of the diamond shape found on the default gamepad. Awesome.

Homefront was a pretty big disappointment overall, but that intro was still one of the high points of the year for me. The setup with real life news clips and documentary footage cleverly arranged to show the U.S. invaded by North Korean forces was great. The bus ride along occupied streets was also well done. It’s too bad that things ultimately took a dive from there, but at least it started strong.

Brink was another bummer for me, but I hope developers take notes from one of its more successful parts: Give people an incentive to play cooperatively online by appealing to their selfish natures. I still think that the game’s structure of generating mini objectives for each player depending on each team’s progress is a great idea, and I hope it’s something we see more of in the future. Also, the character designs are rad as hell.

Duke Nukem Forever
Gearbox finally released Duke Nukem Forever, which means the character can hopefully move beyond that title that hung around his ankle like an anchor. Whether or not he’s even relevant remains to be seen; Duke Nukem Forever itself was itself so irrelevant for so long that it’s hardly an indictment of the franchise as a whole.

Dungeon Siege III
I play a fair amount of action-RPGs, and cooldown meters are a standard way to keep players from spamming the most impressive attacks. Unfortunately, it often means that players will blast off one of those metered attacks, and then retreat while they wait for it to fill up again. Obsidian’s Dungeon Siege III took the opposite approach. To top it off, players had to actively engage the enemy. Hang back, and that meter isn’t budging. That simple reversal made the combat in DSIII seem completely fresh, and it gave me an incentive to play like the *** hero I supposedly was.

People really seemed to dig Bastion’s narrator commentary, and you can put me among the fans. If it weren’t for his constant observations, I’d say the game was otherwise pretty forgettable stuff. Good thing he stuck around. Sure, Prince of Persia already played with the whole “No, that’s not how it happened” thing when players died already, but Bastion’s voiceover took wry meta observations a step beyond player death.

Dead Island
Its trailer was amazing.

Rise of Nightmares
I didn’t much care for Rise of Nightmares, but the survival-horror game did have a pretty cool navigation shortcut. Players can wander around the game’s castle freely by kicking one foot out in front of the other and turning shoulders to simulate turns. Or, if you’re lazy, you can move along a track toward the next objective by simply raising a hand up in the air. I really appreciate giving players a chance to explore if they want, while understanding that not every Kinect player wants to flail around to move from sequence to sequence.

3D (Yes, I Know This Isn’t A Game)
When we moved into our new house, there was a built-in space in the basement for a television. Unfortunately, it was too shallow for our DLP, so I had to get a new TV. (Waaaah, life is hard.).After some exhaustive research, I ended up getting a 60” plasma. For a few bucks more, I sprung for the 3D version. Though 3D alone wouldn’t have been enough of a motivator to buy a new display, it was certainly a nice feature to have on the checklist. And it looks pretty cool. Sure, wearing a pair of glasses on top of my glasses is dumb, but soaring the skies of Arkham City or climbing atop colossi is impressive stuff. I found myself actually wishing that the console version of Skyrim had incorporated the functionality. As a huge naysayer, I’m humbly shutting up.