2011 was packed full of great games, each one of them deserving a Game of the Year nod to themselves. Instead of ranting and raving about one particular game I present to you my list for 2011’s most surprising games. Each one of these games shocked players because of its ingenuity, originality, hype, or questionable content.
10. Duke Nukem Forever
This was the game that no one believed would be released; so when Gearbox announced a release date people were skeptical. Could the game that was in development for over a decade be any good? There was a ton of hype around this game. It would have seemed that Duke was still relevant in today’s market based on all the hype – that is, until the game came out. It was horribly dated, uninspired, and just an overall terrible game. To say anyone was shocked is kind of an overstatement but the initial hype was enough to put it on this list. Rumour has it that Gearbox may be working on a new Duke title, which if true should prove to be a hundred times better than Duke Nukem Forever. Well, anything would be I guess.
Oh, the irony…
9. Shadows of the Damned
Resident Evil meets Killer 7 meets Silent Hill. Minds were collectively blown the world over when this game was announced. The game had everything going for it, Suda51’s insane style, Mikami’s horror survival expertise, and Yamaoka’s haunting soundtrack so when it was released there was no surprise that the game was insanely fun and imaginative – the shocker was how imaginative the game actually was. For instance, in the game there is a skull that follows you around named “Johnson”, who can turn into a gun called “The Boner”. Yeah, this game is essentially amazing.
“Have I got a Boner for you!”
You may have read Papa Thumbs’ review when this game first came out so you know it’s one cool product. The shocking thing about Rocksmith is that it actually works. When Guitar Hero and Rock Band first came out detractors criticized the games for not teaching anything about real guitar-playing to players. Rocksmith, on the other hand, is ready to teach players exactly how to play the guitar with a real guitar and an intuitive (for the most part) user interface. This game is a glimpse of what is to come; the technology is very sophisticated and will only get better from here. Rocksmith may be more of an education tool than a video game, but it still rocked the rhythm genre to its core.
Ricky rocks out.
7. Marvel vs. Capcom 3
During the huge gap after the release of MvC2, fans were hungry for a sequel. They wanted something huge, with insane combos and eight million characters. After a long wait what fans got was a mild-mannered businessman who enjoys comic books; which is to say that they did not get the insane sequel they were looking for. Capcom scaled back the number of playable characters, slowed gameplay down slightly, and changed the art style to a chunky “2.5D” style. It was still a great and frantic fighter but it was missing the initial spark of MvC2. Shortly after, to add insult to injury, Capcom announced the Ultimate version. This new version added about twelve new characters, a couple of new stages and some re-balancing. This was the most shocking thing about MvC: the fact that Capcom thought it wise to release what was ostensibly the same game -save minor edits and additions- within the same year as the original. Capcom is known to milk its franchises but this was taking it to a new level. Why it couldn’t have been a DLC package is beyond me.
How could you even win against this guy?
6. L.A. Noire
Heavy Rain attempted a radical take on interactive story telling; departures like this are not often seen in mainstream games. However, it was criticized for not really being a game; it was deemed more of an interactive movie. Then along came L.A. Noire, which created a balance between the cinematic and the interactive perfectly. Interrogating suspects is engaging and every question you ask affects the game drastically; you feel as though you are the one driving the story, not just reacting to it. This fresh and new kind of game-play was a total surprise when it was released because it’s something we haven’t seen before. Hopefully L.A Noire inspires a new genre of games in the future. And to think: all of this came out of what was later revealed to be a toxic work place. That’s truly surprising to me.
Back in those days, the camera was mightier than the gun.
5. Dead Island
Man; remember when that first trailer came out? The internet went insane! Finally, a zombie video game that focused more on human emotion and not just beefed-up dudes shooting zombies. I wept like a little girl after that trailer. Then Techland showed some game-play footage and suddenly I wasn’t quite as interested. The problem with the game, besides the technical bugs, is that the hype was just too much to live up to. Nothing could have lived up to that amazing, heart-wrenching trailer. In the game you just kind of wandered around hitting zombies with sticks and other hard objects, which was nowhere near as dynamic and emotionally charged as the trailer was. Hype died pretty quickly for Dead Island but that trailer is still one of the biggest shockers of 2011.
“Come here. I want to axe you something.”
4. Mortal Kombat
Mortal Kombat is an interesting franchise because it is so over-the-top and seriously silly that it can get away with a lot of things. It got away with a pretty mediocre movie, and some pretty crappy 3D games. But as time went on and a second movie came out and more crappy games came out the MK franchise because viewed as a slightly damaged property (especially with the loss of Midway); so people really didn’t expect much from Mortal Kombat anymore. When MK9 came out though it grabbed peoples hearts and pulled them out with sheer awesomeness. This was a reboot of the franchise and it made Mortal Kombat great again. The game is jam-packed with so much content that it is overwhelming; the challenge tower is about 300 hundred levels long, and the later stages are simply murder! After Midway was no more I was ready to write off Mortal Kombat but 9 brought everything back, and in many ways is better than the originals.
Shocking. Simply shocking.
3. Wii U
Sure it’s not a game, but the Wii U raised eyebrows into the stratosphere. After the major success of the Wii people were looking to Nintendo to see what they would do to follow it up. So as to not disappoint Nintendo unveiled a…er…controller-like thing…that… kind of… did stuff – or whatever. People were confused as hell at E3 ’11 because Nintendo didn’t really show the system it was releasing; rather, they focused on the controller that players would use. It was like a tablet with buttons, many people thought that was the new system, but it turns out that Nintendo didn’t really address the main unit itself – at least, not to our satisfaction. The whole thing was a complete mess and left people scratching their heads raw. What is shocking is not really what the Wii U is but how it was announced and everything else around it. Let’s hope CES and E3 ’12 will clarify things more.
The largest controller. Ever.
This is my Game of the Year. It may be a little selfish to put this on the list, but Catherine is a story-telling powerhouse. If L.A. Noire combined cinematics and game-play perfectly, then Catherine’s game-play is its storyline and its storyline is its game-play; there is no distinction between the two. The block-pushing puzzles tell the story of Vincent; a man struggling with decisions to make in his own life. The game also switches its critical gaze to the actual player as well, asking very personal questions and showing the results around the world. It makes you step back and question your own morals and how you feel in certain situations. I’ve never cheated on a partner before but after this game I felt like I did.
What the hell kind of hair product has hold like that?
1. Batman: Arkham City
Truth be told there’s nothing really shocking surrounding this game. It was announced; people rejoiced; it came out; it was awesome – no surprises in the least. Except for the story. Many Batman theorists (they exist trust me) have long talked about the relationship between Batman and the Joker, stating that the two need each other to exist. Arkham City takes this notion to the next level; a level I have never seen a game rise to before. Believe it or not, Batman Arkham City is about Batman struggling to deal with contracting AIDS. He is first infected by an encounter with the Joker, the man his existence is dependent on. He then proceeds to make his way around the sub-city, fixing all of the problems he can before he dies; like a man who knows he’s going to die tying up lose ends. In desperation Batman takes multiple experimental and untested drugs to help him survive the disease inside of him, but to no avail. In the end he finally faces his other half (The Joker); without ruining the ending lets just say things end as it should.
Arkham City represents one of the most sophisticated ways of dealing with a modern issue in any form of media. It’s not condescending, and it doesn’t pander to anyone – it just is. It allows the players to experience the hopelessness and struggles that a weakened Batman feels. It’s one of the most shocking things I’ve seen in a video game and I loved every second of it.
Nothing like a midnight flight.