The opening half of 2011 has been a great time to be a gamer. Perhaps not quite as strong as 2010, but one still filled with 'Game of the Year' contenders. Publishers continue to realize the value of using the entire calendar to release games, and the industry will become a healthier place because of it. The following titles, released from January to June, are prime examples of this trend. They are the best of 2011 so far, and are listed in alphabetical order.
People Can Fly
Bulletstorm is one of the rare instances of a game that absolutely must be experienced to appreciate firsthand, it's simply impossible to judge the title without playing. Stringing together a series of kills is fun, and online modes provide that extra bit of entertainment for those interested in the Gears of War horde mode, but the real reward behind Bulletstorm is getting good at the game. There's something to be said at learning when to intuitively kick, slide, and blast your way through the right groups, not to mention being awarded tremendous amount of points while doing so. Bulletstorm is a game about the journey, rather than the destination, and though it's journey is violent, crude, and often times extremely immature, it's one that's also extremely memorable and worth taking at least a couple times.
Child of Eden
Short but sweet, Child of Eden may be the game to breathe life into motion control devices like Kinect. It hits a spot in casual gaming that's both refreshing and memorable, and manages to balance accessibility and challenge at the same time. Most importantly, it is art of the highest degree, in just about every single aspect. The soundtrack is brilliant, the art direction is both creative and engaging, and the games controls (traditional controller notwithstanding) are absolutely fantastic. There's really no reason not to own this title if you have Kinect. In fact, the game itself is a compelling reason to consider purchasing one if you don't. If games like this are the future of motion controlled gaming, it may well be a bright future.
Dead Space 2
Dead Space 2 is an awesome game with a great story-driven single player campaign and a relatively fun online multiplayer mode. The story can be dragged down at times and it's disappointing that we only learn the bare minimum about Isaac Clarke. Regardless, the game is still one of the best experiences this generation and certainly the best of its genre. Visceral Games have improved upon the mechanics introduced in the first game, the presentation and definitely the pacing. No longer is it a slow and tense journey through hell, but a flipping fast-paced, scary-as-shit roller coaster ride through hell instead - and certainly not an experience for the faint-hearted.
From Cole's new powers to the game's presentation, just about every aspect of inFamous 2 is leaps above the original. It's a fun and engaging experience, and the massive amount of things that you can do in the game makes it that much better. Upgrading your powers, then mixing and matching to suit your play-style, it's all very intuitive. The narrative is engaging and the presentation is cinematic. The characters are human in the way they portray themselves, despite having super powers. The scope of the user-generated content is mind-boggling. If you're a creative, expect to spend hours making new scenarios for the community. If not, you can still expect a ton of replayability from said creatives. inFamous 2 simply takes all of that and, like Cole, absorbs multiple Blast Cores, improving what's already there while adding a lot more to the mix.
Media Molecule pioneered a genre on consoles when it made user-generated content the core focus of its debut title, LittleBigPlanet, in 2008. A little over two years and millions of player created levels later, the LittleBigPlanet community is as healthy as ever, largely thanks to the release of LittleBigPlanet 2. The sequel to arguably 2008's 'Game of the Year' feels like a natural evolution of it's predecessor's potential. LittleBigPlanet 2 exponentially expands on every element of its 'Play. Create. Share' mantra, and maintains the series' undeniable charm. It's a complete package.
L.A. Noire is a unique experience in gaming. So much more than the most expensive adventure game ever made, it's a living, breathing world with a truly mature story to tell. The balance between tight storytelling and player freedom is just right, resulting in a more structured experience that still embraces its open-world heritage. This also means the connection between character and setting has never been stronger. As things stand today, only a company with the resources of Rockstar could take on such an ambitious project, but hopefully the heights L.A. Noire reaches and the boundaries it pushes will encourage Rockstar's fellow contemporaries to try and best this detective thriller.
The new Mortal Kombat is the result of a development team not only listening to fan feedback, but also one-uping the requests in just about every single way. The feat is particularly impressive when you consider how fickle the fighting game community is when it comes to any changes being made to a favorite franchise, but the final package that this Rebooted Mortal Kombat presents itself in, results in a new flawless victory. And while newcomers to the series can simply appreciate the gameplay for what it is, veterans will draw the most enjoyment out of all the subtle details that have been preserved in the reboot process. Though it's hard to say if all of these changes will make Mortal Kombat as competitive a series as say, Street Fighter, every single step taken by this game is one in the right direction.
Portal 2 is a brilliant game. The writing is comical and entertaining. The gameplay is fun with just the right amount of challenge and difficulty. The pacing of the game is great. The graphical presentation has improved. The co-op mode is extremely fun and engaging. Not to mention, the voice acting is positively brilliant. Load times are on the long side and are probably much more noticeable on consoles, the story isn't all that much different from the first game, but as mentioned earlier, the writing and characterizations more than make up for it. Portal 2 is an experience you won't soon forget.
Shadows of the Damned
Shadows of the Damned is an oddity, it takes some good ideas from other titles and mixes them up with a grindhouse feel. Suda 51's involvement has meant that the game is both interesting from a story perspective, and somewhat crazy in design, in a good way. The best thing about Shadows of the Damned is how different it is from most other games, and the distinct humour found throughout. The worst thing about it are the instant death chase scenes, and the slight amount of grinding towards the end of the game. Conclusion? We need more games like this.
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
CD Projekt Red
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings may go down as one of the best role-playing games of recent memory, let alone 2011. It's successes show that PC exclusives still merit a very respectable place in the games industry. It has beautiful visuals and is a clear graphical powerhouse. Backed up with a story that's more than capable of holding its own with complex characters and political drama, The Witcher 2 sets the narrative bar high. Add to this, a game that's challenging in a rewarding way and has a combat system that encourages a methodical approach, and you have one of the best RPGs you'll see this year.
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