Jake's Top 5 Games of 2011

Man, what a fantastic and strange year.  So many great games came out and made this a year to remember.  It was really hard for me to narrow this list down to only five and an honorable mention, and even hard to actually rank the six games that I chose.  In the end I chose the games that left the strongest impression on me this year and in several cases changed what I thought a video game could be.

5.  Catherine

There are very few games I feel as conflicted about as Catherine.  On one hand it tells a unique and wonderful story about relationships.  On the other it lies to you about how much influence you have on that story and includes some very frustrating puzzle sequences.  Yet the story it tells so intimate and compelling, it’s hard for me not to love this game.  This is one of those games everyone should play, and then go see a psychiatrist.  It's not perfect, but it is one of the most innovative and charming games to come out this year.

4.  Trackmania 2 Canyon

Another game that slipped under the radar, Trackmania 2 is an online multiplayer time trial racer with a great map editor and the ability to add dubstep to everything.  The game itself is fairly minimalistic, so it’s hard to describe exactly what I like so much about it.  That being said there isn't really anything wrong with it, it’s just simple fun.  Trackmania is crazy, but it’s my kind of crazy, and with an awesome community to race and chat with its one of the more innovative games to come out this year.

3.  Saint's Row the Third

I'll be honest when I first heard of this game, I thought it looked like another Duke Nukem Forever waiting to happen.  It just seemed like a third rate GTA clone with a silly setting and immature humor.  I was wrong.  Saint's Row the Third is a kind of masterpiece.  I really don't want to spoil what makes this game so special, because the game is at its best when you have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen next.  Suffice to say crazy, crazy things happen during the story that, despite its fantastical bent, manages to be emotional and fulfilling.  More surprising, everything manages to work and nothing feels out of place or a wasted aside.  This is one of the best and most finely crafted

2.  Bastion

I bought this game on day one not really expecting anything from it, and I got quite a pleasant surprise.  The music and art in this game are my favorite for the year.  The haunting tunes of Zia’s song actual transcends video games to become one of my favorite pieces of music.  The story is obtuse, but deliberately so to make you examine it deeper.  Bastion’s ending presented me with one of the best and most moving moral choices I’ve ever been faced with in a video game, but the excellence is not limited to the presentation.  The gameplay is excellent as well, a combination of action hack and slash and a Diablo style dungeon crawl.  It’s fun and addictive and one of the best gaming experiences I’ve had this year.

1.  The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

The world of the Geralt of Riva, the titular Witcher, is an ugly one.  It’s filled with misery, grime, and violence, but is no less appealing for that.  The gameplay for the Witcher 2 is solid and engrossing.  Spectacular boss battles, fluid controls, and challenging combat makes for one of the tightest action-RPG controls of the year.  That’s not what makes it my game of the year though.  The game challenges you to role-play maybe better than any other game on the market, setting up a very real character and somehow making the choices feel organic no matter what you choose.  Geralt is a very human character, and it’s great to see him change and react to the actions of others throughout the story.  With very divergent endings to the game I’m very excited to see where the series goes from here.  The world is dark and gritty, but not in the standard way.  The abject poverty and misery is conveyed through clever visual design and smart writing.  Few worlds feel as alive and vibrant as this one, and this is what makes it the best game to come out this year.

Honorable Mention:  Batman Arkham City