BEST WORST GAME: Dead Island
hard to think of another game that experienced so steep a rise in interest
early this year – on the heels of its legendary reveal
– only to plummet into a sea of mixed reviews on release. And make no mistake,
Dead Island deserves the flak it got, mainly because of a host of bugs that
could make the game damn near unplayable, or worse, wipe out hours of progress
with a faulty save. Even beyond its technical flaws, it’s ugly, horribly acted
and thuddingly repetitive – and nowhere near as cool as its trailer. Strangely
enough, though, none of that really diminished our enjoyment of the game.
all its warts, Dead Island is enormously, addictively fun. No other game this year has delivered quite the same visceral
thrill that we get from decapitating zombies with an oar, or of throwing every
last one of our knives into the ripped abs of a lumbering brute (only to snatch
them all back again and repeat the process). It doesn’t matter that the
missions are rote fetch quests, or that the same zombies always reappear in the
same places – this is the gritty, katana-swinging, get-your-hands-dirty zombie
apocalypse we’ve always dreamed of, and no amount of crashing (whether from the
game itself or from its awkwardly driven cars) can keep us away.
Runner-up: Jaws: Ultimate Predator (Wii)
(probably intentionally) under-the-radar effort isn’t anywhere near as good as
Dead Island, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth your attention. On the one
hand, it’s weirdly bright and gore-free, with awful controls and button-mashy
combat that bears no resemblance to the actual Jaws films. On the other, it is
about a murdering shark that spends all
its time fighting an evil corporation in command of dinosaurs and giant robots.
No matter how terrible the execution, any game with a concept that bizarre is
going to entertain on some level.
IT DOESN'T ACTUALLY SUCK!: Thor: God of Thunder (DS)
might be hard to believe, but sometimes, other game companies don't always try
their best when creating licensed tie-in games. They know that a large number
of well-meaning consumers will purchase the game without doing any research,
assuming erroneously that it must be of similar caliber to the movie it's based
on. Some companies use the purchasing patterns of the ignorant masses as an
excuse to put whatever scraps they deign fit on a disc and slap a movie logo on
it, with no regard to how many children's holidays will be ruined in the
process. Can you believe anyone could be so unscrupulous?
you're not like that, WayForward. You may not have given it quite the same
level of polish as your stellar Contra 4 for DS, but Thor is still a solid
effort that stands proud in a sea of licensed crap (particularly in contrast to
your Thor brethren on other systems). Thank you for not phoning this one in.
Runner-up: Driver: San Francisco
“Wait, Driver’s coming back? With a crazy, Quantum Leap style character-jumping
contrivance? And the whole thing is set in a dream? HAAAAA!” Oh, how eager we
were to see the inevitable metaphorical car crash alongside the literal ones.
But miraculously, Driver: SF was brilliant. The concept is handled with genuine
wit, and the script is as sparky and charismatically delivered as you could
want. The central mechanic ignites its city with loveable personality, huge
mission variety and eclectic narrative, all accessible through a wonderful,
buffet-like interface that rewards you whether you play for three hours or 10
MOST IMPROVED IN 2011: Deus Ex: Human Revolution
As crusty old fans of the original Deus Ex, we were a
little apprehensive about Human Revolution. Fortunately, our fears of a linear,
gray corridor shooter were unfounded – it was yellow, and there were multiple
corridors. Kidding aside, Human Revolution pulled off the herculean task of
capturing what made the original DX so great while dragging it into the current
generation. New stealth mechanics, intelligent dialogue and story and a
beautiful visual style resulted in a supremely crafted game.
Compare HR to Invisible War, and the divide is
ridiculous. Where Invisible War simplified the original while adding nothing
new, HR added a host of new features, while modernizing the FPS/RPG gameplay
hybrid it helped create. While HR certainly isn’t as big or as wide-open as the
original DX, it’s an immaculately polished example of a major series reboot
capturing the core of the franchise while still making something new fans can
Runner-up: Sonic Generations
Well, it couldn't have gotten much worse, could it? After 2006's
dreadful Sonic game and the debacle of the Werehog in Sonic Unleashed, it
seemed that every potentially awesome Sonic game was doomed to awfulness for
the foreseeable future. Or, more likely, forever. So imagine our surprise when
Generations booted up and actually played well. No, better than that – a lot of
it was fantastic. Some bits were
still a bit shaky, as our review attests, but there's
no denying this is the first Sonic game in ages that doesn't have to come with
an excuse. Shock!
IT AIN'T BROKE AWARD: Pokemon Black and White
who don't play Pokemon tend to complain that every new set of Pokemon games is
too similar to the last, but true Pokemon players know that's not entirely true. Pokemon Black and White made
substantial improvements that are meaningful to those who follow the series,
like reusable Technical Machines, C-Gear, and triples battles, all of which
complement and enhance the core mechanics of the game. That said, it's actually
the similarities and carryovers between B&W and previous games in the
series that continue to make Pokemon such a worthwhile pursuit.
the GBA days, Pokemon trainers have been able to transfer their Pokemon from
their old cartridges to their new games, meaning that you never have to say
goodbye to your Pokemon or let go of all the hours you put into training them.
We couldn't be happier that Pokemon Black and White continue to support this
legacy – something that Game Freak could have easily decided to drop, given the
heavy focus on the roster of all-new Pokemon in B&W. Seeing our old buddy
Venusaur from FireRed fight alongside new friends like Chandelure definitely brings
joy to our heart scales.
Runner-up: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Ho hum. Nothing new here. Just another
breath-stealing, heart-pumping rocket rollercoaster of a campaign that whips
you from the battle for New York City to the collapse of the Eiffel Tower to
the assault on Prague in a single spectacular sitting. Just more expansive,
addictive multiplayer that will keep you busy for potentially dozens or
hundreds of hours. Modern Warfare 3 may not reinvent the shooter, but only
because Modern Warfare 1 already did, and that formula still thrills four years
(and two entries) later.
MULTIPLAYER THAT BROKE THE MOLD: Portal 2
know what’s astonishing? How many people love Portal 2, and recognize Portal 2
as a clear Best of the Year contender, but haven’t even touched the
second half of the game. Put aside your multiplayer prejudices, and you’ll
discover that the two-player co-op in Valve’s masterpiece is not some
commercially driven afterthought… it’s just as perfectly conceived and
perfectly structured as the main story, a brilliant and bittersweet experience
made extra-special by the fact that you and a loved one are experiencing it
together. (It’s also a sequel of sorts, so you’re kind of denying yourself
Portal 3, aren’t you?)
is an award for the most inventive
multiplayer, however, not merely the best.
And sure, doubling the number of portals you can create at any given time adds
a mad-genius level of complexity to every puzzle, but what’s truly new and
refreshing about Portal 2’s co-op is the fourth wall-breaking psychology.
Villain GLaDOS will try to turn you against your partner, constantly planting
seeds of doubt, and sometimes speaking into only one headset or the other. Your
defense against this division: trust, both in the game and in real life.
Multiplayer that brings out the good in gamers? Weird, huh?
Runner-up: Dark Souls
Where Demon’s Souls laid the
groundwork, Dark Souls adds Covenants, helping players organize themselves
while at the same time defining how they use the game’s multiplayer. Certain
Covenants favor players looking for co-op partners, while others demand that
you invade other player’s worlds and kill them, PVP-style. It may be a little
confusing and it doesn’t always work as intended, but there’s nothing else like
it, and it may very well be the most organic, natural multiplayer we’ve ever
seen in a game, a way to integrate players without damaging the carefully
constructed world of the game itself.
THE SPRINT/NEXTEL AWARD FOR BEST SPORTS GAME, SPONSORED BY SPEED STICK*: NBA 2K12
“Psycho, I’m liable to go Michael/
Take your pick, Jackson, Tyson,/
Game Six” – Jay-Z
the latter part of that quote that counts. If you were a kid in the ‘80s, you
probably remember that Michael Jordan basically played real-life basketball in
God Mode. That translated a little too well into NBA 2K11’s Jordan Challenges.
NBA 2K12 diversifies the well of NBA legends and expands to include some of the
greatest players to ever grace the court, including Magic Johnson, Larry Bird,
Dr. J, and Wilt Chamberlain. Rewriting history never felt so good. The
challenges feel better balanced, and they need to.
The game’s smarter than ever, and you need to have your wits about you, from
tip-off to the final buzzer. The presentation looks magnificent, as it jumps
from today’s sleek presentation to a variety of filters and effects to capture
the feel of ‘70s broadcasts. The real-life NBA is fraught with uncertainty, as
trades and moves whiz around the league at a breakneck pace prior to the
Christmas Day season start. There is no uncertainty, however, that NBA 2K12 is
a magnificent rendition of the world’s second-favorite sport.
Runner-up: FIFA 12
many times have you heard the phrase “defense wins titles?” The stats don’t
lie. FIFA 12’s biggest revamp comes as a means of breaking up the usual online
tactic of siccing a heat-seeking missile on your opponent, and instead, forces
you to cut off their space and support lines, and force errors. Dribbling isn’t
just about bolting at defenders and tapping the right stick; it’s about
stopping and starting the flow of attack.
been solid for the past few years, but rarely has it rewarded tactics and human
intelligence like it does in this wholly revamped engine. It’s a genuine
game-changer whose effects will be felt for years to come.
not actually sponsored by Sprint, Nextel or Speed Stick