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The Platinum Chalice Awards 2011, Part 2 – The Best Games of 2011

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OLD-SCHOOL KICK IN THE ASS: Dark Souls

In some ways, Dark Souls is actually quite modern. It features multilayered combat, a gigantic open world, deep character progression and customization, and some of the most innovative multiplayer in recent memory. On the other hand, Dark Souls has no interest in holding your hand or explaining much of anything, leaving it up to you to discover its secrets. Whereas most modern games have drifted to the point that Hard mode is now what Normal mode was 20 years ago, Dark Souls has only one difficulty level: Evil.

Why would anyone submit themselves to that when a game is meant for entertainment? Dark Souls' brilliance is that its insidiously compelling structure can bring out the inner masochist in players who never knew they had it in them. If you've only heard the horror stories of Dark Souls and decided “that's not for me,” you may have unwittingly passed up your new favorite game. Many of us at GR never thought we were that type of gamer until we played this game. Dark Souls is unique, gorgeous, tense, and exciting in ways no other games out there accomplish. Give it a chance, and you may learn you're more old-school than you thought.


Runner-up: Rayman Origins

There’s beauty in Rayman Origins – that much is obvious from just a cursory glance at a static screenshot. It’s a gorgeous celebration of 2D art in motion, delivered in spectacular high-definition. But that’s the sweet side of the game. Origins also kicked our pants off, then kicked our bare asses with its profoundly old-school design. Every element in this platformer is perfectly placed – just out of reach – to get us leaping around like maniacs in pursuit of a perfect run. Rayman Origins got us to submit to our inner masochists. It hurts, yes – but it hurts so good.

BEST SOUNDTRACK WE DIDN'T EXPECT: Saints Row: The Third

From a strict gaming standpoint, Saints Row: The Third’s over-the-top style of gameplay could have merited a soundtrack that was a mere afterthought to the wonders of things like The Penetrator. Throw some generic hip-hop beats, turntable scratches, instrumental tracks featuring heavy guitar riffs and maybe a few bass-thumping pseudo-electronic tunes in, and we probably would have been fine with it. After all, when you’re busy claiming turf with a rocket launcher, does it really matter what you have playing in the background?

Thankfully, the folks at THQ thought differently, and compiled a thoughtful – and surprising – compilation of songs that brought the experience of running the streets in Steel Town to a new level. The juxtaposition of hearing the lyrics like, “I need a hero / I’m holding out for a hero ‘til the end of the night” while we shamelessly beat our rivals’ faces in was something we continuously found delight with. Aside from the now-ubiquitous use of Kanye West’s “Power,” most of the songs included in the eight in-game radio stations veered away from the mainstream and scratched beyond the surfaces of whatever genre they were representing. We imagine that Saints Row: The Third could easily be listed as a game that broadened musical horizons.

We liked the selection so much, we compiled all the songs we could find on Spotify into playlists organized by the radio stations found in the game:

80.9 Generation X (rock/alternative/punk) | 95.4 KRhyme FM (hip-hop) | 97.6 K12 FM (electronica) | 102.4 Klassic FM (classical) | WDDT CPDG (Adult Swim) | Kabron 104.2 (Latin) | 106.66 The Blood (metal) | The Mix 107.77 (‘80s/’90s)


Runner-up: Bastion

Bastion’s soundtrack starts off fairly standard, with nice ambient music that sounds not unlike the tracks you’ll hear in other games. Slowly but surely, though, the game weaves its music into the story with a handful of lyrical songs that are some of the best ever to appear in a game. “Build That Wall,” “Mother I'm Here,” and “Setting Sail, Coming Home” (the ending theme) are beautiful songs both within and without the context of the game, and have earned a permanent place in our MP3 players.

INDUSTRY TREND WE LIKE: Free-to-play

Seriously, who doesn’t like getting a game for free? This year has seen an explosion of high-quality, pay-to-play games finding a second life in the world of free-to-play, providing premium experiences for no money down. While this trend isn’t necessarily new, the fact that the industry is actually doing it well is. In the past, most developers didn’t know what to charge for microtransactions, so they would throw out game-breaking additions with sky-high prices that would completely unbalance the game.

Now, thanks to games like Lord of the Rings: Online, publishers know what to charge for, and how much to charge for it, letting gamers get a good bang for their buck without ruining the games’ precarious balance. This year, DC Universe Online, Age of Conan, EverQuest II and a bunch of other games successfully made the switch, and set the stage for more AAA titles to do the same.


Runner-up: Cloud storage

At some point in your gaming life, all or most of your game-save files have been lost, either to console theft, faulty save devices, or some horrible Act of God. We don’t know about you, but some of us are very, very, very fanatical about backing up save data for this very reason. And for that, the movement toward cloud storage across Steam, Xbox Live, and PlayStation Plus is something that we can all get behind. Because if there’s one thing that’s just as important as having your games, it’s keeping the dozens of hours you’ve invested in them in deep storage somewhere. Take a bow, engineers. You’ve earned it.

BEST GAME YOU'VE ALREADY FORGOTTEN: You Don’t Know Jack

We’ll forgive you if you were too young to remember the pop culture sensation that was You Don’t Know Jack. 1996 was a while ago. That “4th of July” Achievement, less so. But that doesn’t mean that Jellyvision’s comeback doesn’t deserve another spin in your disc drive. Quiz games don’t get much better than YDKJ’s mental curveballs, sarcastic approach, and demented multiplayer. 

If you are old enough to remember the old games of years past, remember how you had to buy all those expansion packs? This remake has plenty of new DLC to dive into and smear your friends. It might be easy to forget a game that came out last February, but you shouldn’t. And if you haven’t played it yet, make it the centerpiece of your holiday time off with friends!


Runner-up: Shadows of the Damned

Shadows of the Damned has it all: dick jokes, great developers, toilet humor, an amazing soundtrack and puns involving penises. Yet despite Suda51 (No More Heroes) and Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil 4) concocting the perfect combination of wiener gags and third-person shooters, Shadows came and went without making much of a lasting impact. It probably didn’t help that SotD’s publisher released it a week after E3 and gave it little advertisement, basically guaranteeing that even if you did play it, you probably forgot it existed amidst the immense hype for all the fall’s biggest games.

OKAMI AWARD FOR GAME DOOMED TO DIE A BEAUTIFUL DEATH: El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron

When this game was first announced in 2010, several of us in the office predicted it was a future winner of this award. It looked strange, had an odd name, and when we found out the game's director had been lead artist on Okami, that at the very least secured it a nomination. Then we played it, and it fell into place perfectly (or imperfectly, if you want a sequel).

El Shaddai truly is too beautiful to live and will almost certainly never be replicated. Each stage is a unique visual wonder that's backed up by one of the year's best soundtracks. It's the result of an unprecedented amount of creative freedom unseen in a game of its size. Artistically, the gamble paid off big time, but El Shaddai sadly failed to pay off in any monetary way for its publisher. In fact, El Shaddai was so beautifully doomed that it died before it even came out. In a move usually saved for after the sales numbers come in, publisher Ignition ceased internal development of games months before Shaddai even hit stores. If a game’s own publisher shows so little faith in the title, why should the public have any?


Runner-up: Okamiden

A great game and a sequel we never expected to see, once more Okami loses the award it inspired. You have to appreciate the skill required to squeeze the original’s experience onto a handheld, even if it could only suffer from being downgraded to fit on the Nintendo DS. The cel-shaded look was still entrancing, even if the brush controls somehow felt more natural on a PS2 controller than a touch pad. Sadly overshadowed by the 3DS launch (though its sales weren’t as poor as Shaddai’s), we’d love it if more people gave this one a second look.

We Recommend

26 comments

  • Thequestion 121 - January 7, 2012 9:32 p.m.

    What a fantastic article!! All really great games that got the awards! :)
  • Jedipimp0712 - December 22, 2011 4:28 a.m.

    i have listened to the "Exile, Vilify" song probably 100 times, if not more. I would say it is on par with Trentemoller's "Miss You" and goddamn do i wish i will be able to work at Valve one day... Here's to hoping my bachelors in animation and minor in computer science will get me there! ha ha
  • rongunz - December 20, 2011 3:43 p.m.

    no song describes Joker and Batman best the way Deranged by Coheed and Cambria did.
  • kamikaziechameleon - December 20, 2011 2:16 p.m.

    Witcher 2 is a gorgeous game and perhaps my fav of the year but they are lieing if they say it looks better than BF3, firstly the animations in BF3 are peerless and witcher 2 has apparent blending problems. Witcher 2 doesn't even have as good of animations as the like of HL2. there are a number of other absences in the witcher 2 category that carry the case that it is not as good as BF3. I do love the character models for sure, just look the the clothes in the above pic.
  • M_Stachio - December 20, 2011 9:44 a.m.

    So I want to know what ever happened to LA Noire. I thought that was a great game, it had great sidekicks, and memorable characters. it had good gameplay and a well done story. It was also the first of its kind, so why has everyone forgotten it?
  • newgames128 - December 18, 2011 7:43 p.m.

    This is one of the best group of GOTY award choices yet for 2011. Fitting to have best looking PC game followed by best looking console game. I think Gamesradar is the first to get this right.
  • mockturtle - December 18, 2011 2 p.m.

    "[...] It’s hard to think of any Marvel or Capcom fan that wasn’t serviced by [UMvC3] (just so long as you don’t bring up Mega Man, anyway)." Except diehard Ace Attorney Fans were serviced in all the wrong ways (dear god that sounds dirty). Capcom has the nerve to put Phoenix Wright in, while simultaneously denying Ace Attorney Investigations 2 an English release? Ask any AA fan which they'd rather have, and I guarantee you 100% would say AAI2 over Phoenix in UMvC3. Hypocritical bastards, I'll tell you one thing, they're not getting any more of my money till they make this right, that's for sure.
  • LordZarlon - December 18, 2011 8:02 a.m.

    Ironically I don't remember you guys thinking that El Shaddai was all that great when you talked about it on TalkRadar.
  • lemur - December 18, 2011 4:37 a.m.

    OoT got better graphics than halo: CEA?! seriously?!?!?
  • mattwang - December 18, 2011 7:03 a.m.

    It's not better graphics. They are comparing the amount of improvement made between the two iterations of the same game. OoT won because it improved more on the original than Halo: CEA did.
  • FVDub - December 17, 2011 11:08 p.m.

    I want to thank you GR for: 1. Having innovative and entertaining end of the year awards instead of the generic junk thrown around everywhere else. 2. Posting these awards in a timely manner and not dragging it out over a matter of weeks. 3. Giving love to Rayman Origins and Bastion, two of my favorites from this year!
  • closer2192 - December 17, 2011 5:28 p.m.

    I know most people will disagree, but I found Human Revolution to be better than the original Deus Ex.
  • talleyXIV - December 17, 2011 12:55 p.m.

    Ahh by the way, these games that die beautiful deaths also shoot themselves in the foot with their names. Okami has a cool name but it is a different language, it might have sold better if it was called Wolf. El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron, that game's name is just way too ridiculously long. The only series that pull this off are Metal Gear Solid and Call of Duty, but they both have developed their name and everyone knows them. Instead of calling it "Different language bla bla bla bla bla." Just call it The Ascension. These are just my ideas though.
  • talleyXIV - December 17, 2011 12:47 p.m.

    Wow, I love you guys for saying Dead Island was the best worst game. I couldn't agree more. One of the only games I have ever bought for full price, only because a lot of my friends were getting it. We did one playthrough and bam! The box is now collecting dust! The story was quite laughable.
  • gonzalo29 - December 17, 2011 9:26 a.m.

    Best Game You've Already Forgotten: BULLETSTORM Seriously, you've completely forgot about this game, and it was a pretty good one, maybe it wasn't a heavy hitter like Portal Skyrim or Arkham City, but it was incredibly fun and full of non-stop action.
  • FVDub - December 17, 2011 11:10 p.m.

    Bulletstorm got a 10/10 and was an editor's personal Game of the Year, that's more attention than a lot of other high profile games.
  • HankVenture - December 17, 2011 6:33 a.m.

    Great, it's time to take over the VGAs!! I have to say I agree with you on most of the awards. I do think Jaws shouldn't have gotten best worst game at least from the way way Mikel talks about it, maybe it should of been the game we wanted to be good but didn't turn out that way. but, I never played it that was just the way the review and talk about it on Tdar seemed to lean towards. Best soundtrack we didn't expect...why wouldn't you have expected that? Saints Row 2 had an amazing soundtrack with various artist that were very popular at the time. The Winner for Best of a Bad Situation wouldn't have been the winner without the recent batch of games, I literally just sat in bed for an hour playing yoshi's Island last night (I have never played it before) I really feel like Batman should have won the fat Lady sings. I mean I love both of the endings but with Batman, there was more emotion to it. You had the image of Joker sitting in his office slowly going crazy due to the illness, starting to come to terms with the fact that he might die and then deciding to call batman up and sing him a song basically saying hey without you there is no me. Just hits you hard after you watch the ending and are already shocked.. But from just a musical stand point I understand why Portal 2, it was more impressive as a musical composition. so there you are, I only feel like one of them should have been switched :)
  • mikeylawson - December 17, 2011 3:23 a.m.

    I didn't like Lydia. She was unpleasant. Which is why I sacrificed her to a Daedra.
  • CitizenWolfie - December 17, 2011 3:08 a.m.

    I'm so glad I stuck around for the credits in Arkham City instead of getting up to make a cup of tea or something. I had chills when I heard it and had chills when I just read the last bit of this article. Hamill's performance aside, even the lyrics fit perfectly and it was an inspired song choice. But yeah, "Want You Gone" is pretty much perfect.
  • tiben36 - December 16, 2011 9:49 p.m.

    i cant agree with the soundtrack award, saints row's soundtrack could have been a lot better if they had "better" station (like real reggea instead of that product placement called "the swim")

Showing 1-20 of 26 comments

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