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Game of the Month, April 2011

Winner: Portal 2

We know that all the Portal 2 love is getting tiresome for the less-enthused, but bear with us for another moment, because we feel that the praise is not only well-deserved, it's important. Valve has released yet-another game that's innovative, well-written, well-paced, bug-free, beautiful, charming, and refined. What are our primary complaints about modern games? They're repetitive, poorly-written, buggy, contain unnecessary fluff, and pander to made-up bags of testosterone. Valve makes showing the rest of the industry how it's done look effortless.

Above: Like Portal 2's puzzles, Valve's work only seems effortless in hindsight

We're not saying that Portal 2 objectively eclipses every other modern game, or that Valve never falters and is the only company doing great work, but it's surely a shining star. Even its promotional efforts are respectable - not everyone liked the Portal 2 ARG, which challenged PC players to speed up the game's launch by playing indie titles, but in the end, who has a problem with Valve promoting good indie games, even if it profits (from the very digital distribution system giving those indie games a place to flourish) as a result? It's great when Valve profits, because it reaffirms that making quality games and respecting customers is the way to achieve success.


Haters gonna hate and say that Portal 2 is too short to be worth $60, but to that we say: either don't insist on being an early adopter and wait for the damn price to drop, or accept that $60 is the current going price for four years of development from some of the industry's top creative minds. Quality over quantity! Not to mention, the game's first DLC expansion will be out this summer for free, even on the 360, which, given Microsoft's historical distaste for allowing its network to be used for anything that doesn't involve a credit card transaction, is a bloody miracle.

Portal 2 kicks ass. If you don't want to throw $60 at it, wait for a price drop or rent it, but do play it. We don't gush about it because we're "Valve fanboys." We really, truly think it's worth it.

Runner up: Mortal Kombat

In a strange twist of fate, both of our top picks released on the exact same day – April 19. But while Portal 2 offered cerebral exercises and a cleverly unfolding story, Mortal Kombat went the other direction and gave us gloriously violent fighting game. Developer NetherRealm took the best aspects of MK’s brightest days (aka the first three games) and successfully updated them for today, then added new features like combo breakers, X-ray combos and a brand new tag-team mode. It all added up to a fun, frenetic fighter that is undoubtedly the most playable, tournament-friendly MK to date. And then there’s the five-hour story mode, which is such a surprisingly robust addition we’d be surprised if future competition doesn’t steal the idea.

We had a our share of minor complaints (and still stand by every one of them), but let us make it clear: the new MK is great fun and tremendously accessible, so if you haven’t bothered with a fighting game in years or are tiring of Street Fighter’s approach to the genre, absolutely give this a shot.

May 1, 2011