The Top 12 Video Games I Played In 2011

By all accounts, 2011 has been lauded as a great year for gaming. I am still playing catch-up myself, as I missed out on several of the big holiday season titles (Skyrim, Uncharted 3, Batman, etc.). Since I am not really in a position to provide a proper top 10 list of my favorite 2011 titles, I have opted to select the best games I played for the first time last year. There are a lot of 2011 titles, but there are a handful of older releases that really impressed me one way or another. I plan on doing a proper list in the future, but here are my top 12 video games that I played in 2011:

12) The Saboteur [Xbox 360, 2009]

Criminally overlooked sandbox adventure title that expertly uses a mixture of color and black & white environments.

Singularity [Xbox 360, 2010]
11) Singularity [Xbox 360, 2010]

Another underrated game, this one takes the best elements from Bioshock, F.E.A.R. and Half-Life to make a memorable FPS experience.

Crysis [Xbox 360, 2011]
10) Crysis [Xbox 360, 2011]

Yes, it can run on consoles, and yes, it is still a pretty damn good shooter today.

L.A. Noire
9) L.A. Noire [PS3, 2011]

A handful of flaws do not ruin one of this year’s more unique adventure titles; a must play for fans of Film Noir and detective stories.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves [Playstation 3, 2009]
8) Uncharted 2: Among Thieves [PS3, 2009]

A sequel that ups the ante with even more insane action sequences; about as close to a movie as a video game can get.

Fallout: New Vegas [Xbox 360]
7) Fallout: New Vegas [Xbox 360, 2010]

Bugs and glitches be damned; this is another great entry into the Fallout series.

Wipeout HD [Playstation 3, 2008]
6) Wipeout HD [PS3, 2008]

White-knuckled racer with a pulsing techno soundtrack and one of the most fun racing modes I have played (Zone).

Deus Ex: Human Revolution [Playstation 3, 2011]
5) Deus Ex: Human Revolution [PS3, 2011]

Cerebral adventure with breathtaking Blade Runner-esque environments.

Gears of War 3 [Xbox 360, 2011]
4) Gears of War 3 [Xbox 360, 2011]

The most refined Gears experience yet; an amalgamation of the best features from the first two games.

Bastion [Xbox 360, 2011]
3) Bastion [Xbox 360, 2011]

Undeniably stylish and full of charm, this indie gem holds its own against the AAA heavyweights.

Dead Space 2 [Xbox 360, 2011]
2) Dead Space 2 [Xbox 360, 2011]

More action-oriented than its predecessor, yet it delivers an even more tense and creepy atmosphere.

Heavy Rain
1) Heavy Rain [PS3, 2010]

This “interactive drama” remains one of the most unforgettable gaming experiences I have ever had, and it is a must play for any serious gamer.

That’s my list. What’s yours? What were the best games you played in 2011?

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Video Game Review: L.A. Noire [PS3, 2011]

L.A. Noire [PS3, 2011]

L.A. Noire
System: Playstation 3 [also on Xbox 360]
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Team Bondi
Release Date: May 17, 2011

The first thing you should know about L.A. Noire is that this is not a traditional Rockstar game. If you come in expecting a Grand Theft Auto-style adventure, you will be sorely disappointed.

Having said that, L.A. Noire is pretty damn brilliant in its own right.

Set in 1947 Los Angeles, the game places you in the role of Cole Phelps, an LAPD Officer who is trying to work his way through the ranks after just coming home from World War II. In a world filled with crime and shady characters (as in the classic film noirs that this borrows heavily from), Phelps is one of the rare few who seems interested in doing the right thing. Phelps doesn’t believe in covering up evidence or tampering with crime scenes; he does his job strictly by the book. This is a refreshing change of pace from previous Rockstar titles in which the lead character basically has free reign to wreak havoc in the game environment.

L.A. Noire [PS3, 2011]

Cole’s job is to investigate crime scenes and to figure out exactly what the hell happened at them. This involves inspecting areas for clues, examining dead bodies, chatting up witnesses and interrogating suspects. While maintaining the open-world environments found in other Rockstar games, L.A. Noire is much more linear overall. You are given case after case to solve, and outside of some side missions that usually involve shootouts or chasing after suspects, there isn’t as much to do in the game world. This is not a problem at all, however, because the cases are long and extremely engrossing. It’s hard not to get caught up in the particulars of certain cases, especially while working in the homicide department. Many of these crimes are based on true stories, which adds even more to the game’s authenticity. In terms of creating 1940s Los Angeles, this is pretty f’n incredible.

The gameplay plays out as something like a hybrid of Heavy Rain’s detailed theatrics and the old point-and-click PC adventure titles prominent in the 1990s, with bits of action sequences sprinkled in. But really, L.A. Noire has developed its own unique style that sets it apart from other titles.

While the action sequences are fun — ramming suspects off the road or chasing them on foot over rooftops never gets old — the most intriguing part of the game is when you interview potential suspects. L.A. Noire’s big developmental feature is the use of a new MotionScan technology that uses astounding facial accuracy to make the characters truly come to life. Seriously, L.A. Noire has the best facial expressions ever seen in a video game. This is absolutely crucial to the gameplay as well since you are required to study the faces of suspects, witnesses and anyone else you talk to. When someone answers one of your questions, you are given three choices: “truth,” “doubt,” or “lie.” It’s up to you if you believe the person of interest or not, but if you believe they are lying then you have to show some kind of proof. If you are unable to accurately determine if they are telling the truth or not, you will be penalized and this can change the outcome of the case. It is possible to send the wrong person to jail in some cases, so it is extremely important to study character reactions.

L.A. Noire [PS3, 2011]

The aforementioned MotionScan technology is made of even greater use by employing real actors to play out the in-game characters. The game borrows heavily from the cast of Mad Men, as more than a handful of the popular TV show’s actors have been used for various roles (including Aaron Staton aka “Ken Cosgrove” as Cole Phelps). The combination of outstanding facial animations, authentic acting and an immaculately-detailed LA game environment makes this one of the better looking games on the market today. Throw in some phenomenal voice acting and 1940s radio and you have a fantastic work of art.

For all of its brilliance, however, L.A. Noire is not perfect. The game offers 21 cases in total to solve, but they start to grow repetitive around the final third of the campaign. This happens after the homicide chapter, which is so good that it would have been really hard to top. Considering the way the story goes, it makes sense to have it in the middle, but it’s almost like Team Bondi gave away its main event too early. Outside of this, there are some occasional annoyances that hinder the gameplay such as idiotic pedestrians who have a habit of running like maniacs directly into your car’s driving path, as well as some occasional glitches and slowdown. Late in the game, I stumbled across one of the most bizarre glitches I have ever seen: I was driving to a crime scene and cut through someone’s backyard. Not a big deal, but apparently the game randomly decided that their yard was made of quicksand and my car slowly started to sink into the ground, tail-end first. The game jolted Phelps and his partner out of the car while the vehicle proceeded to tilt straight up, with just the front half of the car remaining above ground. It was definitely a strange sight to behold. I got a kick out of it, and this will probably not happen for too many people, but I couldn’t help but to share this weird little story.

In essence, L.A. Noire is pretty damn incredible despite its flaws. This is a game unlike any other, and it is one that will surely spawn its own copycats in the future. There is room for growth, which I am sure the inevitable sequel will expand upon, but this is still an engaging experience for anyone interested in detective fiction and film noir. As long as you don’t expect a wild action ride like GTA, chances are you will enjoy L.A. Noire as much as I have.

8.5/10

Quick & Dirty #4: Meat Wave, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, L.A. Noire (and others)

It’s time for another edition of Quick & Dirty, the random grab bag of mini-reviews I do every few weeks or so. I have noticed a sharp decrease in my movie watching this month, but I did find some time to tackle the few I haven’t wrote full reviews for. Also, there are reviews for a couple of new and exciting video games, and a new release from my favorite local brewery, Half Acre!

BEER
Meat Wave [Half Acre Brewery]
Meat Wave [Half Acre Brewery]
Friday, May 20, saw the release of Half Acre’s latest brew, an English IPA. I can’t say I have ever had this style of beer, but I liked it a lot. Meat Wave is hoppy and bitter, but not overwhelmingly so in either instance. I was shocked to see that it is 6.5% ABV because this went down real easy and felt lighter than it actually is. Another strong effort from these guys. Vegetarians, don’t worry, this beer is actually meat-free.

MOVIES
Ferris Bueller's Day Off [1986, Hughes]
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off [1986, Hughes]
I just watched this for the first time over the weekend and was pleasantly surprised as to how well it holds up today. Perhaps I am biased because I fell in love with the movie’s gorgeous Chicago scenery, but I thought it was a lot of fun throughout. This is a very funny movie, and it makes me wish I had skipped more high school back in the day. 9/10

The Joneses [2009, Borte]
The Joneses [2009, Borte]
This satirical look at consumerism and suburbia slipped under the radar upon its 2010 theatrical release. It has a good cast, with David Duchovny and Demi Moore leading the way, and I enjoyed the movie’s dark humor. It got a little predictable near the end, but I thought it was decent enough overall. 6.5/10

Watchmen
Watchmen [2009, Snyder]
After reading the graphic novel (which was absolutely awesome), I had to watch the movie immediately. I rented the three hour extended Blu-ray from Netflix to get the most out of it. I watched it with two people who had never read the book or had any idea what the general story was about. They were a bit lost throughout, and I can totally see that. I thought the extended edition was very faithful to the novel, and I think it definitely helps to have read it beforehand. This is a dark and gritty movie that captures the bleak and pessimistic nature of the book, and it’s not really for everyone. While the extended edition started to become exhaustive near the end, I still enjoyed it. 8/10

VIDEO GAMES
L.A. Noire [PS3, 2011]
L.A. Noire [PS3, 2011]
This is one of the rare times I bought a game brand new, on release day no less. I am something like 35% complete so far, and I am still only halfway done with the main cases. I was a little concerned at first since the game holds your hand through the early stages, and the first few cases are quick and easy, but now the cases are considerably longer and require more skill to finish. I am eternally grateful that this is not just another GTA spinoff. Instead, this has all of the makings of a good film noir, and it has made me want to watch more movies (and read some novels) in the genre. Once I finish the game, I will have a full review available. Right now I am loving it, and it definitely seems deserving of all its hype.
You Don't Know Jack [Xbox 360, 2011]
You Don’t Know Jack [Xbox 360, 2011]
I played this with some friends over the weekend and had a great time. I used to have a few of the YDKJ computer games back in the day and they were always a blast to play. This is just like the old games, complete with Cookie as the host. I am glad to see a new YDKJ and hopefully it is a sign of more to come.