While these breakdowns are typically a cliche part of the year's end, they fulfill a necessary role - to catch people up on a busy year, to cut out the filler and to provide a succinct list for those wishing to know exactly where to spend their time and money.
Lou Kesten of the Associated Press recently compiled his Top 10 Video Games of 2011 list, and it is well written, even if a bit generic, and well chosen.
He covers a few topics before getting down to the actual list, some of which are very valid points and some are points that I have covered in my own columns, and I'd like to take a look at that first.
Kestern starts by noting the remarkable year in gaming that we've had, and I couldn't agree more. This year, not just the holiday season, has been marked by high- and low-profile releases alike, all with high quality. Whether triple-A big budgeters or low-cost indies, the breadth of which we've been offered as gamers in 2011 is almost suffocating.
He goes on to to write about what he calls "the downside to the quality glut."
"The big video-game companies are taking fewer chances. The business has become less about innovation, more about iteration," wrote Kestern.
I equal parts agree and disagree with this statement. While, yes, almost every game on his, and everyone else's, list is made up of sequels and franchise reboots, I'm not sure that signifies that developers are going to, as Kestern writes, "run out of fresh intellectual properties to sequelize."
In a previous column, I argued that sequels are not detrimental to gaming as a whole. They're needed, and give developers a chance for a second draft that isn't always available the first time around. They offer a chance to give an audience more of the characters and setting they love. Developers do tend to stick with established franchises that are guaranteed to make money upon release, but we shouldn't forget that all sequels come from a fresh intellectual property. There is nothing, to myself at least, that should lead us to believe that our top 10 lists 10 years from now won't be made up of sequels to new franchises after the current ones die out.
Kestern does cite the smaller studios that have been keeping original ideas alive through the PC, and outlets such as the Apple App Store, and he's right. There has been no shortage of fresh, invigorating indie titles released through various platforms, and I think this is another reason to not fear that big studios will run out of ideas.
If anything, the indie boom will serve as a reminder to big-budget studios that consumers are willing to take a chance on a smaller, quirky idea just as much as they want "Call of Duty Modern Warfare 13: Grandma's Backyard."
While I may disagree with Kestern's opening remarks, his actual list is quite spot-on.
First, I was delighted to see that Bethesda's "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim" wasn't given the top spot. It's such an easy choice for so many for so many reasons that at this point it just seems like overkill. He gave it the No. 2 spot, and that's a spot I feel the game rightly deserves. Almost at the brink of perfection, deserving of every accolade it has received but held back by - sometimes gamebreaking - glitches and bugs. It's beautiful, it's fresh and it's immensely enjoyable, but the state in which it was shipped, especially the Playstation 3 version, warrants an automatic dismissal from me when being considered for game of the year. That being said, I've still spent more time with it than any other game this year.
Kestern gives the top spot to Valve's "Portal 2," a fair and respectable choice. This is one game that deserved a sequel, and it built and expanded upon its predecessor in every conceivable way - through gameplay, storytelling, atmosphere, music - everything. Its main campaign, while brief, is amazing in its conception and ability to deliver exactly what it set out to, and its inventive co-operative play gives the game extra life.
I don't know that I'd have given "Portal 2" the top ranking position, but that is more of a matter of taste than debatability.
The rest of Kestern's list is commendable as well, with inspired choices such as indie darling "Bastion" and the criminally overlooked "Rayman Origins," as well as guaranteeds such as "Uncharted 3" and "The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword."
I suppose it's a backhanded compliment to say that my only problem with his article are his overwhelmingly simplistic and generic descriptions of the titles to backup his choices. Comparing "Deus Ex" to "Thief and Splinter Cell?" Come on. While both are stellar titles and hallmarks of their genre, I think it's selling the game and what it is a little short.
I digress, however, and will return to my own opinion. I offer to you my top 10 list, entirely devoid of description, in no particular order and out of obligation.
"Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception"
"The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword"
"Batman: Arkham City"
"The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim"
"Alice: Madness Returns"
"Duke Nukem Forever (GASP!)"
(Kins can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)