Top Five Xbox 360 games of 2011
Exclusives don't matter as much as they used to, but if you have an Xbox 360, you should be excited to know that there are a few games you can't play anywhere else. With tons of Kinect titles, several big sequels, and some great downloadable exclusives, this was a banner year for the 360. Here are five games that stand a head above the rest.
5. The Gunstringer
Child of Eden may be the more artful and emotional experience with the Kinect in 2011, but since it wasn't an exclusive, Gunstringer takes the reigns with a game that's almost as good. The gameplay wore thin at times, but wondering what crazy thing would happen next made Gunstringer a hard game to put down. The use of FMV and the constantly charming storytelling made it a game that will go down in history as one of the more creative gaming endeavors of all time. It's like a mixed-media tapestry of new-age technology, long-dead graphics techniques, and garage developer charm.
Then there's The Wavy Tube Man Chronicles, an included DLC that adds a full FMV ode to Mad Dog McCree. A collaboration with Troma Entertainment (featuring Lloyd Kaufman in a starring role), this half-hour oddity is the craziest bit of pop-culture fan service you'll see this year. Like those old FMV games, Wavy Tube Man isn't very good, but you'll be too busy laughing to care.
4. Forza 4
In a lot of ways, Forza 4 is simply a refinement of what Forza 3 did so well. The approachable take on the car simulator, with options to tailor it to your own skill and play style, isn't necessarily new. That said, Forza 3's framework of accessibility is brought to an entirely new level when combined with Forza 4's stunning new graphics and driving model. The feel of tires on tarmac in this game is unparalleled, making for driving that's so fun and challenging that I actually raced more than I wasted time in the game's brilliant paint editor and auction house.
There is more to do than ever, and even more reason to stay on the track, with a new Rivals mode that makes ghost racing the multiplayer spotlight, rather than the actual 16-player bumper car madness the online races become. Beating your friends' times is addicting and rewarding – you'll even earn credits and level up while you do it.
3. The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile
Ska Studios have been the unsung heroes of Xbox 360 exclusives. With some of the best games in the Xbox Indie Games channel, including I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1N IT!!!1 and ZP2KX, the team is one of the few continuing to do anything special in that space. One of their games, The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai, was so good that it got the upgrade to a full XBLA release.
The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile took what was already great and refined it even further. The result is pretty much the only 2D character action game that can hang with the likes of Bayonetta, God of War, and Ninja Gaiden. The game is deliciously responsive, balancing out tight controls with quick and punishing enemies. The result is that same kind of hyper-concentrated action that made Ninja Gaiden Black such a masterpiece. Shank could only wish it was this good.
2. Iron Brigade / Trenched
Back when Iron Brigade was still called Trenched, the game was plagued with so much lag that I could make a sandwich between frames. Some people never had a problem, but the lag wasn't an isolated experience, and for myself and those I played with, the lag made the game one of the biggest disappointments of 2011.
So why include it in this list? The disappointment was so high because Iron Brigade was so ridiculously good. We could barely help ourselves from suffering through one laggy match after another. Now the game has been patched, and the experience is greatly improved. With its lumbering mechs, intense action, addicting tower defense formula, and that undeniable Double Fine charm, Iron Brigade has it all.
1. Gears of War 3
Gears of War 3 may not be as emotionally powerful and perfectly paced as some reviewers made it out to be. Its story isn't the tragic and subtle conclusion it was praised as, but none of that matters, because those things aren't what make Gears of War 3 so good.
This third entry in the series has more substance than the first two, and a handful of genuine character moments, but the most beautiful and artful things Epic did with it are all in the moment-to-moment gameplay. There is a point where an entry in a series is so refined that it could almost be considered a reboot. Halo: Reach made this leap, and Gears 3 follows suit.
Every hiccup in controls, weapon balance, and combat has been nearly eliminated. The result is a game that finally fulfills the promise set forth by the first game's initial concept. This is a third-person shooter unlike any other, and an online shooter so good that it can sit alongside the best of the FPS genre. That's an impressive feat considering Epic never had a blueprint and dozens of other developers to copy off of along the way.