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Level Up! Game of the Year Awards

See which games Earn Top Honors for 2011

By Tim Janson     January 06, 2012

 

Happy New Year and welcome to the first Level Up for 2012!  This week I’m going to reflect back on 2011 by presenting the Level Up Awards for the best games of 2011.  The awards will be presented in various categories with a winner as well as a couple of honorable mentions.  Overall 2011 was a very good year in games.  Shooters and action games continue to dominate but mixed in the oceans of these games were gems like Portal 2 and Little Big Planet 2 that captured the attention of gaming fans with their unique styles of play.  One genre that didn’t particularly have a great year was sports games.  Sure, there were some fantastic games Like Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 and MLB 11: The Show, but stalwarts like Madden NFL 12 and NCAA football 12 really didn’t present enough improvements in gameplay.  If you’ve been reading Level Up you know that I firmly believe that most sports games like Madden do not need a yearly release.  They can just as easily produce a yearly update disc with new players/rosters…but of course they want your hard earned $60 every year.
 
Even as games become more and more popular and profitable, I get the sense that developers are still playing it too safe with their games.  Developers are content to give us the next military or Sci-Fi shooter, the next yearly sports game, and sequel after sequel to adventure games.  As gaming fans we need to start demanding more and saying it with our dollars.  There’s a frustrating lack of certain types of games on the market.  Where are all the strategy games?  Where are the turn-based, economic and military strategy games that put you in charge of an entire nation?  Real-time strategy games have almost completely disappeared.  And even puzzle games are scarce which is why when something like Portal 2 comes along it is so refreshing.  In general there simply are not enough games that require actual THINKING to play rather than just reflexes.  Be sure to check out the Level Up award winners below.
 
IN THE NEWS THIS WEEK
 
The 3DS surpasses 4 million units sold in the U.S.
 
Nintendo has announced that the 3DS has sold over 4 million units in the United States alone. The 3DS recently surpassed the 4 million units mark in Japan as well.  The strong sales of 3DS in recent months can be largely attributed to the holiday shopping season, but more likely due to the $80 price drop from costing $249.99 to $169.99. This came after initially struggling out of the gate and contributing to Nintendo's first annual loss in 30 years.  Those who purchased a system before the price drop went into effect on August 12 have received 20 free games -- 10 NES games and 10 GBA games.  I’d still rather have my $80 back…
 
 Bionic Commando now available on 3DS
 
The classic NES game Bionic commando is now available to download for the Nintendo 3DS.  Bionic Commando was originally available in arcades and on NES in the late 1980s before making it Game Boy in 1992. The Game Boy game was a modified version of the NES title, but it remained a sidescrolling action game. This eShop port is available for $3.99.
 
Choplifter HD Coming next week!
 
InXile Entertainment today confirmed release dates and pricing for Choplifter HD across the PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade and PC.  Choplifter HD will be available for download next Tuesday, January 10 on the PlayStation Network and PC; and will be available just a few hours later on January 11 on the Xbox Live Arcade.  Priced at $14.99 or 1200 Microsoft points, Choplifter HD is developed by inXile Entertainment.  In Choplifter HD, players take control of a variety of helicopters armed with a number of offensive capabilities so they can swoop in and make daring rescues in hot zones. The game features more than 30 missions ranging from straight prisoner extraction to dropping off saboteurs that blow buildings sky high to saving survivors from viral outbreaks.  Pilots must bank, hover, touchdown, and sometimes even shake loose pesky zombies hanging from their choppers.  Gamers can also look forward to a few cameos from some of the videogame industry's most legendary leading men including Duke Nukem and Super Meat Boy.  Choplifter HD combines intense action, humor and tons of variety, creating developer inXile Entertainment's own, fresh take on the original Choplifter experience. 
 
2K Games Announces XCOM: Enemy Unknown in Development at Firaxis Games
 
2K Games announced today that Firaxis Games is developing XCOM: Enemy Unknown, an action strategy title that is planned for release in fall 2012. XCOM: Enemy Unknown will be instantly recognizable to fans of the original X-COM, while breaking new ground in strategy games for today’s console and Windows PC gamers. With equal emphasis on deep strategy and intense tactical combat, XCOM: Enemy Unknown will place players in control of a secret paramilitary organization called XCOM. As the XCOM commander, players will defend against a terrifying global alien invasion by managing resources, advancing technologies, and overseeing combat strategies and individual unit tactics.
 
Released in 1993, the original X-COM is widely regarded as one of the best games ever made and has now been re-imagined by the strategy experts at Firaxis Games. XCOM: Enemy Unknown will expand on that legacy with an entirely new invasion story, enemies and technologies to fight aliens and defend Earth. Players will control the fate of the human race through researching alien technologies, creating and managing a fully operational base, planning combat missions and controlling soldier movement in battle.
 
“It’s been a dream of ours to recreate X-COM with our unique creative vision. We’re huge fans of the original game and it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to re-envision a game that is as beloved as X-COM,” said Steve Martin, president of Firaxis Games. “We were careful to keep XCOM: Enemy Unknown true to the elements that made X-COM such a revered game while delivering an entirely new story and gameplay experience for both die-hard X-COM fans and newcomers to the franchise.”
 
Lexis Numerique's AMY available next week
 
Lexis Numérique today announced that upcoming survival horror title AMY will be available on the PlayStation Network January 10th, and on Xbox Live Arcade January 11th. AMY takes place in December 2034 in the small town of Silver City ( Midwest , USA ) after a comet strikes, wreaking havoc on humanity and unleashing a deadly virus that has infected almost everyone. Players take on the role of Lana, who regains consciousness in the midst of all the mayhem.  The world she once identified with seems to have been torn to Hell, and most of the people she knew have now become part of a wild horde. Lana feels the virus beginning to infect her and knows she must run as far as possible to escape the nightmare. The presence of the titular Amy, a seemingly defenseless eight-year-old autistic girl who has curious powers, forces her to make choices that will affect both their lives. Together, they must fight or run from the infected humans, demons and the military, in the hope of not only saving each other, but also the future of humanity.  The game will have a cost of $12.99 on the PSN, and 800 MS on XBLA.
 
Wicked Audio unveils mind-blowing sound with new Solus headphones
 
Empire Brands, manufacturers of aesthetically appealing headphones, will be releasing its new Solus (Latin for “Be Yourself”) headphones, at CES 2012. The Solus headphones are the next big thing from Wicked Audio, with the highest quality design and most impeccable sound yet.   
 
The soon-to-be-released Solus headphones is the first Wicked Audio product of 2012 to sport the companies brand new packaging. These headphones are available in a black/red dual-colored design and feature a thick braided cord for the ultimate in on-the-go convenience. The headphones also come equipped with a built-in volume control as well as a DJ switch, allowing users to switch from DJ to stereo sound, to experience impressive music sounds in both or either ears.
 
“At Empire Brands, we’re constantly striving to create a variety of headphones that appeal to all of our customers, from fashionistas to musicians,” said Paul Marshall, VP of Sales, Empire Brands. “We are thrilled to unleash our newest Solus headphones at CES 2012 which sport the brand new packaging now being used for all Wicked products, delivering an immaculate look. These are the best sounding Wicked headphones to date, which breaks us into another mass appeal market while still delivering the unique design qualities our customers know and love.”
 
 
 
Best Horror Game: Dead Space 2 (Electronic Arts)
 
It wasn’t an especially strong year for horror games and thus picking the winner here was not all difficult.  But even if the competition had been stronger, Dead Space 2 would still have likely been an extremely strong contender with its ultra creepy atmosphere and jump out of your seat moments. 
 

 
 
Honorable mentions:  Dead Island (Deep Silver) and F.E.A.R. 3 (Warner Bros.) Dead Island might have been cumbersome with its weapon’s system but it was still a wonderful zombie survival game.  If I we had an award for best dual genre game F.E.A.R. 3 would probably win it as it was not only a great horror game but a top-notch shooter as well.
 
Best Fighting Game: Mortal Kombat (Warner Bros.)
 
2011 looked like it was going to be a huge year for fighters but it didn’t quite turn out that way.  While the overall number of fighting games was low, the quality in general was quite good.  But it was the rebirth of Mortal Kombat that takes the award for 2011.  Returning with its brutal style of play of old with all new and exceedingly gory fatalities, Mortal Kombat certainly surpassed any fighting game fan’s expectations.
 
 

 
 
Honorable Mentions:  The King of fighters XIII (Atlus) and Dead or Alive Dimensions (Tecmo Koei)  Atlus’ King of Fighter XIII flew a bit under the radar with Mortal Kombat and marvel Vs. Capcom 3 grabbing most of the limelight.  But KOF XIII features a diverse roster of over 30 characters, solid controls, and gorgeous graphics.  Dead or Alive Dimensions was the best fighting game on the 3Ds which admittedly isn’t saying much but this is truly one of the hidden gems of 2011.
 
Best Puzzle/Platforming Game: Portal 2 (Valve)
 
So simple yet so fun and addicting, Portal 2 was a shining example of a game that could break away from the norm of ho-hum shooters and action games as well as being a sequel that outdid the original. 
 

 
 
Honorable Mentions:  Little Big Planet 2 (Sony), Super Mario 3D Land (Nintendo).  Little big Planet 2 was another example of a sequel being superior to the original game in every way…more levels, more things to collect, more ways to build your own levels for you or others to play in, and fantastic co-op play.  While I’m still not sold on the 3DS (the 3D gives me headaches) there’s no doubt that the Super Mario series still has some tricks up its sleeve with this tremendous new entry.  The first game that truly took the 3d capability and ran with it on the 3DS.
 
Best Sports Game:  Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 (Konami)
 
I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a big fan of soccer.  On my list of favorite sports it down there somewhere with ping-pong and curling.  But Konami’s PES Soccer 2012 is the top of the class.  This game truly puts you on the world stage with its graphics, precision controls, and superior A.I.  Might even make me a soccer fan!
 

 
 
Honorable Mentions:  MLB 11: The Show (Sony) and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters (EA Sports)  Boy this one was really tough as all three of these games could have taken the top spot.  MLB 11: The Show is what games like Madden should have been…a new yearly release that actually makes significant changes and improvements.  Analog controls, Move support, 3D capability, and the sense that if you simulate the game you are getting true-to-life results and stats.  While 2011 wasn’t a great year for Tigers Woods it was another fine year for the game that bears his name.  For the first time in the series you could play the prestigious Masters tournament.  While I’d like to see it come with more courses its still the best golf game ever.
 
BEST SHOOTER: Tie between Gears of War 3 (Microsoft) and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (Activision)
 
Shooters have become the dominant genre in videogames and 2011 had no shortage of outstanding shooters making picking just one simply impossible. Thus the Level Up Award goes to both Gears of War 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. Gears of War 3 simply lived up to everyone’s expectations in closing out the trilogy. What a bummer that it’s exclusive to Xbox. And what can you say about COD: MW3? It’s broke every sales record and earned over a billion dollars. It continues to be the online multi-player game against which all shooters are measured.
 

 
 
Honorable Mentions: Homefront (THQ), Bulletstorm (Electronic Arts) Both of these debut series hit the market with a different take on traditional shooters. Homefront presented an America under occupation by Korean forces in a near-future Cold War conflict. Bulletstorm was loud and crude and a hell of a lot of fun as it concentrated not on the number of kills but style points earned from how you killed the enemies. Look forward to seeing more from both!
 

 
 
BEST ACTION ADVENTURE GAME: L.A. Noire (Rockstar Games)
 
Yes there were some awesome action games in 2011. Too many to list, really. But I keep coming back to L.A. Noire. No game so accurately and perfectly captured a setting and time period like L.A. Noire. From the jargon people spoke with to the fashions, cars, music, and storyline, this game just exudes 1940’s Noir style. And it was a treat to recognize the many names and faces of real-life actors that the game used in its spot on character models.
 

 
 
Honorable Mentions: Batman Arkham City (Warner Bros.), inFamous 2 (Sony), Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception (Sony. Truthfully if you told me that any of these three games should take top honors in this category I wouldn’t argue one bit. Batman Arkham City took its already great gameplay and expanded it to cover an entire city populated with his worst villains. InFamous 2 MIGHT be the best superhero game of the year were it not for Batman: Arkham City, and Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception continued to make a great franchise even better with the latest entry. Great Games All!
 
BEST NINTENDO Wii GAME: Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Nintendo)
 
It wasn’t a particularly strong year for the Wii as the lame duck system limps along but Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword that the Wii isn’t quite dead yet with an exciting and refreshing new entry in the venerable Zelda franchise. Combining great graphics, gameplay and use of the Wii Motion Plus, Nintendo proved the Wii can still compete with the big boys. 
 

 
 
Honorable Mentions: Mario Sports Mix (Nintendo) One great attraction of the Wii is that it features the best party games and Mario Sports Mix continued that grand tradition with Mario and the gang competing in games like dodgeball, hockey, volleyball, and street basketball. It features awesome co-op play and multi-player to boot!
 
THE LEVEL UP BEST OVERALL GAME OF THE YEAR: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Bethesda)
 
Here it is…the top of the heap…the pinnacle of gaming in 2011, the best game of the year…The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Yes there are lag issues…yes the patches to fix the lag issues didn’t but who cares…Skyrim is a throwback to computer RPGs of old like Ultima, Might and Magic and Magic…games that you could simply lose yourself in for weeks at a time. So much to do and see that it simply blasted all expectations out of the water. Hey Bethesda…good luck topping this one!
 

 
 

 

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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joeybaloney 1/6/2012 10:04:07 PM

Calling LA Noir an action adventure game seems a bit of a stretch, especially when lining it up next to the honorable mentions you listed. It was a good game but more of a procedural exercise (and a fun one at that) and not an action game. The “action” game play portion was spotty at best IMHO and got on my nerves a lot of the time.

 

jedibanner 1/7/2012 7:27:55 AM

I have to admit with joeybaloney on that one...the action is way more present in Arkham then in Noir, I haven't played Uncharted 3 yet but even that game looks more action then LA Noir.

I heard somewhere that the studios who did LA Noir had to shot down because of the crazy hours they put in and how the employees were treated while making the game (from the Playstation Magazine). Any extra details on this?

Great list, agrees with everything....I'm still addicted to Skyrim, so much to do and see it's crazy, way more then Dragon Age II.

pumaleader 1/7/2012 12:10:03 PM

Arkham City is quite possibly one of the best games ever. How it doesn't win any catergory or game of the year is sheer stupidity.

Tonebone 1/8/2012 9:48:11 AM

Shocked.....LA Noire over Arkham City? Granted I never played LA Noire. I did play Arkham City and its every bit as good as AA and then some. And for me, Arkham Asylum was one of the best video game experiences of this generation.

 

And currently siill playing through Skyward Sword. Couldn't agree more that its a worth addition to the Zelda franchise. Not ready to place it above Ocarina of Time as the best ever (and its even harder considering my mom-in-law and wife tagged team to get me a 3DS and OoT 3D this Xmas and its once again fresh in mind).

 

Speaking of the 3DS, I am loving this thing. And I don't know if I would be so heartbroken about the whole price drop situation with the 20 free games.....

 

I rented Skyrim for a couple of days from RedBox. It was alright. Its probably something I'd need to buy to get more of a handle on the game.

acidsquall73 1/8/2012 10:57:47 AM

Skyrim is definitely deserving of top honors. I've been wondering if it's even possible to do everything the game has to offer, meaning see all the caves, etc. And I'm perfectly fine with that. I have many, many hours into it and I'm continuously finding new stuff to do and places to go. If I had ADD, my head would probably explode with all the sidetracking I do heading towards a marked quest.

jedibanner 1/9/2012 6:14:02 AM

acid, I know the feeling, yesterday I only needed to go to point A to B and it took me 4 hours cause I kept discovering new caves and underground bandit hideouts and stuff.

It deserves the top notch on any games out there. BAC is great but Skyrim, you get your money's worth and then some.

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