2011 had some excellent releases – Arkham City, Skyrim, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Portal 2… these are my favourite three though:
Third place – LIMBO
Danish company Playdead have created a beautiful, spooky, delightfully twisted little game. LIMBO pits you, in the form of a young boy in silhouette, in an inexorable march to the right of the screen through nasty, vicious obstacles. It’s a cruel game – not because of the violent deaths your character repeatedly endures, not because of the corpses you actually end up using as tools, but because it tricks you. Somehow, even when the game was just being mean to me, and I could almost hear the developer laughing at me, I just thought “You bloody bastard,” had a little giggle at it, and carried on.
Second place – Bastion
Another visual and auditory treat – Bastion from Supergiant Games. In terms of colour this is the opposite extreme to LIMBO – a beautiful, colourful, detailed fictional world (Caelondia) falls into place as you explore it in the aftermath of the Calamity. Again, your character is a young boy, “The Kid”, but there are customisation elements whereby you can choose weapon types and styles, special attacks and other abilities. There are areas to practice your skills with the various weapons, and items to collect – either to populate the safe haven of the Bastion or to improve your weapons (in a way you choose, for example increase accuracy or range). You can even, if you’re that way inclined, up the difficulty level by tweaking enemy characteristics in exchange for greater rewards. I’m not that brave.
While the hand painted art is lovely, it’s the soundtrack that really makes this game. The narrator adds a lot to the game, and is never repetitive or annoying, while the soundtrack by Darren Korb is amazing. It’s beautiful in its own right, but the way it’s used in the game is mindblowing. It contains my favourite track of 2011 Build That Wall.
Bastion is available on Steam, but also many other places – including from within your Chrome browser! You can buy the soundtrack from Bandcamp for a tenner or from Steam for £5.99, sadly the physical CDs are currently sold out.
First place – The Binding of Isaac
Here’s another game featuring a child protagonist – this time you play Isaac, a crying naked child. It is, on the face of it, fairly gross – your fling tears (or, occassionally, piss) at your enemies, all deformed weirdy beast things, with the ultimate goal of killing your mother. Collectables include a coathanger, dead birds and your mother’s underwear amongst other invariably weird twisted or gross items, all of which add stackable skills and abilities to the character. I can’t really describe these parts of the game without making it sound, well, like I’ve already made it sound. So I’ll stop.
What I love about it though is that the levels are randomly generated each time you play, so it doesn’t get old. You can play and play and replay without any repetition or frustration. I’m not very good at the game and haven’t finished it (which is a shame as there are apparently 10+ endings), but I’m still having a bash and enjoying it each time. A Roguelike shooter, there’s enough weird and funny to keep me entertained even for short periods of time. I think this is the key to why this is my absolute favourite of the year – sometimes I get literally four free minutes available, and none of those precious minutes are wasted with fluff, or trying to remember where I was or what I was doing, or remembering which key combination I need for a particular ability – I can just play. I might not get very far, but somehow I just don’t mind.
You can get both the game and the soundtrack for less than a fiver on Steam, but while the soundtrack is good in the game, I’m not sure you’ll get much independent listening out of it, unlike the stunning Bastion soundtrack. Give it a listen on Bandcamp and see.