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Halfway There: The Top 5 Games of 2011... So Far

The best of the titles released since January.

Fifty percent of the year is behind us, but we've already been introduced to a host of excellent games. Some we could see coming from a mile away, but others snuck up on us undetected.

There are many hotly anticipated games that have yet to be released this year, but here are the top 5 games that you just might still be hearing about when it comes time to determine the best of 2011:

 

#5 | Mortal Kombat [PS3, X360]

The return of a classic, and then some.

You might be thinking that Mortal Kombat hasn't gone anywhere... Well, there are many who would beg to differ. There have been numerous iterations of the series over the years, but a large contingent of MK fans recognize Mortal Kombat 2 as the pinnacle of the series with Mortal Kombat 3 nipping at its heels. But ever since Mortal Kombat 4, the franchise succumbed to the 3D fighter fad, changed everything about its gameplay, and seemingly never looked back.

However, this year's Mortal Kombat release (the ninth in the series, but named after its progenitor) is a love letter to fans of the early days. There are plenty of flashy 3D moments, but the gameplay is the classic 2D style, returning to the glory days of MK2 and MK3.

But not only is the pure gameplay better than it has been in over a decade, there is a ton of content here. It has one of the first legitimately story-driven single-player campaigns of any fighting game, a classic arcade mode, a "challenge tower" mode, and of course, online multiplayer.

If you're a fan of fighting games, you're doing yourself an absolute disservice if you allow yourself to miss this one.

 

#4 | L.A. Noire [PS3, X360]

It may be primarily a Team Bondi production, but Rockstar Games isn't known for putting their name on just any old game. L.A. Noire was one of the more anticipated games scheduled for release this year, and while it wasn't perfect, it was regarded as an above-average experience almost universally from critics and players alike.

Whether the gameplay formula thrilled you or rubbed you the wrong way, the presentation of L.A. Noire was second to none. Post-WWII era Los Angeles was faithfully recreated in stunning fashion. The superbly casted characters set a new standard for acting in video games. And the pioneering of MotionScan technology makes the facial animation in any games without it appear amateur.

In the end, it was a compelling story of flawed personalities that twisted and turned its way to its conclusion, and kept you guessing all the way through. Several DLC "cases" have been released since to keep the replay value fresh as well.

It can be a little slow, so if you're expecting Grand Theft Auto, you might be disappointed. Still, L.A. Noire provides an experience unlike any game before it, and an excellent one at that.

For more on L.A. Noire, check out the here on Patch.

 

#3 | Frozen Synapse [PC]

Here we have the out-of-nowhere surprise of the year so far in Frozen Synapse, the indie turn-based strategy game for PC by way of Mode 7 Games. The Escapist called it "X-Com meets Rainbow Six in Tron" before summing it up as "an amazing refinement of the tactical strategy genre" en route to giving it a perfect 5/5 score.

This game deftly wields simple and easy-to-learn gameplay while requiring planning and thought-out strategy to outwit your enemy. As games like this tend to be, it's most effective against human opponents. Luckily, Frozen Synapse makes it extremely easy to find an opponent quickly and efficiently, so instant action is the name of the game.

It also takes great advantage of its turn-based gameplay, allowing multiplayer games to take place over email, notifying each player when it is their turn in a Words With Friends-esque approach. Wrap it up with social networking integration with Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, and you can spread your successes throughout the interwebs like a virus.

The cherry on top is a 55-mission single-player campaign and skirmish mode for when you don't feel like playing against a human opponent. It's also only $24.99 on Steam, and on sale at the moment for even less, making one of 2011's must-play games a bit easier to pull out the plastic for. If an addictive, fast-paced, sharp-looking, turn-based strategy game sounds like it might be even mildly interesting to you, Frozen Synapse is worth your time and money.

 

#2 | The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings [PC]

Fans of 2007's The Witcher already suspected that RPG fans would be in for a treat when its sequel released this year, but even they likely didn't expect a game quite as deep and engrossing as The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings proved to be.

The Witcher 2 is mature RPG experience about political allegiances and personal struggle. But what really sets this game apart is its moral ambiguity. Most games with "moral impact" make the differences between "good" and "evil" decisions painfully obvious. However, The Witcher 2 offers advantages and consequences for every decision, making said decision often difficult to make under any circumstances, and requiring real thought and consideration. Even further, the results of each decision trickle throughout the lore and tangibly change the game as you play. If you find yourself stopping to think about a choice, rest assured that it will matter later.

This is all accompanied by absolutely outstanding visuals and an original combat mechanic. Be aware, though, that this game does not hold your hand, and can be quite difficult. Even die-hard RPG players will be challenged frequently through its tenure.

Following the title's positive feedback, developer CD Projekt Red has announced that an Xbox 360 version of The Witcher 2 will see a release, but no date has yet been announced. Regardless, if you're an RPG fan, find a way to play this one, as it stands a chance of being considered the best RPG of 2011 when all is said and done (though many expect Bethesda's Skyrim to have something to say about that later this year).

 

#1 | Portal 2 [PS3, X360, PC]

Valve's blockbuster of 2011, Portal 2 is the rare case of a game that we'd all hoped would be great, and ended up being phenomenal. Some were skeptical that the original Portal, while excellent in its own right, could effectively be expanded from its minigame format to a full-price, full-length game.

Proving once again that they deserve the benefit of the doubt, Valve pulled it off.

Portal 2 could be the best puzzle game ever. Starting out ever so simply, the difficulty escalates smoothly and consistently, eventually reaching points where you'll want to take your head off and set it beside you in order to figure out what to do next. But it manages to avoid garnering frustration while asking you to just think a little differently.

But while you're stumped, you're treated to fantastically hilarious scripting executed through flawless voice acting, occasionally so entertaining that you won't want to continue past certain areas for fear that you'll miss some comedic gold.

Once you get started, I dare you not to complete it. Everything about it compels you continue. And once you do complete it, return with a friend, because there's a whole different 2-player cooperative campaign included as well that can be played either locally or online which stands tall right next to the single player campaign.

In all probability, Portal 2 will be in the running for Game of the Year 2011. It's a home run.

 

Still to come...

The second half of 2011 is littered with games that are expected to command top-notch experiences. Games like Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Dead Island, Gears of War 3, Rage, and Battlefield 3 are all scheduled for release before the year's end. Time will tell if any of the best of the first half of 2011 will hang on to their respective spots by then. And you never know when that barely-promoted game is going to sneak up on you and steal the spotlight...

Pick up these games at these local video game retailers:

  • , 545 South Broad St., Lansdale. (215) 368-1955
  • GameStop, 1551 Valley Forge Road, Lansdale. (215) 631-1230
  • , 2333 W. Main St., Lansdale. (215) 855-4280
  • GameStop, 801 Bethlehem Pike, North Wales. (215) 412-2900
  • GameStop, Montgomery Mall, North Wales. (215) 362-2036
  • Toys R Us, 2 Airport Square, North Wales. (215) 368-8050
  • Best Buy, 801 Bethlehem Pike, North Wales. (215) 855-3528

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