With the year half over and the summer new-release lull in full swing, let’s take a look back at some of the great games from the first half of the year. Here’s a look at my five favorites from January through June, ranked according to how much I enjoyed them.
“Bulletstorm” (rated M, $40 on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, $30 on PC) [review]: Going in, I knew this first-person shooter from People Can Fly would have lots of profanity and innuendo. And even though it’s not a game you’d feel comfortable playing in front of your mother, “Bulletstorm” is a surprisingly well-written, tightly wound action game that combines a terrific buddy story with the year’s best new multiplayer game mode.
While “Bulletstorm” is primarily a game about causing mayhem and racking up points via creative Skillshots, its campaign has plenty to say about totalitarianism, terrorism and the casual exploitation of unsuspecting backwaters by colonialist interests.
“Bulletstorm’s” greatest achievement, though, is Anarchy Mode. Like the popular and ubiquitous Horde Mode, the game type pits players against wave after increasingly difficult wave of computer-controlled enemies. The twist, however, comes in the way Anarchy Mode employs the game’s Skillshot system. Instead of simply dispatching all the enemies like you would in, say, “Gears of War 2,” you’ll need to achieve a set score to advance to the next wave. To rack up points, you’ll have to, as the game puts it, “kill with skill” and dispatch your enemies with creativity.
For example, one player might need to use his electric leash to “thump” enemies up into the air so that other players can engage in a little bad-guy skeet shooting. It requires a level of coordination and communication that adds a little value to your online friendships.
“Portal 2” (rated E10+, $60 on Xbox 360 or PS3, $40 on PC) [review]: Valve’s clever fusion of puzzle-solving and first-person shooter is the year’s best-written title thus far. The single-player campaign, which relates the origin story of Aperture Science and sinister artificial intelligence GLaDOS, is as smart and hilarious as the first “Portal,” thanks in no small part to the voice acting talents of Stephen Merchant and J.K. Simmons.
“Portal 2’s” two-player cooperative mode ended up being just as much of a revelatory proof of concept as the first “Portal.” I fully expected the sequel to spawn arguments and destroy friendships as players argued over which one of them was the dummy holding them back. Instead, the co-op mode was just difficult enough, leading to a satisfying, “Look what we can do when we put our heads together” feeling.
“L.A. Noire” (rated M, $60 on Xbox 360 or PS3) [review]: Team Bondi’s gritty cop story, set in late 1940s Los Angeles, captured the look and feel of an era and used historical settings such as the closed-down set of a D.W. Griffith blockbuster to full effect. Even if it wasn’t perfect, “L.A. Noire’s” use of new technology to render voice actors’ likenesses and facial expressions added realism to its interrogations, as LAPD Detective Cole Phelps worked to solve a series of mysteries.
But as much fun as it was to examine crime scenes and interview witnesses, the game’s driving and gunplay sequences felt tedious, creating something of a mixed success. For an interesting, alternate take on the game, check out Kirk Hamilton’s review over at Kill Screen.
“LittleBigPlanet 2” (rated E, $60 on PS3) [review]: Media Molecule aims to make “LBP 2’s” players an army of creators. A robust level-editing and design kit, the same tools used to create the game’s campaign, lets players create everything from boxing matches to pinball games, marriage proposals and platform-jumping levels, all of which can be shared online and rated by the global community. It’s a revolutionary game-design concept and promises to bear fruit for players willing to dive in and master all the tools. As a somewhat casual player, I found the level-editing tools in need of more interactive tutorials. Getting the hang of everything felt a lot like sitting in a classroom, watching video after video.
This is a game that could rise higher on my year-end list, as players continue to add fantastic community levels that anyone with an Internet connection can play for free.
“Dead Space 2” (rated M, $40 on Xbox 360 or PS3, $30 on PC) [review]: Visceral Games’ claustrophobic shooter brings back engineer Isaac Clarke for more “strategic dismemberment” of the frighteningly fast zombies known as necromorphs. While the gameplay isn’t radically different from what we got in 2008’s “Dead Space,” the sequel outperforms the original by making Isaac more talkative, humanizing him and fleshing out the game’s backstory in the process. The inclusion of more distinctive levels and a not-bad multiplayer mode completes the package. While the first “Dead Space” boasted better boss battles and a more tightly wound story, I’m happy trading those for the newer, more interesting Isaac.
Of course, I don’t get to play everything because there are only so many hours in the day. Games I missed out on that stand a good chance of cracking my year-end list if I can squeeze them in include mature, sharply written role-playing game “The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings” (rated M, $50 on PC), open-world superhero title “Infamous 2” and story-driven boxing simulation “Fight Night Champion” (rated M, $60 on Xbox 360 or PS3). “The Legend of Zelda: Ocaraina of Time 3D” on the 3DS ($40, rated E10+) intrigues, as well, but I’d have a tough time putting a remake on my year-end list.