CNHI News Service
— For gamers, 2011 has been a savory year: rich with triple-A releases, fervently anticipated sequels and a few new franchises that are set to take off in 2012 and beyond.
Herein, you’ll find a list of the top 10 most popular titles released this year. We scoured the Internet for the best holiday pricing on each (and found some deals that shocked even this seasoned player.)
Rest assured: stick to this list and you’ll have a can't-miss gift for the gamer in your family and maybe some extra cash in your wallet.
You can see each title's suggested retail price, find out what the critics think of each game by clicking their Metacritic.com score and scope the latest trailers to get a feel for whether this game is right for your giftee.
To find the deal, just click the retailer name and price point. But click quickly - these deals won’t be around long.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Nintendo)
This long-awaited latest installment in Nintendo’s iconic “The Legend of Zelda” series became an instant classic upon launch. “Skyward Sword” received the first perfect 10 out of 10 score of 2011 from Famitsu, a Japanese gaming publication known for their thorough and extremely brutal review system.
Western blogs called it creator Shigeru Miyamoto’s “magnum opus” - a tall order, considering 1998’s “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time” has topped countless “best of” lists for years. Skyward Sword also marks a new artistic direction for the series - it’s the first title to use animated cutscenes and full voice-acting to deliver the story.
If you have fond childhood memories of recovering pieces of the mysterious Triforce or toppling the evil Ganon with your trusty Master Sword, this may be the perfect title for introducing your little gamer to the land of Hyrule.
Plenty of new copies can be found on Half.com for around $40.
2. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Bethesda)
It’s been more than five years since the last “Elder Scrolls” game. The Elder Scrolls franchise is your standard swords-and-sorcery epic (a la Lord of the Rings,) but, for each sequel, the team at Bethesda creates an enormous, living, breathing fantasy world that players can (literally) lose themselves in. In Skyrim, the province where the latest Elder Scrolls is set, players can be anyone they like, go wherever they like, complete quests however they like - the possibilities are endless. That’s the point, really.
Series such as “Fable” or “Grand Theft Auto” can claim to have the most open-ended, freeform video game worlds ever created, but they’re really just pretending that they’re The Elder Scrolls.
Only in this game can a player use a flame spell to torch a farmer’s crops and see merchants’ prices rise as supply of cabbage goes down and demand for cabbage goes up. Only in this game can a player track a dragon across a jutting mountainside and smite the foe atop the snowy summit. Only in this game can a player marry a werewolf or a vampire (hi, Twilight fans!)
If you dig elves and wizards and just so happen to have the next three months of your life completely free (I mean 100%, no joke), why not take a vacation? Skyrim is looking pretty good this time of year.
Super savings are a little scant on this one - it’s easily the most anticipated game of the year for role-playing game fans. Overstock.com has a few new copies for five bucks less than the MSRP.
3. Portal 2 (Valve)
The first “Portal,” a runaway hit of 2009, generated monumental buzz when it was released alongside two other games in Valve’s “The Orange Box” bundle. Picking up right where the prequel left off, the sequel has players return to the Aperture Science Enrichment Center, to reprise their role as Chell, an imprisoned test subject.
The source of Portal’s sleeper success was the introduction of a new gameplay mechanic that caused some gamers’ brains to hurt. A puzzle game at heart, players must move through the testing environments by way of a “portal gun,” an apparatus used to create a door from one flat surface to another.
While teleportation may not seem like anything new, its execution in-game is like a “taste” you haven’t tasted before. And that’s only half the charm. Portal 2 features a small ensemble cast of characters and their voice actors. All the character animations and performances possess an endearing “Pixar” flavor and are laugh-out-loud funny - at times upstaging the game itself.
Have a significant other that is leary about getting into video games? Portal 2 is an ideal “date game,” perfect for passing the controller back and forth and completing puzzles together... with the power of love.
The MSRP has been locked in this year, so no savings here, unfortunately. You could pick up a new copy pretty handily at ye local game shoppe. Barring that, you could order it from Amazon.com.
4. Battlefield 3 (DICE)
When Battlefield 3 was shown at 2011’s Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, the sound of thousands of jaws dropping in unison could be heard. It was the first time Battlefield developer DICE’s new “Frostbite 2” engine was unveiled, and the result was gameplay footage that is nearly indistinguishable from real-life footage.
Aside from being built on the most realistic-looking graphics engine to date (everything in the trailer above is made from in-game footage,) the latest entry in the Battlefield franchise carries all of the polish and first-person shooter expertise that DICE is known for.
Jets, tanks and vehicle-mounted turrets are just some of the weapons with which players can wage their virtual war - DICE likes to just leave that stuff there and let players decide how to rip each other to shreds.
Battlefield 3 is looking to steal a piece of the “Call of Duty” pie, and with the sheer amount of destructive tools at players’ disposal, it may yet topple the competitive FPS giant in popularity.
Perfect for the war game fanatic on your gift list, if your gamer plays titles like “Halo” or “Call of Duty,” you could not possibly go wrong with Battlefield 3.
There are some more-than-decent savings on new copies - check Half.com for $20 off the MSRP.
5. Batman: Arkham City (Rocksteady Games)
In 2009, developer Rocksteady Games did the impossible: it made a good “Batman” game. Actually, it was the best Batman game ever made. Avoiding the “sophomore slump,” Rocksteady delivered a sequel to “Batman: Arkham Asylum” that not only makes good on Asylum’s small list of faults but expands on everything that made the first game so memorable and unique.
The combination of “Metroid”-style exploration of a large and lavishly-designed game world and a combat system that makes you actually feel like the Dark Knight is like digital peanut butter in digital chocolate. Fans of the Batman franchise will cheer at dozens upon dozens of cameos from DC comic book characters and many of the Bat’s most villainous adversaries are featured in boss fights.
The gadgets, the Batwing, the Joker, the brooding; everything that fans love about Batman is in there, along with an explorable Gotham City. The coolest part: players can use Batman’s grappling hook to swing around town - a la Spiderman.
Half.com sellers can net you a copy for $15 cheaper. Amazon.com has Arkham City for $10 off the MSRP - best grab that deal fast, before it’s over. The one in the Robin pajamas under the Christmas tree will thank you. Or bring you to justice.
6. LittleBigPlanet 2 (Media Molecule)
“LittleBigPlanet” is all about fun. No heavy-handed plot here, just platformer gameplay at its finest. Players create an avatar out of what appears to be knitted plush (called a “sackboy” or “sackgirl,”) and are free to traipse around in the game’s pre-built levels or create their own levels from scratch.
The physics of the game world play a huge part in level creation and will always find new ways to make surprise players or make them smile. Nearly anything can be built in LittleBigPlanet 2 - Rube Goldberg-esque contraptions have become the most popular with the YouTube crowd, especially since they display the open-ended mechanics that give LittleBigPlanet oodles of replayability.
A “one size fits all” kind of game, LittleBigPlanet 2 is for anyone old enough to hold a controller. The art style is cutesy, but fits well with the whimsical nature of the game world. And no one in front of the PS3 will feel left out - LittleBigPlanet 2 supports up to four players.
Newegg.com has a marginal discount but several new copies were found on Half.com for much cheaper.
7. Gears of War 3 (Epic Games)
The third and final installment in Epic Games’ flagship “Gears of War” trilogy promises to finish everything the first game started - namely the humans’ war with an aggressive, subterranean race known as the “Locust.”
This gritty, testosterone-fueled shoot ‘em up first dazzled gamers in 2006 with intense, strategy-centric gunfights. Players must make good use of the environment for cover while advancing and flanking their pale, reptilian foes. Everything in the Gears of War franchise is big and loud, from protagonist Marcus Fenix’ bulging biceps to the chainsaw-bayonet at the end of his assault rifle.
With each sequel, Epic Games has been cranking that volume as far as it can go. If your gamer likes the “Halo” series or big, flashy sci-fi/action flics like Starship Troopers or Alien, Gears of War 3 is a sure bet.
Amazon.com’s running a nice deal on this one. Their $10 discount is likely to end soon, so hurry. Half.com has several brand new copies for a bit cheaper.
8. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception (Naughty Dog)
The “Uncharted” franchise has become a darling with Sony fans. Being one of Sony’s most popular and visible exclusive franchises means Naughty Dog gets to pull out all the stops when it’s sequel time. And why not? Its charm as a raucous, romping Indiana Jones-style adventure is undeniable.
Players fill the shoes of Nathan Drake, your run-of-the-mill treasure hunter type. The game follows Drake on yet another globetrotting quest - expect ancient tombs, car chases and many more thrills.
Any adventure movie fan can sink their teeth deep into Uncharted’s world. Also, if you saw the fourth Indiana Jones movie and were severely disappointed, Uncharted 3 is sure to wash that taste out of your mouth.
Another great holiday deal from Amazon.com gives savvy online buyers $10 off this new release.
9. L.A. Noire (Rockstar - Team Bondi)
And now for something completely different. Truly, “L.A. Noire” is not a game, so much as an interactive experience. Drawing inspiration from film noir movies (and several visual flourishes from films like “L.A. Confidential” and “Chinatown,”) L.A. Noire has it all: good/bad cops, femme fatales, Studebakers and lots of smoking.
While the post-World War II setting is rather unique to the video game industry, its character models were made with one of the most revolutionary techniques in the industry today.
Taking a page out of Dreamworks’ production process, the team at Rockstar Bondi hired dozens of actors to play every character in the game - and there’s a whole city full of them. They sat these actors in front of 32 specially arranged cameras which captured the actors’ facial performances through all 2,200 pages of the game’s script. When characters speak to the player, they appear full of life and emotion... because their facial expressions are real.
Team Bondi turned this into a gameplay mechanic: as war hero/good cop Cole Phelps, players must scour crime scenes for clues, questioning witnesses and interrogating suspects as part of their investigation. They need to use inherent human judgment of the characters’ faces to determine whether or not they’re being lied to.
L.A. Noire is for anyone who likes a gritty crime thriller. The game’s “cases” are ripped from the headlines, just like the popular “CSI” TV series. If you’ve got someone who continuously narrates their life with lots of cheesy similes while drinking single-malt scotch, L.A. Noire is a no-brainer.
Plenty of people are selling brand new copies on Half.com for around $25. And Newegg.com’s got a bit of a doorbuster on this one: 50% off the MSRP (but only for the Xbox 360 version.) L.A. Noire hasn’t been made a “Greatest Hits” title yet, but you can now snag it for the same price as one - you won’t be disappointed.
10. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary (343 Industries)
Has it really been 10 years since the first “Halo” game helped turn Microsoft into the console game giant it is today? Millions of enthralled gamers and a slew of sequels later, gamers can now revisit the classic that started it all. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is something old and something new - the singleplayer story mode of the first Halo was left wholly intact, albeit in a new shell.
The now dated visuals of the original Halo have been replaced with the more modern, fancy-schmancy graphics engine used in 2010’s Halo: Reach. And most interesting (for hardcore Halo geeks) is the ability to switch between the original Halo’s graphics and the enhanced version on the fly.
Online multiplayer, regrettably absent from the original release, has been added to full effect - classic Halo maps, as well as all-new ones, are playable on Xbox Live, so players can have all their little space marine buddies together.
For first-timers, this is a great way to discover the Halo franchise. For die-hard fanatics, the nostalgia factor alone may keep them busy in the time leading up to the release of Halo 4.
There’s deals everywhere on this one and each retailer seems to have a different price. Overstock.com’s price is the lowest, yet it’s only $4 off the MSRP.