This year of gaming has certainly been a mixed one, the sum of which is a line-up of games, which in my opinion is possibly one of the weakest we’ve seen for years. To try and gain some sense of closure on 2011 in gaming I take a look back over what was in my most memorable titles of last year – for better or for worse. This is by no means an exhaustive list of the titles of 2011, Gamespot or IGN can fight over those honours, these were titles, which caught my attention for one reason or another. So come, follow me as I take a look back through the highs and lows which have made my 2011 in gaming*.
Duke Nukem Forever – one of the most anticipated titles around 10 years ago I suspect. When news got out that Duke Nukem Forever finally went gold and was receiving an actual release date, well – things finally started to get interesting. The June emergence was awaited by gamers, not necessarily because people thought that it’d actually be any good, but rather, because it was a piece of gaming history, another chapter to be finished in the annals of this ever-growing medium. That chapter had a truly crappy, but ultimately “right” ending; the development hell and smorgasbord of bad decisions meant it couldn’t really be anything other than a complete pile – if you don’t believe me check out the bargain bins this January.
LA Noire – a problematic game for so many reviewers and critics. It was widely regarded as a potential paradigm changer within games, akin to David Cage’s Magnum Opus**, Heavy Rain. This next open world title by Rockstar, followed Red Dead Redeption’s deviation from the GTA locale, but was instead set in a post-war noire world and sporting a very fancy looking facial animation system.
On paper this was a match made in heaven, sprawling open worlds are Rockstar’s forte, and the new animation system seemed to give a greater feeling of immersion with an interrogation system that gave the linear story missions a dynamic kick up the ass. What was in reality was quite distant from this, the open world largely felt like an afterthought, the investigations were frustratingly clipped and the animation, whilst being very effective felt like a trip down the uncanny valley and back again during Halloween.
Shadows of the Damned – this was to be the odd ball entry of 2011, a game with the twisted minds of Suda 51 and Shinji Mikami under the hood. You take control of Garcia Hotspur, a tattooed hispanic demon slayer set on a quest of “road movie” aspirations, through the depths hell with a talking skull sidekick and more penis references than you could shake your Johnson at. The above description of Shadows of the Damned is near enough what sold it to me, I knew I wanted to play it.
Funnily enough if I was to describe what failed the game I’d refer you back to the above description. The promise of such juvenile humour and “grindhouse” action sounds great, but in reality it is irksome and unsettling – but not in the ways Suda 51 would have wanted. Also going against it was the lack of character development and “buddy” qualities, which you’d expect from a road movie approach. The “humour”, atmosphere and general presentation missed the mark, producing a game which was trying a little too hard to be “edgy” and not trying hard enough to become a compelling adventure.
Battlefield 3 – This was near enough the top of my most wanted list of 2011. Battlefield Bad Company 2’s multiplayer was the most satisfying multiplayer experience and I only expected greater things with Battlefield 3. The myriad of different features promised by Dice would tweak, tuck and refine the gameplay, solving the apparent issues of Bad Company 2 and making good all the ills in the world.
The sum of these tweaks and refinements was actually something which felt rougher round the edges, less balanced, more frustrating and overall a poorer showing. I realise that Battlefield 3 is still “young” and many patches have the potential to address the balancing within the game. More linear feeling maps, movement tweaks, the ability to go prone and new battlefield equipment all change the dynamics slightly and feel like one step forward and two steps back as far as the series is concerned.
The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim – Having played every game in the Elder Scrolls Series you could say I was somewhat pumped about the release of Skyrim. Being a fan of Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas I felt that the promised updates to the engine and the potential for a larger, more emersive world were too good to miss. Safe to say that after 10 hours I began to felt like something very significant was missing. There’s a lot of love for Skyrim out there at the moment, it appears that Bethesda have done it again and produced one of the most significant games of 2011. It’s just not for me, not at all.
This realisation came about when I began to see that it was still suffering from many of the issues which had dogged the series nearly 10 years ago – wooden characters, poor execution of set pieces and most of all, glitches, glitches and more glitches. But I could actually look past these issues, I’d successfully done so in the prior titles in the series, but this one seemed to be missing more – interest. The background of the world felt truly uninteresting, the story quests were stark and often unengaging and the dungeons uninspiring copy and paste jobs. In the end I barely dipped my toes into what Skyrim had to offer, but having expected so much and found it left wanting, I abandoned it as my biggest gaming tragedy of 2011.
Resistance 3 – This was a surprising entry to my gaming collection in 2011, and one of my most welcomed. Now I’d never gotten on too well with the Resistance series, I think someone was trying too hard to recreate Half-Life and gotten lost on the way. My picking up of Resistance 3 was done on the Skyrim rebound, I was feeling hurt and vulnerable and wanted something quick and cheap to take my mind off it. As the game opened I found that I actually started to care about the premise, the characterisation, whilst nothing new, was very well done. The opening hours of the game flew by as I got drawn into this surprisingly good shooter.
The creativity in the weapon design and the smoothness of the combat, were the biggest surprises, Resistance 3 is a first person shooter that knows how to be fun. And by fun I don’t mean because it adds dick jokes and toilet humour, I mean it strikes the right balance between taking itself seriously and presenting an exciting arsenal of weapons and situations to use them in. This isn’t to say that Resistance 3 doesn’t have it’s problems, because it certainly does, but none of which detriment the core gameplay experience to any great extent.
Crysis 2 – The original Crysis was known primarily for it’s technical prowess and ability to melt processors at a glance, it Crytek clearly wanted to up the ante with Crysis 2. However, the cynic in me – I believe we’re all acquainted – was (and still is) dubious of games whose main bragging point is graphics alone. Crytek did succeed in creating one of the best looking games this console generation and many’d believe I was slumming it by not experiencing it throuhg a true gaming PC as opposed to a 360 or PS3. But Crysis 2 was able to deliver in more than just its stunning presentation, in fact it managed to produce one of the greatest feelings of power for the player than almost any other title in 2011 if not the entire current console cycle.
Many games struggle to get the feel of “super soldier” right, often lacking in gravitas and challenge opting instead to go for a handful of cheap thrills. Many people complained that the super suit in Crysis 2, wasn’t all that super. All of your abilities ran off the suit’s limited energy supply meaning you couldn’t really use more than one at once, you were by no means invincible because of it. The complaints levelled at this demonstrated that many missed the point entirely; the suit’s limited power supply meant that every fight had to be carefully planned and executed, the payoff being the awesome sense of power which acompanies with each successful completion. Crysis 2 is the best lesson in games design, that to make the player feel powerful you’ve got to make them realise how vulnerable they are first.
Rayman Origins – The latest addition to my year’s gaming is again, another surprising one, to me at least. Having never been the biggest fan of Rayman games, I didn’t really even pay attention to it’s launch. Plus, the prospect of playing another adventure game didn’t exactly fill me with joy – the genre has never had the same draw as it once did since I replayed Banjo and Kazooie and nearly had a stress-related blackout due to the underwater control scheme. Nevertheless I took a punt and was very pleasantly surprised by Rayman’s newest outting.
What I found was a charming adventure game, which harked back to platforming roots without feeling lazy or half-baked. Rayman Origins treads heavily on the toes of New Super Mario Bros Wii, but don’t hold that against it. What makes this an amazingly enjoyable experience is a mixture between the wonderful art style, cheeky sense of humour, cleaver level design and challenging – yet achievable – gameplay. One of my favourites this year without question.
Final thoughts – There are many other titles, which for many might be alarmingly absent from this list, but you’ve got to draw the lines somewhere. This doesn’t mean that by omission other titles which are missing aren’t as deserving, just not as salient to this year for me. I started off with the suggestion that 2011 may have been one of the weakest gaming line-ups we’ve had for some time. Never a year goes by without someone making this claim, and I’m sure I’m not alone in making it now.
My main issue this year was with any real lack of imagination, the prevailing feeling of “safeness” within games production. Whether you want to attribute this to the end of a console cycle and the developers are getting comfortable or the wider implications of worldwide economic troubles, it’s still evident that numerous studio closures and abandoned IPs have paved the way for sequels and re-makes galore. Many are happy with the current status quo, and whilst the technical proficiency of this generation can hardly be ignored, it would be nice to see some more genre-bending and perception challenging titles. All we can do now is wait until 2012 and see if the new hardware might spur everyone on a little more – perhaps we might see some more original IPs – here’s hoping!
Chr15 6r33n (Follow me on Twitter @ chrisgreen87)
*From the home consoles – I’m not ignoring mobile or social, just leaving that can of worms for another time.