Happy Christmas everyone and Happy St. Stephen’s day. I hope this post finds you well.
As I sit by the roaring hearth of my parent’s fireplace, box of after eights in hand, leftover turkey well and truly digested and Big Bang Theory repeats playing out on the TV behind me, I’ve decided to open up my laptop and share my musings on the incredible gaming year that was 2011. Incredible is perhaps one of many synonyms that best appropriates the last 12 months. In truth, we’ve been spoiled rotten. Quality game releases were never few and far between in 2011. Triple “A” titles were unsubtly ubiquitous and seemingly omnipresent, to the point where most people will be well into 2012 by the time they’ve gotten around to sampling most of 2011’s wonders.
But it wasn’t all about games that actually made retail, 2011 will also be remembered for any number of gaming dramas and shock moments, proving that gamers don’t just invest in the games that they are actually playing, but they’re invested in the greater industry at large.
Here’s my reflective take on 2011, what I loved, what I didn’t love so much, what confused me, what frustrated me and a couple of other random assessments of what will go down as one of the best years gaming has ever entertained. Enjoy….
I LOVED Portal 2.
Portal 2’s release in April was a real high point. Valve habitually make brilliance look simple. Portal 2 is no exception. Valve’s creations are always impossibly near perfect, a confluence of systemic planning, patience, guile, originality and ingenuity, all of which is topped off by a heavy layer of class. Portal 2 is all of the aforementioned and perhaps even more impossibly, a little bit more. Underscoring the creative energy of the mind-bending puzzles that define the gameplay is a personality unlike anything else you’ll see in 2011. Portal 2’s cast of colourful robotic A.I and their cohorts are in equal measures intoxicating, humorous, antagonistic and engrossing. Everything is so subtle. There’s no prolonged cut-scenes, no interference, just you, and the omnipresent voices of GlaDOS, Cave Johnson and Wheatley. Wheatley is possible the best new character of 2011, a stationary, cycloptic spherical stammering droid who will keep you focused, keep you engaged and provide you with some genuine laugh out loud moments as you stagger through Aperture’s labs. Voiced by Stephen Merchant, Wheatley is classic Valve, a whimsical character that players take to and rally behind from the outset.
Of course, GlaDOS still churns out classic lines, hilarious insults and her invective tirades will define much of your time in the labs. They are cold, calculated, hilarious and vindictive. The deeper you get into the belly of the labs the more you realize that although there’s a definite element of composed humour throughout, Aperture labs and its characters are oppressive and dark. It’s an engaging balance; humour and oppression carry the same weight. You react to both, often times without realising it. It’s a masterpiece.
Bulletstorm was the most irrelevant game I played in 2011.
I just didn’t “GET” Bulletstorm. I’m sorry. I just thought it was unreservedly dumb. I know it had some cool ideas and looked great but I felt like I was burning brain cells just staring at the oversized boot on the game’s box art. Over the top stupid characters, unapologetic “dick” jokes every 10 seconds and a decrepitude in story telling frightfully akin to many big games in 2011 made Bulletstorm the most irrelevant and downright pointless experience of the past 12 months for me. Don’t get me wrong, it certainly had its moments, but these were few and far between. It was just so clichéd, arid and prosaic. This franchise doesn’t need a sequel. We get the pointless point thanks.
The announcement of Grand Theft Auto V reaffirmed my faith in the expression “less is more”.
You’ve got to hand it to Rockstar. While PR companies spend millions every year on alternative reality games, cryptic messages, teasers, teasers of teasers and (even) teasers of teasers of teasers to drum up attention for their soon to be announced games, R* seemingly said “ah, feck it” and decided to lob a Grand Theft Auto V logo up on the official R* website without telling anyone on a random Tuesday in October for the internet to find at a time that it saw fit. As you can imagine, it wasn’t long before someone noticed it and the internet, like it so often does, went mental. R* didn’t even as much as send out an email directing press to the site. They let the speculation, the rumours and the frantic blogging do all the advertising for them. Genius. They must have saved a small fortune. You don’t need to advertise a game like GTA V and R* know that all too well. The game’s debut trailer followed a couple of weeks later. It will invariably be one of the biggest games to come out in 2012.
Dead Space 2 proved previously mute characters can have voices and not sound terrible.
The Dead Space franchise has become an allegory of psychoneurotic escapism and provocative space melodrama, defined by myriads of plasma cutter space massacres delivered by systems engineer Isaac Clarke. Isaac has become something of an unconventional gaming hero. In the first game, Isaac let his Plasma Cutter do all the talking for him. In Dead Space 2, released all the way back in January, Isaac spoke for the first time……with his mouth…..
When I first heard that Isaac Clarke was getting a voice for Dead Space 2 I was fearful. The original Dead Space was an instant classic; with sound, music and silence playing an integral role in the atmospheric, insular and tense claustrophobic disposition of the game. Giving Isaac a voice in part 2 should have backfired. It didn’t. Gunnar Wright did a great job and really added to the character. Visceral nailed the voice and released a stellar game in the process. I’m not saying that studios like Valve for example should turn around now and give Gordon Freeman a voice all of a sudden. I’m just saying that it’s great that someone took the risk and it really paid off for them. Dead Space 2 is a beast and definitely one of my favourites from 2011. Keep an eye out for Gunnar as a young Dwight Eisenhower opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in the forthcoming Clint Eastwood directed J Edgar Hoover bio movie simply entitled “J Edgar”. I interviewed Gunnar during the year too. He is a real gent and an excellent talent.
Thank god for HD Collections.
2011 saw the release of some pretty fantastic HD Collections. The Team ICO Collection is a real highlight. Then there’s the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection which is already out in the U.S and Japan. It’s mega. There were a couple of misfires too, namely the Splinter Cell Collection. It doesn’t do the franchise the justice it deserves. Next year you can expect everything from Jak & Daxter, Silent Hill and Devil May Cry with a fancy HD bonnet on them. C’mon Capcom, make an Onimusha Warlords HD Collection already. That would be incredible.
The Wii-U baffles me.
Nintendo had a funny 2011. The year started off with a forced 3DS price cut. Following that, the firm revealed their next console at E3, the Wii-U, baffling most and surprising everyone. Just what the Wii-U can do is still actually unspecified as such. If you ask me, they shouldn’t have revealed it without actually spelling it out in exact detail. It felt like they were showing me a prototype of something that they are working towards and not working on. I’m not sold on it. Mind you, it looks like it’s going to get some fantastic support from third party publishers. The next time we see the Wii-U it’s a given that it has to impress much more than it did back in June.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance disappointed me……at first.
I like my Metal Gear. I like my Metal Gear a lot. The reveal and announcement of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance took everyone by surprise. I’d known that Platinum Games were actually handling development duties on Rising for a while, but I had no idea what they were doing with it. Back in August, a reliable source close to Kojima Productions actually told me that Rising was cancelled. I was shocked. I really wanted to publish the story and get the exclusive on it. But I didn’t want to do or say anything that might get my source in any kind of trouble. It was in October that the source confirmed the new developer as well a couple of other interesting nuggets of Rising related information I won’t go into here. Platinum’s take on Rising shocked me when I first saw it, but the more I get over myself, the more I’m growing to accept that just because this is a Metal Gear that isn’t just all about Kojima Productions, it doesn’t mean it will disappoint. I wasn’t a fan of Bayonetta but I really enjoyed Vanquish. Platinum will deliver with Revengeance and all will be happy in the kingdom again. By the way, Revengeance was announced at the Spike TV VGA’s earlier this month, an award ceremony that blows in every conceivable way. It’s an embarrassment to the industry. They need to change the format or just scrap the awards altogether. They’re a stupid mess.
Uncharted 3’s characters were the only game characters I genuinely cared about in 2011.
Story telling in games is the pits. I can’t tell you how many times I skimmed through cut-scenes in games in 2011 because the storylines plots and characters found within were painfully understated, painfully predictable and painfully shallow. Games like Crysis 2 for example had everything going for them expect for when it came to telling a half-decent story. Thank god for Uncharted 3. It has everything and so much more. But what it does is it makes characterisation and story delivery priority number one. After that, Naughty Dog builds the game around Drake, Sully and co. It just so happens that the game that they built around the characters is bloody awesome. There’s one particular moment in U3 that sticks out for me. Without giving anything away as such, it’s a very simple scene where Drake rests his head on Elena’s lap. She strokes his hair and loosely clutches his fingers. It’s a beautiful tangible moment that in 30 seconds or so manages to trump pretty much everything else released this year in terms of why you should care about the characters you inhibit in the game you’re playing. Uncharted 3 is a stunning game. Next year, Naughty Dog will unleash The Last of Us. You know it will be mega. Naughty Dog are also incredibly nice people to deal with. A big TGL thanks to Richard Lemarchand and Amy Hennig.
The PSN hack was a real shame.
Everyone lost out when it came to the PSN hack. The Network was essentially out of sorts for a month. It must have cost Sony millions. It was high profile international news; it even made it onto the RTE Six One News. WOW! All credit to Sony though. They may have been somewhat slow and staggered to react to the hack (and let those affected, AKA YOU AND ME, know about it) but they never really induced any kind of panic and always kept a cool head in the crisis. They let their games do the talking in 2011. Uncharted 3, Resistance 3, LittleBigPlanet 2 and inFAMOUS 2 were all huge releases and justified owning the console, despite the frailty of the PSN. Since the network got back up and running, it’s been smooth sailing for the most part. 2012 will be another big year. The Last Guardian should finally resurface.
Duke Nukem Forever was a mess…..
……and that’s all I have to say about that.
RAGE didn’t live up to the hype.
Wolfenstein 3D and DOOM were some of the first proper games I ever played. RAGE was to be Id Software’s renaissance piece, a welcome return by the original figureheads of the FPS genre. It was beyond hyped, won every possible pre-release award you could win and then it came out and fell short. In a year defined by shooters, RAGE doesn’t stick out from the crowd. It’s average at best and is already less than a tenner to pick up in GAME. It only came out in October. The PC version was riddled with performance issues. It wasn’t what we were expecting from Id. Hopefully they’ll do themselves justice with a new DOOM in the next couple of years. We need a new DOOM.
I liked L.A Noire, shame about Team Bondi though.
L.A Noire finally hit the masses in 2011 and it was actually quite good. It was never supposed to be a GTA clone. The story was quite layered. It had some interesting characters and excellently executed twists and turns. The much publicised facial capture technology also looked amazing. The game won’t be appearing on any GOTY lists though. It was somewhat anticlimactic in the end. Worst still were the internal rumblings that the studio behind the game, Team Bondi, were on the cusp on imploding. Long working hours and poor employee care meant that Team Bondi went bust and has since ceased to exist. They barely got L.A Noire out the door. For shame. I think they were on to something.
There were so many good games that people didn’t play.
What’ ya mean you didn’t play Shadows of the Damned? What about Driver: San Francisco? Or Outland? Have you checked out the co-op multiplayer in F.E.A.R 3? You haven’t? What? Seriously, if you’re heading into town with some festive cash to burn, there’s any number of fantastic games that were released last year that not enough people played that you should splash out on in the sales. The four mentioned above a just a few examples. There’s more to life than Battlefield 3 and Modern Warfare 3. I don’t even think people actually spent that much time with Killzone 3 this year. It’s a mighty shooter. Definitely worth a go and is going cheap in the sales. Do yourself a favour and pick it up. The ending is bizarre and will leave you feeling pretty bad about yourself.
And can you blame them? December was curiously filled with Half-Life 3 teasers, some that have some weight of legitimacy, most of which didn’t. However, 2011 showed that people really want Valve to do something with their flagship franchise NOW more than ever. The industry needs it. The shooter genre has exhausted itself. We need a new “gravity gun” figuratively speaking. We need a new impetus. Valve are the guys to do this. Just this morning I read somewhere that apparently Valve are planning something for New Year’s Eve. It’s almost certainly crap talk, but we love it. You really can’t go wrong with Half-Life. I think a Half-Life related release in 2012 could really steal GTAV’s thunder. Let’s hope it happens.
I want a Playstation Vita…
…..and I want one now. I’m spent three or four hours with the handheld and I’m in love. It’s a beautiful piece of hardware. The quality of launch titles is surprising. It’s got everything going for it and at a decent price point to boot. It’s not all about the frills; the touch screen, the cameras or track pad. It’s about gaming first and foremost and that really comes across in the first batch of games. Uncharted: Golden Abyss looks and plays like it should. It’s very impressive. WipeOut on Vita is stunning. It’s the must have launch title. Super Stardust Delta is another stand out game. Hopefully people embrace Vita. It’s got everything going for it.
I don’t know if 2012 will be as big as 2011 was.
It’s still very hard to say. There are obviously some huge key releases in 2012 like Halo 4, GTA V and The Last of Us, but following the likes of those, 2012 might well be a year of announcements as opposed to releases. Since 2011 delivered so much, 2012 might well offer respite for many developers. They’ll get their hands dirty making games, not just releasing them. I for one can’t wait for Revengeance, The Last guardian and Journey. Then there’s the glorious return of Tekken in Tekken Tag Tournament 2 and Street Fighter X Tekken. Counter-Strike Global Offensive and BioShock Infinite will also be day ones. 2012 will be shaped by announcements in the first quarter. I’m sure the year will be bulked out by key announcements early in the year. It might well go on to best 2011.
Here’s to 2012.