The new year is upon us and its a good a time as any to take stock of the year that just past. 2011 was quite a year for gaming with several hotly anticipated block buster releases hitting the shelves, some mere weeks after each other. It was also something of a coming of age for this blog in terms of game reviews, seeing myself being flown up to Sydney to preview Modern Warfare 3 and getting my very first ever review copy of a game. Now with the year over it’s time for me to put my vote in for game of the year and whilst I’d love to say it was a close competition it really was anything but.
All in all 2011 saw me complete 22 games total (there were far more played, see here for an explanation as to why they didn’t get reviewed) and here’s an exhaustive list of the reviews in chronological order:
As I was creating this list it struck me just how mixed this list of games is. Whilst the dominant platform is still PC for me there’s 2 other platforms in there and their respective releases both felt right at home on their platform of choice. The dominant genre here would appear to be FPS although just going off the usual 8~10 hour playtime rule for said genre I dare say that the vast majority of my gaming time in 2011 was spent on RPGs or games with a RPG element to them. Although if I’m honest I have blown quite a lot of my time recently in Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer and a heck of a lot more in Star Wars: The Old Republic (review coming soon!).
Before I dive into the game of the year however there’s a few games that deserve recognition either for their accomplishments or outright failures.
Gemini Rue is by far the most underrated game of the bunch. It’s been well received critically both here and elsewhere but it’s still a title most people would not know if they heard it. I’d say this was because of its lack of a release on Steam when it first came out (which has since changed) even though it had a digital distribution channel. Still the game is expertly crafted, bringing up all kinds of nostalgia whilst delivering a story that I really cared about, thoroughly exploiting all aspects of its chosen pixel art medium. Whilst it might not make the cut for my game of the year it would definitely get my vote for independent game of the year, hands down.
For most over-hyped/biggest let down of the year the title can go to none other than Duke Nukem Forever. I was thinking about making it a tie between said title and Rage but in defense of id’s latest release it at least had some redeeming features in the engine and game play. Duke Nukem Forever is unfortunately nothing like that being little more than a generic shooter that rode the Duke brand as hard as it could. Indeed it’s the definition of a critic proof release as for Gearbox it was a commercial success despite it’s woeful critical reception. I’ll be honest this is the only game that I played through to the end just so I could review it as for any other title I would’ve just stopped playing and not bothered to review it.
So what then is my game of the year for 2011? The answer is Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
As a game Human Revolution really is something amazing. The graphics are simply superb with it rightly taking the title away from Crysis as being the game to stress test your new rig with. That’d all be for naught if the game wasn’t good but suffice to say it’s brilliant. The plot and characters are engrossing, there are wide and varied game mechanics ensuring that no 2 playthroughs are the same and it has rekindled that feeling that everyone had when they first played the original Deus Ex. Put simply Deus Ex: Human Revolution sets the bar for the FPS/RPG hybrid genre and does it with an almost effortless elegance. It’s fitting then that it received my highest score review score of the year, putting it second only to StarCraft 2.
With 2011 now done and dusted its time to look forward into 2012 and the games it holds for us. It’s already shaping up to be a fantastic year for gaming with games like Diablo 3 and Mass Effect 3 due out early in the year. It will also be the year when I ramp up my game review efforts significantly on here as I’ve got plans to make my console reviews better (and do more of them), dabbling with the idea of producing video reviews and overall playing more games so that I can do more reviews. In the end that’s what its all about, well that and my not-so-secret desire to be a games journalist…
It’s only been recently that I’ve come around to war based games, especially those in the first person shooter genre. For that I lay the blame squarely at the developers who, for the longest time, churned out title after title that was just the same as the previous one except for maybe some new weapons or a multiplayer game mode. Thus it should come as no surprise that Battlefield 3 is the first in the series that I’ve bothered to play for more than a couple hours at a LAN. You can thank Black Ops for that as their last few instalments showed me that these games could be more than just mere distractions, and Battlefield 3 is certainly a lot more than that.
Battlefield 3 is the 11th instalment in the Battlefield series coming out nearly a decade after the first in the series. The setting is modern day with the majority of the game centring around the middle east. In the campaign you play as Sgt. Blackburn, an officer who’s been brought in for question because he may know something about a potential terrorist threat. The game is then told through a series of flashbacks to various missions that Blackburn carried out, revealing more about the reasons why he’s ended up where he is. The campaign also serves as a tutorial for multiplayer, introducing you to many aspects of the game.
Now I’m usually pretty gushy about graphics and Battlefield 3 is no exception. Indeed the first few trailers I saw of in game footage were the sole reason why I had intended to buy Battlefield 3 in the first place and indeed many of my friends were also convinced in the same way. I do get hit by tech wonderlust though so I was sceptical about how realistic it actually was until my wife, who was about 3 meters or so from my screen, said “Is that real?” when she saw the scene pictured below. Given that she’s seen me play my fair share of games having her ask such a question means that Battlefield 3 really is another step up in graphics technology, putting DICE at the forefront of what’s possible in the realms of computer graphics.
Surprisingly the incredible graphics of Battlefield 3 doesn’t seem to come at the cost of performance. Now my machine is somewhat of a beast: Intel 2600K, 16GB RAM and a HD6950, but even with that I’ve had some recent games slow to a crawl when I’ve put them on max settings. Battlefield 3 however is buttery smooth from inside the smallest corridors to the most wide open of spaces with dozens of players in view. It’s truly incredible that the game doesn’t turn into a complete slideshow when you up the player count to 64 as many graphics intensive FPSs in the past (I.E. the original Crysis) struggled with just over 8 players simultaneously.
The game play in Battlefield 3 is divided into 2 categories: infantry and vehicle. For the majority of the single player you’ll be playing as infantry, slogging your way through on foot whilst you run and gun in your typical FPS affair. There’s a little bit of variety in the missions, ranging from your typical get from point A to point B to providing cover for your allies in the form of sniper fire. The vehicle sections are a bit of a refreshing change from the relative monotony of the infantry sections although they’re fairly limited in scope, serving as only a brief introduction into what you’ll be experiencing in multiplayer.
If you bought Battlefield 3 for just the campaign though you’d be sorely disappointed with it clocking in at just over 4 hours in my play through. This is typical of these AAA titles that are much more focused on providing an on-going experience through multiplayer rather than delivering a single player epic so I can’t really fault it for that. The plot of Battlefield 3 though is somewhat confusing and rather poorly written in sections, taking the cheap flashback route to simply demonstrate the various multiplayer levels in a single player setting. Playing on the most difficult setting will also see all the enemies have sniper like accuracy with whatever weapon they’re carrying, even when they’re blind firing around the corner. It also doesn’t help that your team mates, when you have them, are next to completely useless sometimes walking past enemies and then indicating for you to join them, resulting in you getting gunned down on the spot.
This is where I make a distinction between a game being “hard” on one hand and being just tedious on the other. A game that is truly hard is one that provide a challenge for you to overcome, one that will teach you to be a better gamer for having conquered it. Giving NPCs ungodly abilities like pinpoint accuracy just adds tedium, not challenge, to a game. Indeed I spent much of the campaign of Battlefield 3 explicitly ignoring the game’s instructions because, if I did, I’d be gunned down immediately. Thus instead of it being a challenge where I tried different tactics to see which came out the best I instead found ways to get the game to progress to the next check point, even if that meant doing nothing for 5 minutes whilst events played themselves out.
Of course the real meat of Battlefield 3 isn’t contained within the brief confines of the campaign, it’s all about the multiplayer. Now I was semi-familiar with the lay of the land in multiplayer Battlefield games but after spending a good 20+ hours on Call of Duty: Black Ops I was preconditioned to expect a few things which aren’t exactly the same. That’s not a failing on Battlefield 3’s part by any stretch of the imagination, more I can see why some people stick to one or the other as the multiplayer is a decidedly different experience between the two. The main difference is there’s no vehicles in Call of Duty whilst there’s vehicles aplenty in Battlefield, but that’s really only the beginning of the differences between them.
On the PC the difference starts right from the way that get into the game with DICE introducing a new system called Battlelog. In essence its a social networking service built around Battlefield 3, much like Call of Duty Elite is shaping up to be. You can do all the regular social network-y type stuff, friend people, post status updates, etc. but all your in game achievements and unlocks are also put on display for everyone to see. Interestingly enough everything about Battlefield 3 is accessed through the Battlelog system, the only time it doesn’t come into play is when you’re offline and then Battlefield 3 will just kick you into the campaign.
Battlelog is both a blessing and a curse making some things just so darn simple you wonder how you did without them whilst at the same time providing enough pain to make you wonder why you bothered with trying to play some multiplayer in the first place. The grouping feature, allowing you to create a party and then join a server with said party, is phenomenal and appears to filter down to the squad level when you get into the game. This has made it so much easier to jump on a server with friends and have a good time with them, rampaging through maps as an organised group. Finding friends is also easy thanks to the Facebook integration, allowing you to pick everyone up without having to ask them for their in game name.
However Battlelog also seems to have troubles performing some of its most basic functions. The server filter list, whilst working properly most of the time, sometimes forgets or ignores your settings. I’ve had several occasions where I’d select “1-5 slots free” only to end up in a completely empty 64 person server. The voice chat is also borderline useless, being rather low quality and cutting in and out a lot, especially if you use the voice activation option. I also had several games just up and disconnect me for no reason and Battlelog simply reports “Game was disconnected” even though my Internet connection is fine and I rejoin the server immediately. As the multiplayer really is what Battlefield 3 is all about the Battlelog system having such faults really does it a disservice and one I can’t really pass over.
To DICE’s credit though the multiplayer is fun, action packed and highly varied. If you want you can play it much like Call of Duty as they’ve reintroduced team deathmatch, battling the other team to the death. However most seem to favour the conquest style maps, basically a capture and hold style of game play with a limited number of respawns for each team. The large versions of conquest maps are teaming with various vehicles, allowing you to wreck havoc from all directions. Everything from yourself to your class to the vehicles you drive have persistent levelling up associated with them, unlocking new abilities and upgrades as you go through. I’ve already sunk a good 8 to 10 hours in the multi and feel like I’ve still only scratched the surface and I’ll definitely be playing for a while into the future.
Battlefield 3 impresses me on so many levels which is why it pains me so much to point out the flaws that detract so heavily from its achievements. DICE has been rapidly iterating in order to address the flaws but they simply shouldn’t have existed to begin with. The Battlelog is a brilliant idea that suffers from some elements of poor execution, much like Battlefield 3 does as a whole. Still I wouldn’t recommend against buying Battlefield 3 though as despite all these problems once you’re actually in the game it’s very enjoyable to play, especially when you accidentally ram your jet into the ground for the 3rd time that game. Hopefully the issues that I experienced in the past are eventually worked out and then Battlefield 3 will really be a serious contender to take the crown as FPS king.
Battlefield 3 is available right now on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 right now for $79.99, $108 and $108 respectively. Game was played on the hardest difficulty with 4 hours in the single player and approximately 10 hours of multiplayer total.