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…
There’s really only one thing that stops me from playing most of the Call of Duty series on the day of their release and that’s simply the price. Whilst the games will more than pay for themselves in terms of hours played vs hours worked to acquire them I’m still never happy shelling out $80+ for the game on Steam when it costs a whole lot less in another country. For Call of Duty: Black Ops then I simply waited long enough until it went on sale for half off before grabbing it which I was much happier to shell out, even if the overseas store also received it at half price. Still I had had enough people bugging me to get into this game ever since its release that I figured there had to be something good about it and strangely enough I’ve also been suckered into the multiplayer, something I usually avoid with these kinds of games.
Call of Duty: Black Ops takes place during the cold war with the vast majority of the missions being recounted in flash backs by the main character, Alex Mason. At the beginning you awake in an interrogation room, strapped into a chair and wired to an electric shock device. Your captures then start questioning you about the location of a numbers station and attempt to jog your memory by running you through past events and occasionally jolting you. If I’m honest I really don’t like having stories retold in flash backs as too often its used as an easy way to patch together a plot that’s made up of otherwise incongruent elements. It’s still serviceable however and if we’re honest with ourselves here no one is buying this game based solely on the plot of the single player campaign.
The cold war setting does make for some extremely interesting environments for the story to play out in. Whilst there’s no gratuitous space scenes like its predecessor there are an incredible amount of what I called “treat” scenes that just seemed to be in there to wow the player with eye candy and action hero style antics. The screenshot above is one of these such scenes where Mason is tasked with stopping the Soviet Union from launching Soyuz 1 and 2 with the mission culminating in shooting a prototype missile at the already launched craft. That’s not even the most ludicrous scene that plays out in Call of Duty: Black Ops but it was one of my most guilty pleasures in the game.
The Call of Duty series has done extremely well with creating a game experience where you feel both like the hero and part of something much greater all at the same time. Whilst I’m not adversed to being the lone hero in games I’ve found myself enjoying games that make you feel like a part of a bigger picture. The first game to get this feeling just right was Freelancer where in one of the later missions you join up with a large fleet as part of the final series of missions. Black Ops manages to recreate this feeling consistently with you almost never being alone and in many cases being surrounded by your fellow men, powering forward towards your goal.
The game play itself is nothing revolutionary but Treyarch have done their best to make sure that all of Black Ops isn’t just one long cover based shooter. Whilst you will be spending the vast majority of your time ducking in and out of cover in order to take out an inordinate amount of resistance there are several sections where you’ll be doing something out of the ordinary. Such things range from flinging explosives from hand made catapults to guiding soldiers on the ground from the cockpit of a SR-71 Blackbird. For the most part they’re welcome breaks from the almost constant combat that takes place but some proved to be more progression blockers than anything, especially if you missed the cue to do something out of the ordinary.
One such event was a section of the Vietnam missions where you’re fighting your way down an embankment. The actual goal of this particular section was to kick barrels of napalm in order to clear out the section up ahead. However if you’re like me you would have thought that it was just another run and gun section so I instantly made a break for a machine gun nest so that I could cover the rest of my team mates. Doing so took me out of ear shot of my companion who was instructing me to kick the barrels and thus I spent about 30 mins wondering why the game would put in a section with practically unlimited enemies in it. I eventually came within earshot and figured it out, but it still felt like there should have been an on screen prompt for those like me who might have been a bit too keen to man the guns.
Unlike it’s predecessor though I didn’t feel the same level of immersion with Call of Duty: Black Ops. I think this can be put down to the way the story was presented as each section stood pretty well on its own so that the breaks between them with the interviews felt like good places to stop if I felt even the slightest bit bored with it. Couple that with the epicness fatigue (I.E. after everything being so epic for so long you just don’t feel it anymore) you’ll undoubtedly suffer and the single player mission in Black Ops is best enjoyed in shorter bursts of 1~2 hours. That being said you’ll more than likely be done with the entire game in 5 sittings in doing that, so it’s not the worst thing in the world.
Once the single player is over however many of Call of Duty: Black Ops’ players will spend many more hours in the multi-player, and rightly so. Realistically the single player of any Call of Duty game is the hook with which to draw people into multi as that’s where the player base spends the vast majority of its time. Coming into a multi-player game this late in it’s release was something I wasn’t looking forward to, thinking that I’d do a couple hours just for the review and then be done with it before I raged like I used to back in my Counter Strike days. Strangely enough though I found myself quite enjoying the multi-player experience, to the point of playing it for as long as I had played the single player.
If you’ve played any Call of Duty (or any multi-player FPS for that matter) the game modes that are available in Black Ops will be familiar to you. Indeed not much about it differs from previous Call of Duty games with the persistent levels and ability to customize your class being the main hooks that keep people coming back. I knew this getting into it, figuring that I’d be slaughtered for the couple hours I dared touch multi. However even with an uncustomized class I found myself being quite competitive and it didn’t take me long to get the required levels to unlock some decent kit and create my own class. By the end I felt I was nigh unstoppable with my character being almost grenade proof, able to take out enemies both near and far and even topping the servers a few times. I still find myself going back for a round or two every so often when I’ve got some time spare, and I think I will keep doing so for a while to come.
The question I keep asking myself is: was it worth missing out on this for so long just to save $40? Considering I had so many other games to play at the time I didn’t really miss playing Call of Duty: Black Ops but suffice to say those who were pestering me to play this game gave up long before I bought it and I haven’t seen one of them playing it since. Still despite that the game was very enjoyable and even managed to reverse my stance of not bothering with the multi-player in these kinds of games. In hindsight it would’ve been worth the cost of admission had I got it on day dot but I guess when principles and my wallet are both hit at the same time it’s enough to override my other impulses, no matter how strong they are.
Call of Duty: Black Ops might not break any new gaming ground or try very hard at being original but it’s still a blast to play, especially when you play it online. It’s not often that a game makes it into my bag of titles that I’ll come back to when I just want to blow an hour or two on something fun but I feel like Black Ops will be there for a while now, at least until the next one comes out. So if you’re a long time fan of the Call of Duty series or just FPSs in general you won’t go wrong with Black Ops and even if you’re not there’s still a good 8 hours of single player to be had, more than enough for gamers in today’s market.
Call of Duty: Black Ops is available right now on PC, Xbox360 and PlayStation 3 for $79, $68 and $68 respectively. Game was played on the second hardest difficulty setting with around 8 hours of total game time. Mutliplayer was played on multiple Australian servers with my most favored game mode being Team Deathmatch on Nuketown with around 6 hours of total play time and reaching level 18.