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…
These days you’d be hard pressed to find a first person shooter that doesn’t resort to the current norm of cover based, infinite regenerating health standard. It seems the days of searching out med kits and carrying ridiculous numbers of weapons is a thing of the past, a part of the first person shooter heritage that will be left behind in favour of current trends. Still there are some who dare to flirt with the old ways and the developers behind Hard Reset, namely Flying Wig Hog (consisting of many people who made Painkiller), are just those people. Whilst Hard Reset isn’t strictly an old fashioned shooter there are some throwbacks to the old ways with some of the new mixed in for good measure.
Hard Reset throws you into a post-apocalyptic world where humanity has been driven to the brink of extinction, pushed back into a single city called The Sanctuary by an enemy of their own creation: the machines. Inside the Sanctuary is a repository of billions of human identities, ostensibly those who were killed in the war that resulted in humanity being in the state that it is in. The machines want to assimilate those memories into their core matrix and as such have been assaulting the Sanctuary relentlessly. You play as Fletcher, a member of a team called CLN who’s job it is to protect humanity from the machines. Things start to get hairy when the machines break through the barrier and begin assaulting the Sanctuary directly.
The setting in Hard Reset is most aptly described as a cyberpunk’s wet dream, being a combination of post-apocalyptic drab combined with dazzling neon colours with Japanese characters littering the landscape. It’s definitely not the most pretty of games, especially when compared to other recent releases like Rage and Battlefield 3, but it’s far from being visually boring like many other generic shooters tend to be. Trouble is that many of the enemies in the game are also visually similar to the world that surrounds them which can make it somewhat frustrating at times.
Combat in Hard Reset is a mixed affair swinging between the dizzying highs of laying waste to hoards of enemies and the frustrating lows of replay a section over and over again because of some surprise tactics that will one shot you. You’re given 2 weapons to start off with the CLG, a typical machine gun weapon, and the NRG, a futuristic energy weapon that streams out balls of plasma. Both of these weapons can be upgraded to become another type of weapon (which you can change on demand) with the CLG being projectile based (shotgun, rocket launcher, mines, etc) and the NRG being energy based (shock field, railgun and a “smart weapon” which I’ll touch on shortly). You can also upgrade your combat armour giving you other abilities like a radar or additional damage resistance.
Now here’s where I’ll admit to finding Hard Reset and absolute chore to play until I got the smart gun upgrade. You see the initial incarnations of your weapons are ridiculously weak with even the weakest of enemies needing a thorough thrashing with them before they’ll keel over. The NRG upgrade that creates an electric shock field mitigated this somewhat but it was still extremely tedious to set up the field, wait for it to off all the enemies inside it and then wait for the next wave to arrive. The smart weapon, an upgrade that shoots projectiles that home in on your enemies and can shoot through walls, took much of this tedium away as I could simply scan around for incoming hostiles and launch volleys at them before they could get to me. This became very helpful in the later game when boss fights (like the one pictured above) when it would lock onto the places I needed to shoot at. Granted they were pulsating orange so I wouldn’t of had trouble finding them otherwise, but the knowledge that I was guaranteed to hit the right spot made those somewhat tiresome boss fights a lot easier.
The story itself is rather thin on the ground, with the majority of it being told in slides between levels when the game is loading. There’s a little interaction between your character and some others in the game, but they’re just through poorly animated avatars in the corner of your HUD. As a medium to carry the game along it does the job adequately but it’s rather loosely strung together and the game cuts off abruptly with the trademarked “oh there could be a sequel!” cliff hanger ending that I always groan about. Then again if you’re expecting Mass Effect level of interaction and immersion from a $30 shooter than I’d be questioning your sanity.
Hard Reset is a bit of an oddity, showing many signs of the polish I’ve come to expect from much bigger budget games but also dragging with it some of the troubles of being an independently developed game. At just on 5 hours of straight up game play (with no multi-player) it was a somewhat enjoyable diversion whilst I was waiting for Christmas glut of AAA titles to start dribbling in. If you’re into the cyberpunk genre and love your action over the top then Hard Reset will be right up your alley.
Hard Reset is available right on PC for $29.99 on Steam. Game was played on Hard with a grand total of around 5 hours play time.