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… 😉
Try as I might to avoid the hype for games I haven’t yet played I still can’t help but notice when a game keeps repeatedly popping up in my feed reader. The first of these such games, which I had little idea about before I bought it, was Bayonetta. It seemed I couldn’t go 2 days without hearing something else about this new IP from the creator of the Devil May Cry series and after I heard it got a perfect 40/40 score from Famitsu I decided it was probably worth a play through. Of course I got all of 2 hours out of it before I couldn’t bear anymore so you can imagine my skepticism of when a game comes to me via a similar route. Still Bulletstorm managed to get the tick of approval from my friends (even the harshest amongst them) so I threw down the cash for a copy on steam and gave it a good old fashioned thrashing over the past week.
What got me first was just how rich and beautiful the environments were. Many times I caught myself just taking a couple seconds to stop and gawk at the scenery, something you didn’t get a whole lot of time for sometimes. Surprisingly enough too the game ran perfectly fine at maximum settings (apart from AA) on my 3 year old rig, even when the action on screen got particularly hectic. This is of course mostly due to the consolisation of the games industry which has both advantages and disadvantages. Being able to squeeze multiple years of life out of old hardware is one of these but there are a few things that suffer because of it.
Since the console market is by far the largest part of the current gaming market, approximately 95%, most games are optimized for the experience on the console first. Bulletstorm is no exception to this (although it is one of the better cross platform releases I’ve played) and there are some hangovers from its consolisation. Probably the most noticeable of this is the inclusion of Games for Windows Live client which has to be installed, even if you purchased the game through Steam. This extends to the menus throughout the game which don’t even let you use the mouse to select the items in them. Additionally many advanced configuration options are hidden in encrypted config files requiring quite a bit of wrangling to get at should you want to tweak the settings a bit. Individually these are all minor gripes but when summed up altogether they do serve to take away from the game experience on the PC, the platform I most often choose for my FPS binges.
You play as Grayson Hunt, a former black-ops agent who worked for the Confederation of Planets. You’ve since gone rogue after finding out that your commander, General Sarrano, was using you to suppress dissidents, telling you they were murderers and drug runners. You see the chance for revenge when your ship crosses paths with his and after a brief bout both you and your former commander end up ship wrecked on the planet Stygia. The rest of the game is dedicated to finding a way off planet, getting revenge on sarrano and dealing with the various creatures that inhabit this strange world who get in the way of your ultimate goal.
Whilst Bulletstorm takes many queues from current first and third person shooters (extensive use of cover and regenerative health) there are a couple novel mechanics thrown in to spice up an otherwise ordinary FPS. The first is the energy leash which looks like a serpentine bolt of lightning that enables you to pull enemies, items and bits of the environment towards you. The leash can also be upgraded to have a “thumper” ability allowing you to throw multiple enemies into the air at once which you can then pick off at your leisure. It comes in place of the usual melee weapon, like the crowbar in Half Life, allowing you to dispatch enemies even if you’re running low on ammo. Indeed the game encourages you to use the environment to your advantage as is shown by the next novel feature included in Bulletstorm.
Duty Calls, the “demo” for Bulletstorm, ridiculed the Call of Duty style games for their leveling systems in order to get upgrades. Instead Bulletstorm gives you a list of skillshots to acomplish awarding points each time you complete one of them. You can do them multiple times over (although they give more on the first attempt) and these points are then used to purchase upgrades and ammunition at the various drop boxes that have been scattered across Stygia. Each weapon has a unique upgrade that requires its own special ammunition that you can only buy at these drop boxes but is always quite powerful, usually one shotting even the most tough of enemies. The system works quite well as you learn how to maximize your return on each encounter and some of the skill shots are just plain fun to do.
The gameplay itself is very fast paced, action filled and smothered in gobs of low brow humor to keep your entertained along the way. Many of the scenes have you running your way through massive environments to make it to the next save point and nearly every one of them ends with you either destroying something huge or crash landing in some way. Whilst I didn’t find it as gripping as say Modern Warfare 2 it was still enough to keep me in my seat for the final 3 hours. The dialog is, to put it bluntly, crude and squarely aimed at the frat boy crowd that this game targets. It might sound snobbish of me since I’m a big fan of the expansive dialog trees Bioware is known for spoiling us with but the low brow humor fits Bulletstorm’s characters well, even if I found it a little tiresome towards the end.
Bulletstorm’s plot follows a similar vein, being enough to give the characters the proper motivations and an excuse for the ridiculous action but not serving much past that. The false end and subsequent last sequence that basically yells at you “Yes there’s going to be a sequel!” serves to cheapen what little depth it might have had. It’s similar to the false end in Red Dead Redemption, albeit without the emotional heart ache that plagued me for days afterwards.
Does that mean I think the game isn’t worth playing? Hell no! Whilst I was apprehensive shelling out the requisite dollars on a game that came to me in the same way as Bayonetta I still throughly enjoyed the Bulletstorm experience. There was nothing more satisfying than lining up hordes of burn-outs and laying waste to them with a single shotgun charge. Some of the skillshots take real skill to pull off and having the right weapon at the right time can mean the difference between breezing through and a gritty struggle for survival. Sure the plot might not be as deep and engrossing as other titles but I still enjoyed every moment of it.
Bulletstorm is one of the two low brow shooters (the other being the fabled vaporware title, Duke Nukem Forever) that delivers on its promises of over-the-top action, thrills and dirty language. Whilst the experience was somewhat hampered by the current trend of consolisation it still manages to deliver a great PC experience that I’m sure will be a favorite at LANs for a long time to come. If you’re amongst the teaming droves of those waiting anxiously for the release of Duke Nukem Forever you won’t go wrong by biding your time with Bulletstorm and even if you’re not it’s a satisfying game based on its single player alone.
Bulletstorm is available right now on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 for $69.99, $108 and $108 respectively. Game was played on Hard setting to completion on the single player campaign with approximately 8 hours of total game time.