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… 😉
I believe I’m not alone when I think I’m mostly immune to the effects of marketing. For the most part my purchasing decisions are based off research and my own personal requirements, not so much by seeing marketing materials. Of course I realise that I’m not totally immune to the effects of marketing as there have been several times when I’ve found myself purchasing one product over another simply because “I saw it advertised somewhere”, although I’m never happy admitting that. There is one type of marketing that I’ve found myself getting hopelessly influenced by and that’s alternate reality games (ARG).
ARGs aren’t exactly a new phenomenon being able to trace their roots back almost 14 years. Up until the last couple years however I was mostly unaware of the concept having never really participated in any of them. However back in early 2010 I got wind of an ARG that was starting up for one of the games that I was intensely excited about, Heavy Rain. It started off as just a curiosity, with a couple YouTube videos and a flash game to give you a bit of insight into the background of Heavy Rain’s story. Of course not all of it was revealed on the first day and I found myself coming back just to find out what the latest was. The ARG took on a whole new level when they set up a Twitter account and started tweeting responses out to people’s questions from a character in the game. Suddenly I found myself staying up until the wee hours just to find out any information that I could.
I knew I was hooked.
Soon after Valve released an update to Portal that added in some new achievements. Of course the community thought it was rather odd that Valve would update a game so long after its release. As it turns out the achievements were just the lure into an incredibly in depth ARG that had fans working through the details for weeks after the initial update. Whilst I lacked the capability to help push the ARG forward in any way I did follow the events unfold very closely, loving every theory that people would develop and revelling in the excitement when someone made a new discovery. Both of these ARGs drew me into the games immensely and subsequently my time with the final products was much more memorable.
You can then imagine my excitement when I came across the following trailer for the upcoming game Deus Ex: Human Revolution:
Like the main corporation of the previous games (UNATCO) Sarif Industries has their own, rather flashy site. Upon entering it you’ll find everything is normal for a while until eventually it appears to be taken over by the rebels mentioned the trailer above. After fooling around for a while you’ll find yourself in the midst of a small hacking game which upon finishing gives you some insight into the upcoming game. I lost a good hour or two fooling around on the site and with the hacking games and if I hadn’t already pre-ordered the game I would’ve done so immediately afterwards.
ARGs are probably the only bit of marketing that doesn’t break my rule of avoiding the hype for unreleased games. Since the majority of an ARG is back story and doesn’t contain spoilers or over the top marketing speak it adds to the experience rather than detracting from it. I’ve all too often found critical pieces of games ruined by online commentary since, even without knowing it, reveal key pieces of information that sculpt my game play in a certain way. ARGs, since they have to operate as stand alone narratives in their own right, avoid doing this quite well although there is still the possibility to go too far.
I think the reason I get so hooked on these ARGs is that they increase my level of immersion with the end game significantly. Instead of going into the game without any background I’ve already got a decent investment in the story and you get a much better feeling for the characters and their motivations. Since my level of immersion plays a very big part in how much I will enjoy a game then it follows that ones marketed with an ARG aspect are far more likely for me to find enjoyable. Indeed my reviews of games with ARG marketing are above average and I definitely remember them more clearly than the multitude of other games that I have played.