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 been a long time since I played a good point and click adventure, but probably not as long as you think. It was only 5 years ago when Dreamfall: The Longest Journey was released and many of my friends told me that I had to play its predecessor, The Longest Journey, before I played through its sequel. I’ll admit at the time I wasn’t enthralled with the idea of playing through a point and click adventure that apparently had well over 40 hours worth of gameplay in it (rivaling that of traditional RPGs) but the plot hooked me enough to keep me playing right through until the bitter end. Gemini Rue brings back the point and click adventure and caught my attention due to its close resemblance to another sci-fi point and click adventure, Beneath a Steel Sky. With little more than a few screenshots and a recommendation from a friend I bought the collector’s edition of the game (which I’m still yet to receive) and dived right into this neo-noir world.
You start the game as Azriel Odin, a Boryokudan (a large and brutal crime syndicate) ex-assassin looking for his brother who’s been taken captive. Your quest starts on the planet Barracus, a mining planet that’s fallen under control of the Boryokudan, waiting for one of your former colleagues Matthius Howard. When he doesn’t show you begin your search by attempting to track him down. Simultaneously you also play the character Delta-6, a man trapped in a facility where everyone has had their memory erased including his own. Everyone is also subjected to training under the watchful eye of The Director, a disembodied voice that only speaks to you through the center’s PA system. You can switch between either character for most of the adventure although I chose to follow both as far as I could before it forced me to change.
The first thing that Gemini Rue should be commended for is its brilliant pixel art renditions of the various places you’ll visit. Whilst it might be a far cry from the graphics that computers are capable of generating these days it speaks volumes for a game when its able to invoke a certain mood and feel about an area when working in such a limited space. I’ll admit this could very easily be my sense of nostalgia doing quite a lot of the work for me but still the menu screen of Gemini Rue invoked that same sense of foreboding that I got when I first started up Heavy Rain.
The gameplay itself deviates slightly from the traditional point and click adventure genre. Whilst most of the interactions are your typical affair of finding which bit to click on or what item goes with what there’s a few elements that have been added in to break up the monotony of playing hunt and peck for hours on end. Most notably is the inclusion of combat and the potential for your character to die. There are several gun battles in the game and failing to execute them correctly will see your character dying, sending you back to the last checkpoint or place that you saved. Additionally there are a couple points where should you not complete a task quickly enough you will also end up loading up from your last save point. These both serve to add tension to an otherwise blasé genre that’s usually content to let you take as much time as you need without the threat of imminent demise.
Thankfully Gemini Rue avoids the traditional trap of point and click adventures that suffer from inventory overload. Whilst there are many occasions where you won’t be able to progress without a specific inventory item you’ll never find yourself at a point where you have to backtrack or reload a previous save in order to get an item you missed on your first pass through. Additionally the inventory is quite small with the most items I was carrying at any point in time numbering in the single digits. The communicator is also a nice touch as well, basically serving as a portal to other characters whilst also automatically picking up on critical pieces of information when you come across them.
Even though Gemini Rue deviates from the point and click formula of old I still think that fans of the genre will still find a lot to love in this indie title. Many of the puzzles require lateral thinking and there’s enough easter eggs¹ in the game to keep you coming back to the same locations again to see if there’s an unexplored area that you might have missed previously. Of course there are also the traditional frustrations of the genre as well sending me to look up a game guide on 3 occasions when I just couldn’t for the life of me figure out what to do next. Most of the time though it was just not mousing over a certain location to see an item was there, so I’m sure the game could be easily completed without the aide of a guide.
Of course the real hook to this entire game is the story. As the game plays out and more information becomes available to you the story begins to take twists and turns that you just wouldn’t expect. Things I was certain of early on in the story began to change rapidly as the story progress with everything ultimately turning on its head as the story rampaged towards its final conclusion. Whilst I only played the game in fits and bursts over the first few days the last 3 hours of the game had me firmly planted in my seat, anxiously clicking my way through. The end is satisfying whilst still leaving it open ended enough should Wadjet Eye games consider making a sequel to it.
Gemini Rue is one of those games that uses its chosen medium expertly to deliver an extremely powerful cyberpunk story. Whilst the point and click adventure might not be as popular as it was a decade ago this game shows that it can still be used to deliver a compelling game. If you’re a fan of the neo-noir cyberpunk worlds like Bladerunner and Neuormancer then you’ll love the dark futuristic world that Gemini Rue lays out before you.
Gemini Rue is available right now on PC for $14.99 from Wadjet Eye Games. Game was played entirely on the PC with around 7 hours of total play time.
¹My favorite of these was the Cowboy Bebop easter egg. Which is rather fitting considering the setting of this particular game 🙂