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’m pretty indiscriminate when it comes to my gaming platforms. I’ve got every current generation console in my house including one of each of the hand helds. So when I want to play a game that’s got a cross platform release I’ll usually take a look at how each of them are reviewing and choose the highest rated platform. Dragon Age: Origins was a great example of this as the reviews of the console versions were a lot worse than its PC counter part and I can only imagine how the problems I encountered on the PC would be magnified by running it on a console. Still there’s one platform that I’ve always considered second rate when compare to any of the other consoles I have; my iPhone. I’ve still got quite a collection of games on there but apart from Plants vs Zombies none of them could be classed above a simple time waster. That is until I bought Infinity Blade.
Infinity Blade has garnered quite a lot of press since its initial release 3 months ago as it’s the first game ever on iOS to make use of the Unreal 3 engine. The teaser screenshots released by EPIC and Chair showed that the Unreal engine had the potential to deliver much better graphics to the iOS platform, bringing the iPhone’s capabilities up to the level of dedicated gaming systems. Since all the 3D games I had tried thus far on my iPhone had been rather poor I was keen to see how Infinity Blade faired, and I wasn’t disappointed.
You play as the son of an unnamed warrior who has been killed by one of the Deathless, an immortal race of beings that appear to hold control over parts of the mortal world. Your mission is to fight your way through the various enemies that guard the Deathless’ castle so you can avenge your father. Of course you’ll probably not succeed the first time through and you will fall to the Deathless again, leaving your son to avenge you and starting the cycle anew. Over the course of the game you’ll find gold, items and health potions that will help your character along the way and these will be passed down the bloodline to successive characters.
The game doesn’t fail to impress from the get go with the gorgeous graphics filling the screen. The voice acting of the characters is done in much the same way as the Sims, being some incomprehensible gibberish that allows them to just put sub-titles on everything to make regionalization easy, but that doesn’t stop them from being adequately emotive. In-between bouts of combat you’re allowed to look around for items, chests and bags of gold that have been left lying around. You’re not able to walk freely around in Infinity Blade with travel being done by clicking on a pulsing circle to progress to the next area.
Combat in Infinity Blade is probably the most satisfying aspect of the game. Upon encountering an enemy you’re left standing in front of them until you hit the pulsing blue circle to engage with them. Upon doing so you’ll be greeted with a short cut-scene where the enemy shows off how tough they are. You’re then playing a game of dodging, parrying or blocking their incoming swings whilst attempting to hit back with swings of your own. As combat progresses you’ll move around the area you’re in, ensuring that no fight is completely static. You’re also equipped with 2 special abilities, a “super move” which will stun your enemy temporarily and a magic move which can be one of a number of spells which are granted to you through rings.
Like any good RPG the game also has a basic stat system along with a good variety of loot to augment your character with. Initially I thought it was going to be your typical dungeon crawler with all loot gathered from mobs and chests however there’s an in-game store where you can buy new weapons and armor using gold. You’ll want to do this often because as you defeat enemies you gain experience points which are attributed to your weapons and eventually you’ll master them after which they won’t grant you any more experience points. Still I found myself sticking with a few core items well after I had mastered them simply because they made the game so easy, but its quite obvious that the game would prefer you gradually upgrade rather than jump the gun like I did.
After a while however the limited variety in game play does tend to drag a bit, especially when the only challenging enemy is the Deathless and the next upgrade costs half a million gold to buy. You can get around this drag by buying a sack of gold in the store for real money, but that will only stave off the boredom until the shininess wears off your new gear. That’s not to say the game isn’t worth playing at all however as I was truly captivated for the first 5 bloodlines as I attempted to slay the Deathless that had killed my great-great-great grandfather. After that however it’s just an elaborate game of digital Barbie, looking for new items to dress up my character with.
Infinity Blade is pretty good with its execution too with the only problems I encountered being things they could not fix. Initially I couldn’t get the game past the first few loading screens but after rebooting my iPhone it went along without a hitch. Additionally I found the game’s recognition of touches and gestures to be a bit wonky at times, however this is probably more due to my notorious sweaty hands than any fault of the game developers. The iPhone can get extremely warm after a 10 minute bout in Infinity Blade so I’m sure I’m not the only one experiencing this, but there’s little any developer could do to alleviate it.
Overall I was very satisfied with Infinity Blade and the experience it created. Whilst it’s still a far cry from the games I’ve been enamored with on other mobile platforms Infinity Blade demonstrates that smart phones and tablets are quite capable of being used as a portable gaming console, something which I didn’t quite believe it was capable of. Whilst I don’t believe we’ll see any titles that can hold a candle to the releases on a fully fledged console or PC there’s still a ton of potential to be unlocked in this space and Infinity Blade has shown it can be quite profitable even for more traditional game development studios.
Infinity Blade is available on most iOS devices right now at the special price of $2.99 for the Deathless Kings upade. Game was played on an iPhone 3GS with approximately 7 hours played.