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 hard to believe that it’s been a good 7 years since we saw a release from the famous id Software developers. For a company that had regular releases every 2 to 3 years for almost 2 decades prior the silence from them was rather unusual, sparking rumours that they were in a Duke Nukem Forever situation. Still their tech demos of the new id Tech 5 engine that was powering their next game showed that they were making progress and that has culminated in their next game release: Rage. After a good 12 hours or so with it over the past couple weeks I’m in two minds about id’s latest game, or more aptly their latest engine.
Rage puts you about 130 odd years into the future into a post apocalyptic world that’s been ravaged by the 99942 Apophis. Now the space nerds amongst us will recognise that that is a very real asteroid and whilst we’ve since eliminated the prospect of it hitting earth in 2029 as the game predicts it was none the less a gripping hook to get me into the story. You play as Daniel Tosh, one of the chosen few to be buried in a capsule with other survivors in cryogenic suspension, only to wake a century after the impact has occured in order to rebuild humanity. When you wake however you find that the pod malfunctioned and you’re the only survivor out of your particular ark and the world that you’ve come out in is a desolate wasteland.
Now Rage has copped a lot of flak for the absurdly broken release that it had on PC and when I first played it I was no exception. There was massive amounts of tearing, models glitching in and out of sight and textures not rendering properly or at the incorrect level of detail. The first patch plus a new round of ATI drivers fixed most of those problems making the game playable but it wasn’t until a friend of mine linked me to this post on the steam forums that Rage actually began to shine. After applying the new config the game was absolutely beautiful, both visually and performance wise with my computer running everything at absolute maximum settings I never had an performance problems. Rage still didn’t like to be alt-tabbed however as that would bring back tearing with mad vengeance. Such problems did not plague the console release however, so their launch day experience was probably much better.
Rage is very much like Borderlands in that it fuses RPG elements with FPS game play. The main story line is driven via quests given to you by various NPC characters and there’s a multitude of side quests that won’t further the plot but will get you things to help you along your journey. There’s no skill trees or levels per say but you will acquire various upgrades that will help to make the game easier. Most of the weapons have some form of upgrade but they’re usually not that useful, especially once you pick up certain weapons like the sniper rifle or the Authority Machine Gun. There’s also a crafting system that allows you to concoct all sorts of interesting things and, thankfully, there’s no limit on the amount of stuff you can carry so you can always have what you need when you need it.
The game play in Rage is divided into 2 distinct categories: the vehicle sections and then your typical FPS run and gun. The vehicle sections, as pictured above, serve as being a break between quests where you’ll be accosted by bandits in the wasteland. There’s also a series of jump challenges scattered around the place for you to attempt, but since they give no reward apart from possibly an achievement there’s no real incentive to go for them. Your vehicle can also be upgraded with “Race Certificates” won from races or given as rewards to quests. Some of these races are fun (like the rocket races, where you get to blow your opponents up) where as others just feel like a chore. I only spent the bare minimum amount of time on the races however as once you’ve got the few key upgrades there’s no incentive to keep doing them.
The FPS component of Rage is a pretty typical affair, being a somewhat cover based shooter with the added advantage of you being able to heal and also revive yourself should you end up being overwhelmed. For the most part its quite servicable as you can choose to either strut out into the open and keep yourself healed with bandages (of which you can make an almost unlimited amount of) or pick people off from behind cover. The additional secondary weapons like the wingsticks (basically a bladed boomerang) and sentry bots help to keep the combat interesting and can be the difference between making it through alive or reloading your save for the nth time.
There are however a couple glitches in the combat system that need mentioning. If you’re say unloading shell after shell into an enemy whilst they’re doing a particular animation there’s no indication as to whether you’ve killed them or not. This becomes rather irritating when the death animations for some NPCs closely resemble that of them stumbling after taking a big hit, leading you to waste countless rounds in order to just make sure that they’re down. There’s also the fact that headshots, even with the sniper rifle, don’t usually one shot enemies like they usually do. This isn’t a glitch per say more of an annoyance as that one carefully lined up shot has to be two carefully lined up shots which you don’t usually have the luxury of taking.
The story that had such a gripping hook at the start is unfortunately quite thin on the ground with your character’s motivations for doing what he’s doing coming from other people telling him what to do constantly. Although the world is meant to feel open ended the story, and all of the missions, are completely linear with no real options for going at something another way. Rage’s storyline also suffers from major pacing problems as well, especially towards the end when you’re suddenly plonked onto the final mission with little more notice than the title of the mission indicating that it might be a one way trip. The end boss fight, if you could call it that, also pales in comparison to some of the other boss fights in the game leaving you feel like you’ve missed something along the way. Ultimately the intial hook that got me in was the pinnacle of the storytelling in Rage and that’s very disappointing.
Rage has its moments as a game but ultimately it feels more like a 12 hour tech demo than it does a fully fledged game that took 7 years to build. I would usually let id off the hook on this one since they’d be licensing their engine (which is a technical marvel) and thus the game wasn’t their main focus but outside of Zenimax companies (id’s parent company) the id Tech 5 engine won’t be available for licensing. Thus for the foreseeable future the only 2 games that will use this engine will be Rage and Doom 4, which is a shame because once it’s set up right it’s quite spectacular. Rage then as a game is a FPS/RPG hybrid that manages to deliver sometimes but suffers from multiple problems that detract from the technical beauty that it contains.
Rage is available on PC, Xbox360 and PlayStation 3 right now for $108, $108 and $88 respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC with around 12 hours of total play time and 46% of the achievements unlocked.
It’s really no secret that the earlier that a game review gets out the more likely it is that more people will read it. For the most part it’s held true for the reviews I’ve done as people tend to look for info about the game mostly before or just after its release, usually to scope out whether they should buy it or not. Being one of the unwashed masses I’m not privy to early releases of games (except for one solitary exception with Modern Warfare 3) so all my game reviews usually come out weeks after the major sites have already posted theirs, usually with 1 or 2 follow ups afterwards. Still I continue to write them because they’re the easiest writing I’ve ever done and I have an incredibly fun time doing so. Some of my reviews have also been decently popular so I know there’s some value in them for my readers out there.
As to what value people were actually getting from my late in the piece reviews though wasn’t all that clear to me. Of course there are some who use them to inform their purchasing decisions (although no one’s told me of that) and a few will just be my regular readers catching up on my latest ramblings. I knew quite a few people stumbled onto my site when they were looking for wallpapers for particular games or screenshots of certain characters which might not be available anywhere else. However after reading a couple early reviews of certain games I started to realize why reviews like mine are important.
They give the companies a chance to fix broken things.
Take for instance this weeks review of Dead Island. I didn’t get the game on launch day because of the price but I happily snapped it up about a week after it was released. Had I got it on launch day and attempted to play it I would’ve been greeted with the developer build which was buggy, filled with odd shortcuts like turning on no-clip and overall a relatively unpleasant experience. Since I tend to avoid game reviews for games I myself intend to review I wouldn’t have known about these issues and would’ve panned the game for releasing such a half assed game. Coming into it later than the usual flood of reviews meant I got to experience the game as intended and I believe my review reflects a more accurate picture of what the game developers hoped to release.
Another game I was hoping to review in the future was Rage and of course my platform of choice will be the PC. However according to initial reports its sounding an awful lot like the Dead Island release, with the game being horribly buggy and glitchy. Since I’m still waiting on my pre-order keys to arrive (and the fact that I have probably 3 other games I could be playing at the moment) I haven’t been able to give Rage a go yet, but it seems like giving the game a miss for a week or so might be the best option, just so that I’m not reviewing the current mess that everyone is complaining about.
Delayed reviews then, whilst probably not garnering the same amount of press as their day 1 counterparts, serve to showcase what the game is capable of once you get past the initial bumps. It’s a good thing for small timers like myself who don’t have the privilege of getting early access too, as we have the luxury of taking our time with the games and making sure the experience we’re getting is the best the developers could deliver. If the game is still a smoking wreck at that point then it deserves what’s coming to it, but realistically if it’s an honest mistake (like Dead Island was) then it should be easy to fix it.
Of course I wouldn’t turn down the opportunity to review a game before it was released if I was given the opportunity, hint hint 😉