The first part of this series saw the whittling away of a field of great contenders to two matches of four remarkable games. I am sure that I am wrong on all of these decisions, but at least there is a good record as to why I made them. So without further ado, let the semifinals begin!
Semifinals Match 1: Super Mario 3D Land vs. Deus Ex: Human Revolution
One factor that can be used to look at a game is the impact that it can have on both players and developers. Deus Ex presents questions to the player in terms of how they might deal with certain situations but coats them in a slick, cyberpunk setting. Your boss tells you to do something, do you question him about it or just blindly obey? When a company that you don’t trust recommends taking a certain action with its product, do you obey or just do what you want at risk of the consequences of ignoring the advice?
It is a little harder to make the tough decisions in the real world and defy authority, but Deus Ex can give one pause to think that if they fantasize about being independent in the real world and act it out in video games, then maybe steps should be taken to live the life they actually want. The main theme of the game deals with humanity and what is it that really makes a man a man. An important line of thought to consider in an increasingly digital and connected world (a statement people said in 2000, and it has gotten more digital and continues to be true). These things cobbled together create a game that can stay with the player and perhaps leads to self-reflection. Mario reminds us of some power-ups he had on the original Nintendo.
For developers, Deus Ex should be an important game because it reminds us that it is fun to have multiple solutions to the same problem. No game contains complete freedom. By definition, games have a set of rules or a system of rules that governs the interactions of objects in the game and any response they might have from the player’s input. But when a level or world is designed in a way where there are numerous different solutions to the “get the red key” problem, it makes it seem like the player was free to do any number of things to solve a problem, and only choose the one he wanted. Just like we solve problems in the real world, except in Deus Ex there are usually only two or three unhighlighted solutions. It’s an illusion of freedom, but where freedom cannot exist, this illusion creates immersion which makes for a better game. Mario is a very nice Mario game. Games like it would be fun with another company’s mascot in it.
As stated at the outset, this is an example of an unfair comparison. These are very different games. But, looking back, this year’s Mario is just that: it’s the Mario game that came out this year. Great fun, nigh-universal appeal, everyone with a 3DS ought to play it, but other than a good Nintendo product you can buy, not a thing of consequence.
Winner: Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Semifinals Match 2: Saints Row: The Third vs. L.A. Noire
Impossible to say how this happened, but here there are actually two games that are comparable. From the most basic level, these games are exactly the same. In each players control a character who can run around on foot and shoot things and can also commandeer any type of vehicle to drive it around in a virtual city.
The deciding factor has to come down to variety. In LA Noire, Detective Phelps does the same thing over and over again. The game breaks down as follows: watch case setup, drive to witness, search around a place for clues, talk to a witness, drive some more, keep doing these things until the case is over. Periodically this action can be broken up by responding to emergency calls, maybe stopping a bank robbery or chasing after a suspect, but that is about it. The stories and acting are great, probably some of the best this year, but the part where it is an action game, not an adventure game, is poor. The shooting and driving are serviceable at best, and chasing after suspects on foot is not fun.
To be contrasted with this, the new Saints Row is a blast to play. The driving is that of a controllable arcade racer (at least in the fast cars, trucks are still no fun to drive in a city, I’m not sure trucks have ever been more fun to drive in a game than a sports car) and the shooting is sharp. The main story missions are varied, entertaining and continue to escalate in their craziness as the game progresses – even within the mechanical confines of merely being able to shoot, punch people, and drive a car. The sheer number of things your gangsta will end up doing is impressive. Moving beyond the core story there are a host of entertaining side missions and activities to complete. It will take someone far longer to go through all that Saints Row: The Third has to offer than to blast through all the cases in LA Noire (especially if you let Phelps’ partner do the driving). And more importantly, they’ll probably want to actually play more Saints Row, not just see more detective stories.
If Rockstar told me that there was more DLC for the cops game and it was just more street cases, just more of the same basic gameplay, I would say, “No thank you.” If Volition said they were putting out more side activity types for the robber game, I wouldn’t say anything. I’d just hand them my credit card.
Winner: Saints Row: The Third
So the championship match is all set. Check back Friday to see who wins the final face off between Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Saints Row: The Third!
Wild Card Nod: Star Wars: The Old Republic
Released late in the year, and so still technically part of the discussion for 2011, Electronic Arts and BioWare have released what appears to be a good MMO. The goal of the companies, at least as assumed by many, is to take down the big daddy of MMOs, World of Warcraft. This does not strike me as the case. It’s probably more likely to say that their real goal is to make money, and if they make more money than WoW, so much the better. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Activision gets a lot of cash off that Blizzard-built pony.
I have not played enough of this game to include it in a list of the best games of the year. From what I have seen, my impressions are only positive. Essentially what BioWare has done is create eight C+, single player, traditional BioWare RPGs, and has also managed to slap an entire integrated multiplayer component all over that. The combat seems to be bit faster than WoW but never approaches a Quake level of speed. The graphics and sound sure are Star Wars, let that be your guide as to whether you’ll like the presentation.
From the little I have played, the thing that impresses me the most is the voice acting in dealing with NPCs. Usually in MMOs I only follow the stories because you get decent loot or access to new vendors or faction points or whatever. The stories in other games usually throw a block of text at you to vaguely give some narrative as to why this dude needs everyone in the universe to give him 10 boar tusks. Here there are actual recurring characters and story lines, and even full voice work for the little throwaway “kill a dozen dudes of X type” quests (to be candid, some of the voices are alien or droid gibberish, so it’s not all voiced – alien speak with subtitles = text). In addition to the NPCs yapping all over everything, the game is more like Mass Effect than KOTOR in that the dialogue responses of your character are fully voiced. This helps create a sense of immersion that makes me want to actually see what is going to happen to my ruthless Cyborg Bounty Hunter, not just get my Tauren druid to max level because that’s where the high-level loot and PVP is at.
But it is still too early to call with this game. It might be the case that the endgame stinks and some of the classes or specializations are simply no fun to play but are still needed for a balanced group. SWTOR is worth checking out and maybe it’ll be 2012’s 2011 Game of the Year.