VGBlogger 2011 Year in Review: Memories of a Busy Year in Gaming

It is crazy to think that another year of gaming has come and gone.  So many great games on so many platforms were released throughout 2011, adding titles to a list of “Must Haves” as well as to an ever growing “Pile of Shame”.  I will be forthright in saying this article is going to be fairly biased toward the PS3 (mostly due to the fact that I don’t have a 360 and I don’t regularly abscond with one of my children’s DSs to play something on that platform) but also because my gaming PC is aging a bit and after a full day of working in front of a PC, I find that I’d rather sit on my couch and use my console.

LBP2

That being said, 2011 started off with a bang for my console of choice with LittleBigPlanet 2.  I loved playing LBP and when Media Molecule announced that the sequel was coming I was very excited by all of the additions that they were planning.  I must say that the improved fidelity of the graphics is one of the things that impressed me the most.  Sure there were plenty of new gadgets available to use for level creation, but I quickly found myself being a bit overwhelmed by all of the finer points of making a really good level.  Instead I found myself seeking out levels made in the community, more specifically the levels that employed the movie making aspects.  There have been some amazing levels created throughout the year and I find myself venturing back to my pod every once in a while to load up a few of the latest MM picks just to be blown away by the creativity of users and their level ideas.

Part of the reason why LBP2 dropped out of rotation so quickly for me though was partially due to the fact that Killzone 3 followed soon after in February.  I’ll admit that first-person shooters aren’t necessarily the genre I would recommend first for console gaming (partially due to my long history of playing shooters on PC with mouse and keyboard) but there is just  something about the power struggle between the fascist Helghan and “heroic” ISA from Killzone 2 that I loved and thus couldn’t wait to revisit with Killzone 3.  While the story went down a path that wasn’t as enjoyable as its predecessor, I found the unique jungle level and ice covered levels to be a nice change of pace from the rest of the dark and dusty world. Multiplayer was fun to play in short bursts with a group of my friends, but overall the game felt like it was over too quickly and didn’t have enough rich detail to keep me coming back for more.

Portal 2

After Killzone 3, the next big title I found myself consumed with was Portal 2.  Not only is Portal 2 a great narrative building from the original, but the fact that Valve added basically an entire second game with the co-op just kept me coming back for more.  The humor was top notch between GLaDOS, Wheatley, and Cave Johnson, but then there was accidental humor that just evolved from playing through the co-op levels.  Valve delivered Portal 2 with so many subtle and big improvements that replaying the game was a joy.  More development studios should really consider adding a developer commentary to their games. Another awesome feature with Portal 2 on the PS3 is the incredibly smooth Steam integration, being able to play co-op on the PS3 with a friend who is playing on the PC is just one more thing that more development teams should look at doing.  Of course, with Valve being beholden to no one other than gamers, they can take their time to make sure their game works on all platforms before releasing a commodity that not all studios can afford.

Summer gaming typically is when there is a drought of games being released, but 2011 broke the mold with several big titles, in particular Rockstar’s L.A. Noire.  I tend to play games for their story above all other components that make up an experience.  Rockstar has always crafted exceptional worlds and interesting stories.  L.A. Noire took me on a whole new experience.  Interrogating suspects was both fun and frustrating.  Miss a clue during the investigation and the conversation path during the interrogation could go south quickly.  Cole Phelps’ sudden outbursts of hostility also caused me many times to shout right back at the TV as the choices presented would never give an indication that the situation would call for such a sudden mood swing.  Overall, the level of polish on display in L.A. Noire and the story kept me engaged, but some of the hallmarks of a Rockstar open world were left out and thus made for a less complete experience.

R3

Summer turns to fall which opens the door to the early releases of the winter holiday season.  During that time I look back at all of the titles that have come out and marvel at the volume I’ve played and marvel even more at the ones I haven’t.  For me the highlight of the early holiday season had to be Resistance 3. While I enjoyed the first two titles, the tone and journey that Joseph Capelli encounters throughout Resistance 3 truly bring this title to the top of my list for anybody wanting to play a well crafted, narrative driven first-person shooter.  A variety of fun weapons, plus interesting locations through each section of the game make for a truly enjoyable experience.  Add to that a fully playable co-op campaign as well as lots of options for multiplayer and the end result is a game that everyone should have in their library.

The next few games are all a bit of a blur due to the fact that so many came out in such a short period.  While I have finished the story of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations I still find myself compelled to finish up the faction missions, collect all of the Animus memories and spend more time with the multiplayer.  Of all three of those things I am surprised the most by my wanting to spend more time with the multiplayer.  I love the cat and mouse aspect of gameplay and the ability to trick others all the while stalking players.  Even more surprising in my mind is the fact that there is a full story built around the multiplayer component.  Sure there are “story” moments in a lot of multiplayer focused games, but the Abstergo story unfolds outside of the actual gameplay and is based on gaining levels from within the game.

BatmanArkhamCity

The other two big titles I’ve spent some time with this holiday are Batman: Arkham City and Skyrim. Arkham City expands on all of the fun things from the original but adds the open world elements that I missed from L.A. Noire.  Unfortunately, Arkham City (at least initially for me) felt a bit overwhelming as there are so many things to do, between the AR challenges, helping political prisoners, chasing ringing phones across the city, or just learning all of the combat elements, that I had a hard time initially getting into the game.  The story is an interesting concept but my biggest complaint is the fact that Batman readily accepts falling in line and doing what the big bad guys ask him to do.  The story seems to mostly be a convenient way to get as many named enemies of Batman to make a cameo at some point.  Almost to the detriment of the story.  Overall the game is fun, but only after mastering the deep combat system.  It just feels more like a chore to go through each contrived moment instead of the much more natural flow of Arkham Asylum.

While I’ve completed the story there are so many side quests and Riddler trophies to get, I keep asking myself why do I want to stumble through Arkham City when there are dragons to be slain.  I’m of course talking about Skyrim. I’ve only had a very short time to play as Dovahkiin, I can’t help but want to spend a lot more time exploring the world, crafting equipment and potions, and just listening to the amazing conversations that unfold from all of the different folks in the world.  Skyrim is hands down my favorite game this year.  It has practically something for everyone.  The minimalist interface and “favorite” system for swapping between spells and weapons and armor is a really great touch.  Bethesda have outdone themselves with Skyrim, building on their successful components from Oblivion and Fallout 3.

ScribblenautsRemix

In between sessions of console gaming, be it a lunch break at work, waiting for my kids at dance, or sitting around a family event “pretending” to pay attention to the conversation, I find myself playing lots of snack gaming on my iPhone.  My year in review wouldn’t be complete without mentioning some of my favorites.  Death Rally from Remedy is a great, quick arcade racer that offers plenty of replay through weapon and vehicle upgrades and more recently a multiplayer deathmatch system.  Another favorite is Scribblenauts Remix which combines the best elements of the DS games with the simplicity of the iPhone touch controls to make an addictive game fun.

A big hit with co-workers at my day job this year was Super Stickman Golf.  The concept is simple: set the angle the golf ball is going to be launched from, tap to start the swing and depending on the power you want to hit the ball with, tap the screen again to launch the ball.  Each board feels like a wildly imaginative miniature golf course set in a swamp or on the moon or in underground caverns.  While the game is fun to play solo, the addictive and friend stomping element comes when you get four people together and race to see who can get their ball in the cup first.  Regardless of the number of strokes, the first person to get in the hole gets the most points.  Adding to the competition is the fact that anyone in first place during the first two or three holes can easily make a comeback and take first just by dumb luck or ball enhancing gimmicks (like Sticky Ball, mulligans, or instant drop etc).

JetpackJoyride

Last but not least, the latest iOS craze that has struck me, my kids and my friends is Jetpack Joyride. From Halfbrick, Jetpack Joyride is all about keeping your hero Barry alive by tapping or holding down on the screen to keep him airborne while dodging rockets, electric zappers and frickin’ laser beams.  Coins can be collected throughout each attempt and the coins can then be spent to buy different jetpacks, or upgrades to vehicles that randomly spawn throughout each run.  In addition to coins, there are Final Spin coins that can be collected which trigger a slot machine at the end of the run which can net either an additional amount of coins, or health respawn or an explosion to launch Barry’s body further down the course.  In addition to trying to get as far as possible during any given attempt, Halfbrick has added a deviously addictive mission system that gives players 1 to 3 stars for completing a mission.  Each star then applies to a simple level progression that resets every 15 levels.  Who would’ve thought that you could prestige in such a simple iOS game?  The mission challenges can be completed typically in one or two runs, with some requiring a challenge be met in a single run.  Jetpack Joyride lives up to its name.  A perfect, simple game with just the right amount of challenge.

One final game-related mention I feel compelled to make is that of the soundtrack by Jim Guthrie for Sword & Sworcery.  This is such a fantastic album and one that I listen to when I am writing reviews. Sometimes haunting, sometimes exciting, the moods explored through the album just grab a hold of that happy place in my brain and help wash away any outside stress factors and let me focus on writing.  If you haven’t played Sword & Sworcery I would definitely recommend it too, but I can’t speak highly enough about the soundtrack.

2011 was a pretty amazing year for gaming.  For all the great games I have played, I still have a list of games I’d love to circle back and play at some point.  Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Rage, Space Marine, Uncharted 3, Dark Souls, Saints Row: The Third are all on my list of games to catch up on. In the meantime I’ve still got some dragons to go kill…

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.