Games of the Year 2011! Predictions for 2012!

Nuz aan sul fent alok fod fin vul dovah nok, fen kos nahlot mahfaeraak ahrk ruz…!

Who likes arbitrary lists? You like arbitrary lists! Let’s fill out an arbitrary list of games that I think should be GOTY, ranked in order of merit. I know it’s November, but hardly anything else is coming out so let’s do it anyway. Don’t agree with my rankings? That’s okay. WordPress offer free blogs for you to have your own opinion. Alternatively, proceed to nearest forum and start a new thread.

 

9: LA NOIRE
LA Noire was a decent game that suffered from a few issues. Firstly, it was dressed up as a GTA game when it had more in common with Heavy Rain. Apparently not letting people commit crimes as a cop is something like a cardinal sin in any game that remotely resembles GTA. Another criticism was that there wasn’t really any way to screw up the case; you’d eventually find your way to the end and move on to the next one, even if you did a really shitty job. That’s all true, but the entire point of LA Noire was to tell a story, as was the point of Heavy Rain. Taken as a story, LA Noire does a good job with some pretty good acting and facial animation. It’s a nice change of scenery from similar games which try so hard to be serious but end up screwing it up. Like GTAIV’s Roman and his BIG AMERICAN TEE TEES. It might not have been everybody’s cup of rice, but it was a damn good attempt.

8: INFAMOUS 2
The Infamous games are some of the few console exclusives I’ve ever managed to enjoy. I don’t know what it is about Infamous 2, but I just like jumping around like a nutjob and killing people with lightning bolts which I fire out of my hands. The whole morality system bullshit takes a back-seat to the action aspect, but who cares? It’s a fun game which remains entertaining throughout the entire duration. My biggest problem with it is that the storyline ambles around like a drunk at a party, bumping into plot points and occasionally shitting over itself in the process. But oh well, nobody’s perfect I guess.

7: MINECRAFT
I’m cheating by including Minecraft, but given that 2011 is its official release, I guess I should give it a spot. I’ve been following Minecraft since the alphas and I’ve seen it evolve into something resembling an actual game. Knowing that it’s officially released is kind of strange. I don’t think any of us ever really thought of Minecraft as having a full release date because we’ve always assumed it to be in a constant state of upgrades and improvement. For many of us it was an investment… a risky one for some of us, who didn’t know if the project would ever really evolve into something worthwhile. But everybody won in the end (particularly Notch). I don’t like how Minecraft’s gameplay still lacks significant goals and structure, like Terraria has, and how most of the mobs are pretty much harmless after getting Iron or Diamond equipment, but in terms of raw creativity and exploration Minecraft can’t be beaten. Nothing else lets me build a massive pyramid in the middle of a desert, with an underground railway that transports me to another swamp base several kilometers north. Every world in Minecraft is your world, shaped by you. That’s an astounding achievement.

6: BULLETSTORM
Bulletstorm probably isn’t really noteworthy for anything else except being a fun game. While games like the Call of Duty franchise try to act action-movie serious despite having the same sort of gameplay since the first CoD, Bulletstorm basically took the piss out of itself and plenty of other games, offering you a particularly violent shooter experience. There was a story. I can’t remember what it was, but it was there. All I really remember was getting points for kicking people into a cactus or kicking them in the balls and then shooting off their head. The game was FUN, and in a world of oh-so-serious titles games like Bulletstorm are just what the doctor ordered. I think the best part of Bulletstorm though was that it managed to do so without becoming a tiring slog through waves and waves of monsters, like Serious Sam. It strikes a good balance, and we can only hope more games end up looking in that direction.

5: RAGE
Rage is an apt title, given how few video customisation options PC users were faced with. Technically speaking, Rage is innovative. Megatexture technology, with the capacity for creating truly unique texture environments such that environments aren’t just filled with a repeating 1024×1024 texture (or whatever), without significant RAM usage, is a pretty astounding achievement. For what it’s worth, Rage’s outdoor environments do look stunning for the most part. But the problem with Rage was that a lot of things looked like a blurry mess, because the resolution on some things was just too low, causing a lot of things to look terrible. As a piece of technology Rage is pretty cool, but it just wasn’t quite ready for the public. Especially with all the texture streaming issues. It’s more of an interesting marker for id Software though, since Rage is quite different from most of their other titles and was a full cross-platform release. Hopefully the technology is refined and brought back as a can of awesome for Doom 4. Which I will be waiting for most impatiently.

4: BATTLEFIELD 3
Battlefield 3 is probably one of three online FPS games I’ve played with any regularity, and one of 4 online games in total. Two of them are Team Fortress games, the other is Guild Wars. BF3’s huge open spaces and vehicle-led combat is fantastic and leads to some impressively chaotic moments. Jets scream overhead engaging in antisocial dogfights, helicopters launch majestically into the sky only to spin out and mash into the ground, tanks roll towards objectives while hitting every obstacle in their path, and infantry scurry around accusing each other of hacking or using aimbots. Okay, it’s not quite as nice as it looks in videos, and there’s a lot of rage inducing moments where you’ll get killed without being able to do a damn thing about it thanks to the large environments, but that’s what the game is about. Also I’m not a huge fan of unlocks in some cases, but thankfully you can rank up without having to have an awesome KD ratio. One thing I DON’T approve of with the unlocks though are the IR Flare defences for aircraft. Basically until you unlock these (they’re the first unlock) getting into any sort of aircraft while there are engineers with AA weapons is suicide; they’ll lock on and you can’t do anything about it. Annoying as all hell, but still a fun game no matter what role you play. Capturing a point with 5 other people, a tank, and a helicopter overhead is awesome.

3: TAKE ON HELICOPTERS
A surprise release, I was pretty much prepared to ignore Take on Helicopters before I finally bit the bullet and purchased it on Steam, figuring that I’d get a little bit of fun out of it (and probably more than I would for a full $89.95 priced title). I’m so incredibly glad I did, because I found a fun helicopter sim with interesting missions and evidence that BI Studios might actually hire some decent voice actors for ARMA3. TOH brings a bit of the SimCopter magic back while still remaining a fairly decent simulator. It’s not as complex as a DCS simulation, but for casual flight simmers I can’t think of a better helicopter sim. The learning curve is pretty damn low and it’s perfectly possible to fly the helicopters using an Xbox 360 gamepad (or a PS3 controller rigged up like one in my case). Performance is pretty crap, as it is with every BIS release, but there’s still a remarkably fun game here. Interested in helicopters? Give it a go. I’m honestly surprised that BIS could make a civilian flight sim game this good. Well done guys.

2: PORTAL 2
Portal 2 isn’t Valve’s crowning glory, I’ll say that right now. Portal was the hero of The Orange Box, while Team Fortress 2 was the steady money-maker and distance runner. Episode 2 was for the fans, who have been forgotten about apparently. The problem with Portal 2 is that for all its incredible production values, its fantastic characters, more friggin’ meme material and level design, it’s still just Portal except stretched out for 8 hours. Everyone expected a revolution, and we got more Portal. Which is EXACTLY what we asked for. Portal was an experiment with an unusually good (if ambiguous) storyline. Portal 2 was the actual game. The new gels added a bit of variety but if you found Portal 2 too easy, it’s because you’ve already played Portal, and after playing Portal there’s not much scope for new puzzles. It’s all about “Place portal in this sequence to win”, and since we’d learned most of the tricks like flinging ourselves through portals, there was no real learning curve for us. Still, Portal 2 has the kind of fantastic environments and characters that we’ve come to expect from Valve along with their characteristic sense of humour, which TF2 is now taking far too far. It’s an impressive game, and easily wins the 2nd slot. It almost won first place. But there is one they fear…

1: THE ELDER SCROLLS V: SKYRIM
I honestly believe that Skyrim is the best out of all the Elder Scrolls games. Does it have its flaws? You bet. I don’t really like the interface (even if it’s an improvement on Oblivion, which isn’t hard to do), melee combat is still fairly uninspired, and it’s not Mass Effect in terms of storyline delivery, but in terms of an entire gameplay experience it’s a well rounded action RPG with a fantastic game world. There’s just an obscene amount of things to see and do, and the magic system has been vastly improved over traditional games. Oblivion might have taken the first steps in a new direction away from Morrowind’s entirely stat-based gameplay, but Skyrim actually made it work properly. The game world is gorgeous and packed with content. The animation system has been improved, and the voice acting has taken a leap forward simply by having more voices available. Some complain that it doesn’t have the same number of quests as Morrowind, but in a game where everything has to be voice acted, it’s simply not possible to replicate that kind of content when Morrowind quests were entirely text-based in their delivery. Also the inclusion of little details, like mining for ore or chopping wood for money, just make the game world that bit more interesting. Any flaws that the game has pretty much wash away in comparison to the rest of what the game offers. Skyrim will go to strange, new places over its lifespan (which could be as much as 5 years if the gap between Oblivion and Skyrim is anything to go by) thanks to the legion of modders. Skyrim offers an obscene number of hours of gameplay, and given how much it costs (and by comparison how they smash it all into about 6GB!) it’s hard not to recommend it. Unless you love Modern Warfare 3 and its associated bullshit, at which point you can kindly get the hell out of here and never come back.

 

HONOURABLE METNIONS:

1. DUKE NUKEM FOREVER
Notable not for being a particularly awesome game (though I honestly believed they did the best with what they had, given the protracted development cycle) but for actually being released. Like it or not, if you’ve got a copy you’ve got your hands on a piece of gaming history which nobody thought would ever make it out of the studio. You might consider it a piece of shit turned into bytes and pressed to a CD, but it’s a historical turd all the same.

2. KERBAL SPACE PROGRAM
KSP isn’t really far enough along in its development cycle for me to consider it as a serious GOTY contender, and to be honest it hasn’t done anything extremely special just yet. But it’s definitely worth a mention. For ages I’ve wanted a game where I’d design my own space flight missions and launch vehicles, sending brave astronauts into the ether, only to realise that I’d made a critical mistake and have it blow up on the launchpad. KSP gives you that experience right now, and it’ll only get better as time goes by. The indie game is presently free but will pre-ordering gets you access to free updates in the same way that Minecraft’s business model operated. Definitely worth checking out, even if you only have a passing interest in space flight. Also, it’s made in Unity. UNITY. If there’s any doubt that an authorware package like Unity is limited, let it be dispelled now.

3. TERRARIA
Terraria was initially scorned for being a 2D Minecraft clone, which probably actually helped its sales. But while Minecraft was purely creative and was more of a fun sandbox than a proper game, Terraria was actually a proper game and less of a sandbox. There was a clear progression of technology acquirement and goals that Minecraft entirely lacked (and still does, truth be told). Building a fortress had a real point, because the game world was fairly dangerous and you needed to keep finding new armour and weapons to stay competitive in the game world. There were also three boss encounters to keep you busy. Being 2D the creative aspect wasn’t as great as it was in Minecraft, but Terraria’s combat aspect is a lot better than Minecraft. I managed to sink 39 hours into Terraria. I can’t think of many games at a similar price point which gets the same accolade. Also that new patch looks incredibly awesome.

 
PREDICTIONS FOR 2012:
5. Valve talks about Episode 3, or Half Life 3.
I’m drawing a long bow here… like, this bow is a hundred meters behind my right shoulder, but I’m going to say it anyway. It’s been a LONG time since Valve said anything about Episode 3; compared to what we knew after Episode 2’s release back in September 2007, we know jack shit more than we did then. Is Half Life sitll relevant to Valve? It’s easy to argue that it isn’t, because Valve have worked on anything but releasing Half Life games lately (or so it seems), with Portal getting a sequel, TF2 getting Everything, and Left4Dead popping up and getting a sequel as well. It’s highly unlikely that Valve have abandoned the game but it’s more likely that there is no real Episode 3, and that Half Life 3 is the next in line. Rumors fly thick and fast about Ep3 and an apparent Episode 4 which was cancelled. I think that time is marching on though, since it’s been 4 years with no word, and that’s approaching the gap between HL1 and HL2.

4. Consoles continue to dominate, but the PC remains strong.
Do you hate consoles with an unbridled passion? You might just be an idiot, because it shouldn’t matter what device games are on, good games are good games and bad games are bred from developers or publishers with a lack of imagination. Except for flight sims of course, different story there. But I digress. Console games will continue to grow in popularity and we might start to see the next generation of consoles towards the end of 2012, as in ideas of when they’ll be released. In spite of this the PC sector will remain strong and won’t die, though I think a few publishers or developers will stop focusing on the PC or maybe even stop releasing for the PC entirely. They’ll probably blame piracy, like they have been recently. After all, NOTHING ever got pirated on the 360. Right, guys?

3. Apple iPhone 5 or iPad 3.
The iPhone 4S is a sad joke for anyone who owns an iPhone 4 or who was expecting something more. Under the hood it’s a nice improvement and Siri turns heads, but apart from that it’s not much of a leap forward. Expect Apple to announce one of the two products I’ve listed, because their desktop market isn’t fantastic. Actually it’s entirely possible that Apple will flip out and focus mostly on their iOS line, letting their desktops go into a period of decline. After all they’re expensive and still very much a niche market, while the iPhone and iPad have near-universal popularity.

2. Windows 8 is Late
Will Windows 8 come out in 2012? Maybe. Then again, maybe not, and I’m wondering if it’ll slip further behind. Here’s a better question: will we all adopt it? Will people get used to the Metro UI on desktop computers? Do robots dream of electric sheep? Only time will tell. (I have nothing really to say except I’d expect delays)

1. Mobile/Social Gaming Bursts
This is another big call but I think it might have a bit of basis in reality, especially after reading a few other opinions and watching the App Store and general trends. The iPhone was really a gift from spacegods for a lot of indie developers, because it allowed a lot of them to tap into a previously-uncharted market in casual gaming. And that’s not to mention all the bullshit on Facebook! These kinds of games require little investment to produce, but have the potential to be wildly popular, provided they’ve got a good hook. Look at Angry Birds: the gameplay mechanic is basically the same as most other artillery games with the added benefit of physics, and doesn’t have a huge amount of art assets, but it’s ridiculously popular and an absolute gold mine. Cut the Rope, Fruit Ninja, DoodleGod, the whole lot are very simple but turn a good profit. But there’s the problem; a bunch of people decided to jump in on this market and are all fighting for attention, desperately trying to shove the others out of the way so that they may be elevated to stardom. It’s a very crowded market with a very low bar for entry (if it wasn’t there wouldn’t be so many shitty soundboards on the App Store). The honeymoon period is probably due to end much like the dot.Com bubble. During that event only a handful of outstanding companies survived, while the vast majority of the others folded. Could the same thing happen here? Probably not to that drastic standard, but the flood of crap might stem for a bit. We can only hope.

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