Tuesday, 28 February 2012

My Reasons For Living - 2011

This post was originally posted on Forces Of Geek on January 12th 2012.

You know those people who love creating end of year lists to make them feel better about the countless hours spent on the things in said list to validate their existence?

Well I’m one of them... so here’s a list I have made.

LET ME VALIDATE MY EXISTENCE!

These games aren't necessarily the best of the year but they are compiled based upon my most memorable experiences and are titles I will undoubtedly play again. This list is purely subjective, not exhaustive and totally not endorsed by anyone... except me.

Another point to consider is my unwavering allegiance to the Xbox 360 – it would be wrong of me to list games that I haven’t played, especially Wii/PS3/PC titles... having said that, if anyone would like to donate several consoles to me, I’d be happy to take them off your hands.

So, start the drum roll and ready the sycophantic applause for here are my highlighted Xbox 360 titles released throughout 2011. You’re welcome.



Alice: Madness Returns



Having not played the original, the first thing that really struck me about Alice: Madness Returns was how insanely pretty and pretty insane it was.

The attention to detail in the level design, as well as the unique look for Alice and her various weapons, felt very much in the spirit of the Lewis Carroll novels yet with a darker edge. The gameplay is indicative of classic platformers with interesting (often frustrating) level designs and a variety of clever mini-games which keep the experience fresh.

Portal 2



April saw the release of Portal 2, like its predecessor the game is challenging and layered with distinctive black humour.

But what made Portal 2 truly stand out was that it improved upon a game that I believed to be flawless. By introducing a multiplayer campaign the game I loved became even more fun and the addition of various multifunctional repulsion gels, introduced an inventive new element. The introduction of Stephen Merchant as Wheatley, one of GLaDOS’ personality cores, was inspired.

L.A. Noire



In May, Rockstar released L.A. Noire and being one of the foremost innovative developers out there, they didn’t hold back.

The pioneering facial recognition technology they utilised transformed the game, making the interrogation scenes feel real. With voice and facial acting from pretty much the whole cast of Mad Men, the game feels very cinematic and this is totally in-tune with the 1950s Hollywood setting. Noir is always a genre rife with cliché yet L.A. Noire manages to create something special. The gameplay is varied, from car chases to interpreting riddles and the story is engrossing like a well-written crime novel. Ultimately though, solving crimes, interrogating suspects, searching corpses and investigating crime scenes in order to progress makes this game incredibly immersive, so much so that I spent weeks after its completion analysing my friends for nervous ticks, shifty eyes and all the other tell-tale signs of liars, murderers and arsonists.

Halo Combat Evolved: Anniversary



Halo Combat Evolved: Anniversary is an HD remake of the original Xbox launch title.

The first game I ever played on an Xbox console retains a special place in my heart and Anniversary fills me with the excitement I felt ten years ago. It’s still as good as I remember it being and the new shiny version looks immense. Being able to switch between modes is a novel feature and I spent a lot of time just switching modes to compare the graphics and bask in the nostalgia. The co-op campaign and the added voice command through Kinect are a nice addition too, as well as utilising the multiplayer Halo: Reach engine so that fans can play the original maps online.

I’m always grateful when developers build upon existing engines and 343 Industries has done great justice to Halo fans and have taken the reigns from Bungie respectfully, without destroying all of their hard work.

Batman: Arkham City

Arkham City feels like Arkham Asylum on a much larger scale but with an improved fighting engine and slightly more challenging boss fights.

The combos are easier to perform and the execution of the fighting is much more fluid. Depending on what version of the game you bought or if you purchased the additional DLC there are multiple characters to play as and a playable Catwoman story mode. These characters aren’t just skins, they have their own unique special moves and each play differently. All of them can be used to play through the challenge modes which are vast and extensive. The story is engrossing and style of the game is loyal to multiple Batman adaptations yet retains a look and feel of its own (like the original Arkham Asylum also did).



Ultimately though, the best part of this game is that you get to play as Batman and if you get the skins DLC, you can play as 7 different Batmans! – which is awesome.

Sonic Generations



Last year, Sonic the Hedgehog turned 20! Sonic Generations is a celebration of that and covers both the 2D platformer and 3D versions of the game.

Not only can you revisit classic levels like Green Hill Zone and Chemical Plant Zone (my favourite!) but you can play through each level in a different perspective: as the 1990s silent but effective Sonic or the chattier Sonic of the 2000s. The menu screen in this anniversary title is packed full of interesting stuff too. Every part of the menu is interactive, there are music and artwork files to be found, challenges to unlock and various mini-games. The cut scenes are animated well (much like the cartoon series) and the story is simple.

It’s Sonic – so it doesn’t need to be complicated. Like Halo Anniversary, the game is a massive nostalgia trip. All of the characters are there in the opening scene celebrating Sonic’s birthday. It's a nice homage to a great franchise and is a lot of fun to play.

So, it’s 2012. New consoles are rumoured, cloud gaming is apparently a thing now and there’s a hefty year of games ahead... we’re at the advent of a new era of gaming. It is the year of the dragon...coincidence?!

Not if you received Skyrim for Christmas.



No doubt, many of you are still playing Skyrim and will be playing it multiple times this year (I know I will). In fact, I know friends who have started new saves just so they could play through another 140 hours as a Khajiit (that’s cat-people to the rest of you).

Skyrim is rather predictably but not undeservedly my top game of 2011. Dragons are frakkin’ cool.

So much so that I don't need to say anything other than that. Seriously, any positive praise I culd bestow upon this game would merely cheapen the fact that it is the bet fantasy release in at least a decade. Sure, like any big game, it has it's glithces but every one of them is hilarious... that is unless you sell the theives guild armour. Damn it.

Honourable mentions of 2011 go to the final instalment of Gears of War (GOW3), Saints Row: the Third, Deus Ex: Human Evolution and the latest Zelda title, Skyward Sword. Also, I’d like to mention Assassin’s Creed: Revelations but as I’ve neglected most of the series, here is an honest review from fellow gamer and Cheesemint, Adam Gunton.

One of the years biggest disappointments in my opinion however was Duke Nukem Forever.

Clunky, unimpressive and lacking that true Duke feel - which is a shame after so many years in the making. I played the demo and that was enough to turn me off the game. The fact I was able to pick up faeces and smear it on everything like a monkey made me feel ill.

Admittedly, it’s slightly better than the Land of the Babes but that’s not difficult. Oh, and if you’re wondering about Battlefield 3 or Modern Warfare 3 I’ve never cared for these two franchises but I’m sure someone else has written about them at great length somewhere out there in the ether.

To sum up 2011: Nostalgia, noir, aliens and a comic book legend. But the real highlight is the marvel that is Skyrim. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a dragon to defeat. Fus.. Ro DAH!

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