The year came and went, just as it always does, and for those of us in the gaming press, that means the requisite 'best of' lists must make their appearance.
Trust me, it's for everyone's own good.
However, with a myriad of games lying about that I still haven't played to their fullest, I'm not one for rolling out a conventional list of the best games in each genre. That's something you can find on literally any webpage and I'll leave it to you and Google to solve those differences. Instead, I've put together groups of games that surprised me in various ways, both good and bad. So if you're coming here to see Skyrim at the top of the list, or perhaps to justify your purchase of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, you'll be disappointed.
2011 wasn't without controversial titles. We're not talking games that showed too much skin, or brought to light the subject of sex and marriage, such as Catherine. We're talking about games that had their own communities up in arms due to the very nature of how the game was created. You either liked it or you didn't.
Dragon Age II
The sequel to one of the great RPGs of this generation, Dragon Age II had quite a lot going for it. Unfortunately, instead of expanding upon the universe Origins set in motion, BioWare opted to confine the game into one large area and streamline the combat systemeffectively 'consolising' the game. Some enjoyed the simplified combat, eliminating the need to pause the game multiple times during more-elaborate combat scenarios. However, Dragon Age is the spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate, practically making elaborate combat a necessity to maintain that relevance.
Regardless of where you stand, Dragon Age II was as divisive as it could've been. Whether it was the simplified combat, samey environments or uninteresting characters, everyone disliked something about the changes. Maybe BioWare was rushed to complete the title, maybe not, but many still hold Origins as the superior game today.
Techland's Diablo/Left 4 Dead/Borderlands approach to a zombie game was as ambitious as it was a technical mess. There's a lot to like about Dead Island on paper: loot, hordes of zombies to kill, levelling, cooperative play, etc. However, the game was, and still is, plagued by an equally horrifying number of bugs and game-stopping glitches. The PC version was actually released with a previous, unfinished version of the game, rather than final game code. Imagine picking the game up to realise you're actually playing a game that can't be finished because it's 'not quite done yet.'
Dead Island has made several fixes to itself, but that's no excuse. Releasing a game people want to like but can hardly play is a criminal offense to gaming as a whole. At least when it's working it's pretty damn good.
You don't want this to happen to your favourite franchise, but alas, sometimes there's no avoiding it. These are the games of 2011 that failed to deliver a genuinely excellent experience, despite the hype surrounding them. It hurts even more when their predecessors set them up for success, and they still tank.
What a letdown. Brink was a showcase title on the bleeding edge of technology that everyone wanted to play. Not only did it implement a great-looking parkour system and tremendous aesthetic design, but the team combat and objectives looked satisfyingly unique as well. Touting a campaign that others could join with or against you at any time, Splash Damage looked like they were on their way to crafting a grade-A shooter we'd all still be playing come the new year. How wrong we were.
We covered Brink, twice actually, and its anemic campaign was a focal point for our anger. As it turns out, there was no story in Brink whatsoever, and the multiplayer was little more than a bare-bones version of better games, like Team Fortress 2. The game can be found in bargain bins everywhere, so if that doesn't tell you anything, help yourself.
Red Faction: Armageddon
Considering my love for Red Faction: Guerrilla, I absolutely couldn't wait for Armageddon to release. Showcasing new technology, weapons and a gritty environment to play with destructive tools, Armageddon appeared to have what was needed to succeed. Little did we all know that the genius of Guerrilla wouldn't come close to being matched in this mediocre follow-up.
Alright, Armageddon isn't THAT bad, but when you're in the shadow of such a free-spirited and plain-fun game like Guerrilla, you're expected to do something similarly great. The Magnet Gun was the single most amazing thing to come from it, but even that was overshadowed by the confining underground environments of Mars. That, coupled with the repetitive enemies and ridiculous story, made Armageddon a tough game to accept. Also, there's a unicorn that shoots rainbows out of its ass. We're done here.
F.E.A.R. 3 (I'm sorry, it's actually F.3.A.R.)
My channeled hate for games that throw a number in as an acronym will never cease, but in this case there's a lot more to hate about F.E.A.R. 3. The gameplay is completely different than previous installments of the franchise. How so? Let's try ditching conventional methods of combat we've been used to and instead implement trite Call of Duty features like regenerating health. Sound great? I didn't think so.
F.E.A.R. was always about atmosphere, a decent story and its pretty excellent AI. All of that has vaporized in the sequel and... oh yeah, Monolith didn't even make this. Moving on.
Id Software is a pioneer in PC gaming, but Rage is something they should be quite ashamed of. While the PS3 and Xbox 360 version ran alright, the PC version (you know, the stuff they're know for) was released in a very broken state. After several weeks id managed to get the game working again for the majority of users, but by then it had been beaten with the console stick. What do I mean? The PC was stuck with the low-res textures of the console versions and according to John Carmack (id Software), they had no intention of releasing a texture pack to clear up the mess. Awesome.
Look closer. That's some pretty amazing stuff, right there.
Being one of the PC owners of Rage, I orchestrated my own set of violence as I wasted several hours attempting to get the game to run in a functional way. Eventually, I received a patch that allowed me to play the game, but the rest of my experience wasn't without further issues. Simply put, the game was not optimized for the PC (which is heresy for id). You couldn't even change any of your internal settings like a normal PC game until the patch hit, and even after the choices were barren. Compound that with Nintendo 64 textures, pop-in loading, one of the most surprisingly uninteresting worlds in recent memory, and you'll get a generic shooter called Rage.
Was it because Bethesda published the game and forced id to go with the console over PC version? There's no way to know for sure, but the truth is within the product, and I advise you to steer far, far away from it.
Duke Nukem Forever
There was no way this game was going to live up to the expectations set for it and everyone knew it. So we'll just leave this one here as-is. Enjoy.
Most disappointing studio
Just because you release one of the best games of the year (Skyrim, for those keeping score at home) doesn't mean you get a free pass to publish a plethora of awful titles. Brink? Rage? Hunted: The Demon's Forge? Yeah, they were all trash, and no, it doesn't matter that you didn't develop them. As a publisher, you are still putting your name behind the material and are thus just as responsible for the outcome. One excellent game does not give you a free pass, my friends.
Dynasty Warriors 7
The Dynasty Warriors series doesn't have the best reputation among gamers, but I'm still a guilty follower of the franchise, despite the fact I haven't been fully pleased since, perhaps, Dynasty Warriors 5. When I first heard this game was coming out I dismissed it entirely, but as the release date crept up I found myself eying the features more and more. Brand new story mode that follows the actual characters of the kingdom? Interchangeable weapons? An RPG-esque upgrade system? A brand new conquest mode? Online co-operative play for the first time? I was sold.
I hated the redesign of the characters in Dynasty Warriors 6, and only a few titles in the series had a sense of weight behind each strike of a weapon. DW7 shocked me by offering an excellent feel to the combat while keeping it addictive with upgrades and new weapons. In my review, the new take on the story mode was the star of the show and my feelings still haven't changed. All in all, Koei has done a masterful job at reincarnating a stagnant franchise and I can't wait to see what the future brings.
Gears of War 3
As some may probably know, Gears of War 2 underwhelmed me wholly. The standard campaign was riddled with contrived writing and uninteresting moments. Boss fights were practically meaningless, and the introduction to new enemies and story elements didn't impress me. Considering the embarrassing multiplayer, Gears 2 was seemingly a catalyst for the series' demise. Hopeful as I was, I just didn't see Gears 3 bringing the franchise back on track. Thankfully I was wrong.
While it does have its problems, Gears 3 is definitely the best game in the series. The four-player drop-in cooperative play is an excellent addition to the gameplay, and the fully-fleshed out character development really helped make some of the protagonists feel more real than they ever have. Epic also took the time to hone the multiplayer experience, giving us dedicated servers as well as the new Beast Mode, Horde 2.0 and a working, fun, competitive multiplayer experience. Hats go off to Epic for keeping their promises.
Wait, wait, wait. Mortal Kombat is relevant again? You better believe it!
Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine
Relic always brings out the best in development when it comes to the 40k universe. Space Marine was their very first attempt at creating a third-person action 40k game and they certainly didn't disappoint. Riddled with alarming detail, every single second you're playing this game you'll marvel at the attention Relic has paid to the system. The particle effects, combat noises, voice acting, everything sounds and looks superb. It also helps that it's pretty damn fun to play as well.
I reviewed Space Marine earlier in the year and gave the game a rather generous score. Not only does it provide a satisfying campaign, but it also throws in some decent multiplayer that will keep you busy for hours. It doesn't have the longest campaign, though, and if you know nothing about Warhammer 40k, you could be put off by the game appearing to be ostensibly similar to everything else out there (which it isn't). Space Marine isn't the greatest game, but it's definitely something worth playing.
Resurgence of excellence
Resident Evil 4 HD, Metal Gear Solid HD, Shadow of the Colossus/ICO HD
While Resident Evil 4 is the only downloadable title of the bunch, the rest are also available at a wonderfully-low retail price. If you haven't had the chance to play these classic titles you owe it to yourself to pick them up. Now.
Most unfortunate name
Ceaseless Discharge (Dark Souls)
Doesn't the name say it all?
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