I think we can all agree that it has been quite a year for games with a heap of great titles appearing on our computers and consoles over the past twelve months. It is only fitting then that a few of us here from The Reticule share our Game of the Year lists. Hit the jump to find out what we have loved this year.
Game of the Year – Rayman Origins
The current generation of consoles has an undeniable over-saturation of Call of Duty clones and games that strive for more photo-realistic and expansive environments. As result, hardly any developers try to make games that are genuinely fun to play anymore; the kind of games that bring a smile to your face as soon as you begin playing and keep it there right up until the very end. Rayman Origins, however, is such a game.
Aesthetically charming and expertly crafted, this mercilessly challenging 2D platformer remains absolutely fair throughout thanks to superbly tight and responsive controls, which never falter or let you down. It truly is a masterclass of how to build a game that doesn’t trade off gameplay for the sake of beautiful visuals, and co-operative play for up to four players is the icing on the cake. If you’re sick of aiming down iron sights or the colour brown, then Rayman Origins is literally a breath of fresh air; a vibrant and nigh-on flawlessly executed romp that will remind many older players exactly why they fell in love with gaming in the first place.
2. Battlefield 3
If, however, you’re not sick of aiming down iron sights – or indeed, driving/piloting all manner of military vehicles and blowing stuff up – Battlefield 3 was the game to own this year. It may have featured a decidedly lacklustre campaign (although, who buys a Battlefield game for its campaign, honestly?) but that couldn’t detract from what is arguably the definitive online FPS experience on both PC and consoles, even if a few balancing issues did rear their ugly heads quite early on.
3. Mario Kart 7
A long-standing pillar in Nintendo’s portfolio of beloved franchises, Mario Kart returns in what is easily its finest instalment yet. The weapon balancing is still iffy, it’s still infuriating to be in first place before being screwed over right at the finish line by the rubber band AI… but it’s Mario Kart! Online play returns in Mario Kart 7, bolstered by the option for players to create their own communities and mould the game to their liking, ensuring almost unlimited replay value. And everything is wrapped up in some of the most vibrant visuals the 3DS has yet produced.
4. Super Mario 3D Land
Super Mario 3D Land is an odd beast. On one hand, it feels like a step backwards from the likes of Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy, but on the other hand it’s a superbly playable homage to many past 2D Mario games – specifically Super Mario Bros. 3 – and the first 3DS game to go above and beyond using the stereoscopic 3D visuals to make everything look nicer and actually enhances the gameplay. And for that, it really should be commended; bring on Super Mario 3D Land 2!
5. Sonic Generations
Sonic the Hedgehog games have sucked hard for too long now. In 2008, SEGA went a step in the right direction with Sonic Unleashed – only to bodge two thirds of the game up at the last minute – and things looked brighter still with 2010’s Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I and Sonic Colours. Now though, we have the definitive game featuring the blue blur, plus it’s a celebration of Sonic’s 20-year history, merging old and new – 2D and 3D – gameplay mechanics in a game that’s a joy to play through from start to finish. If SEGA can keep this up, Sonic will end up back on top where he belongs.
Before I get onto writing about the specific games, I would like to say that this has been an outstanding year for gaming, there have been so many awesome titles, and I have only played a fraction of them. So, if you wonder why I haven’t listed Assassin’s Creed: Revelations or Batman: Arkham City, it isn’t because I don’t rate them, simply because I haven’t played them yet. With that, here is my Game of the Year.
Game of the Year – Portal 2
Choosing just one game to receive the title of Game of the Year is never easy, and to be honest, any of these games here were in with a shout, but Portal 2 takes it for me. Somehow I still haven’t finished the game, but I truly feel that if there is just one game you really should play from 2011, this is it.
There were great puzzles, using mechanics from the original and evolving them beyond what I imagined Valve were capable of. If you look beyond the game mechanics you find a rich story played out by some brilliant characters in Wheatley and GLaDOS, that is without mentioning the co-op. This is the must play game of the year.
Skyrim just about beats out The Witcher 2, while the main story in Skyrim is weak compared to what we are treated to in The Witcher, it is the world which absorbs me so much. The freedom to just ignore the story and wander the world of Skyrim is something more games should take note of. It is just a shame that the inventory is so clearly flawed.
3. The Witcher 2
A different beast to Skyrim, The Witcher 2 is most definitely a PC game, and one of the finest story driven titles of the year. I need to go back and complete it, especially now I have a PC capable of playing it smoothly. An intoxicating world and lore, The Witcher 2 is also one of the best looking games of the year.
4. Football Manager 2012
My game time reads 2 days and 10 hours so far. I think that says it all, for a game which is derided by many as being a game of spreadsheets, it is telling that you can invest so much time into this game without realising it. It is a great title, even if non-football fans won’t appreciate it.
5. Battlefield 3
I really feel like Battlefield 3 missed a trick, with so much focus put into outdoing Call of Duty, I think DICE failed to truly capture the spirit of Battlefield 2. Ignore the weak singleplayer campaign and stick to what is one of the finest multiplayer shooters out there. I am just disappointed it wasn’t as good as it perhaps should have been.
Game of the Year – Rayman Origins
This game is the solution to every bad mood that you’ve ever had. Its vibrancy and charm is irresistible. Even the most hardened cynic (i.e. myself) will find it impossible to play without cracking a smile. What I’m essentially trying to say is that all of the world’s problems would be solved if we got all the bad guys to play this game.
Everything from the wonderful sound design, to the beautiful aesthetic to the finely tuned gameplay combine to make this one of the finest 2D platformers not just of 2011 but of all time.
Skyrim is far an away the most immersive game of this year. You can start playing with the intention of just completing one quest and end up playing for hours. The vast world sucks you in and there are hundreds of hours questing to be had.
There are few good things that we haven’t already said about this game. So all I’ll say is that its one of the best games this year… and it has dragons.
3. Driver: San Francisco
Driver: San Francisco was sadly overlooked by many this year. Most people just assumed that it would follow the downward spiral that every other game in the series has since the original Driver hit the scene. No-one expected it to be unique or innovative… but it was.
Driver San Francisco threw any semblance of realism left in the franchise out of the window and gave you the ability to possess drivers in other cars. In the middle of races you can possess any driver who happens to be unlucky enough to be driving near you and smash them head on into your opposition. It was an interesting approach to a genre that has been largely devoid of new ideas.
4. LittleBigPlanet 2
It seems so long since its release that its hard to believe that LBP2 first found its way into PS3s in 2011 – all the way back in January. At first glance it was easy to write off LBP2 as merely a graphical upgrade of the first game. Those who only played the single player may have even thought it was lacklustre compared to Sackboy’s previous adventure. The single player wasn’t what LBP2 was about, it was only a glimpse into what could be built with LBP2s new tools.
The real LBP2 can be found online, where a vibrant community constantly pump out innovative and inventive new games using LBP2s creation tools. The first LittleBigPlanet let players create wonderful levels but the second let you create magnificent games. Some of the creations in LBP2 make you unsure if you’re still playing on the same console let alone the same game. It’s shows the great things that happen when you give simple but powerful tools to an inventive audience.
5. FIFA 12
The release of a new FIFA game has become an annual fixture in the gaming calender. Each year a new one comes looking a bit shinier – with one or two new tricks up its sleeve. In 2011 FIFA 12 brought more new tricks than Cruyff, Ronaldinho and Messi combined. Attacking was made much more fluid, AI made meaningful runs and defending was finally introduced.
Up until FIFA 12 football games had all taken the Sensible Soccer approach of attack, attack, attack. FIFA 12’s extra focus on defence made it much more balanced than the older games in the series and added a much needed layer of tactics to the series.
Game of the Year – Portal 2
Humour and Science are two genres that, when applied correctly mix very well for me and putting these two genres together successfully is extremely hard. So much so that the only other time I’ve seen it done well is in the book Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I say ‘other’ because Portal 2 has indeed done just that and the mix between mind bending physics lessons and witty humour is like no other. I can safely say that I have never had so much frustrating fun playing a video game before, laughing out loud at the well written and delivered characters and finding myself stumped on numerous occasions with the brilliantly crafted puzzles. Co-op is just as impressive as single player and working through the puzzles with a friend adds a whole new dimension and depth to the series. The only drawback being that it’s a little on the short side but free DLC has since been released to extend the life of the game and Valve are currently working on more. If your playing on the PC you can also download and make your own custom maps and with hundreds to choose from this is going to be your best bet for after campaign content. This is without a second thought my game of the year and if you have yet to pick this up then I can’t recommend it enough.
Build, explore, create maps, fight dragons, travel the ocean, the desert or climb mountains in single player or on a server in creative mode, adventure or hardcore and even choose your character skin and texture pack. Minecraft has almost endless possibilities for play style choice and imagination is the limit. Getting started on this game can be slow as there is a lot to learn but it soon becomes addictive and a game that I could go back to again and again.
3. Battlefield 3
With super sharp visuals and a more realistic approach to the genre BF3 has raised the bar on the very competitive FPS scene. While single player lacked anything substantial to prove itself, multiplayer was a whole different ball game. If you like epic moments on a grand scale then this is the game for you. Shooting helicopters out the sky from the top of a house, levelling buildings with your tank and crashing jets into each other are only some of the things I’ve managed.
4. LA Noire
Detective work has never been more interesting and frustrating at the same time. Carefully choosing the correct questions and searching crime scenes thoroughly became the name of the game and any mistaken judgement or missed clue can make the difference between a one star and five star report at the end of the investigation. Innovative facial capturing and a totally new game type for me made this one of the top games of the year.
5. Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Stealth shooters have to be an all time favourite for me so needless to say my first playthrough of Human Revolutions was just that. My second playthrough was completely the opposite packed to the brim with all kinds of weapons, and I may yet do a third one just to discover all the endings and all the alternate outcomes to the decisions you make. The thing that’s great about HR is replayability it makes you want to come back for more and play in a different way. If it wasn’t for slightly dodgey boss fights and charged DLC that really should have been on the final disc HR would have been further up this list. Even still a great game with a good story line.
Game of the Year – Dark Souls
From Software deserve so much credit for this game, it defies convention and dares to be different – In a world where publishers cling to the safety of iterative yearly franchise updates, it takes guts to create a big-budget game that on the surface is so unwelcoming to players, tossing them into a forsaken limbo and battering them bloody. Persevere and what you find is an exquisitely crafted world, a rich and rewarding RPG system and the best melee combat in gaming. I’d thought after Skyrim released, I’d spend the rest of the year playing that, but Dark Souls drew me back in with a great patch that fixed my previous issues with the game (the multi-player mostly). My ‘quick look’ at the patch turned into a nightmarish extended run through an area known as the Catacombs and around 4 hours after I’d started, I found my palms were sweating as I made my way through the Tomb of the Giants – a pitch-black hell, populated by Skeleton Dogs who tear the unwary to shreds.
If the difficulty scaremongering that seems to surround this game has put you off, you’re missing out on something special, I thought the days where a game was capable of turning me into a foaming at the mouth rabid fanboy were long-gone. I’m delighted that From proved me wrong.
2. TES: Skyrim
I’m at the point with Skyrim (after 90 or so hours) that I tend to nit-pick when talking or writing about it. The writing is rubbish, the main-story is easy to outpace in terms of power if you partake in a bit of exploration and smithing is abusable and a bit broken. But when you’re given a world of such breath-taking scale with so much to do and see, it’s seems churlish to complain. Part of the joy of TES games is the modding scene that forms around it, if you bought Skyrim on a console you are a stupid-head, if you bought it on PC, the release of the construction set early next year will turn this into a true masterpiece.
3. Shogun 2: Total War
Shogun 2 is probably the most refined of all the Total War games, it may have a smaller scale than Rome, Medieval or the sprawling Empire, but the battles feel more fluid and responsive than ever and the setting is brought to life beautifully. One battle where I was defending a large fort and heavily outnumbered, with an 8 star general and a few veteran units (successfully) holding back endless waves of Ashigaru lives long in the memory.
I am not much of a buildery type, Minecraft somehow fails to push my buttons for that reason alone. At school in art lessons I was allowed to sit in the corner and just generally mess about, so lacking was I in creativity and coherence. I can appreciate art, and I can enjoy it, I just can’t do it. Terraria removes the onus from building and design and instead lets us focus on exploring, collecting crafting and killing. It’s true that Terraria takes many cues from Minecraft and combines them with Spelunky (with a dash of Castlevania), but for my money that’s a winning combination.
5. The Witcher 2
The continuing adventures of albino sexpot Geralt of Rivia resumed in the biggest PC exclusive of the year and it failed to disappoint. CD Projeckt gave us a branching adventure with some truly difficult and morally dubious decisions to make along the way in a sumptuosly detailed fantasy world. Some issues with pacing, unresolved plot threads and slightly shonky combat detract from the experience, but it’s still a cut above.