My 2011 Games of the Year.

Everybody’s doing it – why shouldn’t I?

At Number Five – Bethesda’s fantasy co-op adventure, “Hunted – The Demon’s Forge”.

Not the most polished or original title of the year, but oddly compelling nonetheless.  There was something really engaging about the low/gritty fantasy setting, the bickering and mis-matched mercenary duo posh Elven warrior E’lara and gruff barbarian Caddoc (voiced by the always reliable Graham McTavish).  This isn’t a game which will change your life but it’s certainly worth a rental and ends on quite the cliffhanger – which looks unlikely to be resolved in a future release as this title can charitably be described as having ‘flown under the radar’.

At Number Four – Epic/EA’s sci-fi shooter, “Bulletstorm”.

On the face of it, this skill-focussed shooter from Polish developer People Can Fly seemed to operate in the same territory as Epic’s other sci-fi first person action series, the always bromantic “Gears of War”, but even ten minutes spent in this colourful, gleefully profane, absurdly over the top universe was enough to reassure most players that this game really was its own, ten storey, razor-toothed beast.

There was a little forum chatter about the game’s loutish protagonist, disgraced mercenary Grayson Hunt and what a terrible, misogynistic, macho power fantasy he represented – Duke Nukem says hi – but that seemed absurdly overblown to me.  This game’s nominal hero is clearly the butt of every joke and his belligerence is always his undoing – the female lead in the game, Trishka, is clearly drawn from the same cloth as many female warriors in games (where her clothes are lacking, there’s usually an ammo belt or gun to hide her modesty) and gets to save the day and drive the plot at least much as Hunt does.

I’d be absolutely up for a sequel if the numbers justified it to EA.

At Number Three – Epic Games and Microsoft Games Studios’ “Gears of War 3”.

A surprise to me that this climactic entry in the series landed so comparatively low on my list.

It was in so many ways the most polished and well-made game in the entire series, boasted lots of new and utterly gorgeous environments and introduced characters from the wider “Gears” universe into the game for the first time – hello Jace and Bernie – but still didn’t quite click with me.  I finished it with little difficulty, didn’t look at the multi-player portion of the game and traded it.

I can’t say that it was a bad game at all, just one which left me ultimately a bit cold.

At Number Two – THQ and Relic Entertainment’s “Warhammer 40K: Space Marine”.

This game really managed to scratch the third person action itch that “Gears 3” failed to do.  A great and long-established sci-fi universe rendered brilliantly by a developer with lots of experience making PC titles in that world, making their first console action game and getting the awesome Mark Strong to voice the lead and then finding that their publisher released it a couple of weeks before the 800 pound gorilla that is the game at number three on this chart – this game had a lot to recommend it and then was undone by insane marketing decisions.

This game focussed on an admittedly linear game design and compelled the player to play in a specific way which may have annoyed some but I stuck with it and loved the whole campaign.  Even delved into the multi-player a bit.  Get me, venturing online to have myself struck down by random strangers.

At Number One…

Naughty Dog and Sony Computer Entertainment’s “Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception”.

I whined a lot about the shooting, complained some more about the enemy artificial intelligence – standing there to present an easy target one second, moments later developing ninja stealth skills by some happenstance to flank you and mercilessly shoot you into the middle of next week – and generally threw my toys out of the pram in response to flaws that I felt made the game artificially difficult and borderline broken in some sections.

A patch did away with the shooting issues in the campaign and the rest of the game was so damned good that it didn’t matter that one aspect of the title needed to be worked on post-release, with the assistance of the community and by a developer who acknowledged that the fixes needed to be made (Hi there, Bethesda and “Skyrim”).

This game did everything that the landmark second entry delivered so successfully – great storytelling, massive action on a cinematic scale, a gloriously beautiful game world rendered in eye-popping, budget not spared style and technology underpinning everything that you’d give your wisdom teeth to see employed by other devs – and somehow managed to eke a bit more out of the PS3’s architecture to make the system’s definitive title a cut above the rest.

“Gears 3” on the Xbox 360 approached the beauty of “Uncharted 2” on the PS3 – “Uncharted 3” leaps frogs both platform’s new and existing high points and delivers truly beautiful moments and cities that are a pleasure to put the pad down to just look/gasp slack-jawed at for thirty seconds at a time.

It’s easy to be blase about Naughty Dog have done with this series – when game two is a massive leap forward from the already accomplished first title, the pressure becomes that bit greater for the developer to move the paradigm on and deliver an interactive entertainment experience which doesn’t only improve on their own previous work but which also lives up to the claims that fans have made for it.

I’ve told people who don’t play games that this is a series which underlines why I frequently now go to PS3 and Xbox titles for the thrills that in years gone by I might have found in a Spielberg or Cameron film.  Naughty Dog, to me, are the equal of those established film-making icons and regularly deliver titles which surpass any big-budget Hollywood studio film in terms of entertainment and excitement.

I don’t believe that this franchise necessarily needs the pseudo validation that a film adaptation allegedly bestows, even though it’s apparently going to get one, helmed by the director of this year’s “Limitless” – its already more inventive, exhilarating and witty than any comparable film series is and it’s the film community which needs to up it’s game to catch up with Nathan Drake and co.

 

 

 

 

 

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