Saturday, December 31, 2011
As we all prepare for an evening on the suds to ring in the New Year - or if you’re not old enough, an evening on the alcopops - why not take a moment, or indeed several moments and join us as we celebrate this year’s best of the best.
It was a year of interesting premises and for the most part, most games delivered more than they failed, which is especially true of our nominees for this category.
Doing enough to grab a runners-up spot this year in the Best Premise category is none other than Rocksteady’s frankly brilliant follow-up to the classic Arkham Asylum. When the British developer came out and announced that Batman: Arkham City would be an open-world Batman where the caped crusader would start with all of his tools and be able to fully explore a feature rich environment, we were in awe. The fact that they delivered upon their promise and gave us not only one of the year’s best premises, but also one of the years best games, was nothing but a bonus.
Sharing a spot with Rocksteady’s Arkham City is Eidos Montreal’s reboot of reboots for Deus Ex. Human Revolution promised to give us choice and a unique, richly detailed environment as well as the power of augmented technology at our fingertips. That right there is a juicy premise if ever there was one. Being able to turn the game’s protagonist Adam Jensen into the kind of weapon that you want him to be is something that the developers not only promised, but delivered on wholly. “Play it stealthily” or “play it aggressively,” they said… and we did just that. A premise of such rich choice in terms of gameplay and story impetus was a mouthwatering prospect and fortunately for us, they were right on the money.
As far as original and interesting premises go in 2011, none really come close to matching LA Noire’s ambition and resilience. Being thrust into an authentic 1940s Los Angeles and becoming a detective in a noir thriller wasn’t enough for Rockstar and Team Bondi, so adding in the ability to read people’s reactions and question them based on evidence you’ve gathered in the field… well, that’s truly next-gen stuff and is a true glimpse into the future of video games. Luckily for us as well, for the most part, LA Noire delivered that experience and although the controls may have been a tad on the clunky side at times, the detective aspect, specifically the facial mocap, was unrivalled and the premise was all but delivered upon, meaning we were ultimately the winners.
In recent years, the best story category has always managed to boast an outstanding yarn that really captured our hearts and imagination, but 2011 was a little different in that respect. It was a year where story-telling actually took more of a backseat to gameplay and was used to complement, rather than dominate… whether that’s a good thing, we’ll find out in due course.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s tale was not only an interesting glimpse into the future and how technology could play a part in our lives, but buried deep beneath its pretty cyberpunk exterior was a pressing social question that will one day no doubt need to be answered: is it okay to manipulate human revolution or should it happen naturally? It’s full of conspiracies galore, more twists and turns than the mountain roads in the Swiss Alps and is complemented by a great score and the rough, gravelly tones of Adam Jensen himself. It’s thought-provoking, compelling and hugely topical, although didn’t quite do enough to take home the gold!
Up there sharing the runners-up spot with Human Revolution is Visceral Games’ brilliant Dead Space 2. Coming out in January, but not forgotten, Dead Space 2 told the story of Isaac Clarke aboard the Sprawl, but rather than rehabilitate after the traumatic events of the first game, our intrepid adventurer has to go through it all over again. This time with a voice, and more inner demons than Courtney Love, Dead Space 2 is just one big ol’ grief metaphor for everything that Isaac’s going through. Sure, the ending may have left us with a sour taste in our mouths - mainly down to that end boss and the pre-amble towards it - but the journey and the story along the way was engaging and one hell of a ride.
Not many games came close to rivalling Portal 2’s story, humour and delivery in 2011 and as a result, it’s a worthy winner of this year’s Best Story category. Whilst not overly complex, it was the script and performances from the likes of Stephen Merchant and co. that all brought it together to be the year’s best story. With superb delivery, cunning comedy and never a dull moment, there really couldn’t be another winner. If there’s one developer in this industry that can pull off humour with sublime, deft ease, it’s got to be Valve. We’d even go as far as to say that Portal 2 is not only one of the funniest scripts for quite some time, but it could be the funniest gaming script ever. It’s a story – in both single-player and co-op – that can’t and shouldn’t be missed by anyone with a pulse!
If there was one thing that 2011 brought us it was a lot of multiplayer pew-pew-pewing, and the final three certainly reflects that.
If there’s one thing that Epic Games is good at, it’s improving upon its already successful formulae and Gears of War 3 most definitely proved that. It wasn’t enough to flesh out their standard shotgun/Lancer combos by offering more choice for players, but with new weapons, some well-crafted maps and some more of that tried-and-tested multiplayer formula, you knew Epic was on to a winner. The inclusion of Team Deathmatch and the streamlining of other modes meant that Gears fans had more than they could possibly ever want to sink their teeth into when they head online for some versus action. It’s truly ‘epic’ stuff, but alas, only good enough to grab a runners-up spot.
Sitting just underneath our elusive winner this year is Infinity Ward’s Modern Warfare 3. Whilst many will argue it’s more of the same, it’s clear that Infinity Ward knows what they need to do to spruce up their tried-and-tested online multiplayer template and they have a knack for listening to fan feedback and reacting… for the most part. The new Kill Confirmed mode, weapon unlocks, tweaks to the streak system and packages, and the removal of aspects that fans screamed bloody murder over when Modern Warfare 2 was around, all combine to create an impressive online package. But still, only good enough for runner-up.
The resounding winner in the multiplayer category this year was DICE and EA’s Battlefield 3, which delivered one of the greatest multiplayer arenas in recent times. With jets, more macro-destruction, some crazy and outlandish maps, more vehicles than you can shake an M16 at, and some nifty class refinement, Battlefield 3 is an undisputed winner this year. It’s not just these new additions that make Battlefield 3 so special though. It’s the game's innate ability to create some of the most memorable online warfare moments around, meaning nothing comes close to matching its gameplay. Whether you’re talking all-out vehicle-warfare or more infantry-based class battles in its Rush and Conquest modes, it never fails to live up to the high bar that DICE themselves keep on setting. Truly a magnificent multiplayer arena and something for other games to try and match, which is no easy feat on its own.
2011 saw a new bar set for what we expect from our triple-A titles from a visual standpoint – and rightly so – but in terms of leaps… this year we took a genuinely huge leap forwards.
This year saw id Software’s newest first-person shooter IP hit the shelves in the form of Rage, and while the gun combat of the new id Tech 5 engine was as solid as any other engine around, its lack of set-pieces and its vehicular sections really let the side down. Out of everything that Rage accomplished though, it was the graphical prowess of id Software’s new engine that stood out amongst everything and had us reaching for the bucket to catch our trickling saliva. Whether you’re talking about the animations of the enemies, the textures, the overall graphical fidelity, the draw distance, the character models, whatever, everything that the id Tech 5 does just proves that there’s still some life in the ol’ beast yet. Consequently, id looks like one of a handful of developers that can squeeze more life out of the Xbox 360 in this generation.
With Crysis 2, Crytek's first console outing has proved that they are just as talented as any console developer out there, and by getting Crysis 2 and the CryEngine 2.0 to run flawlessly on the Xbox 360, they too have proved that there’s still life in the ol’ boy. Unlike Rage though, Crysis 2 swaps out bright environments for a much more realistic setting - that of New York - but watching Crytek destroy it around you has been one of the most memorable experiences this year. Whether you’re traipsing through Grand Central station as a Pinger destroys the place or venturing across the FDR as the whole thing collapses beneath you, well, there really is no experience quite like it this year. The destruction on show, the lighting, the ambience, the textures, the stable frame-rate, everything is so polished from a visuals perspective that you can see your reflection in it! Yes, even on Prophet’s bald, shiny head… no, not that one!
Was there really going to be another winner this year? No. Turn 10’s stunning Forza 4 title was easily the best-looking console game this generation, hands-down. I mean, I know I joked about seeing your reflection in Prophet’s shiny head above, but in Forza 4 you could genuinely see the reflection of the world around you on the cars' lustrous bodies. It was that detailed that you could get up to six inches away and it’d still be remarkably detailed. The ‘image-based lighting’ techniques used by Turn 10 were lifted straight from Hollywood and allowed Turn 10 to use the lighting in the environment to light the car, making it feel more seated and rooted in the world. That’s the fancy way of describing it, but the truth is that Forza 4 delivered many of those “is that real or a game?” moments and it’s as close to super-ultra realism as we’ve come yet. Forza 4's cars are the sexiest looking pieces of metal available on a console, and that’s an irrefutable fact.
Music makes the world go round and although 2011 saw many recycled soundtracks, there were still some stunning scores to delight the ears.
The cyberpunk inspired score of Deus Ex: Human Revolution was a soundtrack to savour this year and is definitely more than worthy of a place on the runners-up podium. Michael McCann’s moody score is the perfect accompaniment to the game’s gritty and futuristic world, and whether you’re sneaking through warehouse complexes or waging full-scale war against anyone that will get in your way, there’s a well-written and composed musical score to match it. It’s a little different to what we expect from our RPGs these days, but as far as Deus Ex soundtracks go, it’s a perfect fit.
LA Noire brought something a little different to the table this year, and that was an authentic sounding, jazzy 1940s noir style soundtrack. I mean, seriously authentic… go and watch a noir film of a similar era and bang, they got this one right on the money. Whether you’re racing across Los Angeles to answer a call or sniffing around someone’s apartment looking for the next clue to crack the big case, the score complements that perfectly and it’s just like being in your very own movie. Rockstar and Team Bondi’s research and dedication to creating a true noir experience paid off here and LA Noire is an immensely worthy runner-up this year.
Aside from Battlefield 3’s constipated transformer reverb sound, the only other piece of game music that stuck in our heads this year was the mighty gorgeous Skyrim theme tune. That’s just the beginning of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim’s stunning soundtrack though, and whether you’re crawling through caves, cavorting in cities or wandering the vast environs of Skyrim, there will always be an epic, soaring score to go along with it. From orchestral roars to soft, bone-chilling harmonies, Jeremy Soule – who’s no stranger when it comes to game scores – truly excelled himself with Skyrim and penned a score that will never get old… even after 150 hours. That’s a tried and tested scientific study as well, in case you’re interested.
Who said innovation was dead? This year’s podium is made up of the year’s finest new franchises and they all made an impact this year.
Team Bondi and Rockstar’s LA Noire is a case of ‘close but no cigar’ in the running for the Best New Franchise award this year, but it was one hell of a close finish. In any other year LA Noire’s frankly astounding facial mocap and its unique and interesting premise would have been more than enough. Team Bondi did recreate an impressive 1940s Los Angeles, accompanied by an authentic soundtrack, and brought some unique and engaging gameplay elements to the table. However, this year it just wasn’t meant to be, so instead it comes in a more than respectable runners-up spot.
It’s not the first time that id Software’s new first-person shooter is getting a nod in this year’s awards and rightly so. While it maybe didn’t capture our imaginations as much as we'd have liked - mainly down to some awkward design choices like the inclusion of buggies, the lack of set-pieces and repetition of action - id with their new game world demonstrated that they had the makings of a killer engine. The gunplay was right on the money, the enemy animations were superb, there were a ton of crazy gadgets and the whole thing looked bloody incredible, making Rage easily one of the year’s best – and indeed, most promising – franchises.
Epic and People Can Fly’s Bulletstorm takes home the award this year for Best New Franchise simply because not only did the team deliver an excellent first-person shooter, but in a genre oversaturated with copy-and-paste military shooters, they actually managed to innovate. Bulletstorm’s huge amount of zany weapons, its leash and its boot, all combined with its “Skillshot” system, allowed gamers to - as PCF and Epic so bluntly put it - “kill with skill.” It wasn’t a one-trick pony though, and through its witty dialogue, over-the-top scenarios and vivid visuals, it meant that from start-to-finish, Bulletstorm was one hell of an enjoyable romp. So in a year of some great new franchises, Bulletstorm is a worthy winner… here’s hoping we get a sequel. It definitely deserves one, even if it didn’t sell nearly as well as it should have.
The Xbox Live Arcade in 2011 proved that there’s plenty of innovation and fun to be found outside the confines of a game disc.
It would have been easy for us this year to sit here and slap a bunch of HD remakes in this section and declare them the winners, but we opted not to. Well, except one, but the fact still remains that despite our reasoning, we just had to award Torchlight a runners-up spot and that was for a host of reasons. Torchlight, originally a PC title, proved that not only could a Diablo-style dungeon-crawler run on consoles rather easily and comfortably, but it also brought with it an undeniable value-for-money and a unique look and feel that we felt that we had to reward. The fact that most console-only gamers would have missed it first time around as well helped, and Torchlight meant that this was their chance to get knee deep in a dungeon-crawler created by some of the original Diablo guys. More please!
Sitting just below our winner and worthy of a place next to Torchlight was none other than Double Fine’s hugely unique title: Stacking. 2011 was a year of change for Double Fine and after failing to set retail alight with Brutal Legend, we suspect that it finally pushed them over the edge – especially after their disappointment with the lack of sales many years ago for the sublime Psychonauts – and so the developer decided to go digital. It’s a move that we suspect paid off greatly for Tim Schafer and co. because it not only allowed them to get more creative, but more risks can be taken with a smaller XBLA project without it potentially ruining a company. One of those risks was Stacking – Lee Petty’s brainchild – a game based around the Russian matryoshka stacking dolls which involved puzzle elements, fiendish strategy and had one hell of a humorous story to boot. We guess that risk paid off then. Congrats Double Fine! Grab yourself a place on the podium.
Was there really going to be another winner this year? Simply put, no. Bastion was this year’s king of kings in terms of Xbox Live Arcade games and anybody who says otherwise is wrong… you know, because opinions can be wrong… what’s that? They can’t? Oh. Well, Supergiant Games and Warner Bros’ action-RPG is a delightful little title that boasts a breathtaking art-style, a superb soundtrack and a rather amusing reactive narrator – imagine having someone following you through life commenting on everything you do… it’s an epic way to deliver emotions, instructions and even story. Beneath the surface of this combat-heavy title is a complex web of intricacy, as you’ll always find something else when you dig a little deeper, whether it’s cool new weapons, upgrades, idols or even challenges and modes to complete or unlock. Dear Billy, there’s a new ‘Kid’ in town and he’s won an award, unlike you!
Innovation – as we've already said several times already – is clearly alive and well. This year’s podium proves why!
When Ubisoft Reflections first announced Driver: San Francisco’s “Shift” mechanic, you could hear the sound of echoing laughter and mockery that floated around the X360A Towers from miles around. Cries of, “what the bloody hell are they smoking!?” filled the airwaves and laughter soon turned to bewilderment. Okay, so we were wrong… it worked and although shifting mechanics aren’t necessarily new, what it brought to the table here was. In single-player this mechanic offered a new way to deliver missions, while in multiplayer it opened up a whole new can of worms – in a good way. Jumping from car to car meant Reflections had to innovate with game modes and that they did, with the ability to shift from car to car unlocking the opportunity for more chaos and a feeling that you were never out the game. This is something that made Driver: San Francisco feel fresh and innovative, which is a rare but powerful thing these days.
Joining Driver on the runners-up podium is none other than the aforementioned Skillshot system from People Can Fly’s newest IP, Bulletstorm. A system that actually made headshots boring and boy, did they like to point that out in their pre-release promotional campaign. It was a system that promoted creativity, spiced up a fairly stale genre and set the internet alight with competitions to set the highest score. Never have we seen a group of gamers respond so competitively and passionately to a demo in a bid to set a high score and one-up their mates. It wasn’t just about getting points for stylish kills though, it was about combos, the amusing names that they dished out for every unique kill and the weapons. All of which combined to dish out one big dollop of awesome, like a boot to the face.
The one innovative gameplay feature this year that truly gave us a glimpse into the future of gaming is, of course, LA Noire’s MotionScan facial capture. This groundbreaking facial mocap on its own is impressive enough, but actually delivering a gameplay mechanic on top of it, that has you reading natural and subtle reactions to your questioning, well, that’s just out of this world. Best of all, LA Noire's MotionScan tech worked remarkably well too, with every line of dialogue facially captured in full, so when you interviewed or interrogated other people throughout the game you could always tell whether they were lying or not. Assuming you were an expert in human psychology and reactions, of course. A subtle glance away, an unprovoked physical reaction or an uncomfortable squirm; you’ve always got to be on the lookout if you want to be the world’s finest detective, something that this incredible mechanic allowed you to essentially become. It’s immersion at its finest!
Boo! We may have had no hope for these originally, but boy, did they shock us!
As you’re probably already aware, we weren’t hugely psyched for Driver: San Francisco’s “Shift” mechanic when it was initially announced, yet it still surprised us. Driver: San Francisco isn’t a one-trick pony though, oh no. Ubisoft Reflections managed to resurrect a franchise that was all but dead to us after Driv3r. For one, they didn’t try anything fancy with the name, like Driv4r. For two, they chose a compelling and famous car chase city like San Francisco. Three, they delivered a robust handling model, and while the story – especially the ending – was a little barmy, it was an all round great game. Yes, that shocked us… in a good way!
Joining Driver: San Francisco on the runners-up podium is Twisted Pixel’s The Gunstringer. Now, it wasn’t that we doubted Twisted Pixel’s ability to make a great game... after all, they pretty much always deliver a great game, but going from the Xbox Live Arcade to retail is a gargantuan step. Honestly, we didn’t think they’d be able to deliver a title that met the expectations of a customer paying full whack for a retail title. Sure, it might have only been a budget title and sure, it might have come with Fruit Ninja Kinect, but The Gunstringer on its own legs provided an enjoyable romp from beginning to end, as well as great implementation of Kinect, meaning that it most definitely warranted its status as a retail release. Which is something we never thought we’d actually be able to sit here and say. Kudos!
While we actually expected the winner of this year’s Surprise of the Year category to deliver a great experience, we never thought it would deliver to the level that it finally did. Of course, we’re talking about Rayman Origins, but considering the mess that surrounded it pre-launch about it being an episodic downloadable title and then a retail game, for it to release and be one of the best platformers in recent years, maybe even on the Xbox 360 full stop, well, that was a huge shock to us. With some great co-op play, beautiful visuals, stunning and imaginative set-pieces and tons of value, Rayman Origins shocked the hell out of us by not only proving it was most definitely a retail title, but also that it was a superb platformer as well… something that’s been severely lacking on this generation of HD consoles – yes, the Wii doesn’t count. Here’s hoping that it starts to shift a few more units though… it truly deserves to, plus, it’ll help fund Beyond Good & Evil 2, which is nothing but a good thing.
We had high hopes for these titles in 2011, but unfortunately, they didn’t really meet our expectations. Booooooo!
Oh EA, how the mighty have fallen… and by that I mean once mighty, milked to death, resurrected with a superb effort and then destroyed once again. Yes, we’re talking Need For Speed and after EA shipped the impressive Hot Pursuit in 2010, and removed the Need For Speed moniker from Shift, we thought that EA had finally seen the light that we’d all seen 5 years ago. Oh, of course not, it was for all intents and purposes, a complete fluke. Enter 2011 and say hello to Need For Speed: The Run, a game where every tenement that Need For Speed’s successful formula was based upon was plucked out and instead, Black Box tried to deliver a “story.” Throw in some horribly scripted moments, rubber-banded AI and no replayability whatsoever, and what you have is a horribly mediocre game. Shame.
While Red Faction: Armageddon was actually a great game, there was just something about it that felt like it was a step back from Guerrilla. We had high hopes that the Volition crew could expand upon the great Red Faction: Guerrilla to deliver an experience as close to the 90% mark as humanly possible, but by making it a tad more survival horror and throwing players underground into a cave… well, it felt a touch more claustrophobic. The freedom from Guerrilla was still there but it was a shadow of its former self, which is a shame because Armageddon delivered more great weapons and some solid gameplay. Dear Volition, don’t try to change the formula too much next time and stick to what you know works.
The problem for innovation and originality a lot of the time is success. We’re not saying that success doesn’t follow innovation because sometimes it can, but more often than not, chasing after someone else’s success stifles creativity and innovation and causes an industry of copycats. Take Call of Duty for example… Techland obviously looked at Activision’s success and thought, “You know what… you know our original Call of Juarez franchise that we were just starting to make waves with? Let’s sack off the Wild West as it’s too niche and try a modern day shooter and leach off COD’s success…” That’s bad enough as it is, but then to deliver a broken, uninspired, almost insipid, shooter that isn’t worth its weight in cow dung, you have to wonder where it went wrong. Dear Techland, Red Dead Redemption was set in the Wild West and that sold a boat load, how about you stick with subject matter that you were just starting to get to grips with, rather than be another bloody clone. If you get the franchise back on track we’ll ignore The Cartel like the Baldwin brothers and the rest of Hollywood ignores Daniel Baldwin. Deal?
It’s not just about developing great games for our Best Developer category, it’s about support, efficiency and much more… Oh, and the great games.
Rocksteady had a mammoth task in creating Arkham City, and that was mainly because they did such a stellar job with Arkham Asylum. What makes it so hard to create a sequel, you ask? Well, it’s not that, but one of Arkham Asylum’s strengths was its linearity; how it managed to push you in the direction of the story and always kept you moving towards the right path. With Arkham City they opened up a whole world, but the issue was delivering that world without it being soulless, too empty and just an excuse to deliver a bigger playground when it wasn’t necessarily needed. Well, they managed it and in Arkham City Rocksteady somehow delivered a sequel that was vastly superior to its predecessor in more ways than one. Something that should be praised, so a runners-up spot it is!
Next up is Valve, the industry’s king of comedy, with their follow-up to the cult classic Portal. Like Rocksteady they had a mammoth task: to create a sequel that took the pillars of the downloadable Portal and made it into a retail game. That’s not so tough, right? No, but to do so whilst keeping the experience from getting too repetitive, too arduous or unnecessarily complex, that’s the real challenge and thankfully for us, Valve hit a home run. Throw in a fantastic – and funny – script, the superb casting and performance of Stephen Merchant, an impressive co-op mode and even some free DLC, and that’s why Valve deserves a runner-up spot.
I think if you ask anyone from Epic Games this year they’ll probably agree with us. 2011 was Epic Games’ best year in the video games industry. Not only did they ship the greatest Gears of War game they’ve ever created to date, but they also assisted in the development of Bulletstorm with People Can Fly – with whom they own a majority share. So that’s two 90% and above games in one year… out of two. Now that’s an impressive stat. They even managed to ship Infinity Blade on the iOS in 2011 as well, which although we didn’t really take into account for this award this year, it’s still worth a mention – a game that was met with rave reviews as well. Throw in DLC for both titles and some impressive support in Gears of War 3 for their calendar events thus far, and you have a studio that is a resounding winner in this category this year.
It’s not just about the stable of games, it’s about consistency too, and 2011 had a little from column A and a lot from column B.
2011 was a fine year for Bethesda if you look at everything they’ve accomplished… not only did they ship the brilliant The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, but it was a year that was backed up with the noble efforts of id Software and their new IP: Rage. Throw in Splash Damage’s Brink - which was great in multiplayer, not-so-much everywhere else - as well as Hunted: The Demon’s Forge - which wasn’t that bad, although it was hardly inspiring - and 2011 was a year where Bethesda started to show signs of real growth. If they continue on at this rate from here on out, it won’t be long before they’re up there with Activision, Ubisoft and EA as the biggest third-party publishers in the games industry.
Anybody who says that Microsoft is losing sight of what core gamers want only needs to look at the titles they shipped in 2011. Sure, they might not ship an incredible amount of titles, but what they do release has an undeniable quality. Two of the year’s biggest titles actually came courtesy of Microsoft actually, and with Forza 4 cementing Turn 10’s place at the top of the simulation racing genre and Epic’s Gears of War 3 being one of the best shooters around, Microsoft’s obviously going for quality over quantity. Then there’s Halo: Anniversary as well, which was 343 Industries’ first time at the helm of the Halo franchise and they certainly did an admirable job of resurrecting a 10 year old game for today’s market. There was even something for core gamers on Kinect thanks to Twisted Pixel’s The Gunstringer. With more Halo in 2012 as well, who says Microsoft’s lost their way, huh?
Aside from a few foul balls like Need For Speed: The Run, EA had an excellent year. 2011 was not only a year where their EA Partners program came into its element, but it was also a year that saw some of their first-party titles truly grabbing the bull by the horns and kicking it square in the nuts. As always, they had something for everyone too. Their Partners program saw them publish such superb titles like Bulletstorm, Crysis 2 and Portal 2, with Alice: Madness Returns delivering a great experience and Shadows of the Damned showing some potential. From a first-party perspective they led the way with Battlefield 3, Dead Space 2 and Dragon Age 2, with FIFA 12, Shift 2: Unleashed and Fight Night Champion not far behind. That’s right folks, gone are the days where EA lacked innovation and were a money-hungry corporate machine… Sure, EA is obviously still a business at heart, but that is one hell of a portfolio it let loose in 2011.
2011 not only gave us some of the best games this generation, but it gave us some of the best games ever. That said, there can only be one winner…
Sitting on the runners-up podium and just missing out on the top spot is Rocksteady’s hugely impressive Batman: Arkham City, proving that the games industry is nothing like the film industry… you know, in that the second film in a trilogy doesn’t have to be worse than the first *cough* The Matrix *cough*. Arkham City gave players the ability to explore a huge open environment, face off with many more of the franchise’s favourite foes, uncover the city’s secrets, get involved in some pretty engaging side-missions, hunt down more of those Riddler clues to solve the Riddler’s Challenge Rooms, and more. It’s bigger and much more expansive in every single way than its predecessor, which was inarguably brilliant in its own right. Batman: Arkham City is the perfect example of how sequels should be made.
In another year Epic Games’ Gears of War 3 would have undoubtedly taken home the ultimate X360A prize, especially seeing as it scored 97% on our Richter scale, but sadly for the Raleigh-based developer, it wasn’t meant to be. That doesn’t take anything away from their stellar sequel and end of the trilogy though. With a campaign that was expertly delivered with plenty of emotion and explosive moments, a revamped Horde mode, the newly created Beast mode where players took control of the Locust and a refined multiplayer mode, it was a truly explosive conclusion to a trilogy that Microsoft will be sad to see the back of. Of course, the franchise isn’t going to be killed off anytime soon, but it’ll be up to Epic now to go back to the drawing board and see what else they can bring to the Gears universe. At least this trilogy went out with a nuclear-sized bang.
Bethesda Games Studios this year not only released the best console game this generation but if we’re being perfectly honest – and quite bold – it’s probably one of the best games… ever! The Elder Scrolls V, or Skyrim to its friends, was a game so big that before we felt comfortable writing the review, we had to plough in over 115 hours! With one of the most incredible game worlds ever conceived, more than a handful of truly engaging questlines, a sublime score, stunning visuals, tons of dragons to despatch back to the gates of hell, a ridiculous amount of content and an astounding amount of depth – especially in the meta-games – it’s hard to dispute that Skyrim is one of the best games ever created. Its undeniable charm and its immersive and expansive world meant that it got near perfect marks here on X360A, fetching an impressive 99%, and we don’t give away such high praise that easily. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is quite easily our Game of the Year for 2011 and if you’ve not yet picked it up, quit your lollygagging! If you have, well done. You have sublime taste, squire.
That’s about all we have from this year’s awards show, but stay tuned to X360A over the next few days and weeks as we reflect on 2011 as a whole, look forward to 2012 and of course, dazzle you with our video editing skills as we bring you our 20 most anticipated titles of 2012. In the words of Aerosmith, you don’t want to miss a thing!
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