Dec 31, 2011
As you've probably spotted, we've spent the last week since we broke up for Christmas publishing personal accounts of some of our favourite games of the last 12 months, and we've also named our overall Game of the Year for 2011: Valve's wonderful Portal 2.
Traditionally though we leave it to you to bring order to the chaos of the year just ended by voting for your top games and giving us your reasons. We take your top-five lists and scientifically jumble them all together to create the Eurogamer Readers' Top 50 Games, and then publish it all in one go along with a selection of your comments.
This year we had our largest ever response and we also received far more comments than before - and far more than we have been able to use here, so apologies if you submitted something that we weren't able to use. We did read all of them while compiling the list, and it was fascinating to see where you agreed and disagreed on the games included. The comments we did include are a snapshot of the range of views expressed.
One last thing - while the consensus around the game at the top of the list was huge, so it can reasonably be termed the Eurogamer Readers Game of the Year 2011, it's worth remembering that lists are just a bit of fun, and that at this merry time of year it is not worth getting hot and bothered about whether one game is definitively superior to another. Trust us - we learned that one the hard way.
Happy New Year! Here's the very best of the one to which we all just said goodbye...
50. The Binding of Isaac (PC)
- Publisher: Valve
- Developer: Edmund McMillen, Florian Himsl
- The Binding of Isaac Review (9/10)
What we said: "Binding is not the game I would have expected Edmund McMillen to create in the wake of Super Meat Boy. That was a painstaking, pixel-perfect work - some seriously Old Testament, Miyamoto-esque stuff. In other words, he was a total control freak. With Binding, McMillen and Himsl created the rules of the world and then set it in motion. Yet this game is nearly as much fun as Super Meat Boy, and more profound. It proves that there's more than one way to make a masterpiece."
Indy said: "[Developer] Edmund McMillen convinced me to buy this game simply by explaining the concept on his wonderful blog. It sounded so much fun so I wasn't surprised when it indeed turned out to be a lot of fun. I was surprised, however, at the amount of different items and how each and every one of them served a purpose without killing the balance of the entire game. That's some wicked game design right there. You either love or hate the art style, dark humour and overall themes of the game, but even if you're the most religious person in the world you wouldn't deny this game is downright fun."
neuroniky said: "I bought this on the day Skyrim released, and I spent the night playing it instead of the latter. A unique game with a twisted humour and a classical SNES gameplay with a 'let's try one more time' factor that makes it impossible to stop playing it."
49. Terraria (PC)
- Developer: Re-Logic
- Terraria Review (8/10)
"Single-player Terraria beats the pants off single-player Minecraft."
mrpsb, Eurogamer reader
What we said: "There's a reason Terraria has sold a few hundred thousand copies in the first few months it's been on sale. It's because, if Terraria really does have a bottom, no one can be bothered to go find it. They're having far too much fun on the surface, and the spaces in between."
mrpsb said: "Single-player Terraria beats the pants off single-player Minecraft, and has been delivered in a fraction of the time."
mkreku said: "Little masterpiece! No apparent story, nothing to drive you onwards and no manual that tells you what you can do. And yet I played it for 100 hours!"
Heitzu said: "A brilliant game, especially if you have someone to go adventuring in your generated world with. Plenty to see and do, bosses to fight, dungeons to explore, ores to be dug, homes to be built, floating islands to discover, armour to forge, the list just goes on and the most recent update adds even more!"
Dr Strangelove said: "Minecraft meets Metroid meets Zelda in never-ending wonderful 16-bit realms. Since Counter-Strike has no game destroyed my life like this."
48. Beyond Good & Evil HD (PS3, Xbox 360)
- Publisher: Ubisoft
- Developer: Ubisoft Shanghai
- Beyond Good & Evil HD Review (9/10)
What we said: "Can a game so shrouded in cult praise deliver so long after the fact? Surprisingly, yes. Beyond Good & Evil is still a wildly ambitious game, often beautifully constructed and with its own distinct personality. Stacked alongside its modern descendants, like the less interesting but equally commercially-challenged Enslaved, its pioneering qualities are plain to see."
ssuellid said: "This bored the crap out of me on its first release. I don't think I had the patience for it then. But now I like the relatively slow pace, the character design and the tweeness. More HD remakes please."
nopizzanocry said: "Loved this game when it released, it is a pleasure to meet with it again. Like meeting an old good friend. The game's world is fascinating and incredibly deep with a smart gameplay."
CraigC8 said: "A classic back in the days of the original Xbox. One of those games I go back and play every six months or so and still never get tired of it. Now come on Ubisoft and develop Beyond Good & Evil 2!"
47. Sonic Generations (PS3, Wii, Xbox 360)
- Publisher: SEGA
- Developer: SEGA
- Sonic Generations Review (7/10)
What we said: "Sonic Generations still doesn't do much to dissuade us that the hedgehog's best days are distant memories, but at least it is a worthy tribute to them, capturing the subtler elements of the original Hedgehog's enduring appeal although still falling foul of some of his weaknesses. And looking ahead, it also suggests that the next 20 years - for Sega will surely continue to pump out Sonic games until its dying breath - at least hold the promise of many more enjoyable birthdays to come."
OneClassyBloke said: "Sonic Generations is my favourite game of the year. Critically, it is average, but for the fans who stuck with the series through its highs and lows, it's a wonderful gift and will put a smile on even the most jaded Sonic fan."
NineOverSeven said: "A great mixture of the past and present. The music is fab and modern Sonic is actually fun now. Just a shame about the Planet Wisp levels."
Butr0sButr0s said: "After all the garbage that has been shovelled out to SEGA's nostalgic fans, it feels like hell froze over to finally get a great Sonic game. The 2D throwback levels maintain the physics of the originals while updating the classic chiptune soundtrack, and the modern levels harness the speed-run addiction of the best 3D Sonic offerings."
46. SpaceChem (PC)
Breakdown of your Top 50
- First-party games: 12
- Platform exclusives: 19
- Games about bald space marines: 7
- Games that scored 8/10: 17
- Developer: Zachtronics Industries
- SpaceChem Review (9/10)
What we said: "Sure, SpaceChem is just pseudo-science, but it does capture that mystique of toying with nature's fundamental ingredients. And while nuclear chemists are serious professionals, I'm willing to bet that the first time that one of them transformed a smidgen of helium into super-heavy hydrogen, part of him wanted to cry, 'Look what I made!'"
tadejs said: "SpaceChem is simply by far one of the greatest puzzle games ever made. It not only makes you think, it makes you come up with your own solutions, instead of just trying to guess the solution the developers have intended. Because of that, every solution feels like it is truly your own. The gameplay is simply phenomenal, introducing you to a simple, yet ever-extending set of rules, and asking you to reach the solution in whichever way you want. It doesn't take much time for it to become really hard, which only makes it even more rewarding. It also happens to have some pretty good writing, an enjoyable soundtrack and a number of free updates available."
TrilbyNorton said: "My favourite board game when I was younger was Mouse Trap. I loved how, over the course of an afternoon, the trap would grow from humble beginnings to an impossibly complex system of doodads. I get the same thrill from SpaceChem."
45. Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary (Xbox 360)
- Publisher: Microsoft Studios
- Developer: 343 Industries, Saber Interactive
- Halo Anniversary Review (8/10)
What we said: "This is no longer Bungie's Halo, though much of what made the original so successful is here and intact. It's an awkward reinvention that manages to be at once faithful and a little wide of the mark. But such is the strength of Combat Evolved, this is still an Anniversary that's worth celebrating."
MahtiK said: "Halo Anniversary has proven it's still one of the best, if not the best, FPS games of all time. The feel of the weapons is uncanny, and the pistol and the assault rifle especially are the two best-feeling weapons in any game ever. The shotgun is probably third."
retrological said: "Like getting to play a much-loved classic without having to remove your rose-tinted glasses. Perfect update. Still delivers that famous 30 seconds of fun."
44. Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
- Publisher: THQ
- Developer: Relic
- Space Marine Review (6/10)
What we said: "When you strip away our automatic affection for the universe, you're left with a simple story full of thin characters and predictable twists, where the combat quickly descends into a repetitive war of attrition, and a small suite of online modes that can't compete with the bigger boys in the genre."
BIGsheep said: "The nerd in me loved it. A faithful recreation of the grim dark future with a lovely combat mechanic that kept you in the mix and allowed seamless switching between close and ranged Ork-thwarting."
berelain said: "For the Emperor."
43. Yakuza 4 (PS3)
- Publisher: SEGA
- Developer: SEGA Japan
- Yakuza 4 Review (8/10)
What we said: "A significant step up from Yakuza 3 in terms of visuals and story, Yakuza 4 still lags behind the genre's leaders, lacking the polish in interactions to make it a classic. But this is still a strong, mesmerising video game, an offer that none should refuse."
Electro_UK said: "The best story the series has told since the original, with three new characters that give the combat a much-needed makeover. The city stays the same, but I never want it to change."
MercenaryRaiden said: "With the introduction of three other playable characters and new ways to roam around Kamurocho Yakuza 4 manages to stay fresh and entertaining. With the story returning to its roots it's the strongest entry in the series yet."
JoeGBallad said: "Not only is the setting one of the most intricate ever seen in a game, it's also backed up by combat that is hilariously violent. It's a real achievement."
42. Child of Eden (PS3, Xbox 360)
- Publisher: Ubisoft
- Developer: Q Entertainment
- Child of Eden Review (9/10)
What we said: "As with all of Mizuguchi's work, Child of Eden offers a memorable journey and a strong sense of development. But where Rez was concerned with the evolution of the player character, which transformed from amoebic blob to running man, the auteur's latest is about the evolution of the world around the player."
YobRenoops said: "Finally a sequel to Rez! The game I thought it would be and everything I'd hoped. Shame it got tied to Kinect, however, which seems to have affected it in the marketplace."
JollyNiceSoup said: "The sequel I felt like I was waiting a lifetime for. Where Rez felt like you were destroying, Child of Eden felt like you were rebuilding. Gives me goosebumps thinking about it and I'm pathetic enough to have shed a tear by the end of the credits. Just beautiful."
nedrichards said: "Justified a Kinect."
41. Football Manager 2012 (PC, Mac, iPad, PSP)
Defending Duke Nukem Forever
Yes, some of you voted for it. Fortunately not enough for it to make it into this list, but enough that we decided to share some of the explanations.
AceGrace said: "I know this comes in for a lot of flack but I enjoyed it a lot."
EMarkM said: "I put this in here so I did not have to vote for Skyrim on PS3. Plus, I like blowjobs."
TruSmiles said: "Surely the King deserves to win Game of the Year... Simply because it was actually released this year? I believe in Christmas miracles."
- Publisher: SEGA
- Developer: Sports Interactive
- Football Manager 2012 Review
What we said: "If you're really intent on living out your football management dreams the way that Sports Interactive used to, the best bet is to keep things simple and opt for the iOS version. If you need all the trimmings, then by all means surrender yourself to the all-consuming PC/Mac version. Just don't let your joy about the new streamlined match preparation and in-depth contract negotiation system creep into your pillow talk, for God's sake."
NicolasVH said: "The progression is marginal compared to 2011, but it's still the best and deepest football management game out there."
HunterKiller said: "Classically addictive stuff from SI as always, with huge improvements in both match engine and player interaction."
popej said: "Yeah, it's basically the same as the last one, just like the last one was the same as the one before (and so on). For all-day gaming sessions though, nothing beats FM!"
40. DiRT 3 (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
- Publisher: Codemasters
- Developer: Codemasters
- DiRT 3 Review (9/10)
What we said: "Codemasters has succeeded in curating another superlative festival of driving. It's a package more inclusive than any of its predecessors, shot through with the quiet innovations that have defined the studio's more recent efforts. With its off-road events celebrating the series' past and Gymkhana presenting a potentially bright new future, it's another great racing game from an outfit that's proving itself to be a master of its craft."
john385 said: "A great... [turn left, 90m, jump] game... that shows... [slightly right, over jump] even a noob like me... [go left, hard right, then straight to finish] can enjoy a great rally game. Oh, it's DX11, which is just grea... [crash]."
GaidenZero said: "Still the ultimate driving experience and for me the perfect balance between simulation and arcarde. The graphics are stunning and, whilst not for everyone, I enjoy the variety of differing driving experiences on offer."
StrikeForce1 said: "They finally got the handling physics to feel right after the ridiculous shopping trolley cars of the first two DiRT games. A few more iterations and they might finally be back to the superb handling models of the 2004/2005 Colin McRae games."
39. Mario Kart 7 (3DS)
- Publisher: Nintendo
- Developer: Nintendo, Retro Studios
- Mario Kart 7 Review (8/10)
What we said: "'The core of Mario Kart is pretty solid at this point and I think it's safe to have it evolve in a pretty staid and traditional manner,' Miyamoto said recently. Mario Kart 7 reflects that, in its title and in its design: it's robust, but it lacks some creative effort on Nintendo's part. Newcomers will love it, while series stalwarts will find its novelties welcome, if largely inconsequential. But it's nevertheless one of the stronger entries in the series, balancing the orthodox precision of the original with the playful silliness of the more recent iterations more successfully than ever."
beatleben said: "I've only just started getting into it, but already it's clear how refined everything in the game is. The 3D is implemented sensibly, without any needless distractions. The online community aspect is an excellently designed setup. The new tracks are full of potential and the classic tracks are all worthwhile. The only problem is the lack of DK Mountain."
Sodding_Gamer said: "Best MK since the N64. Balanced, good online play and great new tracks."
BonzoBanana said: "Not totally inspired but that warm familiar feeling that you've come home."
38. F1 2011 (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
The comments you provide with your top-five lists sometimes mention Eurogamer! We watch out for this and revel/wallow in the praise/shame you heap upon us. For example...
Osahi wrote about Portal 2: "Clever and funny. A bit like Eurogamer." (We'll take that.)
elbenka wrote about Battlefield 3: "Multiplayer alone. Co-op is just a tutorial. Single-player who really cares! Really! And f*** you Eurogamer 8/10 Brink!" (F*** you too, friend!)
doctorgonzo wrote about Arkham City: "I think the Eurogamer review summarised it well: 'Become Batman.' Exactly. Sooooo much fun." (Glad you agreed!)
There was some other stuff, but we used all our asterisks already.
- Publisher: Codemasters
- Developer: Codemasters Birmingham
- F1 2011 Review (8/10)
What we said: "Strip away the new lick of paint and it's tough to tell F1 2011 apart from its predecessor, and though it's certainly tighter, smarter and more technically accomplished, some of the old faults remain. A marginally better outing than last year, then, and that's enough to ensure that, as F1 games go, this is still quite comfortably the best."
shamblemonkee said: "Despite a host of issues that caused me serious frustration at launch this is still the best 'serious' online racer out there for Xbox 360, and does a good job of recreating the buzz around a race weekend. It has occupied my Tuesday evenings since launch."
jetsetwillie said: "Being a massive F1 fan I played this a lot this year. Playing it with a Logitech DFGT on a high-end gaming PC through my 46-inch LCD the experience is sublime.Ii can spend hours just racing friends' ghosts and never get bored."
Fatbobbybob said: "A great if a little subtle update to last year's game. The sense of grip and general car simulation in long races makes this an incredibly intense racer. Could probably do with a year off and come back big in 2013 but this will never happen."
Stefarno said: "Probably the best console F1 game since F1 '97. Needs Murray Walker though."
37. LittleBigPlanet 2 (PS3)
- Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
- Developer: Media Molecule
- LittleBigPlanet 2 Review (9/10)
What we said: "Strip away the relentless good looks and the generous open-source playpen, and the bare, underlying platformer's shortcomings may hold it back from classic status. But as a package, as a concept, as an unfinished story, LittleBigPlanet 2 is a world apart."
reeferchief said: "My son has ploughed over a hundred hours on this. This is his Skyrim."
Flying_Pig said: "A surprisingly substantial upgrade from the original, with Create mode allowing some genuinely amazing DIY games."
GreyBeard said: "Another victim of an early-year launch, LBP2 will probably go down as the most under-appreciated title of the year. Better in all respects than its predecessor as a game, and a truly phenomenal game-creation tool."
calexd said: "Had me and my girlfriend smiling from start to finish, and aforementioned girlfriend often begging to play. Full of charm and with a level-creator with so much choice. A game I keep coming back to."
36. From Dust (PC, Xbox 360)
- Publisher: Ubisoft
- Developer: Ubisoft Montpelier
- From Dust Review (9/10)
"I didn't play it. But I did read the review and think this kind of game needs support and recognition for being creative, innovative and fresh."
What we said: "It feels like a beginning, and not just because it tells the tale of one. It's a big idea in a small package, and it's begging to be expanded, as Ubisoft has hinted it might be. Pray that it is."
BIGsheep said: "My favourite sandbox in a long time. Apologies to all those villagers who got in the way of my dabblance with lava, however."
Modhabobo said: "From the first moment of picking up the dust and placing it in the sea, watching it change colour, and watching my tribe crossing, I was hooked. A beautiful analogy for our quest for power and how cyclical and destructive it is."
rare_uk said: "I didn't play it. But I did read the review and think this kind of game needs support and recognition for being creative, innovative and fresh in an industry that is supposed to be those things but so rarely is."
MaybeLater said: "In a market dominated by big-brand, largely soulless FPS titles, it's a great pleasure to see a soulful little delight like From Dust snuggled in amongst the big boys."
Zackv4861 said: "An excellent interpretation of a god game that has been so over done but has faded out in recent years. Soundtrack was amazing and the environments were to die for. If only it were a little longer."
35. Driver: San Francisco (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
- Publisher: Ubisoft
- Developer: Ubisoft Reflections
- Driver: San Francisco Review (8/10)
What we said: "Driver: San Francisco isn't quite the jolt that the arcade driving genre needs to stir it from its own particular coma, but it's an endearing and eccentric experience in itself. In Reflections' best work since the Driver series began, it's managed to tame the ridiculous and conjure something quite sublime."
jonthepymm said: "I've loved open-world driving games with randomly generated traffic since I first played Turbo Esprit in the eighties on the ZX Spectrum. 60 frames-per-second goodness on this one too!"
marmaduke said: "So your man's driving around San Francisco, chasing a criminal, and then BANG! He's crashed and is in a coma. Like any coma victim, he takes up astral projection and uses it to help people in trouble by taking over their bodies and driving their cars really fast. He knows to do this because a billboard opposite the hospital told him to do it. Driver: San Francisco is the perfect mix of Burnout, GTA, Quantum Leap, Dirty Harry and Seinfeld. If that doesn't appeal I don't know what does."
SirClive said: "Not perfect, but a great concept and pretty well executed. Life on Mars in cars!"
34. Dragon Age 2 (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
- Publisher: Electronic Arts
- Developer: BioWare
- Dragon Age 2 Review (8/10)
What we said: "For all the ideas that don't quite take flight, for all the design decisions that feel restrictive rather than liberating, when the credits rolled I was already itching to devote another 40-odd hours to reliving it all again."
JdEvangelion said: "One of the most disappointing games of the year - a lazy sequel to Dragon Age which in itself was a pale imitation of Baldur's Gate 2. Despite all that this still ranks in my top five. Not sure what that says for the rest of the industry."
mogwins said: "I put off buying this until the end of the year, when it was down to a tenner, due to fairly mediocre reviews. But it's far and away the most compelling game I've played this year. While the characters initially seem to seem your usual RPG archetypes, they really grow as the game progresses, and some of the interactions between NPCs are a real delight. Also Planescape: Torment levels. Almost."
Boki said: "While a lot of people may whine that the game is bad, shallow, not an RPG etc, it is under the surface that you'll find how truly great the game is. The characters are well-written and are different enough that if you take time to listen to their story you'll come to like them. Voice acting is top notch, the combat is visceral and it's pretty hard to go back to the slower-paced Origins after this. Yes environments are reused, but it doesn't take away from the enjoyment as much as people claim."
33. Star Wars: The Old Republic (PC)
- Publisher: Electronic Arts
- Developer: BioWare
- Star Wars: The Old Republic Hands On Preview
The Force Is Meh?
Our Star Wars: The Old Republic Review isn't quite finished yet - with such a late launch at a usually quiet time of the year we decided to go slow and make sure we were happy with our conclusions about it. Look out for the write-up as soon as we're back.
What we said: "Occasionally, it shows flashes of originality, flair and Lucas-powered matinee excitement that set it apart. We'll need even more time with it to tell if the romance of Star Wars and BioWare's narrative ambitions can carry it past its rivals. But we've seen enough, at last, to believe that The Old Republic is a real MMO, and no-one's idea of a failed one."
Astrates said: "BioWare. RPG. With friends. Nothing more really needs to be said. Getting an amazing storyline told to you that's unique for your class with major decisions to be made that shape the story, then also you can take your friend along as you choose to sacrifice an entire engineering team just because you couldn't be bothered to run around. Awesome."
Rootminusone said: "Takes the essence of the Star Wars universe, as realised in the magnificent Knights of the Old Republic games, and explodes it into baffling scale. Technically it does little to mix up decades-old MMO formulae, but the addition of meaningful story and character relationships is a long-overdue and wonderful addition to the genre."
32. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D (3DS)
- Publisher: Nintendo
- Developer: Nintendo
- Ocarina of Time 3D Review (10/10)
"A remake actually worth making."
What we said: "Great art means different things to you at different points in your life. Ocarina of Time means something different to me now than it did 13 years ago. But the fact that it still has so much meaning is an affirmation of something I've long suspected: that this game is one of the greatest things that video games have ever achieved."
Lexx87 said: "An old classic that manages to stay fresh over a decade later, this remake is pure class. Gameplay that lasts through the ages and will never get old."
redcrayon said: "A remake actually worth making. The redrawn graphics and having the inventory on the touch-screen make this the definitive version for me. Loved it on the N64, love it even more now."
Mikeeeboy1 said: "2011 was certainly the year of HD remasters, with varying results - but nobody could argue with the return of one of the most critically acclaimed games of all time. Where the resurrection of other games of old could only muster an increased texture quality, Japanese developer Grezzo had the advantage of pushing Ocarina of Time into new dimensions thanks to the 3DS. And push it they did, with a resounding success that inspired many a lapsed gamer not to think twice about buying a 3DS just to roam Hyrule Field yet again."
johnnydude84 said: "Despite being a gamer since the NES days the Ocarina of Time has always passed me by. Upon playing it on my dusty 3DS I was able for the first time to understand what all the fuss was about, while finally seeing the potential of my expensive doorstop. It's not the best game I played this year but the game that justified my 3DS and allowed me to play what is essentially a gaming masterpiece."
31. RAGE (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
- Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
- Developer: id Software
- Rage Review (8/10)
What we said: "Judged on game design and content, it's slightly anachronistic, but as a toy box full of things you can only do in games, Rage is warm-hearted and refreshing. It's not going to change the world, but it does serve as a timely reminder of that other thing id Software games always did besides smashing through some new technological barrier. They made shooting things fun, and it's nice to have that back."
UKGN_Zoidberg said: "More than just a technical showcase, id Software's flair for level design shines through in Rage. By far the best FPS of the year."
dickothe1st said: "Old-school mechanics from an old-school developer that provided me with much refreshment from a stagnant industry. Linear, loud and focused entirely on what makes shooters so great: the guns. Oh, and gorgeous to boot."
orakio said: "Let the naysayers hold theirs! Rage is a fantastic showcase of what arcade FPS games should be like. You don't need realism to create a thrilling atmosphere and compelling gameplay where the kill itself brings more satisfaction than the completion of an area."
30. Total War: Shogun 2 (PC)
- Publisher: SEGA
- Developer: Creative Assembly
- Total War: Shogun 2 Review (9/10)
Did You Know? (Slash care?)
Shogun 2 developer The Creative Assembly is based 20 miles north of Eurogamer's Brighton HQ, but they are not the closest UK game developer to us. That honour is shared by Relentless Software (central Brighton) and several micro studios that tumbled out of the remains of Black Rock, who were about three minutes' walk from our previous office. (Cool story, bro!)
What we said: "Those expecting revelatory improvements in areas like AI may be mildly disappointed by Shogun 2. Those after a sumptious, weekend-whittling strategy epic heaving with flavour and challenge can reach for their uchi-bukuro with confidence. This is a corker."
Boki said: The attention to detail is amazing and the campaign is deep, with lots of customisation options and factions to play through. Then there is multiplayer and co-op mode. It speaks volumes of the game as a whole when the weakest part feels like the actual large-scale battles.
maxleonhart said: "In our day and age, when real-time strategy games are on life support, it is great to know that Creative Assembly is still taking care of fans of the genre. Even though the Japanese setting might not be for everyone, Shogun 2 is a magnificent game polished to the last helmet on your samurai's head."
glottis0 said: "They've made the same game every few years, but this time they finally perfected it. Just incredible."
29. inFamous 2 (PS3)
- Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
- Developer: Sucker Punch
- inFamous 2 Review (8/10)
What we said: "UGC aside, inFamous 2 is a great example of the iterative approach to sequels: it's driven by tweaks, fixes, and subtle refinements, and there's a sense throughout that the series is starting to come into focus. During its best moments, it feels like something we might have been given by the Assassin's Creed team if they'd grown up immersed in the works of Steve Ditko rather than Umberto Eco: a hard-edged pulp adventure where your tools are perfectly matched to your missions. If the original game gave Cole a purpose, this one provides a little personality to go with it."
Olemak said: "While this game was good rather than great, I played it to completion and then some. Can't say as much for many other games that have come out this year."
Epcotman said: "While Arkham City really nailed being Batman, inFamous 2 nailed having super powers - leaving you vulnerable enough to be scared but powerful enough for smart players to thrive with their new super-human status."
coomber said: "I would never have played this or the original inFamous if it hadn't been for the Sony hackers, so a big shout out to the cyber nerds. Cheers!"
28. Killzone 3 (PS3)
- Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
- Developer: Guerilla Games
- Killzone 3 Review (8/10)
What we said: "Killzone 3 is a powerful, impressive game that sets an imposing standard for Sony's 3D, Move-enabled future output; it's just a shame that in doing so, it's lost just a little of what made the series stand out in the first place."
zoweewowee said: "Superb visuals, solid gameplay, clever multiplayer... Killzone is still an outcast in the first-person shooter crowd, but its third iteration is nonetheless the best online shooting experience I had this year."
Killerbee said: "Despite the rivalry of BF3 and MW3, it was Killzone 3 that represented the best three-quel shooter in 2011. Proper co-op through the campaign, some of the finest game modes in MP (Warzone and Operations), great visuals and a unique feel. I loved it."
jefranklin18 said: "Not as good as Killzone 2, but add a Sharpshooter into the mix and release your inner child!"
27. Mass Effect 2 (PS3)
- Publisher: Electronic Arts
- Developer: BioWare
- Mass Effect 2 Review (10/10)
What we said: "Perhaps BioWare's greatest success in Mass Effect 2 has been taking a complex RPG and making it effortless to understand, play and enjoy on a constant basis, because it has done this in a manner that should prove utterly essential to veterans and newcomers alike."
Fletche said: "Not perfect, but an engaging game that will keep you playing until the end. The storyline is fantastic and keeps everything ticking over, so much so that you can forget any failings with the conversations."
retrological said: "I'm cheating here as I played this on Xbox 360 [released in 2010], but it was such an awesome experience I had to vote for it. Loved the dialogue, loved the renegade options, love FEMSHEP."
ShiftBreaker said: "Not only one of my favourite games of the year, but one of my favourite games of all time. Never before have I finished a game that lasted 50 hours then immediately gone through it again doing a lot of things differently. Twice. It was enough to encourage me to get the first game on 360, even though I can only play it when back home from university over the holidays."
Kangoo said: "So big in scope and developer ambition and such a rich universe. Can't think of another game that you want to start again the second you have finished. A game that is so much more than the sum of its parts. Can't wait for March to finish the story."
26. Rayman Origins (PS3, Xbox 360)
- Publisher: Ubisoft
- Developer: Ubisoft Montpelier
- Rayman Origins Review (8/10)
"Definitely this generation's platformer and the kind of game to make you fall in love with gaming all over again."
What we said: "Ubisoft Montpellier has indisputably crafted a delightful, playful, occasionally exhilarating platformer. But while this is a game whose visuals point to a bright, alternative future, its systems too often rely on the dusty past. Half of a classic, then."
UKGN_Zoidberg said: "Quite simply the best 2D platformer I've played since Super Mario World on the SNES. Brutally difficult but fair and utter gorgeous visuals."
Stefarooh said: "The most exquisitely beautiful game of 2011 also turns into my surprise game of the year with platforming fun that challenges Mario for his crown. Definitely this generation's platformer and the kind of game to make you fall in love with gaming all over again."
exenpipp said: "The smiling faces made my day every time. Which means I have plenty of good days to spare."
25. Bulletstorm (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
- Publisher: Electronic Arts
- Developer: Epic Games
- Bulletstorm Review (9/10)
What we said: "This is a game that wants you to laugh so hard that you sneeze on yourself, but it's also a game that wants you to experiment as much as possible with the tools you've been given. Its cleverness is as lightly worn as it is unexpected. It's the best kind of guilty pleasure."
JollyNiceSoup said: "The love child of Geometry Wars and Doom, Bulletstorm tied a compulsive score-chasing mechanic to a beautiful and inventive shooter. Plus it had the most creative use of swearwords since Malcolm Tucker."
43n1m4 said: "Besides the thunder and the roar of both visuals and sound, the sheer old-school fun you can have in this game makes it a must play. A skillfully produced shooter."
rivuzu said: "LEASH! KICK! SLIDE! LAUGH! SHOOT! LAUGH AGAIN!"
24. Crysis 2 (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
- Publisher: Electronic Arts
- Developer: Crytek
- Crysis 2 Review (8/10)
What we said: "The long road through the game, winding its way towards Central Park, lacks variation, but then it was never intended to be a Bond-style rollercoaster ride around diverse global tourist locations. Rather, this was always intended to be a game about a suit, and what that represents. In almost every way that matters then, Crysis 2 is dressed for success."
glottis0 said: "Most underrated game of the year I feel. The tactical freedom and sheer coolness of the suit made me prefer this to all the generic corridor shooters. Looked great with the DX11 patch on PC too."
jonc24 said: "There's been a lot of complaining and ranting about this game, whilst comparing it to Crysis 1, but it's the most enjoyable FPS I played this year by a mile. It's stunning to look at and encourages you devise your own plan of action to navigate a destroyed New York whilst experimenting with your range of powers. Great fun!"
CFacto said: "It gained good reviews, but I think this was the most underrated shooter of the year by players. The story was nonsense, but the graphics and both single-player and multiplayer gameplay were different and interesting. I had no more problem with lag than with any other online FPS."
xenon_md said: "Pew pew! Not on par with the scope of the first game but a very solid enjoyable romp."
23. Assassin's Creed: Revelations (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
- Publisher: Ubisoft
- Developer: Ubisoft Montreal and about 18 other studios
- Assassin's Creed: Revelations Review (7/10)
"A worthwhile game for the series."
What we said: "It's still fairly entertaining amid all its missteps, as the heart of Assassin's Creed perseveres to a degree. The disappointment is that Ubisoft is enamoured with its own glitter here, cramming Revelations so full of unnecessary adornments that there's not as much room for players to bring their own ingenuity and sense of adventure to the table."
LividCarrion said: "I always enjoy the Assassin's Creed games and although it was probably the weakest one in the series I still enjoyed the story and loved the ending."
Tiberius_Gracchus said: "The great unanswered questions surrounding this game make me want to play on and on. I would play 20 iterations of it, it's that good!"
blackpaladin105 said: "Though it's certainly not the best game in the series, the improved multiplayer and the satisfying conclusion to Ezio and Altair's stories makes this a worthwhile game for the series."
22. Saints Row: The Third (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
- Publisher: THQ
- Developer: Volition
- Saints Row: The Third Review (7/10)
What we said: "There are traces of that excess here, but they arrive too late and change the formula too little to really make a meaningful difference. It's still a cynical slice of dirty fun, but the most damning aspect of Saints Row: The Third is that where the all-important lulz are concerned, there's precious little here that you couldn't already do in Saints Row 2."
laserrule said: "Glorious again, but too restrictive on the customisation side to be true GOTY. But for player-orientated design it's a big yay."
ssuellid said: "It's an open world that you can spend hours just mucking around in and having a laugh. Mining a road and a couple of passersby with multiple remote sticky bombs that you can then fire off individually kept me entertained for hours. I've never seen a game allow you to do this before - normally its one remote bomb you can use at a time. Seeing the NPCs running around, alarmed and panicked, with a sticky bomb attached to them and the other NPCs trying to avoid them is just one of its many great touches. It's full of lovely little touches and laughs. The only thing I would like to add to it would be a Just Cause style grappling hook. 40 hours so far and I have not even touched the multiplayer yet. Simply the most fun I have had with a game for ages. Vehicles are good and wide ranging and the weapon variation is excellent. It's a shame that you cannot record a video in-game, but easily my best game of the year."
OllyJ said: "You had me at Cock Punch."
21. Dead Island (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
- Publisher: Deep Silver
- Developer: Techland
- Dead Island Review (6/10)
You've probably noticed that we like puns at Eurogamer, and we often use them as subtitles for our reviews and other articles. Here are some of our favourites of 2011:
- Halo Anniversary Review
Better than Halo?
- Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Review
- FIFA 12 Review
Kick me tender.
- Deus Ex: Human Revolution Review
Praxis makes perfect
- We Dare Review
What we said: "I suspect this will be one of those games that will be justifiably mocked by the majority for its many flaws but embraced by a forgiving minority, and passionately defended for its underdog status. Neither response will be entirely wrong. Much like gnawing on human flesh, Dead Island's clumsy horror-action role-player is the definition of an acquired taste."
Astrates said: "It looked great from trailers, it looked terrible from reviews, and in game it was mediocre in single-player. Then though, your two co-workers get it, two of them are brutes, zombie comes at them and BLAM he's down. I'm playing as a hack and slash kinda gal. I can take off limbs and see them damage in real time with every swing. For all its many problems, I haven't had as much fun in a co-op game in years. Gotta hand it to them, it was the co-op Dead Rising needed."
stryker1121 said: "A glitchy, goofy clusterf*** of a game that still manages to be one of the most out-and-out fun titles of 2011. Far-flung from the poignant CGI trailer everyone flipped over, what this wacked-out action RPG hybrid does well it does excellently, i.e. a weighty, visceral analog combat system that never gets boring even after 30 hours of play."
JayG said: "Not the game to play the week before you go to Crete. Too many flashbacks with endless decaying old flesh throwing itself at you. That umbrella was sooo tempting. Great game."
20. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
- Publisher: Activision
- Developer: Infinity Ward, Sledgehammer Games, Raven Software
- Modern Warfare 3 Review (8/10)
What we said: "Whatever next year's entry brings, some measure of reinvention will be essential. For now, its exuberant blend of testicular bravado and blockbuster gloss ensures that Call of Duty retains its crown as the shooter genre's biggest, boldest rollercoaster ride for at least one more year."
beatleben said: "Nice Tony Scott and Michael Bay storytelling with everything and the kitchen sink thrown in for luck!"
Chester said: "Multiplayer Kill Confirmed mode puts an end to Mr 'Ooo-look-at-me-hiding-up-here-cowardly-sniping-everyone' and forces him out of his cosy den to face reality. Not so cosy now, eh, Mr. Snipey-Snipey?"
robbo007 said: "Always provides a great few hours' gaming. I don't need a game to be realistic so this ticks all the boxes. The multiplayer is just an added bonus that makes it well worth 40 quid. One of the only games I buy on release day."
pipito said: "COD gets a lot of hate for being, well, COD, but this is a stunning crescendo for a series that deservedly is the best-selling game in the world. Incredibly intense and uncompromising single-player that revels in it's ultraviolent opulence and sociopathic monsters of main characters (arguably, the Ian Fleming of this day). Fun Spec Ops side missions and an addictive multiplayer. Infinity Ward still has it - let's see if they can still keep it."
ktwse said: "The AC/DC of video games. Not much has changed, but the fans don't really mind... Still, it does have the tightest single-player of the series, a brilliant co-op, and a multiplayer that might be more of the same yet manages to be slightly better."
19. FIFA 12 (PC, PS3, Wii, Xbox 360)
- Publisher: EA Sports
- Developer: EA Canada
- FIFA 12 Review (9/10)
We really liked PES this year, but for reasons largely of inertia the FIFA series remains the Eurogamer office's preferred lunchtime game. This year's instalment is particularly popular thanks to the new Impact Engine, which "realistically" models players' physical interactions, regularly sending them twirling through the air at impossible angles and velocities.
Eurogamer's top FIFA players and their general strategies:
- Wesley Yin-Poole - Never dives in and never takes short goal-kicks.
- Robert Purchese - Elaborate (some would say excessive) use of the right stick for jinking and pirouetting.
- Tom Bramwell - Lateral thinking and extreme violence.
What we said: "After playing FIFA 12, going back to previous entries in the series seems almost unimaginable. It's another step closer to reality, and this time it's a very welcome one."
dupplawt said: "Not many changes on the previous year's edition, but nonetheless keeps me entertained for hours. By no means the definitive football game, with bugs and glitches quite often seen, but the Career mode is unlike any other."
braydee89 said: "The new defensive system is much more involving, new online features seem to have reduced quitters. Player Impact Engine is hilarious."
smoothmunky said: "More of the same from FIFA this year. But that doesn't mean it's a bad thing. Not without its faults but if you're a fan of the beautiful game can't say this isn't the best representation of it yet. I'll still be playing this game in September while waiting for FIFA 13 to arrive."
wayneh said: "The introduction of tactical defending has really transformed this year's FIFA. Head to Head Seasons is superbly addictive and Ultimate Team is no longer a case of who has the quickest defenders wins the game."
18. Forza Motorsport 4 (Xbox 360)
- Publisher: Microsoft Studios
- Developer: Turn 10
- Forza Motorsport 4 Review (9/10)
What we said: "The series' steely heart has softened, revealing a game that's as exhaustive as it is exhilarating and that's now been infused with a little extra passion. Forza has always been a series to admire, but now it's a little easier to fall in love with it too."
Iliad said: "Wonderful visuals, gameplay and maintains 60 frames-per-second even with 16 online maniacs behind the wheel, plus the introduction of Rivals mode is far more addictive in friendly competition times than NFS's Autolog ever was."
lasersrule said: "The best 360 racer got a bit better, but a bit worse. Still, Rivals alone elevated it above the shortcomings and made for more heart-pumping racing with friends than I ever imagined possible."
MahtiK said: "Forza Motorsport 4 is the best car game in existence. Autovista is extremely impressive feature, if only it had more cars. The handling took an enormous leap from Forza 3 which took me by surprise. Driving is now hugely enjoyable."
FlamingCarrot said: "Great graphics and sound contribute to a very good game. More realistic AI would help as there's nothing better than other drivers totally losing it. Multiplayer is spoiled by rear-enders. Now make a dedicated 1960s F1 simulator like GP Legends."
17. ICO & Shadow of the Colossus Collection HD (PS3)
- Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
- Developer: Sony Computer Entertainment
- ICO & Shadow of the Colossus Collection HD Review (9/10)
What we said: "It's a lovely restoration job, and the kind of thing Ubisoft could learn a thing or two from. Beyond the joys of seeing the games sharper and less shaky, and in 3D if you've got the right telly, is the simple pleasure of having them on the same disc and the same loading menu, where you can flick back and forth between them and ponder the way that they fit together."
"More of this kind of thing please."
YobRenoops said: "These games were always on my 'must play at some point' list, but in playing Ico and Shadow of the Colossus in HD it shows how polarised the current gaming landscape has become. Between hardcore FPS boredom, MMOs and causal mobile games there is little room for just a wonderful experience."
Lalaland said: "Yay! Great games deserve respectful rereleases like this where the updating is restricted to locking in frame-rates and allowing the underlying art to shine. Any further and you're almost remaking the game and diluting the essence of what the title was."
OllyJ said: "More of this kind of thing please."
jasondonervan said: "Two of the greatest games from the previous generation reappeared in 2011 with a caring spit and polish that allowed them to shine brighter than ever. After the initial excitement that such a collection was in the works, concerns were raised that better textures and improved frame-rates would wipe clean some of the fragile charms of the Team Ico twosome. Thankfully, Bluepoint Games did a magnificent job - ensuring that both games continue to remain as relevant and exciting as they were upon their original releases."
upselo said: "Timeless classics now feel right at home on proper hardware to support them and make them shine. Holding Yorda's hand and clinging on a colossus' fur for dear life has not yet been bettered."
16. Super Mario 3D Land (3DS)
- Publisher: Nintendo
- Developer: Nintendo
- Super Mario 3D Land Review (9/10)
What we said: "You could wish for 3D Land to be a little more challenging in places, but you couldn't wish for it to be any denser, any more imaginative, or any more daring. Most importantly, you couldn't wish for it to be any more playful."
BIGsheep said: "It reaffirmed my faith in the plumber. Having thought he was coasting, playing it safe with New Super Mario Bros, this tour de force of his skills is reason enough to own a 3DS."
redcrayon said: "My favourite Mario platformer since Super Mario World. Short, sweet levels, ideal for a portable, and post-game content that is actually worth playing."
melatonin said: "Personally speaking, my favourite Mario game since... well, since Super Mario World, really. For all the superlatives gushed about the recent Galaxy games, this somehow managed to capture the spirit of what made the Mario titles all that they were in the nineties and bottle it up for a new generation. The fact that it's the clearest argument for 3D gaming to date is almost an afterthought."
axman303 said: "More ideas in each level than your average game has in its entirety."
15. Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii)
- Publisher: Nintendo
- Developer: Monolith Soft
- Xenoblade Chronicles Review (9/10)
The rules governing which games are permitted entry into the Top 50 have evolved over the years.
Back in the days of staggered releases - where a game would likely appear in the US or Japan months before Europe - we had to split hairs a lot more about this, and sometimes complicated matters by forgetting how we'd split them the previous year and making arbitrarily different decisions about the selection criteria, infuriating all the writers (sorry Kieron).
These days we just let you vote for anything released during the calendar year whatever the format, which allows for remakes, remasters and late ports like Mass Effect 2 on PS3.
All the same, we recognise that the rules behind these lists can be important to some readers, and we encourage anyone upset or otherwise adversely affected by our policy to direct their concerns to our editors at the following address: email@example.com.
What we said: "No Japanese RPG has more successfully married its various components this hardware generation. It's a game that invites us to reassess an entire genre, pointing to a bold future while nodding its respect towards the past. It's a towering triumph."
notorious_roy said: "In a time where developers try to push out as many graphical features as possible, Xenoblade shows us that an interesting art style is way more important. It also has one of the best battle systems of modern RPGs."
wez_316 said: "In my opinion Xenoblade Chronicles is the only JRPG to really shake things up since Final Fantasy XII. The combat is fantastic and manages to always keep you involved. In addition to the original and fluent combat that it embraces, the game still manages to cling on to all of the mainstay RPG qualities that this genre has always been famous for. It bucks the modern trend of diminishing depth and game length to deliver a lengthy, epic tale with just the right level of customisation and tweaking to keep you going back to those menu screens in between all of the action and exploration. Xenoblade is truly a fantastic game like no other released this year and a must for anyone who misses how console RPGs used to be."
Scrapper said: "This game proves that it is possible to make massive, ambitious RPG game worlds without crippling bugs."
14. Minecraft (PC)
- Publisher: Mojang
- Developer: Mojang
- Minecraft Review (10/10)
What we said: "Minecraft is a towering achievement in the very possibilities of gaming, and it does this without losing itself to either esoterica or cynicism. It is a game anyone can play and anyone can get something out of, no matter how skilled or imaginative they are. They will make something and they will have an experience that feels like theirs and theirs alone."
Lexx87 said: "It gives you the tools and a whole world to play with. All you need is some imagination to create your own game of 2011 right here."
riz23 said: "To me it's just a virtual Lego set and without direction I feel, well directionless. But for many of my friends this was huge timesink and I had to endure their stupid stories about how they built a portal to the underworld or a tower to the clouds so they could find their way home. That Notch bloke is kinda cool too."
Slim said: "Minecraft's a gaming mirror. It's as brilliant as you make it."
Robyrt said: "Minecraft represents the birth of a new genre, and the vindication of the publishing model everyone wanted. These things alone make it special. It is difficult to be objective about a game we have watched grow from infancy to adulthood, but its power and broad appeal are undeniable. Still, it can't quite decide whether it wants the player to grind for 10 hours - literally mining in a dark hole - before being worthy of all the fun stuff."
smoothmunky said: "There is no way we won't be talking about this game in 10 years' time. All of the other games that will make the list will be forgotten due to sequels and better games but Minecraft will still be in our minds. What it did for Indie games is incredible."
13. Bastion (PC, Xbox 360)
- Publisher: Warner Bros.
- Developer: Supergiant Games
- Bastion Review (8/10)
"You know what was missing from all these second sequels and closing trilogy chapters game developers threw at us over the year? Heart. Bastion has that in spades."
What we said: "Once the dust settles on The Kid's journey, you are still likely to want to return for another: listening out for deeper meaning in Rucks' narration, storming through previously tough areas with a meatier arsenal, soaking up details you didn't linger on previously. Any concerns you had are likely to be drowned out in wistful hindsight by the dazzling visuals, artful commentary and moving score that made up your adventure."
Move42 said: "You know what was missing from all these second sequels and closing trilogy chapters game developers threw at us over the year? Heart. Bastion has that in spades. What inhuman monster wasn't touched by the ending? Even more impressive was that beneath all the charm and cleverness lay a fun and surprisingly deep action RPG that will be remembered as a prime example of the special kind of content XBLA has to offer."
DjchunKfunK said: "This game is everything that a good downloadable title should be. It takes a classic premise and tweaks it by adding a wonderfully realised world that is brought to life through the eloquent tones of the narrator to give you a new and unique experience that would never have seen the light of day if we still worked under the system of retail only."
davebiglife said: "I've studied film, creative writing and game design and they all say 'show, don't tell'. Bastion relentlessly snubbed this rule and it made it one of the freshest game experiences of a year that was pretty pragmatic."
12. Dead Space 2 (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
- Publisher: Electronic Arts
- Developer: Visceral Games
- Dead Space 2 Review (9/10)
What we said: "Considered in isolation, Dead Space 2's ambience, brute frights and player toolset are good rather great. But in combination, these three elements prove as irresistible as the pull on Isaac exerted by a malfunctioning airlock."
kupocake said: "Tucked away at the beginning of the year, probably one of the year's most improved sequels. The part halfway through the game where you end up at a lonely outpost of the station was a brilliantly atmospheric moment, but just reminds you of how tediously relentless the rest of the game can be."
ollyn said: "Uncharted 3 and Gears 3 may be more recent in my memory but for me my third-person action title of the year had to go to Dead Space 2. It might not have been quite as scary as the first and lost the Event Horizon feel, but it had slicker combat and bigger set-pieces. Being launched out the top of a solar array and dodging debris on your way to the government sector is one of this year's most memorable gaming moments. The only problem with Dead Space 2 is that going the bigger-badder route, rather than sticking with survival-horror theme, only leaves itself one place to go and that is biggerer and badderer, and this can often end with games becoming just one giant set-piece after another and losing all impact in the process."
rashes said: "A very tight and polished piece of game design. Every room and corridor was carefully created. Every encounter was play-tested to perfection. And no game series spends as much time perfecting sound design as Dead Space. When I hear people say this game is not scary, I sincerely doubt they've played it with a Dolby headset!"
11. L.A. Noire (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
- Publisher: Rockstar Games
- Developer: Team Bondi
- L.A. Noire Review (8/10)
The wisdom of Cole Phelps
"Not everything will be relevant."
"How 'bout at the next junction you shut your trap?"
What we said: "L.A. Noire is slow but quietly engrossing; its mechanics are suspect, but you can't fault the ambition, attention to detail and commitment that went into its making. It risks stumbling over its own earnestness at times, but it's saved by its star - Los Angeles."
johnnydude84 said: "Innovative, if not perfect gameplay was very refreshing. Probably the most different AAA title since Heavy Rain and one that was well realised. I loved the setting and time period and I felt that this game got most things right for a thoroughly enjoyable experience."
evanac said: "An amazing adventure. Putting aside its troubled gestation, this game has excellent narrative, pushes technology in a new way and really pulled me in to its world. Who cares if you can't wander around the city? The cases are so compelling you don't even feel the need to!"
upselo said: "L.A. Noire keeps in mind the small details and the big picture. Each case shows a different aspect of 1947 Los Angeles, the hopes and dreams of its society, its dark side as well. Everything is brought together by the slowly emerging tale of Cole Phelps, the righteous cop troubled with guilt, making the story both personal and historical. A storyline confident enough to weave itself at its own pace, and ambitious enough to tell so much."
CFacto said: "The interview game mechanic was seriously flawed, but they made a decent game out of a new technology, and the story was quite interesting."
10. Gears of War 3 (Xbox 360)
- Publisher: Microsoft Studios
- Developer: Epic Games
- Gears of War 3 Review (8/10)
What we said: "So where do you go after 'bigger, better and more badass?' You go to your fans and give them that which they crave. But now Epic has surely exhausted the formula in its current form - and, probably, on current-gen - the really exciting question is: where next?"
duckmouth said: "The addition of dedicated servers for multiplayer is reason enough for this to be number one, but with Campaign (including four-player co-op), Arcade, Beast and Horde, plus the superb RAAM's Shadow, I'll be playing this well into 2012."
DUFFMAN5 said: "I have gone for Gears 3 due to the overall amount of content, and the fact that I have played it daily since release says a hell of a lot - especially bearing in mind I do not like the multiplayer side of 99 per cent of games."
dupplawt said: "Action-packed and the most vibrant in the Gears universe, with some nice gameplay additions and a surprisingly touching story... for a Gears game at least. Horde and Beast modes keep the game entertaining months after release."
Nova1977 said: "It was great, didn't try to emulate the bull**** of Call of Duty or Uncharted's script-heavy sequences. It knew what it was about: guns, blowing stuff up and bromance."
Syon said: "A final part in Fenix trilogy. More dramatic than ever before with the atmosphere of all lost hope for the humanity. A franchise that keeps the steam rolling on Xbox 360. Truly a great action game."
9. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii)
- Publisher: Nintendo
- Developer: Nintendo
- The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword Review (10/10)
"I get goosebumps every time I go back to it and start swinging the sword again."
What we said: "Skyward Sword feels like the Legend of Zelda game producer Eiji Aonuma always wanted to make. As director of Wind Waker and Twilight Princess, he first pushed against then tried to imitate the towering Ocarina of Time; now he is simply and confidently stepping away from its decade-long shadow."
dewington said: "I get goosebumps every time I go back to it and start swinging the sword again. Few games have their design so closely knitted with their controls, and Nintendo never fail to amaze with their ideas. It just feels incredible to play, and the art style is perfect."
DifferentClass said: "The only game I've played this year that was just magical. No other game plays quite like it due to the new control scheme yet it is also comfortably familiar. A triumph."
darkmark said: "The most incredible game I have played for a long, long time. It avoids being the stale repeat of Zelda clichés many wrote it off as, but is familiar enough to bring back countless childhood memories of past adventures with Link. Such a shame releasing at this stage of the Wii's life cycle mean many will miss out on what is a truly wondrous game."
redcrayon said: "Endlessly inventive, new puzzles around every corner, flying that actually captures the way birds move and motion-controlled swordfighting that actually works. Also the bright colour palette and mix of tone between the cheerful atmosphere of Skyloft and the darkness below makes it stand out amongst the fashionable relentless grimdark atmosphere of other releases. Brilliant."
8. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (PC)
- Publisher: Namco Bandai
- Developer: CD Projekt RED
- The Witcher 2 Review (9/10)
What we said: "The Witcher 2's opening ten hours are as impressive as they are clumsy, and a little patience is needed until the game hits its stride. What a stride, though. What bravery and gravity. With a little time investment, this game offers everything the fantasy genre can be."
maxleonhart said: "Even though Geralt is not free to roam the lands as he pleases, his adventures are expertly crafted and there is not a single flaw to this game except maybe the learning curve. If you care to be immersed into a world where every decision counts, be sure to check out this game."
Kris_bla said: "It was a great surprise to see The Witcher 2 becoming the best-looking RPG game in a decade! This game stands out from the crowd with its absolutely marvellous graphics, and I mean GORGEOUS. Just have a look how characters' clothing is done - masterpiece on its own. Besides graphics, it has got a great story and very gripping world that you just want to immerse yourself into. Moreover, one of the best antagonists ever presented in a video game. Well done CD Projekt Red!"
"If you care to be immersed into a world where every decision counts, be sure to check out this game."
Draden said: "A game that managed to improved upon its already impressive predecessor. Managed to fix the mistakes of the first game (sex cards...) without losing its charms of being a gritty and immersive experience. CD Projekt Red has also shown good after-release care with no charges for DLC and also seem to be one of the few developers/publishers with a good approach to the problems of DRM. Disappointed a bit by the lack of support on consoles with no PS3 version even announced and the Xbox 360 one coming so later after the PC release."
droshack said: "Plot, graphics, combat, details, dialogue, developer support, and obvious dedication to the core gamer made this summer fling turn into a winter's-long obsession. If not for Dark Souls the recent v2.0 would be taking all my gaming time."
7. Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (PS3)
- Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
- Developer: Naughty Dog
- Uncharted 3 Review (8/10)
Drake's on a plane!
With so many trailers released for this game (arguably to its detriment), we almost ran out of Uncharted puns this year. But not quite.
- Drake me higher.
- Drake a look at me now.
- Drake on me.
- Drake a break.
- Drake a good, hard look.
- Dune in.
On second thoughts, we definitely did run out.
What we said: "As a slice of one-view entertainment, Uncharted 3 is peerless. The execution exhibits a kind of workmanship and polish way beyond the ambition of most other developers, let alone their abilities or budgets. As an expression of all that a video game could be, however, Uncharted 3 is narrow, focused and ultimately shallow. It is a majestic tribute to cinema, a movie game in the literal sense, and your enjoyment will be in precise step with your appreciation of that objective - and whether or not you believe it to be Drake's great deception, or Drake's great delight."
Tiberius_Gracchus said: "Uncharted 2 was a hard act to follow but Naughty Dog somehow pulled it off. A thrilling ride from start to finish."
follioe23 said: "Epic adventure, brilliant set-pieces and beautiful environments. Scale and ambition of the highest order."
Ord said: "The return of Drake and company was enough for me really. Amazing characterisation, and an interesting story into what compels Drake to do what he does regardless of the dangers that his actions may cause to his loved ones. Graphically it's the pinnacle of what consoles can do right now and the set-pieces were astonishing."
spunkythefunkymunkey said: "The story is the best yet. The graphics are amazing. The environments are breathtaking and let's be honest it deserves GOTY just for that plane scene, absolutely amazing stuff."
6. Battlefield 3 (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
- Publisher: Electronic Arts
- Developer: DICE
- Battlefield 3 Review (8/10)
What we said: "If Battlefield was a superlative multiplayer game in previous incarnations, it's never been better than this. The maps are larger and more intricately designed. The customisation options have never been deeper, the unlock tree never so flexible and rewarding. Even on a console where the graphics suffer and control is slower, it's dangerously addictive stuff."
zegerman1942 said: "The best multiplayer online shooter delivers yet again. Great versatility, great maps, great progression system."
"Hands down the most incredible multiplayer experience of the year."
jasondonervan said: "The feeling that not only are you in the midst of a proper large-scale battle (on PC at least), but actively contributing to it in any number of varied methods available to the player makes BF3 a stellar multiplayer experience."
Gustave said: "The maps may have been made for 32 players and console but it's still Battlefield. More so now that Karkand is out."
Liamh said: "Hands down the most incredible multiplayer experience of the year and the signature 'Battlefield Moments' can be both breathtaking and hilarious in equal measure."
Lyserberg said: "Stunning graphics bringing next-gen technologies to the present, with highly appreciated console optimisation!"
5. Deus Ex: Human Revolution (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
- Publisher: Square Enix
- Developer: Eidos Montreal
- Deus Ex: Human Revolution Review (9/10)
What we said: "Deus Ex: Human Revolution is one of those rare games that knows you can't be perfect all the time, and that you have the right to change your mind about your actions later. It just wants to be played with and enjoyed - and when you finish, you just want to play with it again."
Jonny5Alive7 said: "Classic Deus Ex returns, loved the multiple routes through levels and hacking everybody's emails."
YobRenoops said: "Just a fantastic ride. It was really refreshing to not have to kill everyone and be actually be able to stealth it up. The most un-dudebro game of the year. Excellent."
Lalaland said: "A brilliantly done and respectful prequel that isn't afraid to offer ambiguity around your role. It's also a project that highlights the risks inherent to outsourcing. The immersion-breaking combat bosses show what happens when you hive off a chunk of development and don't keep that team in the loop on what you're trying to do."
kingbelly said: "Brilliant game that managed to live up to an unbelievable amount of hype. It has it all - an intriguing sci-fi world, a compelling storyline and a great mix of shooter, stealth and RPG gameplay. Demanded an immediate replay with a different character build, making it my game of the year."
superjag86 said: "What a surprise! I mean before it was released I resigned myself to thinking this was going to be a huge disappointment. But no! The devs at Eidos Montreal nailed it with a game worthy of its name. A true sequel to the original!"
4. Dark Souls (PS3, Xbox 360)
- Publisher: Namco Bandai
- Developer: From Software
- Dark Souls Review (9/10)
What we said: "If role-playing is to put you in the boots of an adventurer in a strange land and let you pick your path through it, then Dark Souls is a great role-playing game. If action is to test your skill in thrilling situations, then Dark Souls is a great action game. If adventure is to surprise and mystify you and invite you to uncover the secrets of a forgotten world, then Dark Souls is a great adventure game."
Ferral said: "Extremely difficult to master and an absolute blast to play. This one keeps pushing you to better yourself as a player in a hostile world. You are only human, each attack has to be considered carefully, whether to use that last bit of stamina to block and then back off or just to swing and hope it connects and finishes off the opponent. From Software is getting better and better at what it is doing in the worlds it's creating and the setting. You have to explore to get little bits of backstory."
Fletche said: "'Prepare to Die' says the blurb, but you may want to also prepare to have some of the most fun you can have with a game. Yes, it is hard, yes it will punish you, but it will also reward you as long as you learn, adjust and be patient. For once a game that will not hold your hand, will not help you, will not give you tips, markers or assistance. What it does do though is make you feel amazing when you finally defeat that boss that has been killing you over and over again. Not often in gaming do partners give you high-fives when you kill something."
"Best game of this generation."
BettySwallocks said: "Where has all my time gone, why am I dead again, look at the size of that thing, DUCK!!"
evanac said: "Just amazing. Easily the most immersive action-RPG I've ever played."
zoweewowee said: "Best game of this generation. It doesn't have the technical polish of an Uncharted 3 but it shines with a rock-solid, unforgiving but also incredibly rewarding gameplay, a challenging and fascinating world, it's an amazing gaming experience that only ends in darkness if you chose so."
riz23 said: "A game that instils fear and causes jubilation in equal measure. A game where you must think, where you must try different strategies. A remorseless unrepentant videogame like no other. A triumph! A true adventure."
DrDamn said: "The headlines are about the difficulty, but the real star here is the incredible world design."
3. Batman: Arkham City (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
- Publisher: Warner Bros.
- Developer: Rocksteady Studios
- Batman: Arkham City Review (9/10)
What we said: "Is it over? Unlikely. Rocksteady's latest certainly knows how to drop the curtain, but it feels like a dark second act or the middle section of a trilogy. If that's the case, it's tantalisingly tricky to figure out what the studio can do next."
JedEvangelion said: "Pretty perfect and almost embarrassingly too grand in scope. Even when your main Bat adventure is done, even when you've locked away every last lunatic and solved every one of the Riddler's puzzles, there's still months of content in the Challenge missions, enough to ensure you'll always be able to say 'I'm Batman' whenever you want."
Samirnasirov said: "So perfectly paced I couldn't stop playing until I had finished the game twice and completed all of the challenge rooms. Being a massive batman fan also helped."
VashNL said: "The combat, the story, the looks and the atmosphere, everything is just right. Joker is crazy as hell, which also helps."
"Best comic book hero game ever."
JamieR said: "Near perfect game, best comic book hero game ever."
lucky_jim said: "I'd say this year was characterised by refinement and improvement rather than anything too groundbreaking, and nobody managed to refine and improve better than Rocksteady. Best superhero game of all time, without a doubt (and I'm old enough to remember The Caped Crusader on the Spectrum)."
BOBBYLUPO said: "Bigger. Better. More Bat-like. Arkham City did everything a decent sequel should. My only complaint is that Rocksteady seemed determined to cram everyone Batman has ever talked to into the game. Still, over-ambition is hardly a crime when the end result is something as self-assured, brilliant and fun as this."
2. Portal 2 (PC, Mac, PS3, Xbox 360)
- Publisher: Valve
- Developer: Valve
- Portal 2 Review (10/10)
As you may have seen elsewhere, the writers named Portal 2 our Game of the Year for 2011, and you obviously loved it too. However, your enthusiasm was tempered somewhat in a few cases...
Khari's Portal 2 comment: "Not quite as magical as the original, but still a masterpiece from Valve. WHERE IS HALF-LIFE 3 THOUGH YOU BASTARDS?"
connos' Portal 2 comment: "Valve has done again. it created an unforgeable experience. Where is Half-Life 3?"
Quige's Portal 2 comment: "Excellent humour, puzzles and a fun non-violent co-op mode, which I could play through with my 10-year-old daughter. I still want Half-Life 3, however, Valve - get on with it for God's sake!"
They were not the only ones.
What we said: "Portal is perfect. Portal 2 is not. It's something better than that. It's human: hot-blooded, silly, poignant, irreverent, base, ingenious and loving. It's never less than a pure video game, but it's often more, and it will no doubt stand as one of the best entertainments in any medium at the end of this year. It's a masterpiece."
Vortex808 said: "It seems like a long time ago, but I really enjoyed this. A great head-scratcher of a game and very funny to boot. An utter delight to play from start to finish and then through all the co-op too!"
Baleoce said: "Beautifully crafted. Superior to the original in every way, which was a very tough act to follow."
davebiglife said: "Portal may have been tighter and more coherent, but Portal 2 didn't have the luxury of being one bowl in a larger tapas. It may have been easier, but that gave it momentum, and it may have had less GLaDOS, but that allowed Wheatley to shine. Every argument I've heard against it has always had a perfectly justified and equally valid retort. Genuinely, one of my finest game experiences."
Popzeus said: "The first properly laugh-out-loud funny game since Day of the Tentacle, and lovingly crafted from start to finish."
Chufty said: "The environments are breathtaking. The art direction is world class. The script is hilarious; the delivery, sublime. Pixar would be proud of the animations and Atlas and P-body have more personality than any human videogame protagonist. There's no two ways about it - this game is a masterpiece."
Rabbinash said: "Speedy thing goes in, speedy thing goes straight to the top of this list."
1. The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
- Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
- Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
- Skyrim Review (10/10)
What we said: "In weaving together the extraordinary craftsmanship evident in the music, storytelling, adventure and world design of Skyrim, Bethesda has created a very special game indeed - one that's likely to remain in the affections of gamers for many years to come."
jonfon said: "For the sheer scope of the whole thing. It drops you into a beautiful virtual world, gives you a few leads and then you can do whatever the hell you like."
Thanks to everyone who voted
We had a lot of fun putting this feature together for you and we hope you enjoyed it. If you've made it this far, we just want to say thanks for voting, thanks for reading, and Happy New Year. We do all this rubbish for you. Hugs!
darklemonily said: "Over the last year I turned into a bit of a Trophy whore. 80 hours in, haven't looked at the Trophy list once. Don't care. I just want to do everything for the sake of doing everything."
cjblackburn said: "Best game in a long time. Sure there are bugs but I have never put this many hours into a game so quickly."
Lexx87 said: "What else? Despite bugs and patch issues, news stories and the usual rage that GAMES ARE NOT PERFECT RAGH, Skyrim still manages to stand above everything else this year. The simple joy of exploring the world, the sheer number of places to go and things to do that somehow keep from going stale. It's a triumph, simple as that."
dudefella said: "I met a stray dog whilst traveling who decided to accompany me. Then he died, and I was very sad."
Move42 said: "I've slain dragons, murdered priests, robbed hidden graves. I climbed the seven thousand steps to the top of the world, I became a master thief, a mercenary and a werewolf. I've bought a house, joined a rebellion and discovered a conspiracy involving a prisoned king. And still I've only scratched the surface of all the content the crazy people at Bethesda put in their game. Game of the year, no doubt about it."
Stranded87 said: "I've always been a fan of games that tell a good story, but Skyrim is one of the few that lets you create your own stories. It's not a perfect game but for the sheer amount of content and the evident care and attention that's gone into it this is my game of the year."
Chamone said: "I used to play other games like you, but then I took an arrow to the knee."
Dec 31, 2011
Was 2011 a great year for gaming or wasn't it? Regardless of where you stand on that particular debate, it's been responsible for some of the medium's finest efforts. Going through our Games of 2011 has provided some heartening reading, and the likes of Bastion, Quarrel and Clash of Heroes HD go to show that when it comes to "Actual New Games" we've had our fair share over the last 12 months.
But it's the sequels and new instalments in long-running series that have, perhaps predictably, taken the limelight, and they've presented fascinating insights into how different developers approach the sometimes sticky business of iteration. Eidos Montreal pulled off a commendable balancing act with Deus Ex: Human Revolution, managing to replicate the 1999 original while offering an entirely new vision, while Nintendo once again revived and renewed its two most well-worn mascots with the dizzying one-two punch of Super Mario 3D Land and Skyward Sword.
Elsewhere, Dark Souls spread the punishing formula of its predecessor over a wider, more intricate world - and Skyrim trumped its own forebears by creating the most sumptuous and expansive world that the Elder Scrolls have ever unfurled in.
But our own game of the year was the only one blunt enough to carry its sequel status on its sleeve - though the game in question was bold enough to tinker with the very idea of what a sequel can be. And it had to really - what emerged from the test chambers the first time around flew close to perfection, a brilliantly judged and refreshingly small slice of first-person puzzling. Following that up felt like madness, but the result was a giddy and intoxicating madness that was the work of an undoubtedly special developer.
And so, for the third time in the 12-year history of Eurogamer, the honours go to Valve for Portal 2, our Game of the Year 2011.
The Courtesy Call
Tom Bramwell made the step up to become Eurogamer's operations director this year, but that didn't stop him from reviewing the likes of Rage, Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Need for Speed: The Run. Because it can't be fun times every day.
"When I look back at this year, the thing I can't help but fixate upon is that some of the magic has disappeared from gaming," says Tom, "Less than a decade ago, Half-Life 2 was able to introduce revelatory new graphics, physics, AI and narrative (remember the scene where you play catch with Dog?) all in the space of one game. These days, I rarely get the same feeling of staring at a new dawn as I once did peering across the oppressive landscape of City 17. Inventing new genres and revolutionising existing ones has grown so much harder that few have the budget or talent for it.
"There are a few exceptions, however, and Valve is perhaps the most obvious and - thanks to Steam - likely to be the most enduring. One of perhaps only two massive studios to Never Make A Bad Game (the other one is Blizzard), the Seattle developer hasn't released anything with quite the same impact as Half-Life 2 since 2004, but it has gotten better at what it does with every release, whether that was telling a story in Portal, making a competitive game entertaining for everyone in Team Fortress 2 or getting complete strangers to have enormous fun working together in Left 4 Dead.
"Portal 2 is almost boringly brilliant at times. It tells a story with a clear beginning, middle and end, it makes you angry and happy and sad and it makes you laugh out loud, it conveys increasingly complex gameplay ideas without confusing you, and of course you never look the wrong way. What I particularly like about it though is that it tells you pretty much everything you could want to know about the Portal facility and its history, but it remains mysterious and interesting beyond its magnificent final sequences. (And I haven't even tried the co-op, which is supposedly amazing).
"When I finished Portal, I remember thinking that it was admirable in that day and age to make a game that wasn't designed to be a multi-game series or, ugh, a "franchise". It was a complete game. It seems weird to say it about a sequel that seemed so unnecessary until around a year ago, but Portal 2 is much the same. The great thing that both situations have in common is that you know, should Valve one day return to Aperture Science, it will be worth the wait. Portal and Portal 2 are the first games in the same series to both claim Eurogamer's Game of the Year, but I doubt they will be the last games made by this wonderful developer to do so."
Christian Donlan is engaged in a vicious duel to the death with Simon Parkin for the title of 'nicest man in videogames', yet he still finds time to write lovely things about games such as Super Mario 3D Land and Animal Crossing.
"The puzzles were great," snarls Christian, "but I mainly love Portal 2 because of Aperture Science, a place where hubris has brought brilliant men to their knees, and corporate euphemism has evolved into something truly ghastly. Vast, echoing, and capable of endlessly resculpting itself, it's a weirdly convincing glimpse into a post-human future: part CERN installation, part nuclear bunker, and part Ikea warehouse. It has the best Really Big Doors I've ever seen in a game, and its air of expensive desolation seems like a good fit for a world still reeling from the bizarre collapse of the bond market.
"I read Michael Lewis's excellent book The Big Short recently, which explores the insane and cynical decisions that led to the financial crisis, and the characters and the terminology all reminded me of Aperture Science. If anybody's ever going to make a great game about mortgage-backed securities and credit default swaps, it's probably going to be Valve. And it's probably going to have GLaDOS in it."
"I laughed," laughed Oli, "I laughed at the self-aware, silly wit of "Press Space to Speak". I laughed at the balletic, multidimensional slapstick set-pieces of co-op. I laughed when I followed a tangled thread of logic through to a spectacular stunt, like dropping a river of goo from the sky by switching off a tractor beam - amazed and gleeful at the wordless cunning the designers had shared with me. I laughed at the squabbling voices in my head and the animated tics of the psychotic robotics. I laughed at the moon.
"I laughed because I was really enjoying myself. The original game was an ascetic taskmaster, but this long and loving sequel reinvented itself as the consummate great entertainer. There were more intricate, expansive, innovative or all-consuming games this year. There were even more sophisticated ones. But I don't think any others, not even the great Nintendo comebacks, dared to be this much fun."
Simon Parkin is most probably better at Street Fighter than you. He's also quite good at unearthing fascinating untold stories in gaming.
"It's gaming's oldest trick: the mute protagonist, allowing us to project our own thoughts, words and humanity onto the blank slate avatar," says Simon, "But Portal 2's silent heroine Chell invites us to identify with her in deeper ways. She is the white-collar worker in all of us, awakened to the corrupt, abusive system in which she operates in the first Portal, before raging against that machine in this sequel.
"That her weaponry is wits, not bullets, places her closer to us still. She relates to our menial desk jobs better than any Gordon Freeman or Master Chief ever could. Those armoured warriors are metaphors for our night fantasies, gung-ho heroes who shoot first and ask questions never, thoughtless yet cathartic lightening rods for our daily frustrations.
"Chell, meanwhile, is our daytime fantasy, sticking it to the man with silent, determined quick-wittedness, watching the perverse system crash down about her as she prods at it, not content till the entire corrupt operation has been sucked into space, the void where it belongs.
"Fitting, perhaps, that Portal 2 should be game of the year in which the financial systems of our world collapse about us, silent Guy Fawkes protestors staging sit-ins as the GlaDOS's of our world lurk unseen. Portal 2 is a comedy, for sure, but it is a black one. Wheatley and GLaDOS are two sides of the same, inhumane system, wooing us with their empty promises and cheeky witticisms like so many bank adverts. But beneath the jokes and smiles, these are monsters that want to destroy us. We understand that now.
"Chell allows us to turn the tables, not with guns or flames, but with portals that allow us to turn the system's anger against itself, deflecting it away from us to its point of dastardly origin. In that way, Portal 2's catharsis (and what is a video game if not catharsis written in zeroes and ones) is so much deeper and more satisfying than the adolescent rage of so many first person shooters.
The writing is smarter than any other video game, and the puzzles enjoy a clockwork wonder that allows us all to feel special, smart. But Portal 2's true appeal is in allowing us all to take down our personal Aperture Science Labs, to taste the justice that we all crave. In this way, Portal 2 occupied 2012's hearts more than any other."
Kristan Reed created numerous different personas so he could vote for Dark Souls over a thousand times as we rounded-up our games of 2011. Martin voted for Portal 2 a thousand and one times. Sorry Kristan.
"When you've spent most of your year wading hip deep in hundreds of indie downloads or trying to provoke your own mental demise in the bleak depths of Dark Soul, it's tough to find time to play much else," writes Kristan.
"But it would have be akin to prolonged self-harm to deny oneself the velvety goodness offered by a few days in the company of the spring fresh Portal 2. When games emerge with unceasing creativity, it's actually quite depressing in its own way, because it sets the kind of standard that few things can ever live up to.
"From the moment Stephen Merchant's rascally West Country tones cajole you to your senses inside a bland hotel room, there's a dark playfulness to Portal 2 that never lets you off the hook. But more importantly - to my mind - is the proof that games can be witty, crafted, knowing. Portal 2 felt like a clear statement of intent about the kind of quality level that gaming narrative should be attaining, but so rarely does.
"If Merchant's off-the-cuff delivery feels spontaneous, unplanned, lucky, then you're probably on the money. But remember, this is also Valve we're talking about - a developer that frets on and analyses every tiny decision it makes. Nothing went into Portal 2 without a level of care, craft and attention to detail bordering on obsessive, and that's a large part of why it's so unfailingly enjoyable.
"Even when the game's trying to break your brain with indecent puzzle proposals, there's always an elegant solution staring you right in the face. Giving up is never an option. The fact that Valve manages to flesh out an already genius concept in so many surprising directions is also a measure of what we're dealing with here. And who seriously thought the co-op mode would turn out as well as it did? Not me.
"The problem with something this good is that you race to the end because you're loving it so much, and then curse its conclusion in the knowledge that you won't have this much concentrated fun for a long time."
"Portal 2 wasn't my most anticipated title of 2011," Dan recalls, "It was my most dreaded. I loved the first game so much, and yet everything I loved about it was precisely the sort of thing that couldn't work a second time around. Small and perfectly formed, the genius of Portal was inextricably linked to its unassuming nature. In particular, the way the story crept up on you so that by the time you realised you were actually part of a pitch black comedy adventure, you were also three quarters of the way through a superb puzzle game.
"The news that this delicate idea was to be expanded into a longer game, with new abilities, and a robot sidekick, and multiplayer...ugh, it gave me shivers. I wanted to trust Valve, but couldn't see how even one of the greatest studios around could inflate such a beautiful little trinket without making it gaudy and obvious. Shows how much I know. Portal 2 may have lacked the surprise punch of 2007, but it was funnier, smarter and found dozens of ways to fill its playing time without resorting to meaningless padding. And, clearly, that's why Valve actually makes games, while I just blab on about them on the internet."
Dec 30, 2011
Thanks to quirks of the calendar and the narrowing technological gap between the devices in our pockets and those lingering under our TVs, the latest instalment of the Uncharted action-adventure series arrives barely two months after we reviewed the last one, Drake's Deception, and doesn't look all that different. Even by the Call of Duty-regurgitating, never-knowingly-not-a-sequel standards of the modern video games industry, that's an impressive rate of iteration.
The difference, of course, is that Uncharted: Golden Abyss is one of the first games to be released for PlayStation Vita, and while the timing is perhaps unfortunate - even when Vita reaches Europe in late February, Drake's Deception will be barely four months old - you can understand the choice of talisman. If anybody is going to convince sceptical gamers that Sony's new handheld can deliver premium-quality gaming on the go, then surely it is Nathan Drake.
With original developer Naughty Dog sticking to the PS3 for the time being, Drake's latest fate is thrust into the hands of Sony's Bend Studio, and the team best known for the Syphon Filter games proves a fastidious steward, carefully ticking all the right boxes over the game's six-to-eight hour lifespan. There's a reluctant love interest, double crosses, fossils and relics galore, and an ancient city of gold to be found by jumping, shooting and dangling through jungles and ruins across South America.
The dual-stick controls are new to handhelds but familiar to every console owner since PlayStation 2, and although the symbol and shoulder buttons are micro-switched rather than analogue (meaning you click them rather than depressing by degrees) that doesn't make much difference here, so the experience of controlling Drake is immediately comfortable and intuitive.
Drake's range of actions is much the same too. He jogs around, jumps heroically across ravines as required, and moves smoothly over rock faces, vines and walls between convenient networks of recessed handholds. When he comes across enemies - Uncharted games are always infested with identikit hired goons with little to differentiate them, and Golden Abyss is no exception - he can either hide from view and use stealth attacks to incapacitate them, or use cover-based third-person shooting to wipe them all out.
"For perhaps the first time, this is an Uncharted adventure you may replay to find things you missed."
Golden Abyss is even faithful to its predecessors' eccentricities, which are both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand it means that if a guard spots you - even if you eliminate him before he can say anything - then everyone in the vicinity will be aware of your location and reinforcements will appear from nowhere, hurling grenades with unerring accuracy to flush you into the open. On the other hand, it means that you can knock someone out in plain view of another guard's patrol route and he won't bat an eyelid, which is actually as useful as it is stupid.
In other areas, however, Golden Abyss is forced to deviate from its master's script. Vita is no slouch visually, allowing the developers to frame Drake in the vast and evocative comfort of twinkling chasms, mountains, rainforests and forgotten civilisations as he shimmies across a ledge or hangs from a creaky old beam, but it can't hope to match the extraordinary technical accomplishments of the plane sequence in Drake's Deception or Uncharted 2's ice caves. Nor does the engine seem quite so comfortable with moving parts, slowing to a chug with half a dozen enemies on screen in a complex location, and the pool of different environments is shallow.
As a result, the extremely heavy scripting of the last PS3 game - which rarely allowed you to probe beyond the borders of the carefully managed visual effects spectacle to which you were party - is generally absent. The developers' compromise has been to highlight usable handholds, ropes and other means of progression with a shimmer of light and a lick of gold paint, which is a more traditional means of guiding your progress, but one that leaves you free to pick your own way through your surroundings and - gasp - even explore!
Sony Bend has also been tempted (or perhaps bludgeoned) into embracing the Vita's touch-screen and rear touch panel, but it has generally been careful not to replace any expected and understood functionality with novelty waggles and gestures. So while you can drag your finger across a sequence of ledges for Drake to then scramble across, this remains optional (an option I generally exercised when I needed to scratch my nose, incidentally). The big exception is stealth takedowns and melee fights, which must be performed with a touch-screen tap, but this proves just as comfortable as hitting a button.
Instead - perhaps aware that gamers suddenly freed to wander around may actually do so - the developers have injected the majority of the mandatory new-fangled control ideas into the margins of a world we never previously explored. So now, in addition to occasionally picking up glittering relics in nooks and crannies, Drake can also collect charcoal rubbings (rubbed out on the touch-screen), slice through bamboo (using your finger as a machete) and generally rotate, drag and wipe anything he finds lying around.
When can I play Uncharted Vita?
Uncharted: Golden Abyss will be released in Europe alongside PlayStation Vita on 22nd February 2012, so you can play it then.
If you absolutely cannot wait, you can import a Japanese Vita and Uncharted from various places online. The system can be set to English language during initial setup, and Uncharted is completely in English (menus, voiceovers, everything) after you do this.
Vita is also region-free, which is handy, but unlike PS3 it is bound to a single PlayStation Network ID, so if you use your existing account you won't be able to buy content online until February when the European store opens.
The alternative is to set up a Japanese account (trivial using guides on YouTube) and buy stuff on the store using pre-paid PSN cards (available from the likes of Play-Asia.com), but you will be stuck with the Japanese Store after that unless you wipe your machine, losing any save games in the process. Content cannot be transferred from one PSN account to another.
Look out for our full PlayStation Vita Hardware Review very soon.
You're also on the lookout for a selection of picturesque views to capture with Drake's camera, which uses a mixture of buttons, gyroscope and god knows what else to orientate itself. It's all basic stuff, and the environments aren't exactly open-world, but the inclusion of little hidden paths and diversions and the use of unusual control methods inject welcome variation into a previously repetitive formula. For perhaps the first time, this is an Uncharted adventure you may replay to find things you missed.
The idea is that all this exploring also helps flesh out the mythology behind Drake's latest quest, but in truth Golden Abyss feels weakest when it gets caught up in its confusing blend of rumours and legends, leaving you to zone out during its dense expository lectures. (At least you can concentrate on trying to tap the shiny objects that lurk in the background while Drake drones on about maps and Spaniards, because now you can even collect treasure during cut-scenes.)
The story is much better when it sticks to the likable characters and their motives rather than the history lessons, and it generally improves the longer the game continues, although the standard of writing varies from touching peaks to some things that probably ought to have been cut (most notably a long-running "that's what she said" joke sequence during a boat ride into the jungle). Uncharted: Golden Abyss was never likely to match its home console relatives for scale and spectacle, so it's a shame it does only a fair job of emulating the tone and balance of Naughty Dog's writers in an area where it could have been extremely competitive.
And while Golden Abyss is more relaxed about player agency than its predecessors, this is still never a difficult game, nor one that leaves you much to figure out. Drake's journal began life in this series as a tool you needed to examine and decipher in order to make progress, but has since been demoted, and in Golden Abyss it's largely a means of counting your winnings and making sure you haven't missed any photo opportunities. It's not really Sony Bend's job to stop this dumbing down, of course, but equally that doesn't mean it should go unacknowledged.
We shouldn't be too harsh on Sony Bend, however, because for the vast majority of the time, Golden Abyss is a cleverly constructed game that more than justifies its addition to a series already lathered in superlatives. While the absence of multiplayer means it won't last you as long as previous instalments, new control options have allowed the developers to line the seams of Drake's adventure with flashy tassels and detailing that make for a varied and entertaining outing - perhaps even more so than its big brothers. At the very least, that should solidify Sony Bend's reputation as a trustworthy custodian for PlayStation's growing pile of first-party treasures.
Dec 30, 2011
So what's your favourite Christmas game? One you played at yuletide, rather than actually based on the festive season, that is. You have one, naturally. All gamers do.
The reasons are clear enough: 'tis the season to get games and consoles all wrapped up under the fake plastic tree, and 'tis generally the one time of year when the To Do list for every day is "Sweet FA".
For kids, the summer holiday may seem to stretch endlessly into an unimaginable future, but it's more likely to be spent outdoors, setting fire to things, shoplifting and suchlike; plus the games you really want aren't usually out until the weather turns blue and the afternoons go black.
I have very few detailed memories of my childhood - other than, strikingly, what games I was playing over the various Christmases of my youth. What makes games particularly wonderful in the winter months over other entertainment media (except novels, but then they've always had rubbish graphics) is how deeply you can submerge yourself in their world.
Christmas '89 was Ocean's Batman The Movie on Amiga, the computer itself memorably packaged in a cardboard sleeve with the Dark Knight's logo emblazoned on it, the game itself wowing before I'd even started playing, with its thrilling title screen exchange: "'What are you?!' 'I'm Batman'."
My best gaming Christmases, though, were sponsored by Nintendo. Super Mario World in '91 (Yoshi!); Super Mario Kart in '92 (That first race around Rainbow Road); Donkey Kong 64 in '99 (Will this game ever bloody end?).
But no series has consumed me more utterly over that period from Queen's Speech to Auld Lang Syne and out into a differently-numbered dawn than The Legend Of Zelda.
Link's Awakening (Christmas '93), was a quiet, compact revelation. Aged 15, I probably should have been sat in a snow-capped bus shelter sniffing glue; instead I was glued to a tiny monochrome screen.
Ocarina Of Time ('98), meanwhile, speaks for itself. But, the sad fact is, I can't remember having an amazing Christmas game since. Sure, I've played games every 'holiday season' since, but, due to commitments of one form or another, the festive gaming marathon has become a forgotten ritual.
Which is why this year I'm on a mission to rediscover the true meaning of Christmas: sitting alone in underpants playing a single game for days on end. And there can be no better game for this purpose than Skyward Sword, my long-lost Link, if you will, to the past.
I've already put in around 25 hours in fits-and-starts, which has proved more than sufficient to rank it high in my list of games of the year. But Link's quest is far from over.
And with Christmas comes the prospect of completing the adventure at my leisure, exploring every square inch above and below the clouds, tying up side quests, catching bugs, and generally wallowing in the experience.
For a game releasing in the twilight of the life of a console whose games already looked dated when it launched five years ago, Skyward Sword has moments of real beauty.
The huge areas are often teeming with life and cute incidental detail; characters are delightfully idiosyncratic in design, and the Wii's relative lack of fidelity is compensated for magnificently over distances, as environments blur-over impressionistically before sharpening into view.
It doesn't matter that it doesn't look as good as Uncharted: Nintendo's artists have to work harder to impress, but the results are up there with the very best Wii has to offer.
Speaking of Uncharted, earlier this month Naughty Dog sparked a fiery and important debate over the quality of storytelling in video games.
Singled out for criticism were game makers' tendency towards "quantity over quality" and a focus on scenarios over characters. Clearly, the carefully scripted, performance-captured, big-screen heroics of Nathan Drake are a world away from the idealistic cartoon simplicity of Link and Zelda.
And yet, while Nintendo is more interested in deploying archetypes at the service of the adventure than exploring complex personalities, Skyward Sword's characters feel more rounded than they ought to through clever visual storytelling.
The prologue, for example, is a touchingly restrained account of the yearning and shyness of young love, with a blushing, tongue-tied hero, an assertive, gently-teasing heroine, and an oafish, boastful rival (the brilliantly jock-ish Groose).
Meanwhile, as limited and self-consciously daft as your dialogue with incidental characters is throughout, as always in Zelda the quirky cast provides a consoling continuity in those moments of respite between dungeons.
In short, it's a world you can believe in and lose yourself in (and, really, I wouldn't mind living in, as long as I had a nice wooden cabin within easy reach of Fun Fun Island).
These bits are only fully appreciated, though, when the central action is truly captivating. And on that score, Skyward Sword is as good as any Zelda.
Notably, there's none of the aimless meandering that for some plagued Twilight Princess. The areas en route to the big dungeons are intricately designed environmental puzzles in themselves, only occasionally let down by falling back on the old "find these three things" formula.
Even the sections immediately post-dungeon have been given considerable thought and attention, the exit from Lanayru Mining Facility a particular standout sequence, serving no real purpose other than to inspire awe.
Really, though, Skyward Sword is all about the controls. It's depressing in a way that it's taken Nintendo this long to release a gamers' game that powerfully makes the case for motion control. (Which, to be fair, is one more than either Microsoft or Sony has managed.)
Are the MotionPlus controls foolproof? Definitely not; and for that reason alone, I can perfectly understand why some will never warm to game that lacks the reassurance of a conventional control scheme.
But I'm more than prepared to forgive the occasional wild glitch and the regular need to 'center', for the enlivening cut and thrust of sword fighting and the brilliance with which it's been worked into the game.
Now, almost every encounter is tinged with an element of uncertainty, requiring your absolute attention, rather than idle, semi-comatose button-bashing.
The ultimate pay-off comes in the boss fights, easily some of the best of the series. The need to stab and swipe with accuracy results in fabulously intense, stressful encounters - on one occasion, reducing me to a shaking, gasping, sweating wreck after barely scraping through with a sliver of remaining health.
Even items as straightforward as the Beetle and the Gust Bellows become a delight to use thanks to the responsiveness of the controls, though some - like the frustrating net and the oddly flappy harp - show not everything is better with MotionPlus.
From the time I've spent with it so far, then, Skyward Sword is by no means perfect, but it's more engaging, charming, exciting and rewarding than most other games I've played this year - or any other year.
And it is my perfect Christmas game because it captures the mood of the season: celebratory, nostalgic, warm-hearted, sentimental, unhurried. All the things which, the older I get, the more I find myself mawkishly cleaving to.
Now, if you don't mind: do not disturb till Jan 2nd (gaming in progress).
Dec 30, 2011
Xenoblade Chronicles isn't the best-made game released this year. It's not quite my personal favourite, either. It's not the greatest role-playing game in what was surely a banner year for the genre; nor is it the most exciting new game from Japan or the most welcome comeback. It's not even the best Wii game of 2011. But it was something none of those games were: a lovely surprise.
We should have known better. It had been well received on its domestic release last year. So was it xenophobia that had led us to disregard the Japanese RPG's capacity for invention? Was it elitism that had written off the Wii as anything other than a home for curios, snack gaming and the occasional, dutiful prestige Nintendo release? No, it was bitter experience. The same experience that told us not to expect a game like Xenoblade to ever make its way to Europe, never mind releasing here before North America (where it will see the light of day next year) or selling out when it did so.
Unheralded (except by the fans who campaigned for its release), unsullied by hype, unburdened by expectation, Xenoblade Chronicles was a gift. And when you popped it in the machine, it was the gift that kept on giving.
Few games this year have been so faultlessly generous. It's a huge game and absolutely stuffed with collectables, side-quests and distractions, a teeming to-do list to rival a modern MMO. And in its later stages, where many single-player RPGs start to wear thin - or at least, start to narrow back down toward some climactic confrontation, leaving their other threads flapping aimlessly in the breeze - Xenoblade Chronicles establishes an end-game that may end up meaning more to you than its typically melodramatic plot.
The rebuilding of Colony 6 is a fairly simple time- and resource-sink, albeit on a monolithic scale. But as you watch a town reconstruct and a community come to life, you feel immense pride and investment in your adventure. Like Bastion, Xenoblade Chronicles doesn't just ask you to save the world, it asks what you'll do with it once it's saved. But where Supergiant's game poses a stark philosophical question, Monolith Soft and director Tetsuya Takahashi offer a typical Japanese parable of rebirth through hard work.
But it's never a chore, because Xenoblade Chronicles is generous in spirit as well as in substance. It's an incredibly welcoming game, if not in the sense of having the streamlined structure and solicitous polish of a contemporary blockbuster - indeed, its charm is distinctly rough-hewn, from the clumsy gusto of the British voice cast to the artwork that wobbles from lyrical to plain. It's welcoming because it's enthusiastic, humble and extremely keen for you to enjoy yourself all the time. Comparing it to the likes of Final Fantasy 13 is like comparing a slick chain hotel to an eccentric family-run B&B.
In fact, Xenoblade is so anxious not to withhold its delights that is almost trips over itself at the start in a mess of tutorials and innumerable bewildering systems, each with its own arcane vocabulary. But when was the last time you could accuse a JRPG (or just about any game, for that matter) of having too many ideas? This, in a year not short on sumptuous epics, is what really sets Xenoblade Chronicles apart. It's a mad contraption, a shameless kitchen-sink production that does everything it can think of, and all of it a little bit differently.
It's also - and this is one reason I'm so fond of it personally - the first and only Japanese RPG to pick up the gauntlet thrown down five years ago by the great Final Fantasy 12, a masterpiece of formal reinvention that has been roundly and disgracefully ignored by the Japanese industry (and the Western one, for that matter) ever since. FF12 made openness, immediacy and flow its watchwords; FF13, whatever you think of it, headed in precisely the opposite direction. Although there have been great examples of the genre in the intervening years (Dragon Quest 9 comes to mind), none have dared disturb the status quo.
Takahashi had other ideas, but it wasn't hubris that drove him to scrap the blueprints and start again. Quite the reverse: it was humility. The expensive and personally draining anti-climax that was his cinematic Xenosaga series led him to consider investing more modestly this time around - and pouring it all into gameplay. So we get story and action flowing smoothly together in the game engine, no random battles, an open-ish world bustling with life and an extremely fast-paced, real-time combat system with remarkably clever party AI.
It's not quite the game FF12 was - it's neither as daring nor as tidy and impeccably tuned. In combat, its sheer verve once again gets the better of it as you struggle to bring various party and status dynamics under your control. But the free movement, seat-edge tension and glorious clatter of battle are more than recompense enough. Over and above that, the play fields teem with a broad ecosystem of life and high-level monsters roam free in low-level areas - reinforcing the feeling that this isn't a scrolling diorama of grind but a real world of opportunity and risk for you to explore.
A world like Skyrim, or Azeroth, or Dark Souls' Lordran: a world that possesses a unity of place. A world that's fundamentally more important and more interesting than what goes on in it (and not just because the Bionis is not a planet or a continent but an unimaginable giant, frozen in time, with forests spilling off his limbs). A world that existed before the politics or wars or soap operas that set whatever drama you're enacting in motion - and that, with your help, will exist long after too.
That world is why I haven't even mentioned Xenoblade Chronicles' story until now (it's serviceable enough, since you asked, balancing cliché with some proper twists and likeable if stiff characters). A world like that is perhaps the greatest thing that an RPG can offer you. In fact, it could be the greatest thing that any game can offer you. Xenoblade Chronicles wasn't the only example of such a world this year, but it was perhaps the most unexpected and delightful of them all.
Dec 29, 2011
A hazy myth, an elegant contraption, an eccentric vision, an unforgiving mistress: Dark Souls has many sides. All bear the fingerprints of creator Hidetaka Miyazaki, who in 2011 established himself as the most interesting designer working in blockbuster games today. Not that this, sequel to Sony-born Demon's Souls, has much aside from giant sales figures to identify it as a big hitter. In all other ways it eschews the churning mainstream, taking design decisions that are both unfashionable and, prior to its chart-dominating success, seemingly commercially unworkable.
Because it's a game that obscures its precise systems with the fog of misdirection, whispering clues that lead nowhere, forcing you to feel out its systems and geography, absent of any handholding. For players used to explicit goals with well-furrowed roads to reach them, this feels like play with the stabilisers removed. Indeed, when it comes to your task and the route by which you arrive at it, Dark Souls has nothing to say.
Its tutorials come as paper cut admonishments; training levels that suckerpunch you back to bonfire save points with nothing to show for your troubles but some muscle memory, a bruised ego and another plan that must be torn up and replaced with something better. Dark Souls has nothing to say to players who wish to succeed simply by showing up.
The single save slot and constant recording of progress make rewinding the clock on your history impossible and as such this is a game that asks you to own your choices like no other, wearing failures as defining scars. Dark Souls has no mechanism for players wanting quick reloads that allow them to, attempt by attempt, write the perfect journey through the game.
The complex weave of non-player character storylines carries on about you regardless of your attention, and the lines between friend and foe are blurred. Favours are just as likely to be repaid with brutal backstabbing as shiny trinkets. For players used to being repaid in gold and reverence by their virtual quest-givers, Dark Souls has nothing to say.
Instead the game relies on the messages of others to give hope and inspiration. The mystified multiplayer is quite unlike anything else in games, the opportunity for voice chat barred by Miyazaki, limiting communication to messages scrawled onto the ground by other players in their worlds, and pulled into your own. "Ambush coming up," warns one. "Shoot its tail," instructs another. In the early stages of the game the sense of asynchronous camaraderie is beguiling, even though the deliberate down scoping of the console's features feels old-fashioned.
Dark Souls is a game that calls to screen horrifying terrors, crocodile-skinned leviathans, fire-breathing drakes and obese executioners that pound toward you with single-minded urgency. But the most frightening demons are perhaps those it summons from within us. The petulant child gamer, who throws her controller at the wall in frustration; the irascible teenager who stops playing the moment he stops winning, all red-faced sulk. These are ghosts from the past we have supposedly matured away from, and yet in Lodran's stony network of brutality, they are called to the surface. Dark Souls has no words of indulgence for the bruised ego. Rather, those demons must be exorcised if you wish to progress, or embraced if you wish to submit.
And how many submitted? Few who start a video game finish it, just as so many books remain opened but unread. Games require perseverance, commitment. But in Dark Souls' case, they require skill too. Not the kind of skill that has become fashionable in games over the past two years: fetch quest persistence, hunger to gulp down drip feed experience points that offer rewards for merely turning the cogs. This is the systemic cancer that is deforming gaming's DNA, a lowering of the barrier to entry that widens the pool of players, but at the cost of a diminished sense of accomplishment.
Not all games have to be for everyone, despite capitalism's persuasive whispering in the ear of so many publishers. Dark Souls is a game for players willing to advance themselves, not just their avatar; to learn and perfect a skill, to improve. In this way, it silently summons the demons of an entire medium, before shooing them away with its single-minded philosophy.
It's not perfect, but that's somehow perfect for a game that centres itself around our imperfections. It frequently overreaches, with ambition outstripping technology in Blight-town as the framerate slows to a plod while the console strains to render the dank, cavernous walls and matchstick scaffolding. Likewise, the endgame competitive multiplayer player vs. player was ruined by some imbalanced covenant items - at least until the most recent patch - design shortcomings that stand out all the more starkly for the rest of the experience's brilliance.
Like Minecraft, the Gollum-like grip with which the game clutches its deepest secrets has forced the community outside of the game too, onto YouTube and forums and FAQs where scraps of knowledge are traded like precious gems. The value of the unspoken has been all but lost in video games, whose comprehensive tutorials and 'extras' menu options make explicit every inch of the developer's work. Dark Souls understands the worth in choosing to say nothing.
In part, that's because its silence it makes room for us to say something, and no game in 2012 has inspired not only such commentary, but also such communal storytelling. Fitting that the only moments of respite and safety in the game are bonfires, where flames scare off monsters, and warmth invites sharing. Outside of the game too, we come together around a virtual fireside, and begin to pick over our own personal stories, myths that pass from player to player, an oral tradition of play. We tell puff-chested of our victories, and murmur red-faced of our failures. There's humour and tragedy and wonder in these stories. And in them, we begin to understand that Dark Souls has so much to say. It simply asks that we are the ones to voice it.
Dec 29, 2011
Did you know that there's a new Mission: Impossible film out this Christmas? I had no idea until the other day. I assume they must have masses of advertising running for that on TV, in cinemas, online and "outdoors" (I eventually spotted it on a train station poster), but despite spending most of my life hanging off the digital world like a conjoined foetus, somehow its existence had passed me by.
So that's something to say for video games in 2011, because if nothing else they have been very noticeable. Professional footballers spend their Saturday afternoons sprinting across pitches ring-fenced by ubiquitous adverts for FIFA 12, and we stare at them through screens adorned with ball possession statistics brought to us by EA Sports.
Meanwhile, every other ad break during the X Factor - you'd cry if you knew how much they charged for 30 seconds - is a succession of Wii and Kinect adverts, occasionally interspersed by Saints Row: The Third or Modern Warfare. Battlefield 3 was one of Google's fastest-rising search terms of 2011, and every bus shelter on my way to work shouts at me about Uncharted 3's "gripping" gameplay, and has done for the past four weeks.
In the UK at least, games - and a surprising range of them - have become an inescapable backdrop to mainstream life. Meanwhile, I didn't even know there was a new Mission: Impossible film.
I certainly knew about The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. And not just because it towered over Los Angeles during E3 or because Bethesda hired out the top of a snow-capped mountain in Utah to show it to the world's press. There was a trailer for it ahead of X-Men First Class when I went to see that at the cinema in June, five months before it came out, and it's on the front or back or pretty much everything I've picked up since.
This is a hardcore role-playing game, but it's one of the most heavily publicised games of 2011 - at times, it's felt as though Bethesda was trying to match Tamriel's epic scale inch for inch, billboard by billboard - and the result is that it's Christmas number one and has sold around a million copies in the UK alone.
"One of the best pieces of advice I can give anyone who receives it for Christmas and is starting out playing it is to avoid using fast-travel."
One of the best pieces of advice I can give anyone who receives it for Christmas and is starting out playing it is to avoid using fast-travel - the ability to transport yourself to a previously visited location unaccosted. Instead, just walk everywhere. Most of my enjoyment has come from exploring and discovering things while I was on the way to do something else.
You'll pick up oblique fragments of past civilisations that lead you on treasure hunts through scattered tombs filled with intrigue, you'll find yourself chasing across the countryside picking up the pieces after the forgotten events of a night out, and you'll encounter the most bizarre incidental details, like a mage chasing a rabbit down a hill throwing fireballs at it.
Before long you'll find yourself overflowing with anecdotes about obscure amulets and epic swords that you've enchanted with bizarre relics, and you'll be able to kill a bear from behind with a single blow, or steal the clothes off people's backs without them noticing.
What you end up doing will probably be different every time you load up the game, and because you can do things in any order and there are so many things to do, it all feels very personal. Then you go online and tweet or post on forums about it and you discover that it is quite the opposite - everyone has done something like what you're doing - but somehow that unexpected inclusiveness enhances the game's personality rather than diminishing it.
One of the reasons that I love Skyrim is that it's easy to forget yourself. When you play a lot of video games - whether you're a critic, a gamer or a developer - you tend to know your way around them too quickly. You start to see the underlying systems that define what you can do now and, often dishearteningly, what you'll be doing for the next 10 hours. Good games get around this by hiding their working to keep things mystical, or by making the systems themselves part of the fun, or by constantly distracting you in entertaining ways. Great games, like Skyrim, do all of the above.
And yet Skyrim's success - both critically and commercially - is also sort of scandalous.
This is a game where I almost ruined a 30-hour save-game file recently when I returned to the main quest line - the fairway down which all players are eventually driven - and discovered I'd broken the underlying game logic by having previously visited a key location and completed a puzzle. Upon being called into action, the non-player characters involved in the quest did not understand what to do in these altered surroundings, and it was only by reloading from a previous position and following strict guidance from an online wiki entry that I managed to coax them into playing along again.
Also about Skyrim
- Skyrim review (10/10)
- Digital Foundry: Skyrim Face-Off
- My Skyrim Khajitt warrior (a post that received more hits than our Deus Ex review, you lunatics)
I haven't updated my Xbox 360 copy to 1.3 yet, but last time I loaded the game there was also a dragon flying backwards in circles near Mistwatch, which was impossible to kill because every time you approached it would jerk around in the sky and zoom off into the distance. It's been doing that for the last 15 hours I've been playing. (Nearby was where I saw my first mammoth, incidentally, which proceeded to levitate steadily 200 feet into the air.)
This is even a game that, for a lot of PlayStation 3 owners, basically doesn't work past a certain point, or at least didn't until recently.
We laugh about some of this. We tut and moan about some of it. But we are the lucky ones, because we generally know what to do. We can wait for a patch, or go on the Elder Scrolls wiki, or if we're playing the PC version we can clip through the scenery or do other stuff using console commands. We save often. We prepare ourselves mentally to roll multiple characters to experience the breadth of the game and offset any problems.
But what about the other people who saw the advert in front of X-Men First Class and don't read NeoGAF or know about GameFAQs or know that - let's be honest - Bethesda Game Studios games are broken out of the box and need months of patching? What about the people who don't have their consoles hooked up to the internet? What are they meant to do?
"I think it's a real shame that a lot of people's first experience of the amazing work that the games industry is doing these days will be that it is broken."
This year's video games marketing blitzkrieg has probably sold Skyrim and a lot of other games to people who have never owned a PlayStation or Xbox before, or whose interest lapsed somewhere between WipEout and This Is Living. I think it's a real shame that a lot of people's first experience of the amazing work that the games industry is doing these days will be that it is broken, and that this is normal even among the very biggest games.
I may not have known that there's a new Mission: Impossible out this year until recently, but I imagine one day I will watch it, because the first one was pretty good and I'm curious to see how it's getting on. And because I'm confident that it won't have a backwards-flying Tom Cruise in it that will be fixed for certain viewers a month after launch and for others by Easter. Anyone's basic expectation of entertainment products should be that they can actually be consumed.
Skyrim is my favourite game of the year, and I'm glad it's popular because it means they'll keep making stuff like this. But I also hope it prompts a few people in high places to have a long, hard think about whether enough is being done to make our games work properly out of the box. It is much easier to lose a consumer than to attract one, and a core games industry threatened by so many cultural, economic and technological competitors surely cannot afford to be so complacent about making a strong first impression.
Dec 28, 2011
It's Nottingham, the end of a crisp autumn day, and Eric Chahi's smile is as bright as the late October sun - although his is a face that seems reluctant to ever frown.
His eyes are permanently smiling and a playful grin is always ready to flicker across his features. His hair rinsed a blue that matches the shade of his suede shoes, he's delighting in the reactions of those sampling his own take on molecular gastronomy at this year's GameCity. It's another of Eric's many interests, and in the luminescent desserts and stereoscopic starters there's a combination of playfulness, curiosity and eccentricity that'll be familiar to anyone who's played his games.
When Heart of Darkness finally came out in 1998, six troubled years on from the game that made Chahi's name, it perhaps shouldn't be have come as a surprise that his next game was well over a decade away, that this talent would be lost to videogames for thirteen years.
It helped infuse his return, coming at the end of an Ubisoft E3 conference that until Mr. Caffeine pooped on our toothpaste earlier this year was one of the French company's most bizarre, with a certain mysticism. Sitting in on one of the show's demos, it was a mysticism amplified by Chahi's whispered presentations, roomfuls of people who had been beaten into submission by being drilled in the gameplay pillars of that year's new class of shooters now struggling to understand his gentle, splintered English, and struggling to comprehend this strange new game.
A self-confessed spiritual successor to Populous, From Dust is a god game infused with a spirituality very much its own. While it's still essentially about capturing villages, shepherding villagers and conquering the elements, From Dust's god is a far more playful one than any of its predecessors. Even the Breath, the on-screen pointer through which the player's actions are directed, is a spirited thing, dancing around with all the energy of a dog chasing its own tail.
And what the Breath enables escalates that spirit of play to giddy heights. With this tool at your fingertips, you can lift oceans, dirt and lava in thick, gloopy globes which can then be deposited at your will, painting entire landscapes in the process. It's a digital retelling of a toddler's afternoon at the seaside, where tiny hands sculpt castles, mountains, lakes and eddies out of sand - only here the child is promoted to a benevolent deity, playing with a land at its very genesis.
There's a rhythm, both in the rise and fall of the tides that lap against small shores and in the soft silting of sand as you let it rush down a mountainside, that's soothing. You're playing as an all-powerful god, though From Dust's more likely to transport you back to childhood, marveling at the cool tickle of damp sand running between your fingers.
For a game that's obsessed with play, and one that turns the dawn of creation into one large and very well stocked sandbox, From Dust can still be a demanding and sometimes stressful experience, especially in later levels. Nature's a volatile toy, and in From Dust it's always one step ahead of you, always ready to crush your sandcastles with one cruel tidal wave. It makes for a strangely humbling game, one that empowers you while reminding you of your own fragility at the very same time.
From Dust's theme and its mechanics invite lofty conjecture, yet its genius is how it always returns to the same core concept; it's about play, unadulterated. It's a purity that's rare to see outside of the indie scene - or outside of Nintendo - and in its meshed together with a high concept to make it's the kind of game that only an outsider could create.
The 13-year distance between Chahi and the industry is responsible for a blissful ignorance of the gaming zeitgeist - there's no XP system, no auto-posting to Facebook or Twitter of how many villagers you've saved or mountains you've conjured - that lends it a timeless nature, and makes it feel like a very singular vision.
Chahi spent those 13 years in an exile in which he indulged his curiosities, developing an interest in volcanology that's explicitly transferred to From Dust. It's not the only one that makes itself known in the game.
Playing From Dust is like spending an afternoon lost in conversation with this enthusiastic autodidact, pushing you towards its other influences; Koyaanisqatsi, the paintings of Zdislaw Beksinski or John Conway's Game of Life, the 1970 mathematical model and the archetypal god game.
To credit From Dust entirely to Chahi is to do disservice to the team at Ubisoft Montpeillier that helped bring his vision to life, but even though it's told from a thousand's arm lengths it's a very personal experience. There's the same sense of play, of a hundred profound ideas I'll never fully understand delivered with a smile and of a little eccentricity that you get if you're ever lucky enough to meet Chahi himself.
And it's a game that Chahi seemed to enjoy making as much as we've enjoyed playing it. Now that the industry has broadened to allow for something so esoteric it seems that he's more welcome, less likely to be burnt by an experience such as Heart of Darkness. He's ruled out a sequel to From Dust, but is already at work on a new game, suggesting that he's going to stick around a little longer - and it's absolutely wonderful to have him back.
Dec 28, 2011
SPOILER ALERT!: This piece contains story spoilers - from the very first sentence onwards.
My guilty little secret: I reloaded my quicksave about 30 times to try and save Faridah Malik when her helicopter's shot down and then assaulted by Belltower goons late in the game. Having played a stealthy, non-lethal character throughout the game, I was as much use as an asthmatic kitten in a straight-up firefight, so the rush of robots and heavily-armoured thugs that swarmed the downed bird made mincemeat of me the second I showed my goateed face. Trouble was, I couldn't sneak about doing careful silent takedowns, because after a few harrowing moments Faridah would be so much augmented toast. And while I did have the option of spamming the whole scene with explosives, I didn't want to compromise my 'no fatalities' ethos. What to do, what to do?
Well, cheat. Cheat within the confines of the game - quicksave, quickload, quicksave, quickload, incrementally creeping closer to an idealised set of circumstances wherein I'd made it to point X without being killed, had non-fatally taken out assault cannon-toting guard Y before he could pepper the chopper, hidden deftly at point Z then dropped an EMP grenade under robot Ω. No-one dead (unless you count robots), Faridah was rescued in time and I came it through it all with nary a scratch. That's my story. That's how the game records it. That's why I'm a bloody hero, right?
Of course, what I'd actually done was quicksave every second step, and quickload the second I was spotted or shot. Faridah died a good dozen times, as did I; the poor first guard to enter the scene, meanwhile, suffered 30 assorted fatalities and knock-outs as I experimented with everything in my arsenal in search of the most effect way to get a few steps closer to my desperate goal. It was shameful, it was pathetic, it was a distortion of Deus Ex: Human Revolution's concept that consequences matter. And I don't regret it for a second.
Why I don't regret it is braided in irretrievably in with why I enjoyed DXHR so much. Nominally, Human Revolution is the story of beardy, growly cyborg security guard Adam "I didn't ask for this" Jensen, but screw that guy, frankly. Screw him and screw his lost love and screw his double-dealing employers. This is about me - because DXHR, with its impressive freedom of action, is a soft, yielding material I wrap around my own brain so that it reflects me. Its reality is the reality I choose to give it - and I choose that Faridah lives, that she's rescued by me and that I do so without my ever breaking my own rules of engagement.
What my savegame abuse also achieved was to show off the game's combat flexibility and quite how spectacular a DXHR skirmish can be in the hands of a (cough) skilled player. This Jensen I'd built really could take out everyone in an open space filled with snipers and body-armoured shotgunners and rocket-spewing robots; leaping from cover to cover, a silent throttle here, a tranquiliser dart in that guy up there's face, a gas grenade at that clutch of thugs as they rush through the door, an EMP mine under that robot and then a stungun blast right to the belly of the last guard. Unconscious bodies and flaming robo-wreckage everywhere, and in the middle of it all lies one still-intact helicopter. I didn't ask for this, but goddamn if I'm not going to make the best of it.
I was Cyborg Batman, an unstoppable force of black-suited vengeance. I would love to see a recording of my 'perfect' playthrough, with the staccato, incremental interruptions of cheaty saving and loading excised. I'd look like a god of war. No wonder DXHR's populace is so alarmed by the increasing numbers of machine-men wandering the world's perma-gloomy streets.
For all the conspiracies and the moralising about bio-mechanical augmentation, DXHR is also an excellent combat game with an extensive, player-selected toolbox that's never guilty of boxing you into specific weapons or specific playstyles. It might not quite be the equal of its revered forebear in terms of emergent possibilities - its AI and physics are perhaps too machine-tight to allow the sort of flexibility and mad experiments that Deus Ex 1 did - but what a superhero simulator it is.
I could, if I'd have so chosen, saved Faridah by hiding behind boxes and methodically sniping everything that moved. If you want to play it like a boring grey-faced man would play a boring grey FPS with a boring grey machinegun, go ahead and be boring and grey. DHXR allows that too. Me, I wanted to be right in there, doing crazy stuff like plummeting off rooftops in slow-motion.
Despite the high-speed, high-gloss violence, Human Revolution achieved something I honestly wasn't expecting: it made me feel like I was playing Deus Ex again. I was back to 18 years old, the same unblinking, hunched abandonment to this game's world and the jigsaw pieces it gave me to build my path through it. Just as in 2000, I was consumed by the compulsive need to hack every door and terminal, to read every datapad, to steal every credit; to have a strict code of stealth and non-lethality; to become drawn into the paranoid guessing game about which of my assorted contacts and opponents was the real enemy, the true puppet-master of all this conflict and betrayal.
A world forever on the brink of chaos, but one that I could nonetheless dictate the rules of. That's why I couldn't let Faridah Malik die. This was my reality and my story, and I had the tools and the ability to keep it that way. Consequences? Hah. They answer to me.
Dec 27, 2011
About 20 years ago, "closure" became a thing that we wanted after something bad happened. When someone dies, we are told that the grieving parties desire closure - that they want to take the death, put it in a box, and tape the edges shut on that sucker until it is good and sealed.
There's no closure in Bastion. The loss that opens the game is too huge to contain. The hero, a stoic white-haired boy named The Kid, wakes up from a night's sleep to find that the world outside his bedroom has vanished, replaced by a three-dimensional fog of emptiness.
Practically everyone is dead, but that's mere prologue. You're alive. So it's a question of what you're going to do with yourself. As you look past the threshold of your bedroom doorway into the void, the only reasonable option is to walk out there. The perverse reality is that even when the path ahead appears to hold literally nothing for you, you've got to go there anyway. That's The Kid's lot, the burden of the living.
And when you walk out that door, fragments of the world assemble themselves beneath your feet. It's the signature visual effect of a pretty game, and there's a parallel in another landmark 2011 game, Catherine. Both games have you navigate a world that floats amid a backdrop of indeterminate space. In Bastion, chunks of terrain rise up as you go. In Catherine, the chunks fall away as you go.
The basic message is the same. Standing still is not a viable option. In every game, as in every life, there are choices that lead to success and lead to failure. If that's the first law of gaming, then Bastion and Catherine explore the unspoken zeroth law: you've got to choose something.
The difference between the two games is that Catherine emphasises the negative consequences of the zero law - if you don't keep your life moving forward, your own fears and insecurities will grow and consume you - while Bastion focuses on the affirmative side. When The Kid advances in Bastion, his world comes alive with every step. It's not like you keep going in spite of the fact that there's nothing there - you keep going because there's nothing there.
In other words, the world of Bastion is one where living is a fundamentally creative act. The Kid "makes" the journey in more than sense of the word. I know because Rucks told me.
Rucks is the leathery old guy who narrates all of the action in the game. I say he's old, but Rucks has an ageless quality. He speaks with the weight of someone who's always been there and plans to stick around for a while because hell, why not? Maybe somebody will show him something he hasn't seen before. It could happen.
The timeworn sage comments on your exploits, in the present tense, as if we're all sitting around a campfire listening to him weave The Story of The Kid. He fills in the backstories of each world, tells us where the monsters come from, sets up major battles, and so on.
As with all good storytellers, Rucks makes the smaller moments as vivid as the big ones. One of his most memorable lines comes early in the game. If you take a break from demon slaying to bust up some nearby crates with your new hammer - and c'mon, nobody can resist a pile of smashable junk - Rucks says, "Kid just rages for a while."
The line is funny because we consider crate smashing to be an extracurricular activity of sorts. We don't expect Rucks to pipe up here, because we're not "advancing the story." Except of course we are. The occasional inanimate-object assault is just as much a part of The Kid's story as a frenzied boss fight. We never stop creating.
The Kid's creations carry an extra portent because they come in the aftermath of that huge, world-obliterating loss, which Rucks calls The Calamity. The specific details of The Calamity are hard to discern for much of the game, but we do know it's the disaster that blew The Kid's universe into wisps.
As it happens, this aspect of Bastion's story resonated with real-world events, as the game was released just a few months after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami disfigured huge swaths of Japan's eastern coast. The tangled debris fields of The Kid's realm often evoke the before-and-after photos that were splashed across news coverage of the tragedy-the ones that showed homes, roads, farmland, and industry in the "before" shot, replaced by nothing in the aftermath. It was a real-life Calamity, made all the more inconceivable by its actuality, and its survivors were left staring into nothingness.
This is where The Kid lives, wading through the detritus of catastrophe. You spend most of the game battling demons of the past - spectres driven by some lingering anguish or bitterness. But then, after all the fighting is over, the true reckoning arrives.
History happens, and then we make something of it. When people die, and all their worldly vestiges crumble or fade away, whatever spirit remains must be the soul of the past. And in one of the universe's strangest ironies, the nature of that soul is determined by the living. The Kid lost almost everyone; that happened. By choosing what to do next - what lesson to draw from The Calamity - he determines what it all means.
So in the final moments on the hovering island called The Bastion, you face a choice in which you essentially decide which parts of the past to carry forward. Is your patch of grass the last bastion of the old ways? Or is it the seed of something new?
It's the essential quandary of the survivor, and none of the options offer a certain future. When we make a choice like this in real life, we call the moment of decision "closure." Yet the moment after this last decision is the most ambiguous part of the game. Bastion maintains that there is no such thing as closure. Instead, the past keeps extending its tendrils into the future, and we decide what to make of it in a terrifyingly, enthrallingly open world.
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