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Opinion: The best and worst of 2011

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Another year, another opportunity to sum up our thoughts on the year in gaming. Rather than do a simple “Top 5” like I did last year, I instead decided to split my best and worse in to different categories – this year has been a good one for gaming and it’s difficult to only post 5 of my favourite games! Nevertheless, here’s what stood out for me this year:

Best Shooter

Game: Bulletstorm

Overlooked by many, Bulletstorm ditched a lot of the modern design choices a lot of modern shooters abide by, favouring that you kill your enemies as stylishly as possible by using aspects of the level to your advantage… like man eating plants. If you haven’t played this yet then you absolutely need to give it a go. Now get to it dicktits.

Honourable mentions: Gears of War 3, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary

Best Platformer

Game: Sonic Generations (Xbox 360, PS3, PC Version)

SEGA has been on a mission to bring the spiky blue Hedgehog back to his former glory as of late, and Sonic Generations was a mighty good effort. Though a touch on the short side, Sonic Generations does feature a lot of replay value with different missions to complete outside of the main game, and if you’re at all like me, then you’ll have fun trying to get the fastest possible time on the games levels. In all, I’ve put over 40 hours in to Sonic Generations just with this simple goal in mind (I get can quite competitive with myself over things like this). If you can forgive the extremely kid-friendly nature of the games main story, then you’ll have fun with Generations. You can read my full review of Sonic Generations here.

Honourable mentions: Super Mario 3D Land

Best Puzzle Game

Game: Portal 2

Quite often puzzle games will fail to grab me, but Portal is one of the rare exceptions to the rule. The core game is simple, but the puzzles that can be presented to you (especially in the games co-operative mode) can be tricky to get through for the first time. Combine this with a well written story and an intriguing cast of characters that keeps you wanting more, and you’ve got a recipe for a great puzzle game, and efforts made by Valve to try and merge console and PC gaming by letting gamers on PlayStation 3 and Steam play together should be praised too, though it’s a shame that Microsofts restrictive policies prevented such a feature from making its way to the Xbox  360 version of the game.

Best Indie Game

Game: Waves

It was a tough choice between this and Bastion, but I eventually decided to settle on Waves because of its simple pick up and play nature. You could just dismiss it as a clone of Geometry Wars – and to some extent you’d be correct, but Waves provides just enough new features that it can stand up on its own. Much like Sonic Generations the replay value comes in trying to beat the high score of yourself and your friends. The soundtrack could benefit from a few extra tracks, but overall Waves is a great little game.

Honourable mentions: Bastion, Solar 2

Best Graphics

Game: Bastion

And with that the Internet shouts out “What the eff bro? Why isn’t Crysis 2 here? Or The Witcher? Or Battlefield 3?” Well, I like to think that a games looks come from more than just how many polygons or how many individual grains of sand a game is rendering at a time – Bastion just looks so gorgeous that if you took away the user interface you could mistake the games locations as real works of art that someone drew as a hobby, or to sell at an art show, not for some “stupid” video game that you can pick up for a couple of quid . Bastion simply looks beautiful, and blurs the line between video games and art in ways that Crysis or Battlefield could only dream of (I also think that Crysis 2 and Battlefield 3 look a little bland). In Bastion you forget that you’re looking at a bunch of pixels and polygons, in Battlefield you do not – and that’s why Bastion wins this for me.

Honourable mentions: The Witcher 2, Gears of War 3

Best Soundtrack

Game: Sonic CD (XBLA, PSN, Steam, iOS, Android, Windows Phone 7)

Is this technically cheating? Sonic CD was originally released way back in 1993, though the recent port of the game was the first time I’ve ever played it. Every stage in Sonic CD is full of catchy tunes that, for me, are very reminiscent of the early 90’s and late 80’s – so to that extent the games soundtrack is somewhat nostalgic to me even though I’ve never heard it before. The game had a different soundtrack in the United States, though as far as I’m concerned the Japanese & European version of the games soundtrack (as you can hear in the video above) is far superior.

Honourable mentions: Bastion, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations

Best Action/Adventure Game

Game: Assassin’s Creed: Revelations

I love Assassin’s Creed: Revelations because it gives us what so many games do not: closure. Games are all too happy to give you a cliffhanger at the end of the game in the hopes that you’ll buy the sequel. Of course Assassin’s Creed: Revelations does this – but as far as Ezio is concerned it’s nice to know that we’ve gotten the whole story. And as strange as it may sound, it’s also humbling to see a video game character age, and to see the changes in character that age brings along with it.

But Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is absolutely a fun game to play, bringing together all of the features that we’ve seen before and bringing them together with a bit more added to them. There’s now a little more to capturing and defending Assassin headquarters, recruiting and training Assassin’s has been expanded upon, and there’s a simple yet deep bomb crafting tool. I enjoyed Assassin’s Creed: Revelations so much that I’ve decided to go back and play through the previous two games that Ezio starred in – Assassin’s Creed 2 & Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. I do wish, however, that Ubisoft would hurry up and add a co-operative mode to the Assassin’s Creed series.

Honourable mentions: Saints Row The Third

Biggest disappointment of 2011

Game: Battlefield 3

Yes that’s right Internet, I just went there. Battlefield 3 is a game I have given hundreds of chances and fails to entertain me every time. I originally tried the beta on my Xbox 360, and I wasn’t impressed. I eventually moved on to trying the beta on my PC, and wasn’t impressed again, and I was close to cancelling my pre-order. However I eventually decided to give Battlefield 3 the benefit of the doubt because hey, it’s Battlefield – I’ve liked them all since the first Bad Company, so why would this be any different? I simply put it down to Operation Metro being a crappy map.

Launch day comes and I install Battlefield 3 to my PC, open the campaign and I’m bored out of my mind at the second level. I don’t think I have ever played a campaign that’s so… boring before – with the possible exception of Homefront (which I knew would probably be pretty bad before I spent a whole £2 on it, so to that extent Homefront wasn’t really a disappointment because I had low expectations). I do the logical thing and jump in to the multiplayer modes – and, in fairness, I enjoyed it at first.

My problem is that I work 12 hour shifts in my job – and when I get home I just want to chill – I’m not really in the mood for video games, so because of this I start falling behind the crowd – and it’s gotten to the point now that everyone has the best weapons, the best perks, the best upgrades for their vehicles and I feel like I’m still at square one. I’ve been left behind and playing catch-up is proving to be too frustrating. I simply don’t have the patience for shooters where you have to play 24/7 just to remain relevant. For these reasons I’ve already abandoned Battlefield 3 in favour of Halo: Reach, Gears of War 3 and Team Fortress 2.

Dishonourable mentions: LittleBigPlanet 2

Most anticipated for 2012

Game: Mass Effect 3

Mass Effect 3 absolutely, categorically, without question is what I’m most excited for next year. Mass Effect 2 was a masterpiece and I loved every second of it, and I have no doubts that Mass Effect 3 will be the same. My only problem is that I’ve played through Mass Effect 2 so many times that I’ve lost count of what I’ve done through each play run of the game, so I’m going to have issues when it comes to importing my character. Or I could just play through Mass Effect 2 again! I’m sure that won’t be a problem.

Honourable mentions: Halo 4, Assassin’s Creed 3 (we all know it’s going to happen)

That’s the year in a wrap for me, though my back log of games has increased dramatically this year so I’m kind of annoyed I haven’t had the chance to play all of them before writing this up. Nonetheless, this is how I feel about the games that I’ve played this year. Here’s hoping that 2012 will be a good one!

Review: Portal 2 single player campaign

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  • Developer: Valve
  • Publisher: Valve (Steam), EA (Boxed versions)
  • Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 (reviewed), Windows, Mac OS X

Note: Due to the PSN outages I have been unable to play the co-operative mode that comes with the game. As a result this is a review of the single player portion of the game only.

The original Portal started off as a small addition to The Orange Box in 2007 – released along side Valves much bigger titles like Half-Life and Team Fortress 2. Perhaps as a surprise to Valve the game proved to be immensely popular. The Internet became ablaze with comments about Cake and appreciation for the dark humour in the game.

In that respect Portal 2 offers more of the same – more puzzles, humour, and gags that are sure to become popular Internet memes. There’s still a small cast of characters – with GLaDOS and Chell from the first instalment making a return, as well as a new character called Wheatley, who wakes the player up at the start of the game to try and escape the ruined Aperture Science facility.

Of course Chell remains as silent as ever – and it’s mostly GLaDOS or Wheatley who do the talking. GLaDOS retains her trademark passive agressive attitude and witty and sinister personality. Wheatley on the other hand could be considered the polar opposite of GLaDOS – coming across as much more friendly, but also somewhat clumsy.

It’s surprising how much of a bond you get with the two characters – especially considering that the two of them are basically just robots. Valve has done an excellent job at humanising the two and you can feel a real connection to them – it’s difficult to dislike either of them, including GLaDOS – who seems to be perfectly willing to put your life on the line in the name of science.

Beyond this the gameplay is much the same – you’ve got a Portal gun that can fire two Portals at once that you can walk through to complete test chambers and puzzles – but this time around there are more resources to take advantage of like bridges, lasers, and “aerial faith plates” that fling you in to the air.

Portal 2 took me about 9 hours to complete – with the later test chambers really testing my ability to think with portals. It’s just a shame that as soon as the game got challenging that the game was over – I would have really liked to have seen some more test chambers that make more use out of the new obstacles that are present in the game. Though luckily there’s some free DLC coming out to fix this later in the year.

About midway through the game you’ll find yourself mostly wandering the more forgotten parts of the facility and it provides a nice change of scenery – but often you’ll find that you’re not really trying to solve a puzzle – you’re just searching for a wall that you can put a Portal on. It can ruin the flow of the game when it isn’t immediately obvious where you’ve got to go.

Now where do you put the Portal to?

Overall though Portal 2 provides a satisfying and fulfilling experience. Fans of the original Portal will no doubt enjoy what’s on offer here and Portal 2 certainly introduces its own unique challenges that you won’t find elsewhere.

The only real problem is the lack of replay value – once you’ve solved all of the puzzles there’s little that you can do with it since you already know how to solve everything. Of course I have no doubt that Valve will continue to support the game – but for how long remains to be seen.

On the topic of replay value I would have liked to have seen an in game level editor – something similar to Forge in Halo: Reach could have worked really well in a Portal game – instead it seems that only PC players with access to modding tools will be able to create their own levels – a shame since console players have always shown an interest in creating and sharing their own custom content.

Right about now Portal 2 makes for a solid rental – at least until some more content becomes available – but keep in mind that this is a verdict that I’m making without having played the co-operative mode (thanks to the PSN outages).

What the game looks like

Portal 2 in action

Note: This video may spoil the enjoyment of the game, since this gameplay video demonstrates how to complete a test chamber.

The verdict

Good: Challenging puzzles, decent length, notable improvements over its predecessor, PS3 and PC players can play together

Bad: Feels like there should be more, no map editor for console gamers, fantastic voice acting