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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!

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Review: Sonic Generations (360, PS3, PC version)

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  • Developer: Sonic Team (360, PS3, PC), Devil’s Details (PC)
  • Publisher: SEGA
  • Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC (Reviewed)

Sonic the Hedgehog has always been a strange franchise for me, simply because over the years the series has attracted two different types of fans: those who love classic Sonic, and those who love the more modern iterations of the blue blur that we’ve seen in the last ten years or so. It makes it difficult to judge a Sonic game this way, since quite often it seems that the one side hates the other side, and I can only imagine what it must be like to develop a game under these circumstances.

Though there are titles that the fanbase can almost universally agree were bad games, there are others where there was more of a grey area – but recently Sonic games have definitely been on the up – Sonic Unleashed, released in 2008 – was the series’ first step in the right direction, but was marred by boring “Werehog” levels and hub worlds.

Then last year DS and Wii owners got to try their hand at Sonic Colours – which was similar to Unleashed but without the Werehog and hub worlds – instead all of the levels had power ups called Wisps that allowed you to exploit the level in different ways. It was a fun game – this time peoples complaints were that it was too short, and that sometimes the controls were a little unresponsive.

And now SEGA has released Sonic Generations to mark the Hedgehogs 20th anniversary, in which Sonic Team has taken the opportunity to try and cater to both new and older fans of the series by letting players control modern and classic Sonic. Sonic Generations takes a trip down memory lane as we revisit levels from previous games like Green Hill Zone, Seaside Hill, and Rooftop Run.

First and foremost: as you can see from the screenshots and videos in this review, the game looks incredible on all platforms – but especially on a good PC where you can run the game at a buttery smooth 60 frames per second. Green Hill Zone looks prettier than I could have ever imagined it to, and the graphical updates to the more recent games are certainly most welcome. Ever wondered what Planet Wisp from Sonic Colours on the Wii would look like in HD? Generations gives you that chance.

Sonic Generations has nine stages in total and splits them equally in to three eras: Genesis, Dreamcast, and Modern. The Genesis era has stages from Sonic 1 to Sonic 3 & Knuckles, the Dreamcast era has stages from Sonic Adventure to Sonic Heroes, and the Modern era has stages from Sonic 2006 to last years Sonic Colours – covering most of the main games of the spikey blue hog’s 20 year career – both the good and the bad.

The soundtrack is equally amazing – with each act featuring remixes of the original track that went with the original level – Sky Sanctuary and Seaside Hill are among my favourites – but the whole soundtrack as a whole is pretty solid. There’s some cool sound effect too – when you boost as modern Sonic the music will distort, and when you’re underwater the music will get muffled – the classic stages even include the old sound effects for springs and jumps – and if you don’t like the music then Generations gives you the opportunity to change the level music to any of the tracks that you’ve unlocked. Hate the new remix of Green Hill Zone? Play it with the original music instead.

As I touched on earlier – Generations lets you play as both classic and modern Sonic. Each stage has two acts – Act 1 is the classic stage, where you play as old school Sonic the way you used to back in th’ day. Sonic plays exactly like he did in his early days here – with the only difference being that you only need to hold down one button to perform a spin dash – though you can still do it the old fashioned way if you want to.

Act 2 is the modern stage – which you play as Sonic using the gameplay mechanics that have been established since Sonic Unleashed in 2008 – albeit much more refined. Modern Sonic has a boost ability, and he can home in on enemies, as well as perform an air stomp to attack enemies from above. Though unlike in Sonic Unleashed modern Sonics levels have more emphasis on platforming rather than boosting your way through a stage for a few minutes, so modern Sonic definitely has more engaging and challenging gameplay than he used to.

Which style of play you prefer will probably depend on the year you were born. Older gamers will most likely get more out enjoyment out of the classic levels and the opposite will probably be true for younger gamers. Sonic Generations starts off easy – the first two thirds of the game have a steady difficulty curve – but I found that the last third of the game suddenly got much harder – especially the final act.

This especially applies to classic Sonic where enemies will often be waiting for you on the edge of platforms where you’re about to land. You might not necessarily lose a life because of it, but it can be damaging to the flow of the game when you’re constantly bumping in to enemies just because you didn’t perfectly land a jump on your first ever try – though this becomes less of an issue when you go back and replay levels, should you feel inclined to do so.

Speaking of replay value, there’s a lot of it here. Once you finish the main story there’s a wealth of additional challenges to try out – even if you don’t care about the concept art or music that you can unlock by playing them, they’re still fun enough to warrant going through by yourself – and once you finish the game you can unlock the ability to transform in to Super Sonic upon acquiring 50 rings in a level.

Unfortunately finishing the main story won’t take you long – I finished it in a little over four hours – I think this game could have benefitted from a few more acts or stages. Handheld games like Sonic Advance and Sonic Rush didn’t get any representation in this game – I think that some zones from those titles would have been welcomed by fans – even a few more acts in existing zones would have been nice to make the game last a little longer, I just hope that SEGA does a good job at releasing some more levels as DLC.

Nevertheless, Sonic Generations is the best Sonic game in years – even the most jaded of Sonic fans should at least give this a rental. Sonic is clearly starting to make a real comeback in the quality of his games – if Sega can keep this up then I can only see good things to come.

What the game looks like

Sonic Generations in action

The verdict

Good: Reimagined levels of yore will give you a nostalgia overload, lots of replay value, easily the best Sonic game in the last ten years, high production values

Bad: Main story is a bit on the short side, cheap traps on later classic levels, voice acting is a little ropey

Written by Pokeh

November 4, 2011 at 4:49 pm