Gaming Highlights (And Low-Lights) of 2011

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It’s the end of another year of gaming, and it’s been a bit of a mixed bag. There have been some great highlights, but there have also been a few disappointments. However, on the whole, 2011 delivered big, with a surprising amount of summer blockbusters and of course, the usual November avalanche of big releases. I’ve cast my eye over the last 12 months, so we can remind ourselves just how good its been.

The year kicked of in style with Dead Space 2, which dished up some of the best survival horror we’ve had in a good few years. This year’s sleeper hit had to be Bulletstorm. It came out of nowhere with its own brand of crass, wisecracking. It was a high octane ride of macho, gun-toting nonsense and shouldn’t have worked, but somehow it did.

Sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish irony from Duke Nukem, but Bulletstorm got it right. The secret of its success was lush graphics, a dazzling array of weapons and the freedom to get creative with the killing.

This year, we had some spring and summer releases, proving that the industry doesn’t have to hold everything back until November. It was welcome relief in the usual summer drought and I only wish more publishers would follow suit.

L.A. Noire was tipped as this year’s hot release and I was so looking forward to it, but it wasn’t to be. This game had it all – great setting, superb voice acting, a sexy bebop soundtrack and all wrapped up with a big Rockstar bow.

L.A. Noire did deliver on technical innovation, giving us a huge leap forward in facial mapping, allowing an actor’s performance to shine through, rather than leaving it all to the voice. However, the gameplay let this game down. I found it boring and repetitive and the whole thing just left me cold. It felt like a made for TV noir a la James Ellroy, rather than Dashiell Hammett. All in all, the biggest disappointment of the year for me, but I still have high hopes for a sequel.

Fortunately, I could move swiftly on from Rockstar’s latest offering to Child of Eden. This was the spiritual successor to Rez and the first potentially hardcore offering for Kinect, so hopes were high. Todd was disappointed, but I loved it. Ignore the load of old hokum story and just delight in the visuals and the hypnotic beat of the music. There were exploding, luminous lotus flowers and translucent whales, swimming through a kaleidoscopic ocean – what’s not to love?

In the second half of the year, Deus Ex marked the start of the AAA season. It was good to see cyber punk back with a vengeance. Deus Ex was slick, stylish sci-fi at its best. We had human augmentation, a gorgeous world to explore, kick ass visuals and a rich story. Now that’s what I call a perfect package.

Next up was Batman: Arkham City. I think I’m the only person who doesn’t see this as a clear winner for the game of the year category. Whilst it was dripping with Batman lore and lovingly crafted for fans and newcomers alike, giving us atmosphere like it’s going out of style and some of the best voice acting around, I just found it lacking. The gameplay became the same old flap around the rooftops, swoop down on foes, repeat to fade scenario and I got bored. I was promised open-world gameplay, which just wasn’t there. I’m not onboard the Batman train, I’m afraid, so I’ll just move on.

Unfortunately, I’m moving on to my next big disappointment of the year – Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. There were no revelations to be found here, as Ubisoft dished up an enjoyable core game, which was obscured by a rash of needless mini games and distractions. We were meant to feel like it was a richer, deeper game, but it was just more annoying than it’s ever been. Assassin’s RTS anyone? No, I didn’t think so. Farewell to Ezio and let’s hope 2012 brings a return to form, as well as some innovation.

And as we hurtle towards the last two highlights of 2011, I suppose I should mention the likes of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, which smashed more records. And then Gears of War 3 finished the trilogy in style and conviction, leaving fans happy and probably gasping for more. I’m sure they won’t have to wait long.

Wii owners everywhere are celebrating with the release of Zelda: Skyward Sword, without a doubt the best game on the Wii so far. Okay, so Zelda never changes that much, but what it does, it just does so darned well, that there’s no point messing with its magic formula. Some might say this is the best Zelda game ever and that means we could see a Wii game snag game of the year. Who’d a thunk it!?

But today’s gaming news headlines reveal that 2011 belongs to Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, as Bethesda’s fantasy epic claims the UK Christmas number one. The top spot in the UK gaming charts has been dominated by either EA or Activision since 2003, so this is a big win helped by some savvy price drops. Bethesda wrote the book on epic, but for sheer audacious scope, they’ve broken the mould with Skyrim. People have been ploughing through the game for a month now and still haven’t scratched the surface.

And what did I get for Christmas, I hear you cry? Only the Red Ring of Death. Yes, my console has been struck by the red death. It happened just days before I was due to get my copy of Skyrim too, so spare a thought. My 360 is currently tucked up in a box, ready to be returned to the Czech Republic for repair. So don’t expect any tales of Christmas gaming come the New Year – it’s back to singing songs and telling stories with Pater and the rest of the family, around the fire for me.

Merry Christmas – see you in 2012.

Most played: pah, that’s a laugh

Most wanted: a new Xbox 360 or a more stable neXtbox

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