Review of 2011 in gaming

29 Dec 2011

We’re back at this time again, when we take a look at the last 12 months and ponder what games and consoles have left an impression on us. Adam Renardson takes a look at what 2011 meant for gaming.

The year of the Trilogy

The year 2011 saw the rise of the number 3, with a number of franchises looking to tie up all their loose ends and wrap up a trilogy of games. Killzone 3 were the first to take this step in February of this year to be followed in quick succession by Resistance 3, Gears of War 3, Battlefield 3, Modern Warfare 3, Uncharted 3 and Saints Row … well, “the third” but it’s Saints Row 3 to me. All looked to tie up their series with explosive finales and emotional dialogue (some managing the former with relative ease but severely lacking in the latter). But where to from here? If history (and by history I mean George Lucas) has taught us anything, it is that after you have done an epic trilogy there’s nowhere else to go without sullying all your previous work with substandard follow-ons in an attempt to appease fanboys (yes, I’m looking at you Halo, Fallout and Monkey Island). Would Back to the Future have benefitted from a fourth film? Hell, no. So please developers, leave these games alone for now.

The year Nintendo began to crack

If Nintendo were a unit of currency in 2010, then one Nintendo would be enough to buy most of Western Europe with them raking in, quite frankly, stupid amounts of money from the gimmicks of the Wii and DS consoles. However, at the start of the year, it became apparent that interest in the five-year-old technologies of the Wii and seven-year-old DS were starting to wane, although like its predecessor, the handheld console outsold and outlasted every competitor on the market, selling more than 50m units. Nintendo being ever-present at the head of gaming innovation began the roll out of its new generation of consoles in 2011 with the 3DS, to be followed by the Wii U in 2012. Initial reaction to the Wii U has been poor, with Nintendo taking the puzzling move to not introduce DVD or Blu-Ray playback with the console.

With the emergence of smartphone gaming, handheld consoles were always in danger of slipping in the pecking order for gaming on the go and, true to form, sales in the 3DS were well off the 16m unit target set by Nintendo (more than 3.5m off, to be precise), meaning 2011 is the first year in recent memory it has started to look in trouble of losing market share, indeed this year Nintendo reported a net loss of 70.3bn yen (€650m) for the six months to September.

The year PlayStation Network would like to forget

One of the biggest “LOLS” of the year can be offered up to someone at Sony who ingeniously put up a job prospectus. The ad read “Sony Electronics is looking for a talented Sr. Application Security Analyst for our HQ in San Diego. You know why.” (Sadly removed but still can be found on Reddit). Indeed, this was one of those laugh or cry moments from 2011 if you were a PlayStation Network user (look at me sitting smugly on my XBL pedestal) as in April Sony suffered a major security breach with an estimated 77m user details and 2.2m credit card details stolen

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the network. After two weeks of downtime trying to fix the problem, Sony announced it was ready to gradually bring the service back online. Three days later, the service was hacked again!.  With an estimated cost to Sony of US$171m, this was a year it would rather forget.

The worst game of the year

This isn’t even a contest, really. We have 12-year-olds in Ireland who can develop a game that sits on top of the iTunes Apps charts but a team of so called “professionals” can’t produce a competent shooter in 14 years! Yes, I’m looking at you Duke Nukem Forever, with increasing disgust. I thought I had gotten all the bile and anger out of my system for this game in my review, but just thinking about it again is filling me with rage. How could anyone have allowed this game to go on sale buggy, broken and frankly embarrassing for the developers? The only humane thing to do at this stage is to have this franchise euthanised to avoid any chance of having to put up with this kind of crap again. The original games were fun and stood out as platform shooters, DK3Dwas an absolute pillar in the explosion of FPSs in the ’90s. DKF, however, is blight on everything the series built and there’s a reason Amazon was trying to flog it for less than five quid in its sales. Just a terrible, terrible game.

The game of the year

From one extreme to the next, this year as last year came up short with a list of viable candidates for the title. The year 2011 has seen a plethora of quality games come to our consoles. So who is in the top 5? In no particular order those for consideration include Batman: Arkham City, COD MW3, ESV Skyrim, Uncharted 3 and Portal 2. I’ve had to discount Gears of War 3 from this list due to Epic Games punching rather than tugging on our heartstrings with its constant attempts to forcefully make us feel a connection to glorified tractor engines with arms and a number of other games that underperformed despite early promise. So I’ll run through a top 3 for 2011 in order.

#3 Call it Stockholm Syndrome, but I really do feel like running back to GLADos with arms wide open. I just can’t seem to get away from Portal 2. It was funny, well paced, atmospheric and wonderfully written. Although not too challenging, it stood out as one of the cross-console games for this year and even writing this now I’m jonesing for another fix of puzzle solving, for science!

#2 In my review I know it looked nailed on that Arkham City would scoop this one, but I’m having a little difficulty awarding it with such generosity. While the story campaign is great fun once you have finished the game, the open world aspect feels a little bit wasted. The DLC campaigns offset the inevitability but ultimately we’re left with nothing more to do but glide around an empty city searching for riddler trophies.

And the No 1 game of 2011?

#1 The Elder Scrolls V – Skyrim. The hardcore gamer in me has just died with embarrassment, while the inner nerd is beaming with glee. In a year full of testosterone-fuelled shooters, ESV Skyrim has shone the brightest on all consoles. What can I say about Skyrim? Like nearly all of Bethesda’s games, it’s immersive, atmospheric, the storytelling is top notch and the graphics and terrain are superb. I can’t quite describe what makes this game so great but I’ll have a go. It combines the best points of Fable, World of Warcraft, Assassins Creed and lightly sprinkles with some aspects of Shadow of the Colossus. It just works so well and while most console gamers will turn their noses up at this type of game, I really can’t recommend it enough. As with the other games in The Elder Scrolls series, it is best played on the PC (even if the recommended specs seem reserved for NASA-standard operations) but not all features will be lost on consoles. I’ll resist the urge to make a half-arsed arrow to the knee joke here so just take the recommendation at face value and get Skyrim!

Adam Renardson was head of online and new media at Silicon Republic.