Jan 17, 2012

2011: A Year in Review, Part III: "The Bad"

2011 in gaming hosted amazing and diverse games, and why should the bad games be any different? By all reports, the year had some knockouts with Postal 3, the Blackwater recruitment Kinect game, and the apparently insensitive Techland Games duo Dead Island/Call of Juarez: The Cartel, but I didn't get to experience those myself yet.

This year, I only played one truly awful 2011 game. By virtue, it wins, but even if I counted the bad games from other years that went in and out of my systems it'd still be king.

[From gamebreakers.co]
Duke Nukem Forever (PC/PS3/X360)

Most critics passed this one for their worst games of the year list, citing it as more boring than truly bad, but I disagree. Duke Nukem 3D presented genuine innovation and historical achievement for interaction, but this soils that game's good name; it's a Duke Nukem 3D redux gone hipster and about a decade too late to cash in on that name. All in a year that gave us a perfectly good successor to and critique of Duke, Shadows of the Damned.

Reduced to ironic detachment, Duke quips at his best friend's death and two nude women (formerly his sexy lady entourage) after their stomachs explode from alien rape (“Looks like...you're fucked!” he chortles). 

Not content with that, it compares itself—madly, like head man George Broussard-as-Ozymandias—to Call of Duty, Gears of War, and Halo, claiming superiority by mocking those games/jacking their mechanics. Duke Nukem Forever says, as a forums poster put it, that everything and everyone is shit.

Where's the respect, Duke?

Jan 8, 2012

2011: A Year in Review, Part II: "The Other Guys"

Not all games reach top status, of course, even if they're pretty good or decent. Here's a few that couldn't reach the top, but are still memorable.

[From Amazon.com.]

Dragon Age 2 (PC/PS3/X360)

The first game was an exercise in lame-brained nostalgia: for Tolkien's Lord of the Ring novels, even though the fantasy genre has moved past them for years with the ascendancy of George R.R. Martin, Joe Abercrombie, R. Scott Bakker, etc.; and for the Baldur's Gate game series, there reduced from its masterpiece status to a floatation device for the developer's legacy to cling to and for mainstream press to laud as a selling point. 

If Dragon Age: Origins managed to showcase a few good moments amongst a load of not-so-good (finale) to boring (Deep Roads) to amateurish (sex scene) ones, then Dragon Age 2 presents a lo-fi but legitimately decent game. Of course, it hasn't reached the level of Mass Effect and may never do so, but the more unique yet still quite ugly art style this time is something to applaud: producing a sense of genuine cobbled-togetherness (you sense that the art style itself will, at any moment, collapse) not unlike the city it almost entirely takes place in is a positive side effect. 

Strangely, it also features the most lavish loading screens I've ever witnessed—clearly a lot of time was spent here, and I can't say they're not unpleasant to look at. But the greatest achievements of Dragon Age 2 is that the game carries a sense of time and place, even if we do eventually get bored of these places, and that the people in this games's party actually grow as friends based on your input. In such a disgusting game world, the camaraderie is inspiring and something even the superior Mass Effect should aim to hit.

Jan 1, 2012

2011: A Year in Review, Part I: "The Good"

Ken Levine, director of System Shock 2 and BioShock, says that " '[2011] is a year to be proud of our industry...It's a year to be proud of the Uncharted guys. It's a year to be proud of Epic. It's a year to be proud of the Call of Duty guys. It's a year to be proud of everybody because people are delivering this year in a way the industry hasn't delivered in a very long time' " (via Eurogamer) and he's right. When it came time to type up this little list, I planned to pick only my top three, but I just couldn't limit myself, no matter how hard I tried to trim it down: too much released this year, and that's without playing Crysis 2 or any PC or portable platforms. So here's what's worth your time.

[All screenshots copyright IGN.com.]

Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker (PS3/PSP) [note: originally released in 2010, I played the PS3 "HD" port]

After Metal Gear Solid 4, I found it hard to care about any other games in this series: not due to it being bad, but due to it being such a perfect sum to all the themes, flaws, and positive aspects of the previous games. What's the point in going on? To expand the plot? Hideo Kojima returns to his pop art well and proves me wrong with “Peace Walker,” a proper prequel that supplements the games made before it instead of serving just to detail plot points. If some Hawthorne-levels of obvious symbolism are thrown at the player, so be it. The sketched and selectively colored interactive cutscenes, historical milieu of 1970s paranoia, and the business management mini-game create an attractive spin on the old sneaking formula.

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (PS3)

No one's said it better than Nightmare Mode's Robert Ramnauth in his piece "Naughty Dog vs. Audience Expectations", so I'll let him say it for me. This third time around is an honest-to-God decoding of the previous two games with inventive set pieces and aesthetically pleasing art design to boot.