By dankempster 9 Comments
Hey guys! You're just in time for Part Three of My Best of 2011 Awards! Come on in, grab a seat and get comfortable! While you're waiting for the show to begin, feel free to leaf through the first and second parts at your leisure. The scheduled programming will begin shortly.
'Ten Years Gone' Award for Game I Should Have Finished a Decade Ago
Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation
My history with Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation goes back over a decade, in fact, to the year of its release in 1999. I remember sinking hours into that game as a nine-year-old, usually with my parents watching intently and offering invaluable puzzle-solving advice. Despite all those hours lost to it, though, I never did reach the game's end. This year, almost twelve whole years after The Last Revelation robbed me of so much of my life, I finally went back to it and sealed that chapter of my life shut, in much the same way as Lara herself seals Seth beneath a crumbling pyramid. It's always rewarding to go back to a childhood favourite that you never quite finished and actually put it to rest, and this case was no exception.
'Slow Night, So Long' Award for Best Use of Bullet Time
Yet another award that the victorious game would have won by default if these were that kind of awards, Max Payne was the only game I played this year to feature bullet time. But like the other games who dominated their respective categories, that shouldn't detract from the fact that Max Payne's bullet time mechanics are a lot of fun to play around with. After playing the game for the first time this year, I was certainly glad it was in there. Max Payne's otherwise simple third-person shooting makes for some very difficult gunfights, and bullet time is a great way of tipping the odds in Max's favour. Being able to dive into cover and slow down the action without sacrificing any speed of control really helped to turn the tide for me in a lot of situations. The fact that it also looks super-stylish definitely helps, too.
AUTHOR'S NOTE - Thanks again to my friend Duncan for his help in naming this award.
'Another Round' Award for Most Repetitive Racing Sim
Forza Motorsport 3
I'll preface this explanation by saying that I really liked Forza 3. I liked it to the point where it was one of my most-played games this year, featuring on my Now Playing roster on-and-off for around ten months. I also really appreciated the noticeable improvements they made over Forza 2, which helped to make the game accessible to pretty much everyone. This award speaks more of my own personal racing fatigue, something that Forza 3 (being the only racing game I've played this year) has had to bear the brunt of. At some point halfway through my fifth year of Season mode, I started to feel disinterested in the grind of levelling. No matter how many new and exotic cars I unlocked, I began to find it tedious to keep driving round the same laps on the same circuits, over and over again. Forza 3's limited track roster definitely didn't help in this regard, and nor did its adherence to recycling the same tracks for the weekend races. Like I've already said, it's a great game and I mean it no disrespect. I just think I've had enough of it and its kind for a while.
'Old Red Wine' Award for Vintage Video Game That's Aged Well
Grand Theft Auto III
I still find it hard to believe that Grand Theft Auto III, arguably the most important and influential video game ever made, is now ten years old. After revisiting the game as a means of celebrating its tenth anniversary, I find it even harder to believe, simply on account of how well it's aged. Sure, the graphics aren't anywhere near today's standards, but the things that really matter - the gameplay, the characters, the missions and the mayhem - all feel like they haven't aged a day. Stealing a car and cruising around Liberty City causing trouble is as fun now as it was a decade ago, especially when playing the PC version, which isn't held back by the antiquated lock-on targeting and fixed camera of the console versions. Arguably even more relevant than they were ten years ago are the game's memorable comedy radio stations, many of which feature material that seemed funny ten years ago, but in our modern society is sometimes uncomfortably close to the truth.
'Hooker With a Penis' Award for Mechanical Discord
Prince of Persia: Warrior Within
I genuinely think that this might be my favourite name for an award ever. Partly because it's named after an awesome Tool track, but also because it's a fitting analogy for how I felt about my time with Warrior Within. I picked it up while kerb-crawling for good-looking video games, and decided to take it home with me. We were having a lot of fun fooling around, the game showing me its best moves in the form of its slick, fluid platforming and fairly deep combat mechanics. Then, I discover the things that bother me. You see, while the act of playing Warrior Within is smooth and slick and places a focus on not being interrupted, the back end of the game that deals with all the saving and loading and restarting completely goes against this ideal. Having to confirm I want to save my game THREE TIMES interrupts my game time. Having to sit through TWO Game Over screens every time I die interrupts my game time. Yet you seem to understand that I don't want to be interrupted, because it's evident in the actual gameplay. These two ideals shouldn't co-exist in the same game, but they do, and it infuriates me.
'Nothing As It Seems' Award for Depth in Simplicity
Plants vs Zombies
Plants vs Zombies is a pretty simple tower defence game. You have a set of aggressive plants at your disposal, and you have to use them to prevent hordes of the undead from crossing your garden and entering your house. There are several different types of zombies, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. To balance this fact, there are also several different types of plants. It's a simple, rock-paper-scissors approach to gameplay, but one that makes for some surprisingly deep and involving tactical battles. A lot of the fun I had with PvZ came from checking what kinds of zombies I was going to be up against on a given level, and then customising my plant load-outs to try and mount the most effective counter-attack. If you dare to venture into the post-game content, comprising several mini-games and puzzles, then even more tactics are layered over the top of the vanilla game concept.
'Love, Reign O'er Me' Award for Still Being One of My Favourite Things Ever
Grand Theft Auto IV
Back in May of 2008, Grand Theft Auto IV was the game that finally pushed me into the current console generation and encouraged me to buy an Xbox 360. It was my first current-gen experience, and it absolutely blew me away. The incredible graphical fidelity, the amount of detail present on the streets of the re-worked Liberty City, the overarching story of Niko's journey through the course of the game's missions... Everything about it seemed like it was a hundred steps above anything else I'd played before. I've since revisited it twice - once in early 2009, and most recently in the dying weeks of this year - and I think I can honestly say that it's a hundred steps above pretty much everything I've played since as well. Grand Theft Auto IV is without a doubt one of my all-time favourite video games, and reminding myself why was a constant pleasure.
'Scattered Black and Whites' Award for Best Monochromatic Game
Long after I've forgotten the particulars of my two-and-a-half hours with Limbo, I'll surely still have a vivid memory of the game's striking art style. Employing a faded, black-and-white aesthetic with silhouetted characters and a minimalistic musical score, just watching Limbo in motion is enough to leave a lasting impression. The art style is made even more striking by the fact it's so brilliantly juxtaposed with the game's non-explicit narrative. The clearly-defined silhouettes of the nameless protagonist and the various perils he encounters on his journey is a sharp contrast to the vague, almost non-existent narrative and goal driving you through the adventure. In many ways, the black-and-white aesthetic of Limbo is artistic compensation for the shades of grey that dominate every other aspect of its design.
'Shock Shock' Award for Double Surprise of the Year
Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2
A bit of a cheat for this final award, for two reasons - first, because it's being presented to two games simultaneously, and second, because I haven't actually finished one of them yet (although I'm sure I will have done by year's end). I played both Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2 back-to-back at the end of the year, and they both surprised me in different ways. The original Halo surprised me because, having originally played it around five years ago, it was a much better game than I remembered it being. I had memories of it being a competent first-person shooter, but didn't really consider it to be anything special. After playing it again, though, I have no problems holding it in the same high regard as games like the original Half-Life. As for Halo 2, that game has surprised me simply because I'm enjoying it. I tried to play it for the first time around five years ago (funnily enough, also off the back of the first Halo), but couldn't settle into it for some unknown reason. Fast forward to today, though, and I'm left wondering how I ever could have held that opinion. Both games have been wonderful surprises, great games in their own right, and a brilliant way to bring this incredible gaming year to an end.
Here ends the third part of My Best of 2011 Awards, and with it the individual game award categories. Tune back in tomorrow for Part Four, when I'll be looking at some of the stuff that defined my year that isn't game-related. Thanks very much for reading, and I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Halo 2 (XBOX)