My End Of 2011 Awards - Part Three

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

After all these years, I finally finished raiding this tomb

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

Max Payne

Everything is better in slow motion - especially diving and shooting

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 think I'm done with driving cars in games for now

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

It may not be pretty, but boy, is it still fun

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

Please don't fall and die, Prince. I'm not sure I can take another double-Game Over screen

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

It's all about picking the right plants for the job

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

Over three years on, it's still every bit as brilliant as it was then

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

Limbo

Beautiful, striking, haunting

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

2011 comes full-circle thanks to these two ringworld-based shooters

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.

Dan

---

Currently playing - Halo 2 (XBOX)

9 Comments
9 Comments
Posted by dankempster

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

After all these years, I finally finished raiding this tomb

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

Max Payne

Everything is better in slow motion - especially diving and shooting

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 think I'm done with driving cars in games for now

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

It may not be pretty, but boy, is it still fun

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

Please don't fall and die, Prince. I'm not sure I can take another double-Game Over screen

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

It's all about picking the right plants for the job

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

Over three years on, it's still every bit as brilliant as it was then

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

Limbo

Beautiful, striking, haunting

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

2011 comes full-circle thanks to these two ringworld-based shooters

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.

Dan

---

Currently playing - Halo 2 (XBOX)

Posted by Sweep

But... none of these games are even from 2011?!? I AM CONFUSE.

However, Limbo can be enjoyed by anyone at any time. That game is a masterclass in atmosphere, compounded by it's simplicity, and I think a lot of games could learn a thing or two from Limbo.

Moderator
Posted by Video_Game_King

@Sweep said:

But... none of these games are even from 2011?!? I AM CONFUSE.

I'd like to see you read my GOTY blog. Your burger brain will explode.

Posted by dankempster

@Sweep: I know, but I have a good reason, I promise. I only played four 2011 releases this year, and figured they wouldn't make for much of an end-of-year awards blog. So instead, I've covered everything I played this year. Hopefully that make you UNCONFUSE :)

@Video_Game_King: I'm REALLY looking forward to your end-of-year blog as it is. If it makes Sweep's head explode, that's just one more exciting reason for me to anticipate it.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

Agreed. Hooker with a Penis is a stunningly good name for an award. Internet high five!

Also... weird fact, but as much as I love the Halo series, I've never played Halo 2. Not one. Never even seen it played. Come to think of it, that's pretty weird. I should really play it, but honestly, if I add another game to my backlog at this point, my backlog will, in fact, beat me repeatedly about the head and face with a bicycling helmet. And then it shall go curl up into the fetal position in the shower and mumble about cheese crackers and the band Ludo.

Moderator
Posted by Claude

I remember playing Max Payne on my PC when it came out. Man, what a cool game. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. Throwing open some doors and going all bullet time on some fools felt so good.

Posted by dankempster

@Sparky_Buzzsaw: Wow, that's a pretty mean backlog you've got there. I guess that means I should be discouraging you from thinking about playing it. So I'll avoid telling you how much fun I've been having with it, and instead tell you that I had more fun with the original Halo. Halo 2 is good, and the story goes in some pretty interesting directions, but if you really care about the lore, I'm sure you could find all that information on the internet without needing to play it. You could always wait for the inevitable Anniversary release in a few years, I guess.

@Claude: How revolutionary was the shooting back when it came out? Obviously, I played it ten years after its release, and in the interim a LOT of shooters were released that improved on the conventional mechanics in meaningful ways, so I found the shooting itself pretty generic. Did it set new shooting standards ten years ago, or was it just the bullet time that was innovative?

Posted by Claude
@dankempster: I played it on the PC and found the controls pretty cool. The bullet time feature was novel, and the ability to rotate your character while shooting in midair was something I had never seen before. Maybe it wasn't revolutionary, but it did start a revolution of sorts. For me, it was more how the whole package came together. The shooting, story telling and the vibe of the game was impressive.
 
I never played the ports, not sure how they turned out.
Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@Claude said:

@dankempster: I played it on the PC and found the controls pretty cool. The bullet time feature was novel, and the ability to rotate your character while shooting in midair was something I had never seen before. Maybe it wasn't revolutionary, but it did start a revolution of sorts. For me, it was more how the whole package came together. The shooting, story telling and the vibe of the game was impressive. I never played the ports, not sure how they turned out.

It wasn't an entirely original game (honestly, what is?), but the pacing of the 3rd-person shooting combined with the bullet-time and the diving mechanics really made it stand out. I played it on the Xbox originally and later the PC, and the parts seperately felt like nothing that had come before it. Whether or not it was as remarkably great as the world made it out to be then was a different story. I couldn't ever really find the marvel in the story (nor in its sequel). As a huge fan of noir films, I sort of thought it was underwhelming and a little disappointing, and the sameness of the level design ultimately made it feel like one long tech demo to me. A great tech demo, to be sure, but hardly more than that. The sequel did a little better of a job, especially in its level designs and pacing, but since I only played that a year or two ago, it didn't quite have the "oh, I get it now" impact that it might have had on its release.

@dankempster:

If there's a retro release, I'll pick it up. Maybe by then I'll have whittled things down. Doubtful - Saints Row 3 just hit $35 here in the States on Amazon, so it would have been downright criminal of me not to pick it up. Right? Right? Echo? That's really the last game for a good long while, though. Has to be. I'm flat ass broke.

Moderator