Once again, it's that time of year that game journalists and enthusiasts everywhere pick their "Game of the Year." It is kind of a silly exercise. Games are a very diverse medium, and it is sometimes very difficult to compare them directly. Add to that the vastly differing personal opinions of individual gamers, and the arbitrary GOTY pick is a little pointless. However, it's still a lot of fun to discuss and deliberate on the topic. So for those of you looking to get started early, here are the leading contenders for Game of the Year, as well as their ups and downs.
Pros: Mojang's Minecraft is certainly the indie darling of the gaming world. Arguably, no other game has had a greater impact on gaming culture in general than Minecraft. This phenomenon has infected gamers everywhere. You can't spend five minutes online without accidentally stumbling across a video of a Minecraft build, impressive mods for the game, or a music video about Creepers
I learned this year that Minecraft is incredibly addictive. It is also very flexible, allowing you to get what you want out of the game. You can play just to build, just to be creative, just to go after monsters, or even just to fool around. I can say with confidence that I've never had so much fun playing with blocks.
Cons: There are quite a few things that might cost Minecraft the highest honors this year. First of all, the release date of the game is a little confusing. Although many people have been enjoying Minecraft for years, it's official release was just last week. Mojang has been completely open during the entire development process of the game, letting people pre-purchase the alpha and beta versions of the game. As a result, some people even placed Minecraft on their game of the year lists last year. I personally think that only the final release should be considered, so this would be Minecraft's year.
Additionally, it can be argued that more of Minecraft's success could be attributed to the work of the community than the work of the developer. For most, Minecraft is really more of a creative tool than a game. They don't hand out Oscars to the cameras and recording equipment. (Actually, they kind of do. They're called theScientific & Technical Awards, and 95% of people don't give a shit about them)
Batman: Arkham City
Pros: Lots of people were shocked when unknown developer Rocksteady Studios burst onto the scene with Batman: Arkham Asylum. It has been regarded as one of the best super hero games of all time, and was almost undisputed as the best Batman game of all time. This year's follow-up - Arkham City - adds an open world environment and more playable characters to the already excellently refined combat system and engaging story. It's also loaded with tons of bonus content to keep players coming back, a good thing during award voting season. It's also worth noting that Arkham City is the last chance to catch the excellent Mark Hamill as the Joker.
Cons: For a game that received very high accolades, it got a little overshadowed during it's release in October. It sold an impressive sounding 1.5 millions units, but got dwarfed by other heavy hitters like Battlefield 3, Modern Warfare 3, and Skyrim. Did enough people play Arkham City for it to rise to the top of GOTY lists? We'll have to wait and see.
Rocksteady and publisher Warner Bros. also faced many complaints regarding the DLC for Batman: Arkham City. The one DLC was confusing, and altered the game experience for many players that for some reason couldn't pick it up (they either bought it used, don't have an internet connected console, or ran into errors when they tried using their DLC codes).
Pros: Battlefield 3 is like candy for the eyes. Running on a well equipped PC, the Frostbite 2 engine is very realistic and buttery smooth. The new engine takes full advantage of 64-bit processors and DX11, allowing for lighting effects, destruction and physics that are more impressive than any other game on the market. Preserving the classic team-focused Battlefield online gameplay is a huge plus as well.
Cons: Despite its technological prowess, Battlefield still got its fair share of criticisms this year. DICE scrapped an open Battlefield concept, and crammed this game full of on-rails experiences and lousy "Quick Time Events". The launch was also plauged by a slew of technical issues, both in the campaign and multiplayer sides of the game. The multiplayer, traditionally the strength of the Battlefield series, has also been criticized as being not as good as its predecessor, Bad Company 2.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Pros: Bethesda promised one of the largest and most immersive RPGs ever with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. They totally delivered. Skyrim is a game that is bigger and more beautiful than any other entry in its franchise, while also being simpler and more accessible to new players. Skyrim excels in so many ways: a truly open world concept, sharply written quests, immersive environments and interesting enemies. Oh, it also has ALL THE DRAGONS!
Cons: Skyrim hasn't completely escaped all criticism. Many players are frustrated with the game, and their rage is fueled by very real problems. The interface has received many complaints, especially from PC gamers that find it very ineffective. The in-game map is a perfect example of form over function. It's a beautiful 3D representation of the world that is entirely impractical for finding your way around. The difficulty is erratic, the AI is far from impressive, and the speech system is boring and unrewarding. Like any other Bethesda game, it was shipped with a boatload of bugs and glitches. They're mostly aesthetic only, but they're still very annoying. You can read about my Skyrim complaints in detail here.
Another possible downfall of Skyrim is that there is no way critics will be able to see all of the content in the game before awards season. As of this writing, Hex19.com's Glenn Meyer has spent 96 hours with the game and still hasn't completed every quest or visited every location.
Assassin's Creed Revelations
Pros: Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed series has very quickly rocketed to success. The original game received mixed reviews, but since then they've just gotten better and better. Revelations just builds on Brotherhood by adding more weapons and mechanics, as well as a conclusion to Ezio's epic storyline. Assassin's Creed has always been an impressive look into historical cities that look and feel real, and they've once again nailed it with 14th century Constantinople.
Cons: Ubisoft probably could've given this franchise a rest this year. Fatigue may be setting in for some players, who have now purchased a new Assassin's Creed adventure every holiday for the last 3 years. Assassin's Creed has lost some of its creative spark, and is now starting to feel quite repetitive. One can only try so many mini games and escort missions before getting incredibly bored.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Pros: More copies of Modern Warfare 3 flew off store shelves into the hands of excited gamers this year than any other game. Almost everybody has already blasted through the heart pounding campaign and invested hours into addictive multiplayer matches. Enthusiasm for Call of Duty has not wavered a bit, and that makes it a constant candidate for a "Game of the Year" nod.
Cons: The Call of Duty engine is really starting to show its age, especially against stiff competition in Frostbite 2 and CryEngine. The lighting effects, animations and physics just aren't comparable to games with cutting edge graphics. The difference may be slight on console, but it's very noticeable on PC. Journalists are also starting to get fed up with the frequency of releases in the series. With every new release in the franchise, Activision is draws closer to "Tony Hawk-ing" this franchise.
Pros: Valve doesn't release a game until it's ready, and Portal 2 is no exception. This sequel took 2007s quirky little puzzler and fleshed it out into a full fledged gaming experience, with a longer campaign, co-op and DLC content. Stephen Merchant and J.K. Simmons headline a voice cast that brings one of the most interesting video game universes to life, which is slowly becoming more and more entwined with the Half-Life story.
Cons: Will Portal 2 even be remembered by video game journalists? It seems like it came out ages ago, and the newer games of the holiday season are the ones we have on our minds. Portal is almost impossible to compare to other games, as none really exist in the first person puzzler genre. Also, people may be a little fed up with Valve as they grow impatient waiting for Half-Life 2 Episode 3. Maybe it would be out by now if they spent less time creating hats for Team Fortress.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Pros: Skyward Sword is the first major console Legend of Zelda release since Twilight Princess in 2006. Also, this is the first title designed solely with the Wii in mind, as Twilight Princess was available on both the Gamecube and the Wii. The demand for a new Zelda is incredibly high, and this is a series that definitely isn't suffering from "yearly release fatigue." Skyward Sword attempts to perfect combat with motion controls, and many reviewers say it has done just that. It is also a very deep game, offering 50 hours of compelling content to play.
Cons: Skyward Sword may be held back by being released on the Wii. It's a very beautiful game, but many people may be turned off because it isn't on a more technically advanced console, let alone the PC. Gaming in standard definition is right on the line of not cutting it anymore. Unfortunately, we'll have to wait until the Wii U to play a Zelda game in HD.
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
Pros: Uncharted is probably the most successful new IP this console generation, and for good reason. With Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, Naughty Dog has decided not change their winning formula. The game is very similar to Uncharted 2, which is a very good thing. This game is the most cinematic experience you'll have in a video game this year, and it's definitely not a waste. The characters and plot are some of the best written ones in video gaming. The constant blend of combat, exploration and puzzle solving creates a pace that is highly satisfying to most gamers. A better multiplayer with more modes and full 3D support round out the feature list on this AAA title.
Cons: Some reviewers had a negative reaction to Uncharted 3, just because it borrows so much from it's predecessor. Innovative new features are key in an industry that evolves so quickly. I think that the mechanics of Uncharted 3 aren't in danger of going stale any time soon, but are they still "Game of the Year" material?
Gears of War 3
Pros: Epic ships really well polished games. They felt they needed more time to perfect Gears of War 3, so they took it, pushing back the game from last spring to this fall. The extra time really shows in this title, which doesn't have nearly as many bugs and problems as the last two entries in the franchise. Gears of War 2 popularized "Horde mode" in video games, so much so that we often use this moniker for similar modes in other games. Gears 3 features an even better Horde mode, alongside a new "Beast Mode" which puts you in the shoes of the bad guys. The campaign is entirely designed to support 4 - player co-op, and multiplayer introduces more new modes than you can shake a stick at. Even though this game is overshadowed by military shooters in terms of competitive player base, it is definitely no slouch.
Cons: From the start, reviewers have lamented the "Dude-bro" mentality of the Gears campaign, and this game is no different. They did a better job of creating a compelling story, but it's not up to par with the other major releases this year. The genre of Gears of War also puts it in a tough spot. It's extremely difficult to get recognition as a shooter when you're released with Battlefield and Call of Duty close on the horizon.
There are countless other titles that have brought new innovations to table in 2011 and also could be considered. They include Bastion, The Witcher 2, Crysis 2, L.A. Noire, Dragon Age 2 and Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Now that most major titles have been released, it's time to play them all so you can join the debate. Will one of these games take home Hex19's Golden Hexagon this year? Bookmark Hex19.com or subscribe to our RSS so you can find out as soon as we announce it. We'll also be discussing these games and many more on future editions of The Hex19 Geekcast.
Note: I've included the current Metacritic rating on the leading platform for each game. I don't believe that Metacritic is a definitive source for judging games, but it is useful to judge the general opinion of the game. If you actually need purchasing advice for video games, I suggest finding a site with talented authors that share your personal preference, wherever that may be.