We all know which games you liked the most this year – we only have to look at the charts to figure that out. But what about the people that make up the games industry?
MCV asks a number of recognisable games from publishing and journalism what their top picks were over the last 12 months?
SIMON BYRON - Director of Games, Premier PR
I really didn’t like Oblivion. Having enemies level up as you did was the oddest game decision of all time. It seemed needlessly fussy in places, and is the only game to unintentionally have ever encouraged me to skip through fields with no trousers on – a feature, I note, which was absent from the Game of the Year edition box. I think I did about three Oblivion Gates before I decided I wasn’t having much fun and moved on – putting my trousers on first, of course.
I thought Fallout was pretty bad too. Yeah, brilliant, it’s all non-linear and that – but I prefer my games more focussed. I don’t want to walk to the horizon just because I can, only to find myself attacked by a mutant dog who wasn’t expecting me until I was 100 levels up or something. Plus, you know, almost by definition, a post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland isn’t exactly an escapist’s dream, unless you’re sick of pretty things and people with faces.
I once had a debate with Warren Spector about linearity over non, which concluded when I forgot to respond to him again, proving conclusively that I won. I had to stop playing Demon’s Souls because I couldn’t decide which areas to level up in. I am a man who can get paralysed by choice.
So on paper – particularly if that paper contained the words above, maybe concluding with “Skyrim is not for me” – Skyrim was not for me. Well what do you know, paper? No wonder print is dead.
Skyrim is, I think, the first game I have actually fallen in love with. I think about it a lot. I have had dreamt about it. I would absolutely get off with it. It’s the first game to where I’ve been happy to spend hours literally doing nothing. The main quest? Yeah, I’ll get round to it. But I’ll just pop in here to see – OH HELLO, YOU WANT ME TO DO ANOTHER FETCH QUEST? TOTALLY FINE BY ME SEE YOU AT HOME LYDIA. Its bugs – and there are many – don’t matter. I genuinely think it’s the best game ever made (soz, Ocarina). And the thought of what Bethesda does next actually terrifies me.
Batman: Arkham City (Warner Bros)
This is true: I went to school with Christian Bale (well, he was a couple of years below me). Also true is this: when my careers advisor asked me what I wanted to be, my first answer was “a super hero”. So if anyone should have grown up to be Batman, it should have been me. I knew I should have taken Latin.
So Arkham Asylum was the game I waited 37 years to play. Sure, it benefitted from a low level of expectation (the last licensed game to be actually any good was Robocop 3), but it was an absolute triumph, bettering at-the-time-best Batman game (The Adventures of Batman And Robin, SNES, Konami). Given the frequency of good super hero games, Arkham Asylum would, I believed, remain the best superhero game ever for longer than three years.
I was wrong. Arkham City literally expanded every aspect of Asylum. Far from diluting (it was a concern of mine, I can tell you now), it presented a world in which, finally, I am Batman. A brilliant main mission peppered with stacks of stuff to do around it, Arkham City is the first game I have gone back to after I have completed it. It seems now I finally am Batman, I clearly can’t stop.
Just as you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, so you shouldn’t judge a game by its Metacritic score – unless it is one you agree with. Anyone who dragged its average down to 96 per cent should be hounded from the games industry.
Pullblox (Intelligent Systems)
If you’re tired of the 3DS, you’re tired of life. That’s what I used to say. Now I say: if you’re tired of the 3DS, you haven’t played Pullblox, and you’re also an idiot.
It’s an odd one. The game was released without much fanfare – plus it’s digital only, so no-one cares. But it’s probably the most inventive block-based puzzle game since Tetris.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, we know 3DS games shouldn’t actually rely on three dimensions, because that would discriminate against people with the average number of eyes (average, not mode) but Pullblox is unquestionably the best use of the gimmick. The mechanic is so simple – pull a two dimensional shape into a three-dimensional one to create a route to the goal – that any actual game designers reading this should be utterly ashamed they didn’t come up with it. And that, of course, is its beauty – loads of levels, no time pressures or achievements, just enjoy the ride. Add a level editor – which they did – and you’ve got probably the most accomplished 3DS title to date.
JIM STERLING - Reviews Editor, Destructoid.com
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Bethesda)
It's terribly predictable to name a game that nobody can shut up about, but I cannot deny the truth. Skyrim is just that damn good, and is easily my most played game of 2011. From the numerous improvements found in the game engine, to the limitless gameplay opportunities and beautifully engaging world, Skyrim has become the Western RPGs for others to try and beat. I think it'll be quite some time before it's knocked off its throne, too.
What really sets Skyrim apart is that you can have two players with identical character builds, start them in the same place on the world map, and get two wildly different stories from them an hour later. I've seen this in effect during previews, and the volumes of stories and videos online further confirms that, no matter who you are, your Skyrim will not be somebody else's Skyrim. It's a game where even half the bugs are at least entertaining, and that's more than can be said of most.
Kirby's Mass Attack (NIntendo)
Despite 2011 being the year of the 3DS, the DS was not content to slouch. A few really good DS games came out this year, and the pick of the crop was undoubtedly Kirby's Mass Attack. The game splits Kirby into ten identical little puffs, and the player can command them as a swarming legion, pummeling larger creatures into dust and grabbing hold of objects to weigh them down.
The all-touch input is simple, but an admirable amount of work has been done to ensure a variety of gameplay and some increasingly interesting boss encounters. On top of a sizable main game, unlockable minigames include a fully-fledged pinball game, a roleplaying game, and even a top-down shooter. The wealth of content on offer is ridiculous, and it's easily one of the best DS games ever made.
Dead Space 2 (EA)
The Dead Space series is one of my favorites, but as a longtime fan of Aliens and Event Horizon, it's hardly surprising. The game's foreboding atmosphere, twisting plot, and deceptively deep gameplay ensured Dead Space 2 would be one of 2011's early hits, and it's a game I still fondly remember. What I love most about Dead Space games are how they employ a fantastic New Game Plus system, which has always encouraged me to play multiple times.
One would be wrong to ignore, however, some of the truly scary moments found within Dead Space 2. From an encounter with speedy, charging creatures that evoked memories of tactical raptors in Jurassic Park, to that obscenely frantic sequence involving Isaac hanging upside down by his ankle while Necromorphs close in, Visceral's commitment to hurtling the player from one intense moment to the next is worthy of the highest applause. A beautiful evolution of horror gaming.
Honorable Mentions: Portal 2, Kirby's Return to Dream Land, E.Y.E: Divine Cybermancy