There’s no end to the list of adversities the games industry had to fend off in the last 12 months to ensure a prosperous 2011.
The global economic meltdown has provided a horrific backdrop for the country, and none have been affected worse than retail. And as a response retail has at times been its worst enemy – the sort of savage price-dropping that has characterised games retail this year is good for the consumer, but is it good for the wider business?
On top of that we have a console cycle in flux, with ancient (in tech terms) consoles trying to fight for consumer spend, and a handheld sector that has been left in disarray thanks to the rise of the app model.
But, you know what? 2011 was a brilliant year for games. Why? Just look at some of the releases we’ve seen in the last 12 months.
I’ve been a gamer for effectively as long as I can remember. I’ve been employed in gaming since 2002. But, hand on heart, I can honestly say that I don’t think we’ve ever had a stronger year in terms of quality of games.
As we saw on MCV earlier this week, my top three games of the year were all of remarkable quality. Just look at the list – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Portal 2. Three of the best games ever made (though, notably, I love none of them as much as my pick of 2010 – Heavy Rain).
But picking just three titles for the upcoming feature was a nightmare. It felt like a crime leaving out FIFA 12, which in my opinion is not only the best football game ever released (yes, it’s better than Sensible World of Soccer 96-97 and Winning Eleven 7 International) but also the sports game. Ever. I’ll also quickly mention Fight Night Champion and Top Spin 4 here, if you’ll indulge me.
Then there’s Killzone 3. Oh, my beloved Killzone 3. If any of you reading this were the ones responsible for not loving this game more in the press then curses on you.
In fact, we’ve been spoilt for choice in the FPS genre. Forget the bickering and the sales numbers – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is the best single player COD to date and Battlefield 3 is simply tremendous online. And the first single player level is good, too.
Crysis 2 was, despite having the nerve to stray from its PC predecessor, a simply awesome shooter that I cannot believe I’ve not finished yet. And the console re-release of Crysis was excellent too. I also enjoyed the shooting in Rage, once the textures had loaded in.
Let’s not forget Bulletstorm. Yes, a new IP! And with FEAR 3 Warner did exactly what I wanted – ditched most of the scary stuff that made me tense and focus on the already rock-solid gunplay. And, y’know, even Homefront was pretty good online. Though “PRESS X TO JUMP INTO MASS GRAVE” thing still makes me cringe.
I’ll be shot if I don’t mention Batman: Arkham City (even if I confess to not loving as mush as the rest of the world) but I’d rather highlight the majesty of Child of Eden. I booked a day off work to play that, incidentally. That was a good day.
I’ve even enjoyed some platform games this year. Rayman Origins caught me completely off guard, and Sonic Generations managed to become the first Sonic game I’ve enjoyed since Sonic the Hedgehog 3. Ah yes – there was the tiny matter of Super Mario 3D Land on 3DS, too.
It would be remiss not to give special mention to LA Noire. I grew tired of its formula around two thirds through but at times it felt like the best game ever made. And whilst certainly not the best game ever made, Dead Island managed to carve out an odd little niche for itself in a lot of gamers’ hearts. Uncharted 3 wasn't 'alf bad either.
Though I struggled to stop playing the mighty Gran Turismo 5, there were plenty of good new driving titles this year too. F1 2011 was fantastic, despite the annoying bugs, and who even considered the possibility that Ubisoft’s obscure body-shifting mechanic would actually translate into an awesome game in the shape of Driver: San Francisco?
While I stand relatively alone on the subject, I’ll once again put in a mention of Shift 2. When it comes to visceral driving simulators, EA has nailed it right there. I’ll also admit something here that I’ve not been keen to advertise until now – I actually forked out real money to buy some cars in Forza 4. Which makes me lame, but the game very, very awesome.
Even the age-old shooter has had a cracking year. Two classic Cave shooters were brought to market courtesy of the really quite wonderful Rising Star Games – Deathsmiles and DoDonPachi: Resurrection, and both were incredible. And we even had Radiant Silvergun released on XBLA!
And don’t forget PC shooter Jamestown, either. It was made in the West! A 2D shooter. Made in the US. And it was really, really good.
The list of fabulous iOS games is too long to contemplate, but off the top of my head I’ll happily put the Parfitt Badge of Approval on Where’s My Water, Tiny Wings, Flick Home Run, Flick Soccer, Hardlines, KungFu, Bike Baron, DrawRace 2 and Danmaku.
And finally, by token of it being unlike anything else I’ve ever played, I’ll spare a final word for Universe Sandbox. Not heard of it? Then open Steam and download it right now.
Yes, you can mark 2011 down for lack of originality and you can mark me down for still remaining largely ignorant of the wonderful indie sector that continues to go from strength to strength.
But in terms of raw craft and the ability of developers to continue to better themselves, 2011 was for a me a demonstration of a maturing industry that is beginning to finely hone its potential.
Roll on 2012. And Happy New Year.