LVLs., in its earlier Wildcat Online days, ran a traditional awards show (i.e. post) for a couple of years where I awarded games I liked a recolored sprite of NES Link cleverly dubbed “The Golden Links”. I’ve thrown that idea aside for several years, but this year I actually had a chance to purchase more than a couple games that are current enough for me to postulate my feelings toward them and actually have it be relevant, so I’m bringing the concept back. However, the “Golden Link” is going to stay a part of the past. Instead, I’m revising my Looking Back articles to be much more than they have been. Beyond the life ruminations, the shortlist and anecdotes about my favorite game, I’m also going to award some other aspects of games, like Best New Hero/Villain, Best Voice Acting, Best Box Art, and a few others. It’ll make it more personal and appropriate for the Game of the Year festivities that frequent the ‘net this time of year, and more fun for me to ponder (and I will get back to revising all the older pieces with this material in time). Note that this is incredibly spoiler-tastic, so I’d advise not reading if you don’t want anything about Skyrim, Dead Space 2, Monster Tale, Portal 2, Batman: Arkham City, Deus Ex: Human Revolution or Zelda: Skyward Sword ruined. Click on if you don’t care!
Let’s begin this proper, then…
2011 marked an interesting transition in my life. At the beginning of the year I was laid off for good from my bookstore job in my hometown, which led to two months of no employment. Grace had begun to go to university this year, and I knew that I’d have to get some sort of work to allow her to be able to focus on her schooling. However, it took a while. Suddenly in March I was hit with three job opportunities all at once! The local history center/museum needed a cataloger (and I had decided to go into anthropology by the time I applied there), a used book shop in my old college town wanted to hire me (after spending the last few months volunteering), and the nearby National Park was interested in my bookselling skills, too. I had two interviews within a 48 hour period, and the decision was difficult to make. I ended up going with the museum and the used book shop, which I’ve kept for the rest of 2011. I like them both, too, which is a plus!
I did realize while I was looking of work that I didn’t want to go through a period of unemployment ever again. My interest in anthropology thanks to being in the majority of Grace’s classes spurred me to consider returning to school and enrolling at the local UC. So I applied and as of right now I’m about to begin that new leap into education as an anthro major, and I’m excited as hell about it. My plans are to study cultural differences in video games and how cultures utilize literature in their own unique ways (you’ve seen some results of the former on LVLs. in the form of Cultural Anxiety). If everything goes well, I’ll be doing what I love the rest of my life.
Despite the lack of income, I managed to buy a Playstation 3 in March (re-employment prize), and for the most part I love the thing. It’s definitely gotten the most playtime this year, and I’ve found several games I’ve adored on it thus far (including all of this year’s nominees!). I don’t like mandatory updates that take 15 minutes plus to perform in order to do something as simple as checking the store, I don’t like DLC all that much, and the “hi-def” selling point…doesn’t sell me. Getting patches is nice, and having the option to buy hard-to-find or exclusive games via digital download is nifty, too, but I’m probably not Sony’s ideal customer in terms of getting on board with the HD/digital revolution.
LVLs. hit its ten-year milestone this year, and while I didn’t get everything I wanted to do accomplished, I think I did a fair enough job with its celebration. Next year, with its 11th, I’d like to take it a step further. I attempted to launch Black Blood this year, with (in my estimate) middling results. I don’t think I’m meant for this sort of constant updating. I just can’t keep up with it, which is a nasty habit of mine. I suppose this is an official announcement that Black Blood is done for now, but So…this webcomic, my much freer attempt at doing art, has been a resounding success for the most part. I’ve kept up with it most of the year and still enjoy it, so I’m glad I finally found the right method to be consistent with some art project. Fan art took a nosedive this year, so my poor DeviantArt page dried up quite a bit, too. Next year, I’d like to work on balancing that a little better. Maybe get some more photos and wallpapers up there, too.
Dead Space 2 (PS3, Electronic Arts/Visceral)
Issac Clarke’s second run-in with the Necromorph swarm stands tall over its predecessor thanks to featuring more diverse enemies and locales, more personality with its cast (including Issac himself, who can talk in this game), and refining the horror and tense gameplay to extraordinary heights.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (PS3, Bethesda)
Skyrim is almost the perfect combination of Morrowind and Oblivion’s design philosophies, and its world and gameplay are by far its best yet. If it wasn’t so buggy (to the point it may corrupt the console I’m playing it on…although there’s no concrete proof that I’m aware of…it’s still scary!), it would be without question one of the best games I’ve played.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution (PS3, Square-Enix/Eidos Monteral)
A fine return to the mechanics of the Deus Ex franchise. Adam Jensen, a security head, is forced to undergo heavy augmentation to save his life after a terrorist attack on his company’s labs. Jensen will spend the game uncovering mysteries related to the attack, his company, and even himself through the narrative, and the game offers players the opportunity to play through its levels however they choose.
Batman: Arkham City (PS3, Warner Bros. Int./Rocksteady)
Batman’s second game under the helm of Rocksteady throws the Caped Crusader into a large chunk of Gotham City’s seedy underbelly, fenced off from the rest of the metropolis and now home to Gotham’s worst villains. The open-world approach is well-executed and the majority of the game is improved over its prequel. I like Arkham Asylum a tad more due to the excellent Metroid-style progression, but Arkham City is a solid sequel.
In my opinion, the best game of 2011 was:
Deus Ex: Human Revolution (PS3, Square-Enix/Eidos Monteral)
The original Deus Ex wowed me, but it had issues that prevented me from loving it as much as I would have liked to. I hated the forced inventory grabs whenever you searched a stunned or dead person, which would lead to me arguing with the inventory screen a whole hell of a lot. The voicework was questionable but tolerable for the most part. The endings (all of them) weren’t exactly what I would like to do, which hurt in a game so full of player freedom. It felt a little long in the tooth, as well, although I enjoyed most of it. When I heard about Human Revolution, I was intrigued but not fully committed to playing it. For one, the visionaries behind the original game weren’t involved, and oftentimes that leads to very awkward gaming situations. Secondly, I wasn’t sure if the great parts of Deus Ex could be done properly again. Gaming has become more and more scripted, particularly action-driven titles (which Deus Ex falls under given its FPS design), and I doubted that Eidos Monteral could properly replicate the core of the series with the industry’s current mentality.
Luckily for me, when I gave the game a proper shake, I was gleefully proven wrong on all counts. Deus Ex: Human Revolution takes the pioneering philosophies of the series and evolves them correctly. The gameplay feels like Deus Ex. There are plenty of options for players to explore. Do you want Adam Jensen, the grizzled hero of this new entry, to be a murderous gun-blazing soldier? A silent, unnoticed shadow? A hybrid of those extremes? All of those possibilities are available to you. You can play each situation uniquely. The course you take has repercussions for the future missions. All of the quibbles I felt about the first game have been thankfully erased (beyond additional VA gripes; I’m lookin’ at you, Sarif), allowing me to fully embrace these delightful mechanics and relish in them.
Deus Ex stunned me at first but let me down some; Human Revolution grabbed me by the throat and I loved every single second of it. This is how one does a sequel. My extreme thanks, Eidos Monteral; you certainly proved that you’re up to the task.
Some personal anecdotes:
A lot of critics panned the boss fights, but I didn’t mind them that much. Sure, I died more than I should of. The game’s otherwise excellent gameplay split was absent here; no option for not killing them was available. You can tell another studio handled them in terms of level design and their AI. Still, I thought they were pretty fun. A little obvious when they were about to trigger, but fun.
Story depth like this doesn’t happen enough in this industry. Really engrossing stuff, especially when you dig into Adam’s past and discovering the ties to the original game. It’s really awesome.
One thing I loved about Adam was how he smooth he felt. The controls are nigh-perfect once you get to grips with them. Some of the augs were also very cool to utilize; I loved the Icarus system that slowed falls. It may lack the sci-fi geekiness of Deus Ex’s augs (deploying one of your eyes as an EMP mine/camera?), but they were enjoyable none the less.
Worst Game of the Year: Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii, Nintendo)
Ouch, yes. Could I be a little too harsh on this game declaring it the worst game I played in 2011? Let me explain my reasoning. First of all, this game reminded me why the motion control craze annoys me more than anything. Yes, the novelty of real-time sword combat and rolling bombs and other nifty concepts work great on paper. However, I feel that nothing can truly replicate using a conventional controller to do those actions. The sword more often than not failed to react appropriately. Once I smashed my hands into the ceiling fan trying to get it to register the right move. XD I wanted so badly to throw bombs with a button press. This became clearer every time the explosive failed to do what I wished it to do. Steering the Beetle was a pain, and the Wiimote lacked the precision I wanted. In short, I felt more disconnected from Link’s world than ever before despite the effort to make it more connected. Secondly, and a far worse disconnect than the controls, was the abusive never-ending tutorial. This game couldn’t let the player be for any stretch of time. It repeated past lessons like you were a complete and utter idiot. It forced the player to check things immediately that were not necessary to force. And it made Fi, a potentially compelling assistant to Link, unbelievably obnoxious. This is the first Zelda since Zelda II I will not finish, and it’s disheartened me enough to consider my emotions on the entire franchise. Nester loved it, and I’m happy that he did, but it left me strangely unattached and perplexed.
Surprise of the Year: Monster Tale (DS, Majesco/Dreamrift)
Monster Tale shows incredible promise for Dreamrift’s future. If they can get the level design a little more refined (and incorporate warp points to minimize backtracking), I think they will be a force to be reckoned with in 2D gaming. Kudos to you guys for knocking my socks off.
Contender: Xenoblade Chronicles being localized for North America
Disappointment of the Year: Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 (PS3, Capcom)
Releasing ULTIMATE MvC3 in the same blasted year as the first game was insulting. Capcom, you betrayed my tiny trust, and I wouldn’t expect too many more “new” purchases from me, because I don’t want to be suckered out of my money again.
Contender: Skyrim (for being so riddled with bugs that it may destroy my PS3 console)
Best New Hero: Adam Jensen (Deus Ex: Human Revolution, PS3, Square-Enix/Eidos Monteral)
I really like Adam. He’s a conflicted man who has had some horrible circumstances alter his life, and the game’s narrative allows players to explore his reactions to his predicament in their own way. He didn’t ask for the augmentation he now possesses, and the player can determine how much of it they wish to use to help them proceed through the game. Will he take his anger out on his foes through slaughtering them, or will he remain professional and try to avoid needless death? It’s always fun when you get a hero this multifaceted, and Eidos Monteral provided one of the greats here with Adam. Beyond the plot ties, I enjoyed his moveset, his voicework (although it is a little gruff), and his look. In short, he’s easily the best choice for new hero for 2011 for me.
Contender – None at the moment!
Best New Heroine: GLaDOS (Portal 2)
I can hear some of you now yelling that GLaDOS wasn’t really a heroine. Well, let me explain. After the potato incident, she went right back into being her malicious self. But she, for a time, was NOT that twisted, evil AI. She showed signs of humanity, of compassion, and of friendship to Chell during that phase of being out of power, and it was very endearing. So, for 2/3 of the game, GLaDOS was a lovely sidekick that revealed much about her fascinating past, and I think her character developed immensely because of it.
Contender: Ellie (Monster Tale)
Best New Villain: Nolan Stross (Dead Space 2)
Stross may not have been the main foe in the game, but as a secondary antagonist, he certainly kept the player on their toes. He was unreliable, threatening, and creepy, yet Isaac needed him despite these terrible character flaws to figure out how to destroy the marker. As the game progresses, Stross begins to really go over the deep end and starts to assault Ellie, Isaac’s other partner in survival. Due to this, he transcends his useful status to become truly frightening. Ellie loses an eye in the second scuffle, and that’s means Isaac’s kid gloves are off. In his last encounter with Isaac, it’s either you or him, and subduing his madness is intense. I can easily count Stross as one of the finest examples of a well-designed “normal” villain (you know, an average human with no super powers), one that even outclasses Isaac’s personal demons manifesting as his dead girlfriend Nicole.
Contender: Wheatley (Portal 2)
Best New Enemy: Defective Turret (Portal 2)
Oh man, these were a great gag of an enemy. Compared to their “functional” cousins, these turrets can’t do much of anything beyond wisecrack, but they do that job really well. They aren’t much of a threat, but the humor makes up for it. Clever, wonderful addition to the Portal universe.
Contender: Dragons (Skyrim)
Worst New Character: Fi (Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword)
Yeesh, this is a shame to give out. Fi should be a great addition to the Zelda mythos. Her design is fairly unique, her computer-style personality is novel, and she does some curiously cool dances. However, all of those melt in the wake of Nintendo’s determination to consider the player an idiot, and Fi is their primary tool in that effort. She nags, she reminds, she won’t shut up, she becomes unpleasant to even look at. A grave disappointment of a character, especially following the excellent Midna from Twilight Princess.
Contender: David Sarif (Deus Ex: Human Revolution)
Best Box Art: Solatorobo: Red the Hunter (XSEED Games)
Gorgeous use of color, intriguing characters, and a sense of exploration ooze from this box, and it tops anything else produced this year. Great choice, XSEED.
Contender: ULTIMATE Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 (Capcom)
Worst Box Art: Knight’s Contract (Namco-Bandai)
Quoting from an earlier Artistic Discussion:
At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be anything terribly wrong with this box. Generic beefy hero and scantily-clad vixen seem pretty harmless. It’s the bottom of the box that’s the problem. We have two identical monsters, flipped and repasted, for maximum laziness. They don’t even take the different lighting into account on either of them. That’s sloppy work, Bandai. So, ho-hum heroes, duplicated beasts, unimaginative effort.
Contender: Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 (Capcom)
Best Song: Rayman Origins’ “Sea of Serendipity ~ Panic at the Port” (Christophe Heral and Billy Martin)
This is pure happiness balled up into a song. It fits the world of Rayman, and showcases further Christophe Heral’s penchant for crafting unique, incredible music.
Contender: Want You Gone (Portal 2, Jonathan Coulton/Ellen McLain)
Best Soundtrack: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Jeremy Soule)
Morrowind and Oblivion had nice music, but it was so limited that it grew old rather quickly. Soule had a greater budget in terms of space here and it shows, as he created some soaring pieces for the score of Skyrim that range from dramatic boss fights to chipper tavern tableaus.
Contender: Rayman Origins (Christophe Heral/Billy Martin)
Best Voice Acting: Curt Cornelius as Nolan Stross (Dead Space 2)
Stross would not be winning Best Villain were it not for Cornelius’ stunning portrayal. He convincingly reproduced the deterioration of a man riddled with guilt and mental decline. Here is a clip with all of his parts, in order to see how brilliant a performance Cornelius gave (note: it is spoiler-rific!). To all game publishers looking for quality VA work: hire him. He’s amazing.
The line in particular that blew me away of his is in here (around 4:20):
Contender: Ellen McLain as GLaDOS (Portal 2)
Worst Song: TBD
I can’t think of one right off hand!
Worst Voice Acting: Steve Blum as Taskmaster (Marvel Vs. Capcom 3)
I’ll be honest with you here. There’s worse VA work attached to this game. However, many of them are Capcom-related, and can be switched to Japanese. Alas, Marvel fighters are unable to have that option, and Taskmaster has some of the more repetitive (and thus irritating) lines in the game. A little more diversity wouldn’t hurt this game at all. Sorry, Steve; I still love you for many of your other roles!
Contender: Stephen Shellen as David Sarif (Deus Ex: Human Revolution)