A Matter Of Ben’s Top 5 Games of 2011

Ok, so it’s 2012 and it’s a chance to reflect on the gaming year that has passed. We’ll be chatting about what we’re looking forward to in 2012 on Episode 10 of AMOLAG (should be available for download sometime 5th Jan 2012) but i’m going to go through the previous years games that made my top 5 list on our end of year special – Episode 9 of AMOLAG.
Personally I think that 2011 has been a vintage year for gaming and one that we can all look back upon fondly. Many great games came out, and like many other gamers out there, I haven’t had chance to play half of the games that I was looking forward to due to the way that the games industry trips over itself to release it’s spoils in the last 2 to 3 months of the year. So I can only comment on what i’ve played only being too aware that there is a whole other top 5 games list that I can only wish that i’d played.
Caution: Article may contain nuts and minor plot details (although where possible I have avoided this).

No. 5 – LA Noire - Developed by Team Bondi and Published by Rockstar

My experience with LA Noire is a love and hate relationship, it sucked me in many years ago when it was only meant to be a PS3 exclusive and not much information was available to us other than Rockstar were involved. They slowly drip-fed news to us and as this came through more and more people started to pay attention to it. It was to be set in the 1940′s, with a major detective line story and mainly it was going to be a Rockstar game where your first option wasn’t going to be shooting someone!
I bought this game on the day of release for the Xbox and started to crack on with it straight away. This was where the hate part of this story starts… I was initially impressed with the large open world that Team Bondi had given us. The 1940′s LA looking absolutely fantastic, the characters looking graphically stunning and the plot leading you through murder, corruption and some topics that are very rarely mentioned in games such as paedophilia. But, when I played more than one of the chapters in an evening you started to notice a number of issues that the game had. The acting is fantastic but you didn’t really have much control of how you wanted the story to play out, as say you would in a Mass Effect or Deus Ex game. More than 90 minutes in the game at any one time would start to drive me mad, the little bugs in the game started to become too grating for me and I just had to put the game down and come back to it later when I felt more refreshed.
When I released that I had been approaching the game wrong and that the best way to play it was like you would consume a TV show, no more than one episode a day, the story is then given chance to breathe and what is a great tale comes through. The Arson section of the game I felt had the best episodic plots and the ending of the game was one that I certainly wasn’t anticipating, leaving me impressed with the way the game finished.
The DLC content wasn’t particularly strong and especially if purchased after you’ve completed the game. You can see why a lot of it was cut from the game. That said, the Nicholson Electroplating episode was, in my eyes, the best bit of DLC that I played in any game this year. The way they interweave it with other famous stories that occurred around the same sort of time is clever and the story doesn’t go on for longer than it needs to.
I’d be interested to see a sequel to LA Noire but I think that that if they drip-fed you an episode a week via download for say 24 weeks, like an American TV series, then it would find it’s feet and give you longer to appreciate the storyline weaving it’s way to the conclusion.

No. 4 – Deus Ex: Human Revolution - Developed by Eidos Montreal and Published by Square Enix

Like my choice for no. 5 game of the year, Deus Ex: Human Revolution (DE:HR) had running through it’s core a great storyline. Set in the not too distant future, the games story revolves around human augmentation and centres on the clash of those that are for it and those that oppose it. Your character is Adam Jensen, who works as a top security officer at Sarif Industries, one of the main companies that develop these human augmentations, who at the end of the first chapter is almost lost to the world.
In order to keep him alive he is fitted with a number of augmentations and it is from this point on that you can choose which ones you activate based on how you want to play the game.
I won’t go into too much detail as i’m sure that most people who read this article will have at least had some sort of dalliance with the types of augmentations available to Adam. My choice however, was to start with improving my hacking ability. I wanted to play this game stealthily, but being a complete newcomer to the Deus Ex games, this was easier said than done!
I really enjoyed the parts of the game where you had to hack into the computer systems to bypass doors or obtain access codes but I did struggle playing this game completely how I envisaged. I always seemed to get caught just at the tail-end of getting through an area that led me to having to take the guards down with a swift bullet to the head. I can’t even blame the difficulty as I played through it on the easiest setting! It just wasn’t to be.
To start with and for the first 20 to 25 hours of gameplay I went through the game not leaving any stone unturned but towards the end I just got to the stage where I wanted to blitz through it, it’s magic starting to wear off on me.
In hindsight I should have continued playing through meticulously, but, I did enjoy the storyline and the majority of the gameplay, with the exception of a number of the bosses, especially the end one, which is why it only sits at no. 4 in my list.
Now that a few months have passed and with the Steam sale timed so well, I have picked up the Missing Link DLC for just over £3 and will be venturing back into the game for one last visit. I’m especially looking forward to playing through this DLC as the whole part has been pulled together by Eidos Montreal including the boss battle so I can see what could of been.

No. 3 – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Developed and Published by Bethesda

If you’d have asked me a year ago what Elder Scrolls or Skyrim was I probably would have told you that that you had just lent on your keyboard and this is what had randomly appeared on the screen. 12 months on and I am only too aware of what Elder Scrolls is, although why the land is called Skyrim i’ve no idea still.
I have to admit, right here right now, that I have only sunk 10 hours of my life into this game. There is some logic to this, which I will try to purvey now. I have only sunk 10 hours into it so far as there are many half played games that are sitting there gnawing away in the back of my mind that they need to be completed before Skyrim can get the attention it deserves. I am only too aware from seeing Al’s time invested in this game that it can run into triple digit hours and that is a big commitment for someone who works full-time and wishes to keep some semblance of a normal life.
Right, there we are. With that in mind the 10 hours that I have spent in the Province of Skyrim have all being extremely enjoyable and I can see why so many people have spent so much time in this large and beautifully crafted world. The fact that the game can generate it’s own quests is something that amazes and scares me. I haven’t gone too far at all into the main quest and have heard some fantastic things about it, that said, I do think that I will try to stave off that path until i’ve grown bored of what Skyrim has to offer me.
The game, to me, is pretty much an MMO without the multiplayer part. The story has the capacity to run up-to 300+ hours which, is such a large commitment. Think of all the other games you could complete in that time! I get, at best, probably about 10 hours gaming time a week. This means that it would take me 30 weeks to get to that stage if I committed all of my gaming time towards it. Wow!
It’s hard for me to comment on what is obviously only an insignificant slice of the game that I have played. What I can say is that I am looking forward to spending more time in Skyrim, the world so far has been inviting and threatening and no doubt will exasperate and excite in equal measures. I have yet to lay eyes on one of the talked about dragons and look forward to that story but what I look forward to most is comparing my story to the others of you that play it and have different unique events which is why, despite only 10 hours played, it sits at the lofty number 3 perch in my games of the year list.

No. 2 – RAGE – Developed by iD Software and Published by Bethesda

RAGE is a game that seems to have evoked a particularly Marmite response from various members of the gaming community and one for varying reasons that created a fair few debates on the podcast.
Of all the games that made my top 5, this is the single game that I was most anticipating going into 2011. A lot of previews had been published on this game and the screenshots were looking amazingly polished, especially considering that the game wasn’t due to come out till the tail end of 2011. As you may have heard us discuss on our Eurogamer Special this game is one that exceeded all of our expectations when we got some hands on time with it at the Eurogamer Expo. In the queue waiting for the people in front of us to finish their time with it our eyes met the tidy 46″ LED TV that had been conveniently placed to catch peoples gazes. We stood there thinking that this game is running on a top end, multi graphic card PC. It was running on an Xbox 360. Our jaws hit the ground when we heard that, I can confirm, since seeing the game run on Al’s Xbox that the graphics are indeed that good.
When we got chance to play it, the graphics ran at a very user friendly and responsive 60fps. Was this really going to live up to the hype? You’ve heard me and Chris talk about our love for Borderlands and we were hoping that this would be the stopgap until the 2nd on comes out. It was certainly feeling that way.
Come release day, the game is installed and ready to go on my PC. The graphics, after a few early problems were running absolutely gorgeously, better than anything I had seen on it before. The megatextures looked outstanding and just sucked you straight into the post-apocalyptic environment. The characters, weapons, UI and vehicles looking absolutely amazing.
Then the story, well, the story. This is why this game is sitting at number 2 in my list and not the top spot. Damn. iD, just look at the history of the company, I mean, if you don’t like Wolfenstein, Doom or Quake then it’s very hard to take you seriously as a gamer. They know how to make a shooter, but like the titles that I have listed, can you remember the story from any of them? Same with RAGE, the craft of the game is there, the engine generates some absolutely stunning and responsive gameplay. The weapons feel like they are reaching out from your screen and asking you to fire them! But they are let down by something that all of the the other games have in my top 5 in abundance. A decent story.
This is still easily one of the best shooters that I have played this generation. I completed it over a weekend and with a storymode that took just over 12 hours it felt just right and didn’t over extend it’s welcome. I’m looking forward to hearing what Kev and Al say about it on our next podcast, knowing that they have both had chance to spend time with it in the last week on Xbox.

No. 1 – Portal 2 – Developed by Valve and Published by Valve / EA (digital / retail)

Wow. It’s hard to say anything about this game that hasn’t been said a million times before. That said, it’s my top 5 list, so I haven’t said it before!
This was a game that I think quite a few people, including myself, didn’t think needed a sequel. When Chris told me there was going to be a second visit to the Aperture facilities I wondered how they would play it, what the storyline would be. I was late to the original game, only playing it a couple of years previous and that game seemed to have quite a definite ending. That said, Valve seem to know their customers better than the customers do.
As soon as you enter this game, the first few minutes showing you the basic settings and introducing to one of the few characters that you meet in the game, Wheatley. You just knew from that first 10 minutes in the game that this was going to be something special, I won’t ruin it for the people that haven’t played it, but this game goes on the must play pile. The 4 of us that started playing the game have all completed it, at least 3 of us have completed it twice, hoovering up all of the single player achievements, and even more amazingly Phil has completed it. That right there should be your recommendation!
The story, for me, took about 10 hours to run through the first time. A great immersive environment with humour coming at you for the entire journey, I completed it over 2 evenings, thinking about it when I was away from it, wanting to discover what twists were around the corner. As I mentioned before, there are only really 4 characters that take part in this story but that gives them chance to all shine. There is your character Chell, who doesn’t speak, Wheatley the personality core, voiced fantastically by Stephen Merchant, GLaDOS making a return from the first game, voiced by Ellen McLain and Cave Johnson, the CEO of Aperture Science voiced by J. K. Simmons.
The way the story develops throughout the game allows for the graphics to change from the repetitive nature of the test chambers to the delights that await further on. The puzzles this time round, I felt, were probably a bit easier than the orginal game with the new gels being added at a good rate to keep you interested without bombarding you with new things to learn.
One of the big things that came out of the first game was the fantastic song written by Jonathan Coulton that became a massive cult hit. I’ll leave it at letting you know that there is another song by him in this one, that in my opinion, is definitely up there and probably better than the original. The score is fantastic, moving along nicely in the background, only coming to the fore at the right moments, with the Turret Wife Serenade a definite stand out for me. A nice touch was that only a few weeks after the game was released Valve released the first of 3 volumes of Songs To Test By, all now available to download for free.
The co-op for the game offers you a couple of new testing robot characters to play with, P-Body and Atlas, is fun to play and offers you a new story to get involved with for around 5 hours of play time. Chris and I destroyed this and I have to say I loved every minute of it.
There is more DLC to come in 2012, which I hope is better than the DLC that came out for it in 2011. I know it was free, but come on Valve!
This game seems to have been a massive success for Valve and definitely raises the question as to whether there will be another sequel. Again, I feel that whilst I loved my time in the numerous Test Chambers offered to me, would I want a third game? Is it a stretch too far?

That’s for another day though. Portal 2 was relatively simple for me to choose as my game of the year. I get the feeling with Mass Effect 3, Max Payne 3, Borderlands 2, GTA V and so much other goodness coming in 2012 that my next end of year list isn’t going to be so easy to pull together!

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog and feel free to let me and the team know what your favourite 5 games of the year were in the comments section below.

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