So, these are my top five games of the year.
5 – LEGEND OF ZELDA: OCARINA OF TIME 3D (3DS)
There are very few games as iconic, well-loved and adored as The Ocarina of Time. It is a timeless classic; a game that is more than a decade old but can still be played over and over again all these years later and still induce the same feelings of charm and wonder. There was little reason to update the game and bring it into the future, but they did, and Ocarina of Time 3D has not lost any of the brilliance that it had back then.
From the moment you step out of the hut you call a home and into the Kokiri Forest, you know you’re in for a long journey full of surprises. The first thing you’ll notice is the extreme graphical update the game has received. It’s hardly a surprise, given the year we’re in and that the 3DS has significantly more power to play with than the Nintendo 64 ever did, but it all looks so pretty and fulfilling. The 3D is easily one of the strongest currently on the system and it truly helps to bring something new to the old classic.
Then we move on to the soundtrack. Fans of the original will know precisely why I am going to be so overwhelmingly positive about it and that’s because it is nothing short of excellent. There is not one piece of music on there that I could not listen to over and over again. The tracks are recognizable, enticing and blend in with the environment that they play over. For example, the music in the shadow temple and the music in the water temple are so far apart from each other due to the fact the temples are the same way. It is all done so fantastically and it could quite be the best soundtrack in any video-game in the history of the industry. I can hear you say ‘that’s quite an accolade’ and that it may be, but it is well deserved and if it is not the best soundtrack ever, it comes close to that point.
In terms of the gameplay, it is fluid, easy to get a hang on and utilises the 3DS control schemes perfectly. You can use the touch-screen to manage your inventory and maps (something that comes in handy when you face the dreaded water temple), the combat controls are very simple to get accustomed with and, to put it in the most simplest of terms, the game plays great. There is a vast amount of content in the game that puts a lot of today’s current games to shame, and you will easily get over twenty hours of gameplay from it. That does not even include the new ‘master quest’ mode where you play through the game again but from a mirrored perspective, and the boss replay mode where you can fight each boss if and when you please to beat your previous best times.
Nintendo did a sterling job of recreating one of the most loved games in history and bringing it into 2011. The game suffers from a few graphical glitches every now and then, but they are so few and far between that complaining about them seems overly picky. All of the classic moments, music and set designs are all there, in 3D and looking finer than ever. There is a reason that The Ocarina of Time is so well loved and you won’t really know why until you play it for yourself.
4 – BATTLEFIELD 3 (XBOX 360)
In some ways, Battlefield 3 is a very tricky game to place in a definitive position. When I play it, I can either have a fantastic time with it or it will be so frustrating and annoying to the point where I won’t want to bother with it for another week. It does a lot of things right and for the most part, it does them well, but on the other hand, it does a lot of things wrong and that’s what makes the game so polarizing.
Firstly, the single-player campaign is, in my honest opinion, rubbish. It’s a paint-by-the-numbers terrorist plot that rarely gets too exciting and I wouldn’t bat an eyelid if it suddenly disappeared from existence. The characters are un-inspiring, deathly dull and the plot isn’t much of a deviation either. It seems that they were going for a more realistic route (rather than the Michael Bay-esque action found in a Call of Duty game) and that’s fine, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a plot that didn’t seem like they were ripping it straight from a military movie. It’s also not that long and I’m just going to leave it at that because you should get the picture by now.
Obviously, seeing as this is a Battlefield game, the multiplayer is the primary focus and it’s fantastic. There is a lot more content to be used and unlocked than in Bad Company 2 and it is a more robust offering this time around. The character movements can still be a little sluggish at times and it’s not as good as I feel it could be, but it’s an improvement over BC2. The return of prone is welcomed, but it can make hilltop camping a very irritating thing to experience as you now have the added task of pinpointing your enemy across an empty vista whilst he’s lying down on the ground, barely visible.
The maps in the multiplayer are quite strange. It is obvious that some, such as Caspian Border and Operation Firestorm, were built with 64 players in mind and the reduction to 24 for consoles makes matches on these maps feel like you’re spending more time running across fields than you are actually killing people. The smaller maps are the ones that shine more, such as Seine Crossing and Operation Metro. There is a good selection of maps to play on, but the enormous arenas, such as the ones described above, can make a match feel empty and desolate and that takes away from the experience entirely.
Battlefield 3 is a good game. A very good game, even. Graphically, you would be forgiven for being completely underwhelmed (on consoles) as they don’t look at all different to BC2 and after all the talk about how amazing they were going to be, it feels like a huge disappointment. From playing the game on Xbox 360, it’s abundantly obvious that if you want the ‘complete’ Battlefield 3 experience, you’re going to want to get it on PC. 24 player multiplayer is good, but 64 players is where it’s at. For what it’s worth, BF3 is an excellent team-based game with hours upon hours of gameplay waiting to be had, regardless of what platform you’re on. Just don’t expect the amazing, shining beacon of a game that BF3 looked to be.
3 – GEARS OF WAR 3 (XBOX 360)
Gears of War 3 is a franchise that started out as brilliant but then it was deduced to rubbish for the second game. The third, and final entrant, however, is easily the best out of the three and Epic have done such a good job on it.
Gears of War 2 was not that good of a game, really. The single-player was fine, but the multiplayer took all the best parts of GoW1 and smashed them into iddy biddy pieces. It replaced them with lag, system-wide balance issues and a matchmaking system that would make anyone cry. Naturally, I was extremely dubious as to whether Gears of war 3 would be any different. Then I played the beta and I knew that something good had happened. It reminded me of how much I hated Assassins Creed 1 and then loved the pants of Assassins Creed 2. Epic had listened to their players, listened to what was wrong with the multiplayer and did their damned hardest to rectify that in the third game. They succeeded.
Before I talk about the multiplayer, I want to say that the single-player isn’t the best of the three in my opinion, but it’s a well written, fun and exhilarating end to the trilogy. The world has gone to shit, Queen Myrrah wants your head on a spike and giant tendrils of doom are demolishing entire settlements. Gears of War loves to go big and bold and have you fighting monsters as big as the empire state building, and GoW3 is the same thing all over again. Also, there is one moment in the campaign that actually reduced me to tears and I’m sure that you’ll probably know what I’m talking about if you’ve played it. A game has never done this to me before so to say that this one did shows how much of an improvement the game is over the last. A very big round of applause comes from me to Epic.
When you get to the multiplayer, you begin to see what I mean when I say that Epic have worked hard to make the experience more refined than last time. The lag is almost non-existent due to the dedicated servers (and the beta testing, no doubt), the maps are more balanced and unique, character customization is present for those who like that sort of thing and the balance between weapons is a lot more tuned than before. It’s not perfect (sawed-off shotgun), and some of the most irritating features of GoW2 sometimes rear their ugly head again, such as grenade wall-tagging, but even then, the positives far outweigh the negatives. Plus, on top of the best multiplayer of the trilogy, you have the horde mode returning (with bosses, defense upgrades such as wire fences), a new ‘beast’ mode that has you playing as the reviled creatures that you’re always sawing in half and the return of 4 player campaign co-op.
The sheer wealth of improvements and new additions makes Gears of War 3 one of the finest multiplayer experiences of the year. The fact that Epic have clearly done their hardest to refine the experience from GoW2 shows that it is possible to come back from a crap game and return with something sublime. The trilogy may be over but I would eat my own foot right this second if I wasn’t so certain that the universe would return sometime in the future. When it does, it has a lot to live up to.
2 – BATMAN: ARKHAM CITY (XBOX 360)
Anyone that has read my review of Arkham City will know just how much this game impresses me on so many levels. Arkham Asylum was a fantastic Batman game, but AC is bigger, better and badass. How’s that for alliteration, huh?!
The main story vein that runs through the game is fantastic. There is no shortage of iconic Batman villains to kick the crap out of and the big, open world city means that playing as the dark knight never gets old. The story is lengthy, interesting and has a superb voice cast guiding it every step of the way. In terms of the gameplay, Arkham City makes the entire experience so much fun that it’s extremely difficult to put the game down. AA did it well so it is quite the accomplishment for Rocksteady to have made it even better. They are a relatively new developer to the scene and it is clear that they have a long and fulfilling time ahead of them.
Arkham City is a fine, story-driven marvel of a game, but it’s not perfect. No game ever is. It can sometimes become a little repetitive and although the side missions are a nice addition, there aren’t a lot of them in retrospect. The large cast of villains makes the game varied and interesting but some of them are so under-used that it is a mystery as to why they were even included in the first place. However, for all of the things that Arkham City does wrong, the things that it does right make up for all of them.
I doubt that another Batman game will be this good for a long time to come. Rocksteady have demonstrated, twice, that they understand what people want from a Batman game and that they are quite capable of making sure that those desires are fulfilled. They have created, what I can truly call, the finest Batman game in existence and anyone that wishes to make a future superhero game should take a look at Arkham City and look at the things it succeeded in doing. The intense story, paired with the simple yet brilliant combat system and the fantastic voice cast and soundtrack, make Arkham City a wonder to behold.
This is what a Batman game should be like. This is what a superhero game should be like.
Now, for the top position, and I’m sure you’ve guessed it… (drum roll)
1 – ELDER SCROLLS V: SKYRIM (XBOX 360)
Skyrim is a fine bastion of a game. It is a huge, utterly engrossing, addictive canvas of a game for which you can play however you like. The scale of everything and the sheer amount of things it manages to do so brilliantly made my decision to name this as my Game of the Year an absolute walk in the park.
From the moment you start up the game and you’re thrust into the sprawling, delicately crafted world of Skyrim, it is hard not to be impressed at what Bethesda have managed to create. This is not just a game world for you to explore and then forget about; It is a world that is ‘alive’, breathing and full of history, lore and personality. It truly is astonishing that Bethesda have created a world so rich in detail and brimming with possibilities. 100 hours in and I am still finding areas and characters that make me feel like a part of Skyrim.
The amount of content to be devoured in Skyrim is extraordinary. The size of the map. The places to visit. The people to meet. You’re not going to finish this game anytime soon and you won’t want to either. The fact that I am over 100 hours in and I have barely completed the main quest and still have dozens of areas to explore perfectly demonstrates my point. Skyrim is big. Bigger than you can possibly imagine and then some.
There are few games that I have played that have pulled me in and kept a tight grip on my subconscious as Skyrim has. It isn’t enough to just kill people and play like a ‘normal’ game; You have to really absorb the experience and get affiliated with the world of Skyrim to truly appreciate the game. Many people have said that video-games can be forms of art and you only have to look at Skyrim to realize that those people have a point. To have created a game so full of life yet confined to the constricts of your TV screen is an achievement well worth pointing out to everybody.
It has been a good year for gaming, in my opinion, and the release of Skyrim has only served to further that belief. It is a game that is going to live on for many years, played by millions of people and remembered fondly for the experiences it creates. I know I am being overly positive about this game but I don’t care. Skyrim deserves it and I will say this to anybody that asks me.
So, there you have it. Those are my top five games of the year and I can honestly say that I have immensely enjoyed writing this mammoth three part post and I look forward to doing it again next year. I may do one for the new TV shows of this fall as I have a lot of things I want to talk about with regards to those. For now though, I appreciate everyone who has read any part of this post and the two parts before it, as well as others that I have made since creating this blog. I am over 200 views in and I cannot say that I ever expected to get beyond that number anytime soon when I started this blog. Even if you don’t comment on my posts, or follow me, I still enjoy the fact that you’ve read my writing and that is the best thing of all!
To conclude: I don’t know if I will be posting again before Christmas so I will say it now just in case.
MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE! 🙂