2011 Game of the Year Awards: Numbers 7 and 6
We're back with our sixth- and seventh-best games of 2011!
#7 - Bulletstorm
February 2011 | Developer: People Can Fly/Epic Games | Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows
Bulletstorm is not for everyone. More specifically, and with apologies to South Park, it probably should not be played by anyone.
To start with, it's crude, crass and offensive on all fronts. It celebrates the old ultraviolence with a gleeful zeal. It's stuffed to the brim with protagonists who treat cursing like a bold and experimental new art (at least, I've never heard anyone threaten to "kill my dick" before).
From the outside, it looks like everything that's wrong with the video game industry -- a sloppy concept hacked together by a marketing team vying desperately for the 18- to 35-year-old male demographic. But looks can be deceiving.
Yeah, Bulletstorm is crude, crass and offensive, but it's absolutely brilliant in its execution. Within a few minutes, it's clear the game is just as acutely aware of how ludicrous it is, with characters often questioning the bizarre vulgarities being spewed and the nature of the gross, kinda-human enemies you fight in droves. But the surprisingly witty setting plays second fiddle to the game's core shooting mechanics, which are nothing short of inspired.
It comes down to two fiendishly clever concepts that come together in a wonderful way. First, the leash - a tether you fire from your arm that connects with enemies and flings them into deadly obstacles, pounds them into the pavement or draws them toward you in slow motion. This unprecedented element of control over your enemy presents countless opportunities to pull off Skillshots, which are clever miniature challenges that push you to finish off enemy after enemy in style. It's fiendishly addictive and remains fresh throughout the game's well-paced campaign.
Bulletstorm doesn't have the best weapons (that honor probably belongs to Resistance 3), the most robust multiplayer suite (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3) or the most improved competitive multiplayer experience (Gears of War 3), but it does what all of these shooters were unable to accomplish: it made fast-paced first-person action feel fresh again. To me, that's worth a lot. — Nick Cummings
#6 - Deus Ex: Human Revolution
August 2011 | Developer: Eidos Montreal | Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows
We are living through the death of science fiction as a genre - its greatest dreams shelved and dismissed, while its nightmares become the stuff of daily news headlines.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution, then, is something of a relic. The world of Human Revolution is staunchly rooted in the setting crafted for 2000's Deus Ex (and 2003's Deus Ex: Invisible War). It's not an optimistic world per se - one concerned with both conspiracy and the then-conceivable consequences of future cybernetic / genetic modification - but in the present, where the continued existence of society can seem questionable at best, it can seem downright sunny.
Like the story, gameplay in HR is taken straight from the original. This gives some aspects of the game a dated feel - dialog choices are effectively binary, inventory management is somewhat clumsy, and the upgrade / levelling system is unforgiving. These are only minor detractions, however, from what is perhaps the most finely-crafted sequel that I've ever had the pleasure of playing. The game doesn't feel like Deus Ex; itis Deus Ex, in perfect year-2000 form, polished to a mirror shine. There are just enough concession offered to fool the modern console gamer, but even with a gleaming graphics engine, a set of mandatory "boss" battles, and the addition of 3rd-person steath and weapon ironsights, the game never quite makes it into this decade.
And that's where the beauty of Human Revolution truly lies; not in it being a modern game, but in it providing a near-perfect last-generation experience. Before expansive sandbox environments, we had carefully crafted levels that could be solved in myriad ways. Before heroic regenerating supermen, we had to sneak carefully and pick our battles prudently. Before concerns of accessibility and simplicity, we had games that did not fear depth and complexity. Before endlessly topical desert wars, we dreamed of a gleaming future - one both hopeful and frightening.
In all, Deus Ex: Human Revolution feels like a love letter to me, the PC fanatic around the turn of the millennium, carefully concealed in a wrapping of bloom and bossfights - as though Eidos Montreal were holding a lone finger to their collective lips, offering a knowing wink and nod. The difficulty selection screen could not be more telling in this regard.
"Tell me a story."
"Give me a challenge."
"Give me Deus Ex."
— Spencer Tordoff