Top Games of 2011: Tom Banks' Choices

By Tom Banks

Top Games of 2011

In each of these "Top Games of 2011" articles some of our contributors from last year pick out their highlights along with why they fell in love with these particular games. Usually they select three of their favourites, as well as pointing out an indie game that stole their time. But regular contributor Tom Banks broke the format as you'll see below...

Well, it has been a very interesting year, hasn’t it? We’ve had a lot of "AAA"-tier titles released, two new handheld consoles (yawn) and hints of new generation consoles. My top 3 list is not in order from first to last because I think that is a disservice to the games. I’m not going to compare a puzzle game with an RPG with an FPS with an MMO; they are different games and the one I would say is best will change based on what genre I’m in the mood for at the time. My choices are predictable as they are all highly successful games, but there is a reason they are successful (and no, it isn’t because I bought about 100,000 copies of each).

Someone needs to tidy this place up

Someone needs to tidy this place up

Portal 2 (PC/Mac/PS3/Xbox 360)

No surprises here, this game was fantastic entertainment from start to finish and has a sense of humor which had me laughing most of the way through. I may not be a Half-Life fan (yeah, I know - weird - maybe it’s the whole motion sickness I get playing older Source engine games), but I do appreciate Valve games as they are obviously made by people who are having fun making them. Portal 2 takes all the core ideas behind the original game and leaves them be, instead adding more things around the core concept which not only add more challenge, but save the game from being "Portal 1 with more levels". The ability to keep the game fresher for longer by having different challenges let the developers have a longer storyline which means more dialogue from characters such as GlaDOS and Wheatley (who I shall always reference as "that guy from the Barclays adverts"). The reason I play Portal isn’t for the challenge, it’s for the humour which is action-packed into the game throughout; each time I complete a puzzle I am rewarded with more comedy and wit.
Review (PC) - 10/10

He's pleased Skyrim is in our list

He's pleased Skyrim is in our list

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (PC/PS3/Xbox 360)

The dark horse in my list from my perspective is Skyrim. Yes, it was hyped and everyone who'd ever played Oblivion was saying the game would be the best thing ever, but I secretly suspected it would fail to meet the hype. I’m glad to say I was wrong with the assumption; the ability to play the game in any order I want, and the fact I can just walk in any random direction and do whatever I want is fantastic. This doesn't mean I wasn’t disappointed by the 'console' UI on the PC version, or by the graphics which could have been better, but I was able to lose myself in the game for quite some time and be entertained. I'm still suffering from a bug which prevents wild dragons spawning without creating a new character (and yes, I have done more than enough of the main storyline quests), but there are still enough dragons at fixed spawn points that I can hunt them down when I feel the need.

As I play on PC I am also looking forward to all of the mods and improvements which will be added to the game once the proper mod tools are released next month (I know there are mods out already, but I want more than a texture pack with some new 3D models and sounds). I have no doubt that with mods this game will still be something I still play for years to come.

Battlefield 3 (PC/PS3/Xbox 360)

This game impressed on a lot of fronts. As I play on PC I am able to benefit from fantastic graphics, wonderful realistic sound and an enjoyable online experience - not that the console game is bad, but it’s the PC version that is the epitome of FPS gaming. I am yet to play any game in any genre where I can be in the middle of a massive multi-player fight, close my eyes and enjoy the immersive sounds of the battle; planes soar overhead, helicopters strafe an enemy tank behind a hill ahead, and two Humvees zip past full of eager troops. I feel as if I’m there and it is the most immersive game I have played to date as far as atmosphere goes. It’s a set of games within a game too; when I’m a medic on the ground I have no impact on the two fighter jets dogfighting above, nor do I have any impact on the armoured vehicles exchanging hills across the valley. My job is to revive, heal and sometimes kill. Then when I get in a jet I don't care about the soldiers on the ground as I need to focus on other aircraft and tanks. They feel like different games as I move from flight-sim to FPS and various vehicles and roles in-between, even though they are all in the same battle. If I need a game to jump into for a short time this is the best game for it too. I can play a quick multiplayer match and then do something else - with Skyrim, Portal 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic I much prefer multi-hour play sessions, so Battlefield 3 gives me something the other games in this list can’t.

Indie Choice: MMO of the Year: Star Wars: The Old Republic (PC)

Indie games, eh? Well, I would have put Minecraft here, but the features at release were such an epic disappointment I’ve not touched the game since 1.0 came out, and I’ve not seen anything on the horizon to bring me back. Normally, I'd have another indie game to suggest, but there isn’t one that I can suggest. It's not that I dislike indie games (quite the opposite), but this year I’ve seen a lot of indie games that have failed to keep my attention. There are a few really great ones on the horizon this year, but I’m going to keep them to myself until there’s a playable alpha out.

So what to put here? I was in an epic dilemma until I realised I didn’t have an indie game as I wanted Portal 2, Skyrim, Battlefield 3 and Star Wars: The Old Republic in my list for the year and was having great difficulty choosing one to drop. So I’ve decided to put SW: TOR here because even though it is the exact opposite of an indie title (made by BioWare, which is owned by the "evil, heartless" EA corporation), it has been the game which has not let me down, even though it very easily could have done (and the things it has done differently have all worked for me, which is fantastic). In a heavily saturated MMO market where every game has the same limitations in the types of quest that can be done, SW: TOR has managed to mix things up through proper storytelling and voice-overs. In other MMOs if you asked me "what are you doing at the moment?" my answer would probably be "Killing 15 of these boars". If you then asked me "Why?" I’d say "XP. I need XP.” With SW: TOR if you asked me the same questions my answers would be very different, not because I'm doing different things, but because of the way I am drawn into doing them. As there are voice-overs it's easier to sit and listen to them than to skip them and get on with the killing/collecting/clicking specific item. This is the opposite of text-based quests where I am skimming the story element to find what I have to do and where. This change means that my mindset is completely different - and it works perfectly. The other benefit of the game is that you can go from levels 1-50 (the level cap is 50) purely doing quests with no need to grind anything unless a quest asks you to kill something. BioWare's aim has been to "remove frustration" with this MMO and they have managed that. Yes, there are some bugs and issues (where the hell are my high quality textures?!?), but gameplay-wise I can’t find fault, which for a one month old MMO is nothing short of a miracle.

Close contenders

Games which almost made the cut:

  • Assassin’s Creed: Revelations (PC/PS3/Xbox 360)
    Fantastic game, but more of the same. I am looking forward to the third timeline to play in this year's edition.

Well, that list was short, wasn't it? But I can’t leave you good people without a list of more than one game, can I?

Tom’s Top 3 Epic Fails in gaming this Year

  1. Duke Nukem Forever (PC/PS3/Xbox 360)
    They finally released the game! If only they'd deleted the source and done us all a favour. This game has terrible performance issues, dated graphics and obviously took so many years to develop as they kept adding bits and pieces as you play it, but it’s all very in-cohesive and shoddy.
  2. Dead Island (PC/PS3/Xbox 360)
    This game showed so much promise; excellent graphics, an open-world to explore full of zombies and craftable weapons. What could possibly go wrong? A lot it turns out, and most of it was in the code and not the design. The game launched with lots of bugs and performance issues, which for a multiplayer-favouring game leads to very few others playing it. I'd try some multiplayer again if I could convince others to play, but that’s a difficult task.
  3. EVE online (PC)
    No, I'm not saying EVE online is a new thing, but what they did to the game in 2011 is. I played EVE online for quite a time and really enjoyed it, but then they decided to add micro-transactions to a subscription-based MMO. In my book that is a cardinal sin; I already pay a monthly fee so I refuse to pay again and again for accessories. The attitude of the CEO and lead designers was abysmal and so I left, and even though they have promised they have learned from their mistakes, I will not return until they undo their whole micro-transaction mess. There were other things introduced at the same time that made others abandon ship, and the combination meant that everyone I knew in-game left too.

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