Posted by John on December 26, 2011

Video games: review of 2011

The ones you may have missed
During the Christmas rush, when a slew of big-name titles are released, it can
be easy to miss some of the more interesting games. Ghost
Trick
(DS), released in January, is a smart adventure that has you
inhabiting objects to save lives and discovering the truth behind your own
death. Nintendo’s oft-forgotten mascot Kirby has had a good year, too, with
the gorgeous Epic
Yarn
(Wii) and Mass
Attack
(DS). Nintendo’s Wii also played host to Xenoblade Chronicles, a
Japanese role-playing game (RPG) credited with revitalising the genre. And
for those besotted with Japanese culture, crime-drama Yakuza
4
takes a gaudy look at life in Tokyo’s underbelly.

Part shoot ’em up, part music synthesizer, Child
of Eden
(Xbox 360, PS3) is one of the most sensory experiences you’ll
find — particularly with PlayStation Move or Kinect — moving through
beautiful environments and “purifying” an infection by conducting a
synaesthetic symphony. For the spiritual, El
Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron
(Xbox 360, PS3) is a brilliant
action-adventure interpretation of the Book of Enoch by way of a Japanese
fashion show. Video games are nothing if not eclectic.

The blockbusters
Brand power was king in 2011, with most of the biggest games being part of
established series. Rockstar’s LA
Noire
(Xbox 360, PS3, PC) bucked the trend, with its fascinating noir
detective tale, astonishing facial animation and GTA-style open world
exploration. The most popular of all video-game franchises, Call of Duty
continued its extraordinary rise with Modern
Warfare 3
. The more cerebral action connoisseur, meanwhile, may prefer
the cyberpunk drama of Deus
Ex: Human Revolution
.

The very best games of the year tended to have a strong focus on
characterisation or world-building. Portal
2
melded ingenious puzzling with its blackly comic script. Uncharted
3: Drake’s Deception
is Indiana Jones for a new generation.
Continuing the “threequel” theme that seemed to define the year, Gears
of War 3
was a suitably bombastic send-off for Marcus Fenix and the
Delta squad. Batman:
Arkham City
was a stellar return for the Dark Knight, the brilliance of
predecessor Arkham Asylum spilling out into the streets of Gotham in a
generous, lovingly crafted adventure.

Fantasy role-playing games were back in a big way, with Dark
Souls
(Xbox 360, PS3) pushing creative boundaries and players’ skill to
their limits. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Xbox 360, PS3, PC), meanwhile,
was like starring in your own swords ’n’ sorcery epic in the fantasy world
Tamriel.

Then, there was The Witcher 2 (PC), currently a PC-exclusive but heading to
consoles next year, a grittier RPG that offered branching narrative choice
and where your actions had big consequences. Last but not least, The
Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii)
is arguably the finest entry in the
series’ illustrious 25-year history, matching exquisite level design with
the finest use of motion control. A fitting swansong for Nintendo’s console,
before next year’s release of its successor, Wii U.

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