2011 was a fantastic year for video games, playing host to such titles as the breathtaking The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and the equally stunning Batman: Arkham City. As well as entertaining us, games continued to evolve in 2011, with many titles pushing the boundaries of what’s expected from the often derided form of entertainment. Games like the mind-bending Portal 2 and the flawed but unique ode to hard boiled detective drama, L.A Noire.
With so many groundbreaking games released in 2011, it’s easy to forget about some of the other games that were released over the course of the year. Some were extremely hyped but failed to garner much interest, while others were popular but simply became overshadowed by bigger releases. Of course, many games were simply so shockingly bad that most of us quickly wiped their existence from our minds.
As 2012 quickly begins to unfold as another fantastic year of gaming highlights, it’s time to take a quick look back at some of the overshadowed and soon to be forgotten releases of 2011 – some deserving your time, others not so much.
Flashpoint: Red River
Two shooters managed to dominate 2011 – Activision’s multimillion dollar milking Call of Duty, and EA’s equally bombastic, if more complex, Battlefield 3. It was impossible to avoid both the hype and the in-your-face marketing, with both games garnering impeccable reviews, despite some huge flaws and lack of invention. It’s unsurprising that so many shooters came and went to so little notice in 2011, despite many being more memorable than either Call Of Duty or Battlefield.
One such example was Operation Flashpoint: Red River – a sequel to 2009’s Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising. Released in April to mixed reviews – indicative of its murky visuals, clunky controls and annoying characters – Red River was also a satisfyingly deep and tactical shooter, which offered plenty of redeeming qualities for those willing to endure its often infuriatingly tough difficulty. Completing a mission in Call of Duty or Battlefield 3 could be done on auto-pilot, but in Flashpoint, completing a lengthy and complex mission without a hitch was tough and incredibly satisfying.
Back To The Future: The Game
Telltale’s episodic series of games based on classic time travel series Back To The Future continued to quietly be released over 2011 to minimal fanfare, but to the delight of a small but devoted fan base.
For those who did keep up to date with the episodes, Back To The Future was one of the very best licensed titles of 2011 – offering the perfect mix of fan service (there was even a reference to the infamous ex-Universal Studios attraction) and decent, if sometimes easy, point-and-click puzzles.Equally impressive was the voice acting of A.J LoCascio, who provided a pitch perfect impersonation of Michael J Fox as Marty McFly.
Telltale might have failed miserably with their recent Jurrassic Park episodes, but Back To The Future: The Game deserves your attention.
Originally perceived by many as the killer app of the 3DS’ messy launch in March, Pilotwings Resort was a disappointingly hollow experience which soon revealed itself to be little more than a glorified tech demo. For early adopters of the console, having one of its few must have games completed in around 2-3 hours was incredibly disheartening, especially after having plunked down so much cash for Nintendo’s handheld.
With the release of Ocarina Of Time came a slew of fantastic titles such as Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7, both of which rank as some of the most joyfully fun titles of the year. With the future looking bright for the 3DS, it’s easy to forget the disappointment of Pilotwings and other launch titles, and rather remember it for the fact that playing Pilotwings for the first time with the 3D slider turned up was one of 2011’s most impressive gaming moments for early 3DS adopters.
Few titles released by a major publisher in 2011 received quite as much scorn as Mindjack, a bizarre cover based shooter with an oddball sci-fi plotline. To give it some credit, Mindjack did boasted an intriguing mechanic which allowed players to hack into the minds of civilians and enemies to force them to fight alongside you. Sadly, any ounce of promise that Mindjack once showed was grounded by appalling graphics, poor voice acting and an overall lack of polish and ugly design.
It’s hard to believe that a company like Square Enix could release a game as infuriatingly dated as MindJack in 2011, a year which gave us such highly regarded sci-fi games as Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Portal 2. As one of 2011’s biggest gaming flops, it’s hard to even remember that MindJack was released at the very beginning of what would become a far better year for gaming.
Of all the games of 2011 which were released to huge publicity and fanfare, no other seemed to flop quite as spectacularly as Bulletstorm. Despite garnering strong review scores and positive word of mouth over its gleefully retro FPS gameplay, the public didn’t embrace Bulletstorm as well as Epic Games had originally predicted.
For me personally, the problem with Bulletstorm was that for of its promises of being an ode to retro shooter fun without the weight of dull modern warfare clichés, its plotline which featured marines in space was too familiar and overly shadowed by a distinct feeling of Déjà vu. All of the ridiculous weapons, electro whips and ultra violence still couldn’t hide the fact that Bulletstorm wasn’t nearly as unique or anarchic as it thought it was.
Child Of Eden
One of the few games released this year for Kinect that actually managed to do something interesting with the often wasted technology, Child of Eden was a stunning prequel to the psychedelic Dreamcast classic Rez. Somewhat predictably, it also followed in Rez’ footsteps by suffering from incredibly poor sales despite the high amount of critical acclaim.
It’s a shame, as Child Of Eden was arguably the strongest title released for Kinect in 2011 (challenged only by Disneyland Adventures) and made for one of the most weird and wonderful gaming experiences of the entire year.
Call of Juarez: The Cartel
Perhaps the most illogical decision of 2011 was for Ubisoft and Techland to take their Wild West FPS series into the modern day with Call Of Juarez: The Cartel. Seeing as Call Of Juarez has always been something of a niche series – maintaining a small but loyal fan base – it’s hard to understand why taking away its personality was ever a good idea. The end result was a messy mishmash of ideas, which suffered from a severe identity crisis and turned fans of the series away, and left newcomers confused over such its amateurish production values.
The accusations of casual racism as well as dated graphics didn’t help Call Of Juarez: The Cartel, which found itself quickly in bargain bins around the country. Luckily for Techland, Call of Juarez was merely a blip on a year which gave them a polar opposite in Dead Island – a far better game and a highly profitable one, becoming publisher Deep Silver‘s best selling game of all time. The future of Call of Juarez meanwhile is left hanging like a noose in the wind.
Brink, much like Bulletstorm, was released to a cascade of publicity as well as palataple intrigue among both gamers and the media. The unique mix of online FPS and Mirrors Edge style free running had many of us looking towards the release of Brink with high expectations. All of the hype couldn’t help a game which, while definitely interesting, was confused and deeply flawed.
It was a game designed specifically for a co-op online market, meaning that it also left many single player orientated gamers scratching their heads over a campaign which was essentially nothing more than tiers of bot battles. For many others however, Brink’s addictive online mode and its unique gameplay made it one of 2011’s most underrated shooters.
Spider-Man: Edge Of Time
Once you could always rely on the Spider-Man games to provide plenty of web-slinging fun, even if they weren’t quite good enough to compete with other heavy hitters. Sadly, with the increase of bigger and better superhero games such as Infamous 2, and the decline of the series since the tie in to the last movie – the underwhelming Spider-Man 3 – means its been a while since virtual spidey has truly blown us away.
2010’s Shattered Dimensions was the first game in the series to be developed by Beenox rather than log running series mainstays Treyarch, and for many was a promising step in the right direction. Gone was the free roaming familiarity of Treyarch’s games for a more focused journey through Spidey history, which managed to impress fans of the iconic superhero.
Sadly, for whatever reasons, the follow up – this year’s Edge of Time – was a huge disappointment and quickly sunk without a trace. Depite the less than favourable response to Edge Of Time, Beenox are hard at work on their next Spider-Man game, a tie-in to the upcoming movie The Amazing Spider-Man.
As a spiritual successor to 2005’s giddy and destructive shooter Black, you’d have been right to predict that Codemasters Bodycount would be one of 2011’s more enjoyable first person shooters. It was even billed as a refreshing return to the outrageously over the top gameplay of classic first person shooters in a similar way to EA’s Bulletstorm. In actuality however, Bodycount was a messy and unfinished title which didn’t do anything interesting and fell down at even the most basic of hurdles.
After leaving gamers unimpressed, Bodycount became a massive flop for developer Codemasters, resulting in the sad news that the development team behind the game had been laid off, with over 70 employees let go from the studio. While Bodycount might have been a disappointment, it certainly didn’t deserve to have such a negative impact on an iconic U.K game studio.
Dragon Age 2
Bioware’s Dragon Age 2 sadly remains as one of 2011’s biggest disappointments for many gamers. Despite Bioware’s usual standard for lovingly crafting epic RPG titles which are released to great acclaim, Dragon Age 2 was clearly something of a rush job which failed to follow in the lofty footsteps of the much loved and far different Dragon Age: Origins.
Gone was much of the complexity of the original for a simpler more refined game which was highly influenced by another Bioware series – Mass Effect. It wasn’t what the fans wanted however, and Dragon Age 2 ended up leaving many still awaiting a true sequel to the massive role playing game.
Bafflingly released by Activision in the weeks leading up to Call of Duty’s release, it’s hardly surprising that hardly anyone raised an eyebrow – Rodger Moore stylee – at GoldenEye Reloaded. Being a remake of a remake didn’t exactly work in GoldenEye’s favor either, updating the Wii version with the HD sheen of the Call Of Duty engine, making the game both look and feel like Activations far more profitable shooter.
What GoldenEye did have however, was a lengthier single player than usually seen in modern FPS (it’s a good 12-14 hours over Call of Duty’s pathetic 4hr campaign) as well as giving players optional objectives scattered throughout each level. These espionage objectives gave the gameplay a nice touch of depth and replayability, rather than simply having players shooting their way through each level. Add to this an enjoyable multiplayer mode and GoldenEye Reloaded deserves a little more attention that it received, even if it’s a largely uninspired remake of a much better game.
The success of L.A Noire had many gamers recalling the similar gameplay of classic point-and-click adventure games, a genre which sadly faded out of popularity despite such classics as Day Of The Tentacle and Broken Sword. It was therefore commendable to see such a low-key point-and-click title released to modern consoles in the form of Gray Matter in 2011.
Designed by Jane Jenson – renowned for creating the Gabriel Knight series – the game was a traditional adventure puzzler filled with complex puzzles and a deep engaging plot. While it managed to appeal to a small audience and become one of 2011’s cult titles, Gray Matter and its low production values couldn’t help but quickly fall to the wayside in such a year of heavy hitting titles.
While many would argue that the 3DS e-shop didn’t quite find its stride until the recent release of clever puzzler Pullblox, earlier in the year we saw the release of the oddly addictive Freaky Forms. A 3DS exclusive, Freakyforms has you designing your very own monsters using a simple tool which allows for surprisingly wild and wonderful creations/abominations. These creations could then be used to explore a colourful world which would change and expand as you completed missions and inexplicably collected eggs filled with gold coins.
It’s easy to see why many were put off by the oddness of Freakyforms, but for those who stuck with it, it’s a surprisingly deep and satisfying download for the 3DS which deserves just as much attention as Pullblox. Both of the excellent games are hopefully examples of what we can expect from Nintendo’s 3DS eShop in 2012.
Which games do you feel were overshadowed or unfairly (or perhaps rightfully) forgotten in 2011 ?