The Evis Awards, 2011

2011 has not been a good year for me. But it has had its upsides! One of those has been the release of some pretty awesome games. So, today’s post is dedicated to my personal favourite games of 2011. Note that I say *my* personal favourites- I’m not claiming these to be the very best of the year in a complete sense, but they are the best that I played. If you feel a game deserves a mention then head to the comments section and by all means have your say- I’d love to hear what you think!

So, with flame proof wards in place, let us jump to the award ceremony of the Evi’s 2011! Only slightly less unprofessional the Spike VGA awards.

Best Graphics:

Runner up: Skyrim.
Skyrim is a bloody gorgeous game. I love the visual design, I love the almost authentic Nordic styling, the rolling plains, the craggy mountains, the weather effects and I especially love the design of the dragons. But I can’t help but feel that Bethesda didn’t quite get the game looking as good as they could. With a few beautification mods such as a graphics post processor though, it looks stunning. I’m relegating it to second place though because one other game really did take me by surprise with the quality of its visuals...

Winner: Battlefield 3.
Shame about Origin, but this title just looks stunning. Now, it’s sad that such immense quality is being used in a grey brown shooter, but the lightning effects, textures and particle behaviour are second to none. I’d love to see what people do with the engine in the future. It’s unfortunate that I’ve not had the time to play much of the game itself, but It is without a doubt the best looking game of 2011, its sheer quality making up for the drab ‘realistic’ styling.

Best soundtrack.

Runner up: Child of Eden.
A legitimate attempt to make a game specifically for the Kinect, Child of Eden is a fun, hyper stylized rail shooter from the creators of Rez. While in many regards it leaves a lot to be desired (it’s more of an experience than a game), the soundtrack is top notch. Sometimes this accolade is given for music that just sounds good, but Child of Eden’s soundtrack is not only of the highest quality, but also manages to complement the graphics and even the gameplay flawlessly. How do you even manage to make music ‘sound’ like a gameplay mechanic? I don’t know, but Child of Eden did it.

Winner: Bastion.
Darren Korb is a name to remember. He’s the man behind the soundtrack of Bastion, and is without a doubt the composer of the best soundtrack of 2011. He captures the scenes his music plays over beautifully, and the production values are top notch. Best of all, they even sound great outside of the game. You can buy the soundtrack on Steam and I would strongly recommend that you do so. Korb has a unique sound and style, and I can’t wait to hear what he comes up with next.

Best Voice Acting

Runner up: Stephen Merchant as Wheatley (Portal 2)
Merchant narrowly beat out Danny Wallace as Shaun Hastings (Assassin’s Creed) for this spot. I think they are both about equal, delivering great off the cuff performances and providing some much needed comedy relief in both of their titles. However I can’t help but feel that Wheatley’s stronger presence in Portal 2 gave him an edge. His character was ‘more interactive’ and as such it’s easier to appreciate his performance. He nailed every line, and was an immensely fun addition to the franchise. I’d love to see Wheatley again, and I can’t wait to see what Merchant does next in the videogames industry.

Winner: Mark Hamill as Joker (Arkham City)
When people talk about the Joker these days they often refer to him as a different character depending on who is writing/playing him. In much the same way that people may talk of ‘X’s Mark Antony’ or ‘Y’s Mickey Johnstone’. It’s a testament to the depth, versatility and complexity of the character that people differentiate between the different portrayals far more than Batman. While Heath Ledger remains my favourite Joker, Mark Hamill’s portrayal in both Batman: The Animated Series, and the Arkham games is a close second. He’s got the perfect mix of menace, dark humour and sheer insanity that make the character so fantastic. It was easily the most memorable performance of 2011; creepy, compelling and creative. A well deserved win. A special mention also needs to go to Tara Strong who played Harley Quinn. She and Hamill worked exceptionally well off each other. Oh, and Spike? YOU DO NOT STICK LUKE FUCKING SKYWALKER IN THE BLEACHERS AT YOUR AWARD CEREMONY.

Best Storytelling

Runner Up: Gears of War 3...?
Yes, you read that right. And no, I’m not being a jackass just to drum up controversy! I honestly really enjoy the Gears storyline. It’s extremely basic, but it’s well told with only a few plot holes (fewer than most games anyway) and it has some great moments. I can’t really give away too much without spoilers for people who haven’t played it, but there was one moment in GoW3 that honestly nearly had me in tears. Yeah I’m man enough to admit it. I love to lose myself in games and Gears makes it very easy to do that. It may not be challenging or deep, but it’s easy to get attached to the characters and the occasional dramatic moments are well done. Plus it was a breath of fresh air to see a male and female lead in a platonic relationship. It’s rare to see that in any media, let alone videogames. It may not be everyone’s choice for runner up, but it is mine.

Winner: Bastion.
The Kid takes home another trophy! Storytelling in videogames is often done in a very hamfisted way, typically through endless cut scenes or walls of text (I’m looking at you FFXIII). In some cases this works well. Hideo Kojima has elevated the endless cut scene to the status of a genre in and of itself. But for the most part when they want to tell a story most developers forget that they are making a game that is designed to be played. Enter Bastion. No cut scenes, no lengthy dialogue sequences, no walls of text. Bastion’s use of constant narration, while initially annoying until you get used to it, is a hugely innovative step in videogame story telling. It won’t work for every game, however as an experiment it was a fantastic way to maintain constant gameplay and combine it with a well told yarn. A sure spot for number one.

Best Gameplay

Runner up: Arkham City
Arkham Asylum is one of the best games ever made. I hold this truth to be self evident, and therefore do not need to justify myself to you philistines! It’s was even down in the Guinness book of world records as game with the highest number of perfect score reviews. Arkham City makes it even better, opening the game out a little, adding more content and even managing to improve the already fantastic combat system. It’s simple, intuitive and hugely rewarding. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was most people’s number one spot for this category.

Winner: Tropico 4.
Another controversial decision. Tropico 4, like Tropico 3, has a flawless complexity curve. It’s fairly simple to pick up the basics, and once you have that the entire island is your oyster. As you get better and better at the game you start to notice more and more ways to tweak the world and your city. After a few hours you’ll be knee deep in ‘socio-political engineering’ I.E, brainwashing everyone into loyalists. Through dozens of subtle methods you can achieve a massive array of results and very different styles of society. The best part is at no point do you feel you ‘need’ to learn more. You go from beginner to master without ever actually realising that your game is improving- all thanks to the way that new concepts and ideas are introduced at a pace you set, without even realising it.

Best Smartphone Game

Runner up: Zen Pinball.
Mainly for Teraga equipped tablets, Zen Pinball is a port of Pinball FX which most of you will know from the Xbox Live Arcade marketplace. It uses some of the same tables and is every bit as good as its 360 counterpart. Zen has great, realistic physics, oodles of style and a compulsive element that borders on Civilization levels. The only drawback is that it won’t work well on all Android devices, so remember that if it doesn’t work you can claim a refund within 15 minutes of purchase. Try to beat my highscores! I’m Evis03!

Winner: Grand Prix Story
The ‘Story’ games are basically business management titles. Don’t let their simplistic graphics fool you though! These are very high quality, well thought out, deep and complex games with loads of replay value. Grand Prix story devoured hours of my life as I lay in bed fine tuning my vehicles, training my staff and researching new technology. A light version is available as a demo and well worth a look. It is available on both Apple and Android stores.

Wooden Spoon- Because some things are just S###

Runner up: Duke Nukem Forever.
Awful graphics, horrible presentation, crap gameplay, abysmal music and frankly far more fun as a running joke. It wasn’t the worst game I’ve ever played, but it was certainly one of the worst purchases I made in 2011. More thoughts here.

‘Winner’: The 3DS.
Here comes the stampede of Nintendo fanboys! I got a 3DS on release date (hell, I went to the midnight launch) and my thoughts on it have been made eminently clear elsewhere on this blog for those who care to read the drunken ramblings of a madman. The long story short though is that while the console itself is fine (I’m one of those strange people who don’t hate 3D on principle- but I do acknowledge that no one seems to use it properly at the moment), the launch line up and subsequent releases were atrocious. What wasn’t just outright crap was either meagre, or rereleases of old games. I already have Ocarina of time. I can play it any time I like on a 36” screen. I don’t give a shit about paying another £40 to play it in 3D.

To cap it off, all my mobile gaming these days is done on my phone or tablet anyway. Games on these platforms are far cheaper and far more suited for quick, pick up-play-put down, style gaming that is so important on a commute. Easily the biggest waste of money this year- and that’s saying a lot from someone who bought both DN:F and Dragon Age 2.

Game of the Year

Runner up: Skyrim
A game with the compulsive nature of crack and the eeked out rewards of the crack dealer. It strings you along and keeps you playing for just one more quest, one more item, one last cleared dungeon- then you can go to bed. You awake four hours later, your face plastered to the keyboard, drool gumming up the keys and the gentle smell of urine from your trousers.

This is Skyrim’s greatest asset and yet also why it isn’t my GOTY. I can’t stop playing the bloody thing. I honestly can’t. But the thing is I can’t figure out why. Everything about it is very well executed, the combat works, the skills are cool, and the world is nice and so on. The stories are a little lacklustre but that’s par for the course with Bethesda games. But that’s just it. Nothing individual is outstanding, but when you put everything together it metamorphoses into something that you just can’t put the fuck down.

Skyrim is a fantastic time sink. I’ve played it for nearly 70 hours, and you know what? I barely remember any of it. Most of the time I have the game turned down low and I’m also listening to an audio book. Yet despite the fact that it leaves so little impression, I keep finding myself throwing hour and hours and hours into it. That alone has to be worth massive kudos, so I offer it the runner up space.

And the Game of 2011 is....

Arkham City.

Arkham Asylum is- as I have previously intimated- one of the finest games ever made. Arkham City is even better. I’ve touched on the improvements made before, but much like Assassin’s Creed 2 to AC1, Arkham City builds on the strongest points and shuffles the weaker ones around or does away with them entirely. Everything about this game is fantastic. The graphics are of the highest quality and also wonderfully moody and atmospheric. The sound is well done, the story is well told if a little pat, the villains are wonderfully imagined and the entire thing has been completed to a level of polish and excellence that brings a manly tear to my eye. It does everything right. What more can I say except it’s my favourite game of 2011, and Rocksteady are the best thing to arrive in the gaming community since Felicia Day.

Noteworthy mentions

Deus Ex Human Revolution
What happened to this game? It hit the community with the force of a category five tornado wielding Thor’s hammer and then vanished. I know that there was some DLC, but for a title so hotly anticipated and so well received (even Yahtzee praised it) it passed in the blink of an eye. It’s a strange conundrum!

Sonic Generations
A shout out needs to go to everyone’s favourite woodland mammal. He’s had a hard time of it the last ten or so years, but Generations shows that Sonic can still be good. A return to the basic values of the franchise was just what the Dr Eggman ordered, and Generations delivered. A hugely enjoyable platformer, and a welcome return to excellence for the speedy hero with the blue dreads.

LA Noire
My review of this title is elsewhere on this blog. I’ve come to the conclusion that it was a fairly poor game. I’ll praise Team Bondi (well I would if they still existed) for their willingness to take a risk and try something new, but much like Mirror’s Edge the end result was less than promising. Fair dues to you for trying people, but a lot of us were hyped for this release and ended up disappointed.

Dragon Age 2
I’ve ranted, raged, cried, sacrificed goats and called down the wrath of any God who will listen on/against this game. But I do need to make one point very, VERY clear as I breezed over it in my video review.

It isn’t a bad game.

It was a crushing disappointment, and a clear message from EA that it didn’t care about the Classic CRPG crowd that DA:O was aimed at. But it wasn’t a bad game. It worked, it had some nice characters and at the very least I played it through the (bitter) end. While I loathe and detest it with every fibre of my being, do not let it be said I declared it to be bad in ‘overall’ terms.

So that’s 2011 sorted. On to a new year, new games, maybe some new consoles and more potential than you can shake a wii-mote at! Love and peace y’all!

-Evis T.

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