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Malik (1/3/12)

I'm back from my two or so weeks of vacation. It has been great being able to let loose on fantasy and forget about the realities of a working life for the end of 2011. Best of all, it gave me some time to think about what games I could and should play. Between Christmas gifts and my own craziness, I've played a few games and got some good times, as well as bad times, with some games that definitely needed my attention.

I finished Skyrim about two weeks ago and started Saints Row The Third. Saints Row 3 is, without a doubt, one of the most enjoyable games I've played all of 2011. Maybe one of the best PC games I've ever played that isn't called Skyrim. It's a game with only one goal in mind, as far as I can see, when the developers at Volition made the game; to have fun. It's over the top, silly, frantic, and completely removed from reality. This is a game made for gamers with gamers in mind. When Saints Row 1 came out, it was a GTA clone. When Saints Row 2 came out, it was continuing the GTA clone ideals. Saints Row 3, on the other hand, is something Rockstar needs to be worried about. When GTA4 went serious, Saints Row 3 went towards the silliness that GTA used to exemplify. This is what makes it so much better than anything I could have expected.

I also played some Batman Arkham City thanks to a friend gifting it on Steam for the holidays. I didn't get nearly as much time with Batman as I did with SR3. It's not that I didn't want to play it as much as I couldn't play a PC game that signed me into Live when Velveta wanted to watch Netflix on the 360. It was a battle of which system (360 or PC) would win the Live log in battle. That wasn't fair for anyone, so Batman got a little less attention than it deserved. I mean Batman is the best example I've seen ever of what a comic based game should be. While you have the action of a game, you have the definite plot of a small volume total comic experience. You have the comic looking art style with a plot that goes beyond what a game normally delivers when it's not a flat-out RPG.

I also played some of Might and Magic: Heroes VI (HoMM6). I would say, as a fan of HoMM3, that this game is amazing. I hated HoMM4 and never tried HoMM5. HoMM6 was a perfect looking continuation of the franchise. It captured the feel and style of HoMM3 without any of the silly changes of HoMM4 and without the poor attempt to utilize 3D as seen in HoMM5. Well, it would be perfect if not for Ubisoft not understanding the difference between protecting their games from piracy and treating their paying customers like thieves. Well, their attempt at DRM is nothing short as asinine. To full play the game, you need to log in to Uplay (Ubisoft servers) and then to Conflux (HoMM6 sever on Uplay), even for an offline game. Velveta and I play hotseat on HoMM games, so online is not needed. Well, when Conflux went down all of New Years day, this meant we were locked out of the full experience for an entire day. This is after buying the game the day before and playing a good five to six hours. By losing Conflux access, we lost our saved games and our custom made heroes. So, we started a new game offline on January 1st. Well, when Conflux returned, we now couldn't access these offline saves unless we played offline, without the special abilities and features only found in this offline game when we play online...despite being offline.

Yesterday, Conflux returned, for the most part. However, Uplay kept logging us out which meant our offline game would quit mid-battle if the network had a minor error. This meant online, but offline, games were still not a good option. By this point, the game just doesn't look good anymore. We have two games going, and no interest in playing a crippled game (one without full HoMM6 features) nor a game which cannot live long enough to ensure a chance to save before the game quits on us.

I now just want my money back for this sham of a product. Ubisoft claims 24/7 support for their servers on their Uplay FAQ on the Ubisoft website. On their Facebook pages, on January 1st, their staff said the server would take time to be restored since the server people were on holiday. This is a fraudulent statement. Either the staff was present, or the 24/7 claim is a lie. Either way, if I cannot enjoy a full game I paid for, in an offline fashion, when I want to, then this is not a game I want. What happens in a few years when HoMM6 is no longer supported by Ubisoft? The game will not be a full game anymore. May not seem like an issue to Ubisoft, but I still love and play HoMM3, so this is a definite possibility. Without telling the truth on their server situation (24/7 support), I simply want my money back and want to make a stand against buying anymore Ubisoft PC crap.

So, in the theme of this being the farewell week, for me, for 2011, I will start the situation with my first "...of 2011 Award" style claim.

"The Worst Experience of 2011" award goes to Ubisoft and Might and Magic: Heroes VI. This is something that could have been a great game if not being produced by a company that wants to make their customers feel like criminals. I want my money back and I want to see Ubisoft never come near my PC again.


Malik (1/4/12)

Continuing with the theme of 2011 in review, I present another of my pseudo-awards.

Most Disappointing Gaming Realization of 2011 goes to Nintendo and Zelda. Despite being the 25th anniversary year for Zelda, the franchise looked pretty sad this last year. Yes, a few Zelda titles came along, but did they mean anything compared to the Zelda games of years past? I really don't think so.

The first touch of Zelda for 2011 was the remake of Ocarina of Time on the 3DS. Yes, it was a faithful remake. Yes, it was fun. However...yes, it was the same damned game that has been seen on the N64, Gamecube (as a free item with pre-order of Wind Waker), and Wii (on Virtual Console). True, the 3D was pretty impressive. Ocarina on the 3DS had the best pop-out of visuals I've seen on the 3DS, but is that what one should be thinking about a Zelda title? "Ocarina had amazing pop-out" is not the same as something like "Zelda was unbelievably amazing!"

The year continued with a free release on the 3DS (and maybe on the DSi?) of Four Swords. Quite frankly, trying to play this game again was hard. It's a GBA title, which meant it lacked many important features one would want in the DS and 3DS, such as utilizing all of the buttons. Some games can be revisited over the years, but the original Four Swords is not one of these games. It was just slow and awkward to see this game that was always more focused on multiplayer than on Zelda ideas on a modern platform.

The year ended with Skyward Sword on the Wii. I would have been excited about this title, but it just had too much going against it when release rolled around. First off, it required the Wii Motion Plus controller. I don't have one, nor do I want to spend extra money on my Wii when the system itself just normally is collecting dust. I only use my Wii as a Netflix streaming device and nothing more. The last time I used the Wii for a game was when Mario Galaxy was new, and buying anything to add to the system beyond software seems wrong on too many levels.

Secondly, for the first time I can think of, Zelda was not one of the must have titles released in a holiday season. Can you really justify Zelda when you have Skyrim, Batman, Saints Row The Third, Old Republic, and dozens of other truly A+ titles coming along at the same time. If you only owned a Wii, then Skyward Sword was the best option for a new game. Of course, if you only owned a Wii, then you're probably not much of a gamer at this point when the consoles have all seen some major price cuts and a half decade of life.

The third thing that turned me off from Skyward Sword is that it has another round of a half-assed attempt at skipping an over world map system. Like with Spirit Tracks, Phantom Hourglass, and Wind Waker, Skyward Sword takes out a fun to explore world and gives you levels found within a slow to navigate map screen. Yes, you are flying on your bird, but that is just never going to compare to exploring the world like you did in the original Zelda, Link to the Past, Ocarina, or Twilight Princess. On a portable system, I can understand the attempt to streamline, but I just don't see why this system of slow and tedious travel must exist on Nintendo's flagship console.

Lastly, I didn't give much consideration to Skyward Sword because the game journalists didn't seem to feel differently than I did. I mean the coverage I could find outside of Nintendo owned publications was far more limited for Skyward Sword than I think I've ever seen for a Zelda game and far less than nearly any other game released this year. It almost felt like Zelda was the game that time forgot this year. In fact, it might seem harsh, but I almost am feeling like Zelda is now a franchise that is ready to retire. After 25 years, can you keep doing the same general concept, but tweaking it in ways that are not always for the best, and still keep a top-tier franchise at the top? Maybe you can, but I'm not feeling it anymore with Zelda.

True, I'll probably give the game a chance if it didn't cost me more than a 360, PS3, or PC game (add in the Wii Motion Plus cost and it's a bit much to swallow). I can see trying the game if I find a price break. I can see trying the game in the summer when solid releases are not a guarantee. Until then, I've had, since Skyward Sword came along, Skyrim, Rocksmith, Saints Row The Third, Batman Arkham City, and I still have Deus Ex and a few other higher respected titles to enjoy.

So, I have to say while it may have been the anniversary year for Zelda, I feel that Zelda was not invited to the party. It felt like celebrating the birthday of someone who turned 76. Yes, it's an old and respectable age, but it's not a milestone worth recognizing anymore.


Malik (1/5/12)

More of my 2011 in review follows...but first, I just have to say that right when I felt pretty disappointed with Super Mario 3D Land, I had one hell of a great surprise. Last night I was at the final level. The final Bowser castle. The castle after what looked like the original final castle. The end of the game. I just didn't feel like playing the final castle since I last put the game down, a few weeks ago. Last night, I decided it was time to end this.

After playing what had to be the first level with any real challenge in it, the end credits rolled. It was done...until Luigi showed his face. Ends up the game had a whole new set of levels. As many as the game seemed to already have, but entirely new (or mostly new...some levels are less new than others) and with a lot more challenge than the original easy eight worlds had.

I guess you could say that this was my favorite surprise from a game from 2011.

On a more style sounding a little more like a proclamation; The Largest Non-News of 2011 goes to Nintendo again. Nintendo, despite not being much of my life in 2011 is sure picking up a lot of my pseudo-awards.

I could have given this to the "failure" of the 3DS. However, being the start of a console life cycle, one has to expect some missteps. I mean name a console with a good launch that is post-16-bit era. Name one. Couldn't? That's because they have all had weak launches. I should know, since I have been there from the start for all but two (PS3 and original XBox).

I could have given this to Sony and their Vita. The thing just doesn't look right to me. However, we will not really know until it really launches.

No. Nintendo gets this dubious honor for the Wii-U. If I have ever had a strong opinion about a console when it was announced, and I have, they usually soften with time and I join the hype machine in glorious adoration. Not the Wii-U. This thing has made me less excited each time I've read more information.

First, there are the specs under the hood of this thing. If you remove an iPad-like controller, you have a very weak console. Yes, Nintendo showed with the Wii that they don't care about technology and being on the cutting edge. However, at the end of the current generation, which console has held up the least? The Wii. Yes, a good amount of that comes from too few solid must have games. However, it is also a console that just looks and feels old before its time due to having such limited technology.

On the other hand, you have the Wii-U controller. I'm not talking about the mostly unknown multiplayer controllers. I'm talking about the tablet main controller. It looks like a neat idea, but it also looks like it will become both impractical (too few buttons) and uncomfortable (large and square) in a hurry. Even if it isn't so bad to use, there's the simple fact that controllers break. I've yet to have a console in which all of my controllers have been good from launch through the end of the consoles lifespan (and in my house, the lifespan is never ending...just ask my NES, Lynx, SNES, 3DO, or even my Odyssey 2, which is actually older than I am). This means I would expect the tablet of the Wii-U to break. However, the tablet controller cannot be replaced. It is not something you can pick up more of than what came in the box with the Wii-U.

Most of all with the tablet, Nintendo has tried to hype this thing by saying how (as always done with individual screens on consoles) you can do something like play a football game and not let the other players see your playbook. That could be neat...except if you are player 2. I mean it is like Nintendo is wanting to cause tension in multiplayer games just through the fact that player 1 will get a special advantage.

In the end, after seeing the N-64, Gamecube, and Wii turn into dust collectors before their time in my home, and seeing that many similar ideas are at play with the Wii-U, I will simply say I am not joining this party. I've been burned on all consoles from Nintendo since the N-64 reared its damned head. I say enough! I am out. If Nintendo wants to sell me a handheld, then I am happy to follow their commands to open my wallet. If they want me to buy something to connect to my TV, then they need to do some major work to restore my confidence in them. Even if the Wii-U is considered a success right out of the gate, I am still refusing to buy a Nintendo console until year 2 has come around. The Wii looked promising to start and the lack of technology as well as a lack of games sure made my purchase look bad.

I say the Wii-U is non-news simply because of one fact; is it a surprise anymore, or even remotely like news, when Nintendo announces another wacky console idea that doesn't bring technology to the table and doesn't seem like it fits into the grand scheme of the console world? It isn't news to me anymore.


Malik (1/6/12)

On this final day of me thinking about 2011, I realize something important. Besides the 3DS and the Ocarina of Time remake on the 3DS, I cannot remember anything I was playing from 2011 before Bastion came along in the second half of the year. I mean I did play Fallout 3 and New Vegas, but those were anything but games from 2011. I'm sure I must have played something else in the first half of the year, but I simply cannot remember it at all. Either it's a sign I'm getting out of touch with reality, or it's a sign that 2011 started with not much to be proud of. Considering usual first half of a year games, I'm guessing it's the second option.

So, in order, I give my three best games of 2011.

Bastion was amazing. It is without a doubt my number 3 game for 2011. It had everything a full retail game should have, but came with a cheap price and a download only format. I cannot ask for anything more from such an inexpensive package than quality and quantity without a large economical impact on my bank account.

As for why the game was amazing...there is nothing you cannot enjoy about this game. The visual style was amazing. It looked like some of the best artwork you could find in a game. It was bright, vibrant, detailed, yet simplistic and able to tell more of a story through pure visuals than many retail games tell with the entire package. To go with these visuals, you have some of the best audio work I've heard ever in a game. Between one of the more solid original soundtracks I've ever heard, the narration was amazing to set the mood. Hearing the stranger explain every action was wonderful. You didn't just have a short quip or two about the game as it progressed, but even minor details such as your weapon choices and your playing style were discussed by a great voice that really set the tone of this game and its bleak setting. It all tied together to help form the basis for an amazing plot that went far deeper than one would expect.

To round it all out, you had smooth game play mechanics that were great to play and made me actually miss when games could both look good and play good. When I finished the game, the very first thing I did was start another game (new game + is a bonus) and go through the entire experience a second time to hear any new thoughts from the stranger. I easily got more than 25 hours from this game, which worked out to almost 2 hours per dollar paid. Great game, and great value.

Number 2 for 2011, and barely not number 1 (any other year this would not have been a hard to call number 2, but rather a solid number 1) was Saints Row The Third. I could go on about the game in so many ways, but I think it can all be explained in one easy thought; this is a game made by people who obviously understand what can make a game fun to play. Yes, the plot, visuals, options, audio, and all of that are top notch. However, when it comes down to it, more than anything, SR3 was just fun.

I should say, beyond all, that the PC version is the way to go if you have the option. The 360 version looks a bit limited in terms of hardware technology. I don't know how the PS3 versions is, but my aging PC had no problem putting on a better experience than I'd expect from any console.

I think the only downside of SR3 is that it is shorter than I wanted. However, that's not much of a complaint when I got about 40 hours out of the game. I mean if you play for 40 hours and want more, then that's only a complaint until you realize that it is actually a selling point. SR3 is fun, looks good, controls wonderfully with a 360 gamepad on a PC, and offers so many different diversions and events. Any other year and SR3 would be the game of the year without a doubt. I'm just sad with myself that I almost skipped the game due to SR1 being a cheap GTA clone, and SR2 being so bad that it was shovelware at best.

My Game of the Year for 2011 should be no surprise...Skyrim. I've already discussed Skyrim excessively in my posts from November and December, so I'll just say the PC version is amazing. Yes, I wish Bethesda didn't release an entirely broken PS3 version and glitchy versions for the 360 and PC. However, if you are lucky enough to avoid all or most technical issues, Skyrim is the best damned game I think I have ever played in my entire life. Like with SR3, I want more.

Why Skyrim beats our SR3 is pretty hard to explain. In the end, I think it comes down to how I spent 140 hours in Skyrim and want more. No game has ever done this for me before. Oblivion had me feeling finished after ~80 hours (and without finishing all quest lines). Skyrim saw me finish every normal quest I could find, and most side quests. I literally made my own quests at the end in order to not see the game end. It was only when I really couldn't find another thing to do that I finally had to call it quits. If $60 can score you 140 hours and you want more, then I think that will win in my books nearly every time.

No matter how I look at it, I can tell you that any DLC that comes along for Bastion, Saints Row The Third, or Skyrim and adds content (not just clothes, weapons, or other filled material) will be purchased by matter if it seems overpriced or if it's a bargain. When these games give so much, I think more is all I care about. Well, I care about playing more, but I also have to say for the first time I can think of, I actually want to give three developers more of my money. These games were so good that I want to support their businesses.

When it is all said and done, just for my top three games I have to say 2011 was one of the best years for gaming I've ever experienced. Throw in starting the year with Fallout 3, New Vegas, and playing some Rocksmith, Batman Arkham City, Super Mario 3D Land, and opening my eyes to some of the simple joys of the Kinect (Velveta got one from me for Christmas) and it will be hard to top 2011.


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