The final quarter of this year has been a relentless assault of epic game releases. Now that term is nearly over, and a degree respite looms ahead, I’m here, like the proverbial fat and bearded man himself, to deliver to you the best of this year’s gaming offerings, which all deserve a place at the top of your Christmas list.
First, if you’re a fan of shooting angry people in some kind of quasi-real modern warfare setting, (and are perhaps a fan of Michael Bay’s filmography), then both Activision and Electronic Arts have delivered a bounty of itchy trigger finger relief, with Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 respectively. I’ve shoehorned them both into one paragraph as it seems that both titles appeal to particular gamers, but both rarely appeal to all. The latest offering in Modern Warfare gives you everything you’ve grown to expect; a ridiculously over the top and nonsensical terrorism plot of the future, fast and arcade-like gameplay, and a multiplayer suit so addictive and full of content it actually has the ability to ruin lives. Battlefield 3 on the other hand replaces speed and accessibility with precision and commitment, delivering a slower and more strategic experience that attempts to reflect the turbulence of warfare with a rich and realistic sheen (especially if you’re packing a mortgage-challenging computer). Both titles are on the right side of hokum and both provide a satisfying shooter experience.
Next, Uncharted 3, the third entry in the critically acclaimed series, attempts to build on all that made the second title great. A comprehensive barrage of set piece moments will be coming your way as you negotiate the ever-lovable Nathan Drake through flaming chateaus, onto moving aeroplanes and around sinking ships; all whilst being a competent third-person cover-based shooter. The writing is up to series standard and the voice acting especially, stands as a beacon of professionalism against the otherwise shoddy realisations of narrative that this industry has to offer (see above). Also, Naughtydog have had the time to deliver unto you a multiplayer mode that rivals those of the biggest guns around (also see above).
The dark knight himself returns in Batman: Arkham City, the natural evolution of the confined asylum that bore the setting for its critically acclaimed predecessor. With the Bat gaining the ability to glide and hook-shot his way around a cornered-off section of Gotham, players are let loose upon a world so intimidatingly rich with things to do, you may start having anxiety dreams about making no progress through it. Mark Hamill reprieves his role as the Joker, the mastermind psychopathic clown behind this super big prison, and with the illusive Hugo Strange (and a whole host of other villains) on the loose, it’s up to you (Bruce Wayne. Clearly), to free-flow-combat your way through goons, unravel mysteries with gadgetry, and find (and then stare at) Cat Woman’s latest iteration.
Saints Row: The Third, perhaps a polarising choice. Often looked upon as Grand Theft Auto’s mentally ill and sexually devious little brother, Saints Row takes what GTA4 lacked (genuine vulgar humour and ridiculousness), ramps it up to mental, makes an entire game out of it, and sells it at full price. Frankly, it’s brilliant. What I’ve played of it was pretty much insane, but it truly evoked the spirit of last generation open world games that basically invite you to abuse their systems and simply have a metric tonne of fun. Mechanically it’s nearly broken. Visually, it’s terrible. Morally, it’s bankrupt. It’s also some of the most fun you can have in life.
Finally, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim looks set to pick up every gaming award under the sun, for its massively realised and robust fantasy open world, a narrative than isn’t more contrived than something my brother of 8 would scrawl on a desk, a complex and organic levelling system, and of course, the constant and persistent threat of gigantic dragons. The guys at Bethesda have not only made one of the best quality titles in general, they’ve also made something nigh-on limitless in length. Even once you’ve spent 200 hours attempting to do every quest, randomly simulated scenarios occur to keep you coming back. It will likely consume you completely, so if you have little self-restraint, like me, it probably should be a ‘in the holidays’ situation.
It would be an impossible – and frankly futile – task to cram the many many many releases of this year into a single article. Suffice it to say you’re not spoilt for choice. If you plan on indulging in some good old fashioned escapism this Christmas, you can’t go wrong with what 2011 has to offer.