Games Beepner Played in 2011
by Beepner

Hey kids, let's play Mad Libs!

2011 sure was a (adjective) year for gaming. Technology continued to (transitive past-tense verb) the envelope of what was possible for graphics, gameplay, motion controls, and (feature that will never catch on i.e. transfarring, linking PS3 to Steam, etc.). It was a (adjective) time to be a gamer, as new IPs (flourished/floundered) while studios (transitive past-tense verb) familiar franchises and offered (adverb) priced DLC and kept fans (emotion) with (phrase that rhymes with "sport-knighted") release cycles. You could almost hear the (gerund) of the gaming community's collective unconscious as the (religious festivity) season drew nigh, marking the (MGS3 character) of one of the most memorable years of this generation (penis).

Enough of that tomfoolery. I played some games this past year, many of which didn't actually come out in 2011. It's a wonder that I finished any games at all, as anyone who knows me will tell you that my backlog is big and heavy (and wood). So here are just some of the things I played that stood out for me. You don't really need to hear about how I played Journey to Silius or Terminator on the Sega CD, and you're probably sick of hearing people talk about that one game where you throw exploding lemons at Andrew Carnegie or something-or-other. On with the list!


Unreal



Quake II was the shit around the time that I first got an internet connection in my parents' house. Half-Life was probably already out at the time, but as far as I was concerned, there was only one 3D FPS, and it wasn't the one with immersion-style narrative and giant walking testicles. Okay, Half-Life is a great game, but I ate, slept, and breathed Quake II and its numerous mods, especially in multiplayer. It was the perfect vehicle to show off my spiffy new 3DFX Voodoo II graphics card, which was the hot shit in the days before I even knew what an AGP slot was. Funny how some texture smoothing and a couple of lighting effects would make us go "zomg great graphics" back then.

But there was another component in the late-90's holy trinity of FPS's (I'm not talking about Goldeneye, goddammit) that got considerably less play than the other two as far as I was concerned. Unreal came out a mere four months before Half-Life, and while the latter probably made the former look like a dinosaur at the time, the Unreal engine made improvements over Quake II by leaps and bounds. I borrowed an Unreal disc from a friend at one point, marveled at the initial sequence in the prison ship where you get the lights turned out on you and have to escape some Predator knock-offs, pootled around in the vast "outdoor" environments, then got bored with the water temple where you first get the eightball gun and gave up. Even though I came to know the deathmatching bliss that is Unreal Tournament later in life, its progenitor remained a random footnote until I picked it up in a franchise pack via Steam.

Playing Unreal today, it's easy to see how the storied delays of its development cycle hurt its chances to be a runaway success. It's a bit slower and less chaotic than Quake II, but doesn't have the (relative) realism of Half-Life. The huge environments that it's capable of rendering are impressive, until you realize that the map authors don't do much with them and getting from A to B is an exercise in tedium. Enemies actually have discrete hitboxes, so you can do things like cut off heads with the razorjack or score headshots with the rifle, but the combat is much more restrained than the game's contemporaries. For much of the vanilla campaign you're resigned to fighting one or two Skaarj at a time and clearing out barnacles or flying lizards from the same dank water temple maps. It's hard to fault Epic for trying; despite its flaws, Unreal had some neat additions that felt like a natural evolution for full-3D action FPS's, like NPC's that can help you and give you items and secondary firing types for its iconic weapon set, but with Half-Life around the corner, I imagine that it seemed like too little, too late. Unreal's greatest legacy would be its engine, which powered Deus Ex and Unreal Tournament, and too many games to list here currently run on its grandchild, the Unreal Engine 3. Unfortunately, the IP itself seems to be in limbo. After a glut of UT sequels and spinoffs in the double-o's and a poopy sequel to Unreal proper, Epic seems to have turned a "it's not Gears of War" attitude toward the franchise that raised them out of their old mantra of making knockoffs of Super Nintendo games.

DO NOT play Unreal on anything higher than Medium. I don't care that it's an old game and you think you're hardcore. Enemies will take way too many damn hits to die and you will have tons of unfun trying to kill even a single Skaarj in the later levels. After barely scraping by the Skaarj Warlord and finally putting a cap on the main game on Hard difficulty, I loaded up the Return to Na Pali expansion pack on Medium and breezed through it. Know what you're getting into before you get halfway through the game and realize "I fucked up when I chose the difficulty level!"


Contra

2011 was the year that I stopped worrying and learned to love Contra. I had never been a fan of the series; I had always found the games too difficult and too simplistic to keep me from wanting to progress. I didn't even use the 30 life code. I figured that if I couldn't beat the game normally without bullshitting, then there wasn't much point.

It all started to click for me, however, when I finally conquered what was (probably) the first Contra game I ever played, Super C. From there, I beat the original Contra. Then I discovered that I could actually enjoy online gaming again with Hard Corps: Uprising. Later I bested all the routes in the ridiculously over-the-top (in both design and difficulty) Contra: Hard Corps. I also realized that, yep, I still hate Contra III. I managed to finish Contra: Shattered Soldier (more difficult than Contra: Hard Corps in my opinion) and finally capped off the experience with the excellent Contra 4. I also may or may not have played Operation C at some point. I don't consider myself a great Contra player by any means, but I do manage to enjoy some of the reactions of incredulity when I tell people that they aren't the hardest games ever made.


F.E.A.R.

It's a little depressing to go back and scrutinize a game engine that was touted for being a graphical powerhouse in its day. I vaguely remember when F.E.A.R. (which I have on standby in the clipboard for purposes of writing this blurb... fuck that stupid title) came out and some guy in college was showing off the demo and all the dynamic lighting and bullet-impact particle effects. Which means that he was showing off the fact that his computer could run it. Today, shit flying off walls when they're riddled with gunfire is considered quaint, and those dynamic shadows in F.E.A.R. look incredibly garish and only serve to highlight how badly the player model's animation has aged. It makes me think about how incredible the Source engine looked when Half-Life 2 was being developed, and then considering how antiquated it looks compared to Unreal Engine 3. It's as if a once-great, retired professional basketball player starred in a movie opposite modern updates of a bunch of cartoon characters from the 1930's... but that would be too horrifying to imagine.

I guess the best way to sum up my feelings on F.E.A.R. is, "I just don't get it." I knew it was supposed to be a paranormal-themed military shooter, and what I played was, well, a military shooter with a couple of near-future weapons and bullet-time, and every now and then you run into a ghost. I don't know what I expected, but the scares aren't scary, and the story, while told mostly in audio recordings a la the * Shock games, isn't all that interesting. The combat actually feels pretty visceral, but there's a lack of decent action set pieces to keep the game from feeling too samey, and this genre of shooter doesn't lend itself to epic boss battles, aside from the occasional ED-209.

I played the vanilla game, immediately followed by the Extraction Point expansion. I don't get how Fetel and Alma's origins were supposed to be such a big reveal. I don't get why you had to spend so much time trying to rescue your teammates, only to see them immediately die right before your eyes (someone must have been a fan of Alien 3). I don't get what was up with that fat guy (someone must have been a fan of Jurassic Park). I still haven't played Perseus Mandate or F.E.A.R. 2, though I have them on my Steam account from a franchise bundle I bought back during the 2010 Steam holiday sales. I plan to go back to the series eventually, but I imagine I'd have to be extremely bored to do so (see also: Unreal).


Mass Effect 2



I don't know what to say about this one, really. It streamlines a lot of things that people hated about Mass Effect 1 (Polly almost dropped the franchise due to the menus alone), but I feel like they made it a little too simplistic. It didn't bother me after about the first 90 minutes of the game. I didn't think the Mako parts in 1 were as bad as everyone says, and I feel that 2 removes a lot of that feeling of exploration, but considering that 1's exploration yields the opportunity to trudge through the same two secret base maps over and over again, this isn't that damning of a change either. Where they scrimped on the unimportant bullshit, BioWare really ramped up the character recruitment and loyalty missions (as you don't automatically get half your entire party virtually at the start of the game), and it seems like they learned a thing or two from Dragon Age when it comes to releasing a flood of DLC (some of it better than most... if you only get one, get Shadow Broker). I was glued to Mass Effect 2 during my initial run. I started a second playthrough and eventually got overwhelmed with how many side missions there were to do (and a lot of it is conceivably optional). Still, I gotta get my final Shepard ready for Mass Effect 3. I hear you can romance a thresher maw in that one.


Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker HD



Peace Walker on the PS3 is a pretty good Metal Gear Solid game. It's not Snake Eater, it's not even MGS4, but with the addition of Gears of War controls, it's very serviceable. However, it is still Metal Gear Solid, and that means the combat still feels very much like Metal Gear Solid combat, in that you're being punished for triggering that alert. Probably the most interesting aspect, at least for me, was the base building and resource management, which is pretty much required in order to have good enough gear to make it through the main game. Basically you have to rescue POWs or shanghai enemy soldiers in order to build your army, then assign them to teams based on their stats in order to increase your combat effectiveness, research ability, medical response, etc. It's not a particularly deep system, but I dare say I had more fun doing all that extra bullshit and playing the side missions than I did with Big Boss' realization that The Boss was a triflin'-ass-bitch all along, or whatever retcon we were supposed to swallow to take him from being the villain to the hero of the series (I'm sensing some heavy George Lucas aping here).

What makes it pale next to other MGS games (and all the inherit gameplay signatures and flaws that that entails) is that it isn't over-the-top enough. Sure, there's all the contrived gameplay events like torture, prison breaks, and cardboard box obsession, but it's not exactly waiting for a centenarian to die of old age or a guard to shit his pants. Boss battles with overly poetic animal-themed ethnic stereotypes have largely been supplanted with military vehicles and bigger versions of the turrets from Portal. Sure, the ending is stupid, but it's not MGS4 stupid. And I can't hear Notacon (or Dadacon or Noncon or whatever we're supposed to call him) say "Metal Gear ZEKE" without mentally adding "the Plumber" every time.

Peace Walker did pave the way for my general acceptance of twin stick controls however, which would dominate my gaming habits for the last few months of 2011.


inFamous



Remember Challenge of the Superfriends? Remember Black Vulcan? Lore Sjoderberg once described that character's powers as "anything we can think of, as long as we make it look electric." inFamous' Cole McGrath is kind of like that, except he's not black and he wears pants. I don't think this one needs much of an introduction, you'll probably remember it as that PS3 exclusive superpower-based sandbox game that was out around the same time as that other superpower-based sandbox game, and I only got around to playing inFamous by virtue of actually owning a Playstation 3 and getting the game for free as a part of Sony's "We're beary, beary sorry our online service was down for a month and your personal information was compromised" promotion.

I don't play these types of games very much. The parkour is fun, kind of like Uncharted's, only sped up and much more forgiving yet at times unrefined. A big deal was made at the time of release of the game's morality system, which unfortunately is on a bipolar scale like Jade Empire, and your actions swing you one way or the other (blue = good, red = bad, what more do you expect from a product of the liberal media such as this), setting you back from your progress in one direction should you decide to be a nice guy/an asshole for a change. If I have to have a ham-handed morality system, I kind of prefer something like Mass Effect with two values that are tallied independently of each other, and allow me to react to situations as I feel like (relatively) without penalty. Still, it's amusing to see random fucks run up to Cole and do a "check my dubs" gesture after gaining enough favor with the filthy masses. Even though I was going for the good path, I was still filled with the urge to punch bystanders in the mouth when they yelled that I have no soul or called me a cat hater.


Uncharted 2: Among Thieves



They say that Naughty Dog maxed-out the PS3 with Uncharted 2, and I believe it. It's pretty easy in hindsight to chart the progress of graphical technology across gaming generations, but at any given time it can be tough to imagine, at least for me, just how much more detailed graphics can become until we're blind to hyper-realism. I will say that Uncharted 2 is the best-looking game that I've played this generation. Its framerate stays pretty consistent, unlike inFamous. Its human characters are detailed and emote realistically, unlike inFamous. It's typically bright and colorful, unlike, well, you get the idea. This isn't to say that inFamous didn't have its own impressive graphical flourishes, but the seemingly-stylistic deluge of BROWN and GRAY that covers that game gives me the impression that Sucker Punch set out to make it as joyless and desaturated as possible.

Uncharted 2 fixes a few problems that I had with the first game. Stealth is now a viable gameplay element. Unfortunately, it comes in scripted instances so that you can only be sneaky when the game lets you, but it sure beats "cross imaginary line, get swarmed by all the enemies." The game's pacing is so tight that transitioning from one gameplay instance to the next won't make you mind so much that it's not letting youplay every combat scenario exactly how you want to. This is a huge step up from the stealth segments in Beyond Good and Evil, at any rate. There are instances where you're punished for going in guns blazing, for example, you can stealth-kill two guards on the roofs at the monastery or alert them and have to fight six, but the Uncharted games actually have solid combat compared to, say, Metal Gear, so having to get into a fight isn't a punishment in of itself.

Another thing it does better than Metal Gear is pull off being cinematic and being a game, and the seams between cutscene and gameplay aren't gaping chasms plugged with soliloquies about nuclear proliferation and other ooky thoughts that give me the cry-alones. The pacing is (usually) taught and the dialog is smart and natural, almost sounding improvised in some cases (the ending is a pretty good example).

Nate and his companions traverse several diverse locations this time around, not just that island from Far Cry and a derelict Nazi sub. This gives the engine free reign to show off its environmental rendering capabilities and weather effects, as well as breaking up the monotony of the gameplay. Make no mistake, aside from a few vignettes, you will be doing the same thing over and over in Uncharted 2, but you'll look so good doing it that the game as a whole won't wear out its welcome before the final camera pan off our characters at the sunset and credit roll.

What does wear out its welcome for me is the platforming, which is essentially the same as the first game. The only major difference I noticed is the elimination of that Sixaxis tilting bullshit to balance on narrow objects. You're still looking for a specific ledge or, in most cases, Double Dragon Stage 4 blocks poking out of the wall to climb up. I played Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time once, and that's about as much desire as I have to experience this kind of overly strict, figure-out-the-climbing-puzzle-of-this-particular-room gameplay ever again. Climbing in inFamous worked because the climbing is fast, forgiving, gives you a variety of surfaces to interact with, and exploring the city is so damn much fun. I almost shut the console off in frustration with Uncharted 2 when I was stuck in a courtyard, jumping around on ruined pillars and rotten wood like a jackass, trying to find the right way to get up in a window, before realizing that I had overlooked the specific set of Lego bricks jutting out of the wall that the designers had intended for me to use in order to progress. The fucking Hint button was monumentally unhelpful, simply telling me that I needed to get to the window. The whole game really lulls when Drake is running through the ice caves with Tenzin, which is nearly all platforming and one-sided dialog. I really think the platforming is the weakest element of the Uncharted games.

God damn, this is approaching the length of a regular review. Uncharted 2 takes the formula from a game that was decent and expands upon it to make it great. It still has some problems, but it left me glued to my controller and I never got blind to just how good it looked. If you have a PS3, you have no excuse not to play this game. Do it.


Aliens Infestation

I was incredibly angry by the time I had finished this game. So angry, in fact, that I wrote an Amazon product review with some glaring typos and omissions. I don't really have much more to say about it here, other than this. Don't let the glowing reviews fool you into thinking that Aliens Infestation is a good game. If anything, they should be an indication of how worthless modern games journalism and the court of public opinion is when it comes to hardcore games. If you think Aliens Infestation is good, you've either never played another Metroidvania, or you're Jim Sterling. And if you fit either of these criteria, you shouldn't be writing about video games for a living.





Skyrim*



Skyrim is the greatest game ever made. The Sess gives it a five... out of five. Now excuse me as I sip my Pepsi Max and adjust my breathable, maximum support Under Armor Boxerjocks.

*Beepner didn't actually play Skyrim.


Saints Row the Third



I have never played a Grand Theft Auto game. The idea of being a misanthropic jerk running around a city killing random people didn't appeal to me, and something about the scenario and writing seemed like it was trying too hard. "... and somehow, I lost my pants!" Is that your fucking best line that you had to put in your commercial? Most of my experience with the series amounts to watching other people play with cheats turned on and trying to make their character do some Evel Knievel bullshit, which is about as entertaining as watching a 6 year old playing with an Evel Knievel stunt cycle. And there's like ninety versions despite there only being three different game engines. So, yeah, not a fan.

I bought Saints Row the Third because the game just seemed so batshit insane compared to Grand Theft Auto. Blah blah blah Professor Genki, dildo bat, Whored Mode, whatever. It goes out of its way to be bizarre, over the top, and offensive, but more important than that, the game is fun to play. I can have fun for half an hour just running around the city and waging war on rival gangs, then remember, "Oh yeah, I'm supposed to be doing some missions, right?" And all of a sudden it's 2:00 AM and I have to be at work tomorrow. It's also apparent that the developers are total geeks and I love them for it, for the achievement names, taunts, clothing options, self-aware dialog, and the sheer absurdity of it all. I'll admit that I went in with some trepidation, having just come off of Uncharted 2, but let me tell you about the moment that I realized I was in love with this game.

I was on the first assassination mission. I had to go to an airport terminal and steal a baggage cart in order to draw out a drug dealer who worked there. I opened fire on the target, and an epic chase ensued on carts onto the city streets, coincidentally to the sounds of "You're the Best Around." Even after greasing my mark, I gangsta-leaned my way down the street on that cart until the song had completed.

Best game of this generation, right there.

My last, and therefore greatest, entry to this list isn't a game, but it is from a game, albeit one that is not out yet in North America. I wasn't going to get another chance to expound on its greatness before the year was up anyway, but so what, it's my list. It doesn't have to make sense! Or at least no more sense than a "Games of 2011" list that contains a bunch of games that were released before 2011.


The Award for the Pinnacle of Entertainment for All Time goes to: Final Fantasy XIII-2's Chocobo Theme




I'm willing to overlook the general opinion of malignment regarding the Final Fantasy franchise over the years, or the fact that it has never captured my interest enough for me to finish any FF game that came out on a disc-based console: this song redeems the entirety of the franchise's existence. Why we didn't have a metalcore version of the Chocobo theme sooner is evident only when you consider the optimum timeframe for the act of liking something ironically to have the fullest impact of ironicness. I feel that metalcore has suitably crested and valleyed by this point, that a song in this style feels like it's just over the hill enough to be slyly self-aware, but not trying too hard with its irony. A song in the style of, say, that 20 minutes in the late 90's when swing was somehow popular again would be so niche that it might give the impression that someone may actually like it un-ironically. On the other hand, bringing in Lady Gaga to record Choco-Face would not only be too tongue-in-cheek as to forego any aspirations of irony such a move would have, but there would always be the nagging realization that this would have been an earnestly un-ironic move a few years ago. Look, I don't expect you to understand this, or anything. I mean, you've probably never even attended an Insane Clown Posse-themed birthday Party. In 2010. A 30th birthday party.

The greatest aspect of this song, however, is that it's impossible to subjectively classify. It cannot be lumped in with terms such as "bad," "good," or "so bad it's good." It transcends terms of quality and taste such that it simultaneously encompasses and rejects the spectrum. It, simply put, is the song that is I Am. Or perhaps it's great because it indicates that Square's sick of remixing the same song over and over, so instead we have the classic melody shoehorned in as the lead guitar part in an otherwise unrelated musical style, with lyrics that would make that brentalfloss guy realize that what he does isn't particularly skillfull or funny.

Don't like it? Whatever. You're just bitter. I doubt you could ride in this chocobo rodeo.






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