This article was written as a contribution for “The First Ever SMPS.Net Games of the Year 2011 Thing” which you should really go and check out for a broad range of well-written lists covering many games, old and new. This article has had a typo corrected, screenshot captions added, and uses some different screenshots than it originally included, as well as a link to new a video of me playing Dark Souls.
A Possible Glimpse of Things to Come
Deus Ex: Human Revolution has great references sprinkled everywhere, rewarding exploration.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution doesn’t quite live up to the original game, but it was a respectable, thoughtful effort. While boss fights fell flat, the hacking, sneaking, and upgrading of abilities made for an enjoyable experience that could be a glimpse of bright, promising future for the franchise and gamers alike.
A non-tea-bag taunt in Monday Night Combat.
To say that Monday Night Combat is an intelligent game is an understatement as it mixed personality and gameplay to create a fun, balanced, and unique competitive multi-player game. Using sound to balance an invisibility cloak, or rewarding players for doing a scripted, non-offensive taunt to earn some money instead of tea-bagging are ideas that will hopefully permeate game design in the coming years.
Playing as a blow-up doll isn't even close to the maximum height of ridiculousness Saints Row has to offer.
As weird as it was to contemplate, Saints Row: The Third reminded me that there are few things more amusing than first dates. Both parties tend to go all-out to highlight themselves as being as hip, cool, funny, sexy, or whatever as possible. To further this endeavor, they will also hide blemishes, hold in farts, wear expensive clothes disproportionately out of line with their normal lifestyle – obviously people will lie to impress others. Videogames (especially with demos) are generally designed with the same principle in mind: convince the player that there is a wonderful experience here worth their time, money, and emotional investment, even if that means misrepresenting the truth to some degree. This practice of selling a not-so-accurate package is tolerated, especially since most videogames (like dating relationships) aren’t really that serious, but the hiding of the truth can lead to complications and disappointment as time goes on.
For my tastes, a videogame without a compelling narrative has much ground to make up; one with a plot that expects to be taken seriously despite treating its story as anything but (see Portal 2) is a borderline affront to everything I hold dear. There’s seemingly little substance and even less dignity in a videogame like Saints Row: The Third that glorifies gangsta culture and has players driving prostitutes around with clients in the backseat of the car, or rescuing strippers from shipping containers on a rival gang’s barge. By all rights Saints Row: The Third is to videogames as some airhead model with more invested in silicon or steroids than education is to people, but Saints Row isn’t even trying to pretend to possess a high school diploma.
There is no polite way to say this, but Portal 2‘s story is nothing short of disappointing. This may not seem important, but Valve’s Portal looked like it would be a simple puzzle game in the Source engine. Imagine everyone’s surprise when a series of linear test chambers with a voice-over directing the player’s actions told one of the best stories the medium has ever seen. Cracks in the chamber walls leading to hastily scrawled messages betrayed the narrator Glados, exposing her for the liar that she was. Solving the tests and advancing became a secondary objective to finding a means of escape, with each success only raising the stakes instead of dampening the sense of impending danger. Destroying the malevolent AI, shutting down Aperture Science, and escaping to the surface was a satisfying ending that sparked the collective imagination of the internet as to how Valve would follow up Portal. Hints about a shared universe with Half-Life made a cross-over sound plausible.
With a simple patch Valve added more to Portal‘s ending, showing a robot grabbing the player’s character and dragging her back into the subterranean laboratory she had just escaped from a mere moment before.