Thursday, December 15, 2011

Top Five With A Twist: The Winner Is...

For many years Bojeeva and I had a rolling wager on which of our respective football teams would finish highest in the league each season. In the late 90s/early 2000s it was a fairly open bet, but in recent years the bet has merely facilitated a regular drip feed of money from my bank account to his. So at the start of this year we decided to shake things up a bit. The wager changed from sports to video games and we bet £20 on the combined Metacritic scores of our five most anticipated games of 2011. You can find Bojeeva’s list here and mine here.

Ibwib: Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
What we said: To be honest, we thought this one would slip until next year. We got really worried when reviews seemed to be embargoed until the release date, and had visions of a New Vegas style decision to release rubbish rather than miss the release date. Amazingly, despite all the ill omens, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim turned out to be a winner. The same breadth and depth as Oblivion, the scale and complexity of Morrowind, but now with added trolls and dragons. What’s not to love?
Metacritic Score: 96

Bojeeva: L.A Noire
What we said: An impressive display of motion technology and new gameplay mechanics that initially blows you away, L A Noire loses a lot of its initial shine when you realise how irrelevant much of the game is. There’s a giant open city, but there’s nothing to do in it but play through the story. There’s an evidence and investigation mechanic, but it has an individual and inflexible logic that reduces it to a high-tech version of hunt-the-verb, and it soon becomes apparent that the plot has overridden the gameplay - it will chug along no matter how badly you play, and deliberately force you down dead ends where both you and it know that the conclusions it will ask you to reach are inaccurate. Keep playing through these weaknesses, however, and you’ll get one of gaming’s most compelling stories and some unexpectedly good shootouts.
Metacritic Score: 89

Ibwib/Bojeeva: Batman: Arkham City
What we said: Our only shared pick, Batman: Arkham City continues its predecessor’s tradition of looking like a surefire Game Of The Year, only to be almost instantly eclipsed by a flurry of top releases. It just isn’t fair. The strengths of Batman: Arkham Asylum were found in its beautifully animated, smoothly flowing combat, detailed designs and the depth of its detailed, nerdbait packed environments. The sequel transfers those strengths to an open-world setting that will reward free spirited players, and also pulls back slightly on the only real drawback of the original, its intrusive ‘detective mode’. A lot of people bitch about sequels, but as far as we’re concerned, as long as you’re taking a good game and making it better, you keep right on with it.
Metacritic Score: 94

Ibwib: Portal 2
What we said: And here’s Portal 2 to prove our point about sequels. The original was an inventive puzzle game with a great comedic performance. The sequel was an inventive puzzle game with several new gameplay mechanics, three great comedic performances, a clever story and an enormous co-op section so good it could have been released as a game in its own right.
Metacritic Score: 95

Bojeeva: Uncharted 3 Drake’s Deception
What we said: Nate returns for the third instalment of the PS3's hit series. From a scuffle in a dingy London pub to plane crashes, vast deserts and ancient ruins, there's barely time to catch a breath. The story is perfectly paced, the voice acting, humour and graphics are all top notch. The only downside is that there's little new on offer - not entirely a bad thing - but it just doesn't surprise as much as the second game. Was it just me or was the ending much the same as Among Thieves too???
Metacritic Score: 92

Ibwib: Mass Effect 3
What we said: Booo! In last year’s Top 5 with a twist, two of Bojeeva’s games were delayed, giving him a score hurdle that was almost impossible to overcome. This year, it’s my turn. Mass Effect 3 has been pushed back to next year, so that’s no score for me. Interestingly, we hated the tedious conversations, clumsy controls, gormless companions and indecipherable inventories of Mass Effect. On the other hand, we loved the simplified interface and action-oriented story of Mass Effect 2. Time will tell if Mass Effect 3 continues the improvement.
Metacritic Score: n/a

Bojeeva: InFamous 2
What we said: The original was a firm favourite of Megabits but Sucker Punch brought Cole back bigger and better than ever for the sequel. Anybody that can shoot electricity from their fingertips is a worthy protagonist in our book. It looked great, boasted some insane superpowers and had plenty to see and do. Turned out though, that it wasn't quite as well received as we'd expected.
Metacritic Score: 83

Ibwib: Fight Night Champion
What we said: The simplified controls of Fight Night Champion were a massive disappointment after Fight Night Round 4, as was the Champion mode’s cliché riddled story and the lame, contrived challenges it built into the fights. These failings were compensated for by the addition of an XP and Stamina management aspect to the game’s Legacy mode that made it much more challenging and absorbing. On balance, Fight Night Champion wasn’t a bad game, but it did fall short of its predecessor.
Metacritic Score: 86

Bojeeva: Gears of War 3
What we said: Testosterone oozes from every pore of Gears 3, Marcus and his chums making a welcome return against the Locust horde. We expected lots of explosions, guns, ducking and diving for cover, game modes and huge set pieces - and that's exactly what we got. As expected, it hit the target and scores of fans lined up into the night to get their grubby hands on a copy. It was a worthy conclusion perhaps, but again, was it a little too similar to its predecessors?
Metacritic Score: 91

And the winner is...Bojeeva, with a combined score of 449, compared with my much less impressive 371. So, that’s me £20 out of pocket, but what’s been really impressive about this year’s selection is how few disappointments there were.

Last year’s picks contained games full of disappointment and unmet potential. This year, however we had very few let downs, and several games that exceeded even the high expectations we’d burdened them with. The great thing about Top 5 with a twist is that it puts the entire gaming year into perspective, and lets you see what a cracker 2011 has been.

Bring on 2012!