And the Winners Are…
Yes, a year has passed since we last feted our favorite pastime—PC gaming. In some ways it feels like it’s been much longer, so rich was the quantity and quality of titles that PC gamers had to choose from. That abundance served to make our job as awarders especially challenging. Nevertheless, we holed up in an office as we do every year and collectively reviewed the highlights and lowlights of the last year in PC gaming. Now it’s time for you to kick back and enjoy the spectacle that is Maximum PC’s 2011 Gaming Awards!
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
It's exceptionally rare these days that a single-player game so thoroughly dominates the gaming zeitgeist. But with an arrow to the heart (and in the knee), gamers everywhere have fallen head over heels for Bethesda's latest open-world masterpiece, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
Skyrim has a bit of something for everyone. You can live out your virtual Viking fantasies, wandering the pine forests, windswept plains, and snowy peaks, hacking through any beast or bandit that crosses your path. You can walk the arcane corridors of magic, bending fire and lightning to your will. You can stalk the shadows, picking pockets, looting chests, and slitting throats. Or, better yet, you can do all of these things, as you create the character and the story you want. Oh, and there are dragons.
www.elderscrolls.com, ESRB: M
We're not sure whether to trust Rockstar Games, doubt its sincerity, or flat-out call it a bait and switch artist. You see, the publisher delivered its usual polished cinematic experience—what it didn't tell us is that L.A. Noire is more an interactive movie than an actual video game.
Still, the game's well-written script, fantastic production values, and innovative facial motion-capture technology make it more fun than ever to accuse a grieving widow of being a liar, a murderer, or a whore—or in true Noir fashion, all three.
www.rockstargames.com, ESRB: M
When you’re playing a game where you can basically kick people into the air, fill them with bullets in slow motion, then watch as they cascade off a cliff or into large, conveniently placed cactuses, well, you’ve got a winner. Aside from introducing mind-blowing FPS gameplay mechanics, Bulletstorm also features some of the most movie-like experiences we’ve ever seen in its phenomenal single-player campaign. Solid voice acting, amazing graphics, a ridiculous story and points for shooting enemies in the ass (literally), Bulletstorm is zany, bloody, chaotic fun.
Portal won our hearts with its mix of clever physics puzzles, laugh-out-loud humor, and poignant storytelling. Portal 2 is a dazzling repeat performance, with new types of brain-twisting puzzles and an even better story. The game's co-op mode, instead of dropping another Chell into the single-player campaign, is an entirely new series of test chambers featuring two boistrous robots, and cooperation is key—you don’t want to get on GLaDOS’ bad side.
www.thinkwithportals.com/, ESRB: E
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Human Revolution, like the original Deus Ex, gives the player many different paths to success. You can choose to be a hulked-out combat specialist, a hacker, a stealth character, or anything in between. There's no wrong way to play Human Revolution. Until you come to a boss battle. The boss battles are brainless, out-of-nowhere inclusions that completely change the tone of the game, and put non-combat characters at a severe disadvantage. We never asked for this.
www.deusex.com, ESRB: M
Assassin’s Creed: Revelations
It's hard to tell when exactly a series that features glowing alien demigods and a millenia-spanning conspiracy theory involving everyone from Da Vinci, to Hitler, to Gandhi, to Adam and Eve "jumps the shark." Until, that is, we realized it’s not the game’s plot, but developer Ubisoft whose gone off the deep end.
Revelations is actually a solid game, but being the third Assassin's Creed game in as many years, the experience is starting to feel a bit like Ezio: old and tired.
Batman: Arkham City
Batman can knock out anyone, including sharks. This was evidenced in Batman: Arkham City, where in one of our favorite sections of the epic game, you must literally tread thin ice—walk too fast or become impatient, and a massive great white shark shoots out and attacks the caped crusader. That’s award-worthy in and of itself, really. Shark-punching aside, Arkham City is an incredible game with one of the darkest and most shocking story lines we’ve had the pleasure of experiencing since, well, Arkham Asylum (our 2009 game of the year).
If the Banoi tourism brochure said "Dead Island," we probably would have just gone to Disneyworld instead. Sun, sand, waves… and waves of zombie hordes—what Dead Island lacks in amenities, it makes up for in hands-on service that appreciates you for your brains. But hey, at least when comparing terrible vacation stories, our head-stomping weekend stopover at Dead Island will beat the hell out of our buddy’s sob story about stepping on a jellyfish and forgetting his passport at the hotel.
www.deadislandgame.com, ESRB: M
The Kid wakes up, blinks his eyes in confusion, and looks around. Sees a sign on the wall, MaximumPC. Kid remembers the old world, remembers magazines and the stories they told. He finds himself surrounded by a bunch of editors—good folk, simple folk. They begin to tell him a tale, a tale he knows all too well.
Kid listens as they praise his journey, tell him he’s damn fine with a pistol and a hammer. Tell him his world is bright and vibrant and beautiful. Kid tears up a little, feels a lump swelling in his throat, manages to croak out a single word… “Thanks.”
www.supergiantgames.com, ESRB: E10+
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Amnesia: The Dark Descent is dark. It’s got dark right in the title. It’s dark and atmospheric and, at times, genuinely terrifying. And did we mention it’s really dark? The loading screen recommends you turn off the lights and plug in some headphones to better appreciate the frightening atmosphere. We, however, suggest otherwise. Turn on all the lights, invite over your neighbors, crank up the stereo—you’ll thank us when you’re blissfully dreaming of videocards and motherboards and not having horrifying Lovecraftian imagery dominate your nightmares.
www.amnesiagame.com, ESRB: M
Dead Space 2
There’s a lot to love about Dead Space 2. There’s the creepy, claustrophobic atmosphere, the tense sound effects, the horrific enemy design, and a ton more. What really sets the game apart, however, is the sheer, visceral carnage you can unleash with each of the game’s many upgradable weapons. But even if you’re out of ammo for your saw-blade launcher, you’re not defenseless—there’s always Isaac’s torso-smashing stomp, which will go down in history as gaming’s most grisly looting animation.
Duke Nukem: Forever
Look, we wanted Duke Nukem: Forever to be good. All of us did, collectively. But Duke Nukem: Forever, in so many ways, is just a bad game. It isn’t funny (purposely, anyway) and the gameplay is shockingly infantile; but the fact that it’s terrible isn’t really all that shocking. When a game is stuck in development hell for more than a decade, something’ll emerge, sure, but it ain’t gonna be pretty. Duke Nukem: Forever proved that.
www.dukenukem.com, ESRB: M
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
Geralt of Rivia returns with a vengeance in one of the most gorgeous and gritty games of 2011. As in the first game, your choices matter—the game’s second act is completely different, depending which side you take in a certain conflict. The Witcher 2 isn’t perfect—the learning curve is steep and parts of the game are frustrating in the extreme, but it was still one best RPGs of the year—and certainly the witchiest. Bonus: The game was released completely DRM-free and still sold over 1 million copies.
www.thewitcher.com, ESRB: M
Crysis 2 looks good, but it wasn’t the brutal benchmark that we’ve coveted for years now. In fact, it was developed primarily as a console game, and, while beautiful, it surely doesn’t require the hardware needed to top out its little, more graphically demanding brother, Crysis 1. Regardless, Crysis 2 is a damn fine sequel that’s gorgeous, challenging, and engrossing from beginning to end.
www.ea.com/crysis-2, ESRB: M
Following the death of Kim Jong Il, his son and successor Kim Jong Un goes on an annexation rampage, swallowing up most of Asia before invading the western half of a weakened United States in 2025. So goes the lead up to Homefront, a lusciously vivid FPS depiction of urban, suburban and rural America as a guerilla resistance battleground.
Now that North Korea's supreme leader has in fact expired, time will only tell if this far-fetched premise will play out. We know some things for sure though: the frequently janky gameplay and stunningly short single-player campaign of Homefront had us pining for New York to be shredded to pieces, either via the alien apocalypse of Crysis 2 or the Russian coalition in Modern Warfare 3.
www.homefront-game.com, ESRB: M
A freaky-genius masterpiece of a puzzle game, Limbo is an exercise in minimalism and unlike anything we’ve played before. Developed by gothily named Playdead, Limbo’s side scrolling adventures follow a nameless boy as he searches to find his sister in a creepy monochromatic underworld. You will fail him. He will die. Horribly. And often. It’s a bit gruesome to constantly watch the boy beheaded, dismembered, impaled, and crushed, but in Limbo, dying is just trial-and-error to get to the next challenge. Using elements of dark and light, shadows, and a complete lack of dialogue, text, or explanation, Limbo creates an intensely eerie atmosphere that extends to each of its puzzles.
http://limbogame.org/, ESRB: T
World of Tanks
Free to play (aka F2P) games have inspired a lot of anxiety among hardcore gamers. They worry that the game will be an incessant grind, like many Korean F2P MMOs, or that players who pay cash money will have an insurmountable advantage over those who don’t (à la Battlefield Heroes). Fortunately, there are a few games around like World of Tanks, which prove that you can get a great, action-packed multiplayer game for free, and that free-to-play doesn’t have to mean pay-to-win.
http://worldoftanks.com/, ESRB: T
Serious Sam 3
We’re not big fans of DRM, but we respect that a game developer has to go to some lengths to protect its work from illegal downloading. We respect it even more when that developer trolls software pirates with an immortal pink scorpion. That’s what Croteam did with Serious Sam 3—if you pirate the game, be prepared to go toe-to-toe with a gun toting, lightning-fast arachnid.
http://serioussam.com/, ESRB: M
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
We’re big Call of Duty fans, but Modern Warfare 3 feels a bit stale, especially when placed next to the revolutionary Battlefield 3, which released around the same time. We understand that if you know what works, stick with it, but innovation is important, too. Activision, please update the graphics engine and take some chances next time around! We’re careening into a crazy-ass era of gaming, and we simply want Call of Duty to catch up.
www.callofduty.com/mw3, ESRB: M
Battlefield 3 is about as epic a first-person shooter as we’ve seen in a hell of a long time. Unlike some hyped shooters that offer limited vehicle support, BF3’s vehicles give the game a three-dimensional battle space that has to be experienced to be appreciated. Not only are you worried about some frakking sniper, you also have to contend with attack helicopters, jets, tanks, APCs and the other 63 players, too. And all in stunning graphical detail that pushes the PC to its limits.
www.battlefield.com, ESRB: M
[brief intro]The roguelike—a dungeon-crawler with randomly generated levels, ultra-hard difficulty, and permadeath—is one of the most venerable of game genres. Traditionally crafted with ASCII graphics, roguelikes were the direct precursors to action RPGs like Diablo. That doesn’t mean the genre is dead, though—2011 was a banner year for roguelikes. And roguelike-likes.
Dungeons of Dredmor
Permadeath? Check. Randomly generated levels? Very check. Lutefisk? Scads of it. Dungeons of Dredmor takes the staples of the roguelike genre, adds a bunch of skillsets like Mathomancy, Viking Wizardry, and Necronomiconomics, and graphics reminiscent of ’90s LucasArts adventure games.
www.dungeonsofdredmor.com, ESRB: NR
An alpha version of Desktop Dungeons appeared in 2010 as a single-level roguelike that could be played in 15 minutes. The game isn’t officially out yet, but, as is the current style, you can play the beta version now if you preorder the game.
www.desktopdungeons.net, ESRB: NR
The Binding of Isaac
From Edmund McMillen (Super Meat Boy), it’s a roguelike in the 8-bit aesthetic, featuring a bawling baby, Biblical themes, and poop! As Isaac, trying to escape the aforementioned Binding (it’s a bad thing), you defeat your enemies by spraying them with your tears.
http://bit.ly/oWF7bP, ESRB: NR