I considered doing a 2011 videogame awards thing, but I didn’t actually get to play that many 2011 releases. Instead, here I want to just give a shout out to some of stuff from 2011 I did really enjoy.
Favourite Game of 2011 – Bastion
As I mentioned above, I didn’t get to play a lot of the year’s big releases, Skyrim, Dragon Age 2, Uncharted 3 et al. But, the year’s most impressive indie title was one of the titles I got my hands on. Its beautiful to look at, has a fantastic dynamic narrator with a sexuality-confusingly sexy voice, the year’s flat out best score by composer Darren Korb and tight, fun Action-RPG gameplay. It’s the first showing from Supergiant Games, themselves former developers on mainstream titles and Bastion probably made the biggest impact of any indie title since Angry Birds. Seriously. Buy that game.
Best Example of a Sequel – Batman: Arkham City
I’m not choosing this because I got to play a lot of other sequels this year and compare, but because I’m really struggling to think of a game I’ve played that’s done such a good job of going “big” for the sequel but still holding onto what made the first game great. It’s not flawless, there’s too many new tricks that you’ll pretty much never use and the design is now uniformly “Really Rather Good” instead of “Sodding Excellent”. Also, City shows that developers Rocksteady really do know their Goddamn Bat-Stuff.
Not only that, but they refuse to parrot it ad verbatim or go for the easy portrayals. Remember how Mister Freeze is meant to be an antihero only acting out of concern for his dying wife? So does Rocksteady! Ever wondered how the Penguin and Riddler could be portrayed as interesting villains? Rocksteady know. FYI, the answer is a blend of unrepentant psychopathy, a shit ton of money and not acting like a 2D comic book villian for once. The plot also takes inspiration from a myriad of different stories and adaptations to deliver a unique spin on the Bat-mythos you won’t get anywhere else.
Best way of letting somebody into a genre – Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3
The expanded re-release of MvC3 and the original are both serious, deep beat ’em ups. What makes them so great for getting into the newbie-unfriendly world of fighting games is the Simple Mode. With this, you can play as most of the characters effectively with just a few buttons. And when you’re not worrying about how to pull off your fancy moves and just able to do them, you can instead learn skills like blocking, team combos, assists, tagging, X Factor and the like and get a proper grasp on how the game works, before you (if ever, cause the game is stupid amounts of fun even just on Simple Mode) decide to move up to Normal Mode. I’ll admit to only buying this game because of PHOENIX GODDAMN WRIGHT but I’m glad I did, because the “must play this game all day every day” work off way after the novelty of OBJECTION!-ing Galactus to death did.
Super Hero Movies – Thor & X-Men First Class
I love me some superheroes. And what I really loved this year was Kenneth Brannagh being unafraid to make Thor be big and grandiose. He also made the brilliant performances by Tom Hiddleston & Chris Hemsworth really work, although the script certainly gave them plenty to work from. Of particular note for me was how Loki, a campy comic book villain, came off as a believable and relatable character. Even moreso than his big, lovable brother Thor.
And X-Men First Class? Not afraid to put its heroes on yellow spandex, which earns it points in my book. Also, it took characters like Magneto, Beast, Mystique & Xavier (who I’ve never formed a connection to in anything) and made me like and care about them. Xavier in particular is charming as all hell. If he were telling me to go save the world from Shaw, I’m pretty sure he could convince me to overcome my innate cowardice easily without using his telepathy.
Other Movies – Sucker Punch, Hanna and In Time
Other than cementing my love for Amanda Seyfried and making me fall in love with Saoirse Ronan and Emily Browning, these three films were to me really, really fun, slick action films with interesting ideas going on behind the main story.
Sucker Punch barely broke even at the Box Office and was despised by most critics. It was Zack Sneider’s first film that wasn’t an adaptation, and at least 937, if not all kinds of awesome. Using multiple layers of dream narrative, we see the lead character Baby Doll fight with a group of similarly hot, badass girls against Steampunk zombie soldiers, orcs, robots, a dragon and gigantic demon samurai statues. Some critics thought the use of attractive women in tight clothing fighting through hordes of battles seemingly torn out of nerd fantasies that were also being exploited as sex workers in another dream layer was misogynistic, but I think they were missing the point. See, the fighting of these dehumanised, vaguely evil, masculine enemies took place when the girls were doing something to strike back against the male dominated environments they were trapped in.
Specifically, they’re using a combination of intelligence, deception and their femininity to get one over on the guys in one layer (and probably the real world) and also destroying the evil, subhuman symbolic males in another, while acting against some kind of time limit. As such, the action is a way of an idealised version of the girls processing their rebellion against the guys. You might think I’m reading too much into it, but Sucker Punch is a film built around symbolism, much like Black Swan was. I think that the symbolism it chooses to use is what got it ignored, which is unfair if true.
Hanna is a generic story of a super-secret super soldier program survivor being hunted down by the US government. Except the hero is a young girl. When she escapes into the world at large, she travels a good stretch of Europe where she essentially has a coming-of-age story, aided by a dysfunctional English family on holiday. It’s a film about Hanna becoming an adult, essentially. Most of the conspiracy plot is even handed off to her father, while Hanna gets to explore the world and find her place in it.
In Time is prove positive, if it were needed, that proper speculative fiction of the type Asimov, Clarke and Heimlein wrote can translate to Hollywood without compromising on the messages and philosophies it delivered in print. It has its problems, and for a film in which the ticking of seconds can be a literal matter of life and death there are a lot of sequences that seem to take improbably long or short times. Its message about unrestrained Capitalism versus Socialism (not Communism) is very topical and well worth hearing. Also, one scene has Amanda Seyfried in her underwear.
My Favourite Trailer/Most Anticipated Film – Ace Attorney
Nope, not The Hobbit, Dark Knight Rises or The Avengers. I’m looking forward to a videogame movie most of all. It’s a Japanese production, known there by the series’ original title Gyakuten Saiban and is being directed by one of the most versatile, prolific and well known Japanese directors, Takashi Miike. Miike hasn’t shied from making this film actually look like Ace Attorney at all, and I have real faith that it’ll be the first truly great videogame movie.
Best Thing on TV – Doctor Who “The Doctor’s Wife”
Neil Freakin’ Gaiman himself wrote an episode of Doctor Who for series six. Less of a typical adventure and more a meditative love letter to the oldest relationship on the show, Gaiman delivered what I firmly believe to be the best thing in Who canon. At least of the new series, I can’t vouch for the old one.
Best Book – The Night Circus
OK, so it’s the only new book I read this year, but it’s still damn good. A period romance set in and around the titular magical circus, Emily Morgenstern’s debut novel might not appeal to those of you who detest a romance story, but she’s clearly got some good stories in her and a talent for telling them. Hey, the guys over at FailBetterGames liked it enough to make a promotional game for it, The Guardian have nominated for a best newcomer award and the BBC have already done a radio adaptation of it. She’s got something going for her. Don’t be surprised if this is the summer hit that explodes into cinema when the Twilight films are gone.
Well folks, that was my highlights of 2011. What were yours? More to the point, how many of them involved penguins?