This year was probably one of the best for quality video games. No matter what type of games you liked, there was probably a big release for you to be excited about. It was not all good though. There were quite a few delayed games and disappointments as well, and let us not forget about the Sony hacking scandal either.
2011: Year of Disappointments
Crysis 2 – The game mechanics were simplified compared to Crysis 1. The PC version also had the glaring mistake “Press Start to Begin” on the title screen despite PCs not having a Start button. Crysis 1 was seen as the epitome of what it meant to be a PC gamer: amazing graphics only a PC could achieve and good gameplay depth console games usually lack. Crysis 2, on the other hand, was a full-on console port. That little mistake on the title screen really set off the PC community with “consolization” discussions being tossed around a lot (PC exclusives transforming into multiplatform titles). Crysis 2 was also the first high profile game to be removed from Steam after EA released DLC exclusively on EA’s Origin. (Steam’s rules do not allow exclusive, non-Steam DLC.)
Dragon Age 2 – The first game in the series was also on consoles, but was an inferior experience compared to the PC version. An isometric, tactical RPG just did not work that well on a console. Bioware (and their Electronic Arts overlords) eager to tap into the big console sales decided to move the sequel in a different direction. They abandoned that top-down view in exchange for a third-person view similar to Mass Effect. They also changed combat to be more fast-paced in exchange for less tactical. This led the PC community to discussions of dumbing down for consoles, but the real problem was the lack of content. Almost the whole game played out in one city with many recycled areas. It was clearly a rushed game. The game sold well on launch day, but the bad word-of-mouth meant Dragon Age: Origins ultimately sold far more copies than Dragon Age 2. It was also removed from Steam for similar reasons as Crysis 2.
Homefront – A lot of shooter fans were looking forward to this one. All the hype around the game was about the game’s single player campaign. It featured an alternate history story about North Korea invading America. Not much focus was put on the multiplayer, so many players were expecting an epic single player campaign like Half Life 2. Instead, players got a 3 hour, buggy campaign. The multiplayer was not bad, but no better than Call of Duty that shooter fans already had. There is not much to say about this game. It was just a disappointment all around.
Sword of the Stars 2 – In the relatively niche sci-fi 4x strategy genre, the heavyweights these days are Galactic Civilization 2, Sins of a Solar Empire, and Sword of the Stars. Sword of the Stars generally scored lower than the other two. Many gamers saw the sequel as a way for the Sword of the Stars series to be the new top dog in this genre, but it was not meant to be. The game was released in a beta state with numerous bugs and crashes. Large amounts of game content were completely missing. The game was rushed to release. It needed at least a few more months to iron out bugs and finish content. It was a huge disappointment to all the fans of the original as well as players waiting for a new game in this genre after so many years.
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm – I am not sure if this is really a proper disappointment. It is only an expansion pack, and it did not even release in 2011. However, the prevailing news of 2011 MMOs was WoW losing subscribers. There were three separate announcements made by Blizzard about their playerbase. In March, it was announced that WoW lost 600,000 subscribers. Then in August, Blizzard announced a further 300,000 subscribers had been lost. Finally in November, another 800,000 subscribers were lost. All told, WoW lost 1.7 million subscribers going from 12 million at the beginning of the year down to 10.3 million by the end of the year. I think this big drop is a sign of overall disappointment with the expansion and game in general.
Dead Island – I had to make an edit to add this game, because it was a big deal, and I completely forgot about it until now. It all started with a viral game trailer. The zombie survival genre has gotten really popular after the Left 4 Dead series, but Dead Island promised to do more by including an actual storyline. People were really hyped up with the game, but on release day it turned out they accidentally released the dev build to the Steam customers instead of the release build. Unlike Sword of the Stars 2, this game actually had a release build. Just one of the Techland people made a huge mistake by submitting the wrong build to Steam for players to download. However, even the release build with numerous patches is still buggy. The hype faded fast.
I am sure there are more disappointments, but I felt these were the biggest ones of the year. The game either had a lot of hype going into it and failed to live up or not much hype but became infamous after release for being broken.
A Year of Hacking
One of the biggest threats to the Internet and online gaming this year was all the hacking that went on. It initially started when Sony sued hacker George Hotz for releasing a PS3 jailbreak that could be used to circumvent the closed system the PS3 has. This would allow people to install whatever software they wish on their PS3. It would turn it into an operating system like Windows, where the user can really do anything. This extra “power” given to the user is okay for the most part, but it also made it easier for players to pirate PS3 games. This is what Sony’s problem with the jailbreak was.
On Wednesday, April 20, 2011, as the court case was ongoing, the PlayStation Network went offline. Two days later, Sony released a statement saying there had been an “external intrusion” and they were investigating. Not until the following Monday did Sony mention they believed users’ credit card numbers and personally identifiable information was in the hackers’ hands. Common practice with these sorts of things is to always warn consumers of the worst that could happen, but Sony did not make any notions that their customers’ information might be at risk for a full five days. Apparently, Sony had just recently made cuts to their security department and were not prepared to defend against a coordinated hacking attempt.
Sony’s MMO division, Sony Online Entertainment, was also hacked during this time. Almost everyone who played Sony games either had a PSN account or a SOE account, and all those people had to deal with cancelling credit cards or even identity theft. It is believed that Anonymous network did the hacking in retaliation for the case against Gearge Hotz, though Anonymous denied this. The whole scandal made big headlines news. Sony was eventually forced to answer to Congress, but got off without any penalties.
Unfortunately, the hacking did not end there. A splinter group of Anonymous called LulzSecurity, loving the attention the Sony hacking had gotten in the media, hacked a series of other websites throughout the year. Unlike other hacking groups, they did not seem to have a special agenda or message to get out. All they seemed to want was to reveal security holes of major websites for laughs and notoriety.
By the end of the year they had hacked and stolen information from Bioware’s Neverwinter Nights legacy forums, Bethesda Softworks’ Brink servers and general forums, and Valve’s Steam forums. Sony’s stat tracking website for the Resistance series, MyResistance.net, was also hacked, though this time LulzSecurity claimed it was not their doing. For the most part, these servers did not hold sensitive information, so the impact was not nearly as bad as the Sony hacking earlier in the year. It still forced a lot of people to be changing passwords a lot as the year went on.
All these incidents showed just how vulnerable the Internet could be and hurt many people’s perception of safety on the Internet. People are more hesitant now than before to buy into Internet services knowing there is a chance their information could be stolen. For example, people on the fence about Steam and other digital game distributors are now more likely to buy retail and hold off on digital for a few more years. I do not think the hacking is over; it is going to continue. Hopefully, Internet companies and us customers will be ready.
A Year of Delays
The year promised even a bigger slate of epic releases, but there ended up being quite a few big games delayed. Mass Effect 3 was originally expected around Fall but was pushed back to Q1 2012, later defined to March 6, 2012. The Last Guardian was one of the two big PS3 exclusives this year (other Uncharted 3), but it ended up being delayed at least into 2012 with no expected timeframe given. If The Last Guardian is anything like its predecessor, it could have been a 2011 Game of the Year contender.
There is also Torchlight 2 and Diablo 3, the popular hack ‘n slash sequels, that were delayed until 2012. Some other delayed games were Spec Ops: The Line, The Darkness 2, and Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. These were all pretty big, popular games in their respective genres. The year could have been even better, perhaps best in a decade, if all of these were released on time.
A Year of Sequels
Pretty much all of the big games this year were sequels of some sort. Indeed, it is hard to find any hyped-up games that were not sequels. Bastion is just one off the top of my head, but I have a hard time thinking of others. It could even be called the year of threequels with how many big ones were released or planned this year. Here is a list of the big sequels this year (not counting sports):
- Dead Space 2
- Crysis 2
- Dragone Age 2
- Portal 2
- Battlefield 3
- Modern Warfare 3
- The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim
- Saints Row: The Third
- Resistance 3
- Gears of War 3
- Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
- The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Zelda 16)
- Trine 2
- Sword of the Stars 2
- Assassin’s Creed: Revelations (Aassassin’s Creed 4)
- Batman: Arkham City
- Dark Souls
- Driver: San Francisco
- Dungeon Siege 3
- Age of Empires Online
- Duke Nukem Forever
- Mortal Kombat
- Two Worlds 2
- Alice: Madness Returns
- Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together
- Killzone 3
Original Intellectual Property in 2011
This year shows the way the game industry is changing. The mainstream games are going to continue to be sequel heavy. That is nice for knowing what you get with your money before buying, but not nice when you are looking for a new experience. There were some big budget original ideas, but most of them ending up being disappointments at release. It was the indie developers that really dominated the original ideas in 2011. These are some of the notable games that were not sequels:
- LA Noire
- Orcs Must Die
- Dungeon Defenders
- Iron Brigade
- DC Universe Online
- Star Wars: The Old Republic
Electronic Entertainment Expo 2011
E3 is where all “the big three” of Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo make their big announcements for the year. The Microsoft show was boring overall with almost a complete focus on Kinect games. The Kinect is fine for just plain fun, but Kinect games lack the depth that is available with a traditional controller or mouse/keyboard. I think motion controls will be useful for certain aspects of games, but I do not seem them replacing traditional controls entirely. A lot of the more complicated games just will not work with motion control. Movement through the game world, for one, is really hard with motion controls.
Nintendo was the only one to unveil a new console. Before E3 everyone had thought all three were going to announce new consoles, but Nintendo was the only one. The Wii U is going to be Nintendo’s first foray into HD games. Based on the tech demos they showed, the graphics quality looked to be a little bit better than Xbox 360 but worse than PS3. The question is whether it will be able to compete with the graphics of Microsoft and Sony’s new consoles.
If they make new consoles with cutting edge technology, the Wii U is likely to be lagging behind in graphics again. For the actual games, Wii U is up in the air. The controller is basically a tablet combined with a Wii-mote. I think there could be a lot of good ideas there, but I am not confident Nintendo can get third party developers to support it very much. I am worried that Nintendo is falling behind like they were with the Gamecube, and this time there might be no coming back.
Sony’s show was a good mix of Move games and traditional controller games and was the best of the three to me. Sony finally said sorry about the hacking scandal and how they handle the situation. Most of the Move games they showed also worked with a controller, so they did not leave out their core gamer fans like Microsoft did. The Move games generally also catered toward an older audience than Kinect games. For myself as an adult, this is a good thing. Motion controls can be used for mature games, but developers seemed to avoid that until now. Sony also showed off a bunch of quality core games for the old controller. Nintendo’s press conferences normally have this “something for everyone” theme, but this time it was all Sony.
Despite the disappointments and delays, I think it was still a good year for the average gamer. I myself did not buy many games, because my big favorites of Torchlight 2 and Diablo 3 were delayed, but I definitely saw a lot of interesting titles I want to get in the future. Portal 2, Skyrim, and Bastion were all added to my wishlist, which is more than most years.
The rampant hacking was definitely annoying. Luckily, I had not saved my identity or credit card on any websites, but it was a huge hassle changing my passwords every few weeks or months. It might good in a way, because it forced me to make a unique password for every website I use regularly. In the future if one of the websites I use gets hacked, I only have to change that one password.
The only big disappointment for me was the E3 announcements. I really did not see much that interested me. Sony is seems to be going in the closest direction to the games I want, but I find myself gravitating more and more to PC games as I get older.