This time last year, I stated that 2010 was a great time to be a games journalist. It was full of scandal and controversy, but apart from a few standout titles, it somewhat failed to launch.
2011, on the other hand, has been a great time to be a gamer. Pure and simple. The big hitters have been absolutely exceptional, and the slow summer months heralded the release of an inordinate number of Indie games that offered us new and unique experiences. We've rarely had it so good, and the choice of personal GOTY has never been more difficult.
Game Of The Year | Serious Sam 3: BFE
"CoD is cold. Battlefield is boring. Duke is dead."
"Well, that's the plan." - Serious Sam 3 Hands-On Preview
Mission accomplished. Croteam proves that the key to making a great FPS isn't to shamelessly copy your triple-A rivals: it's staying true to your principles and delivering your own game, the game you want to make.
Serious Sam 3 isn't just a primitive throwback. The well-paced campaign throws you in to tense, claustrophobic battles against cunning wall-crawlers who hunt in the dark, frantic boss encounters and knock-down street fights as an infested helicopter hounds you overhead. But when the levels open out into enormous murder playgrounds with hundreds of enemies approaching from miles away, you'll realise that any single set piece packs more visceral thrills, more brutal carnage and more honest fun than most games boast in the entirety of their campaigns. And that's before you factor in the sixteen-player cooperative mode that transforms an already-epic experience into unadulterated breathtaking insanity.
Do the right thing this Christmas. Support the underdog. Get Serious.
Oh, and I should probably mention that Skyrim is a game for the ages. But you already knew that, didn't you?
Biggest Surprise: Xenoblade Chronicles
I was vaguely aware of Xenoblade Chronicles when it released in Japan to massive critical acclaim, but as Operation Rainfall gained momentum and Nintendo announced a controversial PAL Territory port, I genuinely doubted whether the finished article was worth the hype.
Turns out that it was. Xenoblade fixed everything wrong with the JRPG genre, providing a massive open world to explore, hundreds of hours of gameplay, a delicious combat system and an engrossing storyline that didn't compromise player freedom. It was a wonderful and beautiful affair, and shows that the Wii is so much more powerful than anyone could have ever imagined.
Xenoblade Chronicles shattered my expectations, redefined a console and made a whole genre relevant again. Well played, Monolith Soft.
Favourite Gaming Moment of 2011 | Hack, Slash, IRL
You've got to hand it to Kylotonn and Premier PR: they certainly know how to throw a media boondoggle. To celebrate The Cursed Crusade, they booked out the Imperial War Museum, hired some Hollywood-grade re-enactors and spent half a day teaching us to thrust, parry, block and kill.
Unfortunately for Kylotonn, our newfound mastery of the ways of the blade allowed us to critique The Cursed Crusade on its authenticity as well as its gameplay. We found it wanting.
Biggest Disappointment | Nintendo
2011 should have been a massive year for Nintendo. Indeed, possibly the biggest in their history. It heralded the launch of a new handheld and a reveal for their next major console, meaning that the last twelve months should have been a non-stop fiesta of gaming excellence as Ninty pumped out great titles, deployed megaton announcements and supported the Wii to maximise one last sales push. We should have been the guests at a year-long party with Iwata and Miyamoto as our gracious, humble hosts.
But that didn't happen, did it? Instead, the last twelve months have been a cringe-worthy comedy of errors that put Peep Show and The Office to shame. 3DS owners had nothing to play on their pricey new handhelds, and Wii owners suffered from months of unforgivable neglect. The shocking 3DS price cut forced Iwata and Miyamoto to bow and scrape to us early consumers, even as they were railroaded into sweeping pay cuts. The Circle Pad Pro demonstrated that third-party publishers have little faith in the device's capabilities. And, worst of all, they botched (nay, they f**ked) the Wii U reveal so badly that we were left confused and concerned rather than excited about their new hardware.
Critically, Nintendo forgot that games - not consoles - are the most important part of the 21st century market. While their Christmas lineup gives us cause to celebrate - and they've historically been able to create and exploit new niches on a whim, the venerable old warhorse will need to develop their way out of the biggest consumer confidence crisis they've ever faced. They've got a lot of making up to do, and a lot of coding to boot.
Most Anticipated For 2012 | Syndicate
Like many gamers, I loosed an exasperated howl when EA finally confirmed their long-rumoured Syndicate reboot. Reboot culture has gone too far, I thought. This is going to be a disaster that grinds our fond memories into dust in its disrespectful, disastrous wake.
Syndicate is my most anticipated game of 2012 for two reasons. First of all, it really is shaping up to be an astoundingly good FPS with slick combat and fantastic breaching abilities. But just as importantly, I need to know if the lust for reboots has finally inspired something worth a damn. If not, I'll have a front row seat to deliver our furious judgement. No pressure, Starbreeze. No pressure.