2011 has seemingly disappeared in a flash, and since one of the original intents of this blog was to write reviews of various media, the time seems right to look at some of the best of what 2011 had to offer, and take a look forward into 2012 as well. This post initially started as a series of top ten lists, but having read so many of those over the last two weeks or so, they just seem rather trite by this point. As a result, this will be a much looser affair where I talk about games, books, films or albums that stood out to me without any kind of ranking.
Dead Space 2
It surely speaks to the quality of Dead Space 2 that it’s still a standout game, even though it was released last January. Still my favourite graphics of the year, and a perfectly paced linear campaign that crammed enough excitement and heart stopping thrills into its eight hours to put last year’s Uncharted 3 to shame. In terms of being an actual scary game, it wasn’t quite as effective as the first Dead Space, but made up for it with a vastly superior plot and improved level design. If Dead Space was the equivalent of Alien, Dead Space 2 was the Aliens to match it. Rumours suggest that Dead Space 3 will be set on a snow planet, so maybe it will draw from The Thing as opposed to going all Alien 3. Colour me excited.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
I was highly sceptical of Human Revolution for a few years, even claiming at one point that I would never buy it. How sadly naive of me. Truthfully, the game wasn’t much of a revolution, since it played much like the original game with a few modern FPS trappings such as regenerating health and a cover system. Fortunately, as I’m all too happy to point out whenever the topic arises, the original Deus Ex happens to be my second favourite game of all time, so that Human Revolution even partially resembles it makes me happy. The modern gameplay mixes well with the classic framework, delivering a package that not only reinvigorates what should realistically be a dead franchise after the disappointing Invisible War, it’s also one of the best FPS/RPG hybrids in years.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
I used to update this blog regularly, but then I took a- NO! BAD! Despite the ‘arrow to the knee’ meme going from hilarious to annoying in less than a week, I’m still shockingly invested in Skyrim. Even on Christmas Day, when I was just getting into the meaty world of Batman: Arkham City (not getting an entry here, but a worthy follow up to Arkham Asylum), I was still having stray thoughts about Skyrim. I’ve put in over eighty hours, and I still have a whole main faction quest line that I haven’t touched. Bethesda have successfully transferred table top RPGs such as Dungeons & Dragons into video games by building a fantasy world and letting me live out my sword and sorcery fantasies in it.
The Hunter by Mastodon
2011 was, for me at least, a very weak year in terms of new music releases. There are currently only three albums from 2011 sat on my iPod, and The Hunter is the only one I’ve listened to in months. I love that every time Mastodon come out with a new album, they reinvent their formula. 2009’s Crack the Skye was a take on 70s prog metal, with tracks eclipsing ten minutes in length, but The Hunter is a more laid back, groove metal affair. There are times here, such as the fun and bouncy Curl of the Burl where they almost sound like a heavy Queens of the Stone Age. After a much more mellow affair last time around, Mastodon prove here that they still know how to bring the riffs in a big way. Standout tracks: The Hunter, All the Heavy Lifting, Dry Bone Valley
11/22/63 by Stephen King
It’s a shameful fact that I only managed to read eleven books over the course of last year, and I read several of those because they tied in to games I was playing over the course of the year. In fact, 11/22/63 was the only piece of 2011 original fiction I read. Fortunately, it was excellent. King is not my favourite writer in terms of how he constructs his prose, but he is unparalleled as a storyteller. Once again he has proven that he knows how to write well rounded characters that make the best of his plot. I was genuinely saddened when I reached the end of the journeys of each of these characters, and that’s truly the mark of a great story.
Zack Snyder’s first wholly original film worked on two levels for me. On one level it was a story about female empowerment. The women depicted in the story overcome numerous dangers during their attempt to escape the asylum they’ve been wrongfully locked inside, and while they are shown in a sexual way, the people who view them as objects are always presented as creepy and lecherous, openly mocking the members of the audience who paid to see titillation. On the more surface level, it’s a live action anime film. Snyder’s exceptional skills as an action director shine as the cast battle (amongst other things) robotic soldiers, dragons and giant samurai. As an action fan, I recommend it, despite the less than stellar review scores.
Alright then, what of 2012? Well, I’ve made my resolutions, and already amended one. Here are the original two:
1. Read more books in 2012 than in 2011
2. Finish writing a whole novel.
Given how National Novel Writing Month ended up, I amended the second resolution to something more general like “keep practicing writing and work towards a novel”. The good news is that it’s January 4th and I’ve already put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and made a solid start. Fingers crossed.