January 10, 2011

~ PART 1 ~

2011 - The year that the PS3 was to dominate and overtake the XBox 360? Well it would have been except the PS3 Hack and Network Shutdown really put the breaks on for a little while. That incident has been largely forgotten by now, but Sony had a string of fantastic hits with arguably the best line-up of the three consoles.

This year also saw a lot of information about the PlayStation Vita which launched in Japan in late December and is ramping up for a February release in Europe and America. Sadly the PlayStation Portable is now a near-dead console and while there are still some games being released they are few and far between as the majority of developers have shifted focus to the PS3 or PSVita. Anyway here's the awards for 2011.

There are a couple of rules for games to be entered into consideration. Firstly, the games must have been released in Australia during the 2011 calendar year, so no 2010 or 2012 titles are in consideration (even if they were already released in Japan or America in 2011). Also, all these awards have been considered by those here at Future Gamez, and not the public. While we give scores for reviews throughout the year, the highest score may not be the winner in these awards, as long term appeal and a lot of hindsight is also considered. Finally, all categories are for PS3, PS2 and PSP titles, except for graphics and sound where they were considered separately. So let's get to it...

Biggest Disappointments of 2011
3. No PSVita launch outside Japan pre-Christmas
With the PSP getting long in the tooth and the PSPgo failing abysmally gamers the world over were looking towards the PSP2 for some updated handheld gaming, and Sony's answer to the Nintendo 3DS - a system which struggled to sell and saw a dramatic price cut only months after release. Sony announced the PSVita in January 2011 for release late in the year. Unfortunately the 2011 release was limited to Japan in late December with America, Europe and Australia needing to wait until February 2012 to get their hands on this super-powerful handheld.

2. Closure of Australian Studios
2011 was a terrible year for game studio closures around the globe, however Australia seems to be one of the worst countries affected by these closures. The biggest on the list was Team Bondi who had just launched the very impressive L.A. Noire but struggled to pick up a publisher for their next title following a series of reported employment violations and terrible work conditions. Other studios to close include THQ Studio Australia (which worked on the Megamind and Avatar games), EA's Visceral Studios Melbourne, KMM Brisbane, and Krome Studios which closed down in late 2010.

1. PlayStation Network Hack, Communication, Downtime
On April 20, 2011 things went very dark for PlayStation gamers trying to connect online. That was the day that Sony turned off the PlayStation Network - no online gaming, no PlayStation Store, no online anything. Somewhere between April 17 and 19 hackers broke into Sony's network and potentially stole personal information such as account usernames and password and, perhaps, credit card details. Compounding the issue though is the fact that it took Sony over 2 weeks, on May 4, to confirm they were hacked and user details were potentially at risk. The outage lasted almost a month with systems coming back online on May 15. Sony offered compensation for the outages, including a months free access to PlayStation Plus, and a couple of free games which was a welcome gesture (and they were decent games too). All-in-all a messy affair that probably wasn't handled as effectively as possible, but for which Sony (and the entire industry in fact) has learnt a lot about customer relations, and security!

Biggest Surprise of 2011
3. Sony announce PSP2, named PSVita, launched
The PSP2 has been a long time in the rumour mill but when Sony announced the console in January 2011 it was a surprise on several fronts. The OLED screen was impressive, and the touch screen was near inevitable after the "standard" practice on Smart Phones, but the read touch pad was an unexpected bonus. Games being sold on memory cards was new, and the dual analogue controls were a must to get FPS's running properly. Most surprising was the 2011 release date and while it didn't happen globally (perhaps in part due to the Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami) it is out now in Japan.

2. The Last of Us, latest Naughty Dog title
Not only did Naughty Dog just release the phenomenal Uncharted 3 but then a couple of weeks later they announced they had split into two teams with the second working on the PS3 exclusive game The Last of Us which looks like redefining the action horror genre, perhaps. We don't really know what this is all about but it's looks super impressive in the trailer released so far.

1. Infinity Ward still deliver the goods with Modern Warfare 3
When Infinity Ward imploded last year when president Jason West and studio head Vince Zampella left after disputes over royalties, and took dozens of employees with them to create Respawn Entertainment, many suspected the company could never deliver the goods with Modern Warfare 3, but they did, and they even exceeded pretty much every other game in the franchise. With sales of over 23 million on all platforms to date Activision will be very pleased indeed.

Best Australian Distributor of 2011
Winner: Electronic Arts
Electronic Arts really had a cracker year in 2011 with a phenomenal 18 games (by our count) released in Australian retail, and many more released through the PlayStation Store. Not only did they release many titles, but there really weren't many duds in that list with every one of the 10 games we reviewed scoring over 80%. Sure there were a couple of "duds" which we didn't review including Alice: Madness Returns, Need for Speed: The Run and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 but even those games have their fans. The company also puts on some cracking promotional pieces, including one of the best booths at the EB Expo a couple of months ago. Well done Electronic Arts.

Best Publisher of 2011
Winner: Electronic Arts
A double win for Electronic Arts this year as the company has also managed to publish some of the best games developed by other companies including Epic's Bulletstorm, Crytek with Crysis 2, Grasshopper Manufacture with Shadow of the Damned, Valve's impressive Portal 2 and Spicy Horse with Alice: Madness Returns. Then of course you have games developed and published by EA's own companies including Bioware with Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age 2, EA Canada's sports range, Visceral Games' Dead Space 2 and DICE's Battlefield 3 among others.

Best Developer of 2011
Winner: Ubisoft Montpellier
This category has so many options, from the small independent studios to the larger developers with several hundred people working on each game. This year though there was one team that surprised with a brilliant engine, and brilliant game that deserves so much more attention then it's getting - particularly at retail. Michel Ancel's team at Ubisoft Montpellier developed a stunning 1080p 60fps UbiArt engine which powers arguably the best 2D platforming game in this generation, Rayman: Origins.

Best Peripheral
Winner: Nothing!
Nothing? That's right. We don't actually think there was anything of worth released for the PS3, or PSP, this year so we're not going to award something to an item that doesn't deserve it. Expect a lot of options next year though with the PSVita going on sale. Hell, we're not even putting a logo or image up for this one!

Best Blu-Ray Movie - Video Quality
Winner: Rango (Walt Disney)
The problem with picking the best Blu-Ray for video quality these days is that all the studios have lifted their output to such a high quality that picking a winner is nigh on impossible and more often then not it comes down to cinematography and visual effects rather then transfer quality to pick the best. All three of these have stunning video transfers, but Rango comes out on top with a pristine direct from digital video, as well as stunning computer graphics (from ILM no less) that set new benchmarks.
Runners Up: Human Planet (Village Roadshow), The Tree of Life (Icon Films).

Best Blu-Ray Movie - Audio Quality
Winner: Tron: Legacy (Walt Disney)
Visually this is one of the most artistic films we've ever seen, and the visual transfer is nigh on perfect. The audio, though, takes the release to an entirely new level with wonderful DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track which makes use of surround sound channels and sound prioritization however it's the score from electronic duo Daft Punk that takes this audio experience to an entirely new, and unique, level.
Runners Up: Transformers: Dark of the Moon (Paramount), Jurassic Park Trilogy (Universal).

Best Blu-Ray Release - Extras
Winner: Star Wars: The Complete Saga (Fox)
We never received this release for reviewing, and in some way we're thankful for that as the massive list of extras would have kept us reviewing for days, if not weeks. As well as a tonne of previous content the 9-disc set includes unseen deleted scenes, as well as some all new documentaries. It's extensive, but still not a complete package until we get the original, unmodified movies - something which George Lucas is still refusing to release.
Runners Up: The Social Network (Sony Pictures), Jurassic Park Trilogy (Universal).

Best Blu-Ray Release Overall
Winner: The Social Network (Sony Pictures)
Being released in early 2011 it would have been easy to overlook this release but the critically acclaimed film is given a gorgeous transfer in terms of both video and audio, while the extras are equally phenomenal. This package has the whole lot and is well worth picking up.
Runners Up: Tron Legacy (Walt Disney), Rango (Paramount), Scarface (Universal), Captain America (Paramount), The Lord of the Rings: Extended Edition Trilogy (Village Roadshow), Jurassic Park Trilogy (Universal), Star Wars: The Complete Saga (Fox).

Best Download-only Game
Winner: Plants Vs Zombies (PS3, PopCap)
While we never reviewed this on Futuregamez we have certainly played this game for hours on the iPhone and probably even more on the PS3. It's a simple, addictive defense game with many game modes and plenty of options available. It's simply brilliant and well worth a purchase although you may want to wait until the title goes on sale on the Playstation Network given the high price ($AU23.95).
Runners Up: Renegade Ops (PS3, Avalanche Studios), Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes (PS3, Capybara Games).

Best Game Based On Pre-Existing Property (Print or Film)
Winner: Goldeneye 007 Reloaded (PS3, Eurocom)
It really has been a lean year for licensed video games - not only in quantity, but also in quality. Fortunately Activision came to the party with this game which wasn't a remake of the N64 original, but a reimagining with new levels, Daniel Craig, improved visuals and impressive FPS gameplay. What makes this game stand out though, and has kept us playing is the impressive multiplayer which includes a tonne of game modes and impressive, slick gameplay.
Runners Up: Ultimate Marvel Vs Capcom 3 (PS3, Capcom), Lego: Pirates of the Caribbean (PS3, Traveller's Tales).

Most Original Title
Winner: Portal 2 (PS3, Valve)
Admittedly this isn't exactly original as it's a sequel, but in terms of all the games coming out during 2011 Portal 2 offered something completely different to other games on the market with a focus on First Person puzzle solving rather then shooting. Not only was it original however, but a bloody good game to boot!
Runners Up: deBlob 2 (PS3, THQ Australia), L.A. Noire (PS3, Team Bondi).

Best Offline Multiplayer Game
Winner: LittleBigPlanet 2 (PS3, Media Molecule)
This game really is the complete package. It can be enjoyed as a single player experience, enjoyed online with friends but perhaps the greatest enjoyment is playing this game locally with friends. It's just such a joy with easy, pick up and play controls that anyone can enjoy.
Runners Up: Rayman Origins (PS3, Ubisoft Montpellier), Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One (PS3, Insomniac Games).

Best Online Multiplayer Game
Winner: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (PS3, Infinity Ward)
While there was a question mark over this game prior to release due to the implosion of Infinity Ward this game not only met expectations, but exceeds it. More options and customisation than any other game, plenty of game modes, and some great maps makes this the best online experience of 2011 (although we're not convinced by the overpriced COD Elite), although the runners up weren't far behind especially EA/DICE's shooter which we almost put as a tie with this game... almost.
Runners Up: Battlefield 3 (PS3, DICE), LittleBigPlanet 2 (PS3, Media Molecule).

Continue to Part 2 of the 2011 FutureGamez Awards
Continue to Part 3 of the 2011 FutureGamez Awards

I hope you enjoyed reading the 2011 FutureGamez Awards. If you have any comments feel free to e-mail me at the usual address: admin@futuregamez.net.