Year in Review 2011
January 08, 2012

Astonishia Story (January 1st) [PSP]
Hits: 962

So, it was Xmas again and my sister was heavily pregnant with her first child. This meant she could not travel very far and, in our immediate family, she lived the furthest away. Being the selfish child, she demanded we all go and spend Xmas with her, condemning me to three nights on the world's most uncomfortable couch. I didn't sleep much, so instead, I played the PSP a lot, which had been left sadly ignored throughout the majority of the previous year. Despite having access to Ys, I spent my time playing Astonishia Story instead, for reasons I still do not fully grasp.

So, there you have it. I had a cold, energy-draining holiday, and you got a review for a game you've never heard of from it.

Red Dead Redemption (January 8th) [360]

I got R in the Alphas. Remember when we used to have tourneys? Good times, those. So, yeah, we had one and I won. With this review. That, according to Will that week in the RotW, didn't even make the top 3. Take that, you kooky Canadian!

It really was a ramble review. I'll never be a refined writer; my reviews are basically rambling on a word document then trying to make sense of the mess of worlds that stick at the end, but this really came out so much better than I expected. I never wanted Redemption to end, yet I knew it had to at some point, so I procrastinated as much as I could and still didn't complete every side quest or challenge. It gives me an excuse to revisit Marston's world now and then. And shoot people who probably don't really deserve it.

101-in-1 Sports Party Games (January 11th) [Wii]
Hits: 2006

Because, sometimes, you can have to much of a mediocre thing.

The start of this year was just about the end of getting review codes through the post for me, and this would have been a depressing end. Around the end of last year, I got a few 101 game collections, the majority of which were by no means awful, but hardly stand out. What they did do right was make a lot of the games insane enough for you play through just to see what they might come up with next. This collection just had a lot of broken sports stuff thrown in, most of which barely worked.

Medal of Honor (January 14th) [PS3]
Hits: 1175

So, at the end of 2010, I was approached by a gaming site of sorts who wanted to commission me to write a few things for them. I told them I would listen, and sold out a little. I hear it's the in thing to do. Anyway, I was asked to write something on Medal of Honor, which I'd previously done, so figured it wouldn't be that hard. I had a draft done by the end of the day, but they asked me to hold off because they had other things they wanted on the front page that day. I didn't care, so held off. No response a week later, so I gave them a nudge and was told that, that close to Xmas, they weren't bothered about getting new stuff on the page as traffic was culled. I shrugged and waited for them to response. New Year rolled by, and I nudged them again, were I was sent a message telling me I had taken too long to get the review to them, and that further commissions would need to be completed in a much more timely fashion. I didn't bother replying, and HG got a free review. Everyone's a winner.

Xenon 2 (January 23rd) [GEN]
Hits: 1162

Not even going to pretend to be humble about this; I love this review, and it'll probably end up being the best review I've written that no one will ever really read. I wrote it primarily at the end of 2010 for that alpha-marathon I remember caring about once, then deciding to save in for the next year when it was clear I had won. Joe destroyed me in the 2011 race, but I wasn't to know that then!

I'm glad -- happy, even -- that after this I never need to go anywhere near Xenon 2 again. Some things are best left to nostalgia.

ZPK2X (January 24th) [XBLI]
Hits: 1135

EmP: Remember at the start of the year, I said you should buy that live game with the kitten AK47 and zombie hoards?
DoI: Uh
EmP: Then mocked you for liking Unreal more than Quake III?
DoI: That's been going on for years
EmP: Never gets old.
EmP: I made a review intro from the corresponding nagging, anyway.
EmP: I'd forgotten about it until now.
EmP: Ever get around to picking it up?
DoI: I never did.
EmP: Almost exactly a year later, and I still might get the chance to mow you down with a kitten-shooting automatic rifle.
EmP: Isn't that, really, what a Christmas miracle is?
DoI: Now that I think about it, it does sound pretty magical

Cthulhu Saves the World (January 28th) [XBLI]
Hits: 1564

Much like Zeboyd's last Indie game, the dev shot me a message through HG mail to offer me a review copy. Unlike last time, I'd not already purchased the game and wasn't already most of the way through the title. But! Much like Breath of Death, the game rocked.

Stuff like this is what kept me glued to the indie service through the end of 2010 and the start of 2011.

The Ball (February 6th) [PC]
Hits: 875

The Ball turned up on my doorstep one day, much like a lost child nobody wanted and were looking to pass on. I am a charitable soul, so I took it in, played it through my PC (which struggled, alarmingly) and decided the kindest thing to do would be to then review it. I did. And that's how I saved February.

Still don't know why I bolded I remember twice.

Mass Effect 2 (February 28th) [360]
Hits: 734

Here's an odd statement. I put off and put off playing Mass Effect 2 because I know that as soon as I started, I'd play nothing but, and I didn't want to run out of game time so quickly. Hell, even now I have DLC missions I've not played because the thought of having no new Mass Effect to be able to play right now distresses me.

ME2 lived up to this ruinous self hype by being almost effortlessly better than the first game, which I still openly adore. I went into the review know I'd made a bit of a hash out of the review of ME1 by bouncing all over the world in an attempt to prove its vastness, so reined this review right back in. I'd learnt a few things when I took some risks with Red Dead that paid off, so reemployed them here. I'm more than happy with the result.

Thunder Force II (March 15th) [GEN]
Hits: 895

Man, I wish we could have carried stuff like this on. THE PLAN was to release a new Thunder Force review each day, and it's something we more or less managed to pull off. Flanked by site titans like OVERDRIVE (est 1845), MASTERS (obligatory Canadian) LEROUX (Missing, presumed drunk) and DarkEternal (Second best writer with dark in his name) we went back to the obscure beginnings, ran riot through the 16bit era and came out the other side with JP-only imports. It was awesome; even if Jason's messing around with the coding then changed the colour scheme of the page and endured me to hours of further HTML coding, and his efforts now have sunk them into oblivion along with anything else I put in score box summery. But there is a bitter rant for another time.

Along the way to our great success there was betrayal, desertion and hissy fits aplenty, but we all looked forward to doing it all again a month later. Sadly, the disastrous 'Arnie' week, featuring games made off the back of California's former head of state, never came into fruition, and my grand plan of a theme week each month ended with this one glorious shot. I don't care; it rocked.

(Also, just in case it was in doubt, this won the RotW, and is, as such, THE BEST Thunder Force review on the site.)

Epic Dungeon (March 31st) [XBLI]
Hits: 927

I like to think of myself of a bit of a pioneer. It's one of those things that helps me feed my mammoth ego, but covering the Indie scene really did give me a lot of satisfaction; especially so when I knew people were buying games they would have otherwise never hard of based at least somewhat on what I'd reported. In this case, Joe beat me to the review of this game, but only because I'd gotten him into XBLI in the first place! You have a lot to thank me for, Joseph, and I've yet to see a gift basket.

Hydrophobia (April 14th) [360]
Hits: 934

Sometimes brilliant, sometimes dodgy, it's still such a crazy improvement on the game that first hit XBLA a year or so before, they might as well rename it. The recent update dropped the price of the game by half, fixed more or less every major complaint leveled against it, and left a decent survival horror-like game where your biggest fear is the environment.

Nevertheless, this review was a huge headache for me. I'd been writing pretty well up to this point and it was this review where it all started falling apart. I had horrendous writer's block and, as I always have done in the past, decided the best thing was to power through it. This led to several finished drafts but they were, to be blunt, absolute shit. Hell, this one isn't great; Bloomer rightly pointed out that it has a confusing voice where it jumps back and forth between the old and the new, but, by that point, I simply had to wash my hands of the thing and try to move on.

Beyond Good & Evil HD (April 23rd) [360]
Hits: 928

Despite the fact that this a cheaty rewrite of an older review and I still use large chunks of that review in this one, I really struggled to get this one out. It was probably the beginning of the end of my regular output because I got all kinds of frustrated that I couldn't finish the bloody thing so locked myself away in a corner until all three (I think three?) of the drafts were done. It was about then I decided I wasn't enjoying it anymore. I wrote out of obligation.

There's a little slice of drama out the way. I then won a RotW. Yay!

Alan Wake (April 26th) [360]
Hits: 910

I'm a bit of a survival horror junkie -- have you noticed? As such, I was psyched throughout the entirety of Alan Wakees production. Then I purchased the game later than everyone else, because that's just how I roll.

Suskie and Marc (and most of the interested world) played this before me and gave very different accounts of their experiences. Through Suskie's excellent review, he made the game sound fantastic, and through Marc's constant bitching over AIM (which I've missed the most in my time offline) he made it sound like a one-trick pony. I guess I thought they were both right as I took the middle ground.

The second game is reportedly underway. I'm hoping they can build upon Wake strengths and perhaps dial down the trees.

Ravan Squad (May 2nd) [PC]
Hits: 614

This was a bit of a cheat. When I wrote for the original Raven Squad game for this very site, I also worte for another one which has since closed its doors. I reclaimed my earlier works, lest they fall into the pist of Oblivion, and posted them back up here. Or, at least, I did for this one. I had the others on a USB key along with a handful of drafts and recently found out it had died. It also had most of the Year in review on it, so I've had to write this entire list again from scratch with a much fuzzier memory. On the bright side, it means you, one of the three people to read in this far, have to put up with 33% less pretentious bullshit.

Shining Force II (May 10th) [GEN]
Hits: 841

It's taken me years to actually review this game, despite the fact I must have beaten it a good half dozen times while I've been writing reviews, and countless times before that. Shining Force II is my go to game. I have it on a USB key on my keyring so if I'm ever stuck somewhere, and therefs a PC nearby, I always have something to do. This review came off the back of such a game; work was dead, so I spent more time playing Gen roms then doing what I was being paid for.

I actually have a very small list of games I want to review before I throw this crazy reviewing gig in, and, now this one's down, it's now almost exhausted.

B-Team (May 30th) [DS]
Hits: 1030

Not everything has some story behind it. Sometimes I just play a game on a whim then review it. This was one. Rubbish, rubbish game thought it was.

Akane the Kunoichi (July 17th) [XBLI]
Hits: 944

We got a message asking us to review this Indie game because one of us used to be pretty hot on reviewing the Indie scene (it was me before I got lazy!) and so I did. I had heard of Akane's dev team before as I had downloaded the trial of their previous XBLI game, Ace Gals Tennis, and it was rubbish. I expected the worst on this account, but found an extremely worthwhile title included instead.

I should delve back into the Indie scene again should I discover the free time ever again.

Neptunefs Pride (July 26th) [PC]
Hits: 835

Spared the label of the longest review I've ever written by the absolute monster that is Oblivion, Pride is still a huge rambling wall of words that doesn't ever really delve into the obligatory trappings like how the game works or what the controls do. It's a condensed gaming diary, I suppose, that talks about my favourite subject. Me.

But, still, I love this review. It's easily the one I spent the most time on during last year, not just because it's huge but because I spent a lot of time editing it. It used to be a lot bigger, believe it or not, but I scaled it down to what it is now over several rewrites, and I wasn't going to publish the damn thing until I was ready. Hell, it was sitting in storage while I wrote B-Team and Akane.

Pride still weighs on my mind and you can expect something else to come from the game sometime in 2012. Itfs a fascinating concept, and I'm simply not done playing around with it and bragging about my results.

(P.S: Second RotW in a row. Watch the record break)

Dead Space (July 28th) [360]
Hits: 910

AKA: The review were Gary forgot who directed his favourite film.

Yeah, that was a gaffe, made better by a quick edit but forever immortalised by a bit of forum banter now stuck to the bottom of the review for eternity. No one to blame but me.

But, yeah, the review. Came out okay, didn't it? I'll assume you said yes, voiceless reader. Thanks, dude.

Trapped Dead (July 31st) [PC]
Hits: 713

I'd like to say it seemed like someone out there in Dev land still loved me when a copy of Trapped Dead showed up on my doorstep, giving me a perfect chance to be momentarily excited. A strategy game set in and around an undead apocalypse? X-Com with zombies?

Except, no. Trapped Dead is an ambitious RTS that plods on like the stereotypical foes that dot the game. One laden with bugs and errors that the games more likely to crash that have you get your brains munched on. Patches were released, but only in German, which made keeping to a review deadline pretty hard going. My German is a little rusty. Or non existent. One of the two.

On reflected, 4/10 seems a little high. Oh well.

L.A. Noire (August 13th) [PS3]
Hits: 1378

Good old L.A. Noire. Like the slightly retarded friend you keep around out of pity, Noire could have (and kinda has) got by on just how obvious it was that an impossible amount of hours were ploughed into the game. The fantastic graphics, the highly professional voice acting and the stellar period-perfect soundtracks all failed the mask the fact that all they had been stapled to was a very pretty game constantly telling you to press X to win.

L.A. Noire is several steps too close to being an interactive movie and too far removed for comfort from being a video game. It doesn't so much as hold your hand, but lifts you up in a fireman's carry and dumps you face first into the solutions it wants you to find. Then, if you manage to mess that up anyway, it doesn't care. You win regardless. What a steaming pile of wasted potential.

The only noteworthy thing it did was allow me to write a review that won me a forth straight RotW victory thus granting me the highest streak record. Congrats, Team Bondi. Rockstar might now think you're a bunch of dicks, but you're alright by me. So long as you stop making shit games.

Fire Mustang (August 20th) [GEN]
Hits: 664

In my attempts to win RotW #5, Fire Mustang threw me for a bit of a loop. Out of games to review, I needed something I could beat quick and decided to jump into the crazy world of 16bit scrollers, pick out a dud, and there tear the sucker to shreds. People seem to love that kind of thing around here -- a sad commentary in and of itself. I was then quite annoyed to find the game was actually pretty good, and that I enjoyed it enough to sink all the time I had to find a new game into playing it. I was stuck, then. A praise review it was. I'd not planned on that.

Someone else won RotW that time around. Suskie even came out of the shadows briefly to try and end my run early, and I salute him for it.

Tropico 4 (November 6th) [360]
Hits: 481

Back in the hazy month of August, Jason and myself sat down to compile a large list of games we should try and get review copies from. It was a list of some size, and many e-mails were sent. One game arrived. This one. I was a little annoyed at first; I'd asked for the likes of Rage and Deus Ex, and I got bloody Tropico 4. Then the game very slowly took over my life. It's still the title I sink the most time into now. Hell. Ifve not even beaten Deus Ex yet because I spent more time building a civilisation on tropical islands instead, then watching the bastard people turn on me because I feed them nothing but rotten bananas, or sold their homes to criminal immigrants.

I'm currently in the midst of ruining a former partner. I've bought his company from underneath him, and am trying to have one of my pretty islands host the Olympic games, just to bankrupt him a little bit more.

Get to tha choppa 2 (November 29th) [XBLI]
Hits: 514

Man, Ifm clever. Have you read this review? Go do so, it's not very long, and I think you'll agree Ifm clever. Yes. Me.


Most recent blog posts from Gary Hartley...

honestgamer honestgamer - January 08, 2012 (06:58 PM)
I was disappointed when I couldn't get more games for you, but pleased when I was able to get the publisher to send you Tropico 4. I really enjoyed its predecessor, and I was confident that I was getting them to send you something you would enjoy. I'm glad I was right, but the down side is that I didn't get a copy myself. I probably should remedy that someday.
WilltheGreat WilltheGreat - January 09, 2012 (11:23 AM)
RDR didn't get mentioned in RotW precisely because it was rambley!

And I don't see what you're complaining about. I lost my only shot at winning RotW when Drella went off the deep end.
wolfqueen001 wolfqueen001 - January 09, 2012 (03:42 PM)
Boo. No mention of me in here. =P

Haha. That's okay. I'm not doing one of these this year so won't even have a chance of mentioning you. So it's fair. :-P
overdrive overdrive - January 10, 2012 (01:25 PM)
Here's a weird thing I noticed online. Epic Dungeon is no more. It's now called Cursed Jewels or something like that with an extra class to play as.

I tried to read why, but can't remember. It just seems kind of lame because you and Joe have outdated reviews of a game that no longer exists in that form, I have a game I have no reason to review for that reason AND, most importantly, even if you have "Epic Dungeon", you still have to pay $1 to get this updated version. I mean, the money's no issue, but the principle of the matter is. To me, it'd be like if Bethesda came out with a patch for Skyrim where they fixed things, added a couple minor details, changed the name to NordWorld and charged you $50 more for it.
EmP EmP - January 10, 2012 (01:38 PM)
Will: If only there was some other way you could take part in RotWs. Some way you can write new reviews. I'll give that some thought.

OD: Epic Dungeon still exists. Eyehook, for some reason, decided that rather than update the game with the new class, they'd just release it as a seperate title. Shady, perhaps, but I can't hold it againt them too much when the game goes for 1 a pop. Plus, if I feel like it, I can give the new game the Choppa 2 treatment.

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