It's been a hot minute since we last gathered round the RPS Time Capsule vault (thanks, Gamescom), but at long last we have returned with another cracking year of PC games to preserve: 2011. In hindsight, it's a bit of an interesting year for Time Capsuling purposes, as we're now getting to the point where games from this era are getting their own remakes and remasters, or fancier, super duper director's cut special editions. We've included the original 2011 release of one of these games in this month's Time Capsule, but there's another notable exception we've decided to save for further down the line. I mean, seriously, would you really recommend vanilla Skyrim from 2011 over 2016's Special Edition?
That's right, folks. No Skyrim. Will it make the cut in 2016's Time Capsule? Who knows! I am very excited to find out when we eventually get there. Why have we made such arbitrary rules for ourselves, you might ask? Well, that's because these Time Capsules aren't intended to be definitive best games of the year lists, but rather the games that hold important lessons for the future - and I'd argue that 2016's Skyrim SE is a much better artefact to preserve than the 2011 original. We're also going by the year of its PC release, rather than when it came out on consoles, too.
Of course, with each member of the RPS Treehouse only able to nominate a single game to receive eternal life in each month's Time Capsule, there's bound to be something important we've missed, so why not take to the comments below to tell us about which game you'd save from the fiery hellpits of oblivion? You better hurry, as all other games from 2011 will cease to exist as soon as you close this page. Choose wisely.
Ollie: There are games I enjoy more these days, but when it comes to saving one game from 2011 in the memory banks, it could only be Minecraft, into which I've deposited more hours than probably any other game I've played. I still remember the very first time I played the demo version of Minecraft during the summer holidays of 2010, after my school friend had spent hours during our IT sessions convincing me that it's something special. I remember being interested in a detached sort of way as I pottered around the procedurally generated forest, wondering what I was meant to be doing. I then delved underground on a whim and saw a gigantic cave system unfold before my eyes, and I started to realise that my friend might have been right.
I haven't left myself much room to talk about Minecraft itself, but come on. Everyone knows Minecraft. Everyone should understand why it's important. It's the best selling game of all time by copies sold, and it has captivated millions of players for over a decade with its open-ended sandbox adventures, public servers, and modding capabilities. Starting a new world with a friend or two is still, somehow, one of the most exciting things you can do in games. And the game has only gone from strength to strength since those early days where it so easily took over my life. I'm fairly sure Minecraft will be remembered decades from now as one of the major icons of popular culture in the 2010s, even outside of a gaming context.
Liam: Those faces! Can you remember the first time you saw L.A. Noire’s faces? Watching in awe as they wiggled their eyebrows and grimaced, their skin contorting and their lips flapping as they threatened to break the kneecaps of a (probably innocent) man.
I’m ashamed to admit that L.A. Noire’s face tech left me feral for about six months. I was obsessed with it, scurrying around showing it off to anyone who’d listen as I screeched about the future of video game performance capture. “Look at how subtle those expressions are!” I’d squeal, pointing at an old man pulling the same expression a four-year-old would make if you accused them of shoving slices of ham into an Xbox’s disc tray. “Imagine what Grand Theft Auto V will look like!” I'd howl, oblivious to the countless news stories that documented the atrocious working conditions the staff at Team Bondi endured to ship such an ambitious game.
As we now know, L.A. Noire’s face tech lived and died within this single project, cast aside by the industry for cheaper and more effective performance capture techniques (including Team Bondi’s financier Rockstar, despite fans expecting it to feature heavily in the then highly anticipated and much rumored Grand Theft Auto V). What’s the point of a Time Capsule if not to vacuum seal a project such as this? A lavish, expensive title doomed by hubris. The most 2011 game imaginable, and a gold standard detective game to boot. And I mean come on, those faces! Memes be damned, I still think they look great.
Star Wars: The Old Republic
CJ: I didn’t build a PC for The Old Republic, but I might as well have. It was all I played on the first new desktop I’d managed to cobble together in years, like a Jedi constructing their dodgily glowing lightsaber, back at the start of the last decade. I wasn’t expecting a game that could do justice to Knights Of The Old Republic and its sequel, but The Old Republic drew me in anyway. There’s proper nuggets of a third Knights Of The Old Republic in there.
Yes, it had typical MMO prod-cooldown-repeat combat that I spammed the bejesus out of. My immersion in the surprisingly interesting solo storylines was somewhat spoiled by seeing loads of other players racing about with their companions in tow, too. Still, those storylines kept propelling me further into The Old Republic’s version of the Star Wars galaxy, and it was a blast. I never got to tangle much with the game’s Legacy system, which riffs on the series’ Skywalker saga nonsense to let you craft a family of characters on a server, but it’s certainly a very cool feature.
I’m not going to fib and say that I’ve been a regular The Old Republic player this past eleven years. I’ve haven’t touched it in ages. The beauty of a regularly updated, ageing MMO, though, is that there’s still fresh experiences to encounter even after a decade. The Old Republic’s always been something that I’ve meant to go back to, and every time there’s a fancy CGI trailer for the latest expansion I’ve redownloaded it with the intention of diving back in. Maybe 2022 is finally the year?
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
James: Can you imagine the pressure of making a new Deus Ex sequel, eight years after the last one, which also happened to sour half a generation on the very concept of Deus Ex sequels? I’d be up every night stress-sobbing into the Nietzsche book I’d borrowed for research. Eidos Montréal must have been made of sterner stuff because Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a corker, paying its respects to the timeless original while confidently making its own moves.
That means gadget-heavy stealth that’s even more playful than JC Denton’s style, with the added challenge of enemies whose fields of vision are bigger than an ice cream cone. It means an instantly recognisable neo-Renaissance aesthetic. And it means creative, entirely dialogue-based boss fights, where you genuinely need to consider your words against madmen who may nonetheless be making some good points. There’s also some regular, largely crap boss fights but, uh, we’ll skip over those. Kind of like how I did by putting points into the explosives-shooting aug.
It's one of best examples of soft rebooting in the industry, and I hope it’ll be fondly remembered. Specifically, by Embracer Group, when they’re deciding which mothballed game series in their disturbingly vast library of acquisitions to bring back.
Alice0: It is good. Though Time Capsule rules mean we're putting in the original release, mandatory violence and annoying DLC decisions and all, rather than the Director's Cut. But I would happily go back and once again stuff an entire building's ventilation system full of unconscious men.
Ed: I can't speak to Terraria's offerings back in 2011, although it's obviously a lot less than it is now. Still, that's not the real reason I'm saving this 2D survival game where you mine for resources, build a nice base, and tackle a collection of ever-tougher bosses. No, I'm saving it for a few years later where my mate will introduce it to us in a little house in Devon and we'll play it for 84 hours straight and my mate's brother will genuinely forget - or subconsciously shut down - the part of him that needs to piss as it will inconvenience his base-building project.
Seriously, Terraria deserves preservation because it gets the upward curve of survival right. You're forever chasing something bigger and bolder in a colourful world replete with exciting loot drops and nasty surprises. And it guides you expertly from one boss to another through the gradual drip feed of curious materials and biomes, which keeps you singularly focused on the various tasks at hand. That's one of its greatest strengths, I reckon. I haven't played a survival game since that hasn't deviated in its hold on me, not once inciting frustration or snorts of, "I hate this biome". It's tirelessly fun.
And I like to believe that the RPS Time Capsule has a little incubator for Terraria, so when it does end up in the hands of some 3000-year-old Horace, they'll get to experience the joy of what it eventually becomes: a game swollen with so much stuff that it'll makes them forget to piss.
E.Y.E.: Divine Cybermancy
Alice0: I think a key part of any time capsule experience is, as you rifle through the treasures of the past, picking up one item and asking, "What on earth is this?" And no one knows what it is. And you try to find out yourself. And think you can figure out one use for it. But you don't know if you're using it right. And you certainly still don't know what it is. That's E.Y.E.: Divine Cybermancy, which I think is a FPS-RPG set in a non-copyright-infringing cyberpunk world of Warhammer 40,000 fanfic. I think. I wouldn't know for certain: I haven't finished it, and likely never will.
Divine Cybermancy is a fantastic janky sprawl of systems, and as I play I often find myself thinking, "Wait, I can do WHAT?" I've started it over several times across the years, a game I will eventually find myself installing on each new gaming PC and, discovering it doesn't store saves in the Steam Cloud, start from scratch each time. It'll have been long enough between attempts that I will dimly recall some parts, but be surprised all over again by others.
So, my understanding is: it's an FPS-RPG set in the grim dark future of humanity, where heavily armoured warrior monks (who are legally distinct from Warhammer 40K's Space Marines) are fighting across the galaxy for... something? And it feels like a shootier Deus Ex set in a Hive City? Full of respawning enemies from rival factions who fight each other across the labyrinthine levels? And you can hack loads of systems over Wi-Fi but they'll also hack you back, so you can get gibbed by an ATM or have a door block your screen with a giant smiley? And then you need to hack yourself to clear that smiley? And you can hack NPCs to make them follow you, and build a small army? And it has loads of weapons from pistols and sniper rifles to miniguns and dual katanas which block bullets? And it has stealth, though you'll often end up in firefights with people halfway across its giant open maps? And it has magic spells and cybernetic implants? And there's a research system which leads to... stuff? And everything has baffling names? And I don't know what all my numbers mean? Or know why I sometimes develop paranoia or start hallucinating? It fizzes with ideas, many of them weird, or executed weirdly, or wildly underexplained.
Wild is a good word for E.Y.E.: Divine Cybermancy. This is a wild game, borne of wild ambition and untamed by focus testing. Every time I return I am delighted to discover something that either I'd forgotten or the game neglected to explain. I envy the unsuspecting futurefolk who will open this Time Capsule and encounter this game.
Hayden: Fable 3 is a game about baking pies, buying property, making lots of promises to become the ruler of Albion, and then breaking those promises once you’re on the throne. Then, maybe you can bake some more pies. Fable 3 casts a wide net, but whether you want to focus on fantasy questing, business management, or just making some very big moral decisions, it’s got it all. It might not excel at any of those things, but combining them all in one package created some of the best fun I had as a kid.
‘Kid’ is the keyword there, though. See, it’s rated 16 in the UK, but the fart jokes and making a baby with my mate were much funnier when I was 10. The combat is also stunningly simple, which makes it boring if you’ve been playing action RPGs since video games were first invented. For little me, who was jumping into their first RPG outside of the Pokemon series, Fable 3 was a great place to learn and mess about. I could crack silly jokes, kick a few chickens, make some babies, and occasionally my parents would walk past and shout “Hey, that’s wotshisface from those films!” whenever they heard Simon Pegg. I want to be able to give Fable 3 to my kids when they reach 16 and definitely not a moment sooner (wink wink), so it’s going in the Time Capsule.
The Sims Medieval
Rebecca: The Sims Medieval was the spin-off everyone thought they wanted. Medieval decor and clothing options had been so popular with Sims players since forever that the long-awaited DLC on the theme eventually grew into a stand-alone title. But when a highly-touted Sims game gets only a single expansion pack before fading into oblivion, you know something went wrong.
Whatever the problem was, I can't believe it was the game itself. The Sims Medieval is seriously lovely. A fantastical RPG-lite total conversion which manages to be both wholly a Sims game and completely its own thing. Everyone I know who's played it seems to love it. And yet in under a year it had basically disappeared.
I don't have quite as much fondness for The Sims 3 era as I do for the franchise's first two generations. But I have to admit that it was the series' boldest period of experimentation, pushing the boundaries both of what the hardware of the time could handle, and which previously unexplored ideas players would respond to. The fact that 11 years later, The Sims Medieval is still unchallenged as the best Sims spin-off on PC speaks volumes. Unfortunately, what it seems to have said to EA was: "Don't invest in any more niche spin-offs". But I'd urge anyone who was (understandably) put off at the time by the thought of purchasing yet another full-priced Sims game to give this one a try, now that you can nab the collected edition for a tenner. It really was something unique.
Rachel: Bastion is particularly special for me as it’s one of the first games I played when I realised that I wanted to start writing about games. It also kickstarted the incredible careers of those at Supergiant Games, who to this day, have not released a game that hasn’t been an absolute banger, so into the 2011 Time Capsule it goes!
I first played Bastion in 2012, a year after it was released as part of the Humble Indie Bundle 5 which also included Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Psychonauts, Limbo, Super Meat Boy, Lone Survivor, Braid, and Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery. I mean, come on, is that not the BEST collection of games to introduce you to the wonderful world of indie games? And each game totally knocked my socks off, Bastion being my absolute favourite of the bunch.
As well as being the start of my love for indies, it also marked the beginning of Supergiant’s reputation of making bloody great games. Bastion’s punchy combat, painterly fantasy world, and heart-wrenching story of loss still hold up to this day and together with the gritty tones of Logan Cunningham as the Rucks the storyteller and Darren Korb’s evocative soundtrack, it’s a game that, even after all these years, still gives me chills to think about.
Katharine: Yes, we included the original Portal in our 2007 Time Capsule, and I swore at the start of this whole exercise not to put multiple entries from the same series in multiple Time Capsules, because otherwise we'd likely be drowning in sequels and remakes rather than cooler, more interesting games that might otherwise get lost to the depths of time and spaaaaaaaaaace.
But I think you'll agree that Portal 2 is a rare exception to this rule (heck, I make the rules, just try and stop me). Both games have lots to teach future generations - if nothing else, it's a brilliant case study of how to do a proper sequel without diminishing what came before. It still has brilliant puzzles, the funniest lines, and who can forget the incredible introduction of uber corpo villain Cave Johnson? It's also still the best co-op game ever created by our reckoning, because of course it is. It's Portal x2. That alone makes it worthy of Time Capsule inclusion, but let's not forget all those glorious mods, too. It is a testament to both Portal 2's ingenuity and its inherent flexibility that we're still getting new mods for this incredible game over a decade on from release. In short, Portal 2 is just one of the very best games of all time, and rightly deserves its place in this Capsule alongside its 2007 predecessor.
Alice Bee: I was a bit stuck on 2011 for a while there, but then I spotted that's the year that Limbo came to PC, which makes me, Alice, the winner. Limbo was an insta-hit when it came out, a minimalist shadow-play of a platformer, a 2D sidescroller full of spiders and metaphor. Limbo is so striking that it's got that "once played, never forgotten" impact. And impact, by the way, is exactly what you feel when the little boy you play in Limbo falls too far and splatters on the ground. It's completely bloodless, but it still feels like his shins have been driven through his own kneecaps.
The impact that each trial-and-error death has in Limbo is part of the point. It's horrible when you see the little fellow die, alone, in a dark wood. It's horrible watching the long, creeping legs of the giant spider. It's horrible when you eventually pull the legs off that spider. The sound design and the atmosphere are pretty exemplary, and there are multiple theories about what the game actually represents. Are you dead? Are you travelling through hell or purgatory to escape? Does it matter?
Here's my secret, though: once you get past the spider, I think the game becomes way less good. But it still deserves to be Time Capsuled, because it inspired a whole raft of platformers. You can see Limbo's long, spidery legs in the excellent Little Nightmares, for example, and even this year I played Silt, an underwater creep fest platformer (floater??) that is well Limbo. That's pretty significant reach, if you ask me.