It's that time of year when we get to pick out our favorite games and gush about them, and tell you why we love them. Saying that they're 'great' or 'awesome' simply doesn't cut it, so we'll try to go into a bit of detail about why we picked the games we did.
With so many games to choose from, it was hard for us to narrow it down to ten—but we think we managed. It should also be surprising how some of the games that managed to edge out the competition were small budget indie titles—which just about shows a changing trend in the industry.
You'll find many games on this list that you'll undoubtedly agree with, but we've left out a few that we couldn't fit into our ten favorites of the year.
We hope you enjoyed playing these games as much as we did. When done with the list, feel free to tell us what your favorite games are in the comments section below.
We may have been playing Minecraft even before 2011, but it's the year Minecraft finally saw retail release. Even as it continues to be updated and upgraded with new features, Minecraft remains one of the most addictive, and finest attempts at bringing the joy of the creative sandbox to video games. Yes, it's even better than LEGO in that regard.
With the addition of new adventure modes, monsters, and RPG-like elements, Minecraft stands to become the deepest creative experience video games have to offer.
#9 Modern Warfare 3
Modern Warfare 3 may be the third in the series, but unlike so many other trilogies—it's actually as good as the first, surpassing the somewhat mediocre second game in every single way.
The campaign—from start to finish—is a well-crafted, and more-than-competent experience that's enough to give the best hollywood action movies a run for their money. Like the previous games, the player takes on the role of multiple characters as they travel across the globe to end the third world war, in concert, and defeat the terrorist who started it all.
#8 Uncharted 3
Uncharted 3 may be a flawed game, but it's still a damn good game—god damn it! As the third chapter in the Uncharted trilogy, it's arguably also the best, thanks to its coherent storytelling, great pacing and fantastic set-piece action sequences. The plane ride (or crash, if you prefer) isn't something we're soon to forget.
Couple all of this and the introduction of Nathan Drake's childhood story, his relationship with Sully, and the enemies they've made along the way, and Uncharted 3 is an adventure for the ages.
#7 Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is (almost) everything we've wanted to see in a sequel to the RPG/FPS classic Deus Ex. The boss fights might be a real bog, but that doesn't stop the rest of the game from delivering on every single count.
The world of 2027 and the politics that define this particular dystopian cyberpunk future are every bit as immersive as anything you'd find in Ghost in the Shell or Pattern Recognition—and the characters who live in it (save for a certain homeless trash vendor) have believable stories and lead seemingly real lives, affected by the environment around them.
Unlike the first Deus Ex, the protagonist is a joy to control and combat is as fluid as any competent dedicated first person shooter.
#6 Battlefield 3
Battlefield 3 is DICE's true follow-up to the Battlefield series. With a new engine capable of rendering earth-shattering physics without so much as a hiccup, Battlefield 3 is modern warfare bigger, and badder than ever before.
In addition to the single player campaign—a first for the Battlefield series (unless you're counting Bad Company 1 & 2)—Battlefield 3's multiplayer mode supports up to 64 players in life-scaled battlefields. Players can take to vehicles such as tanks, attack helicopters, and jet fighters. New to the series is a new modular weapons system and unlock challenges.
Battlefield 3 is without a doubt the year's best military FPS.
#5 Batman: Arkham City
Arkham City is Rocksteady's sequel to the equally epic Arkham Asylum and it's set after the events of the first game. Some time has passed, and the criminally insane who once inhabited the asylum—as well as the prison that housed Arkham's worst criminals—are now cordoned off into the worst part of Gotham City, like in the Kurt Russell movie, Escape from New York.
Playing the role of Kurt Russell is Batman, who wants to shut the place down and rescue the good citizens of Gotham from their nightmarish fate—with the help of Catwoman.
#4 Dark Souls
Dark Souls is a raw game—one of trials, tribulations, and bountiful amounts of brutality. It's an exercise in pain and suffering—but also triumph. Players take on the role of an adventurer, once dead but now alive again, who must rid himself, or herself, of the curse of undeath by journeying into a forsaken land and fulfilling an ancient prophecy.
Better than any other article on the game, Brendan Keogh articulates the beauty of Dark Souls in all its splendor in his fine piece, "A Time to Grind".
#3 Portal 2
Portal 2 is the follow up to Valve's experiment in first person puzzle games, Portal. More than just a sequel, Portal 2 takes every single element of the previous game to a whole new level of complexity, while never neglecting to develop the cast of characters who inhabit the strangely vast Aperture Laboratories, or maintaining multiple narratives throughout the entire game.
Portal 2 is an example in thematic storytelling, and aside from Bastion, it's the finest story 2011 has to offer.
Matthew Stewart, Writer: It's hard for me to pass over Assassin's Creed: Revelations, because of the unconditional love I have for that game's multiplayer. But, I have to give credit where credit is due.
That's why I think Portal 2 is the best game this year. The ambient music kicking in every time a new portion of a puzzle hummed to life was a stroke of genius. Wheatley and Cave Johnson were characters that, on paper, should have felt extraneous. In practice, they were another addition that gave Portal 2 that astonishingly fresh feeling that is often missing from sequels. If you doubt my convictions, let me ask you this: how many other games have you played where you cared about the fate of a turret?
Annie Dennisdóttir Wright, Features Editor: My runner-up GOTY for 2011 is Bastion, the first title from Supergiant Games. I played this game with a friend in my living room, all in one sitting. We passed the controller back and forth over the course of a handful of hours, because we knew that we could not leave The Kid hanging. The gameplay mechanisms are unique, the combat is actually fun, and there are just enough platformer elements to keep things interesting. The music is fantastic (so much so that I was compelled to record a cover of one of the songs which I will not link to here because it's hideously embarrassing to admit to being that much of a fangirl in the first place), and art is nothing short of breathtaking. This, of course, says nothing about the emotional impact of the game, the difficult decisions the player is forced to make, and the resultant finale.
So, why wasn't Bastion my GOTY? You know, I don't really have a good answer for that question, save that I just really love repeatedly murdering dragons, and that is pretty much the one thing that Bastion didn't give me.
#1 Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim [GOTY 2011]
Annie Dennisdóttir Wright, Features Editor: My top pick for Game of the Year 2011 would have to be Skyrim. I know this is not a surprising choice in general, but it's definitely a first for me. I almost never end up going with a mainstream title, and especially never a fantasy RPG. I haven't enjoyed most of the other Elder Scrolls game (not that they are all bad, they're just not really my thing). Call me a hipster if you must, but the reason I usually opt for an indie title for GOTY revolves around the notion that I'd rather see something innovative and unfamiliar, created by a small studio of enthusiastic artisans than some tired franchise installment of ancient IP, belched out by a factory farm publisher in a cloud of unboxing videos and mouthbreather fumes.
However, Skyrim may just have renewed my faith in mainstream titles. I can't possibly write anything here that hasn't already been said, so I'll skip the detailed reasons, but it should say a lot that nearly two months after receiving my review copy, I'm still actually playing it nearly every day.
Jacob Saylor, Writer: So, it’s that time of the year, again – time for the obligatory ‘Game of the Year’ article. Since I only have a couple hundred words to talk, let’s get to it:
My Game of the Year is The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. A fierce battle raged in the dark recesses of my mind for quite a while between Uncharted 3 and Skyrim for the award, but what it came down to was really just replay value. Anyways – why, in a more general sense, did I choose Skyrim over other competitors? It may just be a phenomenon known as the honeymoon phase, because I have never enjoyed console RPGs to this degree; I like to believe though, that it’s more than that: Skyrim has brought me nearly two-hundred hours of enjoyment so far, and because you can choose when to complete the main storylines, the game has as much play value as you let it.
So, in conclusion, I’ll take a note from my Communications professor: “It’s not about the destination, but really, how you get there.”