2011 was an amazing year for the gaming medium. When I first gathered the roughly 50 titles that I thought would even be worth considering for the of the year, I knew immediately that I’d have a tough road of sorting ahead. This year was brilliant, and I can honestly say that there were so many games that deserved space on this limited list that I had a heck of a time picking and choosing.
That’s a compliment to the gaming genre.
I do have a couple of things for you to consider before you take to blowing up the comment area below this article in order to hand me a fist full of nerd rage and justice. First of all, these best games were chosen by one single person: me. A lot of times, when you encounter a ranking of games for a full calendar year, those selections were made by a committee. The opinions within this piece are those of one writer, not a staff of ten. Obviously, I don’t like the exact same games you do or else, well, we’d be the exact same person.
Also, I tend to stay away from the mega-popular safe bets out there in the world like Call of Duty or Battlefield. This will probably frustrate a lot of gamers, but I find the games, when thinking about all of their elements, tend to be a bit overrated. The 26th Call of Duty wears a little thin when compared to the ambitions and risks of a brand new experience.
Those two points are just about as close to an apology as you’ll get for my gaming selections. My best advice for digging into the titles below: do it with an open mind. You may not have played all the games, so get ready to walk away with some extremely strong recommendations.
11. Deus Ex: Human Revolution
This dark gold rendition of an augmented future marks some of the best fun I’ve had with a stealth-style game in a very, very long time. Human Revolution is the rebirth of a video game franchise that’s otherwise gone the way of the dodo. Now that Adam Jensen is here, we hope to see him for a very long time.
Keeping this game from ascending this list a little more is the presence of those stupid boss fights. Nothing says “stealth” like an open room filled with combustibles and a single big dude with a gatling gun, right?
10. Dark Souls
Dark Souls is the unforgiving sequel to one of the hardest games ever released during this console generation, Demon’s Souls. Lovers of this game love punishment, brutality and being absolutely decimated by their computer gaming opponents at a constant and consistent clip. The world is deep, big and tough to conquer, so only the bold need apply.
9. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Skyward Sword is one of the best excuses for motion-based gaming I’ve ever had the pleasure to experience. Is it perfect? Much like the game itself, no. But this flawed masterwork uses a combination of strong style, inventive dungeons and nearly one-to-one motion control to create one of Link’s best adventures.
Bastion storms in as the one just downloadable game in this year’s list of bests. This indie darling has the guts, style, quality, story, narration and gameplay it takes to stand tall amidst the best of the best of 2011. From the moment the story starts, gamers knew something was a bit different in the world of Bastion. But all of that difference is grounded in core hack ‘n slash and dungeon crawling basics. This tiny title will be one of the best games you ever play, should you opt to enjoy it; it’s really, really good.
Bulletstorm is one of those arcadey games built around a simple principle: kill in the most creative ways possible. People Can Fly created a world with an extremely dangerous host of murderous weaponry and environmental killers in this pulpy, sci-fi action title. You’ll stop shooting from cover in this game, and you’ll learn quickly that the best way to excel is to slaughter with odd methods in mind. Aim for crotches, not heads, and be sure to kick your enemies into the fauna.
6. Saint’s Row: The Third
Here’s a title that’s not been discussed too much when it comes to game of the year… Saint’s Row is a franchise that’s always prided itself on chaos and violence for the sheer sake of endless fun. Saint’s Row: The Third takes that concept and runs completely mad with it. You’ll do so many different things in this one game that the situations you find yourself in tend to get downright silly. Case in point: you’ll need to drive a car calmly at one point while being mauled by a tiger.
That’s what life is like in this game. And it’s crazy fun.
5. Rayman Origins
The saddest thing about Rayman Origins is that it will likely be ignored by the vast majority of gamers out there. This is a 2D platforming gem that deserves your attention. The fact that I’m ranking it in the number 5 position among every game released in 2011 should speak volumes about my opinions concerning this instant classic. The game is tough, silly and fun. It’s also a hand-drawn work of art from top to bottom. If you’ve never played it, get it. It’ll likely be cheap soon enough.
4. Super Mario 3D Land
Super Mario 3D Land is, without a doubt, the best game one can purchase for the Nintendo 3DS. This title makes the future look exceptionally bright for Nintendo offerings on their brand new handheld. It brilliantly uses the device’s 3D feature while establishing itself around some of the best platforming practices I’ve ever enjoyed in the Mario universe. Levels are quick, fun and inventive throughout the full game. It’s a blast.
3. Portal 2
Following up a cult-hit sequel is never an easy thing to do in any genre of entertainment. In the gaming arena, that fact may be even more prevelant. Games must improve upon the mechanics of their predecessors while delivering a story and setting that ups the ante as well. Portal 2, thanks to Valve, achieves that in every sense. New mechanics like goop and cooperative multiplayer go with the funny story perfectly in this sequel. Even better than in the awesome first game is the voice acting. Portal 2, like some of the other sequels on this list, prove that there’s always room to grow for even the best properties.
2. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Expansive. Wild. Bold. Varied. Skyrim is one of the best western RPGs the gaming world has ever known. The epic setting combined with the ability to do whatever you want in this gnarly world made the gaming experience unlike anything most of us have ever played before. Perhaps what keeps the title out of the top spot is the sheer amount of game-breaking bugs far too many users encountered. Some PlayStation 3 gamers have actually complained that this product’s hiccups have kept them from playing the title entirely.
For the time spent and the fun to be had in this package, you’re likely to find nothing better than Skyrim in 2011…except for…
1. Batman: Arkham City
As someone who has seen the flicks and read a ton of the comics and graphic novels in the franchise, Batman: Arkham City is absolutely one of the best stories ever told. Paul Dini and Rocksteady managed to take fans on an absolutely stunning ride from start to finish in this follow-up to the surprising Arkham Asylum. The gameplay, setting, story, graphics and voice acting all add up to an unforgettable experience that tells gamers once more that licensed video game properties can be incredible.
If you’re a fan of Batman, great games or fantastic narratives, look no further than Batman: Arkham City. This title only fails in one way so far as I can tell: Rocksteady will have a hell of a time topping it.