2011 is an incredible year for games, so let's get to it! A couple special mentions before the top 10:
Best Downloadable Game
Though it actually has features removed from its inception on the PSP, this is my first gameplay experience with the game and I love the bite-sized chunks of RPG experience / speed runs that this game offers. The writing is self-aware and hilarious, and the new art style is actually my preferred look for this game, since the pixel-style is hard to actually interpret on a giant HD television.
Best Game Not From 2011
Rune Factory: Frontier (Wii)
This game came out of nowhere, while returning my refurbished Wii back to GameStop, I spent my time playing this game on Dolphin in 720p instead. Boy is this game incredible. I've always wanted just a little bit more out of my Harvest Moon, and this game gives me exactly what I wanted. Farming with floor-by-floor dungeon-crawling complete with equipment, item management, and stat leveling. This game is a godsend, and I can't wait to OFFICIALLY play it on an actual Wii...though the 720p looks so good. HMMM.
10. Aliens: Infestation (DS)
I managed to find time for this gem, and I don't even own a DS. Aliens: Infestation is essentially a "Metroidvania" game with the Aliens license, which is A.O.K. by my standards. It brought a survivalist element with permadeath to your squadmates. Even though you could recruit more members after they died them by finding them lost in dark corners of the ship, I couldn't help but feel strong attachment to the originals...so much so that if one died I didn't even want to replace them.
09. Shadows of the Damned (PS3)
It wasn't the mechanics that left a lasting impression on me. There was some interesting light/dark stuff to manage as you progress through the story, not to mention a psycho girlfriend with touch-of-death properties chasing you around, but Shadows of the Damned for the most part is just a serviceable Resident Evil 4 clone. Instead, it's the insanity of Suda 51's mind. The performances in this game are stellar, and shockingly enough, the boner jokes are tastefully done and fit this game like a glove. This is a game too smart for its own good. A poetic ending combined with the dulcet tones of Akira Yamaoka, top notch.
08. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (PC)
The Witcher 2 does everything a Bioware game does, but better. The character development is top-notch, and the branching points of the story leave you feeling torn on multiple occasions. There is no black and white in the choices Geralt makes, only grey. There is no right or wrong answer, and in most cases both answers lead down different but equally painful paths. You can't sit on the fence forever, you have to take a side eventually. The Witcher 2 is great at teaching you this. The combat is much more satisfying than the original, and the game looks amazing. An excellent specimen for 2011.
07. L.A. Noire (PS3)
While the questioning segments left me feeling frustrated, given how vague the "truth, doubt, lie" choices are during interrogations, I still am enamored with L.A. Noire. The performances are top-notch from some of the best actors and actresses in the business, the facial-capture technology is mind-boggling, and the recreation of post-WW2 Los Angeles is gorgeous. I was neck-deep in dirty detective work from start to finish, cracking cases left and right. It is amazing that an adventure game can come out in 2011 with such a large budget, and be a success. The film noire twists in this game are perfectly executed, topping off an experience I won't forget.
06. Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (PS3)
Most people would say this is par for the course after Uncharted 2 hit the scene, but in my opinion, Uncharted 3 is a vast improvement over the second game. The shooting felt much better, the action sequences were complex and required the ability to think on your toes and be aware of your surroundings, but were not overly cheap and dragging like the end of Uncharted 2. The A.I. is pretty great in this game, flanking you if you get too cozy, and willing to rest on their laurels when you're on the move. Notice how I didn't even talk about the incredible water and sand tech, or the crazy set-pieces, or maybe the spectacular casting? That's how good I feel this game is. An Uncharted game that fits on this list just from a gameplay perspective. The multiplayer is fantastic also!
05. Gemini Rue (PC)
Maybe this game came around during a dark time in my psyche, but it left a profound imprint on it and still resonates with me to this day. Never mind the blade-runner-esq setting, the classic pixelated scum engine adventure game feeling...the story that is being told here is profound. The switching between characters as you are a man looking for his brother, and playing the supposed "brother" whom is imprisoned, it all works so well. Wiping people's memories to rehabilitate criminals, trying to find remnants of a past self that left behind clues on how to escape captivity, and a detective with a criminal past who is drawn to this place in some way. I can't recommend this game enough.
I know people are going to think this is a cop-out, throwing two classic titles here as one in 2011, where Ico is 10 years old...it's not. This is a release in 2011, and this is my first time playing either of these games. To say a game is or isn't art, yeah whatever, you can argue whichever you please. But perhaps these two games are more than a game, maybe this IS art? Semantics aside, Ico is a story that bleeds 10-fold the depth, in 1/5th the time as that of a normal video game...it also does it without words. Shadow of the Colossus is morally wrenching as the colossi you defeat don't seem to put up much of a challenge, instead offering gigantic puzzles to solve in each encounter. It all culminates in the end of that game, tying ever-so-loosely to Ico...just enough to get you thinking of how exactly all the pieces fit. Please Last Guardian, find a release date.
03. Dead Space 2 (360)
People tend to forget everything that happens at the beginning of the year, but Dead Space 2 feels like Resident Evil 4 in that respect...it out-shines beyond all the rubble that time sees to bury it with. While the core of the game remains the same from the original, the game is faster, more responsive, and much more polished. The atmosphere and sound design a groundbreaking, the abandoned space-station with the light of stars shining in through mechanical shutters, the infrequent episodes Issac has with his dead wife, it's done very well. But that would only be half the game. The other half is immensely-satisfying 3rd person combat (the best, even). What prevents this game from being a true fright-fest is that it's so damn visceral dissecting the necromorphs limb-by-limb with your "mining tools". I wanna be a fuckin' miner if I get laser-sight guns that shoot waves of plasma. Although the whole Issac taking his helmet off and talking thing is maybe not as well done as it should be (it would be better if it didn't happen period), that doesn't hinder Dead Space 2 in the slightest.
02. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (360)
So the game I was most looking forward to this year, seems to have made the cut. What is there to say about this game that hasn't already been said? The environment you traverse, the MASSIVE world that Skyrim is, is quite the sight to be seen. The questlines are really well done, better overall than they have ever been in a Bethesda game, though perhaps not as sky-soaring of heights the Oblivion quests hit at times. I think what makes this game what it is has little to do with the sum of its parts, but instead to do with your own personal experience. Rather than explain that in detail (it would take forever), I'll say that the melee combat is much improved over past Elder Scrolls games, and the leveling system is fantastic. You really can just do what you please in that game, and it all works out...with the exception of hand-to-hand which there is no skill for. If you love your obsessive-compulsive disorder, you will love over this game. I played 100 hours on the PS3 version, enduring the horrible framerate, before beating it then purchasing it on the Xbox 360 (to put in another 150 hours and beat it again). That should say something.
01. Deus Ex: Human Revolution (PS3)
A phenomenal return to form for Deus Ex, a lot of people didn't know what to expect from this game. I knew it all along, from the first look of that gold-lining around that vent-cover, to the last moment where you have to hit a (undisclosed) big red button...this is a game after my heart. Cyberpunk, grungy open-world for me to explore? Check. Nanotech-driven stat-boosting experience trees? Check. Playground of vents to climb through, keypads to hack, guards to coerce, and other environmental problems to solve? Check! The A.I. is not the best around, but one could say it's the "best" around. They're just dumb enough for you to have fun "gaming" the system and exploiting things. It's the best stealth game I've played in years, the choices Adam Jensen made are MY choices, not ones that built up a renegade meter for renegade powers. I read like a billion emails! I liked it! The level design is fantastic, letting you tackle any situation in 6 or 7 different ways. The boss battles are terrible. So what? The music is incredible. This is also my soundtrack of the year, and I highly recommend you pick up the electronic ambient goodness. I don't know how do describe this game. It's the best thing? That'll have to do.