1. Dark Souls
*Added to this list in 2013
2. Portal 2
If you had told me before the year started that Portal 2 would by my GOTY, I would have called you crazy. I was certainly looking forward to it, but at the same time, I felt Portal was one of the more overrated games in recent memory. Sure, the idea was cool and the writing clever, but other than that it didn't feel too special. But by introducing new gameplay elements such as tractor beams and expanding the scope of the story this time around, Valve has made an instant classic with Portal 2. Even more impressive is the cooperative multiplayer, which is one of the few instances out there where the experience truly feels cooperative. It's also worth mentioning that Cave Johnson and Wheatley are probably my two favorite video game characters from this year. All in all I really can't say anything negative about Portal 2, so it's my GOTY.
3. Batman: Arkham City
Uncharted 2 and Batman: Arkham Asylum were my top two games in 2009. As I just pointed out, I believe Uncharted 3 doesn't quite reach the level of its predecessor. But in the case of Batman, Arkham City takes everything from the previous game and makes it better: improved combat, more gadgets, more Riddler challenges, a stronger story, etc. Add to that an open world with side missions and you have the best superhero game...again.
4. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
It seems like this is the game that will be taking home the most GOTY awards, and it's understandable. I really enjoyed Oblivion but wasn't enamored with it. Skyrim, on the other hand, is a game I absolutely love. Everything just seems more polished this time around, and the new skill tree is an excellent addition. But what makes this game so magical is how Bethesda is able to create a fully realized world that you can lose yourself in. That includes a limitless amount of quests that would keep any gamer busy for a long, long time. It's a shame Bethesda still isn't able to properly execute in the technical department though. I didn't experience a bunch of technical issues during my playthrough, but there were some noticeable bugs, including one that would have forced me to start the game over 35 hours in (luckily I had one old save file left that I loaded up). At first I was debating with this and my #1 choice for GOTY, but I don't want to endorse shoddy game development. So for that reason, Skyrim will have to occupy the #2 spot.
5. Deus Ex: Human Revolution
For me, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is probably the most pleasant surprise this year. I honestly wasn't expecting much prior to the game's release, but when I heard some good feedback I decided to purchase it. What awaited me was a wonderful RPG only rivaled by Skyrim this year in the "open-ended" department. At the time of this game's release I was really craving a game with numerous upgrades, weapons, and sidequests, and Human Revolution delivered. I also enjoyed the cyberpunk aesthetic, which perfectly complimented the complex story.
For the past four years there has been at least one downloadable game that I consider among the year's best. For 2011, that game is Bastion. The action-RPG design isn't revolutionary, and I didn't find the story to be as great as others claim (it really boils down to the narration, which I admit was pretty cool). But when a game is executed this well, it doesn't really matter. The combat is fun, the weapon variety provides gameplay flexibility, and I absolutely loved the soundtrack. I can't wait to see what developer Supergiant Games does next.
I remember hearing Jeff talk about this game a lot on the Bombcast, having no clue what it actually looked like. But one day I decided to purchase it on Steam for like $10 or $15, and boy was I in for a surprise. I could not stop playing this game for about two weeks as I strived to create meteor armor and obtain a Phaseblade (aka a lightsaber). If I had to make a list of the most addicting games of 2011, Terraria would probably top it. There have been many comparisons to Minecraft, and though I've only played a bit of that game at a friend's house, Terraria feels much more like a video game rather than a creation tool. Also, I find the simple 2D art design more appealing.
8. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
Ghost Trick came out on the DS all the way back in January, so don't be surprised if it doesn't pop up on too many end of the year lists. But this adventure/puzzle game from the creator of the Ace Attorney series was a refreshingly original take on the genre, full of interesting plot twists and great characters. It also gets the amlabella award for best talking dog in a video game.
9. Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
First thing's first: Uncharted 3 is not as good as Uncharted 2. In fact, it's not even close in my opinion. But that doesn't mean it isn't one of the best games of the year. There isn't a significant jump in quality this time around; instead you get another fantastic Nathan Drake adventure full of amazing set pieces. There might be detractors out there who wish the game tried something different, but in the two year span between Uncharted 2 and 3, no other developer has been able to match or surpass Naughty Dog in scale and execution when it comes to action/adventure games. So more of the same is just fine with me.
10. LittleBigPlanet 2
User content on consoles doesn't get any better than this. The comprehensive tool base at gamers' disposals in LittleBigPlanet 2 is mind-boggling, resulting in some inventive, surprising, and downright crazy creations. Heck, you can make entire games in LittleBigPlanet 2. The result is a gift that keeps on giving. I'd also like to note how much fun I found the story mode to be. In the first LittleBigPlanet it was decent, but the sequel marks a significant improvement in that department.
11. L.A. Noire
By now you've all heard the scandal surrounding Team Bondi, the (former) developer behind L.A. Noire. In the past few months it seems like that news has overshadowed what was a really great game. It managed to perfect the film noir style with its Black Dahlia-centered plot and seedy representation of Los Angeles. Most noteworthy was the incredible facial animation technology, but the game also provided a unique experience with its heavy focus on crime scene investigations and interrogations. This one would be a bit higher up on the list if the last hour or so wasn't so terrible.