Now, how could a puzzle game possibly grab the number one spot on a game of the year list? Simply put, by being the best puzzle game I have ever played, bar none. It's a very simple looking game, and to an extent this is true. The premise isn't awfully complicated, with the player building molecules by programming machines to assemble atoms in specific combinations. The true genius comes in how the puzzles are constructed, however. If you look at my list, you might notice a bit of a trend in that I enjoy open ended experiences that reward experimentation and exploration. This game epitomizes this aspect and provides the best example of building your own solutions to given problems from scratch I have ever seen. SpaceChem also gets devilishly mind bending and harsh, and the sense of accomplishment you get when you FINALLY crack that goddamn enigma that's been haunting your nightmares for the past couple nights is second to none. This makes SpaceChem the best game to come out in '11, and it's not without some fierce competition. WELL DONE!
2. Dark Souls
I don't own a PS3, so it was with some envy I had to watch Demon's Soul come and go. It seemed like an extremely interesting game, and when they brought out the sequel to both 360 and PS3 I was super excited. And rightly so, as it turns out. Let's be clear, Dark Souls has issues, although they're mostly technical ones. This game just emanates a sense of extremely meticulous and deliberate game design and world crafting, and almost every inch of it entices you to explore it and understand it. This is truly what sets it apart from other games this year; the ubiquitous desire to explore, not only the world, but the entire game from bottom to end, it sparks is unlike anything I've played in a very very long time, and this earns it the honor of being the 2nd best game of '11. I am extremely interested in seeing more from FromSoftware in the future!
3. Batman: Arkham City
I 100%'ed Arkham Asylum, because I goddamned loved that game. I am working on 100%'ing Arkham City, because I goddamn love this game even more. From the stunning visuals to the new gadgets to the open world-esque trappings, this game sparked a reverence I haven't felt for an action adventure in a very long time. And the combat. Oh god the combat! I thoroughly enjoyed the combat of Asylum, but I never really figured it out before the game had ended and credits rolled. Almost immediately upon picking up the controller in City, though, I felt like I was in complete, unhindered control of Batman as his fists and feet clashed with the enemies faces, be it against groups of 3 or 30 bad guys. The stealth hunts I also found far more enjoyable and dynamic in City. I have no effing clue where they'll go from here, but it kind of doesn't matter anymore because oh god we have Arkham City and I think I just peed myself in excitement!
4. Portal 2
Portal sort of came out of nowhere back in '07, and still managed to steal the thunder of the entire gargantuan package the Orange Box was for me. The mind bending puzzles combined with the stark contrast between GLaDOS and the eerie environments to make it one of the most unique and enthralling games of that year. How the heck do you iterate on a game like that without making it feel redundant or contrived? You make Portal 2, that's what you do! Not only did they make it longer, funnier, bigger and shinier – They made it even more mind bending and eerily atmospheric! They also introduced Wheatley, who by himself probably could grab a spot on this list if he could. Rarely have I seen a game of such incredible polish as this, and it's more than deserving of the number 4 spot on my list.
5. Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II - Retribution
This year marked the year I was finally introduced to the Warhammer 40k tabletop game for real, with me building my first army (Orks, of course!) and playing my first couple games against friends. It also marked the year where Relic finally got Dawn of War II just right. I loved Dawn of War II and Chaos Rising to bitz, but the lack of campaigns for other races but Space Marines and Chaos always bummed me out. This was rectified in Retribution, with a campaign that was playable with most major races of the 40k universe. Retribution also made some improvements upon the controls and gameplay aspects, streamlining and perfecting the already fantastic core gameplay established by the preceding entries.
6. Mortal Kombat
I am not a huge fighting game fan. That sentence combined with a 6th place on a game of the year list should either make you furrow your brow, or go ”Huh. I guess the new Mortal Kombat must be special!”. And that is because it is! Not only does it have an extremely approachable and responsive fighting system that let a neophyte like myself quickly get hell of into it, but it also brought something I had never seen before in similar games; A story mode that matters. Not that it's particularly deep or intellectually edifying, but as a device for connecting a string of fights together, it worked amazingly well – Impressively so! It made the game feel like it had a wealth of content for someone like me who realistically has no chance to compete online and don't have a lot of friends who are into fighting games. I am still not sure I am into fighting games, but at least I can say I am way into Mortal Kombat.
7. Deus Ex: Human Revolution
There was never any doubt in my mind that Human Revolution would be a train wreck, much akin to the previous attempt at bringing Deus Ex to the modern era. While it might not have been terribly successful at the whole modern era thing, it still turned out to be one hell of a game, and far more impressively, a game that felt much like Deus Ex should. The game had its issues, but who the hell cares! A game needn't be flawless to be amazing, which Human Revolution demonstrates by grabbing the 7th place on my list.
I never watched the Building the Bastion series (Mainly because I never really watched Happy Hour), so I didn't follow the development process of the game. I most definitely will at some point, however, and not just because Greg Kasavin is awesome, but because wow did Bastion turn out amazing. Gorgeous visuals, fantastic combat, an emotionally resonating story, an amazing soundtrack and one of the most unique and well executed storytelling devices I have seen come together almost seamlessly. Well done!
9. Orcs Must Die!
I sort of picked this one up at random, because I needed something to fill the gap that the whole Trenched/Iron Brigade thing had created, and it kind of seemed to sate similar appetites. Boy, am I glad I did! Between having a great art style, entertaining as hell gameplay and surprisingly funny writing, it turned out to be (In my personal opinion) a more engaging game than Double Fine's (Also excellent, I should point out) action/tower defense game of '11.
10. Atom Zombie Smasher
Atom Zombie Smasher is, simply put, a highly entertaining and well crafted little game. What makes it stand out, though, is the extremely entertaining (Albeit it, short) post mortem-ish thing you unlock once you beat the game. I wish more people would put stuff like that in their games, as I find it supremely interesting (Being an aspiring game designer, myself) to hear about the trials and tribulations that dot practically any game development. Well done!