1. Dark Souls
That's right, I don't find it anywhere near as difficult as everyone else seems to. Is that perhaps part of the reason why I'm able to like it so much? Maybe... But why I love it so much goes beyond the challenge and reward aspect that everyone seems to keep focusing on. Things like the level design and how it presents it's enemies and its treacherous environments, the medieval horror fantasy aesthetic it goes for with the design of all the environments and the enemies, the deliberate but precise combat, the eerily epic music that signatures each encounter you have with one of the game's increasingly freakish bosses, the boss battles themselves, all the crazy hidden shit that people are STILL discovering; all of these things add up to why Dark Souls is my favourite game of 2011... I mean, come on, you can become a humanoid dragon that breathes fire and temporarily go Super Saiyan! What's not awesome about that?!
I love hardcore puzzle games. At first, I loved the puzzles in Catherine. Then, I liked the puzzles in Catherine. Then, I was indifferent to the puzzles in Catherine. Then, I didn't like the puzzles in Catherine. Then, I fucking hated the puzzles in Catherine. But what made the increasing struggle worth it was the bizarrely sexual story the likes of which have never been done in a "mainstream" video game before. I loved hanging out with the Persona-esque gallery of characters at the Stray Sheep bar. I loved hearing trivia about alcohol. I loved going to the restroom and checking out photos of a scantily clad Catherine... And yes, I loved my ending. I can think of no better end to this tale of loyalty and infidelity than becoming a lord of the underworld and sleeping with Catherine and half a dozen other demon ladies for the rest of eternity.
Every aspect of this game is expertly well done. From the art style to the music to the combat system to the way it cleverly presents you the story without ever taking you out of the action via sexy narration, it's just all so well done. And it all comes together to not only make the best downloadable game of the year, but one of the greatest overall games since the start of this generation.
4. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
5. Saints Row: The Third
I often feel a little weird when people say, "video games are supposed to be fun!" Well, no, video games are just supposed to be engaging. A game like ICO sure as hell ain't fun, but I'll be damned if I didn't ever wanna stop playing it. Having said that however, doesn't mean there's anything wrong with fun. In fact, that is exactly why Saints Row: The Third is so goddamn awesome! It is pure, nonsensical, idiotic, clever-ass fun from beginning to end! I enjoyed it so much that I actually played two game files simultaneously just so I could experience the dual pleasures of a less than half naked Matrix chick and a fully naked, zombie-voiced Dr. Manhattan. If that's not a ringing endorsement, I don't know what is.
6. Dead Space 2
Dead Space 2 is to Dead Space what Aliens is to Alien. It took the idea of the original and tried to expand it into a much more broadly appealing package by amping up the action while sacrificing some of the horror. While I certainly prefer Dead Space's more isolated/claustrophobic approach to horror (much like I prefer Alien to Aliens) and while I don't think Visceral did a very good job of fleshing out an interesting character with Isaac Clarke, Dead Space 2 was still an absolute blast to shoot my way through from beginning to end. That zero gravity satellite repair level was particularly breathtaking.
7. L.A. Noire
Team Bondi's first and last game is nothing less than a flawed masterpiece. The lack of consequence for your ability or inability to arrest the "right" guy practically takes away any reason for trying. Sure, the game scores your performance at the end of each case, but the fact that the story (the part that this game focuses all of it's attention on) doesn't change one bit despite the fact that you could royally fuck up investigations, interrogations and the like is just disappointing. However, despite that, the investigations are involving, the interrogations are intense, the action is polished, and the story is ultimately quite satisfyingly bleak in the way that noir should be.
8. Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
The finale was disappointing. Not just because the concluding set piece was practically identical to that of Among Thieves, but because the story just never made good on the promises it set up in chapters 2 and 3. It seemed as though this latest Uncharted was going to be focusing a lot more on Drake and Sully's relationship, but it never really does. Under utilized characters is also an issue, particularly in the case of Charlie Cutter and Katherine Marlowe. They were great! Yet they were either barely in the game or barely fleshed out. Now, why is this game in my top ten if I seem to hate it so much, you may ask? Because it still easily has THE greatest set pieces in the video games business. And because few things are more enthralling for me than wandering aimlessly through a seemingly endless desert as fantastic music plays in the background as the camera pans to all sorts of fantastically cinematic positions as I am STILL IN FULL CONTROL OF THE CHARACTER.
9. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Skyward Sword, in my opinion, is the worst 3D Zelda game. But that sure as hell didn't stop it from showing up this high in my top ten. Why? Because despite the game's flaws - repetitive fetch quests, limited exploration, and the fact that the game seems to think I'm an idiot being the most notable - Skyward Sword has what is easily the best storytelling in the series. It also has what is easily some of the best music in the series - orchestrated for the first time too, I'll have you know. It has an absolutely beautifully water colour art style. And it has some clever, inventive dungeons. What more could one ask for...? Other than a Zelda game that doesn't pad itself out with tedious fetch quests, that has a much more open world ripe for exploration & discovery, and that respects my intelligence, of course.
10. Shadows of the Damned
Despite being a little disappointed by the fact that this is easily Suda 51's most normal game to date, I still couldn't help but fall in love with the electric buddy flick-esque chemistry between Garcia Hotspur and Johnson. It was humorous in a way that few video games are wherein the comedy comes from the grown-inducing quips exchanged between the Mexican demon hunter and his floating flaming skull buddy, as they read stories to each other and freak out at all the crazy shit there is to see in Hell. Few things will ever be funnier than exclaiming nonchalantly that you should "explode that wall with your explosive Hot Boner".