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Best of 2011

2011 surely didn’t offer the volume of creative experiences that years like 2009 and 2010 did. My last year’s Top 10 list comprised of a amazing titles that were vastly different from one another such as Dance Central, Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, and Costume Quest. I mean, c’mon, a dancing game and a trick or treating game!? 2011 was in fact, a year of diminishing returns. This year it seems like we’ve saw great things from other years, again. It goes to the idea of everything sucks because everything is awesome.

Not to downplay this list. All these games are indeed fantastic, and would’ve easily went toe-to-toe with blockbuster titles from years past. Every year, there seems to be a theme to my list. My Top 10 list seems to be a good indicator of what being a gamer that year was like and the type of experiences they could have. With Costume Quest and Dance Central along with 8 other vastly different experiences, last year was about diversity.

Most of these games tell stories in new and/or interesting ways. Saints Row: The Third, entertaining with an archaic plot, literally throws all logic out the window and shoots for the stars in out-doing Crank by tying together a bunch of crazy events. Skyrim had a great volume of story. SuperGiantGames implemented a storybook-esque telling device with Bastion. I was also totally immersed in Dead Space 2's atmosphere and environmental storytelling. Mortal Kombat is an awesome encyclopedia of Ed Boon’s life.

List items

  • I would have never guessed in a million years that an open world crime game (that isn’t Grand Theft Auto), let alone a Saints Row game, would even be on my top ten list. Then again, a fucking Batman game was my number 1 game in 2009. I guess anything goes these days. Saint’s Row: The Third was the most consistently fun game of 2011. The biggest element the game has going for it is the unpredictability. How many titles put being a videogame first in this day and age?

    This contradicts this year’s biggest weakness, known quantities. Even some of the great games on this list didn’t “wow” me the way Saints Row: The Third did. There was no rhythm, nor did it appear as if the developer’s had the obligatory “what makes a videogame good” checklist. The game’s commitment to absurdity and violence is one of the most impressive things I’ve seen in a videogame in a long time.

    Other awards for Saints Row:

    Best use of Kanye West, Most Kanye West, Best Tron world, Best use of Burt Reynolds, Best use of Mars, Best and Most use of Dub-Step

  • The thing I like most in videogames is seeing numbers get higher. No other game in 2011 nailed character progression like Bethesda’s latest. Building my Orc Warrior in Skyrim was addicting and time consuming in the best way possible. The vast believable world is also a big plus. Bethesda has always been great at throwing in little variables in the world to make things interesting. When I first joined the Dark Brotherhood, a Guild of blood-bathing assassins, I noticed a little girl among their ranks. I thought to myself “Well, that’s a corny attempt at a ‘wow’ factor, a murderous 10 year old”. No, she’s actually 300 years old and was bitten by a vampire at an early age. There’s a care Bethesda gave to give even minor characters a worthy backstory that I highly appreciate.

    When Skyrim released, I felt as if the world stopped. Everyone on the Internet was talking about it. Even here, in Afghanistan, the bulk of the soldiers around me were talking about their unique experiences in the world of Skyrim. It was probably the best conversation piece of 2011. The remarkable detail in everything that goes on in Skyrim is why Bethesda is a household name in the Western RPG business.

  • Portal 2 is simply great in virtually every way a game can be great. The attention to detail Valve put into the game’s universe is outstanding. No game challenges you and makes you feel smart the way Portal 2 does. The banter among the relatively small (but well-realized) cast of characters was easily some of the best entertainment 2011 had to offer.

    The writing is smart, the puzzles are intelligently designed to make your brain work in ways you probably aren’t used to, and the videogame part of Portal 2 is incredible. It’s rare that I find myself at odds to find a single thing to complain about in a videogame. Portal 2 offers a quality experience that is well-worth $60.

  • I like to think of myself as videogame savvy. However, I wasn’t sure what L.A. Noire was before it released. I was pleasantly surprised to see Team Bondi introduce Adventure games to the modern era. The writing and acting in L.A. Noire is a stunning example of where I want all games to strive. The Noire atmosphere was incredible enough to out-stage some of the glaring contrivances. Many of the game’s characters are memorable and well realized.

    The most interesting element is the lack of violence the protagonist commits. It’s an extreme rarity in videogames to not virtually commit genocide against some sort of group. I can probably count on one hand how many violent encounters are in L.A. Noire. Team Bonbi didn’t take the easy way out on gameplay mechanics. Unfortunately, there were a lot of contrivances in the plot, along with some serious holes. Sure, the ending fell flat. But the game was far more interesting and creative that a lot of other games in 2011. I think L.A. Noire is an easy game to frown upon looking back, but I know I had a hell of a time and was introduced to some amazing characters.

  • I need to lay it down that I think all pretentiousness is a horrible crime against humanity. With that said, Bastion is one of the few examples of videogame art. Of course the art style itself is fantastically drawn and a unique style to boot. All elements of Bastion, the story, the music, the combat, all flow and are conducted in an elegant way that we don’t see much in any medium.

    Attention to detail is the most important factor in anything, but is something often missed in videogames. The folks at SuperGiantGames crafted an experience that makes me sit back and say “wow”. Bastion isn’t necessarily a complicated or large videogame, but it is a perfect example of simplicity being the ultimate sophistication. The game didn’t need an epic musical score or big explosions to cement itself as a title that will be long remembered as brilliant.

  • With great artistic aesthetics, I also do enjoy some big-loud fun. Battlefield 3 is the multiplayer experience of choice for me. The vehicles, objectives, and dismounted troops add the variety that make a game more than running around and shooting dudes.

    The sheer scale of the maps and ways players can engage their enemy leaves for an arena that allots the opportunity for ultimate carnage. If you like competitive games, 2011 had a lot of great releases to keep you busy. However, nothing can compare to the quality and overall fun factor of good-ol’ Battlefield! Oh, and the single player is also alright.

  • Superb story, terrific boss battles, huge world all make for an amazing game. It makes for an outstanding game when you’re playing as motherfucking Batman. Batman! I absolutely love the gritty treatment to the Batman universe RockSteady does with this newly established franchise. I’m not too sure if I want a third game with this formula, but Arkham City had voluminous memorable moments and production values that put most other games to shame.

  • Loneliness, isolation, horror. These three ingredients are incredibly difficult to nail in a videogame, but were all critical to Dead Space 2’s entertainment value. Not to mention, this game was easily the best looking game of 2011. Being on edge has never been so thrilling. Dead Space 2 is a master of pacing. It displays fantastic examples of fast-paced theatrics and slow-tense moments. I never really knew what would be around the next corner.

  • Gears of War is still the best of its kind despite all the clones it has spawned over the years. Epic released what is easily the best $60 you can spend. This latest iteration of Gears is jam-packed with value. The campaign is long and entertaining and offers other modes such as Co-Op and Arcade. In addition to that, the Horde mode is as fun as ever. I’ve never herd dudes scream and yell like girls so much in my life after making it through the last wave with the last man fighting off the final string of foes backed against a corner.

  • Reading through my top 10 games this year, I’ve noticed they mostly consist of general quality, a good story. With more (using this word loosely) serious games like L.A. Noire, Portal 2, and Bastion, I enjoyed Mortal Kombat’s story the most. I would have never went into a fighting game expecting an 8 hour singleplayer, chronicling all the major points of the franchises’ universe.

    The fighting part of Mortal Kombat is razor sharp, deep enough for veterans to get into, and inviting enough for new guys jump in. Every character is interesting to use and can employ satisfying moves that spill gallons of blood. All the high points of what makes a fighting game great was hit here. Mortal Kombat has a plethora of high-quality content that sets the standard for the genre, its up to tomorrow’s fighting games to carry the torch.