GOTY 2011

2011 was another fantastic year for games. Even though I definitely suffered some sequel fatigue this year, it goes to show how much gaming has come into its own that even with that fatigue I still had a hard time narrowing this list down to just 10 games. There were a lot of great games that I had a ton of fun playing in 2011, and these 10 stand as my personal favorites of the bunch. Enjoy!

List items

  • If you’re not someone who Bastion immediately “clicked” with, then it can be hard to convey exactly what makes this game so special. It’s easy enough to point to its fantastic music, awesome narration, gorgeous visuals, explosive combat, intricate customization options, or even how all these seemingly disparate parts come together to create something more than their sum. It’s a class act in every aspect of its production, but that only begins to articulate why I find Bastion so endearing. There’s an intangible “something” about it, an underlying personality that sparks my imagination in a way that no other game has in a long time. It transported me to a unique and fantastical world unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and invited me to participate in an exciting narrative that was punctuated by some truly memorable moments. I’d argue that’s what the best games strive to do, and in 2011 Bastion did it better than any. It may not have had the biggest budget, the biggest brand awareness or the biggest marketing campaign, but it had the biggest heart. And for that, Bastion comes away as my game of the year.

  • I loved Demon’s Souls, and I’m thrilled that Dark Souls was able to recapture what made its predecessor so special. If anything, Dark Souls is even deeper and more ambitious than ever. I have a strong appreciation for the way it tosses modern gaming conventions aside to produce a hardcore RPG for those who like diving head first into an engrossing, challenging adventure. Dark Souls often gets mislabeled as simply being “that hard game”, but there’s so much more to it than that. This is a game that, above all else, sends you on a grand and mysterious quest, one packed with more genuinely thrilling surprises than practically anything else out there. Dark Souls is one of gaming’s purest adventures, making it not only one of my favorite games of the year, but also a great showcase for why I like video games so much in the first place.

  • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion stands as one of my favorite games ever made, and Skyrim surpasses it as a categorically superior game in every way. It just goes to show how far Bethesda has come with their formula, which is now better than ever. This is one of the biggest, most expansive RPGs around, and is especially impressive for the immersive world it creates. I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced a world simultaneously this large and this dense, and that the vast majority of its content is actually worth seeing is downright incredible. Top it all off with a fantastic audiovisual presentation and masterfully revamped character building options and you have a wonderful RPG from top to bottom. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a great game in the ways that matter most, and is one of the best games of the year as a result.

  • The original Portal was a pleasant surprise, but also seemed like it would be a hard act to follow. That Portal 2 manages to be a fully featured sequel with two lengthy, equally compelling campaigns is a wonderful surprise in its own right. From start to finish the puzzle design is just fantastic; there’s a lot of creativity and variety to them, and the way the game makes you feel smart for solving its intricate puzzles is something the genre has rarely done so well. Even better is how the co-op campaign rewards teamwork in a way that only the best co-op games can. Throw in great characters, excellent writing, and plenty of genuinely funny and memorable moments, and Portal 2 becomes an all around fantastic package. It’s rare to see a puzzle game get this kind of treatment, easily making it one of my personal favorites.

  • Top Spin 4 is the tennis game that finally gets it right. While tennis nuts like me have always enjoyed and appreciated the Top Spin franchise, this is the game the opens up the formula to a wider audience without losing any of the hardcore appeal it’s always had. The way it takes what was previously a convoluted (and sometimes unwieldy) set of gameplay mechanics and streamlines it to be infinitely more accessible without losing hardly any depth is nothing short of incredible. Games in general could learn a lesson from Top Spin 4 when it comes to combining accessibility and depth, and that it’s in a form that appeals to me personally is icing on the cake. Top Spin 4 is not only one of my favorite games of the year, but also hands down the best tennis video game I’ve played to date.

  • You know what? Gears of War 3 is awesome, haters be damned. The series’ excellent, iconic combat returns in all its glory, and is put to better use than ever in what has to be the most well crafted Gears campaign yet. Being able to play it cooperatively with up to three friends is just a blast, and when combined with the fantastic horde mode Gears of War 3 becomes one of the most robust cooperative games out there. The competitive multiplayer is no slouch either, and it’s rare to see a shooter offer such a wide variety of modes that are all equally compelling. There’s just so much quality content packed into Gears of War 3, making it not only one of the year’s best games, but also a fitting coda to what has become one of my favorite shooter franchises this entire generation.

  • There are plenty of games that take a lot of inspiration from others, but they rarely combine their sources in ways as unique and interesting as Outland. Prince of Persia style 2D platforming, Super Metroid style exploration and item hunting, and Ikaruga style light/dark mechanics combine to create something incredibly fresh and exciting in its own way. Patch it together with responsive controls, fun combat, excellent bosses, absolutely gorgeous visuals and an epic soundtrack and you have a well crafted game that, as cliched as it is, is more than the sum of its parts. Outland pulls a lot of awesome stuff from some fantastic sources to create a wholly original game that’s a ton of fun on its own merits, easily making it one of my favorites.

  • I consider The Legend of Zelda one of my all time favorite franchises, so it’s no surprise that I was really looking forward to Skyward Sword. Fortunately for me, it turned out to be another fantastic entry into this legendary franchise. The art style is gorgeous, and as far as I’m concerned it’s the best interpretation of the Zelda universe yet. Even better is how it leads to a more interesting plot than ever, and fosters some truly memorable moments. Of course, the classic Zelda gameplay is completely in tact as well. Fun items get put to great use in some incredibly clever dungeons, and the Wii Motion Plus is able to add a nice new twist to the combat and puzzles. Skyward Sword is just an all around stellar game, and one of the year’s best.

  • I had very little experience with the Deus Ex franchise upon Human Revolution’s release, but after getting my hands on this gem I can see why the series is so well loved. The way it lets you tackle your objectives in a variety of ways is incredibly refreshing, and it’s a ton of fun to experiment with all the options at your disposal. Not to mention the highly stylized visuals and thick atmosphere, which combine to create an interesting world worth spending time in. I simply found exploring this crazy setting exciting, and that I was able to do it in my own way, at my own pace is what really seals the deal. Deus Ex: Human Revolution gave me a level of freedom that I can really appreciate, making it one of my favorite games of the year.

  • The original Dead Space remains one of my favorite surprise hits this entire generation, and Dead Space 2 continues to do a lot of the things that made the original so much fun. Primarily, its controls remain incredibly fluid and precise to the point where the act of playing it is just a blast. Not many games make shooting this enjoyable, and it’s further bolstered by an exciting array of awesome weapons and cool abilities. Dead Space 2 also paces itself wonderfully, offers plenty of great set pieces, has fantastic atmosphere, and both looks and sounds as good as anything else out there. Dead Space 2 is an all around great shooter that pulls out all the stops, and stands strong as one of the best games I played all year.