The Best Of The Rest Of 2011

Best Of The Rest 2011

This is the list for all the unsung heroes of 2011, so to speak. These are the games that I feel accomplished something great (or awful), even if they weren't quite worthy of inclusion in my top ten.

1. Deus Ex: Human Revolution

11th Best Game Of The Year: Deus Ex Human Revolution served as a great reminder of what games give up when they attempt to be streamlined rollercoaster experiences. The freeform nature of the game's world, which allowed for problems to be solved in numerous different ways, was a great counterbalance to the recent trend of funneling players down one path all the time. Although I loved the ability to tackle situations in any way I saw fit, the horrible boss battles held the game back. As a character specced entirely towards stealth, these forced confrontations proved incredibly frustrating.

2. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

Best PC Exclusive Game Of 2011: The Witcher 2 presents a fascinating fantasy world, one that exceeds the stereotypes that so often bound games of this genre. Although the tutorial can best be described as selective (it teaches players how to perform certain actions, while leaving others up to the imagination,) get past this point and you're in for one of the best PC RPG experiences in years. It's not quite as flexible as some of the competition, but with stunning graphics, a wonderfully realized fiction, and some of the most interesting monster hunting mechanics I've ever seen in a game, The Witcher 2 demands dozens of hours of playtime.

3. Super Mario 3D Land

Best 3DS Exclusive Game Of 2011: Super Mario 3D Land didn't exactly face stiff competition in this category, but that doesn't make its achievements any less notable. This was the portable game to have this year, and with great graphics and superb level design Mario proved again that no matter how many times we've played his games, he can always deliver something new, unique, and fun.

4. inFamous 2

Best PS3 Exclusive Game: Although there were many fantastic exclusives released on the PS3 this year, Infamous 2 was the one that made the most consistent improvement to its predecessor. The city was more fun to explore, the powers were better, and the enemies more interesting. Coupled with the snappy movement of the original, Infamous 2 was a ton of fun.

5. Gears of War 3

Best Xbox 360 Exclusive Game AND Best Competitive Multiplayer Of 2011: Gears 3 features a great campaign, but it's the Hoard mode and multiplayer that keep me consistently coming back. Addictive and strategic, Hoard is consistently entertaining with four other players. Then there are the competitive modes, which mercifully utilize dedicated servers this time around to make for a much smoother experience. Sure, the shotguns still seem overpowered, but the plethora of modes and maps as well as the constant flow of DLC make this one of the better online experiences this year.

6. Iron Brigade

Best Co-Op Multiplayer Of 2011: There's something about defending your base and collecting loot with a bunch of friends that will never get old. Plenty of games took advantage of this fact this year, but Trenched... er, Iron Brigade, was one of the best. Although Dungeon Defenders was my preferred tower defense game this year, I found myself enjoying Iron Brigade more when played with friends. The matchmaking is intuitive, and the possibilities for teamwork make some of the more difficult levels more manageable and more strategic.

7. El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron

Best Artwork of 2011: El Shaddai's unique, ever-changing style ensures its victory in this category even as games like Bastion and Rayman Origins wowed audiences with their gorgeous high definition sprite work. Nevermind the fact that this ultra abstract style actually made the game difficult to play at times. Looking at these incredibly realized worlds was its own reward. Even if the game itself wasn't that great, I don't think I'll ever forget El Shaddai. The pulsating worlds and vibrant colors are forever burned into my mind.

8. Bastion

Best Soundtrack Of 2011: Okay, so I know I've already declared my love for Bastion in my top ten list, but it bears repeating just how eclectic and wonderful its soundtrack is. The bizarre fusion of eastern and western musical stylings was enough to justify my purchase of the soundtrack, but it was the moving vocal pieces that really stayed with me. I still find myself humming "Build That Wall" from time to time.

9. Avadon: The Black Fortress

Best Obscure Steam Game Of 2011: We've all been there before. Steam is hosting a big sale with tons of bundles, and somewhere in the process we've ended up with a bunch of games that we've never actually heard of before. Such was the case when I purchased all of the Indie bundles during this year's Steam Holiday Sale. I had never heard of Avadon before, but just an hour after jumping into this Baldur's Gate-esque RPG, I was hooked. The way the game presented its scenarios through "choose your own adventure" styled text boxes was a clever way to circumvent the obvious budget restraints placed on the developers, and were super quaint to boot. The writing is often clever, and the characters are fairly well developed. Then there's the combat, which transitions seamlessly from real time exploration to turn based battle. It's a satisfying way to engage enemies. Finally, the world and story developed in Avadon are surprisingly deep. The choices the game gives you, while not quite on the level of something like Skyrim, are nonetheless numerous and game-changing.

10. LittleBigPlanet 2

Best Value Of 2011: Sure, Skyrim has a giant open world with hundreds of quests and items to find, but it was Littlebigplanet 2 that really kept me coming back. Partially due to its incredibly imaginative world, partially due to the infectiously fun co-op, and mostly due to the vast quantity of levels designed by its users, this game can literally last forever, if the users keep designing levels. Luckily, Media Molecule infused LBP2 with a level editor intuitive enough to allow for the creation of some truly great new levels. Almost a year from its release, it's amazing to see the progress that the community has made in terms of its design capabilities.

11. Dungeon Defenders

Best Grind Of 2011: Gamers love to raise their stats. It's an undeniable truth that games have manipulated for years, whether it's World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy. For my money, this year's best level grinder was Dungeon Defenders. Whether you're questing for new weapons, new pets, or just trying to level up enough to beat that next level, the strategic gameplay was always entertaining enough to warrant dumping just a few more hours into this wonderful co-op tower defense game. And hey, grinding's always better with a few friends, right?

12. Saints Row: The Third

Best Moment Of 2011: The entire game was the best moment of 2011. Between skydiving gunfights, zombie invasions, freefalling tank battles, and more moments too absurd to spoil, it's impossible to choose just one moment in this series of fantastic ones.

13. Renegade Ops

Craziest Action Of 2011: Other games may have had their share of unique setpiece moments, but the entirety of Renegade Ops played out as one giant setpiece. The action was so fast, so explosive, so visceral, that any attempts to put this game down were quickly thwarted. Throw in three other players and the action becomes so ludicrous it's almost impossible to tell what's actually happening. But in a very good way. Thanks to the great action, perfect controls, and light RPG mechanics, Renegade Ops ended up dominating my life for a few crazy days.

14. Catherine

Biggest Disappointment AND Ballsiest Game Of 2011: Let's get this straight right off the bat: There were plenty of worse games in 2011 than Catherine. The reason I was so disappointed was because of the massive potential that this title held and the pedigree of those who developed it. As far as games typically go to avoid the topic of sex, it was refreshing to see Catherine tackle it so forwardly, even going so far as to make it the central premise of the game. It is for this bravado that I congratulate Catherine and its developers; if more companies were willing to take risks like this, the industry would be a much better place. At the same time, however, the actual quality of the game was very disappointing. The block puzzles were highly frustrating thanks to unintuitive camera angles and levels that enjoyed stacking the odds so far against you it was almost criminal. Then there were the bar sections, which were fun in that they connected you more to the game's characters and the intriguing mystery at the game's heart, but also stifling because they never let you leave the bar. If there's one game I wanted to love in 2011, it was Catherine. Unfortunately, the game made that harder than I could bear.

15. Assassin's Creed: Revelations

The 2011 "Give It A Rest" Award: Look Ubisoft, I love Assassins Creed. The second entry in the franchise was one of my favorite open world games of all time, and Brotherhood introduced one of my favorite modern multiplayer modes. But it's time to give it a rest already. Revelations adds nothing of importance to the formula and teases a satisfying resolution that it frankly never delivers. At this point it feels like the Assassins Creed team is attempting to stretch the nonsensical story out as long as they can for the sake of making more money. It feels like there was a natural conclusion that the series should've reached after three or four games, but for the sake of getting cash the team dug themselves into a rut that they can never reasonably escape from. The plot at this point is mere gibberish. It doesn't help that the only significant addition to the formula, a weird tower defense minigame, actually detracts from the experience. Good thing it's optional.