Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Top 11 Games of 2011 (Because 10 is not enough!)

It's becoming something of a cliche to say that 2011 has been a terrific year for gaming since almost every prior year boasted a terrific roster of both AAA releases and hidden gems that make our love of video games worthwhile. This has been mainly a console year for me, since I did not purchase a 3DS and I have barely touched my existing handhelds, so the majority of the games on my list were played on either the Xbox 360 or the Playstation 3. Either way, with the steady stream of quality games and the deluge of "must-have" titles that landed later in the year, having to select only a few games as my favorites was very difficult. I feel this list properly represents the best gaming moments of 2011 for me, but I am cognizant of the fact that some great titles have been left out.

Before I get into my list, a few things need to be mentioned. As with any such list, this is subjectively based on the games that I had the most enjoyment out of in 2011. It's not a list made to please the masses and accordingly there are some of the "usual suspect" games that will not be appearing here. Games like Saint's Row: The Third, Catherine, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Battlefield 3 are not here because I haven't purchased them yet. Gears of War 3, Portal 2 and Dark Souls also fall into this category. Other games I do own, like Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, are not on the list because I haven't played them enough to properly assess, or I didn't enjoy them as much as other games. Such is the peril of having to limit your choice to only a small selection of games.

Anyway, without further ado, I give you my Top Eleven Games of 2011.

11. Bulletstorm

The first-person shooter genre has gone well beyond being saturated and it's refreshing to see a game that provides some unique twists on a now-tired formula. Bulletstorm combines classic FPS mechanics with a "kill with skill" focus in the gameplay. Rather than the traditional "run and gun" approach, you are rewarded for finding the most creative ways to kill your enemies and I had hours of fun combining my skills to pull of some incredibly awesome, and gruesome, kills. Fast, furious and dripping with attitude and sexual innuendo, this is the game that those disappointed by Duke Nukem: Forever should be checking out.

Available On: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC

10. Dragon Age II

While fans of Dragon Age: Origins haven't warmed to the more streamlined approach that the sequel takes, I personally found Dragon Age II to be an engaging and highly enjoyable action RPG experience. The main character Hawke, who rises to fame and power throughout the course of the game, is a more interesting protagonist than in the previous game and I found myself caring more about the outcome than I have with most RPGs of late. The open-world feel and other intricacies may have been dumbed down in order to make the game appeal to a mainstream audience, but the fascinating story and stellar battle mechanics in Dragon Age II more than make up for this.

Available On: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC
9. Shadows of the Damned

You have to admire a game that makes no apologies for it's crassness, so it goes without saying that I had a fantastic time playing Shadows of the Damned. The product of the minds behind Resident Evil and No More Heroes, this is a third person shooter that involves a protagonist descending into the depths of hell in order to rescue his nearly-dead girlfriend. Hell has never looked or sounded this absurd. The solid shooting and fun variety of weapons is complemented by a constant stream of profanity, toilet humor and sexual innuendos. Not every joke hits the mark, but anyone with a sense of humor along these lines will get a kick out of the game. There are few games I enjoyed more this past year, so it's place on this list is well deserved.

Available On: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC
8. Crysis 2

With other first-person shooters already appearing in this list, and other high-profile ones being absent altogether, my selection of Crysis 2 might seem somewhat illogical...unless you have played it. Simply put, this is one of the best looking and smoothest FPS titles I have ever played, with graphics and animation that pushes the limits of the current generation consoles. Crysis 2 isn't all flash, since it boasts a meaty and satisfying 10 to 12 hour campaign and a focus on tactical gunplay. The addition of the "Nanosuit", an augmented suit that grants you certain powers and tactical advantages, adds another layer of intricacy to the beautifully created set piece battles. This is yet another game that went unnoticed in 2011, however it's one that is definitely worth playing if you're looking for something a different and unique.

Available On: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC

7. F.E.A.R. 3 (F3AR)

Being a fan of the first two F.E.A.R. games, my anticipation for the third installment was very high. Despite some shortcomings including a shorter campaign, streamlined level design and overuse of screams and squeals, it delivered on most fronts, provided you are familiar with the story of the first two games. The standard-but-serviceable first-person shooter mechanics are complemented by classic "freak out" moments and panic-inducing moments where the infected run at you with alarming speed. The ability to play co-op with the game's antagonist, who boasts his own special powers, breathes fresh life into the series. F3AR is not the best or brightest of the FPS genre, but it succeeds in what it seeks to accomplish - to provide an unsettling gaming experience.

Available On: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC

6. Rage

A Bethesda game in which you play a survivor in a post-apocalyptic wasteland and you must help people, join factions and kill roaming nasties. Sound familiar? While it may share some aesthetic similarities to the Fallout series, Rage has far more in common with games like Borderlands and Bioshock. The quest-based storyline is littered with interesting objectives and a fair few fetch quests, however the combat and corridor shooting is among the best in class for the genre.  The other central focus of Rage is vehicular combat and this provides some of the most intense and satisfying moments in the game, especially in the area battles, races and the online multiplayer. Rage is a game that many people overlooked but one that I highly recommend trying out.

Available On: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC

5. Dead Island

At first glance, Dead Island seems deceptively like Left 4 Dead transplanted on a tropical island with the guns traded in for wooden planks. In truth, Dead Island is a stellar first-person action/survival game that combines plentiful zombie-killing action with a Borderlands-style questing system. The focus on melee combat and the tendency for the zombies to gang up on you really makes this a tense and frantic experience, one that is unmatched by other games in the genre. The long and satisfying campaign is accented with a strong emphasis on co-operative gameplay, and it goes without saying that Dead Island is best enjoyed with a few friends playing along for the ride.

Available On: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC

4. L.A. Noire

In the months leading up to it's release, I openly stated that I had very little interest in playing L.A. Noire, mainly because I have not been a fan of Rockstar's offerings of late. Come launch day, I took the plunge on impulse and was very glad I did. This is not a 40's-era GTA clone, rather a deeply involved crime saga that boasts an immersive story, rich characters and some impressive facial capture technology that is pivotal in successfully interrogating a suspect or a witness. It's a different kind of game than some expected, one that makes you use your head and powers of deductive reasoning, and many people didn't like it for that reason. However, it hit all the right notes for me.

Available On: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC
3. Assassin's Creed: Revelations

The yearly release of a new Assassin's Creed title may have diluted the appeal of the franchise to some, however the titles have been nothing if not consistent in their quality. Assassin's Creed: Revelations is a wonderful bookend to the current saga, wrapping up the storyline of Ezio Auditore, the protagonist from the previous two games, and connecting it with that of Altair, the central character in the first game. The new setting of sixteenth-century Constantinople provides a fresh environment, while the open-world gameplay that the series is best known for is still intact and as enjoyable as ever. Some may bemoan the lack of innovation between installments, however there is still something comfortable and satisfying about playing an Assassin's Creed game and Revelations is a fitting installment and a satisfying (albeit bittersweet) conclusion.

Available On: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC
2. Dead Space 2 

The first Dead Space is considered by many to be one of the best games of this console generation, and definitely a landmark game in the survival horror genre. The sequel kicks things up a notch by giving you a more diverse (and creepy) setting and fleshed out story for the unfortunate protagonist Isaac Clark. While the first game took place on a deserted spaceship, the sequel gives you an entire space station to navigate, offering some genuinely inventive and creepy locales. However, the limb-severing Necromorph genocide you commit is still king. Dead Space 2 is everything a sequel should be, and even the addition of a superfluous and totally forgettable multiplayer doesn't bringing it down.

Available On: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC

1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

If this list of games could be likened to a baseball team, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the bench-warmer who goes on to hit a grand slam at the World Series. Not being a fan of Bethesda's earlier offerings, I didn't approach Skyrim with the highest of expectations, however it completely blew away all of my preconceptions. Skyrim is a wonderfully realized world filled with an engaging story, interesting characters, challenging enemy battles, plentiful missions and gorgeous scenery. It would be hyperbole to say that it's the best RPG of all time, but it can be said that this is one of the best RPGs of this console generation and easily my favorite game of 2011.

Available On: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC

Looking ahead to 2012, the confirmed titles such as Bioshock: Infinite and Mass Effect 3 are already on my radar, and the rumored titles such as a third Dead Space, another Assassin's Creed, the yearly release of another Call of Duty and a host of other goodies will no doubt lead to plenty of late nights and wallet-emptying excursions to my local game shop. Needless to say, there is plenty to look forward to.

Happy New Year, everyone!


  1. I agree with Skyrim. I could never get into Oblivion and was skeptical about Skyrim but I decided to get it since I had a giftcard. Wow, does the game blow me away. I see myself playing the game well into 2012.

  2. I like the most title of your article. Assassin's Creed is my favorite game from above list. Although controls and weapons are wonderful. It is really interesting to play this game Wii mode.
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