2011 was a year where we saw a ridiculous amount of good and great games released. After several years with a dearth of great titles, this year was overrun with quality games vying for our attention, which magnified the problem eventually encountered by all gamers: Too many games, too little time. Here’s where I take a look at some of the more memorable ones that I’ve played.
Best “New” Game
Of course every year we’re usually drowning in sequels, but this year, we had a decent amount of new games that weren’t the 8th or 9th iteration of the same thing (I’m looking at you, CoD 8!). Probably my favorite was L.A. Noire. When you boil it down, L.A. Noire was pretty much an adventure game that had a dash of action and a hint of open-worldness, but the overall presentation and production values tied to an interesting story made it one of my favorite games of 2011 overall. Top notch voice acting and an entertaining cast of characters kept me playing just to unravel the story. Searching for clues and making a case against suspects has never been so well done as it is in L.A. Noire. Definitely worth checking out, and also makes for a great spectator game for your significant other. Also, it’s now available in PC form.
Honorable mentions in this category go to Bullet Storm, which was much better than I expected and is probably the game that Duke Nukem Forever should have been. Also Telltale’s Back to the Future point-and-click adventure was very good for those who love 80’s nostalgia.
Best Indie Game
I almost called this category “best downloadable game.” Of course, in 2011, almost every game is “downloadable” — but really what I’m looking at is indie games that haven’t had any wide retail releases and usually cost $20 and under. This category probably had the most growth in 2011 with hundreds of quality titles released. The one that stuck out the most this year for me was Magicka. A witty, tongue-in-cheek story with hilarious co-op play made this one playable, and re-playable for months. It’s hard to argue with a game about wizards and magic that comes out with a Vietnam expansion complete with M16s and grenades that totally works in its game world. The game wasn’t without its technical flaws, including lack of mid-level saves which were magnified by random crashes to desktop during co-op after a later patch, but it still provided hours of entertainment.
Honorable mentions go to Sanctum, the first person tower defense game that started life as a UT mod, Bastion and Renegade Ops.
Co-op games have become a trend as of late, and 2011 had its share. Magicka was pretty good here, as was Sanctum…even BF3 threw one in there and dangled weapon unlocks as a carrot. But one game stands out in my mind: Portal 2. Portal 2 was better than the first in every way possible, which wasn’t too hard to do since the first Portal was essentially just an extended demo / pack-in for the Orange Box. The single player in Portal 2 was great, and the co-op was completely separate and excellently done. Trying to figure out puzzles with a friend with sometimes hilarious results was better than expected. Mix in a heavy dosage of GLaDOS and great writing and it’s co-op at its best. Even if you only played and enjoyed the single player, you owe it to yourself to buddy up and play the co-op, you won’t be disappointed.
This one is pretty easy for me. Battlefield 3 is the obvious choice. BF3 offers such an deep experience that lets you play the game you want to play it. The classes you choose actually affect the way you play the game and with extra-large maps and a few different game modes, this game will keep you entertained for hours on end. Team play is not only an option, but almost required even in just regular pub servers, it’ll scratch most people’s itch for some sort of organized team gameplay. Not to mention the persistent stat and level tracking, all available from the web, BF3 provides the most in-depth experience we’ve seen in an online shooter…probably ever. Sure, it has its flaws, and the whole Steam / Origin debate raged during the pre-release period which was turned out to be a non-issue or at least accepted begrudgingly for most players. Where else are you going to get your online shooting needs? True, CoD 8 still has its followers, but it’s too hollow and shallow of an experience for my tastes at this point.
Best Single Player
Again, this is an easy one for me; Skyrim. I only dabbled in Oblivion years after the initial craze over the game, never played any previous Elder Scrolls games, but after thoroughly enjoying Bethesda’s last game, Fallout 3, I was ready to jump into the land of Tamriel head first, and wasn’t disappointed. This is a game that you can sink 50+ hours and still not see everything. Also it’s hard to discount the number of internet memes this game had already created. I’ll be playing this one well in to 2012.
A close runner up here has to be Deus Ex. The series got a reboot and a facelift and it made for one of the best games of 2011. Only a game of Skyrim’s magnitude could unseat Deus Ex as my favorite game overall. Both games are must plays.
Every year there’s at least one game (more if I’m lucky) that ends up being a something that I wasn’t anticipating, tried on a whim and ended up being pleasantly surprised by the results. Previous years Batman Arkham City and Star Craft II were games I had zero expectations of and ended up enjoying so much they made my top games list. This year, Saints Row the Third makes that list. I never played the first, only briefly played the second, but on numerous recommendations and an aggressive Amazon sale, I figured I’d give it a go. The game is so completely over the top and so well written with juvenile jokes that are actually funny (unlike Duke Nukem Forever) the game exceeded all expectations I had. It’s just plain fun to play, and in the end, that’s what counts.
With 2011 being so rich with great games, there were several others that I enjoyed so much but didn’t make the other lists. Dead Space 2, for example, was definitely much better than the first in every way. Also, if you got the PS3 version, you got a copy of Dead Space Extraction, which turned out to be a pretty good light gun game that’s worth playing if you’re into the Dead Space fiction.
Another game I sunk a ton of time into and will revisit, hopefully via co-op is Dead Island, a better than expected open-world zombie smasher. After its rocky launch, the game got a bit of a bad rap, but is completely enjoyable if you’re into smashing hordes of zombies in hyper-violent style. Let’s not forget Batman Arkham City, which was very good and while it didn’t recapture the magic that was Batman AA, it’s still a great game and in any other year could have been one of the best games of the year.
I want to mention Deus Ex: Human Revolution one more time. I absolutely loved the Blade Runner-esq neo-noir atmosphere, the ability to upgrade your character in any way you see fit and a great story. I’m looking forward to going back to it and playing some of the DLC.
2011 was so jam packed with great games that there were plenty that I didn’t even get to. There’s still a few that I will probably get to next year, like Uncharted 3, Rage, The Witcher 2 and the indie shooter Hard Reset. But no “best of” list would be complete without a corresponding “biggest disappointments of” list. I’ll be working to put that one together over the next few days.
Of course these are just my memorable games of the 2011, I’m sure everyone has their own take on the year. Feel free to add your comments!
I’m pretty amazed at the high caliber of games this year – both commercial games as well as indie games. In each category, the crop was better than I can remember in years. We’ll be lucky if 2012 delivers even close to the same level of quality.