2011 has been a great year for gaming. Granted, we feel it may not have been one of the best; but there's still been a generous handful of dilectible experiences for both experienced and newcomers to video games alike. Now we know how this works: create a list to perpetuate discussion and disagreement, as to generate a buzz around your site. We understand that risk going into this; but there's also the urge in the more opinionated of us in the office to tell you exactly which are our favourites. So Happy New Year, here is our Top 10 games of 2011.
Forza Motorsport 4
Turn 10 Studios didn't reinvent the wheel with Forza Motorsport 4, but everything about the fourth in the Microsoft-exclusive racing series was refined to (almost) perfection. Similarly, there's very little about Forza 4 that hadn't been seen before in the racing game. What Turn 10 did achieve was the series' best Career mode to date - opting for a smooth progression through family-friendly hatchbacks to quad-turbocharged supercars, spanning the globe – and, with smart use of the Top Gear license and addition of brand-new race types; add variety, fun and character previously absent from single-player. Of course, it helped too that the racing model was the best so far, the A.I was vastly improved from previous entries (with opponents now making avoidable mistakes, tussling with other CPU players) and, graphically, it was one of 2011's best-looking games.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
The return of Deus Ex after a lengthy hiatus (following the rather dismal Deus Ex: Invisible War) was one steeped in unwaveringly-high expectations. Eidos Montreal not only matched fans' expectations, but the developer largely exceeded them, resulting in one of the most critically and publically-adored role-playing games of the year. Though it goes no way to matching the immersion of open-world settings like Fallout 3's Capital Wasteland or Skyrim's snow-capped province of Tamriel, its cyberpunk, near-future styling certainly brought us one of the most visually appealing and distinctive games of the past few years. Crucially, Human Revolution also aimed to please in the depth and variety of its combat system – not only could the whole of the game be completed without killing any of the AI soldiers along the way (the stealth-based gameplay matches that of Metal Gear Solid), physical augmentation upgrades meant gun-play and hand-to-hand combat always felt fresh and exciting, even after 50+ hours enveloped under Adam Jensen's mechanically-altered skin.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
How do you best one of this console generation's most acclaimed RPG's? Like so many sequels of this year, Bethesda chose not to rebuild but rather refine, build upon and enhance what made Oblivion great. First on that list was the finicky combat mechanics that was one of its predecessor's most aggravating weaknesses - better collision detection, a variety of deft finishing moves and dual-wielding made sure Skyrim needn't lay back on the beauty and complexion of its open-world setting to garner attention. Brought to life with a breathtaking new engine – giving every location from atmospherically-chilling mines to the frost-covered Nordic tomb of Labyrinthian new life - the user-friendliness of the game ought not be overlooked either. Not only was levelling-up easier to understand with the help of visually-representative skill trees, menus were easily navigatable and fluid. Oh, and there were dragons. Epicness defined.
Though it failed to live up to the hype, L.A. Noire - like Heavy Rain the year before it – deserve its place upon any Top 10 Games Of The Year list for the individuality it leveraged beneath the sandbox world its publisher is so renowned for. Set in 1947 Los Angeles, players took to the streets as LAPD detective Cole Phelps, solving crimes through interrogating suspects and uncovering clues; from everyday domestic disturbances to rape and homicide. It was L.A. Noire's use of Depth Analysis's incredibly sophisticated motion capture technology that helped lavish the game in attention from announcement right through to release, and remains this year's most exciting use of technology in videogames.
Having been available to play throughout alpha and beta for well over a year, 2011 saw the official retail release for sandbox-building indie sensation Minecraft, as well as releases on Android and the App Store. As of November 7th (notably before its full release), Minecraft had already accumulated over 16 million registered users, with 4 million of those purchasing the game – figures that are truly staggering when considering the title has only ever been promoted through word-of-mouth. With Minecraft creator Notch leaving a creative position on the game earlier this year, Mojang still continues to make the game better and better with each, often sizeable, update. This year alone we've seen environmental biomes introduced, randomly-generated NPC villages make their way into the world, a substantial overhaul of the combat system and even seen the implementation of experience points and achievements.
Few could have predicted that Valve's The Orange Box would be remembered not for heralding Half Life 2's next-generation debut, or indeed the sequel to the Quake Engine mod Team Fortress in Team Fortress 2. Portal was a surprise hit that, with its ingenious gameplay mechanics – firing two portals to 'teleport' across environments – delivered enough complexity in puzzles, black humour and a genuinely brilliant storyline to warrant a sequel. Stretching out the Portal experience to accommodate a full-priced retail release was always a risky proposition, but Valve proved doubters wrong in matching the firsts quality in every department. The pacing and humour of the story was further punctuated with the help of Stephen Merchant-voiced robot Wheatley, while the rebirth of antagonist GLaDOS provided the menace. Additional gameplay elements, meanwhile – light bridges, gels, tractor beams – proved instrumental in giving Portal 2 its own unique identity over the first.
Little Big Planet 2
This year's first triple-A game to see release is still one of the best of 2011. Trying to up the creativity on offer from the first game, while not over-doing things to the detriment of younger gamers proved Media Molecule's biggest hurdle to overcome for the sequel to many's GOTY from 2008. LBP2's biggest achievement was in allowing players to create levels in a variety of different genres. No longer was Little Big Planet synonymous with platforming; the LBP experience now encompasses everything from side-scrolling shooters, to overhead racers via, yes, even first-person shooters. It helped too that all existing Little Big Planet levels (some 2 million-odd) would make it over to the sequel, with a fresh lick of paint giving them a visual upgrade along the way. A system seller if ever there was one.
Batman: Arkham City
Think Bioshock 2; but in Gotham city and you're part way there of defusing just what Rocksteady has done. Fantastical gameplay of an absolute open nature of choice guides you through how great or little detail (depending on how much of the scenery you interact with to find out more of the story) there is to offer, while maintaining the element of choice. Such a vast space and such a vast amount to admire. A presentational masterpiece of near pitch-perfect voice acting and graphical awe greet you and instantly entice you into possibly one of the best (and longest) Batman stories to be told. It is, simply, super-hero perfection from the crescendo-ic beginning to the epicentral conclusion.
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
Uncharted 3 isn't one to reinvent the wheel, and for that it feels as if it somewhat lacks the sheer determination of the predecessor's incessant urge to completely immerse you around every single corner. However, this doesn't discount that Naughty Dog continue to prove that they arethe masters of their craft. Something with this much direction and pitch-perfect fluency reminds onesself of the trilogy finishers that provide utterly satisfying final acts: Toy Story 3, Return of the King, Return of the Jedi. Subtle nuances of character animation and dialogue, compared with the ultimately succinct gameplay experience throughout the entirety of the eight-hour campaign provide plenty of Michael Bay-esque moments to make what seems to be missing from many games today, a fun time.
Regardless of whether this game was actually good or not, this would have made it onto our top ten. There were many skeptics for the original also; but as a child I was mesmerized by the art style, the vibrant colour palette, the simplistic controls that remove any kind of obstruction from enjoying the game to its fullest. Origins has done exactly what I, and many other fans of the original, wanted it to do: it took us back. Fantastic gameplay, beautiful scenery and design, and one of the rarest qualities out of our ten selections, I'm still playing it now.