Crème de la crème
The readers’ choice has been picked, we’ve revealed our honourable mentions and positions 10-6, now it’s time to unveil our top five games of 2011. It has been a great year for gaming, we’re sure you’ll agree, but these are the five titles that we believe stood head and shoulders above the rest. Ready? Let’s go…
5. Portal 2
(Valve | Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 & PC)
Toby Ross: The funniest game of the year, if not the funniest game ever made. The clever level design and challenging puzzles are the sideshow to the magnificent experience that Wheatley, Cave Johnson, and Glados create. Portal 2’s laugh-out-loud-a-minute story, with the increased depth of a co-operative partner make it a very worth sequel to one of 2007’s best games.
Tom Mills: There wasn’t really a contest for what I’d be putting in my number one spot. I’ve known since I finished the single player that I wouldn’t play anything better this year. Portal 2 continued the story laid out in the first game brilliantly and gave a fresh perspective of the Aperture facility, all the while maintaining high levels of humour and fiendish puzzle solving. The co-op segments provided moments of sheer hilarity and frustration blended together as you worked your way through test chambers, trying to not be the weak link. I’ve seen it argued that Portal was an enclosed experience, and that Valve should have left alone, I’m glad they didn’t.
Adrian Purser: As someone who found Portal over-rated, and (still) finds Stephen Merchant annoying, Portal 2 deserves special mention in still managing to win me over this year. There’s new inclusions enough in the puzzling to keep things fresh, and the story and characters manage to entertain without resting too hard on the laurels of the original’s success. The inclusion of an entirely detatched co-op mode is a great touch too, allowing you to play with a friend under the guise of teamwork, whilst secretly trying to prove yourself as the quicker wit.
Aryel Abrahami: You can probably count the number of truly funny games made in the last 10 years on one hand, with Portal 2 likely at the top of that list. Valve somehow managed to throw a number of new mechanics into the fray making some seemingly impossible puzzles completable by the masses. Throw some co-op in and you have a game of the year contender.
David Bryant: It’s a real shame that Portal 2 seems to have been forgotten in the holiday release rush because for me it’s one of the most innovative and genuinely funny titles of 2011. The puzzles are of course brilliant but the best thing about Portal 2 is the story which is experienced rather than forced by high level narrative. Another major plus is the contribution of Steve Merchant as the voice of Wheatley. His acquisition is nothing short of a master stroke from Valve, as his personality lends to Portal’s cutting humour effortlessly. The gameplay is so clever, bordering genius at times, making it an easy choice as one of the best games of 2011.
Aaron Sullivan: No game has made me feel quite as stupid as Portal 2 this year. With its blend of deceptively simple and outlandishly devious puzzles some might be put off, but it never falls short of absolute brilliance. The solid, core gameplay and level design is backed up by a ridiculously funny plot in a medium that is quite frankly, short on genuine laugh out loud humour.
Asim Tanvir: The fact that Valve managed to make a computer controlled metal sphere feel so human, thanks to the incredible vocal talents of Stephen Merchant, is worth a game of the year nomination on its own. When you couple that with the superbly designed puzzles and humour that is present right until its climax, Portal 2 is easily one of the best games released in 2011, or any year for that matter. Spaaaaaaaaace!
4. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
(Bethesda | Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 & PC)
Toby Ross: Though Skyrim has more than its fair share of bugs and though many of its gameplay mechanics (combat and horses) are so lacking, the world, lore, and story make up for it. So appealing and immersive is Skyrim that again and again I’d sit down, only to stop many hours later wondering where the time had gone. Skyrim could be much better overall, but it speaks for the game’s quality that a myriad of flaws and mediocrities cannot keep it from being one of the best games this year.
Daniel Reilly: This was always going to end up being my game of the year. It’s by far the best game that I’ve played this year. In fact, one of the best games I’ve ever played. Completely immersive world, and longevity in spades. Fantastic.
Aaron Sullivan: Too many games offer the illusion of freedom without ever really giving you anything to do outside the linearity of the main story. This is where I believe Skyrim shines most. Bethesda has succeeded in creating a complete world for you to do as you please. Calling Skyrim’s world breathtaking would be an understatement. Whether you wish to scale the highest mountain or dive to the lowest depths, the decision is yours and that is what makes Skyrim the epitome of the open world RPG genre.
Mark Porter: Being a huge fan of the life hoover that is the Elder Scrolls franchise, I had been waiting for the release of Skyrim since its announcement. I think I was more excited about this game than any before it, and I pretty much scheduled the week of release around it to ensure maximum gaming time. It’s utterly engrossing, and it’s very easy to sink five hours into it without realising. Even after putting 30+ hours into it I am still finding new dungeons, quests and awesome loot.
Nick Harrington: Some games have the ability to just suck you in and refuse to let you go until they’re done with you, Skyrim is particularly stubborn in it’s grip. The game doesn’t do much to apologise for it’s flaws, but within Skyrim’s wonderful fiction and sprawling landscapes lies its endless charm that will seemingly feel like it’s never going to end.
3. Battlefield 3
(DICE | Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 & PC)
Toby Ross: If Battlefield 3 can be criticised for anything, it can be criticised for trying to be Call of Duty, at least in part. It’s single player and co-operative efforts are little more than a poor copy, but in the multiplayer though, DICE have made a bold claim that they are the kings of multiplayer with a deep, and almost infinitely variable experience which strays away from cheap sensationalist gimmicks. Add to that a generous Back to Karkand DLC, and this is a shooter no-one should overlook.
Nick Harrington: Few games have the ability to draw a player back time and time again. Battlefield 3’s multiplayer not only does this, but makes it feel fresh no matter how many times you come back with some spectacular team based, cinematic gameplay.
Daniel Reilly: Battlefield has been my FPS of choice since the excellent Bad Company 2, and after some initial dislike, it’s taking up a large amount of my time. The single player campaign was a disappointment, very much going through the motions playing it, but in multiplayer, no two matches feels the same, which only adds to its brilliance.
David Bryant: Although the single player was an overwhelming disappointment, for me the multiplayer offering alone forces Battlefield 3 in to my top five. The map design first and foremost is exemplary, and with Frostbite 2 providing the physics and destructive elements, Battlefield 3 is simply stunning both tactically and visually. With the recent Karkand DLC providing even more quality content, balancing and refinement, it’s difficult to find any more superlatives to describe DICE’s multiplayer effort in Battlefield 3. Modern Warfare might have won the ratings war, but Battlefield 3 is without doubt the FPS connoisseur’s weapon of choice for 2011.
Tom Mills: Whilst the single player campaign was overhyped and undercooked, the multiplayer alone is enough to bring this into my top five. DICE has once again created an experience that is almost impossible to put down. The multiplayer is brilliantly designed to encourage teamwork and it’s easy to make a positive contribution to your team even if your aim isn’t tight and your K/D ratio is sour. I played Bad Company 2 from day one right up until the release of Battlefield 3 and I’m quite sure I’ll do the same again.
Aryel Abrahami: We see so many shooters these days, but fans always seem ready to return to the battlefield (pun intended). This year we not only have a great varied shooter with huge maps and stunning destruction, we also get to feast our eyes on the glorious Frostbite 2. Battlefield 3 is not just a game, it is a window to our very own warfare.
2. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
(Naughty Dog | PlayStation 3)
Gari Clark: Naughty Dog have done it yet again with another stunning piece of gaming perfection. Everything about Uncharted 3 screams game of the year. Superb animations coupled with fantastic storytelling, it’s a game that grips you right from the get go. One of the best single player experiences ever to see the light of day on my PlayStation 3. Throw in one of the best multiplayer modes I’ve ever played and you are on to a winner. How Naughty Dog will top this is anyone’s guess, but I’m sure they manage to do it somehow. I asked myself the same question after Uncharted 2 was released and they answered it quite emphatically withe Uncharted 3. Breathtaking.
David Bryant: Where to start?! Well it’s no secret that the Uncharted series is my favourite of this generation, so it’s perhaps no surprise that Uncharted 3 is my number one choice. Beyond it being my favourite, it delivered one of the best story driven campaigns of the year, as well as offering a solid yet innovative multiplayer component. It’s the complete package, and when you throw together the stunning visuals, wonderful voice acting, epic story, likeable characters and incredibly solid gunplay (post patch), it really is the closest you can get to playing through a real life Hollywood action movie. Without doubt the best game of 2011, developed by the masters that are Naughty Dog, who have raised the single player bar once again.
Mark Porter: Having never played Uncharted 1 or 2, I was a complete Drake virgin going into 3. Like most I got sucked into the hype whirlwind, and picked it up on release day. From the word go the game completely blew my mind. The gameplay was fantastic, and the story flowed effortlessly, and I had to fight with myself to put the controller down. I was also pleasantly surprised at how good the multiplayer was
too. Win win!
Daniel Reilly: What game of the year list would be complete without an Uncharted game these days? Amazing graphics, great story and genuinely funny, which is rare thing to say about a game. The only negative is the length of the story, which is a bit on the short side.
Adam Neaves: Visually stunning with beautiful gameplay to match, Uncharted 3 delivers on all counts. Filled with jaw dropping moments, you’ll constantly be amazed at what is around the corner next.
Alan Curdie: Naughty Dog’s follow up to the masterful Uncharted 2 was guilty of no more than being brilliant and maybe I failed to manage expectations rather than the game not doing more. Drake’s latest adventure is a technical juggernaut, and although not breaking any new ground in terms of gameplay and telling a fairly by the numbers story, it does what it does expertly. Yeah, it is pretty much the best ”acted” video game out there. A title all PlayStation 3 owners should experience.
Asim Tanvir: Uncharted 3 is a masterclass in video games design and storytelling from a developer that is now at one with the action-adventure genre. Every single aspect of the game has been so expertly crafted and put together, it’s hard to find one single glaring fault. The single player campaign is an incredible achievement on its own, an amazing experience from start to finish. However, when you factor in the deep online multiplayer and fun co-op missions, Uncharted 3 is not only one of the best games that you’ll play this year, it’s one of the best games of this generation full stop.
1. Batman: Arkham City
(Rocksteady Studios | Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 & PC)
Dave Duncan: For the sheer awesomeness of the story and being a marked improvement over its predecessor, Arkham City is my choice for game of the year. Rocksteady took everything that made the original a great game and improved on it superbly.
Nick Harrington: Batman Arkham City is a near flawless piece of game design. Few games have ever come close to balance the feeling of power whilst maintaining a degree of difficulty as well as Rocksteady Studios have with this, it’s an incredible achievement.
Gari Clark: I loved Arkham Asylum so much and I never thought Rocksteady would be able to top what they did with the first game, but they did…in a big way. Arkham City is brilliantly put together and crafted with such dedication to the Batman formula as we know it. The game can literally leave you wondering where the hours have gone as there is so much to explore, and it doesn’t become stale or dull at any point. Rocksteady has delivered not just one of the best games of 2011, but one of the best ever to grace a home console or PC.
Aryel Abrahami: What can I say about Batman: Arkham City? The original was great, we all hoped that Arkham City would match Batman’s first outing. Not only has Arkham City matched Arkham Asylum, it has blown it out of the water, with developer Rocksteady employing a huge cast of iconic villains and throwing them together in a way that feels so right. A special mention goes to the PC version, with Nvidia PhysX and stunning stereoscopic 3D taking the Dark Knight experience to the next level, making Batman: Arkham City one of the most stunning pieces of entertainment available in 2011.
David Bryant: Following on from the critically acclaimed Arkham Asylum was never going to be an easy task for Rocksteady, but with Arkham City the much loved developer has taken the Batman experience to a whole new level. The amount of new content in Arkham City is simply staggering, but what’s most impressive is that the main narrative always remains strong despite the other welcome distractions that come your way. Arkham City is a much more complete package than its predecessor, and along with some excellent DLC it represents one of the best games of this generation let alone this year.
Aaron Sullivan: When Rocksteady Studios burst onto the scene in 2009 with Arkham Asylum the gaming world was taken back. Never before had Batman been more true to himself in gaming form, and with the coming of the sequel naysayers were scared that they wouldn’t replicate the success of the original on a grander scale. Well, Rocksteady proved them wrong! Arkham City is everything that the original was meant to be and more. All of the elements that made the original great are here in full force and expanded upon, bringing the Caped Crusader back in full force supplying the goods for gamers and Batman fans alike. Arkham City is filled with so many awesome moments and Bat-references you can literally lose hours without really doing much. With the heights the series has scaled it is hard to envision where Rocksteady can go next.
Toby Ross: Arkham City is characterised by an incredible level of polish, a fascinating and Batman-lore studded world, and gameplay which rarely gives anything less than brilliant. From a stunningly honed combat system which simply puts all competing systems to shame, to the imaginatively designed levels, and the catalogue of infamus villains, Batman is an all round triple-A experience from the independent, British developers Rocksteady.
Asim Tanvir: Moving away from the confines of Arkham Asylum and introducing multiple new villians could have gone so horribly wrong, not if you’re Rocksteady though. With Arkham City, they managed to capture what was so great about the original, and intricately weave it together with the new additions. The combat is simple, yet so deep at the same time, and the exploration is just out of this world. Whether you’re swooping down a rooftop to engage an enemy, or gliding around looking for a Riddler trophy, the game does a great job in making you feel like the Dark Knight himself. Then you have the story, which never waivers or falters, no matter how many characters are thrown into the mix. It’s an incredible achievement, and nothing short of a masterpiece. I can’t wait to see where Rocksteady take the series next.
There you have it, our top five games of 2011. Do you agree with our choices? Be sure to let us know via the comments section below. Also, don’t forget to listen to our game of the year podcast, which is due to hit the site this coming Monday.