Keeping me busy for most of 2011 were all the new release video games. Because of this it was actually hard to choose my top ten, even harder to choose the order; especially the top five. Without further ado, let's count down the top ten.
#10 Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure
The first time I played Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure at PAX 2011 the developer described it to me as Diablo for children, an apt description. For a "children's game" it was very fun to play. Something that parents could enjoy with their children (or in my case with my niece). The bonus of the game was that everything your character did was saved to a chip in the base of the toy that you could then take to a different gaming system to play, keeping all the things you had earned. Something almost magical in a world where the big three gaming hardware companies don't allow cross-compatibility.
#9 The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
In many ways The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword felt like a comfy old robe. You know what you are going to get; good gameplay, exploration, adventure, and an annoying sidekick. Like many of the games on this list it will be one that I will find time to sneak in between other games in order to finish everything and explore fully. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is my pick for Wii exclusive Game of the Year.
#8 Gears of War 3
Gears of War 3 showed that a well written story can make a game great. The gameplay was well honed already and Epic Games smartly used the beta make the gameplay even better. I liked their touch of using the save file of the beta to unlock things for players who bought the full game. It was really the story that did it for me. I had not played the first two Gears of War games much so the story arc was fresh and interesting to me. By the time I finished I felt like I had gone through it all with Marcus Fenix. Gears of War 3 is my Pick for the Xbox 360 exclusive Game of the Year.
#7 Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Deus Ex: Human Revolution was also a game where I had not played any other game in the series, but in this case it didn't matter as much. The story was set as a prequel with the characters not having much to do with any other Deus Ex game. With the exception of the boss fights, the ability to play the game any way you wanted made great. Sneaky and stealthy was the way I played most of it with only a rare run and gun scenario. You may have played it differently, that was the beauty of it.
#6 From Dust
This little game was a big surprise for me. Originally I didn't even think I was going to be able to find the time to review it, yet when I finally sat down it grabbed me. From Dust looked beautiful and pulled at your emotions to try to save all the tribes people, but the puzzle elements really did it for me. Simple to learn, yet hard to master. Here was a game that made you a god over a lost tribe, yet you still had to work with mother nature to help them find their way.
#5 Portal 2
When an afterthought game becomes a huge hit, most companies will push out a similar sequel just to cash in. Not Valve. They took the core team from the first Portal game, went back to the school they found them at and hired fresh graduates. Then they paired them up and let them take their time. The result, Portal 2, is something familiar and yet new. You were still thinking with portals and still dealing with deadly (yet humorous) A.I. constructs, but now you had new tools for new puzzles and a deeper peek at the odd company that is Aperture Science. Not to mention the fun to be had in co-op mode figuring out puzzles together or tricking your friend into a trap.
#4 Driver San Francisco
Driver San Francisco was fun. Lots and lots of fun. The unique out of body element made Driver San Francisco. It allowed you to switch cars on the fly, cover large distances of the city, and essentially be in two places at once. But the true fun was in the truth of its name; you were the Driver and everything was based on that. The developers didn't try to emulate other open world sandbox games they put their own spin on it. Frankly writing about it right now makes me want to put the game in and play for a few hours.
#3 The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was going to be the game of the year, but then it took an arrow to the knee. You know a game has something going for it when a throw away non-player quote becomes a huge internet meme. Skyrim will be a game that I will play for the next year or so and still not be done with it. There is a seemingly endless supply of side quests, without even touching the main storyline, and Bethesda hasn't even talked about putting out extra downloadable content yet. At the time of my original review there were a few entertaining glitches (dragons flying backwards anyone?), but a current one has hobbled the game a bit. Even with that, I will keep coming back for more. If it weren't for the glitches Skyrim could have been my game of the year.
#2 Uncharted 3
For a game, Uncharted 3 is one of the better movies I've watched this year. Naughty Dog should be very proud of Uncharted 3. They have managed to make a game that really gave the feel of an action movie. To the point where I have not realized a cut scene has ended and the game has given control back to me. Not to mention all the extra animation and motion capture to make moving look as organic and real as watching actors on the screen. Speaking of actors, if Hollywood does not hire the entire voice cast to act in the movie version of Uncharted (yes the film rights have been bought up) they will be doing the franchise a great disservice. It was really a tough call to pick this as my #2 game. Uncharted 3 is easily my PlayStation 3 exclusive Game of the Year.
#1 L.A. Noire
How good was L.A. Noire? The week I played it, I went into work on many days with only four hours sleep. I found time to play it after i finished my review of it. I finished every case, every piece of downloadable content, every side mission, every single achievement earned. I wrung out everything I could from L.A. Noire until there was nothing left. Sadly there will be no more because of internal strife and development costs, the development studio behind it, Team Bondi, is no more. The top notch acting, the special facial animation technology that was developed specifically for this game, and a story that kept a mystery thread going through almost all of the cases made for another game that played like a movie. Because this was a game that I could not put down L.A. Noire solidly earns my Game of the Year for 2011.
Due to only being able to review one game a week many worthy games were briefly played, but I was not able to fully review. Of these I will mention a few that deserve an honorable mention and should be worth your time. At the top of the list is Batman Arkham City; Rocksteady has proven again that they know what makes a good Batman game. Goldeneye 007: Reloaded, while it is strange to have Daniel Craig in Pierce Brosnan's James Bond the game is an excellent retelling. Saints Row the Third is Saint's Row II with the outrageousness turned up to 11 and the knob snapped off. Some games took new elements and challenged player with them. Gunstringer for the Xbox Kinect proved that "controller-less" can be made into high quality games. SpaceChem showed that fake science could make for some brain twisting puzzles. Trauma continued to fuel the games-as-art debate with beautiful photography mixed with a healthy dose realistic graphics and unique puzzles of its own. And Bastion took narration into a new angle when it only told the story as you played it.
Lastly, I want to thank you, dear readers. If not for you I would not be doing this. Because of you I was able to help create and produce an on air special, "Generation Gamer: Life Plugged In." The first of many I hope. You keep reading and I will continue reviewing games to help you make informed decisions about which ones are worth your time. Thank you all.