This past year we saw a lot of trilogies ending, but not over. A couple of new properties, but nothing extremely experimental, and consoles showing their age. I’ve gone through this list half a dozen times, adding and removing games because I’ve played everything you can think of. I made my choices based on whether or not aeffected me in a memorable way. Do I remember, not just having fun, but also feeling something new? These are games that had an impact on me this year. Here are my picks for the top 10 games of 2011.
I never got into the old Deus Ex, but I feel like nothing has changed, yet it works surprisingly well. The futuristic, retro cyberpunk world feels oddly believable. It sucks you in with medical corporate conspiracies and improbable computer interfaces that makes you wonder how the iPad can go horribly wrong. Human Revolution is the second action game I’ve played through and not kill a single person. The other game was Metal Gear Solid 4. The most fun I’ve had with a gun without killing someone this year.
The continuing adventures of Nathan Drake has us searching for buried treasure in the sand. But the real story is about Drake’s past and his motivations for doing what he does. The search for riches has become almost secondary to the stories about the people around Drake and his relationships with them. Gunfights against pirates and mercenaries are just an excuse to watch Nate and his friends explore picturesque locales as they deal with their own personal issues with one another. The way set piece after set piece have been strung together makes you want to get through it as fast as you can just to see what happens to Drake and company next.
Buy Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception: PS3
No.8 Portal 2
My girlfriend bought me this game. She had no idea what it was or how to play it. But I really appreciated it because it gave me the opportunity to play a game from beginning to end with my older brother. We’ve done co-op games before, but they usually involve more headshots than puzzle solving. The single-player story is no slouch either, but the co-op is easily some of the most fun I’ve had all year. I’ll never forget the satisfaction of solving test chamber after test chamber with my brother.
No.7 Mortal Kombat
Fighting games have never been my forté, but I’ve always had a soft spot for the Mortal Kombat series. The ninth Mortal Kombat game reboots the franchise in the best possible way. While the fatalities are better than ever and the fighting systems are tight yet accessible, the real kicker is the amazing single-player campaign. The Mortal Kombat story mode is easily one of the best-told stories this year. No one expects a fighting game to have a good story, let alone a great one. If you played the old Mortal Kombat in arcades and haven’t given it a chance in awhile, now is the time.
The premise was ridiculous: Turn a chunk of Gotham prime real estate into an open-air prison, and let criminals roam around with only a wall of snipers and cameras between them and the good people of Gotham. Only in a comic book someone in their right mind would allow this. Absurd setting aside, Arkham City makes for a great video game, because of its creative liberties. It makes an open world, not so open, but in a good way. It becomes a more directed and focused experience. Letting you be the best Batman you can be.
No.5 Pokémon Black and White
I grew up playing Pokémon. I’ve played every main-series Pokémon game, and the formula hasn’t changed. You’re a small-town boy (or girl), you get your first Pokémon from a professor named after a tree, and you travel from town to town battling gym leaders to become a Pokémon Master. Over 600 Pokémon later, it’s still a thrill to catch ‘em all. I get this feeling of nostalgia every time I go through a new adventure. I get flashbacks of playing Pokémon on my Gameboy in the high school cafeteria, and loving every minute of it. The only game this year that made me feel like an old jaded gamer.
Buy Pokémon Black and White: Nintendo DS
No.4 Dead Space 2
When Resident Evil went all action oriented, and less scary zombie focused, Dead Space took up the slack and put fear back into gaming. It’s sequel had less scares, but as much gore as a Saw film. The improvised space mining tools as weapons still feel substantial when used. No other game this year made shooting and dismembering something as satisfying as Dead Space 2 did.
Old fashion noire-style crime drama is beyond my Disney channel sensibilities. The closest thing I’ve played to gritty crime drama was the Max Payne series, another Rockstar favorite. Before the game came out, very little was known about the game. We all just assumed it was gonna be an open-world game set in the ’50s. Who knew that the studio who made the Grand Theft Auto series would publish such an amazing point-and-click style adventure game in 2011. They made interrogation a game, which sounds as boring as all those CSI/Law and Order games, but in the right hands, anything is possible. L.A. Noire is the only game on this list I’d recommend to anyone. Even if you don’t play video games, but if you you love a good crime dramas, find a console and pick this one up.
Saints Row: The Third is the definition of a video game. You play activities, to gain points, to do more activities. What sets this game apart from others is the ridiculousness of the conceits the game takes to make you go from one place to another. Why are you dressed as a priest, driving around with a pissed-off tiger in the passenger seat? Because Hulk Hogan is trying to toughen you up, of course. Why are you punching neon-colored fluffy bear mascots in the balls? Because you’re a contestant in a Japanese reality show, duh. In context, all of this makes sense, and that’s why Saints Row: The Third is the best example of what a video game is. Because despite the sheer insanity of it all, somehow, it all makes sense.
At this point I’ve played at least 100 hours. Not quite over the 200 hours I played the last Elder Scrolls game, but enough time to get all the achievements, and play through most of the faction quests in the game. But I want to go back, and just explore. And that’s why this game is on my list. Because even after all that time, I still feel like I haven’t seen everything, but more importantly, I want to see everything, because all of it is so god damn well made. No other game this year made me feel like an explorer discovering new lands.