Game of the Year 2011: 5-1
It’s time to conclude our hunt for the Game of the Year for 2011. With such a range of fantastic games to pick from, it was a difficult choice, but the results are in. Agree or disagree with the outcome? Let us know in the comments.
5. Batman: Arkham City
You are The Batman: this is the one confounding emotion that permeates throughout Batman: Arkham City. Developer, Rocksteady Studios has done a superlative job of capturing what it is to be the world’s greatest detective. With a diverse array of gadgets, efficient stealth attacks and bone-crunching hand-to-hand combat, you’ve never felt so awesome. While its combat is simplistic on the surface, it constantly encourages you to dig deeper, brutalising your foes at a precise and satisfying rhythm while utilising a plethora of superb combat abilities. It only gets better once you take to the skies, gliding over this wretched prison for the insane; its streets and rooftops populated by a copious amount of activities. At times it can seem overwhelming, but the overall quality and commitment to the source material banishes any credulous ill-feelings. Whether it’s The Joker or Calendar Man, this is a rich, detailed Gotham, backed by superb voice acting and clever writing. The Riddler makes a triumphant return; side quests branch out into interesting, individual stories, and the core narrative ventures to unexpected and welcome places. Batman: Arkham City is a game oozing in quality no matter what you’re doing. You are The Batman, and you wouldn’t have it any other way.
4. Dark Souls
Perhaps once or twice a year, a game will come around that will be so compelling, so consistently impressive, that it becomes impossible to stop playing. It’s dangerous. And when you’re not playing, you’re thinking about it. Dark Souls is one of those games. Whether you’ve opened up a new area of the astonishingly beautiful world, or felled a Black Knight, your mind will always be focused on Dark Souls, Dark Souls, Dark Souls. It gets under your skin, it toys with your psychosis. You try not to give-in but the allure is too much. You become so enraptured you often forget you’re playing a videogame. Developers From Software have created a masterpiece.
The world of Lordran is a magnificent beast, one without loading times and filled with hidden passages and shortcuts, rare items and fearsome foes around every corner. Its scale is intimidating yet tameable, and beautiful at every angle, from the shanty slums of Blighttown to the sparkling brilliance of the Crystal Caves. Combat is slow but methodical, and wholly satisfying. Hundreds of fighting styles are covered with a wealth of weapons, magic spells and armor types – the choice is limitless, giving every player a unique experience. This is their adventure and their story, and the online only emphasises this notion of the lone adventurer, with revolutionary mechanics that create a fantastic sense of community, without damaging the game’s core philiosophy of single-player discovery. Dark Souls is the most rewarding game of 2011, and quite possibly ever.
3. Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Skyrim is the video game that core gamers dared to pray for throughout 2011, always confident that Bethesda would succeed in taking The Elder Scrolls up a gear, but with an air of caution. The fifth installment in this beloved series is by far the most ambitious and it’s nothing short of staggering to know that the console versions are running on the same hardware as 2006’s Oblivion. The introduction of dragons provides an oddly cinematic vibe makes Skyrim surprisingly comparable to Half-Life 2, whilst an overwhelmingly large world is animated in detail.
Skyrim is a virtual kaleidoscope that lets its players manipulate a world around them, simply because they can. For every moment of tranquility and reflection, there is one that questions our own morality. Skyrim is expression, freedom and most of all, discovery.
2. Portal 2
Valve faced a tricky challenge with the sequel to 2007’s universally adored short-but-sweet Portal: how could they possibly expand a two hour game into an experience meaty enough to overcome the first title’s single shortcoming, yet retain the punchy humour and bite-sized gameplay elements which defined the experience? One would assume that sacrifices would have to be made; but Valve is not one to compromise. Portal 2 is to Portal what Aliens is to Alien; what The Empire Strikes Back is to A New Hope; that rare occurrence of a sequel which both builds upon and surpasses its predecessor. With the freedom offered by a twelve hour running time Portal 2 is given a chance to develop and shine as new gameplay mechanics—such as the ingenious surface-modifying gels—coincide with the emergence far larger, more diverse environments and an excellent co-op mode.
Most impressive, however, is the way in which Valve has expanded the first game’s modest mythology into a narrative experience as exhilarating and character-driven as the best the medium has to offer. The passive-aggressive GLaDOS finally comes into her own, her background explored in a subtle fashion typical of Valve’s distinctive narrative methods. Portal 2 is mechanically clever, narratively masterful and emotionally engaging. But most of all it shows the power of an idea. Given a chance to flourish, the Portal concept has blossomed into a persistent cultural phenomenon which Valve handles with unprecedented love and care.
1. Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Of all the games of 2011, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is the one we’ve most uniformly enjoyed. After all, it stands at the summit of this list. But it’s place as the number one game of 2011 does not tell the full story. Its individual parts and pieces don’t fare well under heavy scrutiny, but as an experience, it cannot be topped. It’s a big, meaty cyberpunk adventure that whisks you to the neon lights of sci-fi lore. Sure, it might not be the most visually arresting game of the year, nor does it make a particularly powerful opening impression, but based on the lasting impact it leaves, Deus Ex is simply stunning.
As the return to a franchise that made waves at the beginning of the millennium, Human Revolution arrived saddled with heavy expectations. But it has won us over with its excellent narrative, pitch-perfect pacing and inventive RPG mechanics. Human Revolution becomes your adventure, and as I said in my original review: “you’re just a little bit sad when it all ends.”