Top 5 Video Games of 2011

Our video game reporter Matt Mann chronicles his top five gaming titles of the past 12 months...

I know some people have already made this argument and I don€™t normally go with the consensus but I have to say that this is most likely the best year ever in the history of gaming. I honestly can€™t remember a year in which there were so many games that were so good coming out at the same time. Usually what would happen is you would get a list of ten of the most anticipated games of the year and only five of them live up to the hype. Well this year I would say 9 out of the 10 games on my most anticipated list lived up to or exceeded my expectations. In all my years of gaming I can€™t remember a year where it was so difficult to pick just one game for game of the year. Last year it was easy there were basically only three games to choose from: Super Mario Galaxy 2, Mass Effect 2, and Red Dead Redemption. This year you have Uncharted 3, Zelda Skyward Sword, Batman: Arkham City, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Portal 2, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Dark Souls, and Witcher 2. And those are just the obvious choices; you then have about five more games that would be considered game of the year contenders any other year like Dead Space 2, inFamous 2, Crysis 2, Shadows of the DAMNED, or Gears of War 3. So to say that choosing a game of the year for 2011 was difficult is a huge understatement. Instead I am going to try and be a little different, I am going to list my top five games of the year and try to justify why I thought each of these game deserved to be on the list. Like I said I tend to be a little different when it comes to gaming, so my top 2 selections may come as a surprise, as I don€™t think anyone has them listed as game of the year candidates. Disclaimer: Like many of you out there I was not able to play every game that came out this year so if you don€™t see your favorite game on this list it might be because I didn€™t have time to play it. I didn€™t want to include games on this list I haven€™t played yet. In addition, there might be minor spoilers down below.

5. Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Of all the games I was excited for this year; Human Revolution was the one I thought had the biggest chance to fail. I mean creating a game that was supposed to be a pre-cursor to an eleven year old title is risky to say the least. But after beating it I have to say this is one of the best games released this year.

There were choices in this game I didn€™t know I had until I stumbled upon them. For example, when you are supposed to sneak into the police station, I found I could talk my way in and it was by total accident. The cyber-punk setting is one of my favorite settings that hardly ever gets used in video games anymore; and the gameplay came together better than anything I was expecting. The sneaking, talking your way out of a situation, and combat all worked together in ways I didn€™t even think of; which in turn increased the replayablity of the game. Human Revolution would actually be my surprise game of the year, considering what a risky undertaking this game is and how well it turned out it definitely deserved to be on this list.

4. Batman Arkham City

To me this is the perfect Batman game; some people prefer the more closed style of Arkham Asylum but to me gliding over Arkham City felt like I actually was Batman. Don€™t get me wrong this isn€™t a perfect game but it comes as close to perfect as you can get. To the point where I have no idea how Rocksteady can do anything in their next game that would top Arkham City. I only have a couple of issues with the game, one is I think some villains should have been featured a little more prominently like Two-Face, and I would have loved a return of Scarecrow. Second I felt the Riddler trophies and Riddles where not as well done as in Arkham Asylum. But those are basically the only two minor quibbles I had with the game; everything else was done almost to perfection at least for a Batman fan. In any other year this would probably be my game of the year but because of three other games released this year it just misses. However, in quite possibly the best year ever for video gaming, coming in at number three is no small feat.

3. Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

And now I have to run away from all the angry fanboys who are now throwing things at me. Look Skyrim is an amazing game that I have put many hours of my life into (and will continue to do so) it is going to win countless game of the year awards. Hell I have barely encountered any of the bugs that people have been complaining about with the game. Bethesda finally made the combat more enjoyable and I have to say Skyrim is one of the most beautiful games I have ever played. I am having a difficult time thinking about any issues I have with the game, I do feel like the lock picking mini-game got worse. Your lock picks break after three uses and their durability is carried over after every lock picking attempt. In addition, I wasn€™t as thrilled with the perk system as a lot of people are. For example, to earn certain abilities you have to reach a much higher level than you did in previous Elder Scrolls games. I never had to be level 60 to get the abilities I wanted, I would just assign points after every time I leveled up. Now I have to grind to get the abilities that I want; I just feel that is a step backwards for the Elder Scrolls series. Skyrim is the easy choice for game of the year but for me I like to take originality into the equation. I also like to look at gaming as a whole and see if there were games that helped push the medium forward in any way. And this year I found two games that were new IPs, took incredible chances in their game design, and in my opinion helped moved the gaming industry forward.

2. LA Noire

If you don€™t think this game was a risk to make, just consider the fact the company that made this game (Team Bondi) went under less than a year after the game was released. This is one of the most divisive games released this year; you either loved it or hated it. In addition, I would say LA Noire is one of the most important games released in the past five years. Look there is always going to be another Skyrim (especially now that it shipped 10 million copies) or Batman game. But five or ten years from now will we have another 1940€™s detective game that focuses on interrogation and detective work? I don€™t know but most likely not. For me, there was not another game this year where the setting actually had an impact on the game like LA Noire did. I loved the focus on a good 1940€™s detective story/gameplay, I loved a lot of the characters, and the setting was amazing. You actually felt like you were in the 1940€™s dissecting crime scenes. The interrogations while slightly flawed were still very well done and something unique to the video game industry. In addition, LA Noire focuses on one of my biggest issues with current games, facial animation. For me, one of the biggest ways to break the illusion that you are playing a game is to have what I like to call €œfish mouth€ facial animation (characters mouths open and close like a fish). Only a handful of games recently actually address this issue, the Uncharted series and LA Noire. LA Noire is also a hardcore game that you can introduce to people who only played games casually. The interrogation setup of the game is inviting to people who don€™t normally play games but love mysteries or detective stories. Yes the game has its€™ flaws like most games do (the game didn€™t really need to be open world), and it is definitely not for everybody (slower paced than most games) but games like this are why I love the video game industry so much. LA Noire was a really great game that had flaws that might have been worked out in a sequel had Team Bondi survived. Hopefully Rockstar revisits this franchise in the future and builds on the solid foundation of LA Noire.

1. Catherine

I loved this game, it was one of the most original games I played all year and not only that; chances are we will never see another game like it. What I just said about LA Noire is true tenfold about Catherine. A puzzle game with a story about relationships, sex, infidelity, and sheep with eight different endings depending on how you play it; if that isn€™t original I don€™t know what is. The puzzles in Catherine were some of the most challenging gameplay I have ever faced in my gaming life. However, the time I spent with the main character Vincent was some of the most fulfilling time I spent with a game character all year. The relationship questions this game asks and how we as a society view being in a relationship are some of the toughest questions ever presented by a video game. This game actually renewed my faith in Japanese video game development; which had focused a little too much on copying their western counterparts for my taste. This game breaks ground where almost no other game comes close, when people ask whether video games are art, the same games always seem to get mentioned Shadow of the Colossus, ICO, or Limbo; I would now add Catherine and LA Noire to that list. There you have it, my top five games of 2011, and I know 99% percent of you will disagree with my top two. However, in my defense when I look at this year as a whole you could make the argument Uncharted 3, Skyrim, Zelda Skyward Sword, Dark Souls, or Batman: Arkham City all deserve game of the year. So when I was making my decision for game of the year, I chose to give bonus points for originality and games that help push the video game medium forward and that is how LA Noire and Catherine came in the top two.
Want to write about Batman: Arkham City, Crysis 2, LA Noire, Gears of War 3, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Dark Souls, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Mass Effect 2, Catherine, Infamous 2, Portal 2, Shadows of the Damned, Dead Space 2, Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword, Super Mario Galaxy 2 and The Witcher 2: Assassin Of Kings? Get started below...

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I have been playing video games all my life but not only that I enjoy discussing them just as much as I love playing them. Therefore after going through college to get a criminal justice degree I became a freelance video game writer.