Top Games of 2011


Advocate Editorial Staff

It’s that time again! The end of the semester is within an arm’s reach. You (presumably) got a decent price for those textbooks, and are ready to kick back for some quality time with your game system of choice. The problem is that there are so many awesome games out there, and it can be tough, even for a seasoned gamer, to distinguish the cream from the crap. For that reason, we’ve compiled a tidy list of the best games of 2011.

Before we begin, here are some quick ground rules:

  • Obviously, the game must have been released in 2011. Games that were in your backlog don’t count.
  • The games must have been sold at retail for PC and home consoles. We’d be here all day if we could include arcade and mobile games.
  • And that’s it! See, I told you they were quick.

Stephen’s Pick – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Today’s world is all about choice.  Whether it is our cars, computers or cell phones, consumers are all about choosing exactly what they want their experience to be. Thanks to Rockville-based Bethesda Game Studios, video game enthusiasts also have a choice when it comes to gaming experience.

Many game franchises have caught on to gamers’ desire for customizability, Call of Duty’s custom classes being a good example.  The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, released on November 11, is truly a game of choices. However, what sets Skyrim apart from other big blockbuster games released this fall is that its customization extends to every element of game play, not just the color of your gun.

Many role-playing games require the gamer to choose a class of character at the beginning of the game, whether it is a heavily armed warrior or a physically weak but still powerful mage. In Skyrim, the player’s class evolves as the game progresses. Instead of choosing what your character’s area of expertise up front, the more you engage in a certain activity, the better you get at it.  This allows the player to experience many types of play style without having to create multiple characters and redo the same beginning content over and over again.

Maybe playing multiple characters is your thing, though.  After all, with 10 races to choose from, why choose only one?  Chances are you would still not have to play the same content multiple times, unless you wanted to. This is because in Skyrim the world is completely open to exploration, including the mountain ranges, which in many similar games are just there for decoration.

More importantly, the quest progression is completely open as well. While the main plotline of the game revolves around the return of a dragon prophesized to mark the end of time, it is completely practical to ignore that part of the game and still feel fulfilled.

Talking with people you interact with throughout Skyrim, which is both the title of the game and the name of the land you are adventuring in, is how you discover the majority of quests. Because of this, it doesn’t matter whether after the initial scene you decide to travel north, south, east or west. The choice is yours.

Your experience exploring will undoubtedly be improved by traveling on a horse. How you get that horse, is another example of doing things your way in Skyrim. If you want your character to be the honest type, speak with a local stables owner about purchasing a horse; or just steal one.

One of the big improvements over the previous game in the series, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, is how crime is punished. In Oblivion, after committing a crime in one town, guards on the other side of the world would magically know what you did and attack you for it. In Skyrim, crime is punished locally, so your misdeeds in one area of the map will not negatively affect your reputation in another town.

Taking this realism further, making sure no witnesses to your crimes are left alive is another effective method of keeping a good reputation in your travels. In Skyrim, if no one sees you do it, it never happened.

While these are definitely welcome improvements over Oblivion, it is important to note that thievery is not necessary to enjoy the game.  Making money to purchase items, including horses, is not hard to do. So if you are opposed to stealing and want your character to share your moral sentiments, once again, the choice is yours.

Regardless of the choices you make, Skyrim is not a game that you will beat the day you purchase it, leaving you feeling like you didn’t get your money’s worth. In initial previews, Bethesda boasted Skyrim would have 300+ hours of game play. After almost a month of enjoying the game, it has become clear the claim was not an exaggeration.

Brooks’ Pick – Portal 2

It may have come out waaaaaaaaay back in April, but our second science-filled romp through Aperture Laboratories is an easy choice for top game of 2011. Last semester’s readers might even recall that I dubbed it one of the best games of this console generation, and with good reason.

Portal 2 is everything you could want in a sequel, and more. Valve took what was good about the original and used it as a solid base, rather than a crutch. It would have been easy to throw together a bunch of puzzles and cake jokes, and call it a day. What we got instead was one of the most interesting, well-acted and just plain fun stories in recent memory.

New additions, such as the physics-based gels and light bridges, are perfect additions to the already stellar puzzles.  The plot twists are enjoyable surprises, rather than unnecessary WTF moments, and J.K. Simmons shines as Aperture founder, Cave Johnson (Lemons are the new black. Cake was so last year), who legitimately is one of the greatest game characters of all time.

In addition to the single player campaign is a full-fledged co-op story, starring fan favorites, Atlus and Peabody. Some seriously mind-bending puzzles do their darnedest to test you and your buddy’s friendship, whether through split screen or online. But, like all of Portal’s puzzles, the satisfaction of completing them is immense, perhaps doubly so, because they require teamwork and coordination to succeed.

In a console generation defined by sequels and one year development cycles, Portal 2 is a welcoming breath of fresh air. Unlike other publishers, most notably Activitision, who push developers to pump out games on extremely short dev times, Valve took three years to create a rich and unique experience. Every last pixel was crafted with care and attention, and with it Valve not only continued their reputation as one of the best companies in the gaming industry, but broke the mold of rehashed sequels that saturate the market. I can honestly say that playing Portal 2 is the most fun I’ve ever had playing through a game.

Whitney’s Pick – Batman: Arkham City

Batman.  Girls want him.  Guys want to be him.  Well…maybe, maybe not.  Developer Rocksteady gives us all a chance to get one step closer to the Dark Knight.  October saw the release of Batman: Arkham City, the best Batman game and possibly best game of the year.

A follow-up to 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum, Arkham City expands upon everything its predecessor got right.  The new game gives players access to an open-city environment in which you can guide the caped crusader through the streets of fictional Arkham City.  Gliding effortlessly and zip-lining across rooftops has never been more satisfying.  Add in an improved Freeflow combat system introduced in the first game, and you have a recipe for the best superhero game ever.  Arkham City makes Asylum look more like a demo in comparison.  Story, gameplay and production are all cranked up to 11.  It’s everything one could want from a sequel.

The single player campaign will last around 12 hours of gameplay.  While that may not sound like it’s worth all the praise, there is more meat on the bone after the main course.  While lacking any multiplayer (Batman was always more of a loner), the fun does not end when the credits do.  Riddler challenges, unlockable bonuses, challenge maps, additional character stories, DLC, the list goes on and on.  Replay value is key to any successful game and Rocksteady latest is ready to unlock the door.  Gamers want more bang for their buck, and Arkham City delivers that bang in fantastic fashion.

Production value is topnotch all throughout the game.  Stellar voice acting, headed by Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy, breaths life to the characters in the game.  Cinematic action and clever twists moves the story along to give players a satisfying conclusion to the caped crusader’s latest offering.  The game also boasts some of the best visuals I have seen in any game.  The dark environments are littered with gorgeous architecture and dramatic lighting effects.  Character and building texture look phenomenal.

Batman: Arkham Asylum is arguably the best video game based on a comic book and a worthy contender for game of the year.  The improvements on an already outstanding formula make for an experience any gamer can appreciate.  Batman fans will be treated to one of the best renditions of the Dark Knight ever, but anyone who appreciates video games will find a polished, satisfying adventure.