2011 was an absolute blockbuster of a year in the video game industry. In a year pockmarked with hackers and security exploits, the gaming industry still managed to release several highly anticipated titles, many of which new entries in already popular franchises. In what I call the year of the sequel, this year’s Game of the Year contenders list is dominated by sequels to already huge franchises.
Here, I will weigh out why I believe these titles are worthy of consideration as the best title of 2011. I will also consider pitfalls and potential X-factors that make the title stand out. Then, I will reveal the winner and why I felt it deserves to stand atop the rest.
Child of Eden
Why it should be recognized: By far the most sublime Kinect (compatible) game available (and it can still be played via controller). It is an incredibly unique experience of a game that is absolutely euphoric in gameplay and execution.
What’s holding it back: At the end of the day, it is an evolved form of the classic Rez.
X-Factor: Even a decade past Rez, it remains one of a kind. It is still a music/puzzle/shooter that has the ability to captivate not only the player, but an audience.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Why it should be recognized: It was a smart game. There was always a variety of ways to tackle a situation be it assault, stealth or hacking. Often, I employed all three to get around. The story was intelligent and really sets itself up well as the prequel to the now classic original Deus Ex.
What’s holding it back: Good god the dialogue was awful. Cinematics and radio dialogue are usually ok and Jensen grows on you over the game, but street conversations with the dialogue tree were stiff and lacked any emotion.
X-Factor: Boss fights. Most hated the boss fights because it forced players to stray away from the creative thinking and just fight a boss till it dies. I thought the boss fights fit okay into the story, because I played the game from a more Metal Gear Solid style (stealth primarily, then it all goes out the window for boss fights).
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Why it should be recognized: The game is huge. And it’s a direct sequel to Oblivion, which was also huge. Combat is improved and you never run out of things to do.
What’s holding it back: Technical issues. As always, Bethesda creates an incredible world that is chock full of little glitches.
X-Factor: You get to fight dragons! And dragon shout.
Forza Motorsport 4
Why it should be recognized: Where Gran Turismo touts shiny car models and deep garages, Forza has always been about the driving. The physics model is incredible as always, the presentation is stellar with additions like Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson and Autovista (although I wish all cars had Autovista), and the career mode is easy to get into, yet incredibly deep.
What’s holding it back: While excellent, there are still moments where you say, I think Gran Turismo does X a little better.
X-Factor: Online has always been Forza’s strong point, with a vast community and a ton of customizability, Forza is untouched in this department.
Why it should be recognized: It was a landmark in moody storytelling with a heavy emphasis on dialogue and performance, hearkening back to old point & click adventure games. Team Bondi, despite their financial troubles and subsequent closure, put a lot of effort into making the details stand out.
What’s holding it back: It wasn’t much of a game. The outcome of Cole Phelps felt entirely pre-determined, rather than assuming his role. The few moments of gameplay that L.A. Noire had were brief and ultimately repetitive.
X-Factor: The facial capture technology alone is worth merit.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Why it should be recognized: It’s Zelda.
What’s holding it back: The tried and true formula is the game’s biggest blessing and greatest curse.
X-Factor: That it’s a Wii title and I specifically dusted off the sensor bar and bought a Wii Motion Plus for this title.
Why it should be recognized: The sequel to my Game of the Year from 2007 turned out to be surprisingly deep from a story perspective. The homicidal GLaDOS already has become a favorite villain after the brief 2007 first person puzzler, and Portal 2 brilliantly brings her (back) to life. Portal 2 builds on its success of having isolated puzzle challenges where players need to think outside of the box. Did I also mention it has a fully independent co-op campaign?
What’s holding it back: The first person puzzler isn’t for everyone.
X-Factor: In addition to GLaDOS, Portal 2 has a great new character in the effervescent, clumsy and misguided Wheatley.
Saints Row: The Third
Why it should be recognized: Not too long ago, Saints Row wasn’t much more than a Grand Theft Auto clone, the game has rapidly (d)evolved into an over caffeinated, hyper violent open world game with a penchant for crotch shots. And it has been wonderful.
What’s holding it back: The story, while good, was not up to par with the rise and betrayal of the Saints’ previous leader, Julius that took place over the first two games.
X-Factor: The characters. Pierce and Shaundi have gotten more involved since their turns as Lieutenants in SR2, the new characters are each incredibly eccentric and fit into the world just fine, and Johnny Gat has an important role in setting up the events of the game.
Star Wars: The Old Republic
Why it should be recognized: It has the best chance at dethroning World of Warcraft as the premier MMO of the next 5 years. Bioware has gone through great lengths to deliver an addictive, deep and polished product and their attention to detail pays off in spades from the start with voiced NPC interactions, unique origin stories and capturing the Star Wars universe, without encroaching on the film IPs.
What’s holding it back: Still too new, odds are it will change drastically over the next year.
X-Factor: The community. So far, the community has been fervent, so much so overloading queues to log in making the title incredibly popular.
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
Why it should be recognized: Easily the most cinematic game franchise ever created (topping even Metal Gear Solid). Nathan Drake has become a defining character of this generation and the game always urges the player to continue, just to see what happens next.
What’s holding it back: The formula might be getting a little old. The same thing happens with most games where the mechanics become a little stale. Uncharted makes up for this with insane scenarios, but the mediocre combat system is definitely showing its age.
X-Factor: Origin story! I really loved the story of how Sully and Drake came to be partners.