Make Canoe my Homepage

Top games of 2011

- January 4th, 2012

Bigger is not always better. And with apologies to the Goonies, “good enough” just isn’t good enough.

If there was a common theme to this year’s crop of video game releases, it was familiarity can breed contempt. As an avalanche of games with 2s and 3s in the titles cascaded over our consoles and computers in 2011, I found myself wondering if creativity had finally been sacrificed on the altar of cash.

With heavy-hitting franchises such as Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed committed to yearly installments, you don’t have to be a rocket surgeon to realize quality and innovation suffer when games become commodities, churned out to hit quarterly sales projections.

Sequels sell, sure. But in the end, how much are they really worth?

This year-end roundup of the best games of 2011 is not a list of the top-grossing, or even best-reviewed, titles of the year. Rather, it’s a look at the games that stuck with me, personally. The games that I like to talk about with friends, or think about when I’m not playing them, or that I know

I will return to later. Maybe next week, maybe five years from now.

Thus, there’s no by-the-book Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 or Battlefield 3 here – frankly, I’m tired of putting on fatigues. (Rimshot!) Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception and Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, while polished additions to their respective franchises, felt eclipsed by the body of work that came before them.

But even though I mourn the games industry’s chronic case of sequelitis, it was the FIFTH entry in a series that stood above everything else this year. Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Bethesda’s latest fantasy role-playing epic, blew my mind with its size, imagination and the sheer, staggering amount of content.

Though its bugs were well documented and it even spawned a popular meme (gang, can we please declare a moratorium on “took an arrow to the knee” jokes?), nothing could match Skyrim’s ambition, scope or bang for the buck.

Batman: Arkham City was a close second in 2011. Bigger and deeper than the original, it was one of those rare sequels that really did outshine its predecessor (2009’s amazing Batman: Arkham Asylum) in every way.

Meanwhile, Portal 2 filled in chunks of the fascinating backstory hinted at in the original Portal, expanded the game’s mechanics in new and interesting ways and gave us one of the year’s best two-player co-op modes.

The rest of the year’s best include sequels that overcame their flaws with fresh, thoughtful fun (Driver: San Francisco, Deus Ex: Human Revolution), downloadable indie games more memorable than some blockbusters with 100 times the budget (Bastion and the iPhone/iPad adventure Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP), an old-school reboot with gorgeous visuals and finely tuned design (Rayman Origins), a game so difficult it crushed players’ spirits yet made them come crawling back for more (Dark Souls) and an open-world action game that parodied the genre while also being a remarkable addition to it (Saints Row: The Third.)

There are a dozen or more other games that narrowly missed this list, including Super Mario 3D Land, Gears of War 3, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, inFamous 2, the indie gem The Binding of Isaac and The Witcher 2.

But the ones here were both bigger and better, went way beyond good enough, and will still be on my mind when we come back next year to do this all again.

Steve Tilley’s Top 10 video games of 2011

1. Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

2. Batman: Arkham City

3. Portal 2

4. Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP

5. Driver: San Francisco

6. Deus Ex: Human Revolution

7. Bastion

8. Rayman Origins

9. Dark Souls

10. Saints Row: The Third

Subscribe to the post

Leave a comment

 characters available