The Best Games of 2011 Part 1

That time of the year again, I’m going to bore you all with extremely lengthy word-filled posts about my favourite games of 2011 by achievement, genre, platform and an overall winner. It should be fun, 2011 was filled with plenty of memorable games spread across all platforms. This also means that it was quite hard to sift through and pick winners, in part one I cover the following categories:

Best Visuals (Technical) of 2011
Best Visuals (Artistic) of 2011
Best Story of 2011
Best Original Score of 2011
Best Original Theme of 2011
Best Sound Design of 2011
Best Voice Acting of 2011
Best Online of 2011
Best Moment in a Game 2011
Best Character of 2011

Winner: Battlefield 3
Runner-up: Uncharted 3 – Drake’s Deception

DICE have done it with Battlefield 3, the PC version has the best visuals you’ll see this year (or at least in my opinion, hence me awarding it to this game). Everything about the technical prowess in the highly anticipated first-person shooter is stunning. If you own a top-end PC, then you owe it to yourself to pick this up. The effects and the scale just leave your jaw on the ground for most of the game, and then you get them in multiplayer with sixty-four players. Brilliant. Granted the console versions drop the bar significantly, but when it comes to PC it is hard to look beyond it.

The PlayStation 3 is still a power-house, Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 3 really proved that point once again. Uncharted 3 managed to add just the right amount of shine to the already impressive engine that powered Drake’s second outing, and with such varied locales we got a lot of eye candy throughout this game. From escaping eye-poppingly gorgeous chateaus to navigating carefully across a wonderful detailed (and capsizing) ship, the stuff that Naughty Dog have made Sony’s console do is plain downright impressive, earning this game a worthy runner-up.

Winner: Legend of Zelda – Skyward Sword
Runner-up: Marvel vs. Capcom 3 – Fate of Two Worlds

Personally, I was in love with the artistic flair of Link’s latest outing the moment it was revealed at E3. It called my mind back to the eye-candy that was Wind Waker but also added in a pinch of the Twilight Princess inspiration to the mix, making for a wonderful combination. The game bought a world of colour to life right in front of my eyes, and did so impressively considering it was only a Wii title. The water-colour-like art style never got tiresome to me, and I think that it nearly edged out Wind Waker as the most visually impressive Zelda I’ve seen. It will definitely date better than it’s predecessor did for me.

Capcom’s cross-over with Marvel was also going to have a fair kick to the visuals, but Marvel vs. Capcom 3 still blew me away. The way they worked the comic style that Marvel brings to the table and made it gel so well with Capcom’s video game roots was just plain astounding. There is always so much happening on the screen that sometimes my eyes feel over stimulated by the flashes of purple, pink, yellow, etc. People may complain about the overall quality of this release, but there is no doubting the visuals are beautiful to behold.

Winner: Deus Ex – Human Revolution
Runner-up: Xenoblade Chronicles

What’s this? Eidos managed to bring back Deus Ex without making a completely pathetic story. The franchise returned to form with Adam Jensen and his journey to take down some terrorists who have attacked the company that he works as head of security for. What follows is a tale of one man’s choice, who do you trust? Who will you side with? Is the human race ready for the progression that Sarif Industries are offering or should they be shielded from the potential that is offered? I found myself lost in Eidos’ cyberpunk world and the story really won the year for me.

Xenoblade Chronicles was a sign that the Japanese role-playing genre wasn’t quite dead, despite previous efforts trying to show the opposite. In fact, the story itself was a particular point of interest. It starts out in a traditional manner, before kicking up the intensity with a wonderfully paced story that rises and falls at all the right times. It was something that I had missed from the JRPG. Sure, some of the characters were less than interesting, but the overall story really satisfied my narrative-driven needs. Well done, Monolith.

Winner: Legend of Zelda – Skyward Sword
Runner-up: L.A. Noire

After years and years of waiting we were finally lucky enough to let our ears feast upon an orchestrated Legend of Zelda score. It hit every note perfectly and now I don’t think I can ever go back to having a MIDI soundtrack. The score carries you through a plethora of new music mixed in with hints of old classics here and there, making for a wonderful audio journey through new and old. I talked about my love for this game’s score in my review, but from the moment we discovered that the Ballad of the Goddess was Zelda’s Lullaby in reverse I think we all knew this score would stand above almost every other soundtrack from 2011’s offerings.

Hear me out. I’m a sucker for period drama. I’m also a sucker for anything set in a certain period (for example say… the 1940’s) and correctly creates an authentic world. This love also extends to music, and the score to L.A. Noire was spot-on. Jazz was the flavour of this soundtrack, as it was the flavour of the era. Composers, Simon and Andrew Hale, really did a fantastic job going that extra mile in dragging you into the period this game brings to life. The vocal tracks are also amazing, I could listen to this soundtrack all day and just be mellow.

Winner: ‘Icarus (Main Theme)’ – Michael McCann
Runner-up: ‘Dragonborn’ – Jeremy Soule and Julian Soule

Winner: Battlefield 3
Runner-up: Dead Space 2

Yes. Once again a Battlefield title runs away with my ‘Best Sound Design’ award, and honestly it is pretty much for all the same reasons. Last year I talked about how the amazing sound really immersed you into the heart-pounding combat. Bullets, explosions, reloading, jets, everything sounded so crisp and realistic. I can only imagine how it’d sound if you were using surround sound, may as well be in a warzone. DICE are the masters of sound design in the first-person shooter genre, and this year they once again crafted the most breath-taking audio atmosphere for simulating a warzone. Nothing quite matches crawling through the grass, bullets whizzing overhead, the grass crunching softly under your weight, everything is as it should be.

You remember Dead Space 2, right? It was the game that jumped the gun on 2011 by releasing in early January. Visceral Games went above and beyond to make sure you felt as uncomfortable as possible as you guided poor Isaac through Sprawl. Necromorph’s scrapping, wheelchair wheels squeaking, far-off voices whispering horrifying nothings to deceased friends or work-mates. This game set a new standard for scary atmospheres, harkening back to the uneasiness of curling up with a classic Silent Hill game.

Winner: Uncharted 3 – Drake’s Deception
Runner-up: L.A. Noire

I had some issues with some aspects of Uncharted 3, the voice-acting was still top-notch. The entire cast once again bought their A-game to the table. Nolan, Richard, Emily and Claudia were all top notch once again. And the new characters fit right in with the best, Kathrine Marlowe, Talbot, etc. Considering this time around the story involved a bit more drama than the usual action-packed Drake adventure it was great to see some of the voice actors push themselves that little bit extra. There were some wonderful scenes between Drake and Sullivan and Sullivan and Kathrine, etc. Definitely the strongest voice acting that gaming saw this year.

Thank god Team Bondi assembled a good voice cast for their period noire mystery game. It helped that a lot of the actors had actual acting experience, allowing them to take full advantage of the facial capture and maximise their performance. Aaron Staton was a real stand-out as Cole Phelps, he showed a whole new side of himself in his performance to what I had seen from him in AMC’s Mad Men.

Winner: Battlefield 3
Runner-up: Assassin’s Creed – Revelations

Despite some teething problems at launch, DICE’s first-person shooter flowered as the months progressed. If you have some patience then you’ll find countless hours of fun here, with friends or random players. I know some people prefer Mordern Warfare 3, but that doesn’t quite sit well with me. I tip the advantage to Battlefield 3 with vehicles and just the flow of the gameplay. Like Bad Company 2 previously you’ll always enjoy teaming up with three other squad-mates co-ordinating attacks and formulating strategies to hold key points on the battlefield. Don’t let the necessity for Origin scare you off, it is worth enduring for.

I remember shaking my head at the addition of multiplayer in Assassin’s Creed – Brotherhood, but I’m happy to admit I was wrong. It was edged out by some other games last year, but Revelations really was a smoothed-out multiplayer experience. Whilst the single-player lacked a lot of energy, the multiplayer kept me satisfied. Adrenaline pumps as you silently pursue your target through the streets, hoping that someone else doesn’t steal the kill and reset your mark. It makes for some hectic moments, especially as the matches reach their climax.

Winner: Legend of Zelda – Skyward Sword
Runner-up: The Elder Scrolls V – Skyrim

Considering that Skyward Sword’s place in the muddled Zelda timeline, it was naturally going to snag my favourite moments award. There were so many moments throughout this game where my cold, cynical gaming heart was warmed to its very core. Some of them are pretty spoiler-heavy, so honestly it is hard to dive too deeply into why this game won me over. But if you are a fan of Zelda’s questionable continuity then you’ll find a lot to love here. Guiding Link to become the hero he was destined to be is a pretty significant moment inside itself though, collecting everything along the way and piecing together a vague history of Hyrule along the way was just a delight.

Bethesda’s Skyrim scoops up the runner-up honours in this categories for being built of so many moments of gawking at the game and going ‘Woooooow’ or ‘Did I just do that?’ Bethesda knows how to build an open world game (though they may not know how to bug test them to the same capacity) and thus it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Skyrim is full of moments you’ll never forget. Anyone who has spent time with this game will likely agree, taking down your first Dragon, running like a sissy away from Giants, exploring the numerous dungeons and labyrinths. This game is built on over one hundred hours of moments, and honestly I’ll probably remember them for many years to come.

Winner: Wheatley (Portal 2)
Runner-up: Narrator (Bastion)

GLaDOS stole a lot of hearts when the original Portal was released several years ago with her sadistic insanity. Fast forward to 2011 and we were introduced to a new AI friend in the form of Wheatley. While he initially provides us with many laughs throughout the first half of the game he ends up becoming quite an interesting character in the second half of the game. Definitely a surprise when all I was really expecting was some more Portal puzzles with some classic GLaDOS moments. Wheatley definitely sticks out as 2011’s best new character.

You have probably played Bastion, if you haven’t played Bastion then you have most likely heard of it at least, which means that you probably know about the Narrator. The way his voice helps pave the path you walk on in Bastion was absolutely brilliant.\A role this important needs a strong voice, and they really nailed it with their choice. Honestly, I could play Bastion and just listen to him talk as I explored new areas as he describes what was happening to me. He may not be as deep of a character as Cole Phelps (L.A. Noire) or interesting as Vincent (Catherine) he was still a worthy runner-up in this category.

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