Every December, we close out our year of coverage with our officially annual Platinum Chalice awards, choosing our Game of the Year and doling out accolades to the best games of the past 12 months. We won’t actually hand those out until next Friday, though; in the meantime, we’ve decided to unplug from the collective GamesRadar hive mind and take this opportunity to honor the games that really deserve it – which is to say, our personal favorites of 2011.
Personal GOTY: Killzone 3
A great game? Yes. A great shooter? Absolutely. Best game of 2011? For most of you, probably not. But for this long-time gamer, Killzone 3 was easily my most thrilling, pulse-pounding, and memorable experience this year. Now, keep in mind, I’m not the most hardcore shooter fan, nor am I a huge multiplayer aficionado. Killzone 3 stands out to me thanks to its extraordinary single-player campaign.
Like all the best Sony first-party exclusives, Killzone 3 delivers a character-driven experience that’s both highly polished and incredibly gorgeous. From the snowy mountains of Helghan to the planet’s lush Kaznan jungle, Killzone took me on a journey of immense beauty, which I then tore apart while piloting jetpacks, carving up the snow in the Ice Saw, and rocketing around in the Hammer, liberating buckets of blood from the Helghast using a variety of awesome weapons that all vary (and I mean, really vary) in everything from their heft to the damage dealt. Everything – from the gory eye-gouging melee attacks to the massive set-pieces – felt right in Killzone 3. Even the character interactions were among the most believable I've encountered, especially for a sci-fi shooter. It all comes together to deliver a fantastically fun game – my personal pick for favorite game of 2011.
Personal GOTY: Portal 2
As an unapologetic Batman fanboy, it pains me not to choose Arkham City here, as that game means more to me than I could ever have conveyed in a mere 2,000 word review. But Portal… is Portal. I would passionately recommend Batman to fans of the character and to fans of several genres, but I think literally everyone should play Portal 2. The experience transcends the usual videogame rules, tropes, and categories, to the point that I feel strange even comparing it with other competitors. It doesn’t seem fair.
That might come across as vague hyperbole, so I’ll be more specific. Portal 2 has the best storytelling, the best characters, the best writing, the best pacing, the best puzzles, the best level design, the best multiplayer, the best music, the best voice acting (including the best Nolan North voice acting!) and even the best Easter eggs of any game this year. Arkham City made me cheer, but Portal 2 gave me chills.
Above: This sealed the deal (also, spoiler)
Personal GOTY: Super Mario 3D Land
As much as I've been completely blown away by this year's deluge of mega-games and all their countless shit-the-bed-set-pieces of awesome this year, it's the pure old-school brilliance of Super Mario 3D Land that gets my special GOTY winner's handshake. It's everything I used to love about video games... IN A VIDEO GAME. Now. Today. In modern times. Not only that, it actually works straight out the box. There's no day one patch required to make the jumping work properly or anything stupid like that. Amazing but true.
What's really impressive is how my kids love it just as much as me. Not that such a thing should be a surprise, given that Mario turned a whole generation of younglings onto gaming over two decades ago. But I'm 30 years older than they are. Normally there isn't a whole lot of crossover in the games that we want to play. But Super Mario 3D Land is Nintendo at the absolute top of its game. It's for kids. It's for adults. It's as close to gaming perfection as I've played in a long time.
Personal GOTY: Batman: Arkham City
Arkham City’s first great moment happens a minute into the beginning: after awesomely beating the crap out of thugs without any of his Batman gadgets, Bruce Wayne casually dusts himself off. Immediately, the player understands the smooth, relaxed confidence with which developer Rocksteady has approached the sequel to its knockout first entry, Arkham Asylum. Rarely do you get such a strong feeling that you’re playing a game where the designers just absolutely know what they’re doing – they know what they want to give you, and they know how to deliver it.
Arkham City is huge. It’s stunning. It teases the brain and gets the blood pumping. No other game this year made it so easy for me to decide what to play: I had multiple games I hadn’t finished, but Arkham City just slid so easily into the disc slot. When I wasn’t playing it, I wanted to play it. Hell, simply the mechanics of traversing Gotham were enough to make the game fun – I’ve never experienced such smooth freedom as using turbo-charged grappling hook shots to launch over buildings and then glide/dive/glide in a rhythmic waving motion like the most Batman-y Batman gaming has ever seen.
Personal GOTY: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Longtime readers will know that, for me, open-world games are pretty much the apex of what games can offer – not just focused, linear fantasies, but coherent, convincing worlds to explore, prod at and generally do whatever springs to mind without fear of consequences. Interestingly, Skyrim offers both of those things, and that caught me by surprise.
Having been a huge, obsessive fan of Oblivion and Morrowind (but a Mac user when Arena and Daggerfall hit, sadly), I thought I had a good idea of what to expect from Skyrim: A big, breathtakingly pretty fantasy landscape filled with random fun things and quests in which I could lose myself for months at a time. I certainly got that, but I wasn’t expecting every dungeon I visited to be driven by its own story, or for the characters I met to be good for much more than cheap laughs at the expense of their dopey-looking faces. Or for the dragons to be such a thrill to find, fight and skeletonize, their forfeited souls pushing me to explore deeper and darker dungeons in pursuit of more words of power.
(I also didn’t expect that every silly history book I picked up, started to read and then “saved for later” could be automatically organized on shelves, thereby letting me inflict my real-life hoarding and OCD on the game world. That little innovation deserves more credit than it gets.)
Above: Also it is one of the finest examples of Asshole Physics I have ever seen
Assassin’s Creed Revelations? Saints Row: The Third? Fantastic experiences, to be sure, but I probably won’t be discovering new things in them a year from now. If my experience with Oblivion is any indication, though, Skyrim should keep me busy for about the next five.
Personal GOTY: Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary
I like Halo because Master Chief is cool. He has cool armor and is very strong, he could probably beat up anyone, even Superman. He fights the Covenant and the Flood and beats them because of his guns. Sometimes Master Chief uses a plasma sword though. The story is really deep too because Master Chief has to fight aliens like The Covenant and The Flood that want to destroy earth.
I really like that they made Halo for 360 because my sister spilled my Mountain Dew Game Fuel on my old Xbox and I can’t play it any more. Thanks a lot Sarah! Halo is really fun to play online too, but I can’t right now because Mom says I use too many swears when my headset is on. I don’t think that’s fair because everyone else’s mom lets them swear all the time on XBL. I like when Master Chief finally destroys the Halo and saves the earth. In conclusion you should play Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary.