Personal GOTY: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
There aren’t many games where I can proudly tell people I’m a female warrior-werewolf-cannibal-mage-assassin who, on more than several occasions, has stopped to chase butterflies and munch on giant’s toes. For those uninitiated to the world of The Elder Scrolls, that sentence comes off as completely nonsensical, but for the rest of us who have entered Skyrim’s warm embrace and have yet to emerge, we greet each other with a nod and a shout.
Sweeping views, dragons to slay, seemingly endless possibilities for gameplay and a truly open world experience with an attention to detail that still surprises me, 40-plus hours in. It’s no wonder that it has my vote for Game of the Year.
Personal GOTY: Super Mario 3D Land
Wow. Just wow. I mean, Mario Kart 7 got my first ever GamesRadar 10, but this… it's an 11. Probably the best Mario game I've ever played, only really challenged by Super Mario Galaxy 2. I love the control, the graphics, the hidden challenges, the Tanooki Suit, the rock-hard Special Worlds, the music... This time last month, Nintendo was struggling. Now? They're about to have a phenomenal Christmas, and it's all thanks to the fat Italian guy.
And that's the other thing that strikes me when I play 3D World. Sonic Generations came out this year, and it was great. But Mario instantly highlights the gulf in control between the two characters when applied to a 3D space. Where Sonic stumbles and stutters around even the most basic platforms, Mario gracefully hops and vaults. The old problem of judging depth in 3D space is almost completely cured by the 3DS' 3D screen. And the box levels where you have to use the 3D to reveal the perspective trick are brilliant. Game of the year, above Skyrim, above Deus Ex… above everything. No question.
Personal GOTY: To The Moon
The game that took me by surprise this year was To the Moon, a point-and-click adventure that took only four hours to complete (in one sitting), but it was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had with a videogame. I’m a sucker for sappy stories in videogames (and old-school point-and-click adventure games), but To the Moon was more of an interactive experience that had a healthy balance of humor and touching moments that made me laugh one moment and then get all teary-eyed the next.
It’s great to see developers (or in this case, developer) challenge the way stories are told in his evolving medium, but what’s interesting is that the game’s director/composer/designer Kan Gao took a step back and went with a charming 16-bit art style and soundtrack. To the Moon proves that HD graphics, live orchestra recordings are not needed to tell a poignant and lasting story because plenty of emotion was conveyed via character sprites and repetitive piano melodies. The topics that the game delves into are also subjects that are not often found in videogames, so it was refreshing to play through a story that makes you question the content and ask yourself, “What would your life be like now if you had taken a different path?”
Personal GOTY: Shadows of the Damned
I may have played a few games this year that were "better" technically, but no game was as maniacally fun as Shadows of the Damned. The action-packed trip through the oddest hell ever conceived is at once a tribute to classic game design, Sid & Nancy, and the awesome power of dick jokes. If anyone tells you Japanese development is dead, they haven't played SotD.
Above: Look at that gun. LOOK AT IT
I loved that Suda51's brilliant ideas were tempered by the quality designs of Shinji Mikami and backed up by the eccentric music of Akira Yamaoka. I loved that the well-realized third-person shooter core (with some of the year's best boss fights) could at a moment's notice be replaced with perfectly random minigames. But most of all I loved the humor, which turned lowbrow dick jokes into an art form (the outstanding English localization deserves some of the credit there). It might not be all that replayable, but I won't forget the name Garcia F***ing Hotspur any time soon.
Personal GOTY: Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
All eyes were on Naughty Dog to see what they could do to improve the superb Uncharted: Among Thieves, and the way that they went about it was to simply go big. With everything.
The jaw-drop moments in Uncharted 3 are around every corner, and I found myself being hurtled through the game as my eyes were treated to one glorious set-piece after another. Every part of the boat level – from walking along the wonky deck to escaping the sinking ship – is delivered impeccably and looks spectacular. Even seeing the mass of stricken ships in a sort of boat graveyard provided a serious ‘wow’ moment.
Getting deeper into what makes Nathan Drake tick lays the foundations for an intriguing story and an adventure that I genuinely rate as one of the best I’ve had on PS3. Sure, the shooting is slightly hit and miss (HONK!) but even this fails to dim my love of the fun here.
There’s an argument amongst certain folk that suggests Uncharted 3 is light on gameplay, and feels more like an interactive movie instead. Well, that’s just great for me. From start to finish, the plot, dialogue between characters and the occasional puzzle bit provided more than enough entertainment along the way.
Add to this some surprising, ace new things like a Batman-style fighting system, that plane bit and the lonely trek across the desert, and you’ve got a stellar effort from Naughty Dog that sets another ludicrously high benchmark for all action games that follow. Uncharted 3 is an absolute no-brainer for my game of 2011.
And that's our personal favorite games of the year. Can't believe no one picked Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3? Or Deus Ex: Human Revolution? Neither can we! Feel free to weigh in on our choices and detail your own in the comments below.
The best downloadable games of 2011
Just because it’s not on a disc doesn’t mean it’s not great
The Top 7... Best games of 2011 (so far)
How the field of competitors looked at the halfway mark
The 100 most anticipated games of 2011
Were they worth the excitement?