BEST FACELIFT: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
You know a remake has done its job properly when it renders the original completely obsolete, and that's exactly the case with Ocarina of Time 3D. If you haven't played Ocarina recently, it looks and plays the way you remember. But if you actually compare the two side by side, the improvements are apparent in nearly every facet of the game. Not only does it obviously look much prettier, but the 3DS version completely updates the controls (and even makes some much needed tweaks to the Water Temple!), to the point where, when we tried to go back and play it on N64 (or the GameCube re-release), the older versions felt nearly unplayable by comparison.
We soldiered through the original on N64 for the sake of a striking screenshot comparison, which immediately revealed the level of effort and care that has gone into the details of every character and environment, many of which have been completely redone rather than merely touched up. Despite the graphical overhaul, though, it still feels completely faithful to the original, so even diehard purists won't find anything to fault. If you have a 3DS, there's absolutely no reason to ever go back to a previous release of Ocarina of Time – this is the definitive version.
Runner-up: Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition
MOST "OH SHIT" MOMENTS PER SECOND: Killzone 3
Other shooters might toss more bullets at you. Other action games might send more goons hurtling face-first into your meaty fists. Other racers might have faster (and, perhaps, furiouser) chases. But few games have such a ridiculous ratio of non-stop, adrenal-gland-squeezing, oversized set-pieces as Killzone 3. From our very first eye-gouging Brutal Melee attack to the final, world-destroying fleet battle, Killzone 3 never lets up.
It’s a gaspingly fast game: We were constantly sprinting from cover to cover, grabbing ammo on the fly, blasting away while back-pedaling through snowy mountains, lush jungles, and burnt-out urban landscapes. It’s a varied game: When not on foot, we sped about on souped-up sci-fi snowmobiles, rode shotgun on military hotrods, and soared around on jetpacks. But what really kept us shouting at the TV while clutching the controller were the game’s onslaught of against-all-odds sequences: leading a hopeless evacuation while ensconced in an EXO mech; raiding rigs in the icy seas while soaring around in the Intruder; battling the massive MAWLR, blasting away at the spider-like behemoth while desperately dashing from cover to cover. In Killzone 3, allies are always shouting, death is always looming, and something even more spectacular awaits around every bend. “Oh Shit,” indeed.
Runner-up: Saints Row: The Third
MOST POTENT VIDEOGAME CRACK: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Plenty of games have tried to be all things to everyone, cramming in as much cool stuff as they can in an effort to appeal to as wide a crowd as possible. A few have even succeeded, but none of them come to mind quite so readily as Skyrim. In just a few short weeks, it’s completely dominated our collective free time. Chatter about dragon encounters and dungeons is a daily, if not constant occurrence in our office. And a quick glance around the internet proves that we’re far from alone.
What makes Skyrim so impossible to put down? Well, it’s pretty, for starters, and it’s pretty in a way that makes us want to explore as much of it as possible. It’s also crammed to the gills with things to do; wander in any direction for five minutes or so, and you’ll find an excuse to go poking around in some monster-filled dungeon for magical words of power and/or “useful” items to clutter up your house. But perhaps more than anything else, it’s incredibly fun; the combat is addictive, the world is beautifully realized and we’re constantly uncovering cool new things. We can quit any time we want, but why would we ever want to?
Runner-up: Battlefield 3’s multiplayer
BEST NEW CHARACTER OF 2011: Wheatley (Portal 2)
They say that great artists can evoke strong emotions with the simplest brushstrokes. So what does it say about Valve, then, that the most memorable, show-stealing, emotive new character of 2011 is basically just a mechanical eyeball on a rail? With little more to work with than a few moving panels and a twitchy blue light, Portal 2 gave us a wildly expressive companion who was at turns sweet-natured, awkward, sinister and dangerously idiotic. When we try to think of the best thing about the game’s single-player campaign, Wheatley’s often the first thing that comes to mind.
Of course, a huge chunk of the credit belongs to Stephen Merchant (longtime collaborator of Ricky Gervais and co-creator of The Office), a master at delivering purposely uncomfortable, vaguely insulting banter. As Wheatley, he handed in a performance that ripped fan-favorite GlaDOS from her comfortable moorings and became the driving force behind the story, personality and sense of humor of one of the year’s most critically acclaimed games. No small achievement, that.
Runner-up: Missile (Ghost Trick)
CUTSCENES WE ACTUALLY WANT TO WATCH: Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
What? No! That’s just a speck of sand in our eyes. Yeah, that’s right. A bit of ground-down silica, blown about by the desert winds. We swear we’re not the type of gamers who get all choked up about a pair of dudes wandering the world in search of treasure. We’re waaaay too manly for that. But see, this is Uncharted 3. This is the story of a lovable, believable, everyman hero who – behind that smirk and beneath that snark – just wants to do right.
Sure, on paper this ripping yarn can sound a bit cliché: one part coming-of-age, a dash of derring-do, a heaping helping of smoldering rivalries, a smattering of romance, all wrapped up in a heartwarming conclusion that caps this trilogy in a sublimely satisfying way. But the story unfolds with such believability – in the voice-acting, in the scripting, in the animation – that we couldn’t tear ourselves away for an instant. And it’s also so seamlessly integrated that – true story – there were moments we sat staring at the screen as control was returned to us, so engrossed were we in the cutscene and so convincing was the transition back to Uncharted 3’s virtual world. Now, where’s that hanky? We’ve got some…sand in our eyes.
BFF AWARD FOR BEST SIDEKICK: Sully (Uncharted 3)
There are friends, there are mentors, there are father figures…and then there’s Victor “Sully” Sullivan. While Uncharted 3 delivers a dose of romantic tension via the on-again, off-again relationship between rapscallion Nathan Drake and plucky Elena Fisher, the real heart of this story is, undoubtedly, Sully. From the opening scene where Nate and Sully are once again scrapping against dastardly villains out to separate them from their precious goods, to the touching flashbacks to a 14-year-old Nate in his first troubled encounter with Sully, Uncharted 3 is a celebration of the unbreakable bond between these two men.
They have a lot to learn from each other, these two, but their relationship is never preachy. Quite the opposite, in fact: theirs is a bond forged with blood, tested with bullets, strengthened by danger. Indeed, the most gut-wrenching moments in Uncharted 3 come when Sully is in peril and Drake must come to his aid. Of course, Sully returns the favor, teaching Drake everything he knows, giving Drake the life of adventure he craves, and standing by his surrogate son no matter what the cost. By the end of Uncharted 3, Sully isn’t just Drake’s trusted partner in action, but the bestest friend a gamer could have.
Runner-up: Lydia (Skyrim)
You never forget your first. While some followers have proven to be more powerful or better fitting to our class, you, Lydia, will always remain close to our hearts as the homegirl begrudgingly sworn to carry our burdens, tank the enemies we were too weak to defeat on our own and be left behind when we eventually found a horse to gallop off into the distance. We accidentally killed you during a dragon battle outside of Winterhold one snowy day, but your memory will always live on in our hearts.