You don’t need to listen to some of the podcast deliberations on the site to realize that 2011 has been one of the finest years for gaming in a long while. The year had downloadable titles like Bastion sit next to or above high profile retail games like Portal 2 and surprises like Rayman: Origins and Saint’s Row: The Third. The seldom appreciated and often dust ridden Wii was graced with the latest Nintendo dungeon adventure of Zelda: Skyward Sword.
With all of those games in mind, we locked ourselves in a Google Document and threw emails at each other until we came up with a list of Vagary.TV’s games of the year. Enjoy.
The Don Parsons Award for Best Flying Game: Ace Combat Assault Horizon
By: Don Parsons
2011 was a stellar year for flight combat game enthusiasts (see: Me). From the great story-telling of Air Conflicts: Secret Wars to the fantastic plane modeling and dog-fighting of Jane’s Advanced Strike Fighters, there was one that really stood out. Ace Combat: Assault Horizon exceeded all expectations, and not only delivered some great combat in the skies, but also gave us an epic and cinematic story. As if that wasn’t enough, it actually had people playing the game online. Both other games had online modes but, sadly, not a soul could be found playing them. Assault Horizon blew me away with its presentation and deserves to be called the Flying Game of the Year.
Best Xbox 360 Exclusive: Gears of War 3
By: Chris Scott
No other series, sans Halo, means as much to the Xbox brand as Gears of War. Knowing that, developer Epic Games had a lot of weight on its shoulders for the finale of the Gears saga to begin with, and Microsoft’s first party lineup of games in 2011 was oddly devoid of many big name games.
Fortunately for both Epic and Microsoft, Gears of War 3 not only delivers on the expectations for the series, it handily exceeds them. The single player campaign, which is also playable in four player co-op, is the best in the series and actually delivers some emotional characterizations to characters many people thought had none. Horde mode was drastically remodeled and delivers one of the best co-op experiences this year and is complimented by Beast mode, an incredibly fun reversal of the Horde formula. The competitive multiplayer is deeper, more balanced, and more fun that it has ever been. Additionally, the game controls better than ever, the new weapons are a ton of fun, and it’s more visually improved and diverse than any Gears game to date. Everything about Gears 3 feels incredibly polished. No game offered the complete package that Gears of War 3 did but, most importantly, it was a hell of a lot of fun to play.
Best Playstation 3 Exclusive: Uncharted 3 Drake’s Deception
By: Kyle Baron
Uncharted 3 had plot holes and some contrived sequences that existed in service of gameplay, but none of that even entered my mind when I was playing it. Nathan Drake’s latest and possibly last venture on home consoles is a technical marvel that has you travelling across the world through acrid tombs, under the glaring suns of deserts, and through the often exploding and crumbling action set pieces of ocean liners and ancient castles.
Beneath all of that, Uncharted 3 tells a subtle yet pervasive story of Nathan as a man who is always close to what he wants while he’s about to lose everything else in the process. In and out of all of the gunfights, we see that his love for adventure and treasure is threatening to take the ones he loves away from him; it might be a narrow escape by a friend or the love of his life mumbling about her wedding ring, but that underlying battle is what stuck with me until the end of the game. Uncharted 3 beat out Infamous 2 for this award by one measly vote, and that really speaks to the level of emotion that both games subtly meter out with great effect.
Sure, the Playstation Network outage was an absolute mess, but Playstation 3′s had a great year for great exclusives.
Runner Up: Infamous 2
Best Shooter of the Year: Battlefield 3
By: Don Parsons
The battlefield for modern shooters was rough in 2011. There were two camps split down the middle, with a small margin enjoying both Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3. After our staff voting, there was clearly one winner: Battlefield 3. While not a bad thing at all, most people feel like Modern Warfare 3 is just “more Call of Duty,” whereas Battlefield 3 took what made Battlefield: Bad Company 2 great and expanded it.
Everything that makes the Battlefield series great is here. The Conquest and Rush game modes, developer DICE-designed maps [that are always amazing], squad-based teamwork, and epic vehicular combat are all great. There’s also been a few changes that are just grand enough to stand out and make this feel like a step forward instead of the “same old thing.” The biggest of those changes is to the weapon progression system, which has kept me personally invested for dozens of hours. Smaller things like jets and being able to go prone also enhance this beautiful collective package.
Runners Up: Gears of War 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Game of the Year: The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim
By: Tony Odett
Over the past few years, I’ve developed what I like to call “video game restraint.” When I was younger, time seemed to disappear when I put a game in my console. I’d forget to eat and sleep. I’d think about the game I was obsessively playing while at work that day, while of course trying to function on the three hours of sleep I had gotten because I had needed to beat just one more level, complete one more quest, or take one more city. But then I became an adult with a wife, kids, and a big boy job. My gaming obsession was curtailed, and those feelings of addiction were forever lost. Even Mass Effect 2, which I thought was the best game I had ever played, found itself chopped into two hour increments, and never played past 1:00 a.m. I was until complete control.
The real crux of a game, the thing that really matters, the most important factor for anyone isn’t storyline or graphics. It’s not even gameplay. No, the most important quality a game has, deep down, is how playing it makes you feel. Skyrim makes me feel like a kid again. It takes me back to a place in my life I had thought gone forever, where time melts away and I am lost in a new, amazing world. Skyrim has moved me from jaded disillusionment to utter gaming joy. With deep lore, an addicting leveling system, loads of quests, and the deepest, most populating gaming world I’ve ever seen, I give you Skyrim, Vagary’s 2011 Game of the Year
Runner up: Super Mario 3D Land