While it may not have innovated much on top of what the original provided, Dead Space 2 successfully re-created the sheer horror of being left for dead in deep space. Terrifying, dreary, and dark, the game's atmosphere is once again the star of the show.
While some critics wrote L.A. Noire off as an overall disappointment, I refuse to overlook the game's jaw-dropping motion capture technology called MotionScan. It added an entirely new dimension to the game's characters, dwarfing most other game performances in the process.
Say hello to the best game of the year that you most likely didn't play. Shadows of the Damned was fresh, funny, and combined the talents of some of the heaviest hitters in gaming--but for some reason failed to garner any commercial success. I still remain shocked over its lack of success, but Shadows of the Damned is without a doubt the sleeper hit of 2011.
I think Human Revolution is this year's biggest pleasant surprise. Of course the Deus Ex brand has a mostly positive reputation, but Human Revolution really came together in almost every way possible. Mixing equal parts Metal Gear Solid and Mass Effect and set in a "Blade Runner"-esque world, Human Revolution is a blast to play no matter which way you decide to approach it.
Gears of War 3 completely revitalized the franchise for the better, offering a complete package for gamers. A compelling campaign, addictive multiplayer modes, and Horde 2.0 made for the best Gears yet. Perhaps the biggest surprise in Gears 3 was the emotional storyline that humanized the characters more so than in games past.
Oh, Nathan; the situations you find yourself in. Nathan Drake's third adventure was also the most insane, with our hero narrowly escaping dicey situations within an inch of his life on a regular basis. Of course the game is totally worth a playthrough, but at some point the beauty fatigue starts to set in, making me wonder "how will they top this next time around?"
If you look at the Wii's entire life cycle like a sandwich, two fantastic Zelda games are the bread. It seems only appropriate to have Skyward Sword unofficially close out the Wii's run, only because it's probably the best game to ever grace the platform. Gorgeous graphics, expert level design, and the closest thing we'll ever get to one-to-one sword control all came together in this instant classic.
3. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
It'll be tough to find a better value this year in a game, especially considering that Skyrim's developers have said the game can technically go on "forever." Skyrim offers an enormous map to explore, with countless quests to pursue and dragons to slay. Just don't expect to breeze through this one; Skyrim should keep you busy for months.
As funny as it is cerebral, Portal 2 gave gamers exactly what they wanted out of the follow-up to what developer Valve originally included as a bonus add-on to 2007's The Orange Box. The cult-classic turned mainstream success story presented us with new mind-bending levels, great celebrity voice performances, and a fascinating storyline. All this combined with impressive an co-op mode and a healthy amount of DLC makes Portal 2 easily one of the year's best.
Possibly one of the most hyped games in recent history, Batman: Arkham City had pretty big shoes to fill. Not even scoffing at the pressure, Rocksteady Studios made it look easy by delivering a bigger and badder Batman game with five times the amount of explorable space. Arkham City makes gamers feel like they are in fact the Dark Knight themselves, completely nailing the atmosphere, gadgets, top-of-the-line production values, and acting performances. On top of that, the game is an absolute shrine for Batman loyalists, creatively incorporating most of the Batman universe into the various modes of play. Finally, the replay value here is among the best you'll find in gaming, providing tons of content for players to unlock and discover--and more DLC is still coming down the pike. It's engaging, thrilling, totally satisfying, and without a doubt my pick for 2011's video game of the year.