2011 was a year of extremes for me, both in games and in life. I'll stick to the games here, since my personal life isn't worth wasting valuable internet real estate on. There was very little middle ground as far as my opinions went—I either loved it or hated it. Since everyone comes to me to feel good about themselves, I'm going to focus on things I actually liked.
I'm writing this about a month into 2012, simply because I will have a monopoly on the "best of 2011" market now that all the others are out of the way, and most certainly not because of general laziness. Nope. Anyways, here are my top 10 for 2011.
A charming little game for the DS, Monster Tale exemplifies everything associated with the term "Metrodvania" which also incorporating a nice pet sim for good measure. I'm a sucker for good 2D platformers with good bosses, so this earned a thumbs up.
The only indie on this list. Frozen Synapse scratched a turn-based strategy itch that hadn't been scratched for some time. Deep and often intense, it falls squarely into the "easy to learn but hard to master" category.
Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad
Gritty war games usually turn me off, but this one really grabbed me. Set during one of the most bloody battles in history, Red Orchestra 2's minimialistic attitude provides some of the most visceral multiplayer gameplay I've ever seen.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
I had never played the original Deus Ex: Human Revolution, so going in I didn't have much of a basis for comparison. What I got was a great stealth game and a fascinating world to play in. It didn't go as far as I would have liked in terms of its story and how it deals with moral ambiguity, and the final two hours are god awful, but I still enjoyed most of the rest of my time with it.
Batman: Arkham City
The follow-up to the fantastic Arkham Asylum, Rocksteady essentially made the game that Crackdown always wished that it was. Batman: Arkham City is the best superhero game ever made, even taking into account it's surprisingly awful writing.
Revival. Nostalgia trip. Blast from the past. Call it whatever you like, but Rayman Origins is a flat-out beautiful game in every way possible.
Atlus can always be counted on to provide something unique, and Catherine s no exception. A block puzzler crossed with a dating sim, Catherine was noteworthy simply for dealing with themes not often seen in games, and it was a lot of fun to boot.
Portal 2 did everything I could have possibly wanted, and added some of the best co-op play I've ever seen. Valve always seems to be the ultimate tortoise—they take their time, but they (almost) always win.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Buggy? Yes, but not nearly to the point of being unplayable, unless you had the misfortune of playing on the PS3. Derivative of past Elder Scrolls games? You bet, though that isn't a bad thing in the slightest. After the mild disappointment of Oblivion, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim sucked me in like no game has since Morrowind. And much like that 2003 classic, I actually had to cut myself off from it for the sake of getting other things done, otherwise I'd probably be well over the 100 hour mark by now.
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
The single best use of the DS hardware I've ever seen, the latest game from the minds behind the Phoenix Wright games is more than worth of the title "classic". Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is one of the best adventure games I've ever played, and a surprise winner of my GOTY. If you have a DS, please try it out. I highly doubt you'll be disappointed.
Lifetime achievement award for anything and everything:
Team Fortress 2
Just recently I passed the 700 hour mark for Team Fortress 2, quite possibly the most time I have spent with any one game. Watching the past this game has taken in the 4+ years since its release has been fascinating, watching it grow from "long-anticipated update to multiplayer classic" into "America's favorite war-themed hat simulator". The mere fact that the internet is still talking about it is a testament to its success, and the countless memes and in-jokes associated with it speaks as to its wider impact in general. It's one of those games, like Super Mario Bros. or World of Warcraft, that is so tightly woven into gamer culture that it will never be forgotten, and that is why I am choosing to bestow upon it this made-up award that means nothing. Valve, you're welcome, now get back to work making Meet the Pyro and Half-Life 3.