Remembering 2011: The Biggest Games That Turn 10 This Year
In The Year 2011
In many ways, 2011 was a massive game-changer for, well, the gaming world. With the handheld launch of the Nintendo 3DS, the earth-shattering release of The Elder Scroll V: Skyrim, and the much-anticipated launch of From Software's Dark Souls, the year raised the bars on action games, open-world adventures, in-depth role-playing experiences, and more.
In GameSpot's annual tradition of reflecting on games from decades past, we picked a select group of games from 2011 that made it a fantastic year for gaming. Simply put, many of the games you'll read about below helped set the gold-standard for game design and visuals for much of the 2010s. Along with our look back on how The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim captured the zeitgeist across the gaming world, we also look at how Dark Souls proved that the Souls-like experience was here to stay.
Be sure to check back with this gallery in the future, as we will be adding in more shout outs for the games of 2011. Organized by their respective western release dates, here is GameSpot's selection of the most noteworthy games of 2011, along with our thoughts on why they've stuck with us 10 years later. Below, you can find our previous roundups of games we love.
- Remembering 1998: Metal Gear Solid, The Legend Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Half-Life and more.
- Remembering 1999: Final Fantasy VIII, Silent Hill, Resident Evil 3, and more.
- Remembering 2007: Bioshock, Mass Effect, Uncharted, and more.
- Remembering 2008: Fallout 3, Metal Gear Solid 4, Grand Theft Auto IV, and more.
- Remembering 2009: Batman: Arkham Asylum, Uncharted 2, Borderlands, and more.
- Remembering 2010: Red Dead Redemption, Fallout: New Vegas, God of War III, and more.
Dead Space | January 25
I just replayed Dead Space 2 a few weeks ago, so I can say this with full confidence: If Dead Space 2 were released today, it would be a serious Game of the Year contender. It remains absolutely excellent.
In a time when horror games were few and survival horror had fallen out of favor, Dead Space helped to rekindle the genre with a sci-fi take on what Resident Evil had done years earlier. With Dead Space 2, though, Visceral Games found a perfect stride, combining the desperate, foreboding atmosphere of Dead Space with some thrilling set piece moments. Dead Space 2 manages to be terrifying and heart-pounding in equal measure, elevating the original without losing its essential qualities. And it's just brimming with memorable moments.
There's the opening sequence, in which you watch a man get turned into a hideous necromorph monster right in front of you. There's the apartment section, in which you can hear people screaming behind their locked doors, powerless to help, as monsters spread carnage throughout the space station. There's the Church of Unitology, where you find religious zealots willingly giving their lives to become inhuman creatures. There's the warehouse, where velociraptor-like monsters hide around corners, flitting about in your peripheral vision. There's the daycare, where you fight a horde of mutated children as they try to rip you apart on the stage of a play. And there's that thing where you have to guide a needle into protagonist Isaac Clark's eyeball--and the awful things that happen if you mess it up.
Lots of games mix action and horror, but Dead Space 2 does so with an incredibly clear vision, consistently great art direction, and level design that finds new ways to deploy its bag of tricks. It's equal parts explosive and subdued, creating terror by overwhelming you with chaos and making you worry because you're sure a creature is about to leap out of a wall--and then it never comes. Dead Space 2 is an excellent horror game, a phenomenal sci-fi game, and a frantic action game, and it masters all those things equally. Someone remaster this thing, please. Or better yet: resurrect the Dead Space franchise like the necromorphs that plague it. | Phil Hornshaw
Marvel vs Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds | February 15
Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 and Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3--an expanded version with extra content--are fantastic fighting games. Capcom managed to balance approachability and gameplay depth to present an experience that can be played as casually or as seriously as the player wanted. At all levels, however, it was fun, bombastic, and highly satisfying.
The fact that it is still played competitively today, and still has the capacity to deliver jaw-dropping comeback moments, is a testament to its gameplay. However, what really made the MvC3 games special was that they celebrated the respective properties the games were built on. That includes the lavish, comic book-style presentation that had comic book page turns as screen transitions, upbeat musical themes, or visuals that are vibrant to the point of blinding the player if things get a bit too hectic.
In every aspect, the game wanted its players to rest assured that it knew and respected the legacy of both Marvel and Capcom, and cared about it as much as the people playing. You only have to look as far as the special intros between characters before the battle begins. Some of these reference decades-old Marvel storylines and relationships in various games, and take the opportunity to point out amusing lines that can be drawn between the two properties. Deadpool, for example, shouts, "Welcome to die," when he faces off against Magneto, referencing an awkward line from a classic X-Men arcade game; Thor recognizes Amaterasu as a god when they square off; Captain America notes that Frank West has covered wars, while pointing out he's fought in them; C. Viper tells her superior that she's run into a major problem when the Avengers have assembled; Dark Phoenix references her own struggle with darkness when facing Akuma--the list goes on.
For fans of Capcom and Marvel, there's nothing quite like Marvel Vs. Capcom 3. It's one of the few feel-good fighting games out there. | Tamoor Hussain
Pokemon Black and White | March 6
The Pokemon series made the jump to DS in 2007 with Pokemon Diamond and Pearl, an enjoyable, by-the-numbers pair of titles that successfully adapted the franchise to Nintendo's dual-screened handheld, but did little else to advance it. For the series' next proper installments, however, developer Game Freak went back to the drawing board, re-examining the conventions that had built up around the franchise to deliver the refreshingly daring Pokemon Black and White.
Part of what made these titles so bold was their setting, the metropolitan Unova region. Unlike previous Pokemon games, all of which were set in locales based on regions of Japan, Black and White were inspired by the US, specifically New York City, whose spirit was channeled in the towering high rises and bustling streets of Castelia and its neighboring cities. The region was still dotted with caves and forests, of course, but this more metropolitan flair made Black and White feel exotic and unfamiliar compared to previous games, and it's why it remains one of my favorite settings in the series.
Further accentuating this feeling was the games' new collection of monsters. In a daring move, Game Freak populated Unova entirely with brand-new Pokemon, with classic monsters locked away until after players had already conquered the Pokemon League and effectively beaten the story. Considering how attached longtime fans often are to older Pokemon, this was a bold gambit, but it worked brilliantly in the games' favor. With only new monsters to battle and catch, every Pokemon encounter felt like a discovery unto itself, and it was such a joy to find new favorites and devise new teams.
Rounding out these big departures were a myriad of other smart gameplay tweaks. For the first time in the series, TMs would not break after one use, making it much easier to teach Pokemon moves and build up a well-rounded team. Moreover, HMs--which were traditionally integral in exploration--were deemphasized, relegating them almost strictly to exploring optional side areas. These were welcome changes that had an appreciable impact on the series, and they combine with Black and White's other innovations to make this one of my favorite Pokemon generations ever. | Kevin Knezevic
Crysis 2 | March 22
Crysis 2 was a game that seemed to have people ready to grab their pitchforks and torches before it even released, and all because it launched on consoles alongside its beefy PC version. But the truth is that past the "Can it run Crysis" meme that made the first game so infamous, its sequel was worthy of praise for far more than its graphics. I was enthralled by its mix of urban and jungle environments, making it the perfect setting for stealth-action and customizable gameplay that offered a ton of variety in how to tackle each scenario. The story managed to keep things interesting with a few choice twists surrounding the nature of the main mission--and those providing the orders. It felt like there was a reason to see the campaign through to the end more than just its set pieces, and that's something very few AAA shooters manage to nail.
But perhaps what makes Crysis 2 so impressive is how unimpressive its sequel was. It failed to offer the same sense of freedom and dynamic combat as its predecessor, with less imaginative environments and a story that took far too long to get going. But Crysis 2 is the one I remember, and it's the only game in the series I'm itching to play today. Unfortunately, its science-fiction story takes place in 2023, so I'm hoping there isn't a massive alien invasion soon | Gabe Gurwin
Mortal Kombat | April 19
There's often a debate about which fighting game series is better: Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat. While I often found more to appreciate with the gameplay of Capcom's fighting game series, I still find myself drawn to Netherrealm Studios’ Mortal Kombat franchise and its stylized, accessible approach to fighting game action. And yes, the gross and ridiculously cheesy fatalities were fun to watch too. Whenever I played the original games from the '90s, I always managed to find the fun quickly. However, once the series ventured into the 3D era, I found myself drifting further away from it. I never really found much joy in playing games like the overly goofy Deadly Alliance or the nonsensical and uninteresting Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. During this period, the Street Fighter series became my fighting games of choice, and I had written off MK. But then 2011's Mortal Kombat arrived, and it made me appreciate once again what I loved about the series.
Mortal Kombat 2011 was really about going back to the series' roots, and the biggest sign of that belief was the game's focus on 2D combat. Along with adding a level of sophistication and nuance to the core combat that puts it into the upper strata of fighting games discourse, it also had a fantastic roster of characters that brought back and revised many of the classic fighters I came to love throughout the series. Yet, what really surprised me most was that Mortal Kombat 2011 had likely the best implementation of a story mode in a fighting game of its time. While story content in fighting games is often relegated to an arcade mode, which opens the door for inconsistent storytelling once you swap characters, the MK reboot's plot introduced lasting stakes and a ton of callbacks (and revisions) to the classic games in the series. As someone who enjoyed the classics, playing through MK 2011's story mode was a total blast, and seeing some of my favorite characters have their moments in the story was so satisfying.
Before I played this game in 2011, I saw myself as being over Mortal Kombat, moving on to a more refined fighting game. Yet, I ended up finding a game that not only offered a lot of thought in its presentation of characters and lore, it made me feel like it valued more of my time and still rewarded me for going the extra mile to play a character. In many ways, the reboot of Mortal Kombat was when the series truly grew up, and in equal measure, it was an excellent reminder for me not to completely write off a fighting game for its approach to stylized cartoon violence. In some ways, Capcom's Street Fighter series could learn some tricks from Mortal Kombat. | Alessandro Fillari
Portal 2 | April 19
We all know Portal was great, but it was also a tiny slice of a game--practically a prototype or proof-of-concept included in The Orange Box collection. It had a simple hook that lent itself to a brief experience: a robot with no regard for human life puts you through a series of challenges using a portal gun, for science. Portal 2 once again surprised by proving that Valve's well-known ingenuity and creativity could expand that concept to a much longer experience without running short on momentum.
While the first game guided you through with the wickedly science-obsessed GLaDOS, the second game literally humanized her by giving her a backstory as the former devoted assistant to Aperture Science founder Cave Johnson. What was an escape drama became a buddy comedy, as you attempted to help your former nemesis while navigating a labyrinthian underground. And taking over for GLaDOS' comedic evil were recordings of Johnson himself, as voiced by the lovably gruff J.K. Simmons.
And of course, Valve managed to squeeze every drop of gameplay out of the high-concept Portal mechanics. Portal 2 effectively tripled the length of the original game and never lost a step, blending the existing portal-jumping puzzle gameplay with new mechanics and types of environments for something that always felt fresh and wholly original. It was a joy to play from start to finish and to my mind it still remains one of the best games of its generation. | Steve Watts
L.A. Noire | May 17
A revolutionary game that was perhaps slightly more ambitious than technology allowed in 2011, LA Noire took finding "collectible" items and turned it into a meaningful and crucial gameplay mechanic. Examining a crime scene--whether it be arson, grand theft, or murder--became an act of thoroughness ultimately culminating in an interview with suspects. That's where I really fell in love with its detective gameplay, as catching people in a provable lie (or bluffing to get them to spill the beans anyway) could send a case going in a drastically different direction. Sometimes that was a fistfight, while other times it was a chase across rooftops or a massive, sudden shootout against a gang of rifle-toting robbers.
Not everything worked as well, like the relatively bland shooting and uninteresting open-world design, but LA Noire really shined with its characters. The game is set just after World War 2 as protagonist Cole Phelps attempts to resume civilian life, and his own past and choices catch up with him and paint a far different picture than the squeaky clean, doe-eyed American we first met. It's a shame we never got a sequel, but Team Bondi's only released game still stands as a unique and captivating take on American crime and law enforcement. | Gabe Gurwin
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings | May 17
2011 was a banner year for RPGs. The Elder Scrolls series reached incredible mainstream success with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and a little game called Dark Souls paved the way for a new sub-genre that sought to emulate the design of From Software's games. However, before both of those games, a small Polish studio released a sequel to their cult-classic RPG called The Witcher. To this day, CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is an ambitious, story-driven RPG centered around player choice.
I didn't play The Witcher 2 until it launched on the Xbox 360 in 2012, and with almost zero experience with the series' extensive backstory and lore, I fell off pretty quickly. The early hours throw a lot at the player all at once. It wasn’t until after I played The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt that I returned to Assassins of Kings and really appreciated the characters, the detailed world, and the exceptional writing. The Witcher 2’s dense lore and complicated setup might be a turnoff to some, but with that familiarity with that world, it becomes one of its greatest strengths.
What’s unique about The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is that there are two very different paths Geralt can take early on that can radically change the plot, the characters to interact with, and the areas to visit. CD Projekt Red has always embraced player choice, but in a sense, The Witcher 2 took it as far as possible by swapping out entire sections of the game depending on whether you sided with the gruff soldier Vernon Roche or the chaotic elf Lorveth. No matter which side, there was a rich, mature, thought-provoking story to uncover.
Of course, The Witcher 2: Assassin’s of Kings also laid the groundwork for one of the biggest RPGs of all time: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Like me, if you’ve played the third installment but haven’t gotten around to The Witcher 2, I cannot recommend it enough. The combat hasn’t aged as gracefully as some might have hoped, but the story and characters are as complex as ever. | Jake Dekker
Infamous 2 | June 11
Looking back on Sucker Punch Productions' past work following Ghost of Tsushima, the one game that sticks out the most for me is Infamous 2. As the follow-up to the developer's first mature action game, the sequel managed to tell a darker story that still embraced the more bizarre antics of its plot. For a time, the Infamous series was among my favorite Sony IPs. I was an admirer of the original game's approach to storytelling and choice, and getting to return to that world in a new setting was something that got me excited. Infamous 2 was a solid sequel, and getting to parkour through the setting of New Marais and unleashing Cole's new powers felt so damn good. What I liked most about Infamous 2 was that it was a sequel that really fleshed out the original's concept of being a dark superhero fantasy. Think X-Men, by way of DMZ.
In the first game, I found Cole to be something of a pastiche of other game characters from that era--the sort of protagonist that's brooding for their own good. In the sequel, however, Cole is a much more measured character, no matter which side of the morality meter you want to stick with. That made for more moments where he'll grow as a protagonist as his powers expand. New Marais' setting was also a fantastic city to explore, which opened new opportunities to get to know the characters, while also presenting more verticality to take down militiamen and roaming monsters. While Sucker Punch Productions has moved on to bigger things, I still have a fondness for the Infamous series, and I hope we'll get to see a revisit to the world of superpowered conduits. I for one think there's plenty of room for parkouring superheroes in games. | Alessandro Fillari
Bastion | July 20
Even at the time of Bastion's release in mid-2011, it felt like such a treat to discover a new game on Xbox Live Arcade that you'd never heard of. I looked forward to each Wednesday and trying out what new games would await, and Bastion immediately struck me as something special. There's the incredible music in the menu (just a taste of what's to come) that gives way to Logan Cunningham's voice as the narrator, who begins to set things up--only to pause as he waits for you to take action. You're shown your character lying in bed, and I remember waiting a long moment to touch my controller, expecting something to happen. Instead, you have to take the initiative to rouse him, prompting the narrator to say, "He gets up."
Something about that line has always stuck with me, perhaps due to the realization or hope that the narration would continue to match the game's action throughout. While it's not attached to literally everything that happens--that would have gotten annoying--the narration is invoked just enough to lay out what's happening and fill in the lore you need to come to grips with this unusual world, just as the ground before you literally unfolds as you approach.
There are so many elements of the Supergiant Games formula present here in Bastion, its debut effort. The isometric camera angle and action RPG-style combat; the lush, hand-painted look of the visuals; the top-notch voice acting; and the exemplary Darren Korb soundtrack, which remains an all-time favorite of mine, and something I still listen to to this day. Bastion is one of those games that I have to buy any time it's ported to a new platform, and one that I suspect I'll continue to enjoy replaying for years to come. | Chris Pereira
Catherine | July 26
For most people, their introduction to Atlus was most likely Shin Megami Tensei or the Persona series, but for me it was Catherine. I actually discovered the game from watching video back in the day, and it wasn't until years later when it was on sale and I was looking for a PS3 game to play that I pulled the trigger and instantly fell in love.
Catherine is a story about commitment issues, infidelity, and the journey to adulthood all wrapped up in an otherworldly plot about climbing blocks in a nightmare world filled with sheep and confessionals. On the surface it may seem bizarre and even downright gratuitous, I certainly felt that way at first, but ultimately it further affirms how great Atlus is at taking abstract concepts and using fantastical elements to actualize them.
What I love most about the game is how the outcome of Vincent's love life is determined by you, yes you, the person reading this right now. The game is split up into two sections, the puzzle-solving block-climbing sections and the social-sim elements at the Stray Sheep bar where you spend your evenings with your friends. You're constantly making choices in this game, whether it's the blatant questions asked to you in the confessionals about love and relationships, or simply how you respond to a text from Katherine or Catherine, and this all culminates in one of the many different endings of the game.
In a lot of ways, Catherine was a test run for Persona 5, which uses a lot of the same systems and refines said systems to a greater degree, but even 10 years later the plot of the original Catherine still stands strong and the gameplay is far from outdated. Don't let the outwardly erotic nature of the game scare you away; the choices you make might even help you figure out things about your own relationships. | Evan Langer
Deus Ex: Human Revolution | August 23
Beneath the unmistakable gold-tinted visual filter and shiny cybernetic augmentations, Deus Ex: Human Revolution was a superb return to a special franchise. In 2011, the series had been quiet for about eight years, and Human Revolution served as a prequel to the revered original and carried many of the core gameplay tenets that made Deus Ex great.
The original Deus Ex in 2000 perfected what we now refer to as the immersive sim genre, sharing similarities with other games like Thief and System Shock but completely rewriting what it meant to interact with a game world. It was also a stunning piece of cyberpunk fiction. I remember in Summer 2011 feeling the anticipation for Human Revolution, but also trying to shake off the expectations I had tied to my love for the original. But as it turned out, it ended up to be an incredible experience that lived up to the original.
Human Revolution had such a distinct atmosphere. Along with its visual filter, it was dark and moody throughout, which showed off Detroit's rundown streets and the sterile high-tech corporate offices of Sarif Industries in an unsettling and alluring way. It was fascinating to explore every corner, interacting with NPCs to uncover the possibilities of getting to your objective or stumble upon side stories. The more you poke and prod at it, you begin to unravel the interconnectedness of every hub area and level, and create your solutions for progress, as is the immersive sim way. Even though it simplified some of the original's RPG mechanics, the Praxis skill tree gave you even more options to navigate the world and fight your enemies.
While I don't think it's the most provocative piece of cyberpunk storytelling, and maybe Adam Jensen is a bit too stoic for his own good, Human Revolution compels you from beginning to end as you uncover a much larger conspiracy between the institutions that impact our lives. And as someone who still reveres the original Deus Ex, the way the lore ties together was just a cherry on top. Human Revolution holds up today, which is a testament to the design philosophies that fuel immersive sims. Having that experience in 2011 made this game something special. | Michael Higham
Resistance 3 | September 6
Resistance is an oft-forgotten shooter franchise from developer Insomniac, but it remains one of my favorites on PS3. As a passionate fan of the first two games, I had high hopes for the third entry in 2011, especially after Resistance 2's shocking ending, which effectively killed off its main protagonist. So, when Insomniac confirmed that you'd be playing as Resistance 2 supporting character Corporal Joseph Capelli in Resistance 3, I was already pretty eager to see how the series' bleak world war against the Chimera would turn out. And after playing the six-hour campaign and a smattering of its multiplayer, I admit that I didn't come away feeling as floored by it as I'd been by its predecessors.
At that point, Resistance 3 was staying in line with its core tenets, supplying you with a uniquely varied arsenal of weapons and testing your ability to use them effectively against overwhelming odds. Though, playing it safe wasn't necessarily a bad thing: it's actually what makes the game so endearingly serviceable. Shooters of the early 2010s were already fast-adopting the two-weapon cycling mechanics made popular by the Halo series--heck, even Resistance 2 adopted it for a hot minute. So to have a shooter that still emphasized classic FPS design with a weapon wheel's worth of guns, high enemy counts, and frantic action was something I deeply valued in Resistance 3.
The shift in art direction also helped amplify the game's high stakes, with grim, oppressive No Man's Land-like landscapes, which made for a fitting backdrop for the conflict at hand. And remembering those Chimera strongholds and the hidden abominations that lay within them still gives me sweaty palms and cold shivers. Resistance 3 even brought back the first game’s unshakeable sense of dread, like nothing you did ever made a meaningful enough impact against the Chimera, at least, not until the very end.
Looking back now, I got everything that I wanted from Resistance 3. It's an appropriate bookend to a franchise that began its life alongside the PS3's launch, and while it may not be the best of three, Insomniac certainly didn't hold back, making it a riveting, worthwhile conclusion. Here's to hoping that Sony remasters the Resistance games someday because if it did, I guarantee you that the first one I'd boot up would be Resistance 3. A decade on since playing it, I'm past due for a revisit. I Matt Espineli
Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine | September 6
If you want to play in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, you load up Dawn of War, but if you want to feel like a Space Marine, then Relic's 2011 hack, slash, shoot and stomp fest is still one of the best games to evoke the intensity and brutality of the 41st millenium.
For the longest time, 40k games were firmly placed in the strategy genre, with players observing the action between Space Marines and Orks, Eldar and Chaos from far above the battlefield, but Space Marine was a much more intimate affair. The carnage came from our own Ultramarine blue tinted hands, rather than the squads we moved from cover to crater.
The game does a great job reflecting the lore of the universe, where Space Marines are each worth a thousand men, and a single Astartes and his bolter can turn the tide of any battle and can stand firmly against a green tide of choppa-wielding Orks. Making the player feel superhuman without making them overpowered is a tough line to walk but 10 years ago Relic managed to create that feeling in a way that is still hard to match. Each bolt shot is loud and punchy, and every swing of your chainsword is visceral and satisfying, as you regain your vigor by crunching alien skulls under your armoured boot in consistently satisfying bursts of momentum and violence.
It had you mashing buttons and was somewhat heavy on the quick-time events, but that didn't matter because each and every action was so satisfying, to the point where a decade later I still play through the campaign every year or so.
Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine broke out of its fandom and became beloved by many people who had never dipped into the virtual or tabletop franchise before. It is easily in the top echelon of Warhammer video games and I can only pray to the Emperor of Mankind that one day, we get another that stands up to this 2011 gem. | Dave Jewitt
Dark Souls | October 4
I still vividly remember when I first saw the Bartholomew trailer for Dark Souls back in 2011. While I was an avid fan of King's Field back in the 90s, I hadn't thought too much about From Software since then and somehow managed to miss Demon's Souls as I didn't have a PS3. Something about the visuals and atmosphere presented completely clicked with me; it felt like a gaming piece of me that I'd been missing for ages.
Finally, here was a game that didn't hold my hand and let me explore a cruel, but gorgeous world at my own risk. It was a game that was comfortable with me making mistakes and letting me potentially miss major areas, secrets, and story details. A game where I would see a giant Hydra in the distance, and for the first time, my instinct wasn't to fight it, but rather, to feel awe and horror. “Am I supposed to fight that thing? Me? How!?” And yet, with every stressful trial and tribulation that caused me repeated deaths, I was always met by an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction upon eventually overcoming them. This was everything I'd loved about games growing up but had somehow been lost over time.
While I'd been avidly seeking and creating content around video games since the advent of the internet, this was the first game that made me want to find and create content dedicated to it. Finding Epicnamebro's lore series opened my eyes to an even deeper world and meaning to the game I'd somehow managed to miss. It inspired me to create my own content around Dark Souls, changing my life in the process, and being the reason I'm here today, writing to you from GameSpot.
Dark Souls' world, lore, level design, and gameplay are the absolute pinnacle of gaming to me, and I still regularly replay the game in awe at just how well crafted it is. Lordran has become a second home for me, and I wouldn't have it any other way. | Dave Klein
Batman: Arkham City | October 18
Batman: Arkham Asylum was a revelation for licensed properties--a high-quality, authoritative triple-A experience that echoed the beloved Batman: The Animated Series with a darker, more adult tone. It won deserved accolades across the board. Two years later, my expectations were set high for Rocksteady's follow-up, which promised to expand the scope to Batman's iconic setting, Gotham City.
And the studio delivered. The sprawling setting was complemented by a more free-flowing traversal system akin to the swinging mechanics in the best Spider-Man games. The open-world elements were balanced against authored interiors and tense boss fights like the memorable one against Mr. Freeze. It delved deep into Batman history and lore and weaved the Dark Knight's infamous rogues gallery together expertly. It expanded the Bat-family as well, with playable characters like Catwoman and Robin.
The expanded scope came at a small cost, though. It traded some of Arkham Asylum's metroidvania charms for a more traditional open-world approach. I can't honestly say that I didn't miss the dense Asylum feel, with its compact world absolutely stuffed with secrets and Easter eggs. And it set the stage for Arkham Knight, which was beautifully made but not quite as novel. Still, Arkham City stands as the well-crafted middle point between Arkham Asylum's reverent but humble Batman simulator and Arkham Knight's somewhat overstuffed finale. | Steve Watts
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception | November 1
The Uncharted series is my favorite PlayStation franchise. After thoroughly enjoying the first two games, I wondered if the third entry could keep the train running. Absolutely, it did.
2011's Uncharted 3: Drake's Fortune was a fantastic final entry in the series for PS3, and my mind is melted to realize it is now 10 years old. The game's twisting and turning story was well-written and memorable, featuring an excellent villain with Katherine Marlow and a narrative that dove deeper into the nuanced and complicated relationship between Drake and Sully.
In typical Naughty Dog fashion, Uncharted 3 had a number of epic set pieces. My favorite of these had to be the burning chateau mission where Drake and Sully barely escape with their lives as they make an against-all-odds dash out of the burning building.
I vividly remember the white-knuckle action of that scene and the rest of the over-the-top Hollywood-style moments from the campaign. But it was also the quieter moments that stuck with me as well. Uncharted 3 showed us a flashback scene where Drake meets Sully, and it was a fascinating, eye-opening revelation to learn about the origins of their relationship.
I have not replayed Uncharted 3 since 2011, but I really have no excuse now that the game is playable on PS4 (and PS5) through The Nathan Drake Collection with better-than-ever visuals. Here's to hoping Naughty Dog returns to the Uncharted series someday! | Eddie Makuch
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim | November 11
In 2011, I hadn't been playing many video games. I had been busy with college applications and was overall very depressed--I think the only game I really played up until Skyrim came out was Portal 2, and I didn't pay much attention to what games were coming out, either. It was, in short, a bad time for me.
But I knew about Skyrim. Even before the "arrow to the knee" meme really took off, everyone I knew was obsessed with it. The zeitgeist only grew from there, and it kept Skyrim at the top of my brain until 2013 when I was finally well enough to actually play it.
And play it I did. I didn't go to class for a full week when I first picked it up--which I should probably feel some shame about, but I don't. It was a pivotal time for me: I was mentally well enough to sit at my computer for eight straight hours playing Skyrim instead of lying in my bed for eight straight hours doing nothing. I was nowhere near 100%, but I was at least finding my love of video games again.
For a lot of people, Skyrim is just a very good, very silly RPG that was memed to hell and back and which they remember with fondness. For me, it was something of a lifeline. It was not only a game I could play and enjoy but a cultural phenomenon in its own right, one that gave me a re-entry point into gaming after years of feeling alienated from that world. Most importantly, now that I'm better, I can play one of Skryim's many re-releases and still have a good time. | Kallie Plagge
Saints Row: The Third | November 15
Comparisons between Saints Row and Grand Theft Auto were well-founded: The first game in the Saints Row series felt like an attempt to ape the successful GTA formula. Saints Row 2 began to embrace a less serious tone (with its trailer emphasizing its comparatively wacky side activities, like spraying pedestrians with sewage or committing insurance fraud). But Saints Row 3 is where developer Volition truly embraced the over-the-top antics that made the series much more than a GTA clone.
More than anything, Saints Row: The Third just wants you to have fun. Why casually enter a car when you can go flying into it and dropkick the current occupant out? Why not have your gang leader don an astronaut helmet (or wear nothing at all)? Why speak your native tongue when you can opt to have the voice of a zombie? The Third dispensed with any pretense of self-seriousness and, instead, focused on presenting you with ridiculous set pieces, the freedom to do whatever you want, and a ridiculous array of weaponry to wield, from airstrikes and gloves that make enemies explode to alien pistols and giant dildos.
The Third also contains one of the single most memorable moments in any game I've ever played, the sequence in which Kanye West's "Power" plays as you skydive out of a helicopter and launch an assault during a rival gang's rooftop party. It's thrilling and a brilliant pairing of a licensed song with an action sequence.
Saints Row has since gone on to try its hand at the Crackdown formula (something it did exceptionally well), leaving The Third as the culmination of its more grounded, GTA-esque efforts. And for that reason, it still holds a special place in my heart. While elements of the game felt somewhat weak at the time, and those have only continued to age since then, the set piece moments largely remain great fun to this day, and its goofy side activities are still good for a laugh. | Chris Pereira
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword | November 20
Although the Legend of Zelda series helped usher in the Wii, there's no denying that Twilight Princess was a GameCube game at heart, and it wouldn't be until 2011 that the series made its proper debut on the system with Skyward Sword. While Twilight Princess utilized the Wii Remote in various ways, Skyward Sword was tailored entirely around the motion-sensing controller--and although not every one of the game's experiments was a success, it still turned out to be one of the most memorable entries in the series.
Much of Skyward Sword's divisiveness stems from its motion controls, which were integrated into nearly every facet of the gameplay. I can't speak for others' experiences, of course, but I personally never encountered any significant issues with the controls during my various playthroughs, and I've always felt they were largely well-implemented. It helped that Link's arsenal of tools were designed to take full advantage of them. Drawing the nunchuck controller back to fire the bow felt immensely satisfying, and I can't tell you how much I relished smacking bokoblins with the whip.
The game's dungeons were another highlight, rivaling Twilight Princess for my favorite in the series. Each one housed some genuinely clever puzzles that required outside-the-box thinking, and the boss battles that capped them off felt like genuine, hard-fought confrontations thanks to the more involved controls. Even the lead up to the dungeons was wonderfully executed; while previous Zelda games clearly separated dungeons from the overworld, the areas that preceded them in Skyward Sword felt like an organic extension of the dungeons themselves.
Of course, for all its strengths, Skyward Sword was admittedly far from perfect, and it's easy to see why it isn't as fondly regarded as many other installments. The trials, in particular, in which you had to navigate the Silent Realm and collect tears while avoiding roaming, invincible guardians that could take you down in one strike, were a blatant attempt at padding out the adventure. And the various battles with the Imprisoned were more frustrating than anything. Despite these stumbles, however, I've grown to appreciate Skyward Sword's place in the series, and I'd happily revisit it on Switch should Nintendo ever bring it over. | Kevin Knezevic