A year in review: The best games of 2011

At the end of a great year in gaming, Steven Balbirnie looks back at ten of the best.The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Bethesda)Despite some fierce competition, Skyrim has proven to be the game of the year. Set in a beautifully sprawling and intricately detailed mythic land of magic and dragons, Skyrim offers an immersive and enthralling experience that lasts for hours upon end.Portal 2 (Valve)The most intellectually challenging game of the year, Portal 2 is an absolute must-buy. The puzzles are even more devilishly ingenious than in the first game, and the new co-op mode is so involving that it will make or break friendships. The game also boasts witty dialogue and a great vocal cast, including Stephen Merchant and JK Simmons.The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Nintendo)Skyward Sword is an outstanding achievement – a major game that incorporates motion controls as a core tenet of gameplay rather than a flashy gimmick. Combine this with well-designed dungeons, fiendish bosses and a visual style inspired by the paintings of Cezanne and you’ve got a great game. A fitting release for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the franchise. Deus Ex: Human Revolution (Eidos Montreal)Ideal for any sci-fi fan, Deus Ex is a game set in a cyber-punk dystopian future that feels like it’s been taken straight from the pages of a Philip K. Dick novel. The plot is compelling, dealing with weighty themes such as scientific ethics and corporate conspiracies; while the gameplay transcends genres, incorporating elements of stealth, RPGs and action games.Batman: Arkham City (Rocksteady Studios)As one of the most acclaimed games of 2011, Arkham City is a clear example of how to make a superhero game the right way. With a script by veteran comic writer Paul Dini, and the inclusion of a substantial rogues gallery, Arkham City is sure to please.Mortal Kombat (Netherrealm Studios)This year saw fighting fans rejoice as one of the genre’s most influential franchises underwent a triumphant rebirth. Taking the series back to its brutal basics, Netherrealm Studios have crafted the finest fighting experience of the year. Mortal Kombat features a formidable roster of classic characters, bone-crunching x-ray moves and the series’ trademark gruesome fatalities.Battlefield 3 (Digital Illusions CE)Proving that Call of Duty doesn’t have a monopoly on the FPS genre, Battlefield 3 exploded into action this year with destructible scenery, huge multiplayer battles and impressive vehicular combat. Shadows of the Damned (Grasshopper Manufacture)The brainchild of No More Heroes’s Suda 51 and Resident Evil’s Shinji Mikami, Shadows of the Damned is a quirky survival horror about a Mexican demon hunter out to rescue his kidnapped girlfriend. The city of the damned (inspired by Franz Kafka’s The Castle) has a brilliant brooding atmosphere; and the game’s soundtrack is easily the best of the year, with Akira Yamaoka proving once again that he is one of the most talented composers in the industry.The Great Gatsby (Charlie Hoey)A surprise inclusion perhaps, but one fully deserving of its place on this list. Very loosely based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby is a free-to-play, web browser game in the style of classic NES platformers like Megaman. It’s great fun to play, and if you’re taking a module in American Literature then it practically counts as studying.L.A. Noire (Team Bondi & Rockstar Games)L.A. Noire marks Rockstar’s transition from the enfant terrible of the industry to a company that has helped to garner respect for videogames as a creative medium. A hardboiled detective thriller with a gritty plot and revolutionary facial animation technology, L.A. Noire is one of the most remarkable titles of 2011.