It was a good year for gaming. Well, almost every year is a good year for gaming because we undoubtedly get at least a few innovative titles that push the industry to new heights.
So what were those games this year? The Manifesto's columnists offer their favorite games of 2011. Read next week's Manifesto to see what they're most looking forward to in 2012.
2011 favorite: Gears of War 3
For me, gaming has become almost entirely social. I like how every aspect of Gears of War 3 can be enjoyed online with your buddies. The campaign can be played with as many as four people, and there are several multiplayer modes, including an updated Horde mode that now places a huge emphasis on defense and fortifying positions. The developers at Epic also have big plans next year for downloadable content, including a just-released addition to the campaign that follows Zeta Squad before the first game's time line.
As with the previous installments, Gears of War 3 has several cheesy subplots. When the game began, I liked how Dom, distraught over losing his wife in the previous game, had grown out his hair, put down his gun (for a while) and taken up farming. It also was a blast playing as Cole for the part of the campaign when he visits the stadium where he was once a sports star before the apocalypse.
Honorable mention: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
2011 favorite: The Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection
By all rights, my game of the year should be Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception. There are lots of reasons to love the newest game in the fan-favorite series — gorgeous graphics, an engaging story, and addictive multiplayer among them.
Instead, I'm picking a decade-old game — two games, in fact — with dated graphics, a minimalist story and no multiplayer.
Thanks to the magic of Blu-ray, these two beloved PlayStation 2 games were remastered in high-definition and released on a single disc for the PlayStation 3 this year. Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, the masterpieces created by developer Team Ico in the early 2000s, hold all the charm they did when they were new.
Sure, Uncharted 3 has all the bells and whistles. But The Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection gives me one important thing Uncharted doesn't: nostalgia.
Exploring the huge, lonely castle in Ico with my mysterious female companion occupied dozens of hours for me as a teen between band practice and girl-chasing. Similarly, hunting down colossi — enormous stone Goliaths — in the mysterious setting of Shadow of the Colossus was one of my favorite ways to unwind in college.
These games leave so much open to interpretation that it would be a disservice to try to go into the plots any further. One thing is certain: these games were two of the first to definitively settle the debate of whether video games can be works of art.
Honorable mention: Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
2011 favorite: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
The latest in the vaunted Legend of Zelda series offers the best use to date of the Wii MotionPlus technology by allowing gamers to accurately swing Link's famous Master Sword. The game also offers the most details yet on the origins of the beloved characters of Link and Zelda. Overall, it might not be the most stunning game graphically, given the Wii's limitations, but the tale it tells is the best of the year.
Honorable mention: Portal 2
2011 favorite: NBA 2K12
What do you do with a game after you beat it? Does it sit on the shelf and waste away? Do you trade it? Or is there a game that is so good you can't put it down until the next one comes out?
Yes, there is: NBA 2K12.
It will be played well into 2012, easily outlasting other games that you'll trade in shortly after you finish. It is the most realistic sports simulation on the market, and its presentation and gameplay are solid. The My Player mode is flat-out addictive and one of the best create-a-player modes in any game.
Honorable mention: Batman: Arkham City
Will Wood Jr.
2011 favorite: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Why Skyrim? Depth. This game has enough content to keep players engaged not for weeks or even months, but for years. On top of the near-infinite amount of in-game quests, developer Bethesda will continue to release downloadable content to expand the primary and secondary ones.
The biggest plus of Skyrim is what it doesn't do: overload you with quests. Bethesda has done a phenomenal job at crafting a living, breathing world where the only true job the player has is staying alive. And that can be quite difficult. If you don't want to take part in the main quests, that's fine. You're free to follow around giants or buy a house and start a garden, and then promptly burn it down because that's boring. This world is a living and breathing place where your actions have real, lasting effects. And that's awesome.
Honorable mention: Deus Ex: Human Revolution