Here it is: our consensus pick for the best game of 2011, as well as our runners-up and honorable mentions.
Andrew Passafiume: I never would have expected a compelling story from Portal 2, at least not on top of the slickly presented and well-designed puzzles. But it manages to create a tale that is not only funny, but also one that sticks with you long after the credits roll. If we had an award for “best ending sequence in a game,” I’m sure this would win it without question.
Graham Russell: I can’t enjoy a game’s story anymore, because it isn’t as well-crafted as Portal 2‘s. And this thing is a puzzle game. There’s something to be said for simplicity, and the game does it well by keeping the core simple and taking the time to add little flourishes as you go: the defective turrets, the wall paintings and the idle dialogue make for a game that was treated with the utmost of care.
Justin Last: Valve has created something wonderful in Portal 2. The puzzles are fun without being frustrating, the new mechanics are interesting (I am especially fond of the light bridges), and the story and voice work are both superb. More things need to feature J.K. Simmons and Stephen Merchant – their performances elevate Portal from fun game to great experience.
Justin Last: I love Zelda, and it has finally showed up on the Wii the way we all hoped it would when Nintendo first started showing off the Wii Remote. Skyloft is amazing, combat is more puzzle-focused making duels more meaningful than they have been in past games, and the look is amazing. Skyward Sword may have taken the spot for me as my favorite Zelda game ever.
Chris Ingersoll: Whether you like it or not, Skyward Sword will forever change the way that future console Zelda titles are played. The use of Motion+ to have Link accurately mimic your movements (more or less) gave birth to some truly epic battles, both from bosses (as expected) and from a large number of regular enemies as well (less expected, but much welcomed). The sheer quality that comes through every time that green tunic and cap are donned cannot be denied. Skyward Sword stands among the greatest titles in the franchise — even at the very apex, for some players — which says it all, really.
Shawn Vermette: Nearly every complaint we’ve ever seen from Oblivion and Fallout 3 has been addressed in some manner here. There’s really not a single drawback to Skyrim that I could find, save the fact that it is so enjoyable that just exploring and doing random stuff will surely eat up several weeks of your life.
Andrew Passafiume: It’s not perfect (what game is?), but Skyrim demonstrates that Bethesda can still create an amazing world to explore while still making necessary changes to the formula that only help improve the series in the long run. I said it before, and I’ll say it again: this is Bethesda’s masterpiece. Everything they’ve worked towards since the original Elder Scrolls game has finally been shown to its full extent here.
Batman: Arkham City
Andrew Passafiume: Arkham Asylum introduced us to a Batman game that was complex, full of fun mechanics and plenty of cool environments to explore. While Arkham City doesn’t change up the formula all that much, it tweaks everything that was great about the original just enough to make it seem fresh and original once again. Combine that with the larger, open city to explore and a glide mechanic that makes traversing an open world fun and you have an action game that’s hard to beat.
Chris Ingersoll: There have been a staggering number of amazing RPGs on the DS, but Radiant Historia sized up the competition and then smacked them around its crazy-fun grid-based battle system before knocking them into an alternate timeline. Making turn-based RPG combat fun is no mean feat, and Radiant Historia combines that with an ambitious storyline that explores two entwined realities and a memorable cast of characters to create an experience that will be long remembered.
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
Paul Bishop: What a perfect end to a trilogy. While Uncharted 2 floundered a little, Drake’s Deception more than makes up for it in the end. As I have said before, Uncharted is simply the closest thing to playing a movie, and those movie moments are spectacular. Humor, action and platforming work so well to create the perfect game. Now just cast Nathan Fillion and create the first great video game movie adaptation, Hollywood.