6. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Developer: Infinity Ward, Sledgehammer Games
Platform: Windows PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Release date: Nov. 8
GamesBeat review score: 90
Call of Duty games wind up on the top-ten games lists every year. This year’s title has sold an astounding $1 billion worth in just 16 days on the market. It seems like everyone in the world is buying this game. But in our eyes, each title has to earn its accolades every year, and this title reminds us that the Game of the Year isn’t a popularity contest.
Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 is an intense combat game with an all-too-brief but exciting single-player campaign. You have to constantly shoot enemies until your hands tremble from gripping your controller. It’s like a travelogue where you go to some of the most scenic places in the world and have unbelievably intense firefights in front of them.
Like Uncharted 3, the developers of Call of Duty have mastered the set piece, where your jaw hangs open as one action scene leads to another and another. For instance, you have to battle your way through a Russian nuclear submarine, launch its missiles, escape in a rubber speedboat that takes you through the invading Russian fleet in New York harbor and then get away in the nick of time before all of the missiles you launched rain down on the ships around you.
This time, the war against madmen terrorists has spread to some of the world’s biggest cities: New York, London and Paris. You have to try to spot your enemies as you fire away inside a jewelry shop full of glass displays. You have to survive a duel between helicopter gunships and take out terrorists who are floating in the air in zero gravity as the airplane you’re on splinters apart. As the company advertises, it is epic realism at its finest.
The game also earns its accolades with high-quality multiplayer combat that can keep you engaged for many more hours than you spend on the single-player campaign. The Call of Duty Elite social network, which is finally functioning well, lives up to its billing in offering more engaging content for the Call of Duty fanatic.
“Enough action for 10 war movies.” — Dean Takahashi
7. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Developer: Bethesda Softworks
Publisher: Bethesda Game Studios
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows PC
Release date: Nov. 11
GamesBeat review score: 89
My love-hate relationship with Skyrim will undoubtedly continue well into 2012. I, like millions of others, have enjoyed countless hours (okay, 132 to be exact) of open-world adventuring, pillaging, and loot-whoring in the largest Elder Scrolls title to date. However, I, like millions of others, have also started to realize that I’m essentially beta-testing an incredibly buggy and, at times, outright broken game for Bethesda.
Even when the game isn’t glitching out, freezing, or coming to an unplayable halt due to shoddy programming, there are more than a few dubious design decisions that effectively tear down the immersion and fantastic atmosphere the developers worked reasonably hard to achieve. However, and I don’t say this intending to discredit my very valid and serious issues with the game, Skyrim still manages to be a worthwhile experience despite its many, many, many faults. After all, I’ve gone 132 hours without quitting, and I’ll probably go another 132 before I get bored.
“Whether it’s story quests, randomly stumbling upon a new dungeon, seeking out dragons, micromanaging everything you’ve collected and crafted, or doing dastardly deeds for the Daedric gods, Skyrim is indescribably massive. And, despite a handful of notable shortcomings, more often than not it is jaw-droppingly beautiful and thoroughly satisfying to play.” — Sebastian Haley
8. Gears of War 3
Developer: Epic Games
Platforms: Xbox 360
Release date: Sept. 20
GamesBeat review score: 88
Wrapping up one of the most heralded trilogies in all of gaming with the perfect finale is no easy task. Design Director Cliff Bleszinski at Epic Games had to mix familiar elements and characters with situations that were entirely new for the Gears of War series. Gears of War 3 is a carefully constructed cocktail of familiar faces in situations and scenarios worthy of what is likely to be the last full-fledged game in the series. Thankfully, the Xbox 360 faithful were not disappointed.
The third game in the series that firmly cemented the Xbox 360 as a mainstay next-generation console is a fitting swan song. It packs all of the non-stop single-player action that fans have come to expect, but leaves behind most of the cheesy “bro moments” that made people’s skin crawl in the first Gears entries. Not only that, but Gears of War 3 includes a moment that will almost certainly tug on your heartstrings (a notion once thought to be impossible for the series). All of that is capped off with a final boss battle that, while it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, is still befitting of the franchise and should please fans.
Gears of War 3 also handed players an immense amount of competitive multiplayer options with new game modes as well as a fantastic, perhaps industry-changing, mode known as Horde (first seen in Gears of War 2). For those who have jumped into a Beast mode match with friends, I don’t need to write anything further. For those who haven’t, you owe it to yourself to do so before retiring Gears of War 3.
There’s no argument to be made for Gears of War 3 as the same theatrical experience as Uncharted 3 or as disruptive a multiplayer game as Modern Warfare 3, but there’s no doubt that it deserves a place in the same breath as those titans. Its sheer beauty and incredibly refined control mechanics pair wonderfully with the unflinching action of the COGs (Coalition of Ordered Governments) against the dreaded Locust. This grand finale is not to be missed.
“Gears of War 3 is a wonderful example of how to artfully wrap up a trilogy with great fan service, effortlessly smooth gameplay and an abundance of content that will please both newcomers and long-time devotees.” — Nate Ahearn
9. Saints Row: The Third
Developer: Volition, Inc.
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows PC
Release date: Nov. 15
GamesBeat review score: 82
Instead of crafting some half-realized semi-realistic world as Rockstar did with Grand Theft Auto IV, Volition built Saints Row 2 to be the game where you can basically do anything you want. It was essentially the spiritual successor to Vice City, and Saints Row: The Third pushes the franchise even further in the “give players what they want, even if they don’t know they want it” direction. This is a game where your primary means of transportation is a futuristic hoverjet that you skydive from whenever you want to rob a clothing store dressed up as a giant furry. Then, when the cops show up, you call your zombie homies on the phone as backup and proceed to defend yourself with a (now-iconic) purple dildo sword.
It’s not perfect, and it seems THQ has stripped out just as much as they’ve added, planning to drip-feed it over the next 40 weeks in hopes of nickel-and-diming their fans. I can’t say I’m particularly happy about that transparently greedy business decision, and it’s just one more reason why THQ will be buried next to Midway and an untold number of E.T. cartridges for the Atari 2600 soon. But what’s left in Saints Row: The Third is still more than enough to provide pure entertainment on a level that other open-world games just can’t — or won’t — offer these days.
“Saints Row: The Third plays like a twisted love letter to video game culture. Volition has created a game in perhaps the purest sense of the word, in which the player is free to explore and have fun, without being forced to replicate any of the mundanities of real life. With some outstanding action sequences, a huge variety of weapons and vehicles, and a craziness that can outdo any other game around, Volition has definitely delivered the goods, despite a few niggles.“ –Dan Crawley
10. Super Mario 3D Land
Developer: Nintendo EAD Tokyo
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: Nov. 13, 2011
GamesBeat review score: 87
At this point in Mario’s lifespan, he has been the subject of one of the most storied franchises of all time. After his introduction in 1986, Mario has been a huge part of popular culture and has become one of the best-selling franchises of all time. He is always a mainstay at the top of everyone’s favorite games list each time he appears in a title, and Super Mario 3D Land had no problem breaking the top ten games of 2011 list.
Super Mario 3D Land could be described as completely classic, yet extremely modern. Nintendo took the classic game play that people fell in love with over the years and added everything great about the newest Mario experiences as seen in the Super Mario Galaxy games. Bringing in elements from the original Mario games like airships, 2D side-scrolling, the Koopalings and pure, simple platforming genius and mixing it with the 3D visual prowess, environments and exploration of the newer Mario titles, Nintendo has concocted a beautiful formula for Mario’s future going forward.
Adding to that, the stereoscopic 3D capabilities that Super Mario 3D Land offers finally steers the 3DS in the right direction by truly incorporating the technology in a way that for the first time doesn’t feel like a gimmick. Having Mario jump out of the screen or seeing bullets charging right at Mario and through the screen is a special experience that players won’t soon forget.
All in all, Super Mario 3D Land is a classic Mario title brought into modern day with its 3D worlds and stereoscopic 3D and absolutely deserves a spot on top ten games of 2011.
“Super Mario 3D Land is yet another chance to take control of one of video game’s most popular characters in a masterful new world that seamlessly combines everything you’ve ever loved about Mario.” — Heath Hooker
(By Sebastian Haley)
2011 closed out with a handful of strong titles, yet two of my most memorable actually came much earlier in the year. Visceral Games’s Dead Space 2 wiped clean not only the few niggling complaints of the first game, but also made me forget entirely that Dante’s Inferno ever even happened. Aside from being the poster child of how not to add multiplayer to your franchise, Dead Space 2 was a superior experience in every way over its predecessor and set a new precedent in the fleeting survival horror genre with its cinematic suspense, masterful atmosphere, and carefully crafted action sequences.
I also greatly admired the unique experience Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP (from Capybara Games) offered. It’s not just unique compared to most modern games, indie or otherwise, but it’s especially notable when judged against the sea of utter crap and uninspired clones that overrun the iTunes app store on a daily basis. I hope that the success of the game creates a surge of more compelling titles throughout 2012 looking to accomplish something other than lurking around hoping to scavenge Angry Birds’ scraps.
Poll: What are your favorites? Please take the poll below and offer your comments. We’ve included some of the other popular titles in our voting.