As we bid farewell to the year and look ahead to 2012, Jackalope Ranch contributors will bring you some greatest hits from 2011. Today we're taking a look back at the year's best video games ...
In 2011, beloved video game franchises returned to store shelves, accompanied by cheering fans and overflowing cash registers, while innovative new properties also found ground to thrive.
This year was cluttered with triple-A releases on virtually every platform, making sure Xbox 360s kept overheating and iPhone batteries kept dying.
Below are our picks for the best games of 2011, which may also serve as a handy guide for belated-Christmas shoppers.
10. Saints Row: The Third (360, PS3, PC)
Saints Row 3 is the guilty pleasure to end all guilty pleasures. Want to blow up a few military jets with a rocket launcher while wearing a furry costume? Go ahead. How about beating a luchador to death with a giant purple dildo bat, or blasting away at European mobsters while skydiving? In Saints Row 3, the city of Steelport is your schizophrenic, neon-lit oyster.
This open world romp, heavily styled after the more less serious Grand Theft Auto entries, is indulgence at its most over-the-top. It is the game made for your perverted, violent, ADHD-crazed 13-year-old self.
9. Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP (iPhone)
Release in March this year, SS: S&S EP not only makes one awesome acronym, but also serves as a testament to the potential of the iPhone as a legitimate gaming platform. This indie hit features a charming pixel graphics, a substantial emotional punch, and one of this year's best soundtracks, all while simultaneously oozing with trippy style.
At $4.99 on the App Store, this game is certainly pricier than most, but, trust us. There's a lot more to love here than with any of those angry birds.
8. Dead Space 2 (360, PS3, PC)
Like having an elevated heart-rate? How about constantly feeling the sour itch that some horrible monstrosity is lurking behind you, hungry? Want to regain your childhood fears of the dark? Then Dead Space 2 is the game for you.
The sequel to EA's 2008 horror blockbuster, you are once again put into the PTSD-ravaged shoes of protagonist Isaac Clarke as he takes on hordes of grotesque "Necromorphs," screeching monstrosities with disturbingly human features. Dead Space 2 is filed with both jump screams, and legitimate psychological horror, the kind that will stick with you sleepless night after sleepless night.
7. Minecraft (PC)
While Minecraft technically released in beta form in 2010, its official finished version launched in November of this year. Developed by a small Swedish studio, this title has taken the indie world by storm, with over 16 million registered users. Hell, even Deadmau5 is a prominent fan, playing at inaugural "MineCon" this month.
Minecraft is a difficult beast to describe on paper. At its most basic, it is a game of survival. You collect resources that allow you to create tools to harvest more resources and build structures, all in the hope to survive another night of creepers and zombies. However, the experience completely changes once you are able to build freely, and interact with other players. Minecraft allows player creativity to run free, allowing for some truly breathtaking sights. It is the ultimate sandbox.
6. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii)
It's been a rough year for Wii owners, with blockbuster releases and console-exclusives few and far between. Finally, in late November, amidst the sea of usual Wii shovelware, emerged a beloved Nintendo Hero, Link.
Skyward Sword is the fully realized vision of the consoles motion controls, touting 1:1 sword combat. You are no longer mindlessly tapping buttons, or half-hearted waggling a Wii mote. Skyward Sword to think tactically in intense sword combat where every block and slash counts. Combine this with a fitting impressionist art style, and the fact this adventure is the effective prequel to the lauded Ocarina of Time, and this one Zelda you shouldn't miss.
5. Battlefield 3 (360, PS3, PC)
While we might get some flak for picking this military shooter over Modern Warfare 3, it was BF3 deep and utterly chaotic multiplayer that kept us playing. Land, sea and air are open for your domination in this game, featuring gorgeous graphics (if you're on the PC at least), massive maps and a vibrant online community (who will still berate you with the usual amounts of racism and homophobia).
Battlefield 3 gives players access to a variety of jets, tanks, helicopters, and so on. Those crazy, scripted moments in other shooters, where everything goes to hell and your screen is filled with digital wreckage and explosions? Those happen dynamically and without warning in BF3.
For a prime example of this crazy, check out the video above.
4. Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (PS3)
Since its initial release in 2007, the Uncharted series has been the Playstation 3's powerhouse franchise, with its gorgeous visuals, vertigo-inducing platforming and jaw-dropping set pieces. This trend of high-quality continues with the series' third iteration.
Uncharted 3 tells a much more intimate, character-focused tale this time, diving into Nathan Drake's past as he searches the globe for the legendary lost city, the Iram of the Pillars. Per usual, this game features some of the best characterization and storytelling out there today. Indiana Jones fans need apply.
3. Batman: Arkham City (360, PS3, PC)
Arkham City, like its predecessor Arkham Asylum, succeeds in providing the most important element of a Batman experience -- making players feel like the predatory Caped Crusader. The game places you in an entire city, filled to the brim with Gotham's most crazed and dangerous murders, thugs, and animal-theme villains, with each character exuding an aura of maliciousness and horrifying implication that extends well beyond this title's Teen rating.
Combat is more fluid than ever, providing one of the best third-person, hand-to-hand fighting experiences to date. Navigating the Bat through the city is also a blast, with his improve glide and grappling hook abilities. And those Riddler puzzles everyone loved last time? There's over 400 of them now, and they're a lot harder.
Besides, you'll need something to hold you over til next July, when the next Nolan film entry releases.
2. Portal 2 (360, PS3, PC)
If Pixar were to get into this industry, Portal 2 would be their game, with its charming digital characters, quirky humor, and consistent standard for quality and cleverness.
Portal 2 begins with a bang, as protagonist and human lab rat Chell makes another attempt to escape the trap and puzzle filled Aperture Science Testing Facility with the aid of her trusty, yet often disorientating, Portal Gun.
Along the way you'll meet a robust cast of funny and well-written, non-human characters, who range from charmingly idiotic to nefariously passive-aggressive. This game is filled to the brim with personality.
The puzzles of Portal 2 aren't designed to stop players in their tracks. Rather, they're crafted with an intuitive hand that keeps things fun and fluid as new mechanics are introduced. Get used to the sensation of smacking yourself across the forehead as you once again come to the realization that the answer was in front of you the whole time.
1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (360, PS3, PC)
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There's not a lot you can say about Skyrim that hasn't already been said. It's a massive world that provides players the opportunity to live out their wildest D&D-style fantasies, whether you're taking down dragons with just a sword and shield, hurling fireballs at giants, or just sitting back and making some sweet, enchanted eleven armor as a blacksmith.
Skyrim places you in the role of the "Dragonborn," whose destiny is to put an end to the recent dragon invasion that has been plaguing the land. However, you could easily spend dozens of hours ignoring this quest, tackling on other pursuits in this chaotic, Nordic tundra. You can serve as a whispering assassin for the vile Dark Brotherhood, or learning the meaning of honor among criminals in the Thieves Guild. You can even get your Harry Potter on at the College of Winterhold.
Skyrim does what gaming does best. It provides players a gigantic world, with hundreds of hours of content. Additionally, it has one of the year's best soundtracks, ranging from serine and peaceful lows to epic, warrior-chant-filled highs. Get ready for the blur of late nights into early mornings because this game is a dangerous poison. It's pure, uncut escapism.