Boss Kowbel's Top Ten Games Of 2011

My Backlog of Shame:

Here I am naming the games I didn’t get a chance to play no matter the reason, whether I didn’t have the funds, Gamefly didn’t send me a copy, etc.

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary – I am a big Halo fan, but I also own the original Combat Evolved and the PC port. The main draws here are a nice HD coat of paint and the addition of online multiplayer.

Saint Row: The Third – Sheer ludicrousness doesn’t even begin to describe the offerings Saints Row: The Third brings to the table. From giant, purple dildo bats to exploding rickshaws to anthropomorphic toilets and everything in between, the city of Steelport is an explosive playground of chaos I can’t wait to visit.

Rayman Origins – I’ll admit I’m not much of a Rayman fan, but I do enjoy a good sidescrolling platformer. The addition of four players couch co-op only makes this incredibly stylish game more appealing.

Metal Gear Solid HD Collection – Metal Gear Solid 3 is one of my favorite games of all time. End of story. So the other packed in titles are more like icing on the cake. I do own this pack, but I’ve already completed each Metal Gear at least a dozen times, so I can wait a little longer to see Snake in all his HD glory.

Forza 4 – I’m really not upset I missed Forza 4 during the hectic winter season. I’m sure Microsoft will be more than keen to pack in all the DLC for an ultimate bundle to be released next year, as has been the tradition for the past two titles.

Dark Souls – I do enjoy fair difficult games. I hate being cheated due to a game’s shoddy design or gameplay mechanics, but death due to my own stupidity is more than welcome (and sometimes hilarious). I hear Dark Souls is less punishing than Demon Souls, so I’m eager to begin tallying up my death count sometime next year.

Driver: San Francisco – If there’s one mode I truly want to play on this game, it’s the multiplayer. Just imagine the highway seen in The Matrix: Reloaded where at any moment a player could jump into the 18-wheeler driving alongside you, forcing you crash to headlong into oncoming traffic, and then you proceed to return the favor.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution – I was completely skeptical of this game before launch, so I avoided the trailers at all costs. Browsing through screenshots did little to pique my interest as well. It wasn’t until all the Let’s Plays started hitting YouTube that I could see myself analyzing my enemies’ every movement, disabling defensive alarms, and waiting for the guards to turn their backs before they receive a quick arm blade through the spinal cord.

The Witcher 2 – With the expansive open world, top notch voice acting, complex swordplay, and engaging narrative, there’s nothing standing in my way from battling monsters and humans alike in the beautifully rendered world of the Witcher, except my low quality computer. That being said, here’s hoping I come into some money soon or that the Xbox 360 version will be just as good.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword – I’m not a fan of The Legend of Zelda series. There, I said it. I acknowledge why people enjoy the franchise, and I have nothing personal against Nintendo’s flagship titles. They just aren’t my go to games of choice. That doesn’t stop me from playing each one though. I just prefer to wait for a price drop and more free time before I choose to rescue a newly kidnapped Zelda. Seriously, that girl needs to find some capable bodyguards.

Honorable Mentions:


Now for the games that just missed the mark of earning a top ten seat on my list.


Killzone 3 – I am a big fan of the Killzone series; I have been from the original Killzone. Killzone 3 refines many of the elements criticized by the various Killzone 2 reviewers like the awkward controls, annoying dialogue, and incompetent storyline. The multiplayer also offers a more Battlefield-esque experience with customizable classes and large scale skirmishes. PS3 owners shouldn’t hesitate to check this one out.


Total War: Shogun 2 – If I had spent more than a dozen hours on this game at a friend’s house, Shogun 2 might have made it on my Game of the Year list. This game oozes beauty from the ornate detail of each unit’s armor to the calligraphy styled campaign map. Co-op campaigns and the fantastic online Avatar Conquest further extend the replay value, but players itching for a solo challenge will find a more than worthy match in the series’ best AI to date.


Bleach: Soul Resurreccion – Chances are if you are not an anime fan, you’ve never heard of Bleach, let alone a game based on the said anime. Yet my enjoyment of the show didn’t guarantee Soul Resurreccion (yes that’s how it’s spelled) an honorable mention – it was the simple hack-and-slash gameplay that sealed the deal. (The cel-shaded graphics certainly helped too.) This game is best described as a Dynasty Warriors clone through and through. Earned experience can be used to upgrade the two dozen or so characters. By the time I reached level 60 with the main character (Ichigo), I had broken the game as no foes were able to survive my ordinary attacks. Soul Resurreccion gave me afternoons of mindless enjoyment. Any Bleach fan should give this game a rent.


Modern Warfare 3 – I hated Modern Warfare 2’s multiplayer. I truly did. The lack of dedicated servers, sufficient number of spawn points, and broken killstreak system ensured hours of needless frustration for newcomers. Modern Warfare 3 has the same lag and spawning problems, but the tweaked point streak system is a welcome and much needed change. With the inclusion of Support packages, players that fall prey to spawn camping can still turn the tides of battle with counter UAVs, stealth bombers, or EMPs. The campaign is rather forgettable though, and I have no interest in any of the Spec Ops missions.


The Lord of the Rings: The War in the North – I personally don’t agree with Joe Juba’s review of War in the North, but to each his own. I will concede that the underpowered gameplay is a glaring problem as the combat quickly becomes repetitive. I shouldn’t have to spend five minutes mashing the attack button to kill every Uruk-hai, spider, and troll. But I am a big Lord of the Rings geek, which is why I found myself liking this game more and more. Customizing my characters with each new piece of loot soaked up hours of my time, and the story or voice acting was engrossing enough for me to uncover every dialogue tree. The online co-op is also worth investing the time in as is the New Game Plus. Just make sure to alter the appearance of Eradan as soon as possible. Any facial options are an improvement over the ugly, standard character model.

My Games of the Year:


And now for the reason you're still reading this blog, or the only reason you're reading this blog...


10. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was generally well-received. The game set a new graphical bar and showcased the power of the Xbox 360, but the massive open world wasn’t without fault, notably the awkward character movements, few voice actors, and somewhat terrifying face-to-face conversations. Nearly five years later, we have Skyrim, a game that rectifies many problems of its predecessor. Now at this point, you might be thinking, despite the rave reviews, why is Skyrim number 10 on my list?

The reason is simple: I only spent ten hours playing the game so far. It’s not that I don’t like Skyrim -- quite the opposite. I love the expanded, dual-wielding combat, I could spend hours simply gathering herbs or exploring the game’s countless dungeons, and the dragons, oh lord the dragons. But in my spare time I chose to plow through my backlog instead of shouting my companions off mountains or collecting butterflies. Yet in the back of my mind was Skyrim, begging to be played. I don’t think my friends and family will mind if I took a vacation from them very soon.


9. Dirt 3 – Codemasters returned to form this year with the release of the heavily rally focused Dirt 3. While games like Forza may give players the most realistic racing experience, the Dirt series gives gamers the most fun experience. Blasting down a mountain at 100 miles per hour before engaging the emergency brake and drifting around an 80 degree hairpin turn is nothing short of awesome. Your exploits will look awesome too as Codemasters is still the reigning champ when it comes to cinematic replays. I don’t know how they do it, but the developers always find the right angle to show off your motorized feats.

Your replays can also be uploaded directly to YouTube for the whole world to see, but perhaps the biggest addition to date is the inclusion of Gymkhana. This mode is all about stringing together the most amounts of tricks as players drift under shipping containers, launch off dirt ramps, and burn donuts into the asphalt. Helpful assists ensure that Ken Block wannabes won’t spend too much time pulling their hair out in frustration. The courses look stunning as well, but taking your eyes off the track for too long may result in headfirst crashes with innocent spectators.


8. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception – This year might as well have been known as the year of the 3’s, but only a few select titles improved upon their previous formulas to warrant a purchase from me. Uncharted 3 sees the return of every protagonist from Drake’s past, including Sully, Elena, and Chloe. The evil villainess, Kate Marlowe, has a bead on the lost city Iram of the Pillars, an arrogant civilization long thought resigned to the history books.

And so our brave treasure hunters begin their mythical search, traveling across the globe for the clues left by Sir Francis Drake. The story is somewhat lacking compared to its prequel, notably in a mid-game section with a pirate named Ramses, but the dire set pieces once again raise the standard in action platformers. Drake stares in the face of mortality as he outruns collapsing towers, torrential floods, and dinner plate-sized spiders, and the slow, desperate desert crawl through the Rub’ al Khali just looks impressive.


7. Mortal Kombat – When I received a Sega Genesis for Christmas back in 1996, Mortal Kombat III was one of the few titles that instantly captured my attention. I have very fond memories of squaring off against my brother as we uppercutted, leg swept, and jump kicked each other to death. Fifteen years later, Mortal Kombat finally returns to its roots with 2D combat, over-the-top Fatalities, and the original cast of characters. The fantastic story takes players through the first three Mortal Kombat titles albeit with a few plot changes along the way. The seamless transition between cutscenes and gameplay feels natural. But this can’t be a Mortal Kombat game without blood and gore, and this game doesn’t disappoint. There’s no shortage of broken bones and severed limbs.

Of course the real meat of the game lies within the multiplayer as players pummel each other senseless, but anyone looking for a different challenge will enjoy the Challenge Tower, a series of 300 progressively tougher battles designed to separate the best from the rest. Despite these offerings, I still spent the most time playing Test Your Luck, a mode where modifiers are randomly selected slot machine style. Anything goes in this mode, whether players are fighting without arms, fighting upside down, spamming unlimited X-ray moves, or dodging falling comets. Mortal Kombat comes with my highest of recommendations here, and this is coming from a guy who’s terrible at fighting games.


6. Dead Island – Unlike many gamers nowadays, I have yet to tire of all things zombie. Like many of you, my jaw dropped when I saw the slow motion trailer earlier this year; Dead Island immediately rose to the top of my must watch list. News slowly trickled out that it would be an open world type game with a heavy focus on melee combat. I was still interested, until I heard it was going to be class-based. Suddenly, thoughts of Left 4 Dead meets Borderlands started making the rounds (an apt prediction in hindsight). Then I began to worry. But the release date came and gone with a copy of Dead Island in my hands. I played through the prologue with a couple friends and became instantly hooked. In many zombie games, players slaughter countless undead without receiving a scratch. In Dead Island however, a mere three undead flesh-eaters is more than enough to overwhelm your character. Coming into contact with a dozen zombified mutants leaves you with little choice but to run or became a tasty snack for the island’s inhabitants.

Thankfully, the melee combat excels as dismembering and decapitating enemies quickly becomes a more viable option than unloading numerous bullets into the rabid hordes. The game is also long, very long. There are nearly a hundred quests to run as post-apocalyptic errand boys for the remaining survivors, and three friends can join in to help you out. Just forget about the story and the voice acting though; they won’t win any awards. Also, the random difficulty spikes within the destroyed city and falsely quaint jungle can be nerve-wracking insane, but like I said, the excellent gameplay, fantastic co-op, and addictive looting make this game one of my favorite surprises of 2011.


5. Assassin’s Creed: Revelations – In recent years, the Assassin’s Creed series has become one of my favorite franchises of all time. I love the what-if history aspect and the iconic periods portrayed by the talented teams at Ubisoft. While Assassin’s Creed II still remains the pinnacle of the franchise’s storytelling, I enjoyed the gameplay of Brotherhood more. I spent dozens of hours training my assassin recruits to the maximum level, so imagine my delight when I learned Revelations was more of the same.

Sure the plot is rather weak, once again raising more questions than it answers, but I appreciated the late-game developments concerning Altair and watching as the final chapters of Ezio’s life come to a close. Ubisoft can take back their useless bomb making and tower defense gameplay though. The multiplayer is yet more of the same, but it’s hard to complain considering how well the formula worked in Brotherhood. Players now have more customization over the characters they control, and several new modes bring back that paranoid feeling of “I’m being watched” yet again. Requiescat in pace SNIPER420XXX.


4. Gears of War 3 – I’m a huge Gears of War fan. I adore the games and I love reading about the expanded canon in the various novels and comics. There’s something about the simple story and visceral gameplay that keeps me playing until my fingers become numb. But whether or not you’re as obsessed with the series as me, there’s something for everyone in this third installment. The story of Delta Squad finally comes to a close, a concept developers have shied away from this console generation.

All the magic of blasting waves upon waves of Lambent and Locust horde can also be done with three other players, yet the campaign offerings can only tide players over for so long. Fans looking to bloody up others across the globe will enjoy the return to fast-paced shotgun duels on dedicated servers. More co-op oriented players should spend time toppling Brumaks and building barricades in the refined Horde mode or gibbing the COG’s mightiest heroes in the excellent Beast mode.


3. Dead Space 2 – I didn’t find either Dead Space game particularly scary, but that didn’t stop me enjoying every second of my captivity aboard the Sprawl. The phenomenal gameplay is once again the star of the show as every necromorph attempts to dismember Isaac in its own unique way. The fantastic set pieces never failed to impress me through my three back-to-back playthroughs as well -- notably the high speed train and eye poke machine sequences.

The pacing ensures that you’re more than prepared for the larger scale encounters later as Stasis and Kinesis make Isaac a formidable foe even with depleted ammo reserves. Of course his new bag of mining tools help even the scores as well. Despite the polished single-player, the multiplayer feels somewhat tacked on and nearly abandoned not even a year after release. Regardless, Dead Space 2 remains the third best game I played this year.


2. Batman: Arkham City – Now I know some fans of the Arkham series enjoyed the tight corridor crawls of Arkham Asylum more, but to me that’s not Batman. Whenever I think of Batman, I think of the billionaire Bruce Wayne perched atop Gotham’s tallest skyscrapers, waiting to police the unnamed henchmen that would do his beloved city harm. Arkham City realizes that vision to its fullest. Batman is locked within the ward’s iron walls with his most deadly of nemeses. Villains like the Joker, Penguin, Mr. Freeze, Bane, Two Face, and even several surprises stake claim to the walled-off city, redecorating their home turf in his or her visage. And yet many more have at least a cameo. But the engaging story can only carry a game so far, so it’s a good thing Arkham City is a complete package -- outstanding voice acting, a gorgeous, gothic art style, the expanded hand-to-hand combat, and a whole 300 Riddler collectibles kept the experience fresh even when I hit the 30-hour mark.

But perhaps the part that sealed this game’s fate as number two on my list is the final conversation with Batman and the Joker. SPOILER AHEAD: As Batman takes the antidote to cure himself of the Titan strain and Joker attacks, effectively making Bruce drop the vial, the dialogue that Batman delivers is a no better testament to their history. “Do you want to know something funny? Even after everything you’ve done, I still would have saved you.” “That actually is … pretty funny…,” Joker laughs as he finally succumbs to the poison. Even after Joker crippled Barbara Gordon, killed Jason Todd, poisoned Bruce, and shot Talia al Ghul, Batman would still help his arch enemy. END OF SPOILER: But despite the rich backstory that these two share, their epic climax still pales in comparison to what I chose as my Game of the Year.


1. Portal 2 – I’ll be the first to admit I was skeptical Valve could deliver a proper sequel to what was essentially a 3D flash game in 2007’s The Orange Box, but the second I loaded up the single-player and was guided through my morning exercises, I knew I was in for something special. With characters like Wheatley, GLaDOS, Cave Johnson, and even the corrupt personality spheres, Portal 2 had me doing something very few games ever encourage me to do: Seeking out every piece of dialogue. I simply couldn’t get enough of Valve’s humor. Portal 2 also challenged me intellectually, something many other games on this list failed to accomplish. I loved bending the laws of physics to my will with the bounce gel, gravity tunnels, and laser blocks. I wasn’t sure if Valve could expand on the original portal formula without making the game too difficult for newcomers, but I have once again been proved wrong. The puzzles kept me guessing up to the final boss battle, a suitable resolution for every joke, death threat, and betrayal that lay before it.

Honestly, the ending is one of my favorites within the last decade; I would place it on a pedestal with that of Metal Gear Solid 3. SPOILER AHEAD: From outsmarting Wheatley, to surviving the booby-trapped stalemate button as Wheatley comments in disbelief, to using the Moon as a portal conductor, to the grandiose turret opera, and finally Chell’s well-earned freedom, no other game this year charmed its way into my heart quite like Portal 2. END OF SPOILER: Valve’s return to Aperture Science put a genuine smile on my face that hasn’t been wiped off since the credits rolled. Mix in an outstanding single-player with an even more brain-bending cooperative mode and developer commentary and you have a recipe for my 2011 Game of the Year. Congratulations Valve. Now what about Half-Life 3?

explicit_baron's picture

Great article BossKowbel, I've missed a lot of these games. You should really get MGS HD Collection currently it's my GOTY, I didn't play many 2011 games this year. People Portal 2 is currently $7.49 on Steam go buy it, I am.

John Tarr's picture

I haven't read many GotY posts yet (though a post aggregating top sites' GotY nominees and winners would be an interesting read), but I feel like Portal 2 is going to get overlooked a lot because Skyrim. I think the Portal 2 vs. Skyrim debate boils down to a quality or value per hour argument. Portal 2 delivers a much better experience, but is obviously significantly shorter than Skyrim. Plus because of the timing of the release of Skyrim, Skyrim is on the tip of your tongue, while the finer details in Portal 2 are not as easily recalled.

Anyway, I know the 4 Gamers in an Alley are planning a GotY debate podcast. You should contact those guys and get on their show.

Pavan's picture

I have to say Skyrim is my Goty but Portal 2 was an outstanding game. I can see why you would but it as number 1.

Charlie Walker's picture

Portal 2 is my GOTY. Everyone must know something i don't because i seem to be the only person who finds Skyrim boring. Don't get me wrong i know its fantastic but im just not having as much fun as i would with SWTOR or ME2.

Josh Kowbel's picture

See, Skyrim is more of an adventure that you make, which is why I'm sure many people enjoy it. I do love the freedom that Bethesda hasn't presented players to craft the character in their images, but sometimes I also like to be told a story, and Portal 2 has an excellent story. 

Another part of my thinking is that I was skeptical of Portal 2. Like I said in my post, I wasn't sure if Valve could succeed despite their reputation. From the start, I had high hopes for Skyrim, which is why when the game finally came out I wasn't as blown away as I was when I started Portal 2.

@John Tarr:

I just messaged Semblance so I'm waiting for him or David to get back to me. I'm sure I could make the podcast, but I'll be buying a new mic tonight or tomorrow so my voice quality doesn't yowling cats.

Mr Hat's picture

Yay, another Total War fan! I must have sunk nearly 500 hours into that franchise, and I just can't stop coming back for more. For me, nothing beats screaming 'Banzai!' as I charge in with my No-Dachi samurai.

Josh Kowbel's picture

@Mr Hat:

I love the Total War franchise. Rome: Total War was the first RTS I ever played. I don't dislike the base building aspect of games like Starcraft or Command & Conquer, but I prefer to focus on my micro. Plus the large scale battles are beautiful. I'm hoping Creative Assembly is working on Rome 2: Total War next.

RaffyRTM's picture

I would have to go with Portal 2 for my GOTY.. since I've yet to play Skyrim, which is hopefully going to change sometime this week.

Diksickle's picture

I would also have to agree with boss kowbel, i played all the games in your top 10, and i have also not completed skyrim. I know its good, but i tend to get distracted by almost everything in that huge world. I also agree that portal 2 deserves its place at the number 1 spot, i loved it, the voice acting and story were fantastic throughout. But i would have to say my game of the year goes to batman, i have been a fan since i was 7, i love that superhero and it sways my vote slightly. I loved arkham city, thought it was fantastic throughout, it adapted on asylum and made improvements here and there. I loved the game and is my game of the year, i like to see that both of these games are 1st and 2nd, For me its batman, but for all those non batman fans, its portal 2, or skyrim if you finished it. 

Skin's picture

Skyrim is a piece of shit, and I am glad to see it did not make the top 5. That said, Portal games have zero, ZERO replay value and thus also is a piece of shit in my eyes. It was mildly humorous, pretty challenging and sometimes frustrating, but it boils down to being a game you play once, and if your playing it again, your retarded or you don't have anything else to play.

Really surprised to see Gears 3 in that list too... It seems to be as generic as a sequel can be, although superior to its predecessors (something that sequels should be - I am looking at you MW>1).

Dead Island is also shit, although you do like zombies, so you may have overlooked that. It would have been more entertaining and less frustrating to flush my $60 down the toilet rather than pay for Dead Island, but to each their own.

I would put The Witcher 2 and Dark Souls in my top 2, and maybe Halo:CEA as #3, and end my list there, as I have not played the other games, or thought they were atrocious.  

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