Top 10 Games of 2011 – The Year of Nostalgia

Next up in our look back at the previous decade is 2011, a year full of games that are generally associated with their nostalgic qualities and atmospheres. One of the better of the past ten years, 2011 gave us dozens of memorable action games and some truly gripping stories and lore. Who comes out on top at the end of such a stellar year? The competition is stiff. There’s representation across the board; everything from plane crashes to slaying monsters has a place on this list:

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10. Bastion

Bastion is one of the most polished indie games I’ve ever played. The gorgeous art style, stellar soundtrack, and addictive gameplay established Supergiant Games as my favorite indie developer. The game’s customization and extra challenges are enough to keep you coming back to the world. The narration was a fantastic touch, too. I’d never experienced something like that in games before.” – Nathanael Hueso

The Witcher 2 Assassins of Kings

9. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings tells a tale filled with politics, easily made enjoyable by the brilliant cast of voice actors. It’s shorter than most RPGs, but considering the two main branching paths and even more choices to be made from there, The Witcher 2 has plenty of replay value.

“Quests persist in being compelling. The theme of grey morality pops up constantly, and the rare difficulty in choosing what to do occurred for me multiple times during my playthroughs. I have a lot to say about The Witcher 2. If you want to see more, check out my Throwback Review of the game.” – Lewis Mackin

The Binding of Isaac

8. The Binding of Isaac

“I absolutely suck at The Binding of Isaac. No matter how many times I tried playing it, I just wouldn’t get better. That’s not the game’s fault. I’m just not that good at roguelikes. Despite its soul-crushing difficulty, it awakened my love of games like it. There’s something about its punishing yet rewarding nature that is inherently appealing to me. It’s a game I can go back to and still find rewarding every time, even if I don’t really succeed at beating more than the first playthrough.” – Nathanael Hueso

“The term ‘roguelike’ has pretty much become synonymous with The Binding of Isaac. Hot off the heels of his success with Super Meat Boy, developer Edmund McMillen tackled a new genre with his signature art style.

The Binding of Isaac wasn’t quite at full capacity when it came out, with many improvements and content being added in the later expansions. Regardless, The Binding of Isaac mixes together Zelda-esque dungeons with endless replayability. Randomization of item positions, maps, and the way it all comes together means that no run is the same.” – Lewis Mackin

LA Noire

7. L.A. Noire

“The moment my father, someone completely ignorant of video games, naturally became enthralled by the story and gameplay of L.A. Noire was when I realized this game was special. The fact it can transcend audiences with its brilliant investigation mechanics and compelling narrative design puts this game on the top for me. I am constantly disheartened that the people who made this game haven’t seen another project come to fruition. I sincerely hope Rockstar finds another competent team, but I don’t think they can replicate that talent again.” – Peter Finaldi

L.A Noire is an exciting game. Rockstar utilized brand-new facial capture techniques for the 1940s cop drama. The new technology was a big selling point for the game, considering a lot of your time as an LAPD detective would be spent interviewing witnesses.

“To this day, I don’t think I’ve played another game quite like L.A Noire. Something great about Rockstar’s crime-thriller is that it lets the player make mistakes. Each case has plenty of different clues and pieces of evidence for you to miss, and even if you do gather everything you need, you then need to utilize it correctly during character interaction. The game also tells a deeper narrative about corruption in the police. While it’s more subtle than something like Grand Theft Auto, the satirical look at American society is ever-present.” – Lewis Mackin

Dark Souls

6. Dark Souls

“Learning to love Dark Souls is perhaps one of the most frustrating and gratifying experiences that any gamer can face. Your patience will be tested as you learn that everything you do from swinging your sword to opening doors has weight and consequence. Even small enemy encounters share the same intensity as the series’ notoriously challenging boss fights – underestimating even one foe could lead to yet another death. Every slain monster is a mini victory… Just before you go against the final boss, you’ll silently think back on every challenge you’ve overcome just to get to this point – nothing on Earth can top that feeling.” – Theo Durrant

Dark Souls is possibly my favorite game of all time. It might make me sound a bit basic, but for me, Dark Souls has aged like a fine wine. I love the environmental design, especially. The attention to detail in areas like the Undead Burg and Anor Londo still blows my mind to this day. Developer FromSoftware used fully-rendered 3D models even for structures in the distance that players will never go to during normal play. On top of this, the world is meticulously interconnected in a way that I’m still yet to see done so well since.” – Lewis Mackin

“The infamous narrative framing, the subdued writing beyond that, the perfected combat providing grueling challenges that are commonly misconstrued as ‘too difficult.’ Miyazaki has stated at one point or another that Dark Souls was realistically never about the difficulty, but even then, it’s everything attached to the world of Lordran that makes the obstacles worth experiencing, regardless of skill.

“The bloody phenomenal world-building attached a somber story to each character inside. Action RPGs quite simply cannot get better than this, and despite an entire console generation of emulation, no one has truly come close to FromSoftware’s dying stars.” – Sam Taylor

The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time 3D

5. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D

“Had Grezzo taken too many liberties in porting the most revered game of all time to 3DS, we wouldn’t be talking about it right now. By using the lightest touch, the studio managed to faithfully recreate Ocarina of Time with stunning results. Taking inspiration from the game’s original concept art, the revamped graphics breathe new life and polygons to the world of Hyrule, lending a greater amount of detail to every inch of the game. Changes like gyro aiming and a boss rush mode are objective improvements, and the demanding ‘Master Mode’ is just the icing on the cake and a perfect way to revisit this classic if you (like me) have all the dungeons committed to memory. Unless you’re a die-hard fan of the original game’s visuals, the 3DS port can be considered the definitive version of Link’s most influential adventure, and it’s a must-own title for anyone with a 3DS.” – Theo Durrant

“Playing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is one of my fondest childhood memories. The amount of wonder and satisfaction I experienced while playing the game blew me away… Then, Nintendo released Ocarina of Time 3D, and I almost went insane with joy. The updated visuals and tweaked controls made me feel like I was a child again. It’s a must-play for everyone who appreciates excellent games and game history.” – Nathanael Hueso

“The 3DS remake wasn’t the first Zelda I played, but my most distinct memory of it was sitting in the school cafeteria playing it during lunch and, as I ran across Hyrule Field, thinking, ‘This is what Zelda should be.’ Ocarina of Time is Zelda in its purest form: running around the overworld looking for secrets, completing side quests, crawling through plenty of dungeons, all tied together by a creative gimmick that gets explored to its fullest. Playing it on a handheld device so you can take it anywhere is the perfect little cherry on top.” – Max Broggi-Sumner

4. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

“Personally, I think Naughty Dog outdoes themselves with every game they put out. Every Uncharted game is better than the last. Uncharted 3 came along and blew the previous games out of the water with its jaw-dropping set-pieces and amazingly well-written characters. I’ve played through this game several times, and it never gets old. Everything meshes together so well that even the clichéd narrative can’t get in the way.” – Nathanael Hueso

“Not everyone loves Uncharted 3 as much as 2, and while 2 is my favorite game of all time, Drake’s Deception is fundamentally a superior game. I found myself getting more excited about Drake’s Deception‘s campaign than I did with Among Thieves. The set pieces just stole the show for me… Among Thieves is an amazing adventure in its own right, but I think Drake’s Deception improved on all of the weaknesses of Among Thieves and is ultimately a stronger game. Hell, just talking about it makes me want to replay it for the fifth time.” – Peter Finaldi

“Melee combat holds more weight than previous games, replacing endearingly oafish one-on-ones with encounters that put the entire environment to use. Beyond the prospect of smacking multiple enemies with market table fish, Uncharted 3 broadens its scripting, placing you at the center of cinematic moments while giving you more control than ever before. It’s an all-around more solid version of Uncharted 2…” – Zach Kauz

Uncharted 3 is a solid title in one of Sony’s flagship series. All of Nathan Drake’s charm comes to life once again thanks to his incredible portrayal by Nolan North. The action set pieces are amped up, and danger is at every turn for our charming hero. Drake still quips and jokes as he kills countless people (devil-may-care, of course).” – Lewis Mackin

Batman Arkham City

3. Batman: Arkham City

“Rocksteady made all this possible in a semi-open world. It was refreshing to play in a larger space rather than the tight corridors of [Batman: Arkham Asylum]. I won’t say this game makes you feel like Batman, because that would be too clichéd, so I’ll just say that this game made you feel like a man whose parents had been murdered when he was a child, giving him daddy issues and making him don a bat suit and fight baddies for some crazy reason.” – Nathanael Hueso

“The decision to make the Arkham franchise bigger for its second entry, now with an open world and an added Catwoman campaign, could have merely destroyed its engulfing atmosphere (which I would argue happened in 2015’s Arkham Knight), but Batman: Arkham City strikes a tough balance between expansion and maintaining the details of its world. The Batman mythos informs every inch of Arkham City, a distinctly gothic set of surroundings that welcomes a staggering number of villains into the fold. Its combat remains trailblazing, and its gadgets continually add nuance to the game’s exploration. It pairs perfectly with the preceding Arkham Asylum, impressing with its sheer variety where Asylum enraptures you with the depths of its environment. All in all, it’s a high watermark for the titular character, let alone superhero games.” – Zach Kauz

Batman: Arkham City is a perfect example of how to nail a sequel. Arkham City puts you in the cape of the Dark Knight once more, now with higher stakes, bigger and better villains, and a cityscape that’s a joy to explore. Gliding around uptown Gotham is great fun, and it never feels like a chore. The City doesn’t contain many NPCs to interact with at all, with most interactions involving a pair of gloved fists and more than a few broken teeth. This cements that feeling of loneliness that Arkham Asylum established for our hero.” – Lewis Mackin


2. Minecraft

“There hasn’t been anything in all my years of gaming that has made me feel quite like loading up Minecraft for the first time (back when we still played in-browser) and figuring out what to do, surviving my first night, digging a hole in my first cave, building my first house on a lakebed. I can’t possibly check how many hours I put into Minecraft, but I doubt any other game would compare. There are so, so many things to do in this game, and from sixth to tenth grade, I wanted to try them all.” – Max Broggi-Sumner

Minecraft‘s greatest strength is its accessibility. It would be difficult to find someone who doesn’t have at least a little bit of experience with Notch’s brainchild, and it’s still going strong today. Memories are forged in this game, and for good reason. Its simplistic but instantly recognizable visual style and bottomless well of gameplay opportunities add up to make one of the most influential video games of all time.

“I’m not short on nostalgia for Minecraft either. The nights I stayed up until 6 am playing with my friend are uncountable. It’s not all about the nostalgia, though. Minecraft‘s consistent free updates keep players invested and bring old fans back for more.” – Lewis Mackin

Portal 2

1. Portal 2

Portal 2 is one of my favorite games not just of 2011, but of all time. There are few games that have so successfully established themselves in the comedy genre, but it’s not just the narrative and punchlines that are expertly handled. The puzzles are a work of genius. Valve knew they had something special with the first game and took every aspect as far as it would go. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, they added a co-op mode that doubles the number of portals and somehow still shines.” – Nathanael Hueso

Portal 2 is puzzling at its finest. Lacking the typical combat and dramatic set pieces of typical first-person titles, the game manages to uphold the core values of its predecessor while improving upon it exponentially. The portal mechanic remains untouched and continues to challenge players in new ways with plenty of acid pits along the way.” – Lewis Mackin

“Stephan Merchant’s performance as Wheatly continues to be lauded, with all of it culminating in a finish that’s absurd but in line for the type of game Portal 2 aspired to be. Slap on some of the greatest co-op puzzle gameplay of all time, and you have a game that, while it isn’t at the same perfected height of its predecessor, manages to fit a perfect hole in its own rights.” – Sam Taylor


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