2011 Game of the Year Awards: Numbers 5 and 4

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We've reached the halfway point for our top 10 games of 2011! Boy, were there a lot of sequels last year or what? At least we liked them.

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#5 - Battlefield 3

October 2011 | Developer: DICE | Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows

Let me be frank: Battlefield 3 made this list because of its multiplayer. The heavily scripted singleplayer and the blink-and-its-over cooperative missions were afterthoughts; paltry dinner mints to the filet mignon that is 64 players fighting simulated war.

It may be hypocritical for us to vault a title so high for one part of its overall package, but I argue that what’s contained in the multiplayer portion is almost enough to make it 2011’s best overall game.

“Battlefield Moments,” a sly marketing term DICE has used in the past to describe the unpredictability of the series’ online combat, are what justifies the hundreds of hours fans spend playing each iteration of the core formula. Anyone you talk to about Battlefield has several “This one time…” stories they can ramble off with exuberance and ease. What excited me the most about Battlefield 3 is that its calculated leap ahead with a clever Facebook-like web platform and quality VoIP and IM services (among many other things) has refreshed my stock of “moments” through my hard-won accomplishments and fantastic victories.

Battlefield 3’s insistence on surpassing its competition with its web-only matchmaking service on PC and an aggressive marketing campaign aimed at flexing its muscles against Call of Duty -- and risking alienation by perhaps trying too hard – at least proves DICE as a forward-thinking and dedicated company. And perhaps it’s proof of how good the core Battlefield principles are (massive and unscripted teamwork-focused skirmishes) that its sequels aren’t scoffed at like Call of Duty’s, but eagerly picked clean by an equally dedicated fan base. The magic of Battlefield 3 is that both its developers and its community want this game to be so much better than it already is.

I loved every match I played of Battlefield 3, win or lose. The graphics are gorgeous, from sun glares blinding me before an attack to helicopters kicking up dust as they unload their troops. War shouldn’t be glorified or romanticized in this voyeuristic era, but Battlefield 3 does more to make battle come alive than any other shooter I’ve played. When you experience Battlefield 3, you should feel excited to be part of the best online shooter released not only in 2011, but in the past five years. -- Aaron Thayer

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#4 - Portal 2

April 2011 | Developer: Valve | Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows

The original Portal was an experience that caught a lot of people off-guard, myself included. The Orange Box was an incredible bargain, with Half-Life 2 and both of its episodic semi-sequels included; as far as I was concerned, Portal was just a first-person-puzzle cherry on top. Despite the brief length, it became abundantly clear once you played Portal that it was the reason to get the Orange Box.

Portal 2, unlike many sequels on our list, doesn’t fix problems with its predecessor, mostly because Portal wasn’t a very flawed experience. What Portal 2 does is expand the ideas that made its predecessor so great into a fuller experience that never feels diluted or redundant.

The writing is what truly makes Portal 2 stand out. Valve created one of the most humorous, triple-A games in years, and not even once does it lower itself to a single dick or fart joke. The sharp writing is complemented by incredible voice acting that sets a new standard for games. That Stephen Merchant and J.K. Simmons do such an astounding job conveying depth and personality in their characters is made even more incredible by the fact that one voices a robot and the other a recording for a character that is long-since deceased and never truly interacts with the player.

Portal 2 would not warrant mentioning, however, if the gameplay did not match the polish of the presentation. While the portal gun is still leaned upon heavily for most puzzles, new additions are clever and fit the atmosphere and set-up of Aperture Laboratories perfectly. No moment feels tacked-on, and for a campaign that is more than double the length of Portal 1, it breezes by. All this is wrapped up with an extremely satisfying ending and what is likely the best use of the moon in a video game since Duck Tales on the NES. If there was any glaring flaw in the game it’s that the co-op mode is very much a take-it or leave-it affair, but the story of Portal 2 is unlike anything currently existing in games. Portal 2 isn’t perfect, but it does come damn close. -- Tyler Martin