2011's Best and Brightest
So many games to choose from, so little time to play them all. So we did it for you (played them, that is), and now we're back with this year's PCWorld favorites.
Check out our rundown of 2011's best games, including our pick for Game of the Year--which, given all of the talent on deck, might surprise you.
For more gaming news and opinion, visit PCWorld's games blog, Game On.
Don't let the blocky graphics fool you. Minecraft has been revolutionary--a tribute to creativity, exploration, and the too-often-ignored potential of indie developers working with a community of players. The game in a nutshell: hit blocks, build wonders.
The world of Minecraft is full of danger, from undead monsters to infamous creepers--time bombs that will wreak havoc on your structures. Caverns conceal treasure, but watch your step when exploring, lest flowing magma put an end to your wanderings.
You can find comfort with friends: Join a multiplayer server (or start your own) to share resources, build sprawling citadels, and battle monsters.
But the greatest danger of them all is the sun rising outside your window, as you continue to recite the Minecraft mantra: Just...one...more...brick...
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (PC)
Fantasy role-playing game The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings gets so much right that it's hard to justice to it in a few sentences. A warning: People who like connect-the-dots storytelling should probably skip this game. But if you're willing and patient, you can unearth a weird, gorgeous fantasy world that dodges tropes and ducks clichés. There's no simple "good vs. evil" stuff in The Witcher 2; your choices alter storyline outcomes, and you can see how much effect they have if you replay the game and make different decisions.
The Witcher 2's robust combat engine demands thoughtful tactics instead of rushing in--though spamming the action buttons doesn't hurt ("Witchers" are basically battle brainiacs, melding physical skill with alchemical acumen). If you're looking for the "HBO" of RPGs, you'll want this.
By: CD Projekt Red
The year has been good for indie developers. Hot on the heels of Mojang's success with Minecraft comes Re-Logic's Terraria. Think Minecraft, only in 2D: You're dropped into a colorful, randomly generated world and left to forage for resources to build shelters and explore.
The strength of Terraria lies in its zaniness. You start with swords and armor, but you'll soon find yourself using laser pistols and shotguns to blast away at goblins, or navigating through dimly lit caves with rocket-propelled boots and grappling hooks. Friends are welcome--or foes, if you'd rather dive into player-versus-player mode.
All of this action for $10. Larger game developers may have millions of dollars to invest in blockbuster titles, but you'll be hard pressed to beat the sheer, unadulterated fun of diving headfirst into Terraria's pixelated unknown.
Batman: Arkham City (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
We all get Batman, because he's any of us--not the playboy multimillionaire or the orphan, but the obsessive avenger, the genius who achieves his superpowers through invention and design rather than through extraplanetary origin or a radioactive spider's bite.
In Batman: Arkham City, you (as Batman) have the run of the city (or at least, a substantial part of it). You swoop over Gotham's super-prison, conjuring bat signals and searching for bad guys, but also solving mysteries and riddles with your arsenal of futuristic equipment.
Though the awesomely choreographed battle sequences can sometimes feel trapped, never has a game managed this well to capture the elements of superheroism. So much more than merely "the best superhero game yet made," Batman: Arkham City is also one of 2011's finest games on any platform, in any genre.
By: Rocksteady Studios
LittleBigPlanet 2 (PS3)
It's pretty easy to overlook LittleBigPlanet 2. Media Molecule's opus landed in January, right at the start of a year full of blockbuster titles. But like a fine wine, LittleBigPlanet 2 gets better with age.
The game takes its predecessor's roll-your-own-fun mantra and scuttles off to the hills, packing what amounts to a game-creation engine into the framework of a cutesy platformer. Since the game's debut, the prolific LBP2 community has cranked out over five million levels: short films, race tracks, pinball machines, light-gun shooters, survival horror shoot 'em ups, and even the occasional platformer.
Though you can spot plenty of flaws, LittleBigPlanet 2 provides a superb outlet for pure imagination and creativity. And drop-in multiplayer means that three of your friends can jump in on the fun.
By: Media Molecule
Dark Souls (PS3, Xbox 360)
This is your life: die, die again, and then die some more. Because that's what you do in Dark Souls, where dying is strategic--a way to figure out what to do next.
It's dying that makes this wonderful hack-and-slash experience such a harrowing, paranoid king of a game. Wagering what you've already done against what you think you'll be able to do next is everything.
Sure, you'll do some grinding, but it's compulsive and satisfying grinding. Couple this with backdrops that rank among the wildest in a game today, and you have an indisputable game-of-the-year contender. And when you finally punch through a grueling sequence of foes, Dark Souls manages to push your psychological "progress button" more effectively than any other recent game.
By: From Software
To the Moon (PC)
Our "best story" award goes to To the Moon, a $12 indie game that you've probably never heard of. It looks like something plucked from a 16-bit system, and you'd never confuse it with an action game. Instead, you're treated to nostalgic graphics, clever puzzles, and one of the best gaming tales in years.
In To the Moon, you travel through the memories of a dying man in hopes of fulfilling his final wish--a journey to the moon. This narrative structure is just a simple way of bracketing a tale that wistfully explores the hopes and imperfections of a person's life, in the spirit of movies like Inception. And it has the best video game soundtrack we've heard in years.
By: Freebird Games
Deus Ex: Human Revolution (PC, Xbox 360, PS3)
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is the prequel to the PC game Deus Ex. Human Revolution drops you into the technologically augmented husk of Adam Jensen, security director of Sarif Industries. It's 2027, and the world is divided on the question of cybernetic advancement.
Deux Ex: Human Revolution zips you across the globe to unravel a web of mystery. And it's your adventure--with rocket launchers and assault rifles for the trigger happy, no shortage of man-size vents if you prefer a bit of subterfuge, and intricate dialogue options and techno-pheromones if you'd rather chat your way through most conflicts.
With its nonlinear mission-based gameplay and expansive dystopian milieu, Human Revolution moves the interactive narrative we call "video games" several novel steps forward.
By: Eidos Montreal
Super Mario 3D Land (3DS)
Super Mario 3D Land may be the first 3DS game to fully earn its 3D accolades--in part because it omits freeform roaming. Since much of the game plays like a traditional side-scroller, you'll really notice the shift in depth when you're offered a forward-backward route.
Otherwise, Super Mario 3D Land is clean and clever, with new abilities and familiar adversaries. Admittedly, this old-school Mario game is a step back from the intrepidness of last year's Super Mario Galaxy 2--but then, what isn't?
PCWorld's Game of the Year: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
Dragons! Real dragons, sweeping through the air and spraying fiery death onto hapless bandits and critters scurrying across their path.
And dungeons! Musty castles and abandoned mines, bustling with treasure and denizens who can't possibly be expecting the dagger you're about to plant in their back.
And magic! Or massive battle-axes, if you prefer the personal touch. And books, flush with the world's history and lore. And babbling brooks cutting across the trail you've blazed on your trusty (and possibly stolen) steed, in pursuit of some mythic artifact.
There's something for everyone here, including procedurally generated quests so you'll never actually have to stop playing. But Skyrim, the fifth chapter in the legendary Elder Scrolls series, is an explorer's playground, rewarding the curious with a fully realized world to call their own. Our game of the year will leave you entranced with its windswept vistas and hulking monstrosities for years to come.
By: Bethesda Softworks