The 20 Best Videogames of 2011

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Every day until New Year’s Eve we’ll be looking back at the best music and pop culture of 2011. Today we run down our twenty favorite videogames of 2011. This list looks exclusively at games released for consoles, PCs or traditional gaming handhelds. We’ll have a separate list for mobile, social and browser-based games later this month.

This list was tabulated from ballots submitted by a number of Paste videogame reviewers, including games editor Garrett Martin and freelance contributors Richard Clark, Drew Dixon, JP Grant, Steve Haske, Rowan Kaiser, Brendan Keogh, Mitch Krpata, Luke Larsen, Jeffrey Matulef, and Brian Taylor.


20. Fate of the World
Developer: Red Redemption
Publisher: Red Redemption
Platforms: PC, Mac
Fate of the World doesn’t work like other games. It’s a strategy game that tasks the player with regulating the entire planet’s environmental policies to keep Global Warming from running rampant. Turns out, those “other games” are wrong; saving the world isn’t easy. Swinging a sword or waving a wand won’t make all your problems go away. Instead of cracking skulls, Fate of the World made me crack books and pore over graphs. And I loved it.—Nathan Grayson


19. Dance Central 2
Developer: Harmonix
Publisher: Microsoft 
Platforms: Xbox 360 Kinect
When people ask why I play videogames I might mention the few good traditional stories that exist in the medium, or how vividly realized worlds like the one in Far Cry 2 can thoroughly pull my mind out of the real one. I’ll talk about how finishing or excelling at a good game makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something. With Dance Central 2, Harmonix’s latest dance simulator for the Kinect, I actually feel that accomplishment. Like, with my body. That physical rush, combined with good music and an addictive high score mentality fostered by a childhood spent in arcades, keeps me dancing on my own, through the pain, sweat and exhaustion. Maybe by Dance Central 3 I’ll be able to go for more than thirty minutes at a time.—Garrett Martin


18. Saints Row: The Third
Developer: Volition
Publisher: THQ
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Saints Row: The Third has the kind of storyline dreamed up in a cloud of pot smoke by a group of dorky teenagers who chuckle every time they say the word “boner.” Yet at the same time, it’s also surprisingly self-aware, with a few genuinely hilarious lines, the best of which lambast video game culture and the over the top nature of the game itself. It isn’t going to win anyone over with a complex narrative or Mametesque dialogue, but the story is incredibly fun if you’re willing to switch off your brain and simply enjoy the sheer idiocy of it all.—Adam Volk


17. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Developer: Infinity Ward
Publisher: Activision
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, PC
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is at 100% throttle, 100% of the time. It slows for nothing and because of this nuance and consideration are lost, and only our guts feel any sort of impact. But that is how it’s always been, and how it’s meant to be.—James Hawkins


16. Yakuza 4
Developer: CS1 Team
Publisher: Sega
Platforms: PlayStation 3
You could go your whole life and not play as accurate a Pachinko simulator as the one you’ll find in Yakuza 4. Ditto its batting cages, its casinos, its hostess clubs… So convincing are the details that you’ll buy into the fiction well before you find yourself brawling with crooked stock traders, following cats to buried treasure, and becoming the kingpin of an underground economy in which garbage is currency. All this, and Yakuza 4 has a story, too!—Mitch Krpata

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15. Super Mario 3D Land
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: 3DS
Super Mario 3D Land may not innovate with new powers or concepts, but it doesn’t need to. Instead it uses what came before as building blocks to assemble bite-sized mini-adventures that manage to be just as thrilling as any HD blockbuster. While the 3D environments don’t always blend with its punchier 2D sensibilities, the nifty level design and jovial nature keep things much fresher than they have any right to be. The princess may still be getting kidnapped, ghosts continue to haunt the land, and the Mushroom Kingdom remains one big death-trap, but Mario’s still smiling, and so am I.—Jeffrey Matulef


14. Warhammer 40000: Space Marine
Developer: Relic Entertainment
Publisher: THQ
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
We are given to understand that Space Marine is Reliquary’s first attempt at a personal combat simulator. They are to be commended for the excellent technical performance of their software, for their faithfulness to the magnificent and terrible glory of being a Space Marine in the Imperium of Man, and for their simulation’s success in engaging the trainee in what neophytes might call “fun.” Yet we are forced to conclude Space Marine contains several key flaws, including repetitiveness, linearity, and limited modes of operation. We wish the Design-Priests would have taken more risks.

Still, we recommend further investment in the Reliquary Simulator Manufactorum, as we believe this simulation, while imperfect, proves their ability to construct software worthy of the Emperor’s chosen. We earnestly await their next effort. Until then, Brothers, may the Emperor protect and guide you.—Rob “Robert Zacarius” Zacny and JP “John Petraeus Grantae” Grant


13. Battlefield 3
Developer: DICE
Publisher: EA
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
The typical round of Battlefield 3 will contain enough breathtaking moments to keep your adrenaline pumping for a week. The game promises large-scale multiplayer warfare, and it delivers in spades. You will engage in thunderous tank battles, tense sniper stand-offs, and withering, Black Hawk Down-style shootouts, sometimes within minutes of one another. You’ll kill your enemies using high-tech, long-range weaponry, and the cold steel of your knife. All of it is dynamic and player-directed. Considering the sheer scale and variety of Battlefield 3’s combat, I can’t say I’ve ever played anything like it.—Mitch Krpata


12. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony
Platforms: PlayStation 3
Story is vital to Uncharted games, but they would still stand out even if they were disconnected sequences of action scenes featuring wordless rag dolls. Few developers can match Naughty Dog for epic action set pieces. There are at least three passages in Uncharted 3 that try to channel the sheer chaos of the lengthy shoot-out within a collapsing hotel that was Uncharted 2‘s exhilarating highlight. The best of the three, Drake’s escape from a sinking cruise ship, might actually improve upon it.—Garrett Martin


11. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Platforms: Wii 
Skyward Sword’s dungeons are among the best in the 3D Zelda canon. They’re beautifully structured cathedrals of kid-appropriate evil replete with vexing foes and puzzles that largely hit the sweet spot between obvious and obscure. There’s little of the annoying repetition of the recent DS Zelda games or the frustration of Ocarina of Time’s Water Temple. Enemies are now puzzling in their own right, thanks to a complex new combat system. Gadgets aren’t just nostalgic call-backs to the past but vital components that blend seamlessly into the action. If an item as constant and iconic to the franchise as the boomerang can be discarded and not missed, as happens with Skyward Sword, then clearly the designers were more concerned with making a game that smartly uses the abilities of the Wii Motion Plus than with ticking off whatever fan-service features we expect from a Zelda game. And aesthetically, the orchestral score and painterly visuals make Skyward Sword almost as beautiful as Wind Waker.—Garrett Martin.

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