1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Rocksteady
EA
Rockstar Games
Naughty Dog

“Skyrim” was unquestionably one of the most anticipated games of the year. The fifth installment in Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls series, it was touted as having jaw-dropping visuals within a mind-bogglingly detailed world – and the game’s developers were even better than their word.

As an escaped prisoner-turned-Dragonborn warrior, players are able to traverse the massive world of Skyrim at their own leisure, a world which is so intricately crafted yet vast that players will be hard-pressed to find places that they can’t go or things they can’t do.

The storyline meshes well with the physical terrain over, under and throughout Skyrim, and though the narrative is long and somewhat familiar, it allows you to sit back and enjoy the gameplay knowing that you can’t chew through it within a few days. And why would you want to? One look upward at the breathtaking stars twinkling in Skyrim’s night sky will keep you wondering if you could ever really discover all of the seemingly boundless secrets underneath it.

-LAUREN CASERTA

2. Batman: Arkham City

The best thing that can be said about “Batman: Arkham City” is that it’s everything you want in a Batman game. Following its predecessor, “Batman: Arkham Asylum,” “Arkham City” adds more gadgets, more abilities, more villains and more places to go. While one might fear that expanding the scope could dilute the experience, developer Rocksteady manages to weave a tight, cohesive story with all the new characters and makes the gameplay more varied with each new addition. While it doesn’t mix up the formula much from “Batman: Arkham Asylum,” the game refines the formula to an extent that it’s hard to find fault. Also, you get to punch a shark at one point. What more do you want?

-SHIN HIEFTJE

3. Portal 2

When Valve first released “Portal” in 2007, few people predicted that a bundled sci-fi puzzle game whipped together by a handful of employees would grow to be so wildly popular. So when a sequel was announced for 2011, fans were both elated and wary. Could Valve keep the sequel’s story fresh and its gameplay innovative while staying true to the spirit of its predecessor?

“Portal 2” provided the answer, a resounding yes. The addition of the robotic Wheatley and the highly entertaining backstory of Aperture Laboratories create a dynamic and unpredictable atmosphere, one which also includes delightfully familiar characters such as GLaDOS and the turrets. But the true icing on the cake is the dynamic co-op campaign, which brings the fun of a portal gun to a whole new level. With so many new features that nevertheless remain faithful to its roots, it’s no wonder that “Portal 2” was a 2011 favorite.

-LAUREN CASERTA

4. L.A. Noire

There’s just something enigmatic about film noir. Think Humphrey Bogart in “The Maltese Falcon” — the intrigue, the crime and the deception. “L.A. Noire” is all that and more, and it’s a video game.

From the creators of “Grand Theft Auto,” this stylistic video game is something completely different from any other game on the market. Instead of shooting gamers into a dystopian future filled with robots or aliens or some other post-apocalyptic predator of human flesh, “L.A. Noire” takes players to a new terrain: a post-World War II Los Angeles. It’s a detective thriller that puts gamers right in the crosshairs, searching the crime scenes for clues and interrogating suspects left and right.

“L.A. Noire” had remarkable success and was the first video game ever shown at the Tribeca Film Festival. Stunning graphics, slippery suspects and deep intrigue make “L.A. Noire” a standout game of 2011 — the most original, by far.

-KELLY ETZ

5. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

If you’ve ever wanted to control what’s happening in an action movie, “Uncharted 3” is your game. Just like with “Uncharted 2,” the developers have pulled no punches in creating a game with more cinematic elements than any other game around. With globetrotting, incredible set pieces, exhilarating combat and an appropriate amount of witty banter thrown in for good measure, “Uncharted 3” is basically what you would want if “Indiana Jones” was turned into a video game.

“Uncharted 3” is a slick rollercoaster ride that manages to create tension both with its quieter moments and its over-the-top action sequences. It’s a game in which the moment-to-moment action is paced incredibly well, which is why it’s one of the best games of the year.

-SHIN HIEFTJE

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