2011 has been a dynamic year for the gaming industry, with a number of lofty highs tempered by the occasional low.

Security seems to be an ongoing concern for both hardware and software manufacturers; back in January the PlayStation 3 was hacked, leading to the availability of pirated games mimicking the official Sony digital signature. Sony's woes didn't end there – in April its customer database was compromised, leading to a prolonged outage for the PlayStation Network service.

Sony wasn't alone. SEGA quickly followed suit, along with Valve's Steam service, in addition to many other minor intrusions reported at technology companies throughout the world.

E3 revealed the Wii U, and whilst accurate performance figures have not been made available, it seems likely Nintendo may aim to position itself to compete more closely with the entrenched PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 fanbase. Nintendo also made headlines with the release of the 3DS, and although sales may have been sluggish initially, the plucky handheld has had a recent sales spike proving once more that Nintendo should never be underestimated.

One of the more controversial launches in recent history, Duke Nukem Forever finally reached gamers' hands after fourteen years of development hell. Many were less than impressed with the outdated gameplay and errant humour, but for some, Forever represented the chance to relive old memories and see a favourite character make a comeback.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 once again toppled all comers in any entertainment form, reclaiming the mantle of biggest entertainment release ever for the games industry. Unlike its predecessors Black Ops and Modern Warfare 2, however, it hasn't made the list of finalists for Game of the Year as nominated by Kiwi gamers. All eyes turn to 2012 to see if our love affair with Activision's modern military shooter is beginning to wane.

As the year draws to a close, it becomes necessary to reflect back on the top gaming moments. The titles that represent the very best effort made by legions of talented individuals, solely designed to provide players with the maximum amount of entertainment. The top five nominees this year, as selected by the community and listed here in alphabetical order, are: Batman: Arkham City, Battlefield 3, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Minecraft and Portal 2.

We couldn’t approve more of the games that constitute the Gameplanet Players’ Choice Awards finalists, all of which we’d agree are the best in their respective genres. But many excellent games were released in 2011, and to limit our acknowledgements to only five is to do a disservice to the outstanding work of thousands of developers from around the world.

Below are just some of the exceptional titles that made 2011 one of the best years in recent memory:


Saints Row: The Third

From bludgeoning the elderly into submission with a giant rubber phallus to calling down an airstrike on rival gangs, Volition’s Saints Row: The Third sheds all pretence to sincerity and decency, and instead delivers an outrageous and hammy interpretation of sandbox gaming. It’s rightly still commanding DVD and Blu-Ray drives around New Zealand.

“This is the strength of the series, the fact that it's content to afford the player the assumption of maturity. That whoever takes part can make utterly mad choices at any stage, and pass off what would otherwise be extremely suspect activities under the guise of stupidity. Never has the phrase ‘the game made me do it’ been more appropriate, or more welcome.”

Forza Motorsport 4

As far as we’re concerned, the debate over which console has the best platform-exclusive racing simulator is well and truly over. Polyphony’s overdue and ultimately underwhelming release of Gran Turismo 5 late last year can’t hold a candle to Turn 10’s Forza Motorsport 4.

“Forza Motorsport 4 is the most complete car experience available today. Vast in scope, with many new features, it is slickly presented and well executed. Other titles will cater to hardcore racing specialties better, but for those looking to race, tweak, tune and participate in a community, this fourth iteration offers more than enough entertainment.

“Turn 10 has rightfully earned a podium finish.”

Dark Souls

Dark Souls is not for the videogame tourist. An acquired taste for highly practised gamers, From Software’s grim RPG presents a brutally steep difficulty curve and promotes trial-and-error advancement. Death is frequent and punished severely. It’s a formula that in 2011 should see a developer laughed out of a publisher’s boardroom, and yet, Dark Souls has deservedly earned both widespread critical praise and a devoted cult following.

“There are many who are weary of being coddled to a game’s conclusion. Those wishing to test themselves against a game that doesn’t care if they are having a modicum of fun, a game that will strain their resolve and largely leave them with an utter sense of defeat; those seeking a high they’ve not experienced ever since success became gaming’s most debased currency need look no further than Dark Souls.”

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

A cyberpunk RPG focusing particularly on character development and player-defined gameplay, Eidos Montreal’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution is an absorbing and highly refined extension of one of gaming’s most beloved franchises. A fulsome return to form after a decade of series decay.

“A compelling story, advanced combat and stealth features as well as the thrill of exploration, character development and playing with Jensen’s new augmentations make this a title worthy of the Deus Ex name.

“For gamers who loved the first game, there is much to enjoy and rediscover here. Those new to the series will find it nothing short of a revelation.”

Bastion

The best downloadable title of 2011. A beautifully presented RPG, Bastion rightfully stands alongside titles such as Limbo and Braid in ably demonstrating that when it comes to games, price is absolutely no indication of quality.

Bastion is “ten hours of well-balanced, irresistibly charming gameplay, great visuals and evocative sound design that deserves to be savoured and repeated by the widest possible audience. With this release, Supergiant Games has set a new high-water mark for not only for budget-price RPGs, but XBLA games as a whole.”

L.A. Noire

Amongst those who follow the games industry closely, L.A. Noire may now be remembered as the swansong of Australian core game development, and for the widely reported demise of developer Team Bondi. None of this ought to detract from the game itself, however. Set in post-war Los Angeles, L.A. Noire is an episodic, hardboiled detective thriller with a strong emphasis on tone. The game eloquently tests a set of skills that typically fall beyond the range of those most core gamers have honed.

“The grand scale of a bustling period city coupled with the microscopic features of a crime scene separated by the gateway of interrogation. An old-school adventure game in spirit coupled with remarkable technology that avoids graphical enhancement merely for the sake of it, preferring instead to inextricably bind it to the underlying structure.

“Rockstar has excelled in producing a truly innovative title that sets the high-tide mark for inquisitive gamers looking for a real challenge. It's not to be missed.”


Continue to the next page to see the Players' Choice Game Awards winners!

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