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This blog series is all about the best games of the last 20 years. George and Matt from the Monitor Audio team take a look at each year and pick their favourites. In this post, we’ll be going back to the year 2011.
2011 was another great year for sequels from franchises like Assassin's Creed, Uncharted and Crysis. It was also the year that gave way to the worldwide phenomenon Minecraft and the release of Nintendo's 3DS handheld console.
Bethesda Softworks | PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch
Set 200 years after the events of Oblivion, Bethesda Game Studios brought us to the mesmerising province of Skyrim, controlling the last Dragonborn.
Leading a rebellion against the Imperials, Ulfric Stormcloak, and General Tullius bring several prisoners to their executions in the small town of Helgen. As your player is about to be executed, fire reins down from Alduin the dragon, allowing you to escape, as chaos leads to buildings being burnt to a crisp. You make your way to the city of Whiterun, to notify them of the attack, but as you reach it, another dragon attacks soldiers and civilians nearby. After slaying it, you absorb the dragon’s soul and learn a powerful shout, much to the shock of all nearby. As a mortal born with the soul and power of a dragon, you become the Dragonborn.
Located on the highest mountain in Tamriel, the Throat of the World, an ancient and honoured order of monks, called the Greybeards, summon Dragonborn. As voices of the sky, the masters live in silence, but agree to help Dragonborn stop Alduin, teaching him a number of powerful shouts. Alduin’s existence threatens all life in Tamriel and was foretold in the Elder Scrolls. As you meet with the order of dragon hunters, the Blades, together you find an ancient shout, used by Nords to engage Alduin. As the civil war intensifies, in order to quell the rebellion led by Ulfric Stormcloak, the Imperial Legion fight back and aim to restore peace. As Dragonborn, you choose which side you would rather fight for, leading to the battle for Whiterun. The leader of the Greybeards, an ancient dragon named Paarthurnax, reveals that Elder Scrolls were once used to trap Alduin. As you acquire the scrolls, you soon face off with Alduin, who flees into the afterlife, with the aim of devouring deceased Nordic souls to become even more powerful. You chase after Alduin, after learning from another dragon called Odahviing that Alduin is in Sovngarde. There you meet with Nordic legends, who previously defeated Alduin, and with their help, you defeat him once again.
As you meet fascinating characters along the many enthralling towns and cities, you find yourself drifting away and carrying out meaningless tasks, like sorting through your attire, weapons and potions, just to keep your house in order.
Skyrim is utterly engrossing, even more so than its predecessor Oblivion, purely down to the sheer number of quests, the quality of voice acting from the NPCs and the ability to smith weapons. The civil war storyline could be advanced independently and the open world was like nothing I had experienced before. Throw the additional DLC on top and it becomes one of, if not the most ported and sought after games of all time. VI is just around the corner, right?
Valve | PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Windows and MacOS
After the success of Portal, which released as part of The Orange Box bundle, Valve returned with a finely polished sequel, filled with new imaginative puzzles.
Set long after the events in Portal and Half-Life 2, you continue as Chell, who wakes in a chamber, which resembled a motel room, in the Aperture Science facility she previously escaped from. On the verge of collapse, the Enrichment Center complex is in a bad state, as you once again attempt to navigate your escape. A system personality core, called Wheatley, helps to guide you through the facility, as you avoid the crumbling chambers. The supercomputer GLaDOS, who you previously defeated, is accidently reactivated and soon separates Chell and Wheatley.
As Wheatley fights to get back to Chell, GLaDOS gives you a number of tests to complete, before reuniting with Wheatley, who aims to sabotage Aperture's manufacturing plants. Chell helps Wheatley oust GLaDOS to become the laboratory's controller, by performing a central core exchange. As GLaDOS's personality core is attached to a potato battery, GLaDOS's tells Chell that Wheatley was designed to impede her own personality, producing unreasonable thoughts to hamper her. An enraged Wheatley then drops Chell and GLaDOS to the laboratories’ lowest levels. In order to ensure Wheatley doesn’t destroy anymore of the facility, with his ineptitude, Chell and GLaDOS are hesitant, but decide to work together. Aperture Science founder, Cave Johnson, has a number of audio recordings, which are discovered by Chell and GLaDOS, as they ascend through the old laboratories.
Listening to the recordings, they find out that moon dust, used to manufacture portal-conductive surfaces, was used to poison Johnson, after Aperture lost its reputation. The true origins of GLaDOS are revealed, as Johnson’s last request was for Caroline, his assistant, to have her mind transferred to the computer. The twisted and misleading test chambers, controlled by Wheatley, are on the verve of failing, as Chell and GLaDOS return to the main level. As Chell attempts to force a core exchange and restore GLaDOS, the facility is pushed to self-destruction as Wheatley fights back. As GLaDOS finally reasserts her control, the roof collapses, as Chell and Wheatley are sucked into space. As Wheatley is left behind, Chell wakes, realising that GLaDOS saved her and after a brief discussion, GLaDOS allows Chell to leave.
Alongside the brilliant, but sometimes frustrating cooperative campaign, the superb mechanics in the main story gave us some ingenious puzzles. Portal 2 is an extraordinary feat from Valve, offering up brutal obstacle courses, which kept me fixated and absolutely determined to defeat them.
Team Bondi | Rockstar Games | PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Switch
Team Bondi teamed with Rockstar Games to bring us a detective adventure game like no other, as you roam Los Angeles's open landscape solving various crimes.
Set in 1947, you first play as a patrol officer in the LAPD, by the name of Phelps, a decorated United States Marine Corps veteran. Starting off as a uniformed patrolman, Phelps moves between the Traffic, Vice and Arson departments, with each division providing Phelps with a different partner. As he finally becomes a detective in the Vice division, he investigates military surplus morphine syrettes being sold on the street. It leads him to discover that members of his former marine unit had stolen and distributed the morphine. Gangsta Mickey Cohen, who controls the city's drug trade, ordered for each of the former marines to be assassinated.
As Phelps has an affair with Elsa, a singer, his partner Earle ensures that a prostitution scandal involving prominent figures is forgotten about, by exposing Phelps's adultery. Earle is given a place in a syndicate for the SRF, which seemingly provides housing for veterans, in exchange for a confession from one of Phelps marine buddies. As Phelps marriage ends, he is demoted to Arson, but soon establishes a connection between suspicious house fires and a development that the SRF operates. You next play as Kelso, an investigator for the California Insurance Company. You find that the development is using unsuitable building materials, determining that the SRF had burned down the homes of those who would not agree to sell their property to the fund. A patient of psychiatrist Harlan Fontaine, a member of the SRF, carried out the fires. His patient murders Fontaine and kidnaps Elsa after being confronted. This leads them to discover that the SRF were planning to defraud the US Federal Government. Fontaine was found to be selling the stolen morphine to medical facilities, with profits being reinvested into the SRF.
After investigation, the patient is found to be Hogeboom, who was once part of Phelps' unit, developing PTSD upon his return. Phelps and Kelso rescue Elsa from inside the Los Angeles River Tunnels, before killing Hogeboom. As they attempt to escape, Kelso and Elsa make it out, but Phelps drowns. Elsa leaves Phelps funeral in disgust, when Earle delivers a eulogy. In a flashback, it’s discovered that Kelso knew about the stolen morphine from the beginning, but decided not to distribute it.
The search for clues and interrogation of each witness, determines whether each case is successful or not. This neo-noir crime thriller blends chases, combat, interrogations and gunfights perfectly. With fast-paced action sequences and a wonderfully cinematic and complex story, it’s an immensely fun adventure.
Naughty Dog | Sony Interactive Entertainment | PlayStation 3
Set two years after the events of Among Thieves, Naughty Dog returned with a new memorable adventure, in search of the legendary lost city of Iram of the Pillars.
In London, Drake and Victor meet with Talbort, the right-hand man of Katherine Marlowe, the head of a secret British society dating back 400 years to the court of Queen Elizabeth I. Talbot is accused of using counterfeit banknotes to purchase Drake’s ring, which he inherited from Sir Francis Drake, leading to a fight. Charlie Cutter and Katherine Marlowe help Talbot escape with the ring, shooting Drake and Victor in the process. 20 years prior, Victor rescued Drake from a museum in Colombia, after he got hold of the ring, right before Marlowe could.
In the present, Cutter is now working with Drake and Victor and with the help of ally Chloe, they track Marlowe to a library. A map is found, showing Francis Drake's voyage to Arabia, where he was commissioned to find the lost city of Ubar by Queen Elizabeth I. They must now travel to crypts in a French chateau and a Syrian citadel in order to find the city’s location. They find one half of an amulet in the chateau, but Talbot and his men ambush and steal it. After discovering Marlowe is the head of the same order to which Francis Drake belonged, they set off for Yemen, after finding a clue in the second half of the amulet in Syria. Journalist Elena helps Drake find details the location of Ubar in the Rub' al Khali desert, before he is captured by Marlowe. Drake escapes and goes in search of Talbot, but is quickly caught by Rameses, a pirate working for Marlowe. After pretending to have also captured Victor, Rameses unintentionally sinks the ship and drowns, but Drake survives.
Drake goes in search of Marlowe, who has Victor, but after he is discovered in the plane cargo, which was due to drop supplies to her convoy, he parachutes into the desert as the plane goes down. Salim, the leader of a Bedouin tribe that live across the Rub' al Khali desert, rescues Drake, before helping Victor escape from Marlowe’s convoy. Drake and Victor enter Ubar, but Talbot seemingly kills Victor as Drake drinks from a fountain. Hallucinogenic minerals are in the water stream, causing Marlowe's men to experience hallucinations, as does Drake, realising Victor’s death was an illusion. As the city collapses, both Marlowe and Talbot succumb to sinkholes, as Salim helps Drake and Victor escape, as the desert engulfs the city.
Drake’s Deception is a truly incredible experience, with gorgeous sound, a flowing story and graphics that left me in awe. The multiplayer was a huge improvement and despite having a soft spot for Among Thieves, the third installation of the series was truly exceptional.
Ubisoft Montpellier | Ubisoft | PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, PS Vita, 3DS, Windows and MacOS
Rayman left gamers radar since we hadn’t seen a game, featuring him, since 2003’s Rayman 3 Hoodlum Havok (also a great game), but were surprised by Ubisoft Montpellier with his return to 2D style with Rayman Origins.
Back in the Glade of Dreams, Rayman and his friend Globox are snoozing by ‘The Snoring Tree’. Their snoring however disturbs an old granny from the Land of the Livid Dead. She retaliates by sending an army of evil creatures and ‘Darktoons’ across the world.
The two heroes are captured, but Rayman escapes, finding that the Electoons, who inhabit the world, and Betilla the Nymph and her sisters have been captured, plunging the world into chaos. Rayman is tasked by the ‘Magician’ to release the Electoons and the Nymphs to restore the glade to its former glory.
Later, Rayman discovers that the magician is the cause of the chaos, secretly admiring villain Mr. Dark and causing the events in the Land of the Livid Dead. After a lengthy chase through different worlds, the heroes defeat the Magician in his escape airship. The heroes crash land back at the snoring tree and continue their slumber.
Using the UbiArt Framework (a video game engine designed for 2.5D games), Ubisoft Montpellier created a gorgeous hand drawn colourful and vibrant art-style. The music and sound effects are probably my favourite part of the game, with songs you’ll be humming all day long. Deathly difficult like the original 90s version, Rayman Origins will challenge you to your wits end, but the fun animations and quick load times will keep you going through this unforgettable adventure.
Batman: Arkham City
Rocksteady | Warner Bros. | Windows, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Nintendo EAD Tokyo | Wii
Check out more of our favourites