Shadows of the Damned
Without question, Shadows of the Damned supplied me one of the most entertaining rides of the year. Garcia "F'n" Hotspur's sexual innuendo-filled demon slaying trek through hell to save his girlfriend is a love-it or hate-it affair. I loved it. Sure, it's not without its flaws--not the least of which are boss fights which serve as example to the challenge of pulling them off well in a first person shooter. But even they reflect the hell-on-a-hallucinogenic-trip atmosphere so well that it's hard to be too put off by them. There's more than just a façade here too. The game uses its light versus dangerous darkness mechanic well, mixing up more than just the basic dispel the shadows trick. Top it off with Yamaoka's soundtrack that fits things to a "T" whether it's a heavy metal jam or flamenco guitar, and I promise one thing, Shadows of the Damned will leave a strong impression.
Forza Motorsport 4
As an evolutionary step from its predecessor, Forza 4 never stood much chance of competing for Game of the Year. It wasn't for lack of effort, though. The game shines as a technical showpiece with a stunning level of detail up close, richer environments than ever before, well integrated car club and online community features, and still the best feel for tires gripping pavement in a console driving game. Now, maybe with the next one the developers can step up the AI to where I can run some great races with their toy. Until then I'm sure to be still playing it every time I get the itch blast around a few hot laps. And I'll be doing those every so often with the wireless wheel. It's no substitute for a proper cockpit and wheel but damned if it doesn't do a nice job at letting me feel like I'm carving a corner when I hit it right.
Forza Motorsport 4 from developer Turn 10
It's basically accepted that sports games (and for that matter racing games as with Forza) don't get considered for Game of the Year. If ever one deserved a real shot at it, it's FIFA 12. Where other EA Sports games often leave me feeling that they were built around the idea of updating last year's model, everything about FIFA 12 tells me that a whole other level of effort went into its creation. While the new tactical defending system has met with some objection, it fundamentally brings with it a more authentic pace of play. It's precision dribbling, though, that really shines. With its ability to control the intricate footwork I see real players pull off, coupled with the impressive physics engine, FIFA 12 captures the sport of soccer better than any videogame has ever captured its respective sport (I'll accept NHL 12 as a rival but it's not my jam). I love my NFL, but when it comes to videogame football, there's no comparison. FIFA 12 is one for the ages.
FIFA 12 from developer EA Canada
Lord of the Rings: War in the North
To this day I cannot imagine how Lord of the Rings: War in the North released one week before Skyrim. It never stood a chance, and that's criminal. Developer Snowblind created two of my favorite console action RPGs of all time, Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance and Champions of Norrath. War in the North supplies the same satisfying loot collection and character development, brings it in much closer with a beautiful new game engine, and does it in the rich fantasy world of Tolkein's Lord of the Rings. Oh, and it gets all the better played co-op. Even accounting for skepticism about a Lord of the Rings game, War in the North deserved much better.
Lord of the Rings: War in the North from developer Snowblind Studios
"You forgot..." Let us stop you there! This week we're revealing the Shacknews 'Staff Favorites,' which are titles that didn't quite make our 'Best of 2011' list. This week we'll also be revealing our Honorable Mentions, games that almost made our 'Top Five of the Year' (those are coming next week). If you see a game on this list, it means no amount of arguing, hair-pulling, or crying was enough to get it to be featured on our overall 'Best of' list. Let's agree to disagree! Despite that, these were great games in another stellar year of gaming.