Choosing a GOTY is a tricky process. There's so many variables to consider, such as the game's story, it's gameplay, it's look & sound, and for some it's multiplayer. 2011 was an absolutely stellar year for gamers like me, so let's break it down into categories:
Best Story - Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
I stated in the thread about Skyrim that I preferred the story about the civil war rather than the whole Dragonborn plot, and I stick with that. It's not too often you find a genuinely interesting political struggle in a fantasy RPG. Within that struggle are subjects of racism, nationalism, loyalty and betrayal. Skyrim's filled with all sorts of history and populated with people to tell you their own stories. The Dark Brotherhood questline was my personal favorite.
Best Challenge - Dark Souls
If you've played Dark Souls, this one's a no-brainer. It's hard...damn hard. Dark Souls will chew you up, spit you out, then stomp on your remains and set them on fire. But Dark Souls never feels cheap in the many, many deaths you'll suffer. Every death is a learning experience. It teaches you patience, and to learn patterns. You may want to wrap your controller in rubber though if you tend to throw them in frustration.
Best Setting - Dark Souls
Lordran's a creepy place. From the gloomy darkness of the Catacombs to the architectural wonder of Anor Londo, few games have such a lush & varied environment as Dark Souls. And it's all in one massive world with no loading screens...and hundreds of evil characters waiting to rob you of your souls and your own humanity...
Best Gameplay - Batman: Arkham City
The simple, easy to use combat system Rocksteady used in Arkham Asylum returns in the sequel. A large section of Gotham City awaits you to explore with more Riddler trophies to find, more challenge rooms to conquer, and so many sidequests. This is how you make a sequel.
Best Zombie Game - Dead Island
Zombie games are a dime a dozen these days, so maybe they should get their own category. Dead Island easily takes this award. 4 player co-op in a large open world with RPG elements. Lots of quests and weapons to find and build. It's definitely not the most polished game technically, and could've easily been called Left 4 Borderlands, but slicing up zombies with your friends is always a blast.
Best HD Remake - Metal Gear Solid HD Collection
Along with zombies, HD remakes are all the rage with developers. Bringing back old games with an HD makeover (or just upscaling) might be a quick cash grab to some, but for others like me, they're a chance to replay classics or play them for the first time all on one collection. MGS HD Collection easily takes the prize. 5 Metal Gear games (counting the MSX games) wrapped together in one. You get the Substance version of MGS2, the Subsistence version of MGS3 (which includes the MSX versions of Metal Gear 1 & 2), and for the first time on a console the previously PSP-exclusive MGS Peace Walker. All look fantastic in HD at 60 frames a second. And with Peace Walker, you get to enjoy the awesome co-op & Vs multiplayer over Xbox Live or PSN. Although it would've been great to have the first MGS included as well, if you're a Metal Gear fan like me this HD collection can't be passed up.
Best Game No One Played - Two Worlds II
Two Worlds sucked more than a Hoover vacuum powered by a neutron star, so obviously there was a great deal of indifference when the sequel was released. TWII at least deserves a rental. The story (albeit cliched) is engaging, and there's a huge world to explore. With TWII you also have one of the best crafting systems of any RPG. Deep yet simple, you can make your own crazy spells and potions. With a co-op Adventure Mode, a make-your-own village mode, and PVP modes, there's tons of content here, including the expansion, Pirates of the Flying Fortress, that was recently released.
Best Use of License - Batman: Arkham City
Thought a Batman game couldn't be better than Arkham Asylum? Wrong. Rocksteady tops themselves with Arkham City. The Dark Knight's identity is at stake, and you have criminals running wild. Along with the gameplay, much credit goes to writer Paul Dini, who has crafted a dark, moody story. Now, if they could just make a Superman game as good as this...
Best "Dumb Fun" Game - Saints Row: The Third
Let's see...deadly dildos? Check. Airstrike drive-bys? Check. Beyond the impossible situations like skydiving gunfights? Check. Lots of explosions? Check. Oh, and full campaign co-op? Check. As far as dumb fun goes, it doesn't get much dumber or more juvenile than the Saints Row series, and SR3 doesn't disappoint. That's why I enjoy it. While most developers shoot for more realism, Volition basks in the glory of what a fun game can be.How many games let you fight in a lucha libre wrestling match with a chainsaw, then 10 minutes later lets you fly around in a high-tech jet lasering anyone in sight? When you just want to turn your brain off and blow @#$% up with a friend, Saints Row is here for you...with Burt f#$ing Reynolds!
Best Co-op Game - (TIE) Gears of War 3 & Dead Island
It was just too hard to choose. GOW 3 gives you Horde 2.0, Beast Mode, a 4 player campaign, and you can play Versus with friends against the AI. With recent patches Dead Island lets you play with friends against zombies matching your level regardless of the host's level, and a level cap increase! Both games are receiving excellent support from their respective developers in the co-op department. Whether it's shooting away at the Locust horde or bashing a zombie's brains in, it's more fun with friends.
Best PVP Multiplayer - Gears of War 3
It doesn't get better than chainsawing someone else in half...or sniping their head clean off...or blasting them to pieces with a shotgun. Working together with a good team you can dominate those other guys every time. Some great modes like Wingman and Capture the Leader keep PVP engaging.
Best Overall Game - Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
If I had to choose only one, it's Skyrim. It's glitchy and the main quest didn't work for me too much, but with the amazing amount of sidequests, areas to explore, the combat, the dungeons, and the engrossing world, I can't deny that Bethesda has crafted yet another masterpiece. I look forward to what they do with DLC and the ultimate fate of Skyrim.