Those who have been saying for the last few years that PC gaming is dead or dying should be eating a large slice of humble pie right about now. PC gaming is better than it’s ever been. The usual multiplatform blockbusters have been fantastic, but what set the PC apart was its independent games. Steam has provided an easy route to publishing for small studios, and the Humble Indie Bundles have provided publicity for a lot of great games which would have gone under the radar. Every genre has had its standout titles, so there really is something for everyone among the best PC games of 2011.
It’s been four years and three games since the modern reboot of the Call of Duty series, and it’s still going strong. Although they have adhered to largely the same formula, Infinity Ward has yet to fail to make a gripping, addictive and enjoyable first-person shooter.
Dead Space is one of this generation’s best-loved horror games and third person shooters, and Dead Space 2 is arguably even better. Solid shooting is made to shine by a fantastic and spooky atmosphere. We eagerly await the third entry.
Skyrim is an RPG without equal. It takes place in a vast and detailed world filled with an enormous variety of quests and characters. It has not just one but several interconnected and fascinating storylines, user-friendly combat mechanics and hundreds of hours of gameplay. In short, it is what every role-playing game should aspire to be.
Never has playing the Dark Knight felt this smooth. Arkham City builds upon the already well-loved Arkham Asylum, adding a range of new gadgetry and featuring many of the comic’s greatest villains, resulting in perhaps the best superhero game released to date.
You would be hard pressed to find anyone who didn’t adore the original Portal, and the sequel is better in almost every way. You portal your way through ingenious puzzles in beautifully designed single-player and multi-player campaigns, accompanied by some of the best writing and humour ever to grace a video game. It has only improved with time, with free DLC adding several hours of gameplay. This is an intelligent and lovable game.
There is no other series in gaming quite like Total War, which makes it all the more refreshing that the formula is refined occasionally. Shogun 2’s strategic campaign and multiplayer are both significant improvements on previous games in the series, but it still feels authentically Total War.
DiRT is probably the best-loved rally series in the industry, but Codemasters have outdone themselves this time around. Not only is the game far better looking than any of its predecessors, and most of its competitors, but DiRT 3 adds Gymkhana segments and even fun 'party games' to the multiplayer mode. The racing is as tight as ever, and the new features are the icing on the cake. Look no further if you find yourself wanting to play a new driving game.
To The Moon is a breath of fresh air in a sea of similar games. It is beautiful in every way, from the intricate story to the enchanting music and fantastic visual design. Presentation is all-important in an adventure game, and the presentation in To The Moon is so fantastic, the gameplay can almost be regarded as secondary.
Although FIFA is a yearly franchise, clear improvements are made in every iteration. This year around, innovations have been made in dribbling, tackling and physics, to make this arguably the most accurate football (soccer) simulator yet.
So much more than just a platformer, Terraria has you exploring dungeons, going on adventures, slaying monsters and finding treasures, all in a setting reminiscent of a 2D Minecraft, and together with other gamers online. Free updates have only improved what was already a great game in the few months since it launched. Partly thanks to its reasonable price, this is worth a try for any fan of platformers or RPGs.
LIMBO met with critical acclaim when it launched on Xbox Live Arcade last year, winning our overall Best Downloadable Game award. This year, PC gamers have been fortunate enough to receive a port. LIMBO’s atmosphere is dark and mesmerising, and its puzzles are based on simple principles and yet it's extremely intricate and very well designed. All of this makes for a truly memorable experience.
Minecraft is a game without equal in the industry. Although its graphics are simple, the things that you can create, given enough time, are incredible, and at no point does it feel like a grind. Minecraft is a joy to play, a truly original idea in an industry full of (admittedly very well-made) sequels. Not only is it a new IP; it’s practically a new genre.
On PC, Battlefield 3’s technical graphics are unparalleled. Not only are the textures closer to real life than pretty much everything else on the market, but the game’s settings are enormous and full of detail. On top of that, BF3’s fantastic effects mean that you really have the impression of being in a warzone, and this is of enormous value to a shooter.
Ever since the first gameplay trailer was released several months ago, Skyrim’s theme tune, sung by a barbarian choir, has been stuck in everyone’s minds. It blasts whenever you are fighting a dragon in-game, for a suitably epic feel. Indeed, all of Skyrim’s atmospheric music just seems to fit, and you really want to take your time getting from place to place just so you can hear more of it.
Dragon Age: Origins was, by any measure, an excellent RPG; in fact, it was our RPG of the Year for 2009. A lot of this was down to the variety of the game’s settings and the intricacy of both dialogue and combat. Dragon Age II feels like a bit of a cop-out. There is little to no variety of dungeon design, and only one city, and both combat and dialogue have been oversimplified. Customisation has been mostly removed, and visual design is undoubtedly below average. Dragon Age II isn’t a terrible game, but from an acclaimed developer like BioWare, we were expecting more.
Ken Levine is undoubtedly a genius. The creator of System Shock 2 and BioShock, two critically-acclaimed and widely loved first person action games, he is renowned for his ability to create deep gaming experiences in fantastic atmospheres. BioShock: Infinite looks incredible in every way, from the vast floating city of Columbia which serves as its setting to the new methods of aerial transport and the vastly improved plasmids available. It feels like BioShock, a game that many adore, and yet it is clear that it is so much more. Keep an eye out for this one when it is released at some point next year.
This has been a great year for PC gaming, with several extraordinary games spanning a multitude of genres, but one game stood tall over the rest. Skyrim isn’t the most original of this year’s PC games, but it is the most lovingly designed, the grandest, and the most fun to play. Such a vast and beautiful setting has never existed in a game, and it is filled with complex intertwined stories; characters of all descriptions; hundreds of quests and dozens more villages, dungeons, caves, and of course, dragons. Bethesda clearly sat down with user feedback from previous entries in the series and thought “how can we make the best role-playing game of all time?” Whether or not it is deserving of that award is up to you, but we say that it’s the best game released on PC this year, and it will be remembered for years and perhaps decades to come.