Game of the Year | Skyrim
It would be easy to think that there was never any doubt as to which game would take home the trophy, but that wouldn't be doing Bethesda's phenomenal achievement justice. This year saw Valve release a full-length sequel to Portal, Epic bring Marcus Fenix and co's story to a close, and Adam Jensen fail to ask for things. None of these were quite able to inspire the same sense of awe and appreciation I experienced while wandering the land of Skyrim. The world Bethesda have created is believable, and full to bursting with sidequests and dungeons ready to devour any time you may once have dared label 'spare'. Expansive vistas, epic dragon vs mammoth battles, and the ability to literally talk an opponent to death are just some of the reasons that Bethesda have managed not just to better Oblivion, but in my opinion better any other game released this year.
Favourite Gaming Moment of 2011 | The Faces of L.A. Noire
When the first trailers began to surface for Team Bondi's 1940s detective thriller, it was easy to be swept up in the hype surrounding their much-touted 'facial animation technology'. Sure, it was hugely impressive, but that footage had to be doctored, right? Then L.A. Noire released, and the world sat silently, mouths agape, as Cole Phelps spoke, smiled, frowned and grimaced as fluidly as those trailers had promised. There's no doubt that as a game there were a few fundamental flaws lying beneath L.A. Noire's breathtaking exterior, but that facial animation technology remains as impressive – and potentially gamechanging – today as it was upon release. Sadly, Team Bondi have since gone into liquidation, and we may never see a sequel to their defining IP. Here's hoping that other developers are granted access to this, and future technologies that allow games to become ever more immersive.
Surprise of the Year | Driver: San Francisco
After John Tanner's dismal third outing (or Driv3r, if you want to be as douchey about it as Reflections Interactive were), it was up to Ubisoft Reflections to step up to the plate and deliver big with Driver: San Francisco. Things got off to a bad start with a lacklustre demo and one of the most outright ridiculous conceits seen this generation. Then, we got our hands on the retail version, and everything changed. It's been a long time since I've had so much fun with a game. A long, long time. What initially feels like a car crash of a concept (ho ho!) turns into a wonderfully-realised excuse to remove everything laborious about sandbox driving games, and replace it with speed, humour, and enough carnage to make the Dukes of Hazzard think twice. It's rare that a game manages to make me laugh out loud, but Driver: San Francisco is so full of wonderful details, and Tanner's manner so dry, that it's impossible not to crack a smile or five. Perfectly-pitched and way out in left field, Driver: San Francisco is the biggest and most pleasant surprise of the year.
Disappointment of the Year | Dragon Age 2
It would be much harder to select Dragon Age 2 as my biggest disappointment of 2011, were it that I felt alone in my disapproval of almost everything it does. Dragon Age: Origins was a personal gaming highlight when I finally got around to playing it last year. Extensive characterisation, an enormous world to explore, and a huge amount of weapon and armor customisation. Bioware saw fit to remove all of those things for Dragon Age 2, seemingly in an effort to 'streamline' the experience. In doing so, they took away everything that made Origins such an immensely playable title, and what remained was a limp, shallow experience that I can't for the life of me bring myself to repeat. Dragon Age 2 got things so wrong in fact, that not only was it a disappointment, but a genuine chore by the time I was reaching the game's climax. I retain faith in Bioware's ability to craft a deep and meaningul roleplaying title, but this year saw that faith take a severe blow in the form of Dragon Age 2.
Most Anticipated for 2012 | Tomb Raider
Mass Effect 3, Bioshock Infinite, and Borderlands 2 are all pretty high on the list of games I'm eagerly awaiting next year, but their formula (and thus their quality) are already pretty certain, at least in my mind. The golden girl of gaming though, has seen something of a decline in recent years. Crystal Dynamics did a fantastic job of making the Tomb Raider franchise feel fresh again with Legend, but since then Lara seems to have got cosy repeating the same old routine all over again. This year's E3 though showed us a grittier, more human side to Ms. Croft, with Crystal Dynamics taking the series back to the drawing board in a live demo of their appropriately titled Tomb Raider. People are already making comparisons to Uncharted, but given a darker edge and a solid enough location, there's no reason Lara's charm and Nathan's adventuring can't be a match made in heaven. Or vice versa.