There was something for everyone this year, even the most hard-bitten anti-social gamer would have to admit that 2011 held a veritable plethora of group gaming options from the co-operative delights of Portal 2 to the expansive battlefields of...well...Battlefield 3. Most encouraging, perhaps, was the sign that local co-op was still alive and well with drop-in play the central feature of the likes of Dungeon Defenders, Skylanders, Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One and Rayman: Origins. Let us not forget, too, that the 3DS finally got the multiplayer game its social capabilities had been crying out for in Mario Kart 7. Games like Forza 4 and Dark Souls fostered excellent communities through online features that were a little different than all of the rest.
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We're not entirely sure why Battlefield 3 needed an Online Pass seeing as you'd never buy it for the singleplayer component anyway. Thankfully, DICE's FPS lives up to its name in multiplayer, serving up an expansive set of warzones, rendered beautifully thanks to Frostbite 2.0 and, if played on PC, hurling teams of up to 32 players against one another. Online, Battlefield 3 was simply astounding, with the clear emphasis on teamwork helping no end, the exceptional visuals and stunning sound work contributing to an atmosphere that was epic, frantic and a whole load of fun, whichever class you were inhabiting.
Brink was something of a melting pot of cracking ideas, a crucible of FPS innovation and, sadly, niggling design flaws. It had its problems upon release, but they were swiftly rectified giving those that invested in Splash Damage's shooter some of the finest co-op action to be had this year. Curiously addictive thanks to a progression system that rewarded you for playing to your class strengths rather than simply spraying lead everywhere, Brink was a flawed gem.
Of course Modern Warfare 3 made the list. With more to do, more to unlock and more customisation options than ever before, MW3 served up a familiar but expanded platter of multiplayer delights. Elite was simply the icing on the cake...when it worked.
Orcs Must Die! successfully married direct combat and tower tactics, but Trendy Entertainment's effort went one step further by providing a persistent RPG element that invoked the likes of Diablo and Torchlight. Dungeon Defenders was an incredibly brave proposition from a small independent studio... and a hybrid gamble that paid off in spades. With four players leaping into the fray it was insanely good fun.
One of the finest, most unique co-op experiences of the year - one, indeed, that provided a true representation of what it meant to co-operatively game - Portal 2 was just as astounding with two people than it was one one's own, if not more so. Working through areas together, relying on one another to solve the various puzzles, combined with a gesture system that allowed for instruction without headsets, Portal 2 offered up one of the most interesting and satisfying multiplayer experiences of the the last twelve months.
Insomniac broke new ground for their platforming series with All 4 One, introducing 4-way co-op. The series' trademark humour still tickled funny bones, the action was fantastic and, even though the level design was a little more linear than before, the co-op more than made up for it.
Uncharted 3 was yet another game that offered the complete package this year, just beating out Gears 3 in the nominations to make the grade. More modes, more options, more customisation, and the bespoke co-op mini adventures made for a multiplayer experience that delighted PS3 fans everywhere. Simply superb.
Best Multiplayer Game 2011: Battlefield 3
Top of the range multiplayer FPS action is DICE's bread and butter and they didn't disappoint when it came to Battlefield 3. Frostbite 2.0 provided the beautiful surroundings, the audio work was absolutely spot-on, and the maps predominantly excellent. On PC, the 64-player epics had to be seen to be believed, brilliantly capturing exactly what Battlefield has always been about: expansive, epic warfare that consistently rewards collaborative effort. Yes, the co-op missions were pretty bland, but frankly if you didn't head straight for Conquest upon firing this one up, you were doing it wrong.