I don't do a best graphics tech post or best sound design - who has the time? Instead, let's concern ourselves with which games of 2011 had exemplary overall presentation. Graphics, music and art direction are all important, here - but more precisely, it needs to be a game that, from tip to tail, is cool and artistically consistent.
Great presentation can elevate a game from good to Game of the Year - it is, essentially, how the game communicates its identity to us, and invites us to involve ourselves in its world. This is why Skyrim isn't on this list; too many bugs and egregiously long load times will get you booted from this category.
These are the best-presented games of the year.
L.A. Noire is long on style and immaculately presented. Late-40s Los Angeles is painstakingly recreated, here, from fashion to kitschy old radio ads for cigarettes. I have a ton of complaints about Team Bondi's magnum opus, but - a few issues with their animation tech aside - presentation is not one of them.
Rocksteady hit it out of the park with Arkham City, from design to gameplay. It's exceedingly impressive that Arkham City's Gotham - a place we've visited countless times in comic books, graphic novels, movies and cartoons - feels like such a living, vital place. Constant radio chatter reminds you of all the goings-on in the City, character designs are poppy and sharp, voice work and writing are excellent across the board and the music is constantly plucking at strings of Batman nostalgia.
Tip to tail, Arkham City is gorgeous.
Sucker Punch shattered all expectations with inFamous 2, bringing the very-fun-but-not-quite-triple-A franchise up to par with the best in the business. Slick electric effects, incredible music that goes through dramatic changes based on your karmic alignment, some of the best voice work of the year and consistently sharp, vital art direction combine with a mastery of PS3 tech to offer one of the most visually and technically impressive games of the year.
The near-nonexistent load screens when you die? Well, that's just the icing on the cake.
Where other games on this list succeed thanks to generous budgets and technical wizardry, Alice achieves a memorable, intensely unique presentation with duct tape, chewing gum, haunting music and deeply imaginative art direction. Unlike others, Alice's dramatic flourishes of style are permitted to permeate the entire experience, from the protagonist's spectacular fashion sense to the charming, steam-goth menus.
Honestly - it's a rare title that whispers to you for a return, just so you can look at its remarkably stylish options screen again.
Dead Space 2 is a total-package game, with every facet polished to a mirror shine. It boasts the best sound design of the year, a new emphasis on narrative, exceptional art direction, thoughtful use of light, zero load screens and Dead Space's trademarked holographic HUD, which exists entirely within the game world - almost no game this year could compete with Dead Space 2 in terms of stepping up to the plate and offering a straight-up triple-A experience.
While every game above offers a great deal of freedom on the part of the player, Dead Space 2 is a much more linear experience - which allows the director to point the participants' gaze in just the right place to elicit a gentle gasp or shriek of shock.
Its presentation is seamless, and sumptuous - and even now, I find myself debating whether or not it should actually get the Best Presentation of the Year nod. If this last game weren't released this year, it would be a no-brainer lock.
This is a category I debated endlessly with myself. Uncharted 3 is, I feel, a lesser experience than Uncharted 2 - but yesterday in preparation for this post I sat down to remind myself of the truth of this game. The truth is, it is gorgeous and immaculately presented - and its sky-high standard extends so far beyond what we expect of a triple-A game that it's unfair to judge anyother game by the bar Uncharted 3 has raised.
If we did, no other game would be triple-A. It would just be Uncharted 2 and 3 sitting alone in that bracket, with everything else pushed down to B-quality. Like Dead Space, its linear design allows Naughty Dog to always lead you by the nose through ancient ruins and modern sprawl, directing you spend a few extra precious seconds gaping at this vista or that set piece.
I feel the writing and voice work is not up to the series' previous standards, but that strike against the title does little to damage the game's standing against others in this category. Uncharted 3's graphics tech is literally jaw-dropping. Its ambition borders on the ridiculous. A constant, supernaturally-gorgeous rollercoaster of stunning art direction, technology, music and action - no game this year has such a spectacularly high level of polish.
Unquestionably the best presentation of the year.