Last year, our countdown of the best games of 2010 was originally supposed to be a mere top ten list, until we tallied up all of the year’s superlative software and arrived at a figure that was far closer to 30 than just 10. And exactly the same thing has happened this year, with well over thirty games being more than worthy of a slot in our top ten. Our top ten countdown was unveiled a couple of weeks ago, but here’s the complete list of our top twenty five (or is it twenty six?) favourite videogames of 2011….

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25. Ace Combat: Assault Horizon

Assault Horizon was modelled as closely on the previous games in the series as it was on today’s big-budget action blockbusters, but it was so much more focused and satisfying than your average half-breed. And it actually did compete with the FPS titles that it held in such high esteem; in terms of the polish, confidence and the general level of nerve-wracking excitement that it consistently delivered. Assault Horizon wasn’t some half-baked dry run. It managed to be both straight-faced and somewhat dippy at the same time, and this deliberate personality clash actually worked extremely well. A box-fresh action extravaganza. [FULL REVIEW]

24. Homefront

The campaign was blunt, derivative and far too short-lived, but Homefront’s multiplayer component never earned the kudos that it deserved. It may have been slavishly based on DICE’s inimitable Battlefield template, and largely viewed (even by its allies) as little more than a make-do stopgap, but once the online teething problems of its bungled launch had subsided, it soared. It boasted impeccable map design across the board and a faultless XP system, but the new stuff – like being able to buy all of your weapons and vehicles on the fly – truly set it apart. DICE’s monstrous latest may have poached the majority of its community, but Homefront continues to offer a genuinely singular (and recommended) online experience. [FULL REVIEW]

23. Assassin’s Creed: Revelations

After completing Revelations there was little question that the series was now ready to move onto pastures new, but that’s only because Ubisoft had exhausted the timeline with this game rather than the previous one, which is so often the case. The experience was ingrained with all the pomp and majesty that a blockbuster finale like this should have been ingrained with, and all of the new gameplay additions were bright and very skilfully implemented. If you were a fan, you’ll have been in hog heaven. If you weren’t, this really wasn’t a bad time to see what all the fuss was about. [FULL REVIEW]

22. Mortal Kombat

Mortal Kombat’s hyper-confident reboot didn’t wear its gameplay depth on its sleeve, but it was there in abundance if you went looking for it. The patented, wilful goofiness was as intensely loveable as ever and (arguably for the first time in series history) a Mortal Kombat game featured a story mode that was actually, genuinely compelling. As expected, hardcore fans absolutely adored this new game but for the first time in over a decade, it wasn’t just for them. It was for absolutely anyone who suspected that they might be hard enough. [FULL REVIEW]

21. Shadows of the Damned

The match of Vanquish and Resident Evil 4 maestro Shinji Mikami with Killer7’s crackpot engineer Suda 51 was almost too tantalising to fathom, and yet Shadows of the Damned was every inch the collaboration that fans of both men had been rabidly anticipating. Which is to say, it was less a match made in heaven, and more of a match made in a Tokyo opium den. Tight, engaging and heroically immature, Shadows of the Damned had the term ‘cult classic’ written through it like a stick of coc…. a stick of rock. [FULL REVIEW]

20. Rage

If anything embodied the cocksure “boys are back in town” vibe of id Software’s Rage, it’s that it was a joyous experience from the second you first got your hands on it. It was a corridor shooter at heart with some vastly compelling RPG asides skilfully woven into it, and whilst hardly original, its gameplay was outrageously confident in its ability to captivate, and with excellent reason. Outstanding entertainment, and unquestionably one of the best looking console games of all time. [FULL REVIEW]

19. Forza Motorsport 4

With an unusually inviting difficulty tier, enhanced graphical oomph and some massively significant refinements to vehicle handling, Forza Motorsport 4 was easily the most accessible Forza model yet. Piddling around in the Auction Houses was still almost a game in itself, and the constantly aggressive new AI was capable of occasionally making you forget that you were playing the game offline. An experience that was buoyed by some very smart tweaks, Forza Motorsport 4 was sleek and elegant but also gripping. [FULL REVIEW]

18. Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Set over two decades before the original game, Human Revolution was an initially slow-moving tale of globe-trotting conspiracy and espionage, but despite the fact that there was definitely an element of James Bond about the whole thing, proceedings were never that straightforward. The level of experimentation that was allowed felt alien to many contemporary gamers – who are accustomed to pre-set (single) pathways that direct them towards places where they can “discover” secret routes – in Human Revolution you genuinely felt as if you were constantly being left to your own devices. Like the original, this was one to remember. [FULL REVIEW]

17. Total War: Shogun 2

Shogun 2 was the first direct sequel to the property that started the Total War series in the first place back in 2000, and was smaller in scope because the franchise clearly needed to get back to its roots. Not that the previous two games were failures – for some, Empire and Napoleon were the embodiment of the series functioning at its creative peak – but their emphasis on awe-inspiring scope and overbearing complexity meant that during some battles, the pursuit of spectacle somewhat dwarfed the importance of the strategy. Total War: Shogun 2 not only rectified this, but was also a package that was rich in smart features, and almost entirely bereft of detrimental bugs. [FULL REVIEW]

17. L.A. Noire

Once you’d discovered the perfect equilibrium during the interrogations – and you were able to balance hard evidence with what you could or couldn’t derive from the actors’ performances – like a great novel, it became pretty hard to put the damn thing down. L.A. Noire was a riveting thriller, an uncommonly sociable gaming experience and a rich, painstaking recreation of a very specific time and place. The tidal wave of drab imitators remains anticipated, but L.A. Noire – a videogame as significant as any in Rockstar’s incomparable back catalogue – felt like a blistering one-of-a-kind. [FULL REVIEW]

16. Dead Island

A million miles away from the emotional bushwhack that was suggested by that trailer, Dead Island was actually an open-world RPG that had a distinct whiff of both Fallout 3 and Borderlands about it. Although it started very slowly – with a barrage of fetch quests and combat that was primarily one-on-one – after an hour or so the experience abruptly morphed into something that was almost as deep and rewarding as its two aforementioned (masterpiece) forebears; although nowhere near as pretty. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the year. [FULL REVIEW]

15. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

As is now traditional, Modern Warfare 3 was a tale that was told via a bare minimum of cinematics – which is to say, none at all – and it was always shrewd enough to keep everything swift and simple. Reaching a waypoint was about as complex as Modern Warfare 3?s goals got, but Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer (who’ve clearly brought out the best in each other) clearly know how to push people’s buttons better than almost anyone else. It was also a package that was most aptly described as being ridiculously generous, and the only game this year that matched it for sheer wealth of content was Gears of War 3. [FULL REVIEW]

14. Gears of War 3

The two previous Gears of War games were both uncommonly generous packages, but the third instalment represented a frankly ridiculous expanse of value for money. And whilst the kitchen sink approach (particularly with regard to online multiplayer content) is often a way of generating simply the illusion of good value, everything that was included in the Gears 3 package was obviously constructed with the same degree of mad love and technical pedantry as everything else. There was so much stuff to do in Gears of War 3, and none of it felt flippant or throwaway. Put simply, contemporary action games don’t get much better. [FULL REVIEW]

13. Driver: San Francisco

Driver: San Francisco was a Driver game, a Chase HQ homage and in a very, very bizarre way it was almost a God game. But whichever plate it was spinning, it never once stopped grafting for your affection. As a series Driver has always been heavily indebted to the pop culture of the 1970s, and San Francisco wisely took a step away from the more modernised Driver 3. It was basically a 70s cop show (with a funk-heavy soundtrack and copious uses of split-screen to prove it) buoyed by a bit of contemporary slickness, and (Portal 2 aside) it was easily the most consistently well-written game of the year. Detective Tanner may or may not be dead (no spoilers here) but Driver has never been more alive. [FULL REVIEW]

12. Saints Row: The Third

There is absolutely nothing sophisticated about beating someone unconscious with an over-sized sex toy, but don’t think for a minute that those moments of slapstick juvenilia – so warmly embraced by a few pockets of the gaming press, and cited a little too avidly by The Third’s own creators – were representative of the entire package. Saints Row: The Third clearly took great pleasure in nurturing its own marquee status as a guilty pleasure ever since it was first announced, but there was so much more to it than that. Almost everything about it was ridiculous, but almost everything about it was also intravenously satisfying. [FULL REVIEW]

11. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

The Witcher 2 is without question one of the most morally inscrutable RPGs ever made, and making the ‘right’ choice was almost never an option. Trying to accurately envisage the negative fallout that followed each of your decisions was extremely taxing, simply because there were sour and unfortunate repercussions involved in almost every scenario. You were never forced to choose between dispositions as trite as ‘good’ and ‘evil’, because almost every choice in The Witcher 2 involved selecting the lesser of two evils. It was beautiful to look at, absolutely massive and liable to excite some fans of the original game straight into an early grave. [FULL REVIEW]

10. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

Seemingly under no pressure at all to follow up one of the greatest sequels ever made, Naughty Dog nonchalantly delivered something downright vintage. The opening forty-or-so minutes may have been commendably bold and unusual but they were also off-key and strangely unsatisfying, but after that contentious episode it morphed into a non-stop, grade A action rollercoaster. Every bit as classy and polished as expected, Drake’s Deception is a full-blooded summer blockbuster that had the courtesy to arrive out of season. [FULL REVIEW]

9. Mario Kart 7

The third handheld Mario Kart, and the third handheld classic. The formula hasn’t changed too much – you’ll still encounter more than your fair share of those exhilarating/infuriating instances of blind chance that now define the series – but this definitely isn’t the divisive party game free-for-all of Mario Kart Wii. Mario Kart 7 sees the series take a thoughtful step back towards the more hardcore likes of Mario Kart: Super Circuit, and the result couldn’t have been much more irresistible. Some fantastic new tracks too. [FULL REVIEW]

8. Battlefield 3

Even when you take the derivative and largely forgettable campaign into account, Battlefield 3 still coasted into our top ten with sure-footed ease. The multiplayer is predictably classic DICE; precise, addictive and very cannily designed. Those ridiculously proficient Swedish chefs perfected this recipe a long time ago, but almost all of the new, potentially disruptive gameplay additions only deepened and enhanced the number of possibilities on the field. If you’re a hardened connoisseur of the online FPS, this was almost certainly your game of the year. [FULL REVIEW]

7. Super Mario 3D Land

In short, an incandescent melding of Super Mario Galaxy 2 with Super Mario Bros. 3 and – in terms of overall quality and general panache – directly comparable with either. Super Mario 3D Land is as saturated with wit and invention as any game in Nintendo’s history, and is every bit as smartly paced. It’s a fawning tribute to two of Mario and Nintendo’s greatest ever titles, and it single-handedly turned the 3DS into a machine that’s now utterly essential for any serious gaming hobbyist. [FULL REVIEW]

6. Dark Souls

Without question 2011’s most singular gaming prospect; a punishing and compulsive descent into hell that featured one of the most relentlessly downbeat worlds in contemporary gaming. Dark Souls is a game that you don’t so much play as get assaulted by, but if you were willing to take on the nightmarish enterprise of its hero’s quest, and were prepared to use your own steely resolve as a tool to overcome it, you were in for easily one of the most exhilarating experiences of the year. [FULL REVIEW]

5. FIFA 12

FIFA 12 is the most dramatic stir-up of the series’ core fundamentals in over a decade. Ignoring the fact that the overall package was quite absurdly generous – giving you no fewer than six wildly substantial single-player gameplay modes, each capable of lasting theoretically forever – it was also easily the most realistic representation of the sport ever created. The amount of hard work, experimentation and general belligerence that must have gone into crafting FIFA 12 is frankly awe-inspiring. [FULL REVIEW]

4. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Whether it’s primarily down to the inclusion of dragons or to the developers’ newly ostentatious approach towards scriptwriting, Skyrim is unquestionably the most cinematic game that Bethesda has ever produced. As always, the engine that drives the game’s real plot is you, but the developer’s extensive window dressing has never been more delectable than it was here. Everything, from the huge action beats of the main plot to the ridiculously – ridiculously – bountiful collection of side-quests, were all written and constructed with exactly the same degree of meticulous attention. [FULL REVIEW]

3. Portal 2

Playing through Portal 2’s campaign was like sitting at the business end of an assembly line that dealt solely in the construction of bright ideas. It’s a game that deserves utmost kudos for having the guts to be constantly at odds with the way in which most modern videogames demand to be played; the difficulty was never overbearing, but hitting upon the solution involved real patience and vision. Arriving at those conclusions was never anything less than electrifying and victory felt unlike anything else, and the co-op was an enchanting, replay-welcoming joy. A masterpiece, and perhaps the least cynical sequel ever made. [FULL REVIEW]

2. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

The most streamlined and action-heavy Zelda game ever made, Skyward Sword boldly discarded those soft, between-mission interludes of hushed downtime that – for many – had come to define the series. The entire thing is essentially one gigantic dungeon, and for all of its narrative virility, Skyward Sword is simply a fantastic action game. Skyward Sword is also possibly Link’s finest hour, it features the true arrival of Princess Zelda as a three-dimensional character, and will almost certainly be Nintendo’s final killer app for the Wii. As denouements go, it is approximately faultless. [FULL REVIEW]

1. Batman: Arkham City

Despite the wealth of overwhelmingly stiff competition, for us there was only ever one victor. Rocksteady’s resplendent sequel was a marvel; a sandbox game with incomparably decisive narrative threads running through it, a rollicking action title buoyed by a rich and engaging plot, and a sprawling enterprise as polished and refined as something half its size. The fact that Rocksteady did all of this in just two years continues to beggar belief, but their graft was more than worth it; Arkham City unquestionably ushers the developer towards the summit of gaming’s premier league. [FULL REVIEW]

For more info on the new Wireless ForceFeedBack Racing Wheel – exclusive to the Xbox 360 and described as a “masterpiece of form and function” – then simply click here.

Honourable mentions: Sonic Generations, Kirby: Mass Attack, NBA 2K12, Dirt 3, Fight Night Champion, Xenoblade Chronicles, El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron, Crysis 2, Killzone 3, Bulletstorm, PES 2012, LittleBigPlanet 2, Dead Space 2, Football Manager 2012, Earth Defence Force: Insect Armageddon, NHL 12, Rayman: Origins, Infamous 2.

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