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Year in gaming: Sequels stand out

By Brett Molina and Mike Snider, USA Today

Online and mobile games such as CityVille and Angry Birds  may have kept us busy in 2011, but console game developers and publishers offered a year of excellence, with top-notch releases across nearly every genre — action, adventure, shooters, puzzlers and role-players. And developers proved sequelitis is not a weakness: Seven of our top titles of 2011 list are from existing franchises. According to USA TODAY Game Hunters Mike Snider and Brett Molina’s, below are top 10 of 2011.

1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

$59.99, forPS3, Xbox 360 and PCs;

rated M, ages 17-up

Once players slay their first dragon, the role-playing odyssey from Bethesda Softworks will have them hooked. It’s easy for folks to sink dozens — if not hundreds — of hours exploring new towns and accepting fresh quests and still feel like they’ve only scratched the surface of the world of Skyrim’s offerings.

2. Portal 2

$29.99-$39.99, for PS3, Xbox 360, Mac and Windows PCs; ages 10-up

The charming puzzle game features a test subject running through a battery of challenges armed with a gun that creates portals. It’s highlighted by two of the year’s most memorable characters: witty assistant Wheatley and crazed artificial intelligence GLADOS. The dialogue and puzzles are clever, and the co-op mode is equally engaging.

3. Batman: Arkham City

$49.99-$59.99, for PS3, Xbox 360 and PCs; rated T for ages 13-up

It’s one thing to conjure up a city-sized prison to explore, and toss in a who’s who of Dark Knight villains. But Rocksteady Games’ ability to maintain cohesion throughout the story is what elevates this title to the top tier; such continued devotion to Batman lore is why this is the best game franchise based on a superhero.

4. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

$59.99, for PS3; ages 13-up

The PS3′s premier action hero strikes again with another gripping adventure. His quest for clues about ancestor Sir Francis Drake takes him to the Arabian Peninsula  in search of a mysterious lost city. Like 2009′s Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, this chapter features astonishing action sequences and sharp dialogue. And the scenes of Drake in the desert are mesmerizing.

5. L.A. Noire

$39.99, PS3, Xbox 360 and PCs;

ages 17-up

Rockstar Games could have easily released this 1940s-era detective drama as a Grand Theft Auto open-world game that let you explore being on the side of law and order. Instead, they created a sophisticated experience combining smart crime investigative mechanics with traditional combat.

6. Bastion

$15, Xbox 360 and PCs; ages 10-up

While gamers are served a sequel buffet at retail stores, digital downloads such as Supergiant Games’ role-playing adventure prove that originality still thrives. Bastion features The Kid, who fights to build a safe haven following a global catastrophe. The unique approach to storytelling — highlighted by a shrewd, soulful narrator — meshes beautifully with a robust combat system.

7. Gears of War 3

$59.99, for Xbox 360; ages 17-up

Epic Games’ final chapter in the Xbox 360 trilogy is not only the best in the series, but 2011′s best shooter in either first- or third-person form. The reason? It delivers the most complete package across all fronts. Its single-player campaign — starring Marcus Fenix and his trusty chainsaw bayonet — is explosive, and bolstered cooperative modes including Horde and Beast add extra power.

8. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

$49.99, for Wii; ages 10-up

Even after 25 years, the adventures of Link continue to delight. The latest epic for the Wii is no different, blending clever puzzles with strong motion-based action, enhanced with the addition of MotionPlus technology for better accuracy.

9. Jetpack Joyride

99 cents, for iPhone/iPad; ages 9-up

“Easy to play, hard to master” is a gaming cliché— but perfectly describes this side-scroller from the creators of Fruit Ninja. Armed with jetpacks, players guide Barry Steakfries through a series of levels, tapping or holding the touchscreen to change altitude as upgrades such as gravity suits and obstacles including guided missiles turn up.

10. Dead Space 2

$29.99, PS3, Xbox 360 and PCs; ages 17-up

Fans of the first Dead Space knew what was coming when they booted up the sequel. Zombie-like Necromorphs drop from ceilings or pop through vents, and “corpses” spring back to life. The horror title manages to strike anxiety and panic when players scramble to restore health and find resources as frightening foes march their way.

Other year-end news of note

Most valuable players. The Supreme Court in June lifted a legal cloud hanging over designers and publishers by striking down California’s ban on the sale of violent games to minors. A 7-2 decision struck down the 2005 law signed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Video games deserve free speech protection, argued Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the majority opinion.

Even though video games involve buttons, triggers and wireless remotes, that doesn’t differentiate them from other forms of art or literature, he said. And the state does not restrict children’s access to violent images. “Grimm’s Fairy Tales, for example, are grim indeed,” he wrote.

First-person shooter fight. Electronic Arts went on the offensive in the weeks and months leading up to the fall release of its new game Battlefield 3. Game trailers called out competitor Call of Duty with the tagline, “Above and beyond the call.”

Among the bombs tossed by EA: “We think our product is going to be flat-out better than theirs,” said CEO John Riccitiello. Added EA Games Label President Frank Gibeau, “We have the superior game engine, a superior development studio, and a flat-out superior game. Our goal is to significantly gain share in the huge (first-person shooter) category and to put the other team on defense.”

Battlefield 3 waged a good fight, selling more than 8 million since its Oct. 25 release. But Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 sold more than twice that amount so far.MW3 also surpassed the $1 billion sales mark faster than any previous installment of the franchise. “What is exciting is it seems as though people who never played a video game before are looking at Call of Duty and saying, ‘OK, this is the one I want to play,’ ” says Activision CEO Bobby Kotick.

Source: http://www.usatoday.com/tech/gaming/story/2011-12-26/year-in-gaming/52235186/1

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