Play Nice: Biggest Video Games of 2011

Gaming's hottest new attractions

Gears of War 3
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On the heels of a topsy-turvy 2010 than saw sales dip by 6%, video game makers are getting back to basics in 2011. Translation: Rather than lightweight entertainment apps, social games and casual downloads, that means more face-melting blockbusters. Following are five of the best new gaming debuts expected to keep you glued to your PC or TV through the coming year.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Bethesda Softworks, PC/PlayStation 3/ Xbox 360) – Sequel to bar-raising fantasy role-playing adventure Oblivion, takes its go-anywhere, levy sword or spell against anything approach to new heights, including the addition of new magic powers collectible by slaying dragons. Consider it a more complex and ambitious foil to equally promising wizard and warrior alternatives like Diablo III, Mass Effect 3 and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

Gears of War 3 (Microsoft, Xbox 360) – Ratchets testosterone-drenched run and gun machismo up to chest-thumping levels, introducing simultaneous four-man cooperative play, original weapons including double-barreled shotguns, options to play as homicidal monsters and cameos by rappers Drake and Ice-T. Gritty and intense, if you’re a fan, check out trigger-mashing titles including Killzone 3, Bulletstorm and Rage as well, all sure to keep you happily cycling banana clips.

Star Wars: The Old Republic (Electronic Arts, PC) – Offers massively multiplayer sci-fi adventures in an online virtual world that’s set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, thousands of years before James Earl Jones first mastered heavy breathing. Similar to superhero outing DC Universe Online and Internet-friendly racer Test Drive Unlimited 2, it presents an alternate to typical online tales of might and magic.

Portal 2 (Valve Software, PC/PlayStation 3/Xbox 360) – Critics praised the original bar-raising puzzler’s humor, dialogue and skewed sense of storytelling. Demanding you solve mindbenders using a gun capable of creating portable wormholes to teleport items and individuals between distant locales and paint that changes objects’ physical properties, this long-awaited sequel should amuse too. Sci-fi tale Deus Ex: Human Revolution and stealth action romp Batman: Arkham City will similarly entertain those looking to experiment with creative approaches.

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception (Sony, PlayStation 3) – Furthers its award-winning predecessor’s flair for deft characterization and adept serial adventure storytelling, seeing fortune hunter Nathan Drake traveling to legendary lost desert city Iram of the Pillars, and making his debut in stereoscopic 3D. Those who prefer thoughtful characterization and narrative of all styles should appreciate futuristic role-player Mass Effect 3, graphic novel-style shooter Max Payne 3 and haunting odyssey Journey as well.