This job has two competing requirements. First, in order to be suitable for this type of work, you really have to love games. I mean, love games a lot. The second requirement is that you have to be able to maintain some professional objectivity about this thing that you're so personally invested in. It's a bit of a paradox, really, where you have to rely on each impulse to check the other. It can lead to some schizophrenic moments here and there, but hopefully your own instincts and the feedback of your peers and readers, can help you find the right balance between coming across as a fawning fanboy for whom Grand Theft Auto will always be the greatest thing ever and coming across as a bitter old crank who still can't understand why anyone still cares about Zelda.
Fortunately, none of those contradictions apply to today's list. This isn't a list of the year's best games, or even a list of the game's that I think you will particularly enjoy (although I hope you will). No, this is just a list of my favorite games of 2011. The only criteria are those I made up for myself based on what I liked most about 2011's catalog.
5. Alice: Madness Returns (PC, Xbox 360, PS3)
Sure, I may not have thought much of the actual gameplay, but Alice: Madness Returns is one of those games that got into my head and wouldn't leave. I usually don't have much tolerance for the dark-for-darkness'-sake mood of these types of games - dismembered baby dolls and corrupted youth are more annoying than unsettling - but something about the overall presentation and art direction of Alice grabbed hold of me and wouldn't let go. The brilliant locations and inventive character design made Alice's world seem new again. From the tranquil Zen islands filled with Japanese vases to the dim, spectral underwater chase scenes, to the gladiatorial battles on top of a gigantic tea table, this game was above all else just an interesting place to be. Then, just when I think I know where it's going, it surprised me with a floating castle made of cards, which is easily the most memorable scene I've played in any game in 2011.
4. Deus Ex: Human Revolution (PC, Xbox 360, PS3)
This game made me realize just how much slack I gave to Invisible War. But where that game was a relatively shallow exploitation of the franchise, Human Revolution is a full-on revival of the series. Everything that makes Deus Ex feel like Deus Ex is here. You've got the dystopian future, the ambiguity about our own humanity, and loads of open-ended gameplay driven by some truly kick-ass super powers. As big a deal as we make about the moral choices allowed by most games' stories, Human Revolution puts the moral decisions up front as part of the gameplay. Here you're expressing who you are not just by your choices during conversations, but by your very actions at every moment. Some gamers might rely on stealth and intelligence to get through the game with as little bloodshed as possible. Others will want to grab the biggest weapons and the toughest buffs in order to cut a bloody swath through the game's convoluted story. Having the kind of choice is what Deus Ex should be about.