The 2011 Shooter Of The Year Awards

by Matt Bertz on Dec 29, 2011 at 04:00 AM

The manufactured Battlefield 3 vs. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 rivalry may have dominated headlines, but gamers had plenty of opportunities to get behind the ironsights in 2011. From the creative, under-appreciated entries like Bulletstorm and Crysis 2 to the big guns like Gears of War 3, we had no shortage of quality options for shooting virtual enemies in the head. But which games stood out the most? Read on to find out. 

Best Story Campaign: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

The Call of Duty campaigns typically have incomprehensive, continent jumping plots that prioritize jaw dropping set pieces moments over character development, and Modern Warfare 3 is no different. Though the campaign still leans heavily on the Call of Duty 4 mission template (like nearly every other modern shooter), the Russian plane crash, sandstorm mission, and Juggernaut suit powered finale were each quality water cooler moments that stood above the moment to moment action of typical shooter missions.

Best Cooperative Mode: Horde Mode – Gears of War 3

In Gears of War 3, Epic Games makes its influential Horde mode even better by taking a page out of the tower defense game playbook. With barriers, turrets, sentries, and decoys at their disposal, teams can fortify their position like never before in the quest to survive the increasingly menacing enemy waves. This is cooperative gameplay at its finest.

Best Multiplayer: Battlefield 3

How do you retake the multiplayer crown? By re-introducing 64-player battles on wide-open maps filled with jets, tanks, and squads of teammates coordinating to capture control points. The web-based interface remains a point of contention for many PC players, but you can't beat the thrill of Battlefield 3's large-scale warfare. Console players are stuck with smaller, 24-player versions of these maps, but the drastically improved progression system and team-based gameplay still offer plenty of reasons to re-enlist for one more match.

Best Multiplayer Map: Caspian Border – Battlefield 3

By introducing the team deathmatch mode and creating several streamlined maps with more linear avenues of assault, DICE was clearly attempting to attract mainstream gamers away from Call of Duty. Battlefield traditionalists shunned these overtures and instead concentrated on constructing servers featuring 24/7 matches in Caspian Border. This old-school style map captures the essence of the best maps in the series history with its wide-open setting, varied elevations, and intense vehicular gameplay. This is how a Battlefield game should play.

Best Progression System: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

Battlefield 3 deserves praise for extending its progression system to encourage replayability, but nobody does it better than Infinity Ward. With thousands of unlocks, the ability to save unique weapon loadouts and customizable killstreaks, an option for tweaking your gear between rounds, and the prestige ranking that lets you start the process all over again, Modern Warfare 3 is still the gold standard when it comes to dangling carrots in front of gamers.

Best Audio: Battlefield 3

Rather than stick with the impressive sound library that powered the Bad Company aural experiences, DICE decided to grab some boom mics, throw on some ear plugs, and place themselves in the thick of a live military exercise to understand what war really sounds like. Their bravery yields the best gunfire and explosion effects ever included in a video game. When you hear the violent “thwack” of a sniper rifle buzzing past your head in Battlefield 3, you know the next bullet could rip your head off and finding cover becomes your new priority. 

Best Enemy AI: Rage

The intelligence of the enemies you go up against in shooters can make or break the experience. No one wants to mindlessly blow away hostiles who walk directly toward your bullet stream as if they were drawn magnetically to the hot lead. The aggressive baddies of Rage aren't your patsies. They are constantly on the move, crouching to avoid fire while moving between cover, taking flanking positions, and sometimes bum-rushing your position when you stop shooting to reload your ammo. If you try to flank, they are aware of your movements and adjust their position accordingly. These are the kind of battles we expect from modern-day shooters.  

Best Graphics: Battlefield 3

A lot of shooters looked great this year, but the PC version of Battlefield 3 wins the beauty contest thanks to the impressive deferred lighting, real-time radiosity, dynamic shadowing, particle effects, and large-scale destructibility made possible by the Frostbite 2 engine. Add the ANT animation technology repurposed from EA Sports to create believable character motion, and this is the unquestioned belle of the battlefield.

Best Shooter Innovation: Skillshots – Bulletstorm

We’ve landed perfect headshots from afar and blown enemies back with satisfying shotgun blasts up close in countless shooters, but until Bulletstorm arrived we had never sent an enemy airborne with an electric whip, filled his nut sack with bullets, and then kicked him into a prickly cactus to finish him off. The Skillshot system gave players new ways to humiliate meat bags, and we thank People Can Fly for injecting this pervasive genre with some much-needed creativity when it comes to the kill.   

Shooter Of The Year: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

Call of Duty may have relinquished its multiplayer throne to Battlefield 3 in staff voting, but Activision prevented a complete coup thanks to Modern Warfare 3's rollercoaster single-player campaign and intense cooperative experience – two things that fell flat for its rival shooter. Many worried about the future of the franchise in the wake of the Infinity Ward exodus, but the remaining staff and Sledgehammer Games teamed up to give the Modern Warfare series an impressive resolution while maintaining the high quality bar for the polished multiplayer. Since it hits on all three phases, Modern Warfare 3 is our 2011 shooter of the year.