If this site was around in 2010, my pick for Game of the Year would've been Red Dead Redemption, hands down. I fell in absolute love with Red Dead, and even after completing the game to 100%, I still went back to explore that majestic open world. Rockstar's follow-up to Red Dead this year was L.A. Noire. And while not developed in-house, AND even after a very nasty and public dissolution of Team Bondi, L.A. Noire remains my pick for 2011.
Everything I love about L.A. Noire has very little to do with the actual gameplay of the title. While some of regarded Noire as a modern day point-and-click adventure title, there is so much more to it than that. The open world is a character in and of itself, and while there may actually be very little to do in it beyond the missions, the attention to detail and the scope of the in-game world in breath-taking. Reading DBethel's story about his dad being able to navigate his way through 1940s Los Angeles, on memory alone, speaks volumes to the level of care that went into crafting the game.
The ground-breaking facial animation in L.A. Noire is one of it's major selling points, and it's easy to see why. Never before has the use of actual actors played such a large part in the storytelling of a videogame. The emotions on the actors faces as Cole Phelps investigates the underworld of L.A. is a major turning point in videogame technology. And I can admit that this tech did come at some costs: there is a lack of side activities, the textures on the characters models are rarely up to the quality of the facial scanning, and the frame rate takes a hit in some portions of the game.
But even with its flaws, L.A. Noire stands head and shoulders above the crop of game releases this year for me. While I loved Batman: Arkham City, and have spent a good amount of time with both Mortal Kombat and WWE '12, L.A. Noire tickled all my fancies. And I guess I should mentioned I haven't played Skyrim yet, so look for that to be my 2012 Game of 2011.