Best PC games for 2011: 31 must-play titles

The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings
Release date: Quarter 1 2011

Since we last saw The Witcher 2 at GamesCom something's changed about it. A brief walk-through showed someone's mother tied up and being tortured, with her breasts exposed. The amount of internet controversy it stirred was bizarre and ridiculous: This is a medium where it's okay to improbably implode someone's head with a mortar, but as soon as there's some bared female flesh, it's "OH NO SOMEONE MIGHT SEE THAT". Grow up, internet.

Boobs aside, The Witcher 2 is beginning to look like one of the year's biggest PC games, thanks in no small part to its miraculous, home-brewed engine. Its draw distances are stunning, the lighting effects impressive, and the huge battles awe-inspiring. If Crysis 2 doesn't quite live up to our expectations, The Witcher 2 certainly will. You can now pre-order it from for a reduced price.

Operation Flashpoint: Red River
Release date: Quarter 2 2011

The split of Operation Flashpoint hasn't been good for the franchise. Although ARMA has legions of fans happy to mod its engine, it's also distinctly lacked quality control. Codemasters' own continuation of the licence has gone too far the other way and became one of most boring war games we ever played.

We're sitting on the fence about its sequel Red River. Codies promise intense four-way co-op action, but with no SDK or level editor it's unlikely to entice ARMA fans.

DC Universe
Release date: Quarter 2 2011 Out now

You would have thought that between City of Heroes and Champions Online the superhero MMO was sewn up. But, inevitably, the big comic studios want to get in on the action, so we'll be fighting alongside Superman and Wonder Woman in DC Comics' tie-in.

Developer Sony Online Entertainment wants to make Gotham City and Metropolis far more tantalising, and has looked to the destructible scenery of The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction to make the cities open worlds of chaos. If SOE can pull this off properly – serverside physics are notoriously tricky – it could be a serious challenger to The Old Republic's franchise-based MMO.

Fear 3
Release date: Quarter 1 2011

Business as usual for the increasingly complex horror shooter (is Alma your mum or your gran or your daughter?) but horror film maestro John Carpenter's input will put this (decapitated) head and (dislocated) shoulders above the previous two slightly wonky entries.

We're promised mech-style power armour aplenty, and hopefully it'll move away from those 1970s office blocks. It looks bloody scary, too.

Arkham City
Release date: Quarter 4 2011

Arkham Asylum was a big surprise; a Batman game that managed to differentiate itself from the films just enough for it to be its own entity.

Arkham City is the new home for all Gotham's least wanted, ruled over by demented scientist Hugo Strange. Two-Face will enter the fray, and Catwoman will make an appearance, too, as well as the Joker and Harlie Quinn. Asylum's levels were a little closed-in, so an open-world city should prevent any feelings of claustrophobia.

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood
Release date: Quarter 1 2011

The second sequel to the anachronistic historical future drama thing has already been released on the consoles to a round of applause. The franchise just seems to be getting better and better. The PC version has been set back by a few months; we're guessing it's ready now, but that Ubi wants to milk those overpriced console sales as much as it can.

This one takes the action to Rome, and sees Desmond Miles re-enter the body (not like that) of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, who has the usual leaping and stabbing abilities. The plot concerns the rebuilding of the ancient Italian capital, but it's the addition of cloak and dagger multiplayer that looks like Brotherhood's biggest plus point. There are also horses, and the ability to use ranged weapons while mounted.

It looks set to perfect AC's bleached, combat-driven world.

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Diablo 3
Release date: TBA

Regardless of which side of the art style argument you fall, what we've seen of Diablo 3 is a beautifully slick RPG experience, with fluid combat, properly differentiated character classes, and a major emphasis on rapid-clicking action.

The levels we've played to date have shown gratifying levels of detail in every area; from the way enemies fall apart at the seams in a fountain of gore and blood, to simple inventory management, it's a pleasure to play.

With three-player co-op and PvP via, the action ramps up massively, and these modes round the game out to offer an experience that's akin to running WoW dungeons with your friends, only from a top-down perspective. This is definitely one to watch.

Driver: San Francisco
Release date: 2011

Despite us giving the last Driver game – Driv-three-r – just 18 per cent, the GTA-lite series seems to be continuing unabated.

This one looks slightly more interesting, though, thanks to the ability to 'shift' between cars, which basically means you can swap consciousnesses with fellow drivers. If you're in a sticky situation, or have a rubbish car, you can float out of your own brain and dive into someone else's.

It could provide an intriguing game mechanic, or it could just be a way to avoid Driver's obtuse on-foot fighting mechanic. Either way, it'll prove to be super-fun.

Release date: Quarter 1 2011

We were hugely impressed with what we saw of Homefront at GamesCom this year: It looked like a John Milius scripted-meld of Half-Life 2's oppressed citizens and Modern Warfare's intense gun battles.

Although it's based on the Unreal 3 Engine, there'll be a whole host of DirectX 11 effects too, and Digital Extremes are working hard to get it as lovely as possible. Best of all is the multiplayer, which offers both server configuration tools and the ability to host your own games.

Space Marine
Release date: Quarter 3 2011

The world of Warhammer 40,000 has never exactly been one of subtlety, and its board game roots mean that exaggerated and unnecessarily muscular men are the norm.

A third person action shooter set in its already elaborate world makes perfect sense, then. Expect a Gears of War-style adventure in a totally bespoke engine, complete with some rather gorgeous levels and some nicely squishy melee attacks.

Yes, it does look quite generic, but the Warhammer franchise has every right to take back generic considering it's what others have copied and made generic.

Red Faction: Armageddon
Release date: Quarter 2 2011

The 2009 sequel to Red Faction – Red Faction: Guerilla was a pleasant surprise, and the game that finally perfected developer Volition's vision of a world where every building could be toppled and every wall blown through.

Despite its Martian setting, we were disappointed by the lack of aliens – it's a scientific fact that Mars is full of the blighters. Armageddon goes one better by providing a whole bunch of Dead Space-style nasties, and what's more you can improbably execute them with huge, magnetic chunks of scenery.

Release date: Quarter 2 2011

id Software's been mightily quiet of late: its last proper release was the then-system-pushing Doom 3 in 2004. It looks set to carry on pushing the boat out with RAGE, a postapocalyptic adventure with just a touch of the Fallout about it.

RAGE's big selling point – other than its use of caps – is its id Tech 5 engine, which is the first to support id's Virtual Texturing, which allows huge textures to be streamed onto static elements in the game, such as the sand and, er, the sand. It results in huge game files, but it also makes it far easier for developers to make multi-platform games, in much the same way as Crysis 2's CryEngine 3 does.

id isn't the only one taking advantage of the new tech: Machinegames – comprised of ex-staff of Chronicles of Riddick developers Starbreeze – has announced that it will be making something in the id Tech 5 engine, too. What exactly that'll be we don't know, but it's good that id is opening the engine up to other developers and it could make it a serious contender to the Unreal Engine 3.

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Release date: Quarter 1 2011

The role playing game has seen some major shifts in the last decade. Deus Ex relocated the genre to a near-future sci-fi setting, and games like Fallout 3 and Bioshock incorporated RPG elements into first person shooters.

Hunted works the other way, moving first person shooter mechanics into a traditional RPG environment. From what we've played the co-op works really well, with the foxy E'lara providing ranged cover while the muscular Caddoc does the hand-to-hand combat. Combine this with Tomb Raider-style puzzles and RPG levelling and it's an enticing proposition.

Hunted could turn out to be one of the sleeper hits of 2011, even if it doesn't look quite as lovely as Bethesda's other big releases.

Release date: Quarter 1 2011

Splash Damage's co-op shooter certainly stands out from the crowd; its ugly protagonists and ultra-clean settings have to make it one of the most stylish games since Mirror's Edge. It's certainly filling PC Format with a feeling of loveliness, too, and the ageing id Tech 4 engine, which powered Doom 3, has been given a new lease of life.

Brink also looks set to make online shooters look a lot more kinetic with its SMART movement system, which means players can leap over rails and slide through gaps, which makes a big change from the standard duck 'n' jump mechanics of its competitors. It's also highly customisable without losing its distinctive characters; something APB failed to do.

It's the gameplay that's crucial here, though and from what we've played it's an interesting and accessible shooter. Each character has to be present to clear a level – think along the lines of a more objective-based version of Team Fortress 2, and like that game, you can switch character class and load-out mid-way through the game.

We're thrilled by the prospect of Brink, as it's nice to see a shooter that's moving away from the Call of Duty mould.