It was hard to name the best game of 2012, but we did it anyway. Here’s our #1 overall selection, as well as five finalists that are equally deserving.
Despite any controversy surrounding Mass Effect 3 these days, you can’t deny that the Mass Effect trilogy has been one of the biggest and best of all time, and Mass Effect 3 topped it off wonderfully. The entire game is a finale that builds up and cashes in on the emotional connections you’ve formed with your squadmates over the course of the trilogy, with various bittersweet and sad endings occurring throughout. This is a game (and series) that no one should miss. – Shawn Vermette
Never have I been so immersed into a series that I would even decide to play it more than once. While the third game did have its flaws and a rather questionable ending (even after the extended footage), the game overall was still extremely solid and wouldn’t feel complete otherwise. It opened up new doors for Shepard and took the best of the previous two and combined it into an amazing game that everyone should play. – Eric Albuen
Xenoblade‘s mixing of traditional console RPG elements with a more MMO-like combat system and quest framework really paid off, as the two styles blended together brilliantly. Everything about this incredibly unique world was impressive, and the fact that the game gives you experience just for exploring is awesome, making that time actually be worth something beyond satisfying idle curiosity. Depending on how invested you are in the game, you can easily find yourself spending over a hundred hours investigating all it has to offer, and value like that is becoming harder to find these days. With any luck, future releases by the team at Monolith won’t require an extensive fan-driven campaign to be brought to North America, because quality this strong deserves to reach its audience, no matter how narrow Nintendo of America (rightly or wrongly) believes that audience to be. – Chris Ingersoll
Journey really was something different. Where Flower was an expression of emotion, Journey managed to express something far more complicated with a presentation that was just as vivid. If you know someone who doesn’t get why you love games, sit them down with this and leave them alone with it for two hours. It expresses so many things, and it does so with zero barrier to entry. Is it art? It has had more of an effect on me than any painting or composition. I don’t know how else to judge that. – Graham Russell
With a mix of history, action and story, Assassin’s Creed III delivers. From commanding your own ship, building a town and the inevitable confrontation with historical figures, Assassin’s Creed III steps it up from the previous games, and offers a great story, a great set of new characters and a completely new setting to explore. AC3 lives up to expectations, and adds a few wonderfully unexpected twists to the formula.– Jeff deSolla
Taking a slightly different approach to the adventure game genre, Telltale’s The Walking Dead takes Mass Effect-style player choice and makes it feel more important than it ever has. While not all of your choices ultimately matter in the grand scheme of things, they will matter to you, the player, as you attempt to stay alive and keep your companions safe in this world ravaged by the undead. While the choices are what keep you glued to the game from the first episode to the very last decisions in episode five, it’s the writing that sets this game apart from any other this year. You will be hard-pressed to find a better cast of characters in any game and, because of that, those final moments will affect you more than you ever could anticipate. This is a game that should be experienced by everyone. – Andrew Passafiume
XCOM: Enemy Unknown hits all the buttons a strategy and tactics title needs to. The strategy layer makes me decide not only what missions to take (which affects the panic level of various council nations), but also where to focus research and how to spend my precious few credits. It’s hard to know that you’ll lose a country by taking one mission over another, but the added funds will allow you to build two more satellites before the end of the month to keep two others from leaving. Or should that money go toward building new armor? And should I be researching more powerful aircraft for UFO interceptions or focus on upgraded weapons for my ground troops? Ground battles are handled tactically and are an exercise in caution, flanking and developing a strategy beyond “there’s an alien – shoot it!” I love watching a plan come together, and outfitting my sniper with flying armor and squad sight while my assault cloaks, finds an enemy and lets the sniper take a shot is always fun to see and satisfying to pull off. XCOM is worth playing, because not only is it fun and rewarding, but it’s different from probably everything else you played in 2012. – Justin Last