10. Max Payne 3
Max Payne 1 and 2 were two of my favorite games ever. The film noir setting, combined with the Matrix-like moves and gunplay, gave a 16 year old me an incredible rush. Times have changed, and this is easily the weakest game in the trilogy, but I’m glad they brought it back. The voice acting and cutscene direction is splendid, and it definitely feels like a movie. But did it need to be this hard? I died more in this game than the first two combined, easily. The flashback levels to the snowy city skyline were far superior to the South American setting, but it still worked.
9. Tales of Graces f
Not sure if this counts, since it was released in Japan two years ago (get it together, Tales games!) but I’m putting it on the list anyway. Sure, it feels like the same old Tales, but I’m okay with that! Fast, action-packed battles and a lengthy story kept me hooked for a few weeks. The passive/title system was fully fleshed out and kind of brilliant. I felt the characters were close to being great, but in the end were just okay. Still waiting on Xillia!
8. Guild Wars 2
Tough one to rank. The endgame content isn’t quite what it was promised to be, and there are some technical hiccups. On the other hand, exploring the insanely-big world is about as much fun as I’ve had playing an MMO. I think I prefer the aesthetic design rather than the actual graphics, but partnering with a buddy and going for visits, points of interest, skill points and quests is a blast. I would recommend playing, but not solo.
7. Final Fantasy XIII-2
I’m a Final Fantasy geek, one that actually loved (not liked, loved) Final Fantasy XIII. I thought it was a huge upgrade from XIII and hit all the spots I need: amazing graphics, unique and fast battle system, a song that I’ll listen to every day (Dust to Dust) and a pretty good cast. XIII-2 was probably unnecessary, much like FFX-2, but they changed a few things to appease those who complained about the first one. To me, it’s not as good; not having a third party member really pissed me off, but revisiting old locations and personalities combined with a less linear journey made this one of my favorites in 2012. I guess I’ll play Lightning Returns when it comes out, but I’m not sure how I feel about it.
6. Xenoblade Chronicles
Xenoblade was awesome, and I’m really glad it got great reviews and sold pretty well in North America. We like JRPGs in North America, in case you hadn’t figured that out, Japan! Monolith Soft is one of my favorite developers ever, gifting me the Baten Kaitos games and then Xenoblade. I truly believe a Xenoblade 2 would sell Wii Us like hotcakes, imagine seeing the sights you saw in Xenoblade in full HD. A massive world, unique story and good characters made this long JRPG worth trekking through. Highly recommended.
5. Borderlands 2
I feel like this should be higher up (what a great year for games!), but it will have to settle for being number 5. Borderlands 2 took everything from the first game and made it better: more varied environments, better enemies, more accessible menus (at least for the 360) a better story and a better level up system. I can’t go back now that I’ve experienced the Badass Ranks system, something that rewards specific types of play but also encourages you to switch up your playstyle and gun types. Great job, Gearbox! If only Claptrap would shut up…
4. Spec Ops: The Line
I wish I could put this higher. Spec Ops: The Line is the kick that FPS games needed. The developers had a clear goal in mind and stuck with it. The emphasis on story and breaking the fourth wall totally took me by surprise. There were incredibly tense moments, including one that had my palms literally sweating and me bouncing up and down my chair. What do I do? The game’s not prompting me to make a decision… but I have to make a decision! The fact that they made a shooter game as a criticism of the shooter genre is bold. Fortune favors the bold, and I hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of games like these. Fantastic.
I’m weird when I rank games. This is why I don’t review them. I have a hard time separating the emotional impact a game had on me and the actual construction of a game. Sure, I can see what good level design is and figure out why a game works and why it doesn’t, but sometimes I’ll give a game a good score, only to look back and ask myself what the hell I was thinking. Journey is that game. When I finished it, I gave it a good score. I should have given it a nearly perfect score, because it’s a nearly perfect game. It’s about as close to poetry as you can get with video games. Stellar design, aesthetically pleasing graphics, brilliant multiplayer and an urge to play through the game over and over again means it’s my third on my list.
2. Mass Effect 3
Shivers. That’s what I remember most about Mass Effect 3. The fact that your decisions carried over throughout the series was such a powerful pull to me, that I didn’t care how it didn’t really affect the ending that much. But Mordin… Wrex… Garrus… beautiful. I hope future developers have this kind of dedication to their stories, because it makes it so much more than a sci-fi shooter about saving the galaxy.
1. The Walking Dead
I didn’t see this coming. I’d heard a few things about the Walking Dead series, but wanted to wait until all five episodes were finished before I had a crack at it. I could have, in no way, predicted that a point and click adventure game, a genre all but dead, could have extracted this much emotion out of me. I was so entranced with the game that I couldn’t stop thinking about the decisions I made, or how incredibly attached I became to these characters. Top-notch voice acting, a fantastic, visceral setting and the best child character to ever appear in a game (maybe one of the best characters ever?) pushes Walking Dead to my Game of 2012.