Editor’s note: From now until January 2, we’ll be sharing our individual favorites from 2012.
10. Orcs Must Die! 2
Orcs Must Die! was great, and the sequel improves on it in every way. There are more traps, more interesting maps, more playable characters, more download packs, more enemy types and the addition of cooperative play. My only complaint with OMD!2 is that my favorite weapon, the swinging mace, is not as effective as it was in the original.
9. Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault
Full Frontal Assault has everything that I look for in a Ratchet game: beautiful and interesting environments, quirky characters, fun gunplay and off-the-wall weapons. FFA delivers these things is spades. It also gives me something that I didn’t know I wanted in a Ratchet title: competitive multiplayer. Adding tower defense to the standard gameplay shakes things up just enough to keep them fresh but not so much as to make the game something other than a Ratchet & Clank title.
8. Mark of the Ninja
Klei has done what few other developers have managed: they made stealth fun. Mark of the Ninja casts the player as a ninja and then gives the players the proper tools to act sneaky and actively rewards him for doing so. Every guard can be killed or snuck by, you can hide in the shadows or come out swinging and you can trick technology or disrupt it outright. Player choice matters moment to moment, and everything present is about the core concept: the player acting like a sneaky and deadly ninja. Pulling off maneuvers feels amazing, replaying levels is fun because of the option to try out new styles.
7. The Binding of Isaac: Wrath of the Lamb
The Binding of Isaac is good not because of its message (if it has one) or its art style (which is honestly too gory for my taste), but because of its replayability and random nature. Every time I play, I get a different dungeon layout with different bosses and different power-ups. Each run is unique, and not every one is successful, but they’re all fun.
6. Mass Effect 3
Through two epic games I’ve been setting up plot threads, impacting characters, collecting model ships, telling the Illusive Man to screw off and accidentally killing all of my space fish. Mass Effect 3 gave me exactly what I wanted: closure on those plot threads. I saw the Quarians make peace with the Geth, I saw the Krogan genophage cured and I saw the Reaper threat dealt with. I also got incredible and well-supported multiplayer. Mass Effect 3 may have stumbled a bit at the end, but it was a great ride anyway.
5. Assassin’s Creed III
Connor is no Ezio Auditore de Firenze, but his trip through colonial America is fun to play, and the advancements in the overall narrative are great. In the series’ fifth installment, I am still having fun free-running, hiding in haystacks and stabbing guys in the neck with my hidden blade. Multiplayer is still fun, the new Wolf Pack mode is great and back in single player the sea battles are amazing. Ubisoft finally found a side mode to rival Mediterranean Defense.
4. Hero Academy
I love turn-based battle systems. They allow me to ponder my moves, instead of waiting my turn and then just selecting attack because I feel like I’m penalized for taking my time. Hero Academy allows me that freedom while giving me unlimited replay, because every match is a bout against a real human. With six teams, there’s a ton of variety in match-ups, and you can play against people who play on iOS as well as on Steam. I’ve played for 30 hours since picking it up, and my average session lasts only for about five minutes. It’s great for short bursts, and I love starting my Steam sessions with it.
3. Borderlands 2
Fun shooting, great characters and the ability to play split screen and online at the same time have made Borderlands 2 my most-played title of 2012. I always want to run one more mission, find one more gun and listen to one more of Tannis’ brilliantly-insane bits of dialogue. The whole experience is fun, and the great downloadable content support has kept the game in my 360 for a long time, between adding a new character classes and releasing to good pieces of mission content shortly after release.
2. XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Replay value is difficult to find in single-player games, but Firaxis has managed it with XCOM: Enemy Unknown. It is an amazing experience to decide what to research when while weighing that against balancing panic across member nations by launching satellites and choosing which missions to take part in. The tactical battles are great fun, and the strategy layer has made my fifth and sixth games just as much fun as my first.
1. The Walking Dead
I have written a lot about The Walking Dead this year. It is powerful, its characters are well-realized, its choices impact the story, and I have never felt more attached to a game character than I do to Clementine. As a fan of adventure games (I grew up on Sierra’s King’s Quest series), I have loved seeing Telltale reinvigorate the genre and create my personal favorite entry in the genre.