Another year in the books and another top ten list for games. It’s been a bit of a weird year: two system launches, multiple game delays, and nothing groundbreaking. Still, it’s not like there weren’t any great games in 2012; this list doesn’t have contain any mediocrity. Considering that a number of titles on this list were smaller releases, maybe there are a few here that you haven’t played. This isn’t an isolated opinion; many other media outlets had a number of, if not a majority of the titles on their top games list, made by companies that are not household names. It’s a bit weird that many of the best titles of the year came from obscure place but, then again, 2012 was a pretty bizarre year in gaming.
Borderlands 2 (PS3/Xbox 360/PC)
Developed by: Gearbox Software
Published by: 2K Games
The original Borderlands was a great game but it wasn’t one the publishers could create a mold of and churn out nearly the same game and expect similar results. Borderlands 2 doesn’t reinvent the wheel but it makes slight improvements where it is needed it. The story, controls, and gameplay concepts have all been tweaked to varying degrees which makes the game remain incredibly familiar yet much smoother and enjoyable to play. You may be having too much fun playing Borderlands 2 to worry about what they could possibly do for the third game to make the series continue to resonate with gamers but, considering that Borderlands 2 is at the top of the FPS world right now, it’ll be interesting to see what 2K has in store for the franchise in the future.
Far Cry 3 (PS3/Xbox 360/PC)
Developed by: Ubisoft
Published by: Ubisoft
It’s not perfect and it’s not entirely original but Far Cry 3 is fun. Most shooters are white-knuckle rides that can be more stressful at times than anything else and, while Far Cry 3 can be pretty intense, you’ll have a smile on your face playing it most of the time. Some might hold their nose at the game and complain that Ubisoft is ripping off Grand Theft Auto and putting a Far Cry skin over it, but the millions who are enjoying this game for what it is—an unknown open-world environment where it’s kill or be killed—don’t see that connection. If you’re looking for something to complain about, you can complain that everything is basically a clone of everything else. If you’re looking for a gratifying gaming experience, it doesn’t get much better in 2012 than Far Cry 3.
FTL: Faster Than Light (PC)
Developed by: Subset Games
Published by: Subset Games
Unlike most indie titles that offer great gameplay for a couple of minutes that people rave about for a week, FTL: Faster Than Light has such incredible gameplay depth that you can get stuck playing this game for months. It’s not just a tower defense game on steroids; it’s the closest you’re most likely get to a great Star Trek-type game. Not only do you have to ward off enemy ships but you also have to maintain and repair different systems of your ships. So much is customizable, you’ll think you’re a captain of a ship and not just someone sitting in front of a computer monitor playing a game. For something so simple looking, it offers some of the most realistic and immersive gameplay one would could ask for in a strategy game.
Fez (Xbox 360)
Developed by: Polytron
Published by: Microsoft Studios/Polytron/Trapdoor
After Super Mario Galaxy hit store shelves a few years back, many wondered where platformers could go from there. Nintendo took a step backwards and have gone to making 2D Mario games with little imagination. Fez, on the other hand, is the next evolution of 2D platformers. It appears to be a 2D platformer but requires you to change perspective to solve puzzles and reach the end goal. Some games have tried this before to varying degrees of success (Sony had Echochrome, Nintendo had Super Paper Mario) but Fez is a game that feels natural despite that this style of game is a compete warping of what we’ve come to expect from a 2D platformer.
Developed by: Thatgamecompany
Published by: Sony Computer Entertainment
The Playstation 3 saw a number of artsy titles that required players to find their own ways around the game. While The Unfinished Swan was great in its own right, it was a little too abstract for some. Journey didn’t stray too much from the conventional video game idea but it offered up some interesting ideas that perhaps was a glimpse for things to come. The idea of a total stranger playing alongside you without being able to communicate with a headset or even the written word and still be able to communicate to solve puzzles was brilliantly executed. While the game does suffer from the generic one colour palette artistic style of the current console cycle, the game does amazing things with the colours that it does use and the game is a feast for the eyes. It’s more than what you’d consider to be a downloadable title; it’s an experience that draws you in and, like the title insinuates, takes you on a journey that leaves you mesmerized and satisfied for hours and hours.
Mark of the Ninja (Xbox 360)
Developed by: Klei Entertainment
Published by: Microsoft Studios
If Metal Gear Solid had been a 2D platformer, Mark of the Ninja may have been the result. While cartoony in appearance, it’s one of the most serious games that you can play. Stealthy hack-and-slash action with enough blood that would have caused parental outrage twenty years ago, it is a game that’s familiar to old-school gamers while also approachable for gamers that have grown up on Call of Duty that are looking for a different change of pace. It’s not a retro game, but it brings back many of the qualities that made games from older generation machines great to play: challenging, serious-but-not-too-serious, and easy to pick up and play. If you like video games and you don’t like Mark of the Ninja, then chances are the only video games you like are Angry Birds and Farmville.
Mass Effect 3 (PS3, Wii U, Xbox 360, PC)
Developed by: BioWare/Straight Right
Published by: Electronic Arts
Despite being one of the best reviewed games of the year and offering up the same great gameplay that made the first two Mass Effect games reach a high level of universal praise, Mass Effect 3 almost didn’t make the list due to issues with the game’s ending. This a major problem with games that are driven mostly by a storyline; if the ending is bad, it doesn’t matter how great the dozens of hours were getting to the end were, it all seems like time wasted. However, with the ending aside, few games will offer such a rich and detailed experience as Mass Effect 3. If you can’t ignore the horrible ending and take pride in the game you’ve completed, the achievements unlocked/trophies earned, and the fun that you’ve had, then few games are going to make you happy. Mass Effect 3 is one of the greatest experiences one can have in gaming in 2012 and beyond.
New Super Mario Bros. U (Wii U)
Developed by: Nintendo
Published by: Nintendo
It was previously stated that the 2D Mario platformers have barely evolved since Super Mario Galaxy but that doesn’t take away from the fact that New Super Mario Bros. U is the best 2D Mario game since Super Mario World. Neither a revolution or an evolution, it still manages to stand out by offering some of the best level design the series has ever seen. Many levels are instantly memorable and you’re busy playing them in your head long after you’ve turned off the system. The art style in some of the levels makes the game incredibly visually appealing and makes the game pop out in a series that hasn’t changed at all since the original *New* game on the DS in 2005. Miiverse integration is the hook that’ll keep you interested as notes and comments about levels and the game itself are littered across the world map for you to interact with (as well as the ability to add to the conversation yourself). New Super Mario Bros. U doesn’t feel new anymore but it feels like this is the first time they finally got it right.
Torchlight II (PC)
Developed by: Runic Games
Published by: Perfect World, Runic Games, Steam
The original Torchlight was a game not too dissimilar to Diablo. So it’s not surprising that while many gamers were waiting impatiently for Diablo 3, Torchlight not only served as a great game to tide them over but actually was such a rich experience that it created a demand for a sequel and ports to the home console market. Finally we received Diablo 3 and, while it was good, it was at times impossible to play. In the same year, Torchlight 2 comes along and offers more than just an expansion to the original title. The gameplay has been fine tuned and resembles something that you’d expect to pay full retail price for and possibly not be able to play due to DRM timeout restrictions. Torchlight 2 gives more of what was fun in the first game, fixes what needed work, and tosses away what was rubbish. Plus, anyone can play it without fear of an error code. Even had Diablo 3 not released this year or had been a hiccup-free experience, Torchlight 2 would still have been on the list. However, if you really have to pick one or the other, the decision is easy and Torchlight 2 should be your choice.
The Walking Dead (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)
Developed by: Telltale Games
Published by: Telltale Games
Very rarely do games that are mostly story resonate with such a large audience but The Walking Dead has done just that. Perhaps this is all due to the wild popularity of the television show at the moment and we’ll all be scratching our heads as to what the fuss was about with this game in five years time but for now The Walking Dead is a game that has caused more conversation about what to do in a game within the gaming community than any other game this year. It’s not a difficult game nor does it require much skill (most of the time you’ll be choosing what to say next) but it is quite engrossing and draws you in better than almost anything else across the the entertainment media spectrum has to offer. It might only be a couple of hours long but it will keep you coming back to see how if you make one small change or answer one question differently, how the entire script might go differently.