10. Trials Evolution
Whether it's NASCAR, F1, or Fast and Furious crap, I could not give less of a shit about racing if it doesn't involve turtle shells or have the word Burnout in its name. If you're giving Trials a passing glance, it may look like a generic dirt bike racing game. Thirty seconds of playing this fantastic downloadable title (or its predecessor) is enough to change anyone's tune. Few games consistently engage me like Trials, as I'm either thrilled about a perfect gold medal run, furious at myself over a dumb mistake, or cracking up at a spectacular wipeout or ridiculous end-level animation. When it comes to pure, dumb fun, few gaming experiences nail it as perfectly as Trials Evolution.
I've long considered the original Soul Calibur to be the best fighting game ever made. That said, I felt subsequent installments maintained a certain level of quality but failed to recreate the experience I had with the original. This fifth entry doesn't top the Dreamcast classic, but it's the next best thing. Namco Bandai omitted some of the awkward features from IV and introduced numerous new characters to the already-beefy roster. Coupled with solid online play and the best visuals in the series to date, it's the best fighting game I played this year.
As a guy that sucks at stealth games, I didn't know how much I'd enjoy Arkane's ambitious new IP. Playing on PC, I quickly realized that quick saves and quick loads work perfectly with the wide variety of approaches Corvo can take when stalking his prey. Dorking around with elaborate and violent kills is a blast when you know you can simply hop back with a quick load and take your objective seriously. Nailing that perfect kill is a rush, but failing in spectacular and hilarious fashion is often just as entertaining.
7. Hero Academy
Asynchronous gameplay can be great if done correctly, and Robot Entertainment's Hero Academy does it better than any other game I've played. Every time I see the little badge on my iPhone tell me that I've got a turn to play, I can't wait to jump in and obsess over the perfect five-move approach to whatever situation I'm currently in. I typically don't dabble much in microtransactions, but I immediately drain a couple of bucks from my Apple Store wallet every time a new team is introduced. Almost a year after its release, I still find myself excited at the outset of each new match.
I've never been much of a video game lore guy, unless you wanna talk about Metal Gear Solid or the sweet endings in Twisted Metal 2. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed learning the fate of Shepard, the Reapers, and whatever crew lived through my reckless decisions in the last two games. I even loved the original ending, so I'm glad that the internet has finally shut up about it.
5. WWE ‘13
As anyone who knows me or follows me on Twitter is well aware, I've wavered between different phases of obsession regarding pro wrestling for my entire life. The height of my obsession happened during the industry's greatest time period, the Attitude Era. THQ did an amazing job of capturing what made the late 90s such a thrilling time, taking gamers through recreations of Steve Austin, The Rock, Mick Foley, and others' most memorable moments. When you factor in its endless WWE Universe mode, unmatched creation suite, and the best roster of any wrestling game to date, this is the most fun a wrestling game has been since the Nintendo 64 glory days.
I went into Fez fairly blind, knowing only that it was an indie labor of love that had been in development for several years. Running around its world, shifting perspective, and collecting the basic cubes was fun enough at first, but what really hooked me were the elaborate puzzles required for the anti-cubes. No other game in recent memory had me scribbling clues and symbols on notebook paper like a damn crazy person, and I loved every second of it.
Nintendo could keep crapping out 2D Mario games every couple of years until the day I die, and I'd probably love every one of them. I'm certainly not alone when I say that I grew up on classic Mario platforming, and it's a joy to be able to relive it with the New series. As long as Nintendo continues to innovate with its stellar 3D Mario series, I'm completely fine with an unapologetically nostalgic side series that pays tributes to gaming's most consistent franchise.
Since I never had a PC capable of running much more than the original Doom, I don't have the strongest background in the strategy genre. When I heard Firaxis had made XCOM: Enemy Unknown accessible to newcomers as well as veterans of the genre, I was intrigued. It only took a few alien encounters to fall in love with the tense combat and engaging strategic layer of the game. I loved it so much, I restarted from scratch after spending a dozen hours in a desperate, satellite-starved first run.
After pumping well over 100 hours into the first Borderlands, I knew Gearbox would have to really knock the sequel out of the park if it was going to grab me as much as the original. They went above and beyond, with four (later, five) fantastic new classes featuring skill trees stocked with entertaining and useful abilities. Fleshing out an actual story with a defined antagonist also helped put it above its already-great predecessor. It takes a special game to keep me hooked long after I've reviewed it, and I still find myself loving my time in Pandora months later.