A bit late to this, has been a much busier holiday than years past. This is a little different from other top 10 lists in that games released from any year are eligible. The only qualification is that I played it for the first time in 2012.
10. Day Z
Despite it being a work in progress with many issues regarding connecting to servers and general game bugs, this mod gave some of the most thrilling gameplay experiences I've had this year. It was a wonderful step forward for co-op gaming. It also was an excellent take on the trope that man is the worst enemy. What made it so excellent, is that rather than it being a story presented to the player ala The Walking Dead, these were real players you were interacting with. The drive for supplies played a huge part in player interaction, whether or not you decided to trust strangers you came across in the world, and whether they screwed you over as a result. It's unfortunate that eventually the game got to the point where encountering other players were shoot on site or be killed yourself, because the stress in deciding whether you can trust others were magnificent, fresh and new to the multiplayer experience.
9. Far Cry 3
I haven't gotten too far into Far Cry 3 yet, so it's a bit unfair to judge exactly where it is on this list yet. What I have played of it so far, around 5-10 hours, has been incredibly fun. I've mostly explored the world, climbing radio towers and conquering outposts, but there is no other game where I can find a relic in a dark cave through a waterfall, be attacked by a crocodile upon returning, frantically kill said crocodile, only to be jumped on by a leopard immediately after stepping on land. Beautiful game that plays great.
I disliked playing it the first couple of hours. I almost never got deep enough into New Vegas to know how great it is. I'm so happy I kept at it. As soon as I arrived in Novac the game became wonderful and I was sucked into the world more than I had with Skyrim. One of those games I'm glad I got to eventually, rather than having it forgotten in an increasingly long back log.
Thank goodness they did right on the PC version for the sequel. The PC version of Borderlands 1 was one of the most disappointing in recent years, so the fact they made a sequel that not only plays better than the first game, but functions wonderfully is just fantastic. I was hooked for a good long while when this came out, with many sleepless nights spending countless Borderbucks on the slot machines in Moxxi's bar. The humor didn't always hit for me, but the world of Pandora was fun to explore. There's such a strange tone to it that I find endearing, a lot of which can probably be contributed to the art style. Whenever Borderworlds comes along I'll be there.
6. Halo 4
This is on the list more for the social aspect than anything else. As a result of my haul during Black Friday, I now have a TV in my room, which I hooked my neglected Xbox 360 to along with Halo 4 and a 3-month card for Xbox Live. I was able to travel back to 2007 when I first bought my 360 for the Halo 3 launch. The gameplay has evolved in drastic ways, but laughing with buddies in an xbox live party while running over people with ghosts is just as fun as I remember. I haven't played more than 2 missions of the single player so I can't comment on it but I intend to play it on legendary co-op soon. A great way to relax after work.
I wouldn't have played this were it not for Vinny talking about it on the Bombcast. I'm certainly glad I decided to though as this has got to be one of the most satisfying third person shooters I've played, as a whole package. There are games with great gameplay but their settings, characters and/or plot are forgettable, however I enjoyed everything Binary Domain had to offer. It reminded me of some of my favorite campy action movies. Fun the entire way through, with some genuinely well written characters and an interesting story that has a better impact thanks to the work done with those characters. Like The Fifth Element it's the future, there are crazy developments, some things fall flat, but it puts a smile on my face regardless.
edit: Also has the most satisfying headshot feedback ever in a shooter. That ping was delicious to my brain.
Many things have been said about it. All I have to say is this was an excellent experience that I'm glad I have. They did a splendid job in making you feel like your playthrough was unique thanks to their genius multiplayer system. After I finished it I told people that I wanted to watch my playthrough in a theatre. It's as visually engaging as cinema.
This was probably my most anticipated game this year. It looked impressive every time I saw footage of it, and it delivered in spades. I have no history with the franchise, I don't have much experience with strategy games in general, but for some reason everything about XCOM appealed to me. I loved the customization of soldiers, and the perma-death. The meta-game was engaging enough to me and forced some difficult decision making. The gameplay had some of the widest swings from high to low I've ever experienced. I loved making up scenarios in my head for my soldiers as well, specifically for when they died. I would play it out in my head like a death in a show or movie. The poor red suit who successfully took out a cyberdisc...only to have it land on top of him, blowing him up and severely injuring my only support at the time. I'm greatly fond of games where I can be imaginative with the story and make fun out of some awful situations they go through. That may be in part to the style they used for the character models. Whatever the aspect, it's complete and I'll be happy to go back to it for a long time. I feel this top 3 is so close it can go either way.
Again, many things have been said. It's amazing what Telltale has accomplished with this season of episodic gaming. I'm happy that it paid off for them as they truly deserve it. They provided the best example of storytelling in a video game and it's a benchmark moment looking forward. It's not often I come close to shedding a tear over anything, so to have welled up eyes after the final scene speaks volumes of their accomplishment.
I got this game the week before launch because of a sale. I was feeling impulsive, I saw it was $33, thought it looked interesting enough from the setting and took a chance. That ended up being one of the best decisions of the year. I knew it was something I myself would enjoy, as I have the most fun with open world games, but the extent of polish and care they put into Sleeping Dogs is profound. They put a ton of love into this game, and it shows from their attention to detail. Things like clicking the thumbstick to switch the GPS markers. The writing of the characters is surprisingly believable, and while not being an original story, it is successful in it's execution because of the strength of the characters they develop. I'll be honest the music they chose to include was a big influence to my enjoyment as well. To have Ninja Tune and Warp record stations was exquisite. The fact you don't use a gun for the majority of the game felt right and fresh. The beautiful world was a joy to drive around and gaze at the scenery. It was the first time I got so invested in a world that I actually wanted, and did, do everything. It was the most pleasant surprise of the year and I hope the team gets a sequel, they rightfully deserve it.