1. The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead is important for a few reasons. First and foremost, it's actually well-written. Not just well-written for a game, it's the genuine caveat-less article. Second, it showed the world that episodic gaming wasn't just a crazy pipe dream. And third, as a byproduct of its episodic format succeeding, it managed to recreate the feeling of event television. Every episode was filled with water cooler moments that spurred discussion, debate and theorizing alike. Sure it wasn't always the most interactive of gameplay experiences, sure it had game-breaking bugs on nearly every platform it graced, and sure, many of your decisions ultimately didn't matter all that much in the end. But none of these issues changed the fact that I was willing to go through hell and back just to protect a fictional little girl. #ForClementine
2. Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward
I've spent a lot of time thinking about the Zero Escape franchise these past few months. After finally getting around to playing 2010's excellent Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors this October, I jumped right into its sequel: Virtue's Last Reward. With its final scenes still fresh in my mind, and my brain still gooey mush after having my mind repeatedly blown, I'm looking forward to returning to this world more than any other game on this list. That I don't actually enjoy the puzzle-solving gameplay all that much is a small (large) detail preventing VLR from being my personal game of the year.
3. Sleeping Dogs
This is the title I'm happiest to have on my list. The odds were stacked high against Sleeping Dogs. How many games get dropped by their publisher, go through a name change, see numerous delays and still come out at all, let alone come out this good? Sleeping Dogs doesn't reinvent the open world crime genre, but damn if it doesn't do nearly every aspect of it exceedingly well. That it puts a Hong Kong crime drama spin on everything is just icing on the cake for this old school John Woo nerd.
4. Forza Horizon
I wasn't expecting to enjoy Forza Horizon much. After clocking a couple hundred hours in Forza 3, I barely touched the 4th game. I was burnt out, and truth be told, Horizon appeared to be little more than a transparent attempt to have a box on shelves every 12 months instead of every 24. Sometimes it's great to be proven wrong. Not only is Forza Horizon the most fun I had behind the wheel this year, it's some of the most fun I've had behind the wheel this console generation. Blue skies, fast cars, great music and a handling model that successfully walks the line between arcade and sim. What more could you ask for?
5. Hotline Miami
Let's get something out of the way. Hotline Miami features my soundtrack of the year. It's not even close. But my relationship with this game wasn't always so rosy. It felt like everything from the menu music to the oscillating and pulsing of the HUD was some kind of horrible fever dream, conspiring against me. I actually felt sick the first couple times I played it. Then everything started to click, everything started to make sense. I donned my horse mask and was bashing fools skulls in, hacking them to bits with my machette, and spraying their guts all over the walls of some shitty Miami nightclub. Each level's combat puzzles assume a flow not entirely dissimilar to Super Meat Boy, where margins of error are razor thin, and a much needed retry is a fraction of a second away. You should play this game.
6. XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Confession time: I've never played the original X-Com. Hell, I didn't even own a computer when it came out. I have no basis of reference for whether or not Firaxis have successfully modernized a PC gaming classic. What I do have, is a healthy love for the Japanese turn-based strategy genre. To that end, XCOM: Enemy Unknown absolutely nails the combat, while layering in fantastic base building, and wrapping everything up in a package that brutally punishes the impatient. Yasumi Matsuno would be proud.
7. Super Hexagon
Super Hexagon is the kind of game I wish I designed. Move a little triangle left and right inside of a rotating world, as you try to avoid colliding with walls. It's absurdly brilliant in its simplicity, and menacingly difficult. It's still my go-to iOS title, months after the fact.
8. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy
If you had told me that a 3DS rhythm game featuring nothing but Final Fantasy music would end up as one of my favorite titles of 2012, I probably would've called you crazy. Turns out my love for rhythm games runs deep, and there's just something about Nobuo Uematsu in his prime that releases large quantities of dopamine to the nostalgia centre of my brain.
9. Asura's Wrath
This is another one that surprised the hell out of me. I'm not exactly the world's biggest anime fan, and I'll admit that I initially judged Asura's Wrath without giving it a fair shake. I'm glad I saw the error of my ways because what a crazy trip this turned out to be. You play as Asura, the angriest man on Earth, exacting revenge on the heavens by growing a large quantity of arms and aggressively performing quicktime events. You also fight Evil Ryu on the moon.
In all seriousness, Asura's Wrath has some amazingly inventive UI design and excellent all around art direction. It's worth checking out, if only to experience the crazy.
10. Far Cry 3
As the late addition to my list, Far Cry 3 offers a lot to love. The gunplay is tight and satisfying, the ways in which you can scout and interact with enemy outposts are numerous, and the relationship between autonomous systems (E.g. Angry wild animals and armed guards) is usually hilarious. It also happens to be one of the most frustrating games from a story and character perspective. You avatar and his posse of trust fund shitheads are among some of the least likeable characters imaginable. On the other hand, cover boy Vaas is genuinely menacing and stands out as one of the best villains in recent memory. Too bad then, that his potential is never fully realized. Too bad then, that the early story promise is ultimately squandered. Good thing then, that Far Cry 3 is so much damn fun.