1. Portal 2
About as close to a perfect game as I've played, and I didn't even touch the co-op. The writing and acting was fantastic from top to bottom. The story was well-told, surprising, and made great use of the characters. The puzzles were well-designed and clever with great use of the prior portal gun and some new mechanics that never felt overwhelming.
It basically took everything from Portal, multiplied it by a factor of ten, and maintained all the excellence from the original. If that's not a game of the year, I don't know what is.
2. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
One hundred plus hours later, I've survived Skyrim. And yet I still want to go back in and try a different character. Filled with meaningful quests and locations. At least 5 major storylines and ten times that in minor ones. And a variety of skills and ways to play that all seemed fun.
Combat remains a little clunky, the stories told don't match some of the highs of other games, and the to-be-expected bugs were annoying. But it's hard to argue with 100+ hours.
3. Dead Space 2
Dead Space remains the horror series to beat. Dead Space was a great game, but Dead Space 2 was an altogether amazing one. The atmosphere, levels, story, and setpieces all were amped up from the previous game in meaningful ways, and the core survival horror shooting remained great.
4. Saints Row: The Third
Holy god damn crap on a stick. I'm not sure how they convinced their corporate masters and their puny questioning brains to let them take the utter insanity about seven levels higher, but I'm glad they did. I'm sure along the way they kept going "will people think running into this giant naked guy is funny or weird?" Or "is this pimp that speaks in autotune a little over-the-top?" But they fought through that and made this game. It also helps that from a design perspective they cut out the open-world clutter and drove you straight into the fun with little filler. The new gold standard in how to make an enjoyable open-world game. I hope Rockstar was taking notes because otherwise it's going to be hard going to GTAV.
Another game with very few faults. The narration was propulsive and well-done. The music was top notch and appropriate. And the gameplay was surprisingly deep for an isometic beat-em-up. Very excited to see what comes out of Supergiant Games for their sophomore effort.
6. Batman: Arkham City
Arkham City lacked the tight focus of the first game, to be sure. But the open world, flying, and new gadgets worked for me. I collected all the trophies, completed all the sidequests, and generally wrung out all I could from it. It helps that nothing's topped the combat and the main story remained great. And that it starred the god damned Batman.
The DLC and pre-order mess was a black mark on an otherwise great game, but it's hard to fault the game for the bad PR decisions.
7. L.A. Noire
The sidequests, open world, and action sequences often felt tacked on what was otherwise a detective adventure. And it's a little one-note in that the facial animations and interrogations are the only thing that make it something better than a well-produced adventure game. But it's a damn great note, even if the mechanics wore a little thin as the game went on, and the cases, stories, and characters kept me going.
Probably the most creative game I played this year in almost every way. Russian nesting dolls involved in a child labor story told in silent film style. A puzzle game that involves you stacking in to dolls to use their abilities in interesting ways. Insanity and genius.
I also give it props for coming up with a way to have puzzles with multiple solutions, and in-game ways for encouraging you to go back and find the extra solutions. A very clever and effective way of giving me more time with the game.
9. Iron Brigade
Not as crazy as Stacking when it comes to gameplay, but probably about as insane when it comes to story. Luckily the gameplay was no slouch, as it effectively combined shooting, tower defense, loot collection, and competitive saluting into a single game.
10. The Binding of Isaac
A rogue-like, Super Smash TV game in Zelda dungeons? Everything about that sounds great. And it was. I've beaten the game seven or eight times, played through it 50+, and still like going back to make the occasional run. It's punishingly difficult, buggy in parts, and the randomness can be frustrating, but for five dollars I got more out of the game than many retail offerings.