1. XCOM: Enemy Unknown
XCOM: Enemy Unknown represents a nearly perfect strategy gaming experience. It is tactical, without sacrificing the big picture, accessible, without sacrificing depth, and challenging, without sacrificing enjoyment. I hesitate to say that it is the greatest strategy experience of all time only because its developers have already crafted that game with Civilization. That said, XCOM is a game that should be played, for it is as close to perfection as we are likely to see for years to come.
2. Persona 4 Golden
Persona 4: Golden is my new favorite handheld game. The social simulation, the dungeon crawling, and the excellent story all transfer perfectly to the Vita's beautiful display. The gameplay represents one of the deepest, most strategic JRPGs ever to be released, and could hook you even if you have no interest in the genre. I would go so far as to say that it is worth buying a Vita for, it's that good.
Dishonored surprised me. I had followed its development and expected a perfectly competent stealth game. Instead, we got an extraordinary experience that hearkens back to days long past. Dishonored nails the gameplay found in games like Thief and Deus Ex, and sets it in a fascinating world that resembles what would happen if Half Life 2 and Bioshock had a baby. With so much to do and so many ways to play, the middling, somewhat short story is pretty easy to swallow.
4. Hotline Miami
Hotline Miami is Jack Thompson's worst nightmare. It's an unabashed murder simulator, tasking you with the brutal disposal of houses full of gangsters and drug dealers. Playing the game will take you to a dark place, and its slick pixel art does little to temper the bloodshed. All that said, it is pure fun, and pure challenge. Finding the best route to bounce through the game's levels is a blast, and the surreal encounters you have with the world around you present disturbing questions about the nature of violence, and why you are committing such heinous acts of it. Also, the music, the fuckin' music...
5. The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead represents a great leap forward in interactive story telling. In a year almost defined by player choice, the Walking Dead gives you some of the toughest choices that a video game has presented. Heart breaking, depressing, and terrifying, this game is an emotional roller coaster from start to finish.
6. Guild Wars 2
Oh Guild Wars 2, how you surprised me. I played the original Guild Wars to death, and so naturally I was pretty excited for the sequel. Boy was I not disappointing. Guild Wars 2 fixes almost everything wrong with MMOs, from progression, to questing, to raiding, this game represents what makes the fun, without any of the stress.
7. Guns Of Icarus Online
Guns of Icarus Online is a great little team shooter, with the potential for a big life ahead of it. By tasking you with either piloting, fixing, or manning the guns of a big ol' airship, the game has managed to build a great sense of teamwork and excitement. Plus, watching your opponents fall to the sand in a burning wreck is extremely satisfying!
8. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
Perhaps the saddest story of 2012, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning may not reach the lofty heights of a game like Skyrim, but it is certainly an excellent first release from a now defunct studio. The game's combat is fluid and exciting, and the world is extraordinarily deep given the lack of source material. It's truly a tragedy we won't see the fate of Amalur any time soon.
9. The Secret World
I love Lovecraft, and Vampire, and mythology, so when Funcom says they are going to make an MMO based on these things and throw in a little Dan Brown and Chris Carter, they have my attention. The product, of course, is the Secret World. The sheer courage and ambition in the game should earn it marks, no class system, no levels, modern setting, very mature themes, it's a recipe for disaster for a AAA game. Luckily, Funcom are no ordinary developers, and they pulled it off. Sure, it's a wonky experience at times, and the amount of content is thinner than say, Guild Wars 2, but it's so different, so fresh, while still saying true to the roots of the genre (for better or for worse, frankly). Furthermore, now that they have dropped the monthly fee, there's even more reason to check it out. Plus the title screen music is awesome.
10. Assassin's Creed III