1. Saints Row: The Third
Do you want to have fun? Do you want to laugh? Would you like to see one of the best designed open world games of the year? Head to Steelport with the Saints, then, because the student has become the master. From the satisfying shooting, the ridiculous and effective Melee combat, the driving that can only be described as marvelous, and the constant little tricks they use to make the open world more easily accessible, this game is an absolute triumph. While the humor and the personality might be the main draw, and rightly so, don't let anyone tell you that this isn't an incredible game to play.
2. Dark Souls
Dark Souls is a game with a story. If you've heard otherwise, then you've heard so from players who unknowingly fell right into their intended roles without a second thought, and I urge you to play this incredibly difficult, incredibly punishing, but still clearly fair game. There is a web of lies, deceit, and treachery just below the surface of the world, and the only way to uncover it is with diligent study of any clue you encounter, be it an item description or a stray line of dialogue or two from the NPCs. If you can accomplish the task and grasp the full breadth of the tale being told, I assure you, you'll be party to one of the most interesting and definitely the most well told story of the year.
I imagine it will be a while before we see a game come close to tackling the same issues that Catherine does, and longer still before one begins to approach the level of complexity and care it takes to show you all sides of the issues at hand. The characters involved in the tale and found hanging around the Stray Sheep are without a doubt the best of the year, and are not to be missed by any means.
Also, those block puzzles are awesome. This might be the best puzzle game released in years, on top of hands-down containing the best cast in ages.
4. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Motion Controls the way they always should have been. Make no mistake, if this had been the kind of game they kicked off the Wii with, the gaming landscape would be quite different today. The combat is satisfying and responsive, the world is engaging, the characters are quirky and loveable, and above all the heart of a Zelda game still beats strongly in this one. If you have any love for the series, don't let this be the one that passes you by.
5. Alice: Madness Returns
It's gorgeous. It's probably the best looking game released in a long time, from the absolutely astounding art style that will grab hold and refuse to release you, changing the aesthetic and mood with each new area and each new world to the amazingly lively characters and animations. Perhaps the most memorable part of the game, however, is the story. But be cautious, because like the characters in the game itself, once I uncovered the twists and the truth that lie at the heart of the game, I wanted deeply to be able to forget what I had seen. A haunting tale in some very important ways.
6. Mortal Kombat
Resetting the Mortal Kombat Mythology via a sort of time travel may not have been the most elegant solution to the convoluted mess of characters and story that seemed to be piling up, but it pays off in a huge way, allowing for simple changes that cause dramatic differences in the world and characters, and really manages to bring this game back from the odd 90's limbo it was stuck in. Also, all of that part where you're actually playing the game is as rewarding and fun as MK has ever been.
7. Portal 2
It's a sequel to one of the most loved, most highly regarded games released, and it doesn't disappoint. That alone is an incredible accomplishment, but the addition of new characters, a new story, and new mechanics that all manage to mesh beautifully with the groundwork set by the first Portal, it becomes something close to magical.
8. Batman: Arkham City
The main issue with the first Arkham game, namely the absolutely terrible boss battles- and don't pretend that they weren't all awful- has been completely fixed with this sequel. Adding the now climactic and appropriately fun encounters with the largest super-villainous personalities in Batman's world to the already excellent combat and beautiful aesthetics makes this a perfect addition.
9. Dead Space 2
It might not be the survival-horror game that the first was, but it ramps up the action in a pretty satisfying way. You may miss out on some of that nervous, oppressive atmosphere, but the gameplay is as slick as it ever was, and it looks even more gorgeous than the first, even while you're battling waves of unending horror.
10. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Skyrim was a beautiful thing for the brief time it worked, before the thin veneer of functionality cracked and I was left wishing I could go back and enjoy that game it used to be. The time you have while it works will be great, but try not to be surprised when it inevitably falls apart. If you're a PS3 user, consider legal action against the people who let you buy this.