1. Portal 2
Big finish! Valve’s Portal 2 is perfect in every single way, and I sincerely believe in this. It’s the funniest game ever made (Tim Schafer and Shu Takumi, I apologize), and Wheatley and Cave Johnson are currently in a war in my head for the best new character this year. That’s right; two characters from the SAME GAME are competing against each other. The puzzles are the cleverest and most excellently designed I’ve ever encountered. I mentioned Ghost Trick’s puzzles early making you feel like a genius; if that’s true, then solving the mind benders in Portal 2 make you feel like the love child of Albert Einstein and Steven Hawking. Its singular experience delivers the most joyous story this year, with a final moment that absolutely decimates the competition. The cooperative campaign is just as enjoyable, and the perfectly designed puzzles make playing with a partner even more incredible. There is simply too much good stuff to talk about in this game. Let me put things this way; before Portal 2, the original Portal was my favorite game of all time. That has now changed. Play Portal 2.
One of the unsung heroes of the year, Bastion was made by an indie development team consisting of no more than 7 team members in the foyer of a house they bought specifically to make the game. The game tells the story of a kid stuck in the middle of the total collapse of the world he knew where he struggles to bring back everything dear to him and make a new life for those who survived the apocalyptic Calamity. It’s an action RPG with a wonderful variety of weapons, excellent upgrading and leveling mechanics, and a challenge that is player imposed. This game is a labor of love in the most pure sense, and its execution is essentially flawless. It carries an emotional resonance simply unmatched in the medium this year, especially in the final hour or so. It is a work of art, both in the audio department (my personal soundtrack of the year, Skyrim’s dragon chants be damned) and in visuals (the hand-painted landscapes of Caelondia convey so much more than all the polygons in the world ever could). I urge you to play it and enjoy it to its fullest; it’s the best indie game since Super Meat Boy.
3. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
I know, I know, it seems low. In the end, it comes down to the fact that I haven’t had nearly enough time to spend with this masterpiece of an open world RPG. And to give you an idea of exactly how much stuff there is to do in the game, I’ll say that what I consider a weak amount of time with the game is 30 hours. When was the last time you could say you barely scratched the surface with a game after 30 hours? Even with that time, I’ve exterminated vampire threats, become a werewolf, killed countless dragons, learned their language, infiltrated a fancy party and subsequently crashed it, visited major capitals and seen the strife of more races than I can remember. You know Skyrim, you have likely played Skyrim, and it’s incredibly likely that you love Skyrim, so no further explanation is necessary.
4. Batman: Arkham City
A superhero game done so right that if the rest aren’t this good they may as well not exist. In the game, you’ll find one of the most well put together open world games this year (L.A. Noire’s open world might as well not have been), an unbelievable epic final act, a borderline bananas amount of collectibles, and THE GOD DAMN BATMAN make this a clear win for any fan of the franchise or action games in general.
5. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective
And here’s where my list is going to be unlike EVERYONE else’s. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is not only my favorite handheld game of the year (and yes, that includes the remake of the best Zelda game ever made and a new Mario title), but one of my favorite narratives in gaming in general. I mentioned L.A. Noire bringing its characters to life with facial animation, and Ghost Trick does it with an entirely different kind of animation. The way characters move gives each of them such a unique air and a personality completely their own. There is a game changing twist near the end of the game that makes a second playthrough practically necessary. The puzzles and how you go about them are so unique and clever to figure out that you feel like a genius for completing any of them, like you ought to. You know what? I know this game has had pretty poor sales, so consider this a serious recommendation: PLAY THIS GAME.
6. Deus Ex: Human Revolution
I never played a lot of the original Deus Ex, but considering the hype surrounding both games, I was really looking forward to the prequel by Eidos Montreal in the franchise. After the developers place you in the hub city of Detroit, I knew that I would absolutely love my time with Human Revolution. From there, the conspiracy-ridden plotline leads to incredible moments of both stealthy espionage and wonderful character development, and the conversation “boss fights” are some of the most incredible moments I experienced in gaming this year. Arguing about the future of the human race and their evolution with a lobbyist at a convention or talking a man out of committing suicide were so much more compelling than the four actual boss fights that Human Revolution contained (four too many, in my opinion).
7. Dark Souls
I will openly admit that I haven’t completed FROM Software’s hyper-difficult RPG. However, I know enough about the systems and design in the game to be able to tell that this niche, atmospheric experience is one of the best on any system this year. It is absolutely sadistic, varied in monster, location, and weapon design, and clever in the best way. There is no sympathy for the player, and the developers do not pander to anyone. They respect the intelligence, integrity, and skill of the players and do everything in their power to undermine that, and it’s brilliant. If a challenge is what you’re looking for, you simply owe it to yourself to get absorbed in the land of Lordran.
8. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
It was only about a month and a half ago that I actually had the chance to play through the Witcher 2, since it was only then that my computer was up to snuff to play this beast at max settings. And let me tell you, this is absolutely worth playing on max settings; it is the single most impressive looking game I’ve ever seen (yes, I played and loved Battlefield 3, but the artist vision doesn’t even begin to compare). When that visual fidelity is coupled with an extremely hardcore RPG experiences, a dark and compelling fantasy storyline, and genuine difficulty, it’s easy to tell that CD Projekt Red’s sequel to the original Witcher is better in just about every way.
9. Dead Space 2
Visceral knows exactly how to make survival horror in the current market. Some people have been disappointed in the genre’s current development, but I for one couldn’t be more pleased. Horror has always been about tension and Dead Space 2 GETS tension, both in and out of combat. Absolutely perfect sound design meshes with terrifying and gruesome enemies, excellent level design and the most satisfying third person shooting this year to create a worthy successor to the original Dead Space and one of the best horror experiences in gaming.
10. Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
If you were to tell me that I would have a hard time putting this game on this list while I was playing it, I’d have punched you in the face. My review of the game is glowing, in all honesty, and I’ve reconsidered my stance on the game recently. The fact of the matter is that Uncharted 3’s narrative simply has far too many plot holes to hold up to either of its predecessors or some of the other games this year. I’ll include a link at the end of this list to a forum thread on the website Giantbomb that lays out much of what is wrong with Uncharted 3’s story, and I highly suggest reading it if you’ve played the game, since spoilers are all around. That being said, the gameplay, perfect visual presentation, and set-pieces in the game (separate from the story itself) are among the best in console gaming this year, and that is what saved this game a spot on my list.
11. L.A. Noire
Very few experiences this year are comparable in any way to Team Bondi’s 1940’s point-and-click reminiscent adventure game. It tells the single most believable story in the medium, with characters that have genuine, deep flaws and a winding string of cases that is simply a joy to puzzle your way through. This is all without a mention of the motion capture technology employed by the studio to bring these characters to life in a way that has simply not been seen before in the medium. Granted, it doesn’t have as much of an impact on interrogations as was promised, but I’ll excuse it since it’s the first true implementation of the technology.