This was a great year for indie games, and Klei Entertainment's Mark of the Ninja perfectly demonstrated how a well-crafted stealth-action game can really win over an audience. Its tight gameplay, clever level design, and gorgeous animation slotted Mark of the Ninja into a category all by itself.
Since when is a turn-based game described as thrilling? That's why XCOM: Enemy Unknown makes the list. Give credit to Firaxis Games, as the team was able to successfully bring XCOM into the current generation of gaming while preserving some of the classic gameplay XCOM veterans fell in love with back in 1994.
Darksiders II represents exactly what a proper sequel should be. While most follow-up games usually incorporate a lot more of the same, the team at Vigil Games upped the ante by introducing fleshed-out RPG elements and inventory-management mechanics. What resulted was a masterfully balanced action-adventure game that offered an ultrasatisfying combat system, rewarding exploration, and creative puzzle-solving.
The introduction of a new developer for Halo 4 had die-hard fans biting their fingernails, but 343Industries delivered a Halo game that was gritty and raw, taking the franchise in a brave new emotional direction. Right away, Halo 4 represents some of the best storytelling in the entire series and breathes new life into what's already one of the best properties of all time.
BioWare's Mass Effect trilogy came to end in 2012, and despite a controversial ending, the game was an absolute triumph. Never before has a game made the concept of deep-space exploration so accessible, all while crafting an engaging narrative that spanned three epic titles.
Perhaps no other title than Journey deserves to be labeled as 2012's "game-changer." The digital-only PS3 exclusive rewrote a lot of conventional gaming rules and produced an experience unlike anything out there. Whether you were a seasoned hard-core gamer or you just picked up a DualShock for the very first time, Journey felt natural to anyone that played it. Its whimsical fairytale narrative and seamless incorporation of online play is well ahead of its time, cementing Journey as one of this year's finest.
Everyone's favorite substance-abusing supercop returned to action in Max Payne 3, clearing the streets of Hoboken, N.J., and taking down guerrilla crime factions in Brazil. The grandfather of bullet time in video games, Max Payne dusted off his favorite bottle of painkillers for another dazzling display of special-effects eye candy in all of its slow-motion glory.
Just sneaking into the 2012 calendar year was Far Cry 3, the open-world jungle island first-person-shooter adventure from Ubisoft Montreal. Between its jaw-dropping opening scenes and unforgettable maniacal villain, Far Cry 3 delivered on every level possible. Its unique take on upgrading and progression rewarded players' exploration and fueled the desire to press on.
Never underestimate a game with a winning formula. Now combine that with some hilarious dialogue and a laundry list of memorable characters and you've got Borderlands 2, arguably 2012's best overall value. Its addictive "shoot and loot" mechanic and seemingly infinite collection of weapons and treasure ensure you'll be playing Borderlands 2 for a long time. Oh, and did I mention the amazing DLC campaign packs that continue to drop in?
Game developers take note: this is how you adapt a comic book into a game. Not only is Telltale Games' The Walking Dead one of 2012's absolute best, it's also better than the television show of the same name (well, at least the first two seasons). The Walking Dead's brilliant storyline compelled players more than any game this year, forcing them to make painful decisions about the lives of some extremely well-developed characters. Over the course of five episodes players were treated to an avalanche of emotion, pieced together by some expert level design and puzzles to solve that echoed the brilliance of point-and-click games of the past.
Only one game can be crowned the year's best, and this time it's Dishonored that takes first prize. Above all, originality gets top reward here and the unique concoction of multiple gameplay styles that is Dishonored has won out in 2012. Combining the genres of stealth, action, first-person shooter, strategy, and more, Dishonored constantly reminded players that this was a game they'd never experienced before. Arkane Studios took gamers to the fantastic fictional city of Dunwall, with a bevy of supernatural powers at their disposal, to play out a tale filled with betrayal, revenge, and murder.