It's that wonderful time of year when gamers look back on everything they spent their hard-earned money on over the last twelve months and try to figure out if it was cash well-spent. What worked? What disappointed you? What games will you still be playing in 2013? Was it a good year? A bad year? Honestly, in my opinion, it was mostly a transitional year for gaming. It felt like a lot of developers were waiting to see what's next or delaying their big games to 2013. Ultimately, it was just another year without nearly enough exciting new IPs. Where's the next "Grand Theft Auto"? The new "Bioshock"? The variation on "Dead Space"? While there were some very notable reboots of thought-dead franchises in 2012, there were technically only four new titles in my entire top 20, and one of those four new games was based on a hit TV show, while the other was a reworking of a failed game. That’s all to say, we definitely need some innovation in 2013. Until then, be sure play at least the top ten of the list below if you haven’t already (and maybe a few of the runner-ups if you have time).
(Note: Games had to, expectedly, be available on the PS3 to merit consideration. So, don't ask where "The Witcher 2" and "Forza Horizon" are.)
Runner-Ups: "Assassin's Creed III," "Call of Duty: Black Ops II," "Darksiders II," "LittleBigPlanet: Karting," "Madden NFL 13," "NCAA Football 13," "Prototype 2," "Sleeping Dogs," "Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed," and "Sound Shapes".
Image © Activision
Telltale Games hit another home run with this downloadable title -- if there was any major notable trend overall in 2012, it was the variety of interesting games available only on the PSN –- a game that wildly defies the expectations you might have for a game based on a TV/comic property that features brain-eating zombies. Most gamers have played numerous zombie shooters over the years, but few games about the undead have been as complex and character driven as "The Walking Dead," a five-part series in which it felt like you were truly authoring a motion comic instead of just experiencing something presented to you. Smart, emotional, moving, and very clever -- we need more downloadable games like this one in 2013.
Image © 2K Sports
The best basketball simulation game ever made was also one of 2012's most addictive games, period. I'm the type of gamer who typically finds a mode and goes with it. I'll start a Road to Glory character in something like "NCAA Football" or begin my annual frustration with trying to manage a season of the Detroit Lions in "Madden NFL 13." But rarely has a sports game offered more variety of modes that I found as satisfying as "NBA 2K13." Seasons, Playoffs, Ultimate Team, Be a Player -- I've got 'em all going right now and know that I'll keep going back to develop them until the next "NBA 2K" game is released. There was only one sports game of 2012 marginally better. And it was a very thin margin...
Image © Sony
I don't think I've ever played a single sports game as often as "MLB 12 The Show," the best baseball simulation game of all time. This title is not only a visual stunner (some of the best graphics of the year, sports or otherwise) but the developers also refined the gameplay on hundreds of levels, especially in terms of pitching and team management. The problem with most sports games is the inability for developers to recreate the "anything can happen" truth of the real game. As we watch the same animations and hear the same audio clips repeating again and again, sports games often fail to find the spontaneity of the actual experience. That's the amazing thing about "MLB 12 The Show" -- it doesn't feel scripted. It feels as organic and fresh as the actual sport.
Image © 2K Games
Reboots of beloved games rarely work. (Ask anyone who suffered through the recent incarnation of "Duke Nukem.") And yet the long-awaited arrival of the tactical strategy game "XCOM" on the PS3 is an unqualified success. Managing various aspects of a team of researchers, soldiers, scientists, and more proved incredibly addictive. What's so remarkable about this game is its balance of strategy and action. You can spend an hour just fine-tuning and customizing elements of your approach to the ongoing alien invasion and then you're in the heat of combat, watching one of your most beloved soldiers pinned down behind cover from which he will never escape, just because you made the wrong decisions.
Image © RockStar
Is it short? Sure. Does it get a bit repetitive? Undeniably. And yet, throughout the year, I rarely found that same visceral, action-movie thrill that I found in Rockstar's accomplished reboot of the long-dormant "Max Payne" franchise. This is one of the most cinematic games of the year, a truly accomplished experience in terms of graphics, sound, level design, and enemy A.I. And, as fun as the actual story of "Max Payne 3" is from front to back, I found myself replaying levels in Arcade mode and diving into the Multiplayer modes much more completely than most similar games from 2012. In fact, this, not "Call of Duty: Black Ops II," has sucked up the most of my multiplayer time this year with its clever variety of modes and regularly-released map packs. Who saw that coming?
Image © Square-Enix
Speaking of not seeing something coming, I never expected the Square-Enix reboot of "Hitman" (yes, I noticed that's three reboots in a row and find it odd too) to be as artistically sound as this gorgeous, heavily replayable, and addictive action experience. With Hollywood-level production values, hours of gameplay, and an amazing sense of authorship over each contracted kill, "Hitman: Absolution" is arguably the biggest surprise of 2012. In the same way that its protagonist can sneak up on people without their knowledge, this too is a great game that no one saw coming.
Image © Sony
The best downloadable and best overall PSN game of 2012 is this remarkable experience from ThatGameCompany, one of the few studios actively trying to redefine what we expect from a video game. Breaking down the essence of 99% of all games -- going from point A to point B -- the creators of this stunning game graft that quest on to a story arc that reminds us of the most important journey: life. We are a shrouded figure that sees a mountain on the horizon and we move toward it. A couple hours later, you're asking yourself why you're thinking about age, death, and the afterlife. A game that gets you thinking about its themes instead of merely reacting to its action is a truly special one.
Image © Ubisoft
The last major game of 2012 turned out to be one of its best as Ubisoft completely shattered the expectations of those of us who moderately enjoyed but weren't thrilled by the first two "Far Cry" games. Often described as "Skyrim with Guns," "Far Cry 3" is such a clever, smart, and addictive game that it really stunned this gamer in its ability to constantly stay fresh. Most open-world games devolve into boring repetition -- fetch quests, dull side missions, massive worlds that really just repeat the same environments. The world of "Far Cry 3" is constantly surprising me as each journey I take into it brings something fresh and new. It's one of the very few games of 2012 that I would love to play through again, making different decisions, choosing different strategies, and inking different tattoos. I'd kill the same Komodo Dragons though. I hate those Komodo Dragons.
Image © EA
I'm not even going to touch the ending controversy or how I wish that BioWare would have just stood by their artistic decision and not caved to pressure. Let's talk about what comes before that -- one of the most ambitious games ever made. The scope of "Mass Effect 3," the improved combat, the advanced interactions with NPCs, the graphics, the sound design, the mission screenwriting -- it is all of a grade-A level that can't be denied. "Mass Effect 3" is challenging and action-packed and, at least until the end, offers a degree of authorship on the part of the player that is virtually unprecedented in gaming history. My Shepard is different from your Shepard. And I love my Shepard.
Image © 2K Games
No game sucked me into its world with a greater degree of gaming joy than 2K Games' brilliant follow-up to what was already one of the best games of the last decade. Improving on "Borderlands" in every way, "Borderlands 2" is why we game. It offers us ways to play alone or with friends. It offers us a sense that we are crafting the story in front of us instead of merely going from point A to point B. It had been thoroughly refreshed with great DLC since its release. It looks beautiful. The audio is stellar. The screenwriting is often laugh-out-loud funny. The action is addictive. You could go down a checklist of what a gamer should ask from a title and hit every box for "Borderlands 2."