Game of the Year 2012

And the winner is...

The best games of 2012

What makes a Game of the Year? Measuring up review scores is one often-cited way of going about it, but that doesn't quite do it. Review scores are, after all, first and foremost purchasing advice, seeking to answer the question "Is this game worth your time and money?" So what question does Game of the Year seek to answer? We'd put forth: "Is the industry most benefited by the release of this game?"

This year's contenders hail from nearly every established genre, and some are so innovative to have created genres all their own. Each and everyone has made significant contributions to the future of the industry, be it the emergent narrative found in Far Cry 3, the exhaustive multiplayer suite of Halo 4, the profound narrative in The Walking Dead, or the emotional resonance of Journey. But which rose above the rest? Read on.

Continue on after the Game of the Year nominees to see the nominees and winners for the best RPG, fighter, shooter, indie, action adventure, and handheld games of 2012.

Darksiders II

By all accounts, the original Darksiders was a pretty solid Legend of Zelda clone that told a reasonably interesting story and had potential for the follow-up. Considering that its publisher, THQ, has all but collapsed in the two years since that game's release, it be easy to write off Darksiders II and forgive Vigil for delivering a follow-up that fell flat. Boy, would that have been a mistake.

Not only did Darksiders II double down on the original's puzzle-heavy action adventure gameplay, it introduced a compelling and complex loot system and completely blew out the combat mechanics. And it did all of this while dramatically increasing the size and scope of the game, bringing in high-quality voice-actors to deliver on a humorous and largely cohesive storyline. Darksiders II didn't do anything earth-shaking or innovative, but what it lacked in originality, it easily made up for in sheer fun.

Dishonored

How do you take your revenge? Warm, with a burning hatred and a bloodlust that guides your sword through enemies' throats? Or cool, with a calculating calm and humane mercy for those who wronged you? Dishonored's Corvo Attano became an extension of your ruthlessness or forgiveness, effecting change through the streets of Dunwall as you eliminated assassination targets through murderous or imaginative means. The game let you make things right your way, as you stealthily act from the shadows to restore a matriarchy and your title of Lord Protector.

From the ridiculously deep lore and complex characters, to the open-ended levels and empowering mobility, Dishonored does so much right its astounding. Whether you had a penchant for slicing open guards, menacing Tall Boys, and horrific Weepers alike, or preferred nonlethal chokeholds and Blink-jumping across buildings, Dishonored delivered nothing but engrossing gameplay. Deftly blending the supernatural abilities of Bioshock, the rooftop-running parkour of Mirror's Edge, and the badass stealth takedowns of Batman: Arkham City, there's something in this first-person masterpiece for everyone.

Far Cry 3

No one creates living, breathing worlds better than Ubisoft, and no Ubisoft game has been as successful at doing it than Far Cry 3. It's a game of dynamic unpredictability--if not absolute reality--where a randomly generated narrative unfolds in a unique way for each individual player. Round a corner, and there may be a gang of ruffians having a shootout in the streets. Come back later, and the surviving gang may be fending off, unsuccessfully, a jungle tiger.

Far Cry 3's emergent narrative is matched by its equally enthralling scripted narrative, one that delves into the nature of insanity with fresh characters and real insight. Yes, the remote island locale can be absurd, and the lead character's latent gifts of Rambo-ism leave no room for disbelief, but it's hardly important. Exaggerating a point often brings it into sharper focus, and in this way, games have the most potential. Far Cry 3 capitalizes on that potential.

Halo 4

In a world of increasingly grey, increasingly narrow shooters, Halo stands firm as a proud guardian of the old(ish) ways. Its colourful vistas remain vast and awe-inspiring. Its battles remain wide and resolutely free-form. Its weapon-set is defiantly varied and creative. As for those fears of franchise decay as a result of the mantle-pass from Bungie to 343 Industries? The new studio has smashed any doubt into a tiny crumpled heap and kicked it into the path of a charging Spartan Laser.

And for all the authenticity, Halo 4 is a real fresh start for Master Chief. With a stunning new engine, it blows away any preconceptions of what the aging Xbox 360 can do. And beyond the surface level, 343 has achieved the seemingly impossible by humanising the Chief without reducing his stoic badassery by one iota. Halo 4 is a damnably exciting game in itself, but as a promise of whats to come its absolutely thrilling.

Hitman: Absolution

Agent 47s skills arent limited to his ability to kill without remorse. His real strength, the thing that makes him more than a hired gun, is in being adaptable. Regardless of the situation, 47 is immaculately professional, faultlessly creative, and wholly capable of finding the perfect way out of any position. Its here that Hitman: Absolution shines: in giving 47 more tools he needs to accomplish anything.

With the addition of Instinct Mode, youre able to find your way into places that otherwise might be impossible to get to, and thanks to Point Shooting a group of impassable guards is simply another hurdle 47 can leap. New stealth missions might seem out of place at first as 47 moves through crowded train stations or apartment buildings, but they help to flesh out the interesting, stylish plot that makes past games narratives seem sterile in comparison.

Journey

Give Journey three hours, and you'll see the future of the industry. An emotional tour de force, thatgamecompany's masterpiece marries sight, sound, and movement in a way that no other game has and all other games should. It sets a new high-water mark in narrative design, innovating in realms as disparate as online connectivity and color theory. It is truly a landmark achievement.

All that said, Journey is absolutely a polarizing experience. Many who play it will come away feeling little to nothing at all. They'll agree that, yes, it's pretty... in the way snowboarding games can be. But what is all this about happiness and sadness, disappointment and anger? Surely, anyone who reads so much into the game is simply projecting on to it their own desires, since Journey brings very little of anything to the table.

Whose interpretation is correct? Time will tell.

Mass Effect 3

Endings are sad even when theyre happy because it means theres nothing left to see. Its over. And though the fleeting moments of Mass Effect 3s final chapter didnt live up to expectations for an ending, complaining about those few scenes is missing the point--Mass Effect 3 was all ending. From the moment Shepard blasted away from a war-torn earth until the credits rolled, Mass Effect 3 was winding down two games worth of stories, plotlines, and expectations, and it did a damn fine job of it.

The gameplay, which started off weak when the series began, reached a point of near-perfection, allowing the developers to deliver the most exciting encounters the generation had seen. Every mission Shepard went on had the potential to explode into a massive set-piece battle, with gripping action that folded well into the apocalyptic story of lifes last stand. Even more impressive was the wave-based multiplayer, which turned out to be shockingly addictive to the point where we still find ourselves jumping back in for one more round, helping continue humanitys last stand.

Max Payne 3

More than a decade since the original Max Payne introduced the beauty of bullet time to gamers and the return of Rockstars perpetually down-on-his-luck cop again turns the noisy, mechanical business of repeatedly shooting men in the face into a finely tuned art form (of repeatedly shooting men in the face). Gliding horizontal through the air in glorious slow motion, fists blazing like pumped-up fire crackers, is as satisfying as it ever was first time around, while the addition of a kill cam turns the fatal journey of the final bullet into a mesmerising display of death--the sickeningly satisfying sound of projectile penetration, a heavy shower of blood, and the perforated target acting out their dying spasms according to the consistently entertaining laws of ragdoll physicality.

In other games shooting men in the face is an objective carried out with chore-like efficiency, but Max Payne 3 makes shooting men in the face a spectacle--an unashamed, high-caliber party popper celebration of gamings love affair with gun-based brutality.

The Walking Dead

After playing so many of its episodic adventure games, we thought we knew what to expect from Telltale Games, but the developer proved us wrong with a series based on the popular comic book. The Walking Dead strips away all of the pretense and expectations you have of gaming, leaving players with a raw tale of survival in the face of impossible odds. The Walking Dead is about tough choices and harsher consequences thanks to a design that makes the player feel incredibly invested in every new, dark turn.

The Walking Dead puts players in the role of Lee, a man with a past thrown together with the few living he can find in the zombie-strewn wasteland. Most of all Lee has to protect Clementine, the young girl he finds early on, and that leads players to make some incredibly tough decisions, ones that will stick with them long after each episode ends.

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