At the end of both 2010 and 2011, our annual rundown of the best games of the year was intended to be a mere top ten list, until we tallied up each year’s batch of supreme software and arrived at a figure that was far closer to 30 than just 10. Exactly the same thing has happened again this year, with well over thirty games being more than worthy of a slot in our top ten. We’ve managed to whittle that number down to twenty, and they’re listed below. Here are our favourite games of 2012…
Considering that it’s a tale about demonic possession, mental illness and a sleazy organised crime syndicate, The Darkness II is a surprisingly subtle videogame. It’s ultra, ultra violent and on occasion literally takes place in hell, but when it slows down and focuses on the central relationship between possessed mob impresario Jackie Estacado and his deceased girlfriend Jenny, it becomes something else entirely. The Darkness II is far more interesting than any big-budget franchise sequel has any right to be, and even if the less polished original left you rather cold, you should probably check your pulse if this one doesn’t leave you hankering for a follow-up. Just a shooter then, but what a shooter.
Lego Batman 2 is a surprisingly lavish production, and technically immaculate; no small achievement given the massive leap in size and scope. The main story mode is roughly around ten hours long but as with all sandboxes, post-campaign distractions are everywhere. And as with Rocksteady’s utterly delectable Arkham City, a disarming number of those morsels bear the same joyful magic that features so heavily in the main game. Parents and casual players may have a few teething problems whilst adapting to the open-world format, but after a while (and for everyone else) this is surely the finest Lego game released to date.
The gameplay in Pandora’s Tower cribs as many ideas from things like Resident Evil – the rectangular inventory grid that constantly has to be rearranged, the merchant – as it does from the likes of Zelda, Metroid and Castlevania, and yet it never feels confused or unsure of itself. Responsive combat, a surfeit of needless grinding (and exploration) and some of the zippiest load times on the Wii, if Pandora’s Tower ends up being your final appointment with Nintendo’s revolutionary console, it’s a frankly impeccable kiss-off.
Were it not for the fine-tuned handling model – and the lack of police cars, pyrotechnics and a boosting mechanic – Forza Horizon could almost be a Criterion production. Yes, you play as a young, good-looking caucasian male. Yes, there’s a love interest. Yes, some optional, illegal street races have been included. But all of that stuff is so easy to ignore, and it’s never done with any real conviction anyway: it’s clearly nothing more than focus-grouped nonsense, and Horizon’s creators always treat it as such. In summary: the qualms are piffling. Forza Horizon is the absolute business.
The first two Mass Effect games both had epic moments in them, but Mass Effect 3 is a finale that consists of almost nothing but. The narrative has more barnstorming “events” in it than both of the previous games combined, but just as many of those involve quiet conversations as involve blockbuster action sequences. You are constantly aware of the sheer heft of your situation as well as the choices that you’re forced to make within it, which – predictably enough – makes for easily the most dramatically engaging Mass Effect story of the three. Nobody expected a Game of the Year contender last time; this time, everyone demanded one. Minor niggles in a game this rich and ambitious simply have to be instantly forgiven: Bioware unquestionably delivered.
Priding itself on gameplay that’s consistently malleable, Dishonored offers up an experience in which there is no such thing as wasting time, and the worst crime that you could ever commit against it would be to charge through it at speed. It’s so confident in its own elastic foundations that, a few valuable text-based pointers aside, it barely even feels the need to teach you anything. The AI is no great shakes when you’re in combat, but when you’re skulking around in the darkness it’s essentially perfect: unlike most games where stealth plays a part, the shadowy illusion is never broken, and if you ever get spotted it’s entirely your own fault. So there are flaws, yes, but they do nothing to chip away at the overall package. It’s complete. Beautifully, miraculously complete.
A mildly deranged symphony of absolutely brilliant ideas, Catherine isn’t anywhere near as impenetrable as it first appears to be; the game’s weirdness only really exists on the surface anyway, and this is a very coherent experience underneath. It gets genuinely challenging after a mere two hours, but this is one of those deeply rewarding brainteasers that somehow manages to be both flexible and rigidly taxing at the same time; there’s never only one solution, and yet you’ll rarely succeed by accident. Catherine is a true, true original.
SSX’s online modes are forward-thinking and unorthodox, and bound to be influential. EA have taken Need for Speed’s compelling Autolog feature – called RiderNet here – and have genuinely progressed it to the next level. It’s so expansive, content-rich and addictive that it would make the prospect of future DLC packs seem totally redundant, if taking part in absolutely everything wasn’t so darn inviting. SSX is a throwback that never feels outdated, and a reinvention with bona fine innovation on its mind. A galvanising blast of pure adrenaline.
The 2012 model of Need for Speed Most Wanted is basically an amalgam of Criterion’s two finest games; it’s Need for Speed Hot Pursuit by way of Burnout Paradise. More so than in any Criterion game released to date, there’s a complete disregard for realism, and Most Wanted is a riotous party game first, and a hardcore racing game second. Despite a couple of very minor grievances, for a game that was borne of a duo of masterpieces, Need for Speed Most Wanted manages to measure up more than ably.
Unpredictable, extravagant and packed with so much content that it’s hard to believe that it all fits onto a single disc, Ubisoft’s open-world opus showcases precisely why the publisher has reigned supreme in 2012. The co-op campaign is fun if slightly disposable and the multiplayer is an adequate blend of Battlefield and Call of Duty, but the breathtaking campaign is worth the asking price on its own. An intensely memorable and very lengthy adventure, Far Cry 3’s near-faultless AI means that no battle is ever the same, and it’s all too easy to get willingly lost – for hours on end – in its utterly captivating world. A masterpiece, no question.
Honourable mentions: Lollipop Chainsaw, FIFA 13, Binary Domain, Beat the Beat: Rhythm Paradise, Syndicate, Sleeping Dogs, Sonic All-Stars Racing: Transformed, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, Spec Ops: The Line, New Super Mario Bros. 2, Paper Mario 3D: Sticker Star.