With the 360 and the PS3 finalising their legacy, 2012 was a stellar year for video games. Feeling the pressure of trying to cram a full year of great releases into a short list, here's my attempt at whittling it down to just 10.
Marking one of my favourite games of the year was Dishonored — a grimy, stealth game set in the rat-ridden, whale-oil powered streets of Dunwall. As a big fan of the earlier Thief games (2014's Thief hadn't yet been released), Dishonored provided a delightful mix of stealth, steampunk inspirations and a fun storyline. It also didn't force players to complete it in a specific way, which meant bot h non-lethal runs or all-out assaults were possible. I usually attempted the first and ended up with the latter when things went pear-shaped.
But don't take it from me, Dishonored won a bunch of game awards, including a BAFTA, and topped end of year lists. At the time, few big budget games made such bold stylistic choices and offered quality gameplay and storylines. While we can certainly try, you still can't really compare much to Dishonored and its 2016 sequel to anything out there and that's why it still holds up today.
Far Cry 3
The first two Far Cry titles were fine. They were solid entries in the open world FPS shooter genre, one that, at the time, could sometimes be a bit lacklustre but once Far Cry 3 came out, that all changed. Where previous titles had failed, FC3 managed to offer a total rehaul of the gameplay and its features as well as a well-written storyline, including iconic characters like the menacing Vaas Montenegro.
It marked a shift to more cinematic storytelling in open world shooters and added in more RPG elements, like animal hunting and crafting, to make the task of finishing long AAA titles more daunting. Still, FC3 remains one of the best in its genre and the series hasn't been able to live up to it since.
Telltale's The Walking Dead
Long before Telltale's shocking demise, the studio was being praised for its episodic adventure game based on The Walking Dead comic series.
The Walking Dead mostly avoids using any characters from the show or the comics, instead opting for two new characters — Lee Everett, a university professor, and Clementine, a young girl whose parents have likely been killed by walkers. Throughout the first season's episodes, players are given the choice to respond to the other characters through dialogue options as well as real-time actions. While few graphic adventure games focused on character development, The Walking Dead's first season was fuelled by it. Dialogue choices meant characters would respond differently later on in the game and failing real-time actions could mean life or death.
It's no wonder the game was critically acclaimed and cemented Telltale as masters in graphic adventure games with later releases like The Wolf Among Us, Game of Thrones and Batman: The Telltale Series also garnering commercial and critical success.
If games oozing neon, the 80s and blood are your vibe, you're probably very well aware of Hotline Miami and its later sequel. The cult game gave the world what it had so desperately wanted for years — a top-down shooter set in Miami, filled with extreme violence, bright lights and wit.
The tale follows an unnamed protagonist who is instructed by an unknown voice over his answering machine to commit acts of mass murder against the Russian mafia but as the game progresses, things get weirder and bloodier. It was praised for its distinct stylistic choices, its surrealistic storyline and just being bloody good fun.
With most AAA open word cities being based in the U.S., Sleeping Dogs gave us a rare insight into what a game could look like set in Hong Kong. While the setting didn't actually end up being the most interesting part of the game, Sleeping Dogs still managed to give us one of the best action games of the year.
Focused on an undercover cop, Shen, who attempts to infiltrate the Triads, the combat system was praised as one of the best for its focus on fighting without weapons. Story-wise, you played through Shen's decisions to balance the sheer violence (and stress) of trying to prove himself to the Triads while trying to maintain his mission as a cop.
My only criticism really is that while the world of Hong Kong looked really cool, its interactivity was quite light meaning after a few laps of the city, there's nothing much else to see.
Most of us play video games to wind down and escape real life for a bit of time and while big action games certainly do that, they can still be a bit stressful. Journey, a PS4 exclusive, did no such thing. Playing as an unnamed robed figure, you hover through the desert with no real aim in mind. Figure out some puzzles, meet voiceless, anonymous companions, glide towards the distant mountains and just take in the aesthetic surroundings.
It's the game equivalent of the lo-fi chill beats playlist and the world is still very grateful for it.
Assassin's Creed III
If you've been with the Assassin's Creed franchise since the start, you'll know Assassin's Creed III marked a big change for the franchise. We'd had years of dreamboat Ezio Auditore gallivanting Italy's cities but 2012 heralded in a new assassin for us to champion — Ratonhnhaké:ton, also known as Connor Kenway.
With the game came new features, like animal hunting, as well as a first step out of Europe and into Colonial America. It changed the humble stealth action series into something more closely resembling the detailed RPG features we see in the later games like Origins and Odyssey. As a greater part of the series, it probably won't be anyone's favourite but it was still one of the best titles of the year.
A lot of critically acclaimed games are also quite self-serious but Trials Evolution is one of those exceptions. It's a physics-based racing game, which already means a tonne of fun, but it was also jam-packed with a bunch of hidden clues leading fans on a chase to solve the riddle.
2012 was filled with fun games but probably none as mindlessly entertaining as this one.
After helping reveal and solve the original Trials Riddle, Brad Hill, AKA Professor FatShady, and an entire community of Trials fans have been hard at work trying to solve another riddle: the Trials Evolution riddle. This is the end result: a story that spans countries, continents and — crucially — time. Prepare to be amazed.
The list could not be complete with a Borderlands 2 appearance. While the first game was well-received and garnered a big fanbase, it was the sequel that made the series special. An FPS RPG with cartoonish graphics, heaps of guns, a class system all while still being funny was enough to get most on board.
The one criticism many had was that it was too hard sometimes. But like a lot of the titles on this list, its storytelling was interesting enough for players to forgive it.
Max Payne 3
Max Payne 3 left 10 years between beers (and bullet times) but its release in 2012 was very welcome. Following the events of 2003's Max Payne 2, the third title sees the former detective in Brazil completing a number of jobs and dealing with a modest amount of violence and betrayal.
While some noted the new entry didn't quite have the same tone as the noir-ish originals, MP3 brought back one of the world's most favourite sad bois in style. Sadly, it was forgotten pretty quickly after the next generation of consoles came through so if you've missed playing this gritty game, give it a twirl when it's next on sale for PC (or Xbox 360 or PS3 if you still own one).
Honourable mentions: Because you can't fit everything in a 10-game list, some other standouts that just missed out include Mass Effect 3, Halo 4, Diablo 3, Fez and Dear Esther.