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AtomicGamer's Games of the Year, 2012

By Jeff Buckland, 12/31/2012

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In past years we've put together Game of the Year lists with lots of categories, runners up, platform choices, and all of that. This year, we're going to try changing it up. We'll be listing games in no particular order. Just ten selections that we thought offered the best gaming experience in 2012. Here we go:

Faster than Light (PC, Mac, Linux)

It's tough to nail this game down to one genre. Management/strategy Roguelike might be the best description, but many have taken to calling it Oregon Trail in space. While persistent rewards allow you to unlock new ships, the game in its entirety usually takes an hour or two to complete if you're successful, and repeated play-throughs are for using those new ships you've unlocked. But FTL is an unforgiving game, even on easy difficulty, and until you learn how to manage the crew and abilities of your ship and properly recognize the hardware and abilities your enemy is using, you're going to die... a lot. But succeed, and the feeling is one of sheer joy and excitement, the likes of which aren't often felt even in the most fun of games. Throw in an amazing retro/scifi synth soundtrack by Ben Prunty and a very reasonable $10 price tag, and FTL - truly the first Kickstarter-generated indie game to really see success - is a great gaming experience.

Borderlands 2 (PC, 360, PS3)

Gearbox did it again. The magic of looting and shooting is back, and this time the story's better, the environments are bigger and more colorful, and the guns are even more diverse and satisfying to use. With an excellent villain, a surprisingly good soundtrack, and some really wonderful adventure DLC coming out at very reasonable prices, Gearbox has hit a homerun on all three platforms with Borderlands 2, and it does help that the whole game can be played alone or along with up to three other friends. The game's got a few issues here and there, but those are easily forgotten the first time you pick up a legendary weapon and melt the next bandit you see in one shot.

Far Cry 3 (PC, PS3, 360)

Attempts to play with the formula of what a hyper-violent shooter really is may not have gone Ubisoft's way, but the game that they built still excels as one of the most satisfying open-world FPS adventures you can get. The freedom of choosing when to expand your owned territory, when to go off and upgrade your packs by hunting animals, and when to further the story makes you feel like you're in control in a way that so many other AAA games this year have failed to do.

Mass Effect 3(PC, PS3, 360)

Yes, the last fifteen minutes were awful for some gamers and yes, they were even a little disappointing for us, but Mass Effect 3 still offered us at least some great endings to some beloved characters' stories. On the way we got great shooter action, more choice for how to build our Commander Shepard, and of course, one of the best female heroes in any video game, voiced across the entire trilogy by Jennifer Hale. Hell, the mulitplayer was great, too. Controversy over the ending certainly ruined the legacy of the Mass Effect trilogy in many gamers' minds, but I'm still excited to see what BioWare Montreal has in store for the next game.

Journey (PS3)

It takes only about two hours to beat, but Journey offered a gaming experience unlike pretty much anything out there. It even slips in cooperative multiplayer that, if you hadn't heard that it included it, you might not even know it was there until that other character started doing things that no AI would do. Journey offers up a moving adventure combined with a mind-blowing soundtrack that is both dynamically adjusting to what you're doing and simultaneously fully orchestral (seriously, what other games combine those two?), and the overall experience starts to feel a little bit like magic rather than some purposeful combination of technology, design, and art. It comes together in your mind as something that transcends any of those video-gamey things. For that, Journey will always be one of our favorite games.

Guild Wars 2 (PC)

What ArenaNet did with Guild Wars 2 was deliver a fully-fleshed-out MMORPG with the high production values you expect from a big western developer, all without the subscription. Combining smart ways to keep players adventuring without bogging them down in dozens of quests at a time, the developers gave the game an open, inviting feel while still keeping players busy. The no-subscription model didn't mean getting a lesser game, and ArenaNet's approach to many in-game mechanics refreshingly broke free from MMO stereotypes.

The Walking Dead (PC, PS3, 360, iOS)

Telltale Games have been perfecting their brand of adventure game and the episodic formula for years, but all of that experience came together here in 2012 to make for their best title yet, a licensed tie-in that borrows more from the Walking Dead graphic novels than the show. Still, this series differs from most adventure games because of the addition of action elements and the decisions about who lives or dies. Excellent characters and impeccable voice acting round out the experience, and it's nice that this full experience was also available on Apple handhelds as well.

Forza Horizon (360)

It's easy to point out Forza Horizon's flaws and drawbacks compared to its main-franchise counterparts, but the open driving environment and wonderful visuals were worth the loss of fine-tuning setups and 60fps racing. While the just-released rally DLC costs far more than many gamers actually paid for the base game which disappointed many people, the core driving and racing is still wonderful with a great selection of cars and a beautiful countryside to drive around in.

PlanetSide 2 (PC)

It's not just that PlanetSide 2 is the world's best "massive multiplayer online first person shooter", it's that Sony Online created a game where hundreds of players in one small area fight with vehicles, aircraft and small arms over single objectives - and the game doesn't break. It may bend and creak a bit, and that's where Sony has work to do, but the point is that their lofty concept works in execution. Hell, the game's even free-to-play, with a money-making model that doesn't feel exploitative. You've never had online multiplayer battles like this where both skill and sheer numbers often make the difference and where it's feasible to rain down hell from a gunship to kill twenty or even thirty guys in a matter of seconds. PlanetSide 2 is a game of astronomic highs and crushing lows, and the highs are almost certainly worth all the rest.

Dishonored (PC, PS3, 360)

Arkane Studios' first effort under the Bethesda brand went exceedingly well. Dishonored's mix of FPS action, close combat, and choices for how to tackle each situation gave players the opportunity to tiptoe through a level like a ghost or barrel through like a psychopath. Amazing concept art translated almost directly towards the oil-painting-style textures, and the alternate universe allowed for Arkane to pull in the most interesting elements of steampunk, sci-fi, and Victorian-era architecture and fashion together into a look that no other game before it achieved.


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