All year, you've rented and bought games here at GameFly. And, while we've all sampled a number of titles this year, December is the time to pick - and debate - our favorites. In my opinion, 2012 was a solid but not particularly spectacular year for new game releases - which was to be expected, since most developers are busy preparing for the next-generation Xbox and PlayStation, which will hopefully both launch in 2013.
While 2012 didn't have a Red Dead Redemption or a Skyrim, this year will be remembered as a time when digital games began gaining attention and smaller studios started to turn heads with games on platforms like iOS. Today's best games are often available digitally as well, although there were still some incredible big-budget titles that came out this year only on disc. Below are six of my favorite games from 2012 and the reasons why I think you should rent or buy them.
Sony's Journey is unquestionably one of this year's most beautiful games.
The new world of Dishonored is a breath of fresh air among so many sequels in 2012.
No other game in 2012 had vision behind it like Journey, a downloadable PlayStation 3 game from a small independent studio named thatgamecompany. Set in a fantastical desert, the game only takes a few hours to complete as you fly, jump, and adventure through an environment alongside a mysterious companion. With a brilliant orchestral score by Austin Wintory, Journey lives up to its name as a fantastical adventure you can play through in a single sitting. You'll marvel at its beauty and be sucked into this mysterious world where there's no combat, no talking, and the gameplay is simpler than Mario Bros. Somehow, it all works as both a piece of art and as a game. You can now rent and buy the game on disc as part of Journey Collector's Edition, a collection of games from thatgamecompany including Flower and FlOw, their previous two releases.
No game was more polarizing in 2012 than Mass Effect 3, the finale of the Mass Effect trilogy from BioWare. The ending was maligned for not properly wrapping up the story, but besides those final 10 minutes, no one will argue that Mass Effect 3 is one of the best-crafted RPGs of this generation. The end of Commander Shepard's story was filled with action, drama, and emotion as players made real choices that impacted the fates of major characters and races in the sci-fi universe. To truly appreciate Mass Effect, you have to play through all three games in the trilogy, but fans of action or RPG games will find plenty to like in the third installment, which also adds a robust multiplayer mode.
Here's a game without a number at the end of it. Created by Arkane Studios, Dishonored is a brand new world birthed in part by the art director behind the look of City 17 in Half-Life 2. Here, you play as Corvo, a supernatural assassin who is framed for murder and must use his wits and powers to seek revenge. Dishonored presents a fresh world and also a fresh style of gameplay where there are tons of possible ways to complete each mission - including one path where you can go through the entire game without killing a single enemy. Sometimes these "what if?" games lack cohesion, but Dishonored is fun no matter how you play it.
After a long hiatus, Master Chief returned this year for Halo 4. The game is a solid first-person shooter with absolutely gorgeous lighting, but what impressed me the most about this game was that it came from an entirely new studio named 343 Industries - not Bungie, the creators of Halo. This new group works out of Bungie's old office and did a tremendous job honoring the legacy of Halo while also incorporating new elements. One of the boldest ideas is a unique co-operative campaign named Spartan Ops that evolves every week with new story content and missions - and it's free. While it's fair to say that Halo 4 doesn't do a lot to reinvent the tried-and-true Halo formula, if you like the series, there is plenty to appreciate here including a more emotional story that focuses on Master Chief's relationship with Cortana.
The sleeper hit of the year has to be The Walking Dead, a new franchise from Telltale Games, previously known for some forgettable adventure titles based on movies like Jurassic Park. This five-episode downloadable adventure game is based on Robert Kirkman's comic book but not directly related to the TV show. You play a survivor named Lee who has to contend with zombies, but this isn't a straight-ahead action game. Similar to Mass Effect, moral decisions and choices frame up the adventure as you must decide how to handle a variety of tense situations. The game may look primitive in screenshots and footage but the experience is completely unique and worth playing to see if it hooks you for an episode.
Believe it or not, one of 2012's best games actually comes out this month. Any game that ships past Thanksgiving in the U.S. is usually seen as dead in the water, but Far Cry 3 is a title not to miss. This open-world action game from Ubisoft is, in many ways, even better than Assassin's Creed III, especially when it comes to its twisted story which is both unexpected and memorable. You play as Jason, a man trapped on the Island, who is forced to face off against an insane criminal named Vass. The most important part of an open-world game is the variety in the missions and memorable encounters. Far Cry 3 delivers across both of these dimensions. It may strike you as another tropical first-person shooter, but the actual game is much more twisted and unexpected.
That's it for 2012. Enjoy the holidays, and I'll be back in January with a look at my most anticipated games of 2013 - a year that will hopefully bring us BioShock Infinite, Grand Theft Auto V, Tomb Raider, The Last of Us, and many more.