Rated E; PS3
One question dominated 2012: What will the videogames of the future look like? If we’re lucky, they’ll look a lot like Journey. You play as a mysterious figure, trying to get to the top of a distant mountain. Along the way, you find ruins and strange creatures. If Journey were just a beautiful abstract adventure, it would have made this list. But the game stands above every other one released this year because indie developer thatgamecompany took the whole idea of online multiplayer — bastardized in a billion Call of Duty death matches — and pushed it into the realm of pure art. During your travels, you run into other characters. They’re controlled by real people, but you can’t talk to each other. Maybe you’ll follow their lead, maybe you’ll leave them behind, or maybe you’ll help them on their own journey. You find yourself watching your companions, trying to understand the distant human personalities behind them. In our modern splintered digital multiverse, Journey infuses the simple joy of human connection with almost biblical grandeur. The result makes the typical 70-hour mainstream game look puny by comparison. —DF
Rated M; PC, PS3, Xbox 360
In a year littered with sequels, shooters, and sequels to shooters, Dishonored stands out as one of the boldest, most original games since BioShock. Set in a plague-ridden steampunk city, it offers a staggering number of choices to play through its revenge tale. Dishonored is the rare game that makes stealth as much fun as unleashing ravenous rats on enemies. —AM
3. Mass Effect 3
Rated M; PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U
Fans cried foul over the ultimate ending of BioWare’s space opera. Personally, I think those fans are dead wrong. But we can all agree that the first 99 percent of the trilogy-capping epic is a rollicking adventure, sending your Commander Shepard to the far corners of the most fully imagined universe this side of Star Wars. —DF
4. The Walking Dead
Rated M; iOS, Mac, PC, PS3, Xbox 360
This dark episodic adventure is every bit as nail- (and arm-) biting as AMC’s hit series. Dead‘s tale of an escaped convict and the little girl he vows to protect from zombies was one of the most touching narratives of the year, while the game’s choose-your-own-adventure setup leads to buckets of blood and an ending as bleak, unsettling, and satisfying as anything on the TV show. —AM
5. Spec Ops: The Line
Rated M; PC, PS3, Xbox 360
An urgent and angry masterpiece inspired by Apocalypse Now, Spec Ops argues that the military-shooter genre is immoral. It’s also a very fun shooter — how’s that for disturbing? You play as a soldier sent into a crumbling Dubai to find a lost battalion. Spec Ops features one of the year’s best vocal performances by Nolan North (Uncharted‘s Nathan Drake), whose upright hero spirals inexorably into despair, trauma, and psychosis. —DF
6. Mark of the Ninja
Rated M; PC, Xbox 360
Stealth games can be like Groundhog Day, a frustrating series of trial-and-error missions. But MotN so masterfully empowers the player with expanding ninja skills that stalking prey never gets old. It’s all stunningly animated, like a classic Disney cartoon, only with geysers of blood. —AM
7. Far Cry 3
Rated M; PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Ubisoft’s buzzy Assassin’s Creed III was a bloated mess. I prefer the scuzzy, unadorned thrills of the developer’s other threequel, set on a gorgeous tropical island trapped in a state of anarchy. The appeal is remarkably simple: You move slowly across the island, conquering enemy bases and hunting the local wildlife. It’s Risk meets The Oregon Trail, complete with exploding arrows. —DF
8. The Unfinished Swan
Rated E10+; PS3
For most of its short running time, Swan plays like an interesting art project. But then you get to the closing sequences, and the game’s themes suddenly become shockingly concrete. Swan is a game about the creative instinct, about the corrosiveness of time, and about what parents leave their children when they’re gone. It’s a quietly devastating fairy tale, safe for kids and heartwrenching for adults. —DF
9. Luigi’s Ghost Mansion
Rated E; Wii U
The jury is still out on Nintendo’s Wii U console. None of the launch titles provided a convincing argument, but this addictive minigame, buried in Nintendo Land, is pure party-game perfection. One player is an invisible ghost, staring at the Wii U’s GamePad; the other players stare at the TV screen and try to catch him with flashlights. Get four friends together and you’ll play for days. —DF
10. Street Fighter X Tekken
Rated T; PC, PS3, Xbox 360, PS Vita
For anyone who grew up playing Street Fighter and Tekken in arcades, Capcom’s fighting-game mash-up is a fanboy’s fanfic fever dream come true. The PS Vita version looks just like its console counterparts and controls flawlessly, the culmination of decades of arcade greatness crammed into the palm of your hand. —AM
Most Inevitable Spin-off
Bad Piggies, a game about the evil green pigs from Angry Birds.
Most Unfortunate Mash-up
In Kinect Star Wars, Princess Leia dances to a remix of ”Genie in a Bottle” called ”Princess in a Battle.” It happened.
Best Return of a Rapping Dog
PaRappa the Rapper busts a move in PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale.
The Worst Games of the Year
1. Resident Evil 6
An ugly mess that’s less a game than a rip-off catalog of gameplay tropes from other successful franchises.
2. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
This mass of Tolkien clichés was financed by ex-pitcher Curt Schilling, whose company went bust.
3. I Am Alive
This sloppily designed survival game was supposed to be Ubisoft’s next big thing, but it would have been better off dead.