TA Top Five: Games of 2012

By Mark Delaney, 5 years ago
The year 2012 was supposed to bring an end to mankind as we knew it. A loud, tin foil hat-wearing minority ranted for months about the end of times right up until... nothing happened, like every other doomsday prediction to have come before it. Maybe we misinterpreted the prophecy, though; have we considered that? Lots of games in 2012 dealt with the extinction of our species — The Walking Dead, Mass Effect 3, Assassin's Creed III, and so on — could it be that we just misunderstood our ancient soothsayers? Maybe the Mayan calendar was really just an ancient form of gamerscore tracking. It all makes so much sense now! "TA B.C.", they probably called it.

Seriously though, last year was a unique one for the most acclaimed titles. In this list you'll see plenty of familiar names and faces, after all sequels are what fuel the industry, but you'll also find that "smaller" games are simply smaller in download size, not necessarily content or, if you can believe it, industry impact.

Honorable Mentions

Halo 4 - 343 Industries - November
Community Rating - 4.4 | Metacritic - 87
Voted Best Shooter of 2012 by the community

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Microsoft's crown jewel had plenty of releases during the seventh gaming generation, but Halo 4 was certainly the most anticipated. It was the first new game in the series not developed by Bungie. The handoff to 343 Industries was talked about for years leading up to the release and fans of the series, of which there are millions, collectively wondered if the transition would be smooth. The final product satisfied these millions by perfecting the same formula Bungie had left as its legacy - an engaging single-player mode with memorable music and set pieces and, of course, a large and addictive multiplayer cabinet that still ranks as one of the most-trafficked games on the system.

Assassin's Creed III - Ubisoft Montreal - October
Community Rating - 4.1 | Metacritic - 84
Voted Best Action-Adventure game of 2012 by the community

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You could easily make the argument that, after Assassin's Creed II, each subsequent release in the series got progressively worse. Thankfully, a new setting and new ancestor, along with a lot of new gameplay features put an end to that trend when ACIII released last fall. Jumping ahead in time to the American Revolution, we're introduced to Connor, a Native American who stands in the middle of two sides fighting over land that kinda belongs to neither of them. Naval battles, forest freerunning, and great historical recreations, like Paul Revere's Ride and the Boston Massacre, resulted in what felt like the franchise's first fully-fledged title in years.

Sleeping Dogs - United Front Games - August
Community Rating - 4.4 | Metacritic - 80

Q1 DLC Screens Year of

Taking residence as the happy medium between Grand Theft Auto's gritty realism and Saints Row's over-the-top, fun-first approach, this game that nearly wasn't was loaded with all you'd expect from an open-world game — varied gameplay, plenty of side-missions, and memorable characters, all laid on top of a great story featuring Hollywood voice-acting that took itself seriously but still let some humor shine through when the time was right.

Dishonored - Arkane Studios - October
Community Rating - 4.3 | Metacritic - 88


It'll catch your eye because of the unique art style, but stick around for the duration of Dishonored and you'll find a great play-your-way adventure through a Steampunk-meets-Victorian city called Dunwall. Dropped into a world full of deceit, dystopia, and dreary weather, you can cloak-and-dagger around your enemies or just sprint and stab. It's completely in your control and, even when the story doesn't go any place interesting enough, the path you take to solve the narrative puzzle is always rewarding because it's precisely how you chose to do it.

The Fine Five

Max Payne 3 - Rockstar Games - May
Community Rating - 4.2 | Metacritic - 86

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The people at Rockstar have been known to be sort of perfectionists when it comes to their work. They don't brag, in fact they seldom even conduct interviews. They just hibernate with a game and only emerge when it's ready to be shown and then they let the game do the talking for them. Max Payne 3 is a great example of this approach. Taking place years after the first two games, both in the fiction and real life, this shooter threequel sends Max to South America where he's doing private security for the affluent and essentially braindead, all while living with addictions formed from a past full of despair. What might be their heaviest game thematically, one of the best features is how it sets the tone with environments, from drug-filled clubs to the destitute favelas, and on to the massive skyscrapers overlooking them, you see how screwed up parts of the world really are, all from the eyes of a man who's really screwed up himself. It was the grittiest and hardest-hitting narrative from one of the industry's most renowned studios.

Trials Evolution - RedLynx - April
Community Score - 4.5 | Metacritic - 90
Voted Best Platformer of 2012 by the community

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One of several highly acclaimed arcade titles in 2012, this follow-up to the addictive Trials HD set the bar high, and then jumped clear over it with an expansive track editor, competitive multiplayer, and brilliant and varied level design. Evolution was a game for the sake of being a game. The level editor was particularly special because, in it, gamers could make much more than just custom tracks. People re-created some of their own favorites like Angry Birds and Amnesia. The photorealism and inflated budgets of gaming this generation allowed developers to reach new heights of storytelling in the medium, but Trials Evolution proved you don't need to emulate Hollywood to find success with today's gamers. Sometimes amazing things come in packages under two gigabytes.

Far Cry 3 - Ubisoft Montreal - December
Community Rating - 4.5 | Metacritic - 91

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Ubisoft has always jumped to different plots and settings using only common gameplay elements as binding qualities of the Far Cry series, and this one was by far the best of all. This time around you play Jason Brody, a rich fratboy looking for a place to chill with his dude-bro friends and siblings. A clever intro shows you how suddenly it all goes wrong for you as you're kidnapped and separated by the native crazies of the island on which you were partying. Through the game, Jason goes from a whiny inept loser to a fearless warrior, earning the admiration of some of the indigenous people. The story was strong enough to supplement the real attraction: the gameplay. A massive island with an overwhelming number of things of things to do and discover made for one of the best open-world games in the genre. Like the aforementioned Dishonored, FC3 also stressed creativity and player agency; there were sometimes dozens of ways to beat a mission. The icing on this Paradise Lost cake was the charismatic antagonist, Vaas, one of the most memorable baddies this generation has seen.

Mass Effect 3 - BioWare - March
Community Rating - 4.6 | Metacritic - 93

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Say what you will about the final moments. After all, the butthurt collective of the internet did that for months after its release, but Mass Effect 3 was still a worthwhile finale in one of the greatest trilogies that gaming has seen. The series let you shape your own Shepard physically, mentally, and emotionally, and, however you feel about the final scene, the journey to it was surely memorable because it felt like it all happened to you. Your friends. Your choices. Your memories. Few games have struck such a chord with gamers like Shepard's trilogy. The entire game, from the very first scene, just felt like a long, sad goodbye to one of our favorite heroes.

The Walking Dead - Telltale Games - April
Community Rating - 4.5 Metacritic - 92
Voted Best Adventure and Best XBLA Game of 2012 by the community

18/06/12 - Episode 2 Screen 2

When people discuss the year of 2012 as it pertains to video games, there's one title that won't ever go unsaid: The Walking Dead. Existing within Robert Kirkman's universe, but telling a new, unique story, it gave gamers a chance to feel the same despair and hopelessness that the comic is known for. Some were turned off by the old-fashioned point-and-click gameplay but there's no denying that the story is one of the most emotionally gripping narratives that the medium has ever seen. Over the course of five television-esque episodes, Lee tries to protect Clementine's innocence in a world completely devoid of any. Like Mass Effect 3, the final scene, though incredibly touching, doesn't change drastically, but the route to get there is yours to decide.

2012 was a generation-defining year. This seventh generation of consoles was marked by a movement toward increased player agency, freedom of choice, and emotional narratives taking center stage over more simplistic fun. Last year's games largely serve as a time capsule of that movement forever replayable on your Xbox 360.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He's the Editorial Manager on TA, loves story-first games, and is one of three voices on the TA Playlist podcast. Outside of games he likes biking, sci-fi, the NFL, and spending time with his fiancée and son. He almost never writes in the third person.