This year's list is perhaps a bit more limited than some of the ones I've put up in the past. There are two real reasons for this; first of all, I moved home in April, buying a place for the first time and getting on the property ladder - complete with the inevitable mortgage. This has curtailed my disposable income a bit, so I've had to be slightly more selective in my purchases (though this hasn't stopped me from accidentally picking up a couple of absolute stinkers).This year's list is perhaps a bit more limited than some of the ones I've put up in the past. There are two real reasons for this; first of all, I moved home in April, buying a place for the first time and getting on the property ladder - complete with the inevitable mortgage. This has curtailed my disposable income a bit, so I've had to be slightly more selective in my purchases (though this hasn't stopped me from accidentally picking up a couple of absolute stinkers).
Second, there's a console out there that I don't have access to. I own it, but I haven't yet been able to lay my hands on the thing. See, Nintendo released the Wii-U in the UK on the exact day that I was due to fly out to the USA for a fortnight. I went through all manner of possible options for getting my hands on one, but couldn't find one that actually worked. Nervous (wrongly) at the prospect of stock-shortages, I ordered from Amazon and got it delivered to the parents, who live 200 miles away. I won't be able to pick it up until I visit them at New Year, so no Wii-U games got a chance at inclusion on my list.
Anyway, with no further ado... let's start with the top 10:
10) Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy (3DS) - The first really compelling 3DS game I've found. It's hard to escape a slight sense of missed opportunity at some of the lightweight RPG mechanics, but this is a lot of fun and an absolute nostalgia trip. It's been many years since I last played Final Fantasy XI, but I was shocked at just how vividly the Ronfaure theme stirred up memories.
9) Final Fantasy XIII-2 (PS3, also 360) - Square-Enix have clearly addressed the key problem that undermined its predecessor; the lack of decent game mechanics. This is a quirky, well designed game with some clever stuff going on beneath the surface. Now if only they could find some people who could actually write plots and dialogue...
8) Uncharted: Golden Abyss (Vita) - A Vita launch title and, slightly irritatingly, there's yet to be another game which makes such good use of the Vita's features as Uncharted. The Vita's hardware limitations compared to the PS3 actually work in the game's benefit to an extent, forcing the focus away from cinematics and back onto the gameplay, giving the most "fun" Uncharted game since the original. Oh, and the campaign is a pretty generous length to boot.
7) Binary Domain (360, also PC) - This console generation has seen some truly awful attempts by Japanese developers at aping Western gameplay styles. Binary Domain, however, doesn't suck. More than that, it's actually bloody good, with tightly tuned shooting mechanics, a clever squad system and some neat plot and character development.>
6) Forza Horizon (360) - I was worried this game would be awful - but it isn't! The first hour or so has some cringe-inducing dudebro moments, but there's a solid, hardcore racing engine at work under the arcade trappings. If, as rumoured, Forza 5 is a next-gen project, then Horizon is a damned good way to pass the time until it appears.
5) FarCry 3 (PC, also 360 and PS3) - Pretty and fun open-world shooter with more brains than most entries in the fps genre. The storyline loses focus a bit, but there's plenty here to keep you interested. Might have ranked higher if the PC version didn't force me through that uPlay shitpipe.
4) Spec Ops: The Line (PC, also 360 and PS3) - Mediocre shooting mechanics don't really matter much in the face of a plot as good and as intelligently written as this one. I kind of hoped that this would make it more difficult to churn out endless, hateful "play it straight" modern warfare games. Sadly, I was wrong. Be warned that the PC version is a really, really crap port.
3) Lolipop Chainsaw (360, also PS3) - Ok, ok, it's a guilty pleasure. But it's also a hilariously written and surprisingly deep game. About a cheerleader killing zombies with a chainsaw. I mean, what's not to like?
2) XCom: Enemy Unknown (PC, also 360) - Fantastic updating of a classic franchise, which streamlines where it makes sense to do so, but isn't afraid to be seriously cruel to the player when the situation demands. My only complaint is that (whisper it softly) the campaign is over just a bit too soon.
1) Borderlands 2 (PC, also 360 and PS3) - Well tuned gunplay, an interesting loot system and dialogue so funny that at times *cough* Tiny Tina *cough* it had me laughing so hard I couldn't even aim properly. Add into the mix a campaign so long that you could fit a dozen Call of Duties inside it (not that you'd want to) and you've got my pick for the bext game of the year.
And now, in alphabetical order, the "also pretty good" games, which didn't quite make the top-10 list:
Angry Birds Space (iPad, probably also on every other platform under the sun) - And there goes my credibility... actually, no, this is a clever and fun update on the Angry Birds franchise, with some interesting gravity mechanics thrown into the mix.
Atelier Meruru: The Adventurer of Arland (PS3) - Cute and sometimes-amusing conclusion to this particular 3-game arc of the Atelier series. A bit on the grindy side, but then, it's a JRPG so what do you expect?
Bad Piggies (iPad) Less random than angry birds. Endure the first few stages and it opens out into a clever and fun mad-inventor game. Plus the theme music is awesome.
Corpse Party (PSP) - Fantastic, scary-as-hell adventure game/visual novel hybrid. Also noteworthy for having a Japanese voice cast which is pretty much a who's-who of the anime voice acting scene.
Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition (PC) - I kept this out of the top 10, as it's essentially a rerelease. However, this is the definitive version of one of the best games around, particularly with the 3rd-party resolution patch.
Darksiders 2 (PC, also 360 and PS3) - Basically a retread of the original, but that's by no means a bad thing in this case.
Dragon's Dogma (360, also PS3) - It's nice to see a Japanese developer trying something different, ambitious and outside of its comfort zone. Sadly, it doesn't entirely work and the game never entirely gelled with me. Still, a promising effort.
Guild Wars 2 (PC, also Mac) - I haven't really had the time to do it justice, but this is a clever game which takes risks by unpicking some well-established MMO tropes. Not everything about it works, but it's a good sign that the industry is finally starting to move away from its obsession with cloning World of Warcraft.
Halo 4 (360) - I've never really liked the Halo series, but I can admit that this is definitely one of the better entries in it. The new developers seem to be rather better than Bungie at actually telling a story.
Kingdom Hearts 3d (3ds) - Yes, it's pretty fun. But can we PLEASE have Kingdom Hearts 3 now? On a proper console? Pretty please?
Persona 4: Golden (Vita) - Top-notch remake of one of the best JRPGs of the last generation. Fantastic game, but it does make me wish they'd get on with Persona 5 already.
Littlebigplanet Vita (Vita) - Sony's platforming series finally finds its natural home. The game's a damned good fit for the Vita, even if some of the mechanics are starting to feel a little stale.
Rayman Origins (Vita, also on pretty much everything else under the sun) - Beautifully drawn and animated platformer. Takes a while to get going properly, but a lot of fun once it does.
Resistance: Burning Skies (Vita) - And here I go massively against the consensus. Most people seem to have hated this game. Personally, I quite enjoyed it. Then again, I'm a sucker for fpses which don't observe stupid 2 weapon limits. They Bleed Pixels (PC) - Clever, somewhat disturbing Lovecraftian indie platformer. Not everybody's cup of tea, but I liked it. Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Future Soldier - Probably the best "straightforward" modern military shooter of the year. Definitely less hateful than its competition.
Transformers: Fall of Cybertron (360, also PS3 and PC) - Lacks a bit of the wow-factor of its predecessor (and the early chapters drag a bit), but still a solid, enjoyable third person shooter.
And now the disappointments. The games which might not have been outright bad, but which either didn't live up to expectations, or else could only just about scale the dizzy heights of mediocrity:
Assassin's Creed 3 (360, also PC and PS3) - The ingredients for a really good game are all present and correct. Unfortunately, the game desperately needed a few more months in development to add some polish and kill some of its many, many bugs. Annualisation works for some franchises, but is killing this one.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 (PC, also 360, PS3 and Wii-U) - Actually slightly less hateful than the last couple of installments in the series, with the odd neat idea floating around. If it had focussed more on the RTS-lite style side-missions I might have quite liked this. As it is, it still drowns under the weight of a pompous, badly written campaign.
Mass Effect 3 (PC, also 360, PS3 and Wii-U) - Despite some good scenes here and there, poor quality writing trips this game up. Incredibly disappointing given the strength of its predecessors. It also lacks the robust shooter mechanics needed to support the gameplay, now that it's essentially become a shooter with dialogue. Look at Binary Domain to see how it can be done better.
Max Payne 3 (360, also PC and PS3) - Not a bad game, but consistently fails to shine. Neither its gameplay nor its storyline are quite as good as it thinks they are.
Resident Evil 6 (360, also PS3) - In most respects a truly dreadful game, with an incomprehensible plot, dull combat and atrocious hit detection. Just about saved from the "awful" list by two factors; the generous length of the campaign and those occasional moments where it slows down a bit and tries its hand at suspense. The first 30 minutes of Leon's campaign are some of the best Resident Evil we've seen in years. It's just a pity it degenerates so fast.
SSX (360, also PS3) - I wanted to like this, I really did. Unfortunately, there's only a certain level of dudebro I can bring myself to tolerate, even if it is covering a solid game. SSX goes way, way beyond that level.
Star Wars: The Old Republic (PC) - Technically released last year, but hey, MMOs are a bit funny. There were some good ideas here, but buried under outdated ideas and a lack of confidence in taking its own direction. I did sort-of like this for a while, so it was heartbreaking to see the painful death of its community over the first few months of the year.
Tales of Graces F (PS3) - An utterly by-the-numbers uninspired JRPG, several years after the point where this sort of thing ceased to be acceptable.
Touch my Katamari (Vita) - Oh, it's not bad as such, but seriously, the whole Katamari thing is beyond stale now.Assassin's Creed 3 (360, also PC and PS3) - Could have done with another few months of development time to give it a bit more polish (and kill some of those damned bugs), but there's a highly impressive game here.
World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria (PC) - Mists of Dailyquestia. Actually, there's some neat content in this expansion. Too bad the daily quest grind kills it.
And finally, the awful games. The catastrophes. The absolute bottom of the barrel:
Carrier Command: Gaea Mission (PC, also 360) - I wanted to like this game. It could have been great - just look at the XCom remake. Sadly, it was released in a condition which barely counts as playable, and the game itself lacks a coherent structure. Also, worst fps sequences EVER.
Diablo 3 (PC, also Mac) - There are the bones of a decent game buried in here somewhere. Sadly, they are ground into dust by Blizzard's blatant attempts to drive players onto the real-money auction house, regardless of the impacts on the quality of the game.
Mugen Souls (PS3) - Hideous aborted mutant JRPG that manages to bring the PS3 chugging to a sub-10 framerate despite moving PS1-era graphics. Incomprehensible game mechanics and hateful characters. Seriously, who buys this shit? Oh, wait, I did.
Persona 4 Arena (PS3, also 360) - I've not played it! But when you introduce region locking to a previously region-free console, you go on my shitlist. End of story.