1. Mass Effect 3 ( Xbox 360 (tested), PlayStation 3, PC )
The closing chapter of BioWare’s space-opera trilogy has received criticism for its rather ambiguous ending, so much so that the Canadian developer released an extended Director’s Cut to offer more clarity. Regardless, the journey that Mass Effect 3 provides is the much worthier part. BioWare’s skill at building a universe populated with fascinating characters hits it peak as our galaxy is ravaged with war. Shooting and level design is also much tighter, providing a thrilling and emotional finale to one of this generation’s finest video game series.
2. Journey (PS3 )
Californian developers thatgamecompany have made a habit out of pushing the definition of the medium. Journey is no different, a pilgrimage across a beautifully-drawn desolate landscape. Players traverse across sand, sea and snow to reach the beacon of light that serves as your guide. A stirring trek even on your own, Journey’s brilliance comes in its implementation of co-op, with fellow travellers randomly appearing throughout your pilgrimage to help and provide company in an affecting piece of work.
3. The Darkness II ( Xbox 360 (tested), PlayStation 3, PC )
The follow-up to the surprise hit of 2007, The Darkness II eschews the slightly more open ended nature of the first game for a channelled narrative. This is to the game’s credit rather than its detriment, however, with an intelligent narrative framing a brutal and brilliant first-person-shooter.
4. Catherine ( Xbox 360 (tested), PlayStation 3)
A sharp, abstract exploration of sexual temptation, Catherine follows scruffy waster Vincent’s descent into a hellish world of punishment following an illicit liaison. After cheating on his long-term girlfriend with a nubile young blonde, Vincent suffers nightmares in which he must climb to the top of an ever-shifting tower of blocks. If he falls, he will never wake up. In between the challenging climbs, Vincent quaffs rum and coke in a smoky bar, exchanging texts with the two objects of his affection. A fascinating and thoughtful coming of age tale, far smarter than the titillating surface might suggest.
5. I Am Alive ( Xbox 360 , PlayStation 3, PC )
Post-apocalyptia is a familiar theme for video games, but it’s rare that it’s dealt with in such a grounded and brutal fashion. I Am Alive tasks you with guiding a young man across a decimated American town in search for his wife and daughter. A stark exploration of lost humanity unfolds as you find other survivors desperate for help and groups of scavengers ready to slit your throat for a bottle of water. Raw, powerful and brilliant.
6. Dragon’s Dogma ( Xbox 360 , PlayStation 3, PC )
Ambitious fantasy RPG Dragon’s Dogma is an odd specimen, fluctuating between carefully crafted gameplay and haphazard madness. You are the Arisen, destined to save the world from an all-powerful dragon. The plotline is hokey fantasy fare, but Dragon’s Dogma ploughs its own furrow with a terrific combat system, inventive bestiary and its unique approach to your party members. You can create and share companions with other players online and, when they return, they will have gained quest knowledge from their jaunt. A work of flawed genius.
7. Max Payne 3 ( Xbox 360 , PlayStation 3, PC )
Gravel-throated anti-hero Max has left the NYPD and fallen into the bottom of a bottle when a job offer as a bodyguard takes him to Brazil. What looks like a plum job quickly goes south as Max is drawn into the murderous depths of Sao Paolo’s gangland. Ferocious gunplay forms the bulk of a game, but its the characterisation of Max as a man that has hit rock-bottom and kept on falling that most impresses. The full on Rockstar treatment makes this a cinematic, thrilling and brutal third-person shooter.
8. New Star Soccer (iOS)
iOS gem New Star Soccer follows you as you build a career as a young football superstar. Starting in the lower leagues, you have to perform well on the pitch to attract attention from bigger clubs. All the while living the life of a superstar, buying cars, clothes, houses and horses. The basic but charming visuals and simplistic control make the on-pitch action compelling and accessible. However, it’s the life-consuming nature of the lifestyle and career path that have made New Star Soccer one of the most talked about football titles in a long while.
9. The Walking Dead ( Xbox 360 , PlayStation 3, PC )
Adventure game supremos Telltale’s adaptation of The Walking Dead comics has been attracting a glut of attention for its extraordinary storytelling. Delivered in episodes, The Walking Dead follows the story of convict Lee, making his way across a zombie-infested U.S. with a ragtag bunch of follow survivors. Some neat point-and-click puzzling mixed with nerve-shredding action beats set up a solid gameplay base. However, it’s the raw, brutal and unwavering narrative that stands out, delivering emotional gut-punches with startling regularity. Video game storytelling at its very best.
10. Thomas Was Alone (PC)
Created by independent game developer Mike Bithell, Thomas Was Alone is likely to be the only game to ask you to emotionally connect to a rectangle. What’s more surprising is that it works, Bithell creating a wonderful cast of neurotic squares and arrogant abstracts. The shapes interact with each other superbly in a clever, minimalist puzzle-platformer, narrated by the excitable and amiable tones of Danny Wallace.
11. LEGO Batman 2 DC Super Heroes ( Xbox 360 , PlayStation 3, PC )
The Lego games have an excellent track record since Lego Star Wars first charmed us with its hilarious re-imaginings of famous scenes and endless pursuit of smashing, building and collecting shiny things. While that base has remained a constant, Guildford developer Traveller’s Tales has become ever more ambitious with form and structure. Lego Batman 2 is unquestionably their finest work, offering an open-world Gotham City stuffed with distraction and hundreds of DC Comics characters to mess around with.
12. Analogue: A Hate Story (PC)
Christine Love’s latest visual novel exhibits the same talent for characters and gripping narrative as her past releases. Set aboard the ghost (space)ship Mugunghwa, you’re tasked with piecing together exactly what happened to the crew. It’s fantastically written with a slick interface, touching on a variety of issues. If you’re after something a little different from the norm, Analogue is well worth a try.