Video games: 2012 a great year

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The year 2012 is nearly in the books, boasting record-breaking sales for blockbuster franchises such as "Halo 4" and "Call of Duty: Black Ops 2," while independent games such as "Journey," "Fez" and "FTL" showed that big-name publishers aren't essential to creating quality products. Nintendo released a successor to the Wii in the Wii U, while Sony struggled to establish its Playstation Vita handheld.

More importantly, developers released top-notch entertainment that further cemented video games as a bona fide art form. Captivating role-playing games, adrenaline-pumping racers, action-packed first-person shooters and even addictive mobile games made it difficult to narrow down, but here are the best games of 2012:

1. 'Journey'

Platform: PS3

Rated: E for Everyone

Developer: Thatgamecompany

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

"Journey," the downloadable game for the Playstation 3, showed that a game with no dialogue and minimalist controls could still provide one of the most moving gaming experiences of this generation. "Journey" is a tale of faith and the power of conviction, but could be interpreted differently depending on the player. And that's part of its genius; it inspires awe without explicit story structure. This, along with the help of a gorgeous art style and brilliant musical score, is what makes "Journey" a giant step forward for video games.

2. 'Mass Effect 3'

Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Wii U

Rated: M for Mature

Developer: BioWare

Publisher: Electronic Arts

The epic conclusion of "Mass Effect 3" put gamers in the suit of Commander Shepard one final time. This time it's to save the Earth. The game's quality voice acting, script, and haunting orchestral score establish a captivating take on the age-old apocalyptic sci-fi tale. The ending to this trilogy is emotionally exhausting.

3. 'Far Cry 3'

Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PC

Rated: M for Mature

Developer: Ubisoft Montreal

Publisher: Ubisoft

"Far Cry 3" was released earlier this month but deserves to be included among this year's best. The open world game is designed to immerse the player in a violent-yet-beautiful tropical island, and it succeeds. If the local pirates aren't the biggest threat, the leopards of the jungle or sharks in the ocean certainly are. Welcome to the jungle.

4. 'Max Payne 3'

Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PC

Rated M for Mature

Developer: Rockstar Vancouver

Publisher: Rockstar Games

Rockstar is one of the hottest publishers in video games, and "Max Payne 3" extends its stellar track record. In the sequel to 2003's "Max Payne 2," Max is older and grumpier, yet more driven to take out evil. The story explores Max's mindset and personality more than earlier games in the series and adds depth to the franchise.

5. 'Halo 4'

Platform: Xbox 360

Rated: M for Mature

Developer: 343 Industries

Publisher: Microsoft Studios

A new "Halo" title is always a big deal in gaming, but "Halo 4" was especially significant because it was the first of the series to be developed by a new studio, and 343 Industries didn't disappoint, creating a campaign that was as intense as it was heartfelt. The team also introduced some changes to the multiplayer, attracting new fans while still pleasing the purists.

6. 'The Walking Dead'

Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PC, iOS

Rated: M for Mature

Developer: Telltale Games

Publisher: Telltale Games

This has been a remarkable year for "The Walking Dead" as a brand. The television series again expanded its audience, and the video game received virtually unanimous praise. This gripping, point-and-click adventure is a throwback to early PC games. Its script and presentation of difficult choices make it one of the year's best, while bugs and shaky stability keep it from being higher on the list.

7. 'SSX'

Platform: Xbox 360, PS3

Rated: E for Everyone

Developer: EA Canada

Publisher: EA Sports

EA Canada rebooted the popular "SSX" snowboarding franchise this year, and it didn't disappoint. The team put a slightly realistic spin on this high-octane, arcade-style sports game but kept its exaggerated nature. Pulling off a massive "ubertrick" and revolutionary multiplayer provide excitement rarely captured in sports titles

8. 'Dishonored'

Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PC

Rated: M for Mature

Developer: Arkane Studios

Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

New IPs are scarce, but Arkane Studios wowed gamers with the new steampunk world of "Dishonored." It introduced inspired gameplay in the first-person genre that combined stealth, action and a touch of the supernatural. One of its many strengths is how it encourages multiple playthroughs.

9. 'Borderlands 2'

Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PC

Rated: M for Mature

Developer: Gearbox Software

Publisher: 2K Games

This follow-up to 2009's "Borderlands" was a fan favorite. Gearbox Software improved upon its shooter-turned-RPG formula and gave it a story with some hilarious writing. "Borderlands 2" is a massive first-person shooter that is best played with friends.

10. 'Spec Ops: The Line'

Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PC

Rated: M for Mature

Developer: Yager Development

Publisher: 2K Games

"Spec Ops: The Line" breaks the mold of monotony as a military shooter with a brain -- ironic, because the story explores post-traumatic stress disorder. It's a rattling tale of the horrors of war and how far a soldier must go to follow his orders. Stick to the sobering campaign, and stay away from the buggy and uninspired multiplayer.

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Max Parker writes the Game Guy blog at communityvoices.sites.post-gazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GameGuyPGH.


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