I haven't posted anything on my GameSpot blog for a while, but now seems like the perfect time to get back in the swing of things. There's a bit of an update at the end of this post about what I have been up to in recent months, but for now, here are my favourite 10 games of 2012.
10. Hitman: Absolution
It's easy to hate Absolution if you're a long-time Hitman fan. I loved Blood Money's open-ended gameplay, which is why I really didn't enjoy the second half of Absolution, which is a generic stealth corridor crawl. However, some of the earlier levels are classic Hitman. Large, open environments with a selection of murderous fun on offer. It's also a gorgeous looking game, perhaps one of the best visual feasts of 2012.
9. Max Payne 3
Bald Max might have lost his original noir setting, but he controls better than ever in his third outing. Rockstar managed to get some incredible physical movement out of the character and squeeze some of the best graphics of this generation out of the Xbox 360. The story is even darker than the original Remedy games in places and the non-stop action makes for one of the best third-person shooters in years.
8. WWE 13
This is definitely my "guilty pleasure" of 2012. On the surface of things, it's just another wrestling game, but I grew up watching the infamous Attitude Era and that is where this game excels. The Attitude Era mode has you recreating the most famous matches of the era, with bonuses and unlockable characters for performing moves and events exactly as they happened. It's a fantastic idea which has opened up the game to older wrestling fans who don't care for the modern era.
7. Forza Horizon
Horizon is an incredible debut title for Playground Games - a supergroup of racing developers, most of them former employees of Codemasters, Black Rock and Bizarre Creations. It's quite a short-lived experience for an open-world racer, but while it lasts it is terrific fun and has much more visual detail than the likes of Test Drive Unlimited.
6. FIFA 13
It's more FIFA, but the atmospheric improvements this year are fantasic. Managers shout from the technical area, subsitutes warm-up by the touchline and the commentary is incredible. If they are interrupted by events in the match during a long conversation, they will actually return to the conversation later in the game. The amount of voice work this must have required is mindboggling. They even return to a touchline reporter to describe injuries. There's a lot of attention to detail in FIFA 13.
5. Mark of the Ninja
Klei have finally managed to match their incredible art style with great gameplay. This 2D, side-scroller is one of the most enjoyable stealth games that I have played since Metal Gear Solid 3. It is beautifully animated and intelligently structured, with plenty of upgrades to unlock and a New Game Plus to really test your skills. I really do recommend that you download the Xbox Live Arcade trial version to at least try this game for yourself.
4. Far Cry 3
While I hated this game's story, I loved exploring massive open-world - running into all manner of local wildlife, climibing huge mountains and soaring in a hang glider. The unlockable combo kills are great fun too and make silently clearing pirates from an outpost one of the most satisfying mechanics of 2012. That said, if you have a good enough PC, you should definitely play it on that platform. The visuals really need to be experienced there and you will get a substantially better framerate than the console versions.
3. The Walking Dead
Telltale Games are continuing to keep the point-and-click adventure genre relevant in modern games. With their latest episodic series, The Walking Dead, they have taken their writing and storytelling to a whole new level.
The beautifully realised characters are some of the best ever created for a video game. The game also handles decision making and choice far more competently than any other. You are constantly forced to make harrowing and seemingly impossible choices which can have huge ramifications on the lives of the other characters and their behaviour towards the protagonist, Lee.
2. F1 2012
Over the last three years I have enjoyed watching Codemasters Birmingham take on the monumental challenge of turning the sport of Formula One into a modern video game success. With F1 2012, they have achieved something very special. While other racing studios have obsessed over physics and simulation in recent years, they have completely forgotten about motorsport. F1 2012 makes fewer attempts to be a driving simulation and instead is one of the most complete motorsport simulations ever created.
If you want to drive a wide variety of cars on the open road, then you should pick up Forza Horizon, but if you want to race and be thrilled by the best video game depiction of F1 in years, then you need F1 2012 in your collection.
My favourite game of 2012 is ThatGameCompany's PS3 masterpiece, Journey. It captured my attention from the main menu, to the closing credits by telling a fascinating story without the use of traditional game mechanics, or even any dialogue.
It is made even more magical by giving you the chance of bumping into other players at any time and in any place during the story. You can come across another player who is half-way through a puzzle and help them to solve it, completely changing the dynamic of a challenge which you might have had to solve on your own. You can stay with that person for hours, or part ways never to bump into each other again. Along this shared experience, you are never shown the other player's PlayStation Network username and you can only communicate with a series of whistles.
If you have not played Journey yet, you really should. It is an astonishing achievement in adventure, graphics and design and is one of the best games of this console generation.
A small personal update
Some of you might know that I started 2012 with a new job in iPhone game development. I decided to leave that company in October because I was missing the challenge of writing about games. Since then, I have returned to writing for GameSpot and you can read my first large feature article on the website right now! My name is in the homepage carousel at the moment too, which is a strange feeling!
I am also using my iPhone development experience to write about the business of mobile games for PocketGamer.biz.
That's my 2012 in video games. I'm looking forward to hearing about all of your favourites!