The Last Of Us
Set in a post-apocalyptic future where a spore-based plague has put paid to social order as we know it, The Last Of Us pairs a hard-bitten smuggler, Joel, with a feisty teenager, Ellie, as they try to cross America on foot and find a resistance group that will help them. The Last Of Us mixes survival horror with tense, violent bouts of combat, but its central appeal is the character-driven story that centres on the relationship that grow between Joel and Ellie. Over the ten or so hours the player spends in their company, they come to genuinely care about this bruised pair - which makes the final moments of The Last Of Us some of the most poweful drama you'll witness outside of an HBO series. Utterly essential.
God Of War: Ascension
God Of War: Ascension ticks a lot of the same boxes as its predecessors. Beautiful and bloody combat? Check! Bosses the size of the Albert Hall? Check! An angry Kratos who is becoming harder and harder to sympathise with? Check! The game's story - which serves as a prequel of sorts to the PSP entries in the series - isn't so much a compelling yarn as it is an excuse to slice monsters up like sashimi and the structure of Ascension walks almost in lock-step with that of every game in the series. That having been said, the single-player mode should satisfy Kratos fans and the multiplayer is something of a marvel. It's a violent, visceral spectacle in which player dish out eye-wateringly brutal attacks for the chance to level up their character and unlock favours from Athenian Gods.
The pitch for Guacamalee sounds like a Warner Bros cartoon filtered through Grindhouse and Mexican folklore. It tells the tale of a man named Juan who tried to rescue his beloved from an evil skeleton, was killed, and then came back from the dead a super-powered luchadore wrestler. Mixing satisying and deep combat with challenging platforming, Guacamalee also encourages exploration and allows players to flip between the dimensions of the living and the dead to tackle enemies that reside on different planes. Easily one this year's hidden gems.
Don't be fooled by the buckets of claret and the wicked arsenal in Hotline Miami. This game isn't so much a top-down brawler as it is a fiendishly unforgiving puzzle box. Players need to utilise a combination of quick reflexes, canny planning and nerves of steel to beat every level. Hotline Miami is a game of inches; one inch to close or one inch to far and you're dead. The game is unforgiving and it isn't always fair, but that just makes triumph all of the more sweeter.
Ni No Kuni: Wrath Of The White Witch
A lush and beautiful collaboration between Level 5 and anime animatiors Studio Ghibli, Ni No Kuni tells the heart-breaking story of a young lad named Oliver who is led into a magical land after the tragic death of his mother. In this fantasy realm, Oliver's main companion - a toy that his mother gave him before her passing - tells him that he's a wizard and it's up to him to save the kingdom from an evil entity named Shadar. Ni No Kuni plays like an open-world adventure with a battle-system reminiscent of Pokemon titles, but it's the writing and the characters that ultimately sell this game. Like the best Pixar films, Ni No Kuni boast massive cross-generational appeal; youngsters will sign up for an engrossing adventure while older players will be impressed by the narrative parallels the story draws between the fantastical world Oliver has to save and the dark, tragic reality he runs from.
Thomas Was Alone
On the suface, Thomas Was Alone doesn't look like much. It's a minmalist puzzle platformer in which players navigate their way through block-filled environments to an exit. However, as the game progresses, its delicate soundtrack fills the game's world with a sense of magical appeal, while the note-perfect narration from Danny Wallace infuses little blocks the player controls with genuine character. Once the level design starts tossing in curveballs, it's fairly hard to walk away from. Thomas Was Alone may sound teeth-rottingly twee, but give it a chance - you'll never look at little coloured blocks the same way ever again.
Video games are known for the rich and fascinating worlds they contain but few can match BioShock Infnite for the sheer spectacle on display. In it, players head into the city of Columbia, a metropolis floating in the clouds in the year 1910. They're tasked with rescuing a woman named Elizabeth who is being held captive in tower, but this well-worn gaming trope is merely a doorway into a narrative as deep as it is compelling. As they blast and kill their way to some sort of denouement, players will stumble through plot and inter-dimensional layers that pile up questions and intrigue alongside corpses and shell-casings. This isn't your typical shooter and it's ending is likely to leave you puzzling over what you just played weeks after the credits have rolled.
DmC: Devil May Cry
DmC is British developer Ninja Theory's take on Capcom's hard-core hack'n slash series starring the smuggest twit in gaming, Dante. For this Western reboot, Ninja Theory has re-imagined Dante as surfer trash and the world around him as a dystopian where demons caused the banking crisis, witches use street art to dimension hop and hacker collectives are on the side of angels. In spite of the game's more Gaijin veneer, the combat is as rock-solid as the best entries in this series, making DmC a worthy addition to the Devil May Cry canon.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
There's a sense that Blood Dragon is one big massive running joke built on the foundations of retro cinema and the engine powering the superb Far Cry 3. There's no connection between it and the Lord Of The Flies riff of Far Cry 3. Instead, Blood Dragon puts the player in the boots of a guy called Rex Colt - voiced by Michael Biehn from Terminator and Aliens - chucks them some hi-tech weapons and then puts an onus on them to dish out as much flesh-shredding damage as (in)humanly possible. Though Blood Dragon is hyper violent - and encourages the player to be creative in their blood-letting - it piles on as many gags as it does gun battles. This is a neon-encrusted jewel of a game - barmy, funny and satisfyingly brutal.
In this orgin story, the most iconic female character in gaming finds herself cast adrift on an island in the South China sea that just happens to be filled with gun-toting marauders. After escaping their clutches, Lara Croft makes her way through the island, searching for a way for her and her friends to escape without ending up as fishfood. Tomb Raider is darker in tone than its predecessors and contains some scenes of absolutely eye-watering violence. But, Lara Croft may have taken a page out of James Bond's handbook on gritty re-boots - see: Casino Royale, see also: SkyFall - but the main draw here is wrapped up in exploring the island environment, collecting salvage, solving plaform puzzles and exchanging fire with bad guys. You know, all the stuff the best adventure games are made of.
The spiritual successor to Warhawk, Starhawk mixes Third-Person shooter action with RTS structure and equipment drops and asset management. Its Space Western sci-fi campaign is a lightweight, if entertaining way to spend an afternoon, but its multiplayer is organised chaos at its best. One of the PS3's best titles this year, hands down.
One of the most visually stunning action-adventure games ever created receives its PS3 debut. Okami HD shows off not just the original's timeless artistic style, but also its fantastic gameplay - as one would expect from a title devised by DMC/Bayonetta developer Hideki Kamiya. Players also have the option of using the PS Move to recreate the 'brush-stroke' gameplay from the Wii port.
Ratchet & Clank Trilogy
One of the finest pair of mascots in gaming finally get their long-overdue HD makeover. Ratchet & Clank Trilogy ropes in Ratchet & Clank, Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando, and Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal - all three excellent and inventive shooters - along with (amazingly) the multiplayer from of Up Your Arsenal. A timely reminder of the duo's classic status and a time when not every shooter on the market was covered in blood and gore!
This PS3 road-thrash fragfest works best in the multiplayer, where players don't have to contend with its 'go-nowhere' storyline and its rock-hard AI. It takes a while to learn its fiddly controls and layered combat system, but once you do, you can quickly become the scourge of the online highway. A deep, dark beauty, for those gamers who are prepared to invest in it.
This is a fantastic and fun little Kart racer whose longevity is ensured through its fantastic track editor. Filled with inspired options and an absolute doddle to use, LBP Karting's creative element gives players a means to share their roadworks online, as well as enjoy the creations of others. Essential rambunctious fun.
One of this year's most intriguing offerings, Journey is as esoterically contemplative as it is achingly beautiful. To call it a game sounds a bit limiting, yet to call it a piece of art is utterly pompous. In truth, it exists somewhere between these two mediums, and its sheer uniqueness is enough to recommend it as one of this year's essential plays.
A post apocalyptic beat-'em-up that takes its main inspiration from the film 12 Monkeys, Toky Jungle imagines a world where wildlife has overrun the major urban conurbations and humans are nowhere in sight. The story mode makes an obligatory nod to the exitinction of the human race, but really the main draw here is the game's ultra violent beat downs where the law of the jungle can be applied to any and all situations.
Devil May Cry HD Collection
With a series re-boot/re-imagining on the way from Cambridge-based Ninja Theory, there's never been a better time to revisit the Devil May Cry series. If you own a PS3, all three original entries are handily collected on one disc, which showcases the series' superb combat and its rockstar attitude. It may look a little dated graphically, but its combat mechanics are still rock-solid.
PlayStation All Stars Battle Royale
While it may look for all the world like a Sony rip on Nintendo's Super Smash Bros., PS All Stars is actually a surprisingly deep and nuanced arcade fighter. This is a bit of a double edged sword; casual players soon find themselves hoplessly out of their depths, but players prepared to learn the animations and combos in the game - you know, as you would in most arcade fighters - will be pleasently surprised. Besides, it's always a laugh to kick the hell out of Kratos using Sackboy...
Assassin's Creed III
Assassin's Creed III impressively transports the franchise's action from Renaissance Italy to Frontier North America and even introduces a new protagonist without too much of a hitch. As one would expect from Ubisoft's open-world adventure series, Assassin's Creed III is chock-full of missions, side-quests, activities and collectibles - and PS3 owners even have some exclusive story missions they can get stuck into.
Call of Duty Black Ops 2
The year's biggest shooter delivers the trifecta of a great campaign, a knock-about zombie co-op and a deep and layered multiplayer with the most open-ended customisation in the series so far. Yes, there's an air of familiarity about the proceedings, but if it ain't broke, you don't fix it - especially when 'it' is as lucrative as this...
Far Cry 3
Ubisoft's other open-world adventure is an absolute blast from beginning to end. In it, players take on a tourist in an island paradise who is forced into becoming a one-man-army after his friends are kidnapped by pirates. The game's tropical island map is bursting at the seams with missions, unlockables, quests and moving targets and every kill and plant collection offers players grist for the crafting mill or a loot-drop. Top it all off with a fantastic co-op and a very decent multiplayer and Far Cry 3 is easily one of the PS3's must-have titles in 2012.
Max Payne 3
Equal parts hard-boiled grit and stylish flare, Max Payne 3 tells a dark, hard-boiled story of betrayal, death and redemption. Set in Sao Paulo where glizty largesse rubs shoulders with crushing poverty, the story pits the most hard-bitten protagonist in shooters against favela gangs and corrupt cops in a lanscape where knowing who to trust can be the difference between life and death. The story is by turns compelling, exiting and harrowing and the multiplayer is one of the best the shooter genre produced all year. Max may be showing his age somewhat, but this ol' dog's bite is still as bad as his bark.
Gearbox's rootin'-tootin' shoot-'em 'n loot-'em FPS is easily one of this year's best offerings. The Dallas-based developer took everything that made its shooter RPG such a hit back in 2009 and then went widescreen; players are cut loose in a massive world filled with more enemies, more treasure, more missions and most important of all, more guns. All that, and it even has a better story and villain in it than last time, too!
Final Fantasy XIII-2
Another cross-platform offering, but let's get down to brass tacks here: Final Fantasy's natural home has always been the PS3 and Finaly Fantasy XIII 2 just looks and handles so much better on Sony's console. For the second installment in the XIII trilogy, Square Enix took fan complaints about FFXIII to heart, stripped out the linear structure of the last entry and offering players an open-ended universe filled with beautiful and unique worlds to explore. Breathtakingly beautiful and utterly barmy.
The Unfinished Swan
This PSN download works on two levels, as a non-violent shooting puzzle game as well as a storybook for younger players. You control the game with either Move or Sixaxis controller and explore the world by firing paint at walls to reveal architecture and puzzles. As you progress an endearing story about a mother and her child unfolds.
Metal Gear Solid Snake Eater 3D
One of the most heralded collections of stealth games ever made, the Metal Gear series has been due an HD port for some time now. In this collection, Sons Of Liberty and Peace Walker are a little dated, but Snake Eater is still one of the best games of this genre. The only complaint you could possibly level at this package is that it doesn't contain the superb Metal Gear Solid, but then, life is full of diappointments...
Coming on like the illegitmate offspring of Deus Ex, BioShock and Half Life, Dishonored puts players in the shoes of an assassin out for revenge against nefarious forces who framed him for murder. Dishonored's steampunk world is an intriguing draw, but its longevity lies in the game's open-ended structure, which allows players to dispatch targets any way they like.
Mass Effect 3
BioWare's epic sci fi space opera draws to a close as Commander Shepherd scours the galaxy for allies ahead of his showdown with The Reapers - the sentient ships bent on destroying all life in the universe. The ending divided opinions across the fan base, but the journey getting there remains one of 2012's gaming highs.
XCOM Enemy Unknown
A re-imagining of a turn-based strategy PC classic for console that actually works? Sign us up! XCOM combines the tatical nouse of the best strategy games with the nail-shredding tension of a survival horror; in this game, cover and flanking is essential and pushing forward too quickly can kill you faster than cyanide.