; Journey is an exercise in beauty and elegance. It is indeed a simple concise game but each of the multiple run throughs had me surprised with a new detail, a new secret to find, a new companion that depending on his experience could teach me new secrets or moves or let me guide him through the world of Journey. It was a joyous game to play in each of those playthroughs. It entertained me and kept me engaged through its whole duration and excelled at it as no other game ever did before. Of course that Austin Wintory soundtrack can't be praised enough as he elevated Journey's soundtrack to the same level as any other element of the game. Journey felt to me as the most complete game that I ever played, nothing in it was superfluous, and nothing felt lacking. For that, it's the best video game that I ever played. A classic.
2. The Walking Dead
; Overwhelmingly emotional experience for me. As a father, I fell in the "mistake" of projecting my own anxieties and fears of parenthood on the bond that Lee and Clementine built during the 5 episodes. It was a moving and superbly written story. I still remember each character name, his or hers idiosyncrasies, every critical choice I made. And the ending... Heart wrenching as it was, it just felt right.
3. Hotline Miami
; Enough with these warm fuzzy feelings! Performance! Reflexes! Trance-like rhythmic fast paced arcade action: kill kill stomp stomp throw pipe slam door grab body shield grab shotgun kill kill kill kill kill kill kill. Stop. Or die. Repeat. Success! Next level. I honestly didn't care for the subtext that permeates the game trying to redeem its graphic violence. I just played it like I play Pacman. Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Gobble Eat fruit Run after phantom Gobble Stop. Next level. And also another game with a stellar soundtrack. Perfectly fitting the action and theme. A real standout in a year of excellent independent releases on PC. If the rumors come true, can't wait to replay it on my Vita.
4. Wipeout 2048
; It pains me to know that this is the swan song of Studio Liverpool. It's Wipeout on the go with very little compromises. It runs beautifully, the challenge , the sense of speed, the graphics they're all part of the package, and still got the Wipeout HD+Fury content added for FREE. That's fan service right there on an already excellent game.
; Caution! This game is evil. It plays with our brain basic tendency to recognize and learn patterns. It looks at first sight that it's a pure twitch, fast reflexes response kind of game, but it is not. It's memorization and pattern recognition first and fast reflexes response second. Is that what makes it evil? No. The game while throwing at the player its hexagonal patterns at incredible speeds, bombards him with a high bpm soundtrack and flashing almost epilepticogenic graphics so to overstimulate his brain to purposefully make him fail. To break our brain. To make it vacillate. And hesitation, or trying to check the time from the corner of the eye, or even blink, will result in failure. The almost instantaneous retry/failure system makes for a near hypnotic chain of actions in a diabolic cycle of Game Over. Repeat. Game Over. Repeat. Game Over. Repeat. Evil. My most played game on any platform this year. I'm almost embarrassed to think of the amount of hours I played of this game.
6. Darkness II
; A hidden gem. This game launched with almost zero hype and fanfare and I must admit myself that I only bought it due to the heavily discounted price that I got on PC. I can say though that it's the most fun I had with a first person shooter this generation. The darkness powers, the snake attacks and the perfect gun handling transform this game from just another linear corridor shooter, that it can be, to an almost sandbox (in mechanics and tools available to the player, not level design) experience. It even has 4 skill trees where the player can spend darkness points that can change dramatically the way he can approach each encounter. And if a game ever deserved the moniker visceral gameplay, then Darkness is the one. The gruesome executions and the snake attacks have weight and different types of enemies will react differently to them. And though everyone talks about Dishonored and Mark of the Ninja as the best stealth games in years, I feel I must include the Darkling portions of this game in that list. Really satisfying to play with him trying to sneak past the enemies and silently kill them in the most horrifying and effective way possible. I just feel that playing with Darkling should have been included in the tools available to the player instead of event triggered like it is. If that was the case, this game would jump to a much higher place in my GOTY list. Just one last sentence on the story and graphics of the game, as I really enjoyed the redemption story arc and the way it was told in an obviously graphic novel inspired way (nothing surprising considering the original source of the IP) and the graphics with beautiful cell shaded color saturated visuals with great art direction also inspired on the comics. Really top notch whole package. Please check it out if you haven't already. This game deserves more attention.
7. XCOM: Enemy Unknown
; A successful reboot. I tried to play the old series as soon as this game was announced and it was a painful experience. Couldn't get away from the infernal save-reload cycle trying to save everyone. Couldn't wrap my brain around the idea that my squad members were just another resource as money, ore, wood or influence like in other strategy games. The new one though was more gentle while keeping the tension and occasional ruthlessness that the series is famous for. High production values, great replay value even if the scenarios are not randomly generated and solid strategy/base management/combat ratio make for one of the most accomplished reboots of a cult series in the last years.
8. Persona 4 Golden
; A tour de force. I didn't play the PS2 version so I was caught by complete surprise by this game. The characters are superb, the combat is fun and deep with all the different Personas and their abbillities, the skill cards and the special combo attacks. And the setting and story are interesting and intriguing enough to push me through dozens and dozens of hours of content. Which is a rarity these days. It jumped to the top spot of JRPG of the generation for me.
9. Sleeping Dogs
; Another game that caught me by surprise. Simply put it's Yakuza HD without the fluff and with polish. I love Yakuza but Sleeping Dogs delivered on the story, the combat and on the interesting world of an exotic metropolis that I will for sure visit in my lifetime. Driving a car through the streets of Hong Kong by night with rain was a great feeling, as some of the race missions. Some weird story pacing issues apart, it was a really good take on the open world game with an interesting world to explore.
10. Endless Space
; Civilization in space. From a completely new team came this great game, with a super refined user interface that should be used as a showcase for any strategy game from now on. Everything at a distance of a few clicks of the mouse. Clean, streamlined flow of action, really great stuff. But that would be for nothing if it wasn't for the great solid game that it supports. Not so intricate as Sins of a Solar Empire or Galactic Civ, but it gave me that simple and direct one-more turn rush cycle as the Civ games did. Will keep an eye opened to this team future efforts.
It was really hard in some cases to chose some of the GOTY games over these ones. It was one of the best gaming years for me. And I'm still catching up on a few more titles, the most high profile one is Far Cry 3. I really pondered for a few days before settling on this final list. And if I postponed a few more days I would change one or two picks.
x. Uncharted Golden Abyss
x. Crusader Kings 2
x. Lumines Electronic Symphony
x. Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion
x. The Sea Will Claim Everything
x. Tribes Ascend
2011. Unity of Command
; One of the best wargames of the last years to come from a completely unexpected team, 2X2, with no previous work on the genre. Another good surprise that have I found about it last year it would go to my 2011 GOTY list no doubt. It's a transparent game, with no critical action or command obfuscated from the player leaving him or her with just planning for a optimal strategy/tactic to overcome each scenario. Really refreshing and surprisingly approachable game in a dense genre that scares away the neophytes as soon as the game start screen loads.