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Digital Trends’ Best Games of 2012 Winners

Game of the year header

This has been an odd year for gaming, and one that will likely be remembered as a transitory one for the industry. The arrival of the Wii U was one obvious measure of that, because it ushers in the next generation of consoles, but perhaps far more importantly, the quality of digitally distributed games keeps rising.

That doesn’t just mean we have more access to games, it means there are more ways to think about how to approach development. Some of the best titles of the year were created by independent developers and small studios operating outside the traditional industry structure, and that is certainly going to increase in the coming years.

We have seen more variety this year than ever before when it comes to quality games. An episodic game is one of the best of the year. An independent game made us rethink how to approach co-op gaming. The next generation of handheld gaming is just starting to realize its potential. And through it all, the bedrock of the industry, the AAA titles released this year, have offered some of the best games we’ve ever seen.

It has been an impressive year for the gaming industry, and all signs point to an even better one in 2013 because of it. For now though, we look back at the best of the best, and are honored to present our best games of 2012.

Best Action/Adventure Game

Hitman Absolution

Although the stealth-action genre may be somewhat on the decline as more and more franchises go the Splinter-Cell route and encourage the idea that no one will see you if you kill all the enemies, Hitman Absolution found a way to blend action and stealth, plus give players so many options that no two playthroughs are the same. It’s challenging, surprising, and the inclusion of the player-created Contracts makes it replayable for a long, long time.

Runners Up: Dishonored, Sleeping Dogs

Read our review of Hitman: Absolution here

Best Competitive Multiplayer

game awards 2012 halo 4Halo 4

343 Industries knows Halo. The new studio knows what makes the series work, and what fans love about it. There were concerns about the franchise when Bungie left, but the Halo brand is in good hands, and the multiplayer remains the crown jewel. Mix in an even more robust Forge, and Halo 4 is a dream come true for Halo fans, as well as those who have been looking for more multiplayer action.

Runners Up: Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier

Read our review of Halo 4 here.

Best Co-Op Game

Journey

More and more developers are finding ways to offer a co-op mode to players, but even in the best of these offerings the co-op is generally just more players doing the same thing. Journey, on the other hand, made us rethink what co-op was. You play with people you can’t talk to and you don’t know, yet the solitude of the world and the random nature of the personal encounters is so entrancing, that it is one of the more powerful co-op experiences ever made.

Runners Up: Borderlands 2, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier

Read our review of Journey here.

Forza horizonBest Driving Game

Forza Horizons

The Forza series is currently the king of the racing sims, and those mechanics have made a surprisingly easy transition to the open-world, arcade-like setting in Horizons. This isn’t Forza 5 by any means, but it is the best driving game of the year.

Runners Up: Need For Speed: Most Wanted, Ridge Racer: Unbounded

Read our review of Forza Horizons here

Best Fighting Game

Tekken Tag Tournament 2

The world’s best-selling fighting series returns with more content than ever, and finely polished controls that reminded us why Tekken is the king of both the iron fist, and the sales charts.

Runners Up: Persona 4 Arena, Virtual Figher 5: Final Showdown

Read our review of Tekken Tag Tournament 2 here

Borderlands 2 game awardsBest FPS

Borderlands 2

This was a remarkably tough category to call, but in the end Borderlands 2 is just a game that is made with fun in mind. It doesn’t really care what you do or how you play, so it presents you with several options to choose from. Thanks to its popularity, there is always someone you can team up with and play. But remarkably, the single-player game is almost as fun solo. That’s the mark of a game that we’ll be playing for a long time to come.

 Runners Up: Dishonored, Far Cry 3

Read our review of Borderlands 2 here

Best Graphics/Art

Max Payne 3

In terms of design and style, few games reached the beauty of Rockstar’s Max Payne 3, which featured some of the best-looking designs and graphics that we’ve seen all year. There was a huge emphasis placed on the look and feel of Max’s gritty world, and that saturated the entire experience for the better. Both bleak and beautiful, the art of Max Payne 3 became a character in its own right.

Runners Up: Dishonored, Halo 4

Read our review of Max Payne 3 here

Lumines game awardsBest Puzzle Game

Lumines Electronic Symphony

Although there have been several big releases on the Vita since its launch in February, there is one game we keep going back to. Lumines is just hypnotic. If you hate the electronica music than you’ll probably not enjoy it as much as those that do, but the simple and yet infinitely complex puzzles are addictive and can be replayed forever.

Runners Up: Quantum Conundrum, Fez

Read our review of Lumines Electronic Symphony here.

P4G game awardsBest Re-make/Re-release

Persona 4 Golden

A slightly obscure release that came in the final days of the PS2, Persona 4 Golden has been given a new chance to impress fans with a deep story and fully realized cast of characters. The thing about this re-release that makes it stand out is that the original game was brilliant, but mostly forgotten, which was an absolute shame. It was an amazing game before, and its re-release as a handheld title just made it better.

Runners Up: Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, Zone of the Enders

Read our review of Persona 4 Golden here.

borderlands 2 best rpgBest RPG

Borderlands 2

Borderlands 2 managed to straddle the divide between being just a first-person shooter and something more. The FPS mechanics made it worth playing, but it was really the RPG elements that kept us playing for hours, days, and even weeks. Mix in outstanding writing and a variety of mission types, and the game could be played for years to come.

Runners Up: Diablo III, Mass Effect 3

Read our review of Borderlands 2 here.  

Best shooter max payneBest Shooter

Max Payne 3

Although Borderlands 2 was our favorite FPS of the year, in terms of true shooters in the most literal sense, our choice for the best of the year goes to the gritty, action-packed Max Payne 3. From the first moment you start, you are thrust into a well-thought-out world, facing smart enemies that are not just going to lie down for you. A dark and compelling narrative helped to further you along, but it was the shooter mechanics and the trademark bullet-time controls that really made this title a success.

Runners Up: Borderlands 2, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier

Read our review of Max Payne 3 here

NBA2K13 game awardBest Sports Game

NBA 2K13

Once again, 2K Sports’ basketball franchise takes the top honors. Each year annual franchises like this face the difficult question of how to build on the previous year’s offerings and introduce something new that attracts gamers. Tweaks to the gameplay are expected, but you need more than that to really wow fans, and a few minor changes aren’t enough anymore. For three years in a row now, the NBA 2K series has done just that.

Runners Up: FIFA 13, SSX

Read our review of NBA 2K13 here

Best Writing

The Walking Dead

There were several well-written game scripts this year, which is incredibly encouraging for the future of the industry, but one game really rose above them all. How many games this year had people admitting that it made them cry? The Walking Dead was able to illicit an honest emotional response from people, something that all entertainment and art aspires to. You cared about the characters, which made their plight so much worse.

Runners Up: Assassin’s Creed III, Spec Ops: The Line

Read our review of The Walking Dead here.

Platform

Best Digitally Distributed game

The Walking Dead

Of all the categories this year, this is the one we wish we could give all three nominees awards. They are all exceptional titles. The Walking Dead was our choice for myriad reasons, but it was very close. We can’t wait to see what the future of this medium has in store.

Runners Up: Journey, Papo & Yo

Read our review of The Walking Dead here.

Mutant Blobs Attack game awards

Best Handheld game

Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack!

Both Sony and Nintendo put a heavy emphasis on their handheld systems this year, but the big franchises and breakout hits are still just slowly making their way to the new platforms. There are some gems though, and our favorite this year was this platformer that offered a near-perfect take on the genre, and had one of the coolest final levels of all time.

Runners Up: Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, Super Stardust Delta

Read our review of Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack! here

planetside 2

Best PC only game

PlanetSide 2

The free-to-play business model is one that is gaining strength, and that will certainly be helped greatly by PlanetSide 2. There are several ways to give SOE your money if you choose, but you can enter into the game without spending a penny, and then experience one of the best shooters of the year at no cost. You just can’t beat that.

Runners Up: Diablo 3, Torchlight II

Read our preview PlanetSide 2 here

Best PS3 exclusive

Journey

One of the biggest criticisms we can level at Journey is that we want more. That is an excellent criticism to face. From its incredible art to its unique take on co-op, Journey is among the first of a new breed of independent and artistic games that have us invigorated for the future of the industry.

Runners Up: Papo & Yo, Starhawk

Read our review of Journey here.

Best Xbox 360 Exclusive

Halo 4

You can make an easy argument that the first Halo saved the Xbox, which instantly made the franchise the flagship series for Microsoft. Some things never change. With a campaign that restarts the franchise in a new direction, a multiplayer mode that offers a bit of everything, and a 10-episode co-op mode that basically is a free game-within-the-game, the Halo series once again proves why Microsoft has put such faith in the franchise.

Runners Up: Fez, Forza Horizon

Read our review of Halo 4 here.

ZombiU game awardsBest Wii/Wii U exclusive

ZombiU

Of all the Wii U launch titles, there was one that really felt like it was close to realizing the full potential of the new system. Nintendo’s own offerings locked down the party aspect, but it was this game that really incorporated it into a something compelling. ZombiU takes a standard game style – you against zombies – and then turns it on its head by incorporating the GamePad in a way that makes playing this game unlike anything else out there. ZombiU can scare you, enrage you, and enthrall you, and it does so in a way you’ve never seen before.

Runners Up: Nintendo Land, The Last Story

Read our review of ZombiU here

Game of the Year

The Walking Dead, Season 1

And finally we come to our game of the year. There was a great deal of discussion over this category. We all had our favorites, not to mention our personal biases, but when all was said and done there was no question that The Walking Dead deserved the honors. You can justifiably criticize several aspects of what you could call a fairly simple game – at least in terms of gameplay – but the fact remains that no game moved us as much this year, no game had us talking more, and no game made as deep a mark on the future of the industry as The Walking Dead. It is a masterpiece of gaming, and something that will be remembered for years to come.