Whittling down this year’s stretching slate of great video games to a meager list of 10 proved about as simple as surviving the zombie apocalypse on a single bottle of water and half a box of shotgun shells. And while it especially hurt having to deny deserving titles such as Diablo 3 and Hitman: Absolution top spots, we did manage to tackle the daunting task—albeit with many a blistered thumb and fried brain incurred. So, without further ado, here are the 10 titles that turned plenty of our sleepless nights into more call-in-sick mornings than we’d care to admit.
Far Cry 3
While this open-world shooter's intoxicating blend of intense firefights and postcard-perfect environments drew us into its sprawling sandbox, it was the crazy-ass cast of characters and survive-or-die storyline that had us extending our stay on its island of insanity. From tangoing with a mohawked madman and running errands for a self-medicating doctor, to having your face eaten off by a Komodo dragon, Far Cry 3's packed with engaging encounters you won't find on Call Of Duty's front-lines.
Mass Effect 3
Combining addictive RPG progression, richly realized characters, cinematic storytelling and the sort of galaxy-spanning, gun-slinging gameplay usually reserved for dedicated action titles, this trilogy-capper could teach Cameron, Spielberg and Lucas a thing or two. A sprawling saga to shame anything that's stretched across the silver screen, Mass Effect 3—like its two predecessors—is a must-play for game geeks and science fiction fans alike.
Not since setting foot in BioShock's soggy depths have we been so immersed in a game's creepy-cool world. Of course, absorbing Dishonored's steampunk, plague-rat-infested city of Dunwall like a first-time tourist is only half the fun. The other half is spent stealthily siphoning the lives of corrupt aristocrats from behind the blades, bullets and beyond-this-world powers of the title's vengeance-seeking supernatural assassin.
Proving you don't need a blockbuster budget or brimming staff of developers to craft a triple-A product, this little game is better than most of its big-boy contemporaries. Deeply moving, undeniably beautiful, and absorbing to the point that you won't be able to put it down until you've seen its outcome, Journey's an amazing interactive trip that—as cliché as it sounds—must experienced to be truly appreciated.
Assassin's Creed 3
Introducing a new cloaked killer, a fresh American Revolution setting and plenty of creative ways to free redcoats of their entrails, Assassin's Creed III achieves new highs for the open-world, throat-slitting series. Whether hobnobbing with Samuel Adams, navigating the high seas or sharpening your tomahawk on some Brit baddie's skull, this one's jam-packed with engaging opportunities to shape history from behind your blades.
Taking the bigger-is-better approach to insane new levels, Borderlands 2 polishes its predecessor's shoot-and-loot formula to perfection, but also adds plenty of fresh reasons to wander Pandora's wasteland. In addition to the expected bigger guns, badder bad guys and bloodier battles, players are treated to a better story, varied environments and more hilarious encounters than you can shake a Mutant Midget Psycho at.
The Walking Dead: The Game
Featuring the narrative depth of Robert Kirkman's comic book series and the gore-soaked fun of the television show, The Walking Dead's five flesh-craving episodes prove licensed games needn’t be phoned-in cash-grabs. While its gameplay tests the reflexes and its frights fray the nerves, it's the episodic story—driven by rich character development and morality-taxing choices—that will keep you riveted long after the final credits roll.
Max Payne 3
Like a playable action movie on a Red Bull bender, Max Payne 3's packed with trigger-pulling intensity, Bruckheimer-shaming set pieces and an absorbing, twisty yarn supported by top-notch voice acting. Toss in the ability to drop fools in cinematic slow motion, rack up a body count that would make John McClane proud and visit richly rendered Brazilian locales, and Max's long-awaited return is the most fun you'll have getting shot at this year.
Master Chief's return retains and refines the solid first-person shooter formula that's seen the series' fans crushing Covenant scum since the green-armored space marine arrived over a decade ago. More than polishing its predecessors' template though, Halo 4 adds new weapons, enemies, online modes and, coolest of all, franchise-evolving episodic content that continues the fight long after the main campaign’s been conquered.
X-COM: Enemy Unknown
Proving turn-based strategy isn't just for the mouse-and-keyboard crowd, this re-imagining of the PC classic makes the cerebral genre accessible, intuitive, and crazy-addictive on consoles. On top of that daunting feat, XCOM delivers one of the year's deepest—and deeply satisfying—experiences. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the Earth-saving action is supported by an ambitious artistic approach that sees extraterrestrials eviscerated with style to spare.