I said this last year but it’s even more appropriate and true this year – “What a year to be a gamer!”

With the Xbox 360 just turning seven and the PS3 celebrating its sixth birthday, game designers have finally gotten a grasp on the hardware and have turned all their creative efforts into actual game design, story, and creative new ways to actually play the games. We saw the Nintendo 3DS actually gain some traction in the portable arena while the PS Vita stumbled out of the gate and has yet to get back up. And all the while, iOS gaming seems to be dominating the mobile gaming market thanks to an almost-daily influx of new games that are just as good as their competition.

But these awards aren’t about the systems; rather the games, and there were so many amazing games this year that it seems like an impossible task to figure out which ones are the best, and no matter what we ultimately say, you are still going to have your own personal favorites. We’ve been collecting nominations and votes from both our readers and our writing staff and what follows is the results of those votes. Like last year, these awards are all about the BEST GAMES regardless of which system you might be playing them.

Thanks to everyone who voted for their favorite games in 2012. We had an amazing response, both in nominations and final votes and some of the winners might surprise you. Some titles were juggling for position right up until the very end. In the past, we have broken the awards up into 20-30 categories, but this year we are keeping it simple, and it is just about the TOP 12 games overall.

These are YOUR awards! The gamers have spoken… ENJOY THE SHOW!

12. Guild Wars 2: Without a doubt, the best MMO of 2012, Guild Wars 2 not only combines creative new ways to role-play online with sensational fantasy graphics, it sets the bar and a new origin point for the next generation of massive multiplayer online games. It also managed to knock Assassin’s Creed III out of the top 12 in the final days of voting.

11. Sleeping Dogs: This game brought new scale and compelling story-driven content to sandbox gaming in a way that the GTA series seems to have lost. With complex game mechanics and all sorts of creative (and optional) side content, this is one undercover cop story you don’t want to miss, especially if you have decent PC set.

10. Hitman: Absolution: Agent 47 arrived late in the year but took the stealth gaming community by storm with its new and almost arcade-like style approach to its puzzle-like gameplay. There are so many ways to solve each mission, and the end of mission results screen will tempt you to replay each one multiple times to unlock all the rewards while the competitive leaderboards and unique scoring system will have you honing your assassin skills to perfection to climb the ranks in your quest to become the best hitman in the world.

9. The Walking Dead: This game sat in the number one slot for these awards for several weeks, and then someone made the argument that The Walking Dead wasn’t even a “game”, but rather a new genre of interactive fiction. It’s true. Aside from a few random shooting gallery sequences and QTE’s, 98% of this 10-12 hour emotional rollercoaster is purely dialogue and decision driven. For many, including myself, this is still the #1 “experience” you can have with a game title this year, but as far as actual gameplay; eight more titles managed to sneak past the zombie horde. Don’t let this ninth place finish fool you – The Walking Dead is a MUST PLAY GAME for anyone with a soul and the courage to explore it.

8. Max Payne 3: Rockstar set the bar for third-person shooters this past summer with the third installment in the Max Payne series. Combining explosive gameplay with amazing time-altering shootouts and an engaging story that explored the twisted and alcohol riddled mind of cop-turned-bodyguard, Max Payne, this game kept us coming back for more thanks to exhilarating multiplayer modes and some nice DLC drops. It also remains one of the top five best-looking games on the PC this year.

7. Journey: Easily one of the purist and most magical games you could play in 2012, the only reason this game didn’t land higher on the list was its exclusivity on the PS3 digital store. The game did arrive in retail as part of a bundle of games including Flower and Flow, which certainly helped spread awareness and accessibility. If you own a PS3 then you owe it to yourself to partake in this eloquently designed piece of living art that will tap into your inner psyche, as you experience some of the most beautiful sights and sounds the PS3 can deliver.

6. Halo 4: 343 Industries ushers in a new era of Halo with its visionary sequel that closes the book on the first trilogy and begins a new one. While the core essence of the franchise remains unchanged, 343 has delivered an updated FPS experience that combines various new genre elements with traditional Halo gameplay as well as fantastic multiplayer modes and the visionary new Spartan Ops that may prove to be the most enduring mode in Halo 4.

5. Mass Effect 3: Despite all the controversy over the horrible ending (later resolved with DLC) and the inclusion of some awkward multiplayer elements, BioWare’s latest installment brought closure to an epic trilogy that many gamers had lived and breathed for five years. For those who never climbed aboard the ME3 bandwagon, you can now get the entire trilogy in a single box and start creating your own amazing story in space.

4. Borderlands 2: This incredible sequel fixes just about everything that was wrong or lacking with the original game while preserving that unique co-op adventure experience. With great new characters, loads of weapons, and some of the best stylized graphics, sounds, and “buy-the-soundtrack-now” music, Borderlands 2 is easily the best sequel of 2012 and a game no action-RPG fan should miss.

3. XCOM: Enemy Unknown: Who would ever imagine a turn-based tactical game would ever make the top three? This revolutionary new game provided some of the most addictive gameplay of 2012, with a creative look, great story, intense tactical strategy, thanks to a ranking and progression system, characters/units you actually care about. Best of all, thanks to brilliant controls the game played just as well on consoles as the PC.

2. Dishonored: This is one of those games that is hard to sum up in a single paragraph, but when you start off with a mix of Steampunk settings and industrial-age stealth/assassination gameplay combined with a bit of supernatural hocus-pocus where every action you take (or don’t take) affects the outcome of the game, you know you have something special. With so many ways to approach and play the game, you’ll definitely keep coming back for more adventures in Dunwall.

1. Far Cry 3: Much like movies and the “Oscar buzz effect”, games that release too early or too late in the year are often forgotten or overlooked when it comes to these end-of-the-year awards, so I was surprised to see the overwhelming and favorable response for this game. Having only been out a few weeks, Far Cry 3 has taken the gaming community by storm with its evolutionary game design that incorporates just about every element from every genre and every other game on this list. Unmatched in scale, size, scope, and the sheer amount of “stuff to do”, Far Cry 3 sets the bar for PC gaming and makes us all realize just how much we are ready for a new generation of console hardware. It is much more than a game. Far Cry 3 is a virtual playground in paradise where some new and exciting adventure is waiting around every turn and over every hill. With three unique skill trees and a massive crafting system that ties directly to the living-breathing eco system, it’s no wonder that Far Cry 3 surpasses even last year’s winner for Game of the Year – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

So there are your Top 12 of 2012, but what about those games that didn’t make the cut? There were so many great games and many titles were in the top 12 and fell out during the course of voting; titles like:

  • Assassin’s Creed III
  • Catherine
  • Darksiders II
  • Dragon’s Dogma
  • Fez
  • FTL: Faster Than Light
  • Forza Horizon
  • Kingdoms of Amular: The Reckoning
  • Mark of the Ninja
  • NBA 2K13
  • New Super Mario Bros. U
  • Persona 4 Golden
  • SSX
  • Torchlight II
  • Trials: Evolution
  • ZombiU

These all made their way into the top 12 at some point during the voting process and deserved an Honorable Mention. The competition was fierce this year, which is great for us…the gamers, and things are only looking better for 2013, as we have numerous 2012 titles pushed into the new year and the promise of a new generation of consoles coming in the near future. And speaking of the future, we also wanted to list the Most Anticipated Game of 2013:

Grand Theft Auto V

Even the voting for this category was fiercely competitive with titles like Tomb Raider, Bioshock Infinite, Watch Dogs, The Last of Us, and Gears of War: Judgment all circling like sharks for the number one spot. Regardless of rank and popularity, with so many great studios out there making so many great titles; there has never been a better time to be a gamer.

See you next year…