10. Grand Prix Story
Gaming on the Android platform is essentially the gaming ghetto. At best games come six months after they debuted on iOS, or they come in the form of cheap knockoffs. Or they never show up at all. Even though Grand Prix Story came to Android first, that's not what got it a place on this list. No, the reason its here isn't even because it combined Kairosoft's patented addictive gameplay with my favorite sport, its because it absolutely captivated my attention even while I was lying on the beach on vacation in an island paradise this summer. If that's not a recommendation, I don't know if I have a better one.
9. Shadows of the Damned
Much to the chagrin of my coworkers and colleagues, I've never enjoyed a game by Shinji Mikami, and to my own astonishment, I'd never played a game by Suda 51. That alone ensured that Shadows was going to be on my play list for this year. But when I heard that the game was going to be an homage to films like From Dusk 'Til dawn, I was sold. What I got was a game filled with outstandingly tense gameplay, terrific sound design, hilarious dialogue and a memorable cast of characters. What's more, I've never heard any other character exclaim F**ker! when they imbibed their health potion of choice.
8. Forza Motorsport 4
The biggest problem that Forza 4 faces with being higher up on this list is Forza Motorsport 3. Which sounds a bit like saying the biggest problem with Lauren Vickers is that she has a twin sister. But the problem here is that Forza 3 was so outstanding that it left very little room for Forza 4 to improve. Improve they did, with better physics, more environments, and a stonking great new way to play online, but it did feel a bit like we had all been there before, even if we were all happy to return. But that intro video - and everything that followed - provided the perfect cocktail of adrenaline and dopamine straight into the veins of petrolheads the world over.
That there was going to be a game helmed by the art direcor of Brutal Legend was enough to get me in the door on Stacking - but that it was going to provide a modern interpretation of classic adventure games, using Russian stacking dolls as their tools and an animation style derived from the likes of The Brothers Quay and Jan Svankmajer? Brilliant. Great storytelling and Double Fine's patented craft for hilarity made for a game that was sure to charm the pants right off of you.
6. Uncharted 3
Loads of people gave Drake's Deception short shrift because, in comparison to Uncharted 2, it was supposedly a bit of a letdown. I loved the 2009 entry, but I haven't played it since then, so its memory is a bit grubby. And if anyone had prefaced my entry into Uncharted 3 by telling me it had a much heavier focus on combat, maybe I wouldn't have liked it as much as I did - the combat of this franchise has never been my most compelling reason to play. But this time around, I loved the nimble, punchy impact of it all. I loved the way it kept you on your toes and forced you to constantly re-prioritize your targets. I loved getting some closure on this great cast of characters, being part of their globe trotting adventures, and seeing some of the biggest jaw-dropping spectacles I'd seen this year in interactive entertainment. Like so many of the films the Uncharted series draws upon for inspiration, its a fantastic romp, and I can find no fault with that.
5. Saints Row the Third
Saints Row: The Third reminds us all of one valuable lesson in this era of cynicism and dismissiveness - that just because something is a guilty pleasure, doesn't mean it can't also be of very high quality. Everything in this game - from Kanye West's seranade of violently crashing a party to the anthemic "I Need a Hero" that plays during the game's overdramaitic conclusion - tells you that you should be ashamed to be enjoying it. But there's the rub - everything in the game is executed at such a high quality that there's no reason to be.
4. DiRT 3
I'll admit two things going into Dirt 3: First, I didn't think that Gymkhana was the sort of thing that was going to translate into fun gameplay. Second, You never bet against Codemaster's Racing studio. I was right about one of these things. Despite Codies dropping my first name from their list of Audio Names (A mainstay since GRiD), everything else about this game just breathed quality. Their return to Rally racing in all its forms, including hill climb cars and the group B series was an adrenalin filled romp, but adding in the combo-based trick system of Gymkhana, which reinforced all of your basic driving skills and forced you to polish them to a mirror sheen was one of the most inspired additions to a franchise that we've seen in years.
Its time to owe up to a little editorial bias - we're allowed in this sort of format, right? Greg Kasavin is some one who I always loved to chat about games with in our time that we shared here at GameSpot, and so I was very eager to play a game that he had such a creative hand in. And Bastion didn't exactly come to me at the best time - it came out during Comic-Con, and then immediately after I had to pack up my Xbox and the rest of my apartment in a foreclosure-driven panic move. But that narrator, that gameplay, and man, that music is all stuff that lands with an initial soft touch, but resonates so deeply that you not only never forget it, but like language, becomes a part of how you experience everything else after that.
2. Rayman Origins
Ubisoft pushing out a traditional 2d platformer out on November 15th to compete with Saints Row the Third, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Modern Warfare 3 and their own Assassin's Creed: Revelations might be seen as the biggest dick move a publisher has pulled this year. But to me, that timing couldn't have been better. Because Rayman Origins came into my life as a breath of fresh air into lungs reeking of stagnant, tired ideas too scared to take a risk, to alienate an audience, to leap out into the great unknown and try something different. Gorgeous art design, tack sharp controls and a buoyant soundtrack only begin to paint the picture of Rayman Origins. More significantly, this is a game that was made as a craft of love - and you could see it in every facet of the game. It reminded players that games should be fun - that they should make you smile, and that they should be hard if you wanted to reap any sense of reward from the time you spent with them. Like so many situations you find in the game, Rayman made a bold leap into the unknown. In doing so, it may have not found a home in many this year, but it did in me.
1. Portal 2
Portal 2 is a testament to what games can be. We're all gamers here, and in being so, we all have those skeptics in our lives that think we're all clinging to some peter-pan fascination of our childhood in our devotion to this hobby. This year showed us that its time to pack up those Gran Turismo graphics showcase titles, the hyper-interactive 3d displays, and the clever party minigame collections. Portal 2 should be the game that shows the doubters why video games are so important. Portal 2 is the testament to the incredible depth of craft and artistry that drives this medium forward.
Its not just a matter of its incredible gameplay - it has the original Portal, and its predecessor Narbacular Drop to thank for that - nor does the game's infectious humor push it up to the top of this list. Its the way in which Portal 2 combines all of its aspects in a way that every individual aspect heightens your appreciation of the others instead of diminishing. The way it uses characters, music and storytelling to make a world so alien feel so inviting. The way a story arc is so well crafted that a complete doofus can be so menacing, or the way that characters are so well acted that someone who was your arch nemesis can admonish you so genuinely. Portal 2 is a testament that games deserve all the attention being given to them. It earns it with so much craft and attention to detail that you have to really squint to find fault with it. Portal 2 is a game made with love, and is a game that I love and will do so for many years to come. And while this distinction will mean more to me any most reading this, its the most rewarding time that I spent on a couch with my better half this year. And that ending - that ending! For a sequel to a game that really didn't need a sequel, you really couldn't ask for a better send off for a franchise loved so much by so many.