The first half of the year is a great time to be a gamer. This is the time for big-budget, blockbuster games that publishers pushed beyond the holidays to avoid colliding with other major titles (such as Call of Duty), as well as for cool independently developed titles that fill the gaps in a slow release calendar. Here are the best games of 2012--so far.
The quintessential grind-loot-and-level-up RPG has returned after a 12-year hiatus. Diablo III retakes the throne as the premier way to waste hours slaying demons with your left mouse button.
I'm not the first to describe Trials Evolution as "Excitebike on steroids," but there's really no better summation of the game's high-flying 2D motorcycle stunts. The sequel to 2012's Trials HD, Trials Evolution includes multiplayer, a track creator, and (thankfully) a smoother learning curve than its predecessor.
On the surface, Fez seems like an innocent puzzle game with a clever gimmick: You can rotate your view of the 2D world to reveal new paths and hidden doors. But behind this change in perspective is a rabbit hole, where no video game trope is safe from deconstruction. Fez is 2012's cleverest video game so far--or, at least, the only one that really can make mush of your mind.
Controversial endings aside, Mass Effect 3 is the epic finale that the series deserved. Players' decisions from previous games pay off throughout, as favorite characters pop in for cameos--provided that they survived earlier battles. Gunplay feels tighter than ever, and galactic resource harvesting is breezier. What more could you want? Actually, don't answer that.
No guns, no monsters, no violence. In Journey, you play a mysterious cloaked entity who trudges through deserts, mountains, and lost cities, aided only by other anonymous players you meet along the way. The game is no longer than a movie; compared with the escapist fare of other video games, however, the experience feels more meaningful.
This year, Xbox 360 owners finally get to experience a favorite among RPG-loving PC gamers, controlling Geralt of Rivia as he slashes his way through the Northern Kingdoms. The greatest trait of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is its moral ambiguity--it forces story-altering decisions on the player, but rarely reveals which choice is right or wrong.
EA has reined in its previously wacky snowboarding series, pairing realistic mountains with still-unbelievable jumps and tricks. The result: a game that captures the spirit of extreme winter sports, without worrying too much about pesky reality.
The forgettable film notwithstanding, Max Payne has been in the shadows for nearly a decade. The series returns without the comic-noir vibe that defined the first two games, but makes up for it with sharp dialogue mixed with scene after scene of intense gunplay. In a half-year devoid of big-budget shooters, Max shows us that he still knows how to make an entrance.
Draw Something isn't the first mobile Pictionary-style game we've seen, but its Facebook hooks, simple design, and addictive point system have made it a sensation. The game's success also made developer OMGPOP acquisition bait for social-gaming juggernaut Zynga. Draw Something is unlikely to stay cool forever, but in early 2012 it brought people together--which is exactly what social games should do.
People who think the iPad doesn't count as a serious gaming device probably haven't played Swordigo. This 2D sword-swinging platformer in the style of Zelda 2 is packed with smart level design and some simple RPG elements to keep players hooked. Start playing on a long flight, and you may be compelled to continue--even when you're back home with a real game console.
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