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A screenshot from the game "Mass Effect 3."
Mass Effect 3’ rules as video game of the year
First Published Dec 31 2012 05:55 pm • Last Updated Dec 31 2012 05:56 pm

What a year it’s been for video game fans.

From the simple beauty of "Journey" to the gritty back alleys of "Dishonored," 2012 delivered some of the most endearing, exciting and influential gameplay in recent memory. While there are dozens of titles that could legitimately make the claim of being the very best of the past year, we’ve narrowed the long list of elite releases to the top three, with the developers and available platforms listed in parentheses:

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Game of the Year

"Mass Effect 3" (BioWare; PC, PlayStation 3, Wii U, Xbox 360)

If you want to keep the peace in a room full of strangers, you won’t discuss religion, politics or the ending to "Mass Effect."

The furor over the role-playing trilogy’s controversial conclusion was so strong that even today, more than nine months later, many fans still bristle at the topic. Some loved the ending, some decried it as nonsensical, while others claimed the finale funneled all players back to one of a few possible outcomes, rendering five years’ worth of plot choices meaningless.

The fact that any game could generate such a strong reaction among its fans it a testament to how deeply attached players became to their personal version of Commander Shepard, who stands as humanity’s last hope against a ruthless invasion.

Hundreds of choices made throughout the trilogy influence how the final chapter plays out. "Mass Effect 3" combines the beloved role-playing elements of the original with the greater focus on action and tightened controls from the second installment. Through it all, BioWare continues to build on Shepard’s relationship with the Normandy crewmates as they struggle to save mankind.

Factor in a boatload of additional downloadable content and an addictive cooperative multiplayer mode, and it’s easy to pour hundreds of hours into the "Mass Effect" trilogy and still be hungry for more. Debate the best game of the year all you’d like, but to deny that ME3 is a masterpiece in its own right would be a disservice to the defining RPG of this console generation.

Honorable Mention


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"The Walking Dead" (Telltale Games; iOS, Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)

The best zombie game ever made ends up treating the shambling undead as an afterthought.

The zombie outbreak sets the stage for the events of "The Walking Dead," but it’s the character interaction within a group of strangers desperately struggling to survive that drives the rich, compelling narrative. At its core, Telltale Games’ saga is the story of a slow-building bond of trust between convicted murderer Lee Everett and 8-year-old Clementine.

The plot shapes itself around the way gamers choose to play. Every decision and each line of dialogue has the potential to alter who among the survivors lives and dies, creating a unique story for every player.

Released in five episodes, each spaced roughly one month apart, "The Walking Dead" kept players on the edge of their seats for half the year, and redefined the way we think about consuming games.

Honorable Mention

"XCOM: Enemy Unknown" (Firaxis Games; PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)

Firaxis Games has long been a heavyweight when it comes to addictive, turn-based strategy games. But when "XCOM" married that proud tradition with a compelling story and merciless difficulty, it raised the stakes even higher.

"Just one more mission" became the mantra of many a sleepless night for fans blissfully caught in Firaxis’ inescapable web.

As the commander of an elite, multinational combat team tasked with defending earth from alien invaders, players must balance research, infrastructure and combat training, all while keeping the participating nations from pulling their funding for the project.

With the Ironman setting enabled, it’s impossible to restart missions, and the slightest error in judgment becomes permanent death for one of more squadmates. Losing a long-serving soldier who trained his or her way up from rookie status is a devastating experience, making each turn of "XCOM’s" gameplay a nerve-racking dilemma.

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