It's that time of year again, when all sense deserts us and we try to distil 12 months of gaming into one list of 25 spectacular titles.
And what a year it has been – two console launches, a booming indie scene and several vintage franchises reaching wonderful fruition. In their autumn days, the PS3 and Xbox 360 have seen some of their very greatest releases, while the financially under-performing Wii U has punched above its sales figures with some astonishingly well-crafted games. We've been spoiled for choice.
Which is our way of warning you that your favourites may not be on this list. And we say it every year, but this is very much our own highly subjective collection of gaming treats, chosen and savagely fought over by the Guardian's cabal of reviewers. It is not a dispassionate attempt to scientifically select the greatest games based on some sort of Metacritic algorithm. These are the games we played to death and then played some more. Sometimes they weren't even the best games, they were the games we loved – and love is a weird and important thing.
So anyway, let's get cracking with the first ten. Feel free to debate, criticise and question, but remember, Santa doesn't bring presents to trolls. They are too naughty.
25. Metal Gear Rising (Konami, PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
Developed by Platinum Games, Rising has all of the masculine exaggeration of the studio's other work – the braggadocio, the wink-over-the-shoulder quips to camera and the gape-inducing violence. But here, amongst the familiar architecture and style of Hideo Kojima's Metal Gear mythology, the impact of the irreverence is trebled. Nowhere else in this often somber universe are you able to leap from incoming missile to incoming missile before, in a streaking somersault, slicing and dicing an attacking helicopter into a thousand pieces with your blade. Certainly no other Metal Gear game concludes in a fistfight with the American president. Both sublime and ridiculous, which is Platinum Games embodied.
24. Pikmin 3 (Wii U, Nintendo)
There are better strategy video games, with more rounded edges, a more precise focus and, usually, a balanced competitive mode. But no other strategy game has quite the character and urgency of Shigeru Miyamoto's Pikmin 3, a study of life at ankle level, where you must guide obedient herds of bright alien ant-like creatures to help you flee a planet. It's a game that gives us both the juvenile thrill of seeing the childlike Pikmins' usefulness to grown-ups, and the parental burden of protecting these dependents in the role of the three spacemen and women who guide them. Within its colourful foliage then, ancient instincts can be found in us and drawn back to the surface, much like the buried treasures the Pikmin salvage from the dirt.
23. Saint's Row IV (Dee Silver, PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
Once little more than a Grand Theft Auto wannabe, with this fourth release Saint's Row makes clear it's playing an altogether different game to Rockstar's billion-dollar series. The frat-boy humour is present and, at times, politically incorrect (although there's more subtlety here than you might expect) but, more often than not, the satire is aimed at video games themselves, rather than any particular surrounding culture. The designers have enormous fun subverting their rivals and influences, quickly granting the player outrageous abilities with which to traverse and disrupt the world, distorting all the usual logic systems of gaming. This is a game without pretensions, a bloated, boisterous and inappropriate joyride.
22. Wolf Among Us (Telltale Games, PC, Xbox 360)
To those who saw Walking Dead as a Telltale's fluke masterpiece, this masterful rendition of the Fables comic book universe must have come as quite a shock. Steeped in folkloric mystery, brimming with hard-boiled violence and stuffed with the sorts of complex moral decisions that characterised the studio's previous series, it is bravado stuff and we have only seen the opening episode. There have been some truly excellent adventure titles this year – Kentucky Route Zero among them – but Telltale is now positioning itself as this generation's LucasArts or Sierra: its games are becoming essential signifiers of a genre.
21. Gunpoint (Suspicious Developments, PC)
A puzzle game dressed in a noir overcoat and staged in the sleeting rain, Gunpoint matches its powerful ambiance with thrilling, memorable play. Conway, a private investigator who can scale building with startling agility but who crumples to the floor when struck by a bullet, is the owner of the year's most useful video game tool: the crosslink. The device allows you to rewire buildings by drawing links between light switches, lifts, security cameras and doors in order to shut down security or produce other effects. It's an ingenious idea, built from elegant, easily understood logic but blossomed out to allow for endless strategies as you attempt to break into ever more secure buildings. It's an endlessly stylish game but, more importantly, one that allows its players to express their own ingenuity and flair.
20. Fire Emblem: Awakening (Nintendo, 3DS)
The latest in Intelligent Systems' long-running series of strategy role-playing games is one of this great developer's finest moments. Combining deep tactical play with rounded characters and an engrossing story, Awakening grips you almost immediately and then retains your interest and emotional attachment for many, many hours. And although the basic recipe is familiar, the developer has dared to add new systems and features, providing genuine surprises for long-term fans. If you haven't touched a handheld strategy adventure since Advance Wars, this is the time to re-awaken your addiction.
19. State of Decay (Undead Labs, PC, Xbox 360)
The voice acting is laughable, the visuals glitchy and unrefined, but State of Decay manages to pack more tension and atmosphere into its open-world zombie adventure than many more expensive and polished undead offerings. The emphasis is very much on survival rather than combat, and the complex, often bewildering RPG mechanics force you to consider every raid, every character, every action in forensic detail. Amid the suspense, there is much comic relief as zombies are splattered across car bonnets and characters struggle with basic tasks, but the sheer panic that sets in as a horde suddenly appears is real. Terror and death are constant companions, reviving a peculiar sense of vulnerability that we haven't really felt since the first Resident Evil titles.
18. Tomb Raider (Square Enix, PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
Sure, Lara's transition from scared teen to action hero was poorly handled and the obsession with trinket collection became wearisome to many, but Crystal Dynamics' reinvention of the Tomb Raider concept was a pleasing revelation. The story is robust and sympathetic, the combat mechanics greatly improved, and although the actual tomb sections are rather marginalised, there are still some excellent puzzles to get stuck into. Croft will perhaps never again be the icon she once was, but there is clearly life in the old archeologist yet.
17. Battlefield 4 (EA, PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
The combination of Frostbite 3's graphical might and a powerful physics system have brought us some astonishing experiences in this latest iteration of the EA DICE FPS staple. Parachuting from a collapsing building straight into the midst of an enemy held Conquest point is the stuff of Commando comics, but away from the bombast, the large maps and re-worked load-out systems allow a strategic and measured approach that never bores. The campaign mode is still a waste of disc space and the teething troubles at launch were utterly frustrating (my PS4 version crashes regularly even now) – these factors have somewhat taken the shine of the series' next-gen console debut. But Battlefield clearly has much left to offer.
16. Battleblock Theatre (The Behemoth Xbox 360)
The first time we encountered the latest adventure from the makers of Alien Hominid and Castle Crashers, we were at the Tokyo Game Show a couple of years ago. The Bohemoth had a tiny stand just behind the enormous edifice Capcom had constructed for Dragon's Dogma – and yet the game's surreal charm shone through. This is a platform puzzler in which your friends have been kidnapped by evil cats who are forcing you to perform deadly acts of bravery in an old theatre. It sounds silly. It is silly. But for several hours of laughter and challenge, you are its prisoner. It is a lovely jailor.
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