Tim Clark | Group Senior Editor, Future Games
Given that fans of the Haloverse are second only to Beliebers when it comes to radical devotion, 343 Industries faced an all but impossible task when it came to rebooting the series it adopted from Bungie. That pressure is obvious in the boot-up message which pre-thanks the fans, much like a needy lover, for their support. The developer needn't have bothered - Halo 4 isn't just a brilliant return to form, it's the best Halo campaign since the original.
None of the intervening sequels captured that same sense of sci-fi wonderment which Halo 4 nails, nor did they quite manage to recreate those addictive 'bubbles' of action that make it feel like you could tackle the firefight in any one of hundred ways. It also folds new enemies and weapons into the mix without ruining the unique Halo flavour, thanks to fastidious respect for the series' lore and a 'greatest hits'-style sequence of set pieces.
The real triumph, though, is that the relationship between Chief and Cortana - faceless supersoldier and ghostly AI - has never felt more human. It's a game that pushes forward without losing sight of the past. Courageous and conservative at the same time, and oddly a shooter that ends up feeling like a love story.
John Houlihan | Digital Manager, CVG
It's been a colossal year for games, but for me, one stood out above all others: Journey.
Without wanting to wax overly lyrical, Journey is one of those truly unique gaming experiences that borders on the mystical. Not just a game as much as a full sensory and emotional experience, Journey's diverse charms are spoiled by any crass attempt at retelling. Yet in the too-short span from its start to finish, it restored my faith in the power and strength of gaming as a medium.
Games as art? Blah. One of the oldest and most pointless arguments ever, because of course games are art. But if you ever need convincing proof, sit any doubter down in front of Journey for the two to three hours it takes, banish all external stimuli and sit back and let the smile slowly spread across their face. Afterwards, slap them with a wet fish for their previously held heretical opinions. They will still thank you for it.
Shaun Prescott | Editor, CVG Australia
This game makes me very angry. It's a rogue-like platformer that can be completed in under twelve minutes. You play as a spelunker tasked with getting to the end of each level. It's very bloody simple, in theory. Here's the thing though: I've played this game for months, yet I can't finish it. I've whipped countless green snakes into little red bulbs, and rescued hundreds of stranded damsels, but all for nothing. I swear loudly and regularly when I play Spelunky.
So I'm torturing myself, right? No, actually, because Spelunky is fun. Amid a climate of high-budget cinematics and overblown "storytelling", I love Spelunky because it abides one of the cardinal rules of video games: easy to pick up, difficult to master. I love Spelunky because it feels good to play, and I feel like I must finish it. I love Spelunky for the same reason I love Dark Souls: because it doesn't treat me like an idiot (even though clearly, I must be). Most importantly, though, I love Spelunky because it's not afraid of being a game.
Dan Dawkins | Former Editor-in-Chief, PSM3
FIFA's excellent. So, naturally, I've spent most of the year playing, er, New Star Soccer, Football Manager Handheld and PES 2013. If FIFA 13 is a Belgian lager - relatively complex yet fit for everyday use - then PES 2013 is a Bowmore single malt: an intimidating, acquired taste with almost-imperceptible, yet peerless, subtleties.
Behind it's opaque formation menus, and Street-Fighter-inspired swirl of arcane tricks and flicks, lurks a hulking simulation of football's tactical depths. On top difficulty levels, tinkering with formations and tactics sliders can revolutionise your control of a match - maximising your players' unique attributes. Online, it's a skirmish of philosophies and conviction, as, for example, your counter attacking 4-2-3-1 Manchester United side brushes up against a possession-intense 4-3-3 Barcelona. Fail to play in harmony with your beliefs, e.g. play tippy-tappy when the side is set up to hit direct, and it all falls apart. It works, since the controls are so precise, in that way Japanese games tend to be - complex button inputs yielding subtle, yet game-changing, first touches and shimmies. When the game finally clicks, it's like peering through the innards of a Swiss watch, and being able to discern the role of every microscopic cog and gear.
It doesn't look as good as FIFA, the licencing issues are glaring and its higher-level skills are brutally uncompromising - but it's not a game to devour, it's one to savour. This Christmas, why not work off the post-dinner bloat with a crystal glass of tactics? You heard me.