With the Christmas season upon is, Game of the Year time is here! We at Front Towards Gamer have been handing out The Golden Claymore awards for two years now, and 2012 has seen some of the most unique, diverse games in a long time, especially if you’re getting sick of the AAA formula. We’ve got a lot to cover, and are proud to present The Golden Claymore awards!

Best New Character – Lee Everett (The Walking Dead)

In a world consumed by walkers and dread, where every man clocks out with no hesitation when their lives crumbles around them, Lee Everett rises above them all. Here’s a man destined to live out his life in correctional solitude ahead of the chaos. Given a second chance at life, he morphs into a phoenix, emerging from the smoldering ashes circling him episode after episode.

Through every obstacle tripping his every step, Lee walks on to do what’s needed for his group. Role playing can easily be seen as players implementing themselves into a vessel, evoking your personality out of Lee, but it only gashes at the surface. Friendly, merciful, honest, or none of the previous sentiments, his perseverance and determination to guard Clementine from danger takes precedence. Lee, in a span of months, held mortality of fellow humans in the palm of his hands, forced to destroy faces he once knew, and pierced his sanity enough to protect and teach a lone nine year-old hiding out in a tree house how to survive, even when all is unquestionably, lost.

Best Voice Acting – Nolan North (Spec Ops: The Line)

Nolan North is one of gaming’s most prolific voice actors. He’s voiced characters from almost any big game you can think of, ranging from the strange dialects of Penguin from Batman: Arkham City to the suave adventurer Nathan Drake in the acclaimed Uncharted series. He also covers his bases as smaller roles in titles like inFamous and Dragon Age, but without a doubt, Nolan North’s performance as Captain Martin Walker in Spec Ops: The Line is his best role yet – one of 2012’s forgotten gems.

Through the course of Spec Ops, you go through a horrific, intense journey that takes you to the edge of Walker’s sanity. You’ll have your morality questioned and your complacency criticized – “you,” meaning Walker and the player. Nolan North provides the perfect voice for this journey that Walker goes through, giving some chilling lines and memorable quotes that will leave you shaken. North’s voice is what tops off Walker as an ordinary soldier who’s been to the brink of insanity, and we couldn’t see anyone else doing the role justice.

The Golden ClaymoreBest Multiplayer – Halo 4

An established triple-A first-person shooter hoisting the trophy for best multiplayer!? Believe it or not, Halo 4 truly adapted Halo to the modern age in superb fashion, touted as “Call of Duty-ing” the series, with full blown load-outs, perks, care packages, and sprinting as a natural ability. And the additions only made the game better – tailoring to the type of player you wanted to be in Halo, playing to personal strengths with every player, composing a symphony of balance.

Halo 4 remains on the hunt for power weapons and vehicles. Habitual tweaks to Forge, theater, and cosmetic customization were made. Point-racking Firefight was then swapped for the side story co-op campaign missions of Spartan Ops. And it’s an inviting change of pace accompanied by glossy CGI cinematics opening each episode of Spartan Ops for us all to gawk at. Ultimately, Halo 4 adjusts for another layer of depth to reclaims its online domination, welcoming us back to the UNSC.

Best Fighter – PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale

Some call it a Smash Bros. ripoff, but why that’s a bad thing is beyond us. The “get together with friends and duke it out on a couch” feeling is here in spades, and by “spades” we mean “lots of characters.” The likes of Kratos, Big Daddy, and the forgotten Sir Daniel Fortesque have come together in a tournament that few thought would ever happen.

Characters are important, and so are stages. All-Stars takes the most iconic sections of games and mashes them up with a set piece from another game, giving every level a fresh, dynamic feel. Above all else, the game simply works. Online hangups are never an issue, and character spamming just doesn’t happen. You can’t go wrong with Super Sony Bros.

Best Original IP – Dishonored

2012 proved that an original IP can thrive even towards the end of a console’s life cycle. This year we were graced with brilliant titles such as Dishonored, Journey, Sleeping Dogs, Mark of the Ninja, Dragon’s Dogma, and more. Each was a breath of fresh air, but the one that stood above all was Dishonored.

It was a close call, but Dishonered offers the most complete package: an intriguing and genuinely interesting world, clever gameplay, and lots of replayability. What more do you need? Right after having completed the first mission, our first instinct was to try it again with a different approach. Whilst we were playing the game, we kept noticing other ways to tackle the mission, and all of them would have been right. This, in our eyes, is a sign of brilliant game design. We’re sure we haven’t seen the last of Dishonored, and we are excited to see where Bethesda and Arkane take the series to next.

Best Cooperative Play – Mass Effect 3

You’ll notice a common theme this year – the unexpected. Groans and outrage surrounded Mass Effect 3 months before the singular ending occurred. Shoehorned multiplayer in the form of tiresomely overused wave defense surfaced; disdain and contempt besieged BioWare and EA. But by the end of the year, it’s still one of the most original twists on the taxing co-op trend.

Galaxy at War fits perfectly in the Mass Effect series – transitioning the campaign RPG system toward a condensed scuffle consisting of various gametypes we’ve experienced before, done in short spurts of waves with three other players. Best of all, you could play as any bipedal species in the universe (Vorcha and Volus too!), customizing their tech/biotic abilities and armor, each with unique movement and melee animations. Whereas a linear experience progression system flourishes, Galaxy at War unlocks new items and characters through in-game or real currency. A deck of trading cards, at various amounts, unleashes or strengthens items combined with numerous consumable boosts. Free additions spread across the spring and into the summer, doubling the original set of characters and maps, with continuous content drops requiring a collective effort of everyone to achieve an objective. There’s plenty to take in and enjoy, and even if all 6 classes reach level 20, the desire to claim rare equipment and finish a platinum match remains.

Best Villain – Handsome Jack (Borderlands 2)

The dictator of Pandora, self-appointed CEO of Hyperion, and savior of the people, Handsome Jack is a God amongst men – or that’s the interpretation over the constant air of supremacy given off Echo transmissions. Arrogant, perverse, and remarkably funny, Handsome Jack is full of blunt comical insults demeaning everyone’s existence. Acting like a neighborhood menace rather than a stoic, one-dimensional evil-doer: that’s Jack’s true genius as a villain. To a certain point, compassion toward Handsome Jack comes in the form of a boss battle, flipping perspectives on him as if the persona before was only a guise concealing his true emotion and intention.

Empathy quickly fades, as Handsome Jack’s personal life was revealed to see how horrible one man can be. Jack transformed into a darker figure of his former self, becoming the callous ruler hiding beneath his eccentric personality. Looking back, Borderlands 2 was more about the villain than the heroes’ plight. Jack always managed to fit himself throughout the game, teasing Vault Hunters and friends, shoving guilt toward you; he’s the focus, and the game ends as his story concludes. We wish all villains could have the same fun Jack had, a character we love to hate in the purest form.

Most Emotional Game – The Walking Dead

2012 has been a year full of emotional stories in video games. Titles like Spec Ops: The Line and Mass Effect 3 had great emotional investment by the time all was said and done, but there isn’t a shred of doubt in our mind that the heaviest hits came from TellTale’s The Walking Dead.

TellTale are the masters of illusions of choice: while there’s a set path that you can find through multiple playthoughs, as you experience the story, it ultimately feels like you’re responsible for actions that just make everything worse for everyone. As the game progresses, your friendships with others are tested, and your ability to handle situations completely out of your control can turn horribly wrong in an instant. By the end of the game, anyone with a heart was at least holding back tears. Seeing where TellTale takes this series is definitely one of the things we can look forward to in 2013.

Best Soundtrack – Jet Set Radio HD

This is the category is where we fought for Jet Set Radio HD the most! Remakes and jokes aside, this is where this game truly shines. Hideki Naganuma truly shines, and he created some of his best and most memorable work to date. Yes, the overused (even by last decade’s standing) “Dragula” by Rob Zombie might have soured our eardrums when the game came stateside, but that’s a mild sour note on an otherwise eclectic soundtrack.

Listen to tracks like “Humming the Bassline” or “Sweet Soul Brother,” and you can’t help but strap on your skates and tag the streets. And all the tracks from artists not usually associated with this “vibe” like Cold and the aforementioned Rob Zombie were brought in by Naganuma and fit into the mix so well. The Jet Set Radio series will forever be more well renowned for its soundtracks than its gameplay, and that’s why, after 12 years, we’re happy to present Jet Set Radio HD the prestigious award of Best Soundtrack.

Most Disappointing Game: Resident Evil 6

Some of us are not hardcore Resident Evil fans. At the end of the day, we love zombie games, and when we first heard that Resident Evil 6 was going to feature actual zombies again, we were kind of excited. We didn’t care about the fact that the game was going to be less horror and more of an action game; we understood that Capcom had to make changes to appeal to a different audience. We thought that having three different campaigns would satisfy everyone: the fans of RE4 would love the Leon campaign, fans of RE5 would enjoy the Chris campaign, and…someone would enjoy the third campaign.

It took us less than five minutes to realize the game failed to deliver on its potential. Nothing felt right; the atmosphere in the Leon campaign wasn’t scary or even remotely spooky. The shooting was way off, the controls felt slippery and unprecise, the melee was broken to the point where you basically had to spam the button and pray it would connect with something, the level design made no sense, and ammo was way too scarce. Wow, long list!

We weren’t mad that Capcom made changes to Resident Evil so it could appeal to more people; we were mad and disappointed that a top developer like Capcom, who is used to making AAA titles, couldn’t even get the basics of an action game right. Resident Evil 6 turned out to be an actual Frankenstein’s monster, with bits and pieces of whatever is popular blended and sewn together. It was an atrocity to look at and an even bigger one to play it. Hence, Resident Evil 6 is the most disappointing game of 2012.

Worst Use of License – Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified

Say what you will about the Call of Duty series in general, but they’re well-made, put-together products that do what they’re meant to do well. The narrative is a sort of summer Hollywood blockbuster story, with the multiplayer usually being a smash hit every year, and a compelling cooperative mode to boot. With Sony’s PlayStation Vita struggling, a Call of Duty title would be perfect, right? Well, you’d be dead wrong, as Declassified is a handheld sh*t stain on the thoroughly scrubbed carpet that is the Black Ops series.

As a concept, it’s not too shabby. Instead of replicating Black Ops 2’s campaign, the main story mode is akin to the Spec Ops modes found in the Modern Warfare series. Well, it’s shot to hell when the AI is pretty much designed to kill itself, and the ability to beat the main mode in less than two hours isn’t very helpful, either. The fact that the highest player-count goes up to eight also betrays what Call of Duty is meant for. Add that to the fact that there is no zombies mode whatsoever, and you’ve got the textbook example of a cash-in.

Best Music Game – Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy

When it comes to game music, Final Fantasy is covered in accolades for a good reason. The scores that come from these games are some of the most resonating, memorable scores that you’ll find in any medium – filled to the brim with catchy tunes, sweeping songs that couple with the usually gorgeous scenery, and a diverse selection. Theatrhythm is a celebration of all of that, compiled in a package of rhythm-based gameplay.

The game takes no shortcuts. It takes you through each Final Fantasy game, offering iconic tracks from each. It helps that the gameplay is also fun, making this essential to any Final Fantasy fan – hell, to any game music fan.

Most Underrated Gem – FTL (Faster Than Light)

FTL: Faster Than Light was supposed to be just a small Kickstarter game that people would play once and forget about. However, Subset Games created an experience that gamers haven’t reached since Oregon Trail. While the mission of the game was just to reach the final area, every journey was bogged with danger from left to right. You could have your ship be boarded by pirates looking to kill your crew, or maybe you were just too close to the sun and had your system fry out. If the ultimate saying is “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey,” this game’s journey had us enjoying the whole ride.

Handheld Game of the Year – Gravity Rush

It’s no secret that the PlayStation Vita has been struggling since it came out earlier this year. It’s been a rough ride, as tough economic times, stiff rivalries, and the illusion of lacking software make the system appear to be a graveyard. This is false, and during the summer drought, the Vita finally caught its stride by releasing one of the most unique and original titles in years with Gravity Rush.

Gravity Rush‘s sense of exploration is awesome in its own right, but what seals the deal is the unique twist on gameplay. The main character, Kat, is able to manipulate gravity around her so that she can soar through the air, walk on walls, and deliver high-speed kicks. The comic book aesthetic and look of the game add to the simple charm you get from this very open-ended platformer. If you have a Vita but do not have this gem, get it as soon as possible: it’s free for members of PS+, so you almost have no excuse.

Downloadable Game of the Year – The Walking Dead

Many aspects of TellTale’s hit The Walking Dead have been sung, but one that isn’t being pushed is how it was delivered to us. Episodic content seemed like a relic of old PC games, but The Walking Dead really gave this game a nice pace. Having a month or two between episodes allowed us to really sink our actions in and spread the game through word of mouth, making each episode a hot talking point until the next one came out.

A nice touch to the whole package was the statistics they threw at you when you completed the episode. It showed your choices compared to what the rest of the players went with, and gave you a perspective on where your choice stood. You’ll have many “whew, glad everyone else thought that” moments, coupled with “wow, most of you are monsters” feelings as well.

Game of the Year – The Walking Dead

Expected? Typical? Clichéd!? Ask those questions back in April, where The Walking Dead was seen as just another passable TellTale Adventure. No one saw a licensed downloadable spin-off from a mid-par studio to be even considered in this category. But no, TellTale limits gameplay for a fluid narrative across five episodes, tying together the best themes of its base material in the comics. Exploring the devolution of rational human beings into primal survivalists acting on instinct set in a walker-infested Georgia, The Walking Dead created a zombie game where the enemy is either a room away or yourself – tasking challenging moral decisions where time dwindles down as “good” decisions can be equally as “evil,” breaking the mold of black vs. white choices in gaming. The fantastic voice work for the “flawed” but very human characters made us fall head over heels for the majority of them. It gut-punched you at every opportunity, yet left a millimeter of light, stimulating the slightest of hope in the finale. Not only is The Walking Dead the game to play in 2012, but an inspiration for the future of narrative-driven games and the scale by which games can achieve greatness.