A mechanically plain third-person shooter made brilliant by its willingness to engage with the uglier side of Police Actions. Spec Ops: The Line is queasy with kill frenzy mental illness and post-traumatic stress disorder. Your clean-cut Nolan North action figure visibly mutates over the course of the game, transforming from an American Apparel army man into a phosphorus scarred expletive barker. Spec Ops aspires to be the interactive equivalent of Conrad's Heart of Darkness, instead it ends up being something closer to a video game version of 2000 AD's nihilistic war comic Bad Company. That's more than enough.
4. Transformers: Fall of Cybertron
Transformers: Fall of Cybertron took a different tact to every other game based on Hasbro's action figures. Rather than let you choose your favourite from a selection of interchangeable face characters, levels were constructed around the specific abilities of set Transformers. The best stage casts you as a triple changer Decepticon named Vortex. Your task is to assault a vast, rotting metal environment in any way you see fit. Play is a free-flowing sugar rush of strafing gun emplacements as a hovering helicopter, transforming into a robot to mop up survivors, then speeding off to the next destination marker in jet mode.
3. Hotline Miami
16-bit Smash TV recalibrated as an early 80s video nasty. Hotline Miami is installation art presentation and pattern recognition stalk play. Your masked psychopath is tasked with speed running through labyrinthine apartment complexes, stomping generics for high scores. Instant restarts and zero load times for when you inevitably fluff your high-stakes kill spree.
A beautiful desert environment, a wispy player character, and zero HUD cluttering up the screen. As much as Journey is a wistful, undemanding platform, it's also an opportunity to indulge your inner Christopher Doyle. I spent an inordinate amount of time dragging the camera all around the world, crushing my figure down into the corner of the screen. I wanted to make him small and useless looking against the endless sand vistas.
1. Far Cry 3
Far Cry 2 was a loneliness simulator. Other people meant hassle. If they were on your side they always had a sub-mission in their back pocket to stress your resources. If they were your enemies they usually took the form of identikit drones placed along roadsides to make driving intolerable. Your Far Cry 2 life became off-road stalking; taking the long way around to avoid messy divergences. Far Cry 3 embraces this idea, making it the primary means of play rather than a side-effect of miserly design decisions.
In Far Cry 3 you are encouraged to act and behave like a beast. Unlockable skills tend towards abilities that compliment this predatory mindset. Far Cry 3 excels when you're circling your prey, number crunching their demise. When you come across the ubiquitous shanty town hideouts it's tempting to hurl grenades in and mow down the survivors, but noise tends to attract reinforcements. Instead it's tactically sounder, not to mention much more fun, to take your time. Learn their patrol patterns, mark their positions with your telephoto lensed camera, and eventually put an arrow through their neck.