2012's 'Best of the Rest' video games

"Assassin's Creed 3," which takes players back to the days of the Revolutionary War, is on many gamers' "must have" lists for what remains of 2012.
"Assassin's Creed 3," which takes players back to the days of the Revolutionary War, is on many gamers' "must have" lists for what remains of 2012. (UbiSoft)

This year has already been a watershed event for games in many respects, but for the most part we have now settled into the post-E3 dog days.

For many gamers, this is a great time to reboot and actually get outside for a change, because as far as the release calendar goes, we are in the eye before the storm. Even with titles like "BioShock: Infinite" and "Grand Theft Auto V" shelved until 2013, there are still quite a few gems yet to be released in 2012.

"Borderlands 2"
Sept. 18
Xbox 360/PlayStation 3/PC

This stylized, arty shooter is unlike anything else on the market. The first "Borderlands" took a relatively stale genre and tricked it out with RPG-like customization and one-of-a-kind visuals. It is no small wonder it was the surprise hit of 2009. With so many shooters to choose from, "Borderlands 2" will stand out this fall due to a look and feel that is simply more innovative than almost all trigger-pullers out there.

"World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria"
September 25
MMORPG expansion

If you have been waiting eight years to give "World of Warcraft" a spin, but have been on the fence for some reason, maybe warrior Panda monks will entice you into joining the legion of "WoW" players. The new expansion pack will revamp the game's pet battle system, as well as introduce new territory and of course a new race in the Pandarens. Fair warning for new players: by the time you join up, all the "Kung Fu Panda" jokes will have gotten old already.

Oct. 9
Stealth action
Xbox 360/PlayStation 3/PC

News of Arkane Studios' release through Bethesda came later in the year, but it must be good to go up against "Assassins Creed 3" in the genre. The setting looks unique and detailed in a gloomy turn-of-the-century way, and the gameplay appears to be sneaky and satisfying. Appropriately, this game wasn't on our radar to begin the year, and may skulk through the shadows onto our "best of 2012" lists.

"Assassin's Creed 3"
Oct. 30
Xbox 360/PlayStation 3/PC

In the "year of the threes" ("Diablo," "Mass Effect," "Max Payne," etc.) Ubisoft's "Assassin's Creed 3" may reign supreme not only as the most coveted third installment in gaming but as the hands-down most anticipated game of the year. We are nothing short of giddy at the prospect of romping through revolutionary America taking out redcoats and hunting mountain lions. "Assassin's Creed 3" has the advantage of a tremendous franchise pedigree combining with a genuinely unique take on a historical setting. If the gameplay is even one percent better than any of its lauded predecessors, it will be a smash hit. Actually, based on the record pre-orders, it already is.

"Call of Duty: Black Ops II"
Nov. 13
Xbox 360/PlayStation 3/PC/Wii U

We know, we know, another year another "Call of Duty." Sure, there are more cerebral, mature and realistic military shooters out there, but none have the cache of "Call of Duty's" online experience. Just because it's not highbrow or groundbreaking doesn't mean that it doesn't have a place in our disc trays. "Call of Duty" is a Big Mac. It's Michael Bay with a controller. Sometimes, one just needs to zone out and mindlessly play digital paintball with a bunch of immature people wearing headsets. It's not high art, but it's successful because there's a market and a place for it. 

Dec. 12
Vehicle shooter/multiplayer

Hushed words of anticipation around "Hawken" have been uttered since early 2011. Now with a release date and a lot of momentum starting to build in the beta stages, "Hawken" looks like it could be not only a fun multiplayer experience, but an important title for the future of free-to-play. After picking up a pile of awards at 2012's E3 Expo, "Hawken" is poised to bring back combat in the style of the old "Mech Warrior" games this winter. In addition to being a litmus test for a "blockbuster" style game being free-to-play, its availability on the Kickstarter-phenom OUYA console could be a sign of the times in game development and consumption.

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