Here are a few thoughts on games from 2012 which I completed and have seen doing the rounds on many a Game of the Year list.
Best AAA classic money-bags creation 2012: Halo 4.
Halo, but with outstanding graphics (Reach was the first 360 Halo that didn't insult the hardware; the games were all great but even will all the effort they only got Reach up to the pack) and a new aesthetic and character designs to make it look a bit new while still looking (and far more importantly playing) like a Halo.
It wasn't the perfect story but I was reasonably happy with the broad strokes and wonder if they're going to make an interesting launching off point for the next game (shame about the Legendary ending). The online was great (but the Spartan Ops needs to really jump up to be more than rather middling co-op with a great video series) and the solo was just right. I felt my interest in Halo had been dropping off this gen since the white hot love of the original xbox releases but Halo 4 grabbed me right back, even if I'll never really care about multiplayer console FPSs.
Best small budget release that kept eating my time 2012: FTL.
Take a light roguelike-like story generation engine into space and add an active time battle combat system with a focus on managing the people who run the ship and you've got gold. I spent many an hour doing this while another screen contained something to occupy the other half of my brain; that isn't a bad thing, games like Forza and puzzle titles are also in this awesome area where the bit of my brain I want to apply to the game can be split off from a podcast or film appreciation section.
After tens of hours it wears thin, the things I have not seen are hidden from me by an RNG and I have explored all the viable strategies that occur to me can be constructed by the combat systems in place. But you should totally play this game until you hit that point or naturally drift off.
Best thing that others may tell you isn't a game: Dear Esther.
Great place to go, great story to craft yourself as you walk about and get a selection of narration with the wonderful touches of narrative from the locations and beautiful landmarks. Bit of choice that comes from the randomisation of the spoken voice and optional sights that make it more than a corridor title where you can choose what to look at but otherwise are in a movie.
I really got along with the few hours that it takes to walk through Dear Esther. That old Source engine is great at stereoscopic 3D for some reason and it really sucked me in to be able to look out of a broken window and have the proper depth perception of focussing on the frame or the background. Something about 3D in FPS can work really well to drag you into the frame and make the rest of the world simply not exist. That possibly made the game what it was for me, but obviously the stuff inside the virtual environment had to be worthwhile to keep me in and make it more than just another stereoscopic experience.
(of the games I completed) Not on this list but on everyone else's 2012: Journey & Forza Horizon.
Journey really didn't do it for me. I guess this is rather cool as I could appreciate both what it was doing and the quality of the technical work. I did not care for the co-op at all and I wasn't in lock-step with the game's emotional trip as it moved about and so felt the music and events disconnecting. Add this in to Thirty Flights Of Loving (which I guess was also this year so should be on this list non-entries, but I haven't seen a lot of GotYs with Thirty Flights Of Loving on either so maybe it didn't really do the rounds of the enthusiast press to be on everyone's mind at the end of the year) for games I was fine with playing but didn't much care for and didn't feel like I had missed what it was they were trying to say. Why is that cool? I generally consider this to be my personal idea of 'art' and taste. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy playing them (for ludic, technical, or aesthetic reasons) or failed to find their message; I just didn't find it resonated with me. Their point was to sell me on that connection and I was not sold. It's cool that I can see someone else's GotY list and see games I would never put up there but not think they're crazy.
Forza is a harder one. I really liked it (I completed it like everything on this list and for a driving game that's often harder due to how they typically stretch the game progression) but I found it lacking compared to the numbered titles (notably 4). I want to think of Horizon as one of the best games of the year, but I also don't want to get another Horizon style game next in the Forza series and am glad it didn't explode and outsell Forza 4. It was a great game about racing cars with that lovely 'made for in-car view' physics/handling, upgrades that mean any car is reasonably viable selection for the class race, and plenty of stuff to do on the vibrant open world they created. But it crystallized what I loved about Forza, the driving and not the racing. The start is fun with a race but the best part of Forza 4 is the enforced clean laps, the assists notes by each time, and showing my friend's scores for a hot lap at the end of every race. So I do a lap or two getting the course in my mind while I overtake the pack and am racing and once I'm done I then drive for the rest of the race with the leaderboards in my mind. Assists off, no cutting onto the grass or decelerating using some useful wall; clean, smooth, driving. And Forza Horizon is a racing game, that means it can't hold the same position of reverence in my memory as a numbered Forza. Great game, but no GotY. Also, "buy this car for credits or why not use tokens (purchase with MS Points)": Eurgh, Gross!