Dark Souls PS3 / Xbox 360

Dark Souls PS3 / Xbox 360
The rapid expansion of the gamer community in recent years has left the hardcore heads battling the casual hordes at the gate. In the wake of Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, which rode the popularity of The Lord of the Rings films and sent RPGs deep into the mainstream, most subsequent role-playing games chased after that same broad audience.

Dark Souls does not. This spiritual sequel to Demon's Souls may look like a typical fantasy adventure, but it's really a hardcore dungeon-crawler rooted not in hacking'n'slashing your way through a sprawling story, but in the trial-and-error punishment of old-school games.

After years of handholding, Dark Souls' survivalism feels like a slap in the face because it expects you to earn your way through the game. It's not challenging because it's unbalanced, as often happens with lesser efforts, but because challenge is its entire raison d'etre. It's not for many people; I'm not even sure it's for me. But it is a work of greatness.

The game's open-world is lit by bonfires that refill your health and magic and, more vitally, provide respawn points that you'll come to know all too well, as Dark Soul's game play mostly involves waging war and losing. But the thing about these bonfires is that they bring every creature you've killed back to life too — just one example of this bleak game's intrinsic sadism.

But you're not necessarily in it alone. Other real-world gamers roam the land — though there is no voice chat or matchmaking — and can appear as phantoms to help you or endanger you, though if you get assassinated you can rat them out in the Book of the Guilty. And you can jump into strangers' games also.

Dark Souls isn't about exploration or side-quests — those are luxuries of the powerful. It's not even about winning so much as enduring. In other words, it just may be the definitive game of this dark year. (From Software/Namco Bandai)