by Josh Vollmer

With 2011 (a.k.a. the year of Skyrim) behind us, it’s time to start looking forward to the great games that will define 2012. From the apocalypse and killer fungi to floating cities and foul-mouthed fourth graders, here are eight titles to look forward to over the coming months.

Borderlands 2 – Gearbox’s Borderlands was arguably the sleeper hit of 2010. The RPG/shooter dynamic, solid art style and four player co-op play made it a genre-bending standout, propelling it to many critics’ “best of” lists despite some heavy competition and rough edges here and there. The sequel seems to have smoothed out several fan complaints that surrounded the first, as well as introducing a branching quest/player choice dynamic, and all the while maintaining the things that made the original so much fun to play. For many co-op shooter fans out there, September cannot get here fast enough.

Darksiders 2 – Vigil Games seemed to come out of left field with their first game, Darksiders, which was published by THQ in early 2010. The game went on to moderate success- enough so that THQ saw fit to publish a sequel. This new game is twice as big as the first, and now features side quests and multiple quest hubs. Fans of God of War-esque battle systems and Zelda-like weapon and accessory upgrade based upon level progression should be sure to keep an eye out for this one in June.

Mass Effect 3Mass Effect 3 is the third (duh), and supposedly final (we’ll see) installment in Bioware’s space opera. Fans of the first two titles are likely chomping at the bit for EA’s March 6th release. For those unfamiliar with the first two games, you can expect characters and a story on par with almost any other sci-fi franchise in existence. Commander Shepherd’s story in his/her quest to protect the denizens of the universe from the imminent Reaper threat is truly deserving of the term epic.

The Last of Us – Naughty Dog, the studio responsible for the Uncharted franchise, are taking their Hollywood-caliber production values to the survival horror genre with their next release. Players will guide protagonists Joel and Ellie through a post-apocalyptic world decimated by a strange and deadly fungus. You know Naughty Dog is serious with their 2012 holiday release, though, since they’ve upgraded from Uncharted‘s Nathan Drake’s half-tuck look to new hero Joel’s full untuck.

Bioshock Infinite – Although Irrational Games recently had to bump Infinite from a Q1 release to Q3, at least it is still slated for 2012. For now anyway. Honestly though, would you have it any other way? After the job they did in crafting the underwater city of Rapture, Ken Levine and company deserve to take as much time as they need to create the floating city of Columbia. I’d rather have a finished project than a rushed one, and if the previous two games in the series are any indication, when Levine says it’s done, Infinite will be nothing short of astounding.

South Park – From the Nintendo 64’s first person “shooter” to the more recent XBLA tower defense title, the quiet Colorado town has been a popular setting for developers in the past. However, this will be the first SP game to feature participation and writing from series creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. The game will be an RPG style adventure with the honest-to-goodness hand drawn and animated 2D graphics that give the show its iconic look. Be prepared to laugh out loud when this one releases in Q4.

The Last Guardian – Fumito Ueda and the rest of Team Ico revealed this PS3 exclusive at E3 way back in 2009. Although originally slated to release in 2011, it was subsequently pushed to 2012 to give Ueda and crew time to give the puzzle-based platformer the polish expected from the studio responsible for Shadow of the Colossus and Ico.

A Game of Thrones – George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Fire and Ice” series of books has exploded into one of the hottest IP’s of the past year, generating everything from trading card and board games to a well-executed HBO show. European developer Cyanide and Japanese publisher Atlus look to capitalize on the franchise’s growing popularity with an RPG title due out this summer. If they craft the game with half the care Martin has given the books or HBO has given the show, this should be one to watch for.