Overrated is a loaded term. It looks good in a headline. It’s often used for no purpose other than to goad a reaction. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t useful. When I call a game overrated, I don’t mean it’s bad, that the reviews were wrong, that the people who liked it were dopes, or even that I didn’t like it. It just means I’m surprised more people weren’t more critical, that the conversation wasn’t more often about ways the game could have been better.

After the jump, the most overrated games of 2012

10) Call of Duty: Black Ops II

Why are so many people — myself included — so happy with Activision’s annual iterations when there are sequels like Darkness II, Borderlands 2, and Bioshock 2? Call of Duty has left the realm of game and ascended into eventhood, and I can’t help but wonder how much its eventhood affects how we feel about the individual games.

Read the review here.

9) Endless Space

Endless Space is all stylish interface and not much else, mainly because the AI is incapable of playing the game the designers have made. A pretty game that doesn’t work is ultimately just a game that doesn’t work.

8) Dishonored

A little Thief, a little Bioshock, a little Deus Ex. It’s an ambitious mix, and I love that Arkane Studios attempted it. But I’m not convinced it was served well in this collection of small levels, weirdly tuned powers, and often rote gameplay beats. Is it a shooter? Is it a sneaker? Both? Neither? And what does that chaos level actually do, anyway?

7) Crusader Kings II

This is one of Paradox’s finest games, but it’s so often so obtuse in its expression of Medieval families, politics, and how to tell who’s married to whom and when this guy died and why can’t I kill my brother? I guess that’s the point. But it’s quite an esoteric game that makes me long for the familiar contemporary concepts of Victoria II.

Read the review here.

6) Forza Horizon

My theory is that the Forza games are received so glowingly because people haven’t played other driving games. The previous Forzas were good, but they were often eclipsed by Need for Speed: Shift, Grid, and pretty much any other driving game that understood gameplay progression. Now Horizon does a passable job at open-world racing, but it’s eclipsed by Test Drive: Unlimited, Midnight Club: Los Angeles, Need for Speed: Most Wanted, and other driving games that understand open-world gameplay progression.

Read the review here.

5) Sleeping Dogs

I wouldn’t be so sensitive to the foibles of middling open-world games if there weren’t so many good examples of the genre, not to mention to many ingenious examples of the genre. There’s no reason to settle for something as inelegantly constructed and poorly written as Sleeping Dogs. Is an evocative virtual Hong Kong all it takes?

Read the review here.

4) Max Payne 3

If I want an insultingly bad story constantly and stridently shoved in my face, I’ll watch my Lost DVDs. Look, Rockstar, I’m just here to shoot people in the head. I don’t need your usual rigmarole about booze, blow, and bitches. At least Remedy’s bad writing was endearing and skippable enough.

Read the review here.

3) Journey

How did so many people cull so much meaning from such an effervescent experience free of actual gameplay, not to mention actual characters? Sure, it’s pretty. So are some of Bob Ross’ paintings. Not since Dear Esther has so little done so much for so many.

Read the review here.

2) Diablo III

Are we just going to gloss over the effects of the real money auction house, the lack of offline play, and the long slog through the normal difficulty to get to any gameplay meat? Are we that enamored of the simple act of chopping, zapping, and thwipping countless monsters, vases, and barrels? Is Blizzard just that good at appealing to our lizard brain desire to level up, our Pavlovian response to more loot, our forgiving nostalgia for those Tristram guitar chords and the panicked mewling of the Fallen Ones? Considering that Diablo III is on my list of best games of the year, I would say, “yes”.

Read the review here.

1) Halo 4

The twin pillars of Halo 4 are fan service and a back-to-the-basics approach long after the basics have gotten stale. I’d have rather seen a Halo 4 built on the principles of good game design.

Read the review here.

What are your picks for most overrated game of the year? Remember, this simply means games that you felt should have been received more critically.

2012 year-end awards
Most disappointing games of 2012
Thursday: the best games of 2012