Thursday, January 10, 2013

Game of the Year Awards 2012

Here we are ladies and gentlemen, with the ten games that I consider to be the best of the year...

10. Mass Effect 3
In the end, this barely scraped its way into my top ten list because of some small yet significant flaws that just hold it back and make it a disappointing sequel to the almost perfect Mass Effect 2.  This include the controversial ending that was released in the game, the decision to make one of the best playable characters paid DLC and the incredibly poor way that side quests are implemented. However, it is rescued by the best combat yet in the series and some truly great moments with some of my favourite video game characters ever.

9. Forza Horizon
Though Playground games were made up of a talented group of people with prior experience in the racing genre, they still had a lot of prove with this Forza spin off and so I didn't really know what to expect prior to playing the Xbox Live demo. What they actually delivered is a fun, vibrant and more accessible cousin of Turn 10's track based driving simulator.  In many ways it feels like a Project Gotham game, and as that series appears to have stagnated it is a very welcome alternative.

8. Assassin's Creed 3
Much like Mass Effect 3, the latest entry in the Assassin's Creed franchise had some pretty significant flaws holding it back from the top half of my games of the year list.  Some incredibly frustrating missions with fail states that are far too easy to trigger and a WTF ending are chief among these, but the joy of exploring Boston, New York, the building of your homestead and the absolutely amazing naval battles make this one of the top games of 2012 for me.

7. Torchlight 2
I played Diablo III a lot when it was released, only giving up when the highest difficulty setting proved too much for me.  Then a few months later Torchlight 2 came out, and it managed to eclipse Blizzard's offering.  The fast pace, the excellent range of character classes and the amount of game you get for a low price meant that I was addicted to it for a good few months, and I still intend to back and play some more in the future.

6. Tales of Graces f
Excellent examples of the Japanese RPG genre on home consoles are pretty hard to come by these days, yet Tales Studio managed to deliver one on the PlayStation 3 this year.  Though it's a port of a Wii game, it still looks absolutely fantastic with the vibrant colours and anime style that fans of the series have come to expect. There are some new twists to the mechanics of the game compared to other in the series too, with the the way you obtain new skills from earning titles for your character proving to be extremely addictive.

5. X-Com: Enemy Unknown
For a long time strategy games like X-Com weren't being made, especially for consoles. Then Firaxis came along and proved that this type of game could work with a controller when they released the excellent Civilisation Revolution.  Fans of the original X-Com were very worried when video of the proposed FPS reboot were circulated, but in the end that project was shelved and we got this instead.  It is by an large a complete update of the game we knew and loved back in the 90's, just made more accessible to newcomers with a gentler difficulty curve.  Those who crave the toughness of the original can always crank the game up to the hardest setting and switch on iron man mode.  The rest of us can stick to Easy or Normal, kick back on the sofa and enjoy an incredibly addictive strategy game on our consoles, with incredibly slick presentation to boot.

4. Xenoblade Chronicles
I am cheating a bit to get this game on my list as it actually came out in Europe during 2011.  It was released in the US in 2012 though. Xenoblade Chronicles is an absolutely gargantuan RPG for the Nintendo Wii, with some of the best graphics and music you will witness for that system (apart from the Super Mario Galaxy games).  You can easily spend 80 hours or more exploring every corner of the huge game world, completing dozens of quests and enjoying the combat system.  From a gameplay perspective, I would compare it to Final Fantasy XII - it has a similar "offline MMO" type of feel to it. Together with The Last Story and Pandora's Tower, it gave the Wii one hell of a send off before it's successor was released.

3. Sleeping Dogs
Sleeping Dogs doesn't really do anything radically new - it is a super slick spin on the GTA template with a counter based combat system that is quite similar to that seen in Batman: Arkham Asylum.  The game looks great and plays even better, however, with a ton of optional tasks that are actually fun to do.  These include a Karaoke mini game, a whole series of race events, martial arts tournaments and lots of collectibles. For a game that I was quite dismissive about for a long time, it has turned out to be one of my favourites.

2. The Walking Dead
I am a big fan of the Walking Dead TV show, though I have never read the comics that it is based on.  However, that was enough to make me interested in trying the first episode in Telltale's latest downloadable adventure series, and after that I was hooked.  I eagerly awaited the next part in the story, enjoyed every twist and turn no matter how dark and brutal it was, and was emotionally involved every step of the way.  It feels like your choices are really impacting the direction of the story, even if a lot of that turned out to be smoke and mirrors in the end. You really don't find stories as hard hitting and as risk taking any other video game - though this series may have changed that.

1. Far Cry 3
Far Cry 3 feels like this years Skyrim to me. It is a joy to step out into this fully realised world, exploring and seeing just what random events take place.  Such as a group of pirates having a gun battle with the native Raykyat on the road, until three very angry Komodo Dragons walk out of the jungle and start chowing down on fools.  Levelling up, activating guard towers, clearing out pirate camps, completing optional races, sharpshooter challenges and hunting tasks are all incredibly addictive.  Even if the story ultimately doesn't fulfil the potential it showed in the early stages of the game, the rest of the experience is enough to make this my favourite game of 2012.

Honourable mentions
There were far too many other noteworthy games released in 2012 for me to go into specifics about each and every one of them here, though hopefully I will revisit some of them in more detail at a later date.  Here is the complete list of games that I think you really should play.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Kingdoms of Amalur Reckoning, The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings, Dragon's Dogma, The Last Story, Halo 4, Theaterhythm, The Darkness II, Rhythm Heaven Fever, Binary Domain, Tropico 4 Gold Edition, Diabo III, Darksiders II, Dust: An Elysian Tale, Borderlands 2, Resident Evil 6, Paper Mario: Sticker Star, LittleBigPlanet Karting, F1 Race Stars, New Super Mario Bros. U, Zombi U, Nintendo Land, Sonic Racing Transformed, Spelunky, Pandora's Tower

Notably Missing
The following games aren't part of my top ten list because I haven't got around to playing them yet... sorry about that!

Dishonored, Journey, Guild Wars 2, Mark of the Ninja, Fez, FTL: Faster than Light, Dyad, Sound Shapes, The Secret World

Best game I played in 2012 that came out earlier:

Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Reverie
I have to give a shout out to this excellent RPG in the classic series because it made my two hour commute home from work every day that much easier, and lasted several months.  Very traditional, but fans of the series will love it.  I look forward to the 3DS remake of Dragon Quest VII!

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