I hate “best-of” lists in general because they revolve around too many people who haven’t really seen, read or played “everything” released in a year (it’s impossible for to do so with so much content released across multiple platforms), so they end up being incredibly biased. As proof of that, I’ve decided to toss out a few titles I liked too much in 2012 just to show what happens when you play too much stuff and force yourself to narrow that down to games you just played too much of rather than games that were all around stellar. Or something like that. Anyway, not in any type of order at all and kind of incomplete because I’m still playing a few things, but here we go:
Overall GOTY: The Walking Dead (PS3/360/PC): The near perfect writing and stylized comic book visuals here helped make this an easy choice because although it was the last major release I played, it grabbed me from the opening moments and kept me hooked in through every twist and turn. The ability to choose a number of different paths (all of which change the story in dramatic ways) along with some memorable characters and plenty of surprises makes the game an instant classic. Without giving anything away, let’s just say that you don’t want to be getting attached to every character you meet up with, as a line or two of dialog you select can seal their fate. Adventure games aren’t dead at all – Telltale and other indie companies are proving that like a pack of zombies, they just went underground for a while too long and are back and VERY hungry for brains to play with…
Journey is my Best Online Game, Period Winner as well as Best Visuals and Most Memorable Game of 2012 winner. For the record, the game isn’t a mere “two hours” at all if you have a sense of exploration and adventure. If you haven’t played it or have blown through it quickly one time, take your time and do a bit of sightseeing when you can. There’s a lot to be said for stopping your speed run to take in a beautiful vista and wonder for a bit what’s just past those storms that blow you back on course or those too-high walls you can’t jump over no matter how long your scarf. As for the flawless and innovative communication feature? No one can copy this without it being seen as stolen from the game that nailed getting people to enjoy an experience together without uttering a single word. It’s too bad thatgamecompany imploded after this came out, as it would have been really intriguing to see what was next from these guys and gals. Well, at least they went out on a grand and gorgeous note unlike other developers whose games killed their companies because they were just plain terrible.
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings – Enhanced Edition (Xbox 360) was my Best PC to Console RPG and Best Xbox 360 RPG of 2012. Fine, mature writing with some well defined characters (and superb voice acting all around), some of the best visuals on the Xbox 360 and a pretty challenging combat system that makes you earn every kill. Choice appears here as well and it’s great that you can play Gerhalt as a completely uncaring mercenary or more of a man people are afraid of thanks to his looks and powers than an actual villain and see the results as the game progresses. Of course, he’s neither and there are moments where you’ll wish you’d been more of a jerk than less a few dozen hours earlier… but that’s what replay value means. It’s too bad this wasn’t on the PS3, as the console could use more adult-themed titles that aren’t first party software. Yeah, yeah, those menus can be a pain initially, but you get used to them if you stop griping and pay attention.
Dragon’s Dogma (PS3/360) was the game I put the most time into, completing the 360 version twice and picking up the game for the PS3 months later to start all over again. Best Action/RPG and Most Addictive Game awards go out thataway. The game is the perfect example of the difference between playing a demo while standing up at a trade show or press event and sitting down at home with it for some quality time. Capcom’s spectacular blending of a more simplified Monster Hunter, borrowed bits of Demon’s Souls online play with open world exploration (missing from 2011’s similar but solo play only Trinity: Souls of Zill O’ll, one of the most underrated games of that year) made for an addictive experience that helped bump the game up into franchise status. I think Capcom was a bit caught off guard by the game’s mild success, but it’s clearly the sleeper hit they needed in 2012 and shows that good open world games aren’t a strictly Western or European thing. Between the loyal Pawn Community online and all the little realistic touches added to the world of Gransys, it’s hard to stop going back for more, so it’s great to see things will continue in 2013 and beyond.
Save for a few unique titles, Nintendo’s Wii has been getting ignored this year as the new Wii U steals much of its former glory. Still, the console managed to get some fine releases in 2012. Its two best games just so happened to be RPGs, Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story, which tie for the Best Wii RPG of 2012. Actually, both games have some quirky to problematic issues that keep them from perfection, but overall, The Last Story’s overall story and gameplay eased ahead of Xenoblade’s to also win the Best Wii Game award. Although the AI in single player was like having your little clumsy cousin tagging along at the mall breaking stuff, Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two won my Best Wii Co-op Game award because it’s really a MUCH better game when two people jump in who know their way around a Wii Remote.
As for the Wii U, I haven’t gone through the entire launch lineup yet, but I have to give Zombi U the Most Innovative Wii U game prize for its use of the new Gamepad. Batman Arkham City Armored Edition won for Most Impressive Update because of the many changes to the game that included every bit of DLC, the ability to play completely on the Gamepad and those new Bat and Cat-suits that allowed novice players to feel even more super-heroic. I still haven’t gotten to all those Riddler Challenges, but that’s another story for another day. Nintendo Land wins the Best Party Game and Best Pack-in Game awards hands-down. Namco Bandai’s beefed-up port of TANK! TANK! TANK! wins the Best Wii U Guilty Pleasure award because while it’s not flawless, it’s a load of fun as a single or multiplayer game, especially if you’ve played it in an arcade and go in with the same expectations. I still think the game deserves a much better sequel using some of the suggestions from my review, as there are the makings of a true classic here with the right tweaks.
I finally got around to playing a chunk of Dishonored over the holidays (I’m about halfway through) and it’s the Best Art Direction, Best Gameplay and Best New IP winner for me. As I noted in my preview, you can see where the time and money went right from the beginning and it’s clear that Arkane Studios knows how to make a truly compelling experience. That you can get through the game as a silent but deadly assassin, a near-invincible bad-ass or someone who has others do the dispatching for you makes this one of those games that begs to be replayed. No multiplayer modes here was actually a HUGE blessing because it allowed the dev team more time to make a spectacular game concentrating on story and characters and not online play with no other focus but running around mindlessly shooting each other in the face.
EA’s somewhat poorly received Syndicate wins my Thinking Person’s FPS award, as it managed to be smartly done and mature while being yet another FPS in a stupidly packed market full of them. It got buried under better hyped releases and was pretty much forgotten before the year was out, but it’s one of those games that stayed true to its roots while changing the perspective to something more familiar to today’s gamer. You’re not facing much of a moral grey area here at all and nope, don’t even look at this game if you’re not willing to step into the shoes of a cybernetic killing machine. Syndicate did not win the Best PC Game Revival award, however – that trophy was achieved by XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Firaxis’ hard as nails throwback that’s compelling and challenging unless you’re such a pisser for the original game that you refuse to budge from your cross-armed stance in front of your monitor with your bottom lip out like Mussolini (or Maurice Chevalier, you romantic devil, you).
Spec Ops: The Line was my Best Adapted Work winner, as it’s basically Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in playable form (more or less). While developer Yager did some amazing things with their proprietary engine, it’s in some of the darker storytelling moments where the game shines its best. Granted, those moments aren’t all flawless, but when you’re feeling a bit unsettled about taking lives in some sections, that’s what separates this particular game from nearly every other shooter that came out over the last few years. I haven’t yet played Hitman: Absolution, but having watched it being played for about an hour, I need to grab a copy and figure it into the awards at some point. IO Interactive has made a stupendously great looking game, but I’m not much of a fan of the series to tell you the truth.
I also need to give the full version of Sleeping Dogs a try, but it’s automatically won Best Revival of a Dead Franchise crown thanks to the game starting life as a third in the tired True Crime series before getting dumped by Activision as part of a cost-cutting measure, picked up by Square Enix for publication and fixed up something fierce by developer United Front Games. I think it may win Best Open World game or something like that, but that also depends on a few other games I’m playing or need to play. OK, let me stop here and post this or I’ll be writing off the top of my pointy head all damn night…
I’ll get to more console stuff as well as portable games in the next update – expect some surprises…