2012 is winding to a close, and while there may be a few weeks left in the year, for all intents and purposes the gaming industry has slowed to a crawl until the first week of the New Year. Because of this, it’s time for year-end lists!
Last year had some truly great, landmark games. Dark Souls, Rayman: Origins, The Witcher 2, Bastion, and Skyrim were all experiences I enjoyed, most of which I still play over a year after they were released. 2011 was slightly less spectacular, but still a pretty big year for the games industry as a whole. Beyond just the games released, we saw a new Nintendo console; we saw Kickstarter become both a viable option for funding, and a major risk to take; we saw indie and free-2-play games blur the line between “retail” and “downloadable” quality; and we saw major discussions open up about how games are made, and more importantly, how women and violence are portrayed and treated in the medium. These are all watershed moments that will be remembered and discussed for years to come, and that really excites me and makes me proud to be at least a small cog in this machine.
But what about the games!? Well, as I mentioned, a lot of what I played in 2012 were games from last year. This is mostly because I’m kind of a weirdo and like to obsess over a game for long periods of time. But also, when it comes to “big” games, I sort of ignored the vast majority of them, and instead focused on the rather amazing year it was for the indie game scene. There was some immensely high-quality stuff this year, and indie games absolutely dominated both my time and my Best of 2012 list. So, without further ado, here are my…
Top 7 Games of 2012:
7. Guild Wars 2 – I really don’t like MMOs. They’ve always turned out to be lame theme parks full of failed potential and broken promises. But something about Guild Wars 2 really stuck with me. I haven’t fired it up in couple months, but I certainly keep thinking about it, and no sub fee means I can return whenever I wish. It may not have been the massive genre-changing behemoth we were hoping for, but it was different enough that I didn’t feel like I was just playing another WoW clone again. Read Evan’s full review.
Special Awards: Best MMORPG
6. Dishonored – One of the few truly new IPs to be released this year, Dishonored deserves recognition on that fact alone. The world is fully realized, the gameplay proves shooters can be more than just military sims, and about so much more than “killing people.” The stealth gameplay, unique powers, and interesting story set in one of the best video game worlds in year makes Dishonored one of the year’s best. Read Evan’s review.
Special Awards: Best New IP; Best Writing
5. Mark of the Ninja – Mark of the Ninja features great art style, near-perfect controls, and wonderfully thought-out game mechanics. Taking stealth gameplay to 2D is rather ingenious, and made you feel like the ultimate ninja, silently running through levels, confusing guards, and collecting items. The levels are smartly designed, giving players just as many options of how to approach a situation and avoid being seen as similar stealth-action games (including previous entry Dishonored). The best part, however, is the way Mark of the Ninja communicates important information to the player, making for a more streamlined experience, as well as opens the door for more creative player choice.
Special Awards: Best Art; Best Level Design
4. Legend of Grimrock – Grimrock isn’t all that flashy, nor very innovative. What it is, however, is a wonderful return to the classic dungeon-crawling CRPGs of yore. The mechanics in this game are deep, the labyrinths fun and challenging. Grimrock offers exactly the sort of things I want from RPGs. The fact that it was so successful gives me hope for future titles looking to return to this style of Role Playing Game. Evan’s full review.
Special Awards: Best RPG
3. Halo 4 – My love for Halo probably seems out of place. I don’t usually dig big shooter franchises, and everything post-Halo CE has moved the series further and further into CoD-like terriroy. But I still really love this series, and Halo 4 might just be the best Halo yet, both in terms of campaign and multiplayer. I will always keep Combat Evolved in my mind as one of the best shooters ever, but when it comes to modern console shooters, Halo 4 is by far and away at the top of that list. Marshal’s full review.
Special Awards: Best Graphics; Best Console Game
2. Dustforce – Last year, this spot and these very same awards were given to Rayman: Origins, possibly my favorite 2D platformer ever. Dustforce had some pretty big shoes to fill, and it did so very well. This unique 2D-platformer was my go-to game for months, and it’s entirely possible I played no other game this year more than Dustforce. The art is phenominal, level design top-notch; but it’s the soundtrack that really took the cake here. My full review.
Special awards: Best Music; Best Platformer; Best Indie Game
1. Tribes: Ascend – This was not an easy one. In fact, while last year may have had an obvious choice for Game of the Year, this year had several. Honestly, almost any game on this list could have received this spot, but when it came down to it, Tribes was the most-deserving of the nod. Some of the most fun I’ve ever had in a game occurred during tense, tied matches of capture the flag. Playing with friends and strangers, coordinating strategies and dominating the field (and getting totally demolished) made playing Tribes more like a sport than mere videogame. I really love this game, and I don’t even like shooters or competitive multiplayer all that much. It’s also the first free-2-play game I’ve ever payed money on. That should speak for itself.
Special Awards: Best F2P Game; Best PC Game; Best FPS; Game of the Year 2012
Some games, you just don’t get enough time with, or never quite grab you, but still deserve some manner of praise:
Darksiders 2 – By all accounts, a great game, just didn’t really standout. Still, Darksiders 2 deserves acknowledgement simply for being one of the few “AA” games in recent years. It’s probably one of the most “videogame-y” games to be released this year. It wasn’t enough to save THQ from bankruptcy, leaving the future of the series in uncertain territory, but Darksiders 2 is in fact a solid game, and thus earns an honorable mention. My full review.
Hawken – Hawken was, hand down, my most anticipated game of 2012. Unfortunately, as fun as the game is, it’s a bit early in the free-2-play mech shooter’s life to really give it high marks. But there’s enormous potential here. Some balancing is needed, sure, and the payment model could use tweaking, but the look, feel, and sound of the mechs and the world are amazing. After some polishing, Hawken could be something truly great.
Biggest Disappointments of 2012
There were a couple games I was really looking forward to, but that just didn’t live up to the hype, my expectations and/or failed to really hold me all the way through:
Mass Effect 3 – Ending controvery bullshit aside, the game just wasn’t that good. From strangely implemented side quests, to poor pacing and watered down RPG systems and character interactions, Mass Effect 3 lacked much of what I loved about the previous games in the series. And while after consideration I came away appreciating the ending, the way it was handled — both the original and the DLC ending — was pretty lame, and left a bad taste in my mouth.
Diablo 3 – Diablo 2 was a great game, one of my favorites. Played it for days, months, years. Diablo 3 on the other hand, was beaten in a matter of hours, then promptly dropped. Not because it was a bad game in general, but because the end-game was piss poor, and the way the maps and loot seriously lacked much variation. Unlike its predecessors, playing Diablo 3 on higher difficulties felt boring and grindy. I’ve heard many of these issues have since been addressed, but I doubt I’ll jump back in any time soon. Read my original review.
Games I Missed in 2012
Dragon’s Dogma – Monster Hunter, Dark Souls, Shadow of the Colossus and Oblivion rolled into one game? Might as well have called it “Brendan will probably like this game.” Yet, for some reason I passed it up, and now here I am kicking myself for missing out on what seems to be a pretty awesome action RPG. Chances are, this will be my first major gaming purchase of the new year, and likely one of the few games I’ll be playing for a while if it lives up to the hype fans have been giving it. Very excited about this one.
Fez – After praising the indie games of 2012, it feels odd to have not even touched one of the most talked about games of the year. By all accounts, Fez is a game I should have played. But for whatever reason — perhaps time or money restricted me — I didn’t grab it while it was at the height of its popularity. Still, the mind-bending 2D platformer/puzzler seems like something I need to experience, and soon.
Journey – These pesky PS3-exclusives, I tell ya… Journey, with it’s innovative multiplayer, immersive gameplay, moving musical score, and interactive storytelling, seems — once again — like a game deserving of my time and more than likely a spot on my Best Of 2012 list. But, due to a lack of the required hardware, I missed out on it. I know next to nothing about this game, and I want to keep it that way. My hope is that I get to play it soon, and finally see what so many have been praising.
And that’s it for 2012. What were your gaming highlights of the year? Let me know in the comments below! As for what we’ve got coming, there will probably bit a bit more posting in the next week or so, but as you hopefully know, we’ve got some big changes coming 2013 will be a big year for Power Cords. We’ll probably take a couple weeks off, but we’ll be back bigger and better than ever. Stay tuned for the final Shootin’ the Shit for 2012!
*Note: an earlier version of this list was accidentally published. It was a draft from when I was still working out the list and playing games for deliberation. The final version is presented here, and no further changes planned.