With the end of year rush over the holiday period I tried to get as many games played as I could, but with work and life in general getting in the way I have only now been able to get through enough of the 2012 backlog to do a proper list for Game of the Year. Better late than never thought right, so without further ado here is my list of top games for 2012, and since it is now 2013 I thought it would be fitting to have a top 13!
Starhawk was one of the most fun multiplayer experiences I had all year. It marries a slick and responsive third person shooter with fantastic rts elements to create a game that is different from anything else I played in 2012. LightBox managed to get the kind if polish that I expect from a top level PS3 exclusive into Starhawk, and it also manages to have attractive and crisp visuals with a good soundtrack that really brings the space wild west to life. The singleplayer is short and basically serves as a tutorial for the multiplayer, but it is still fun. This is a criminally under appreciated game and deserved to do a lot better than it did in the end. It is just a downright fun game.
12: Silent Hill Downpour
Downpour does a great job of taking the struggling horror series back to its roots with its atmospheric and haunting opening section. It draws clear inspiration from Silent Hill 2 and 3 while also managing to be very much its own thing in a way that Homecoming never achieved. The combat is still clunky and there are some annoying technical issues, including a rough as hell save system, but Downpour surpasses these problems by having a great new take on the nightmare setting. The story begins in a really interesting way, the music is great and the energy that the whole game has is just fun to experience. Downpour is a good Silent Hill game and is one of the most deceptively fun games I played in 2012.
11: Pokemon White 2
After all these years Pokemon has had its first direct sequel in the series history. White 2 is extremely similar to White, but it is still an addictive, gripping and engaging rpg experience that retains the charm of the series. Pokemon White 2 also has a great mix of the pocket monsters, with the creatures introduced in the original White/Black mixing with previous generations from the start. Combat is the same turn based affair that players will be familiar with, but everything is refined and sped up just enough to make it probably the best gameplay experience in the Pokemon series. White 2 is a long and fun game that kept me going on my commutes and gave me a great reason to take out my 3DS.
10: Call of Duty Black Ops 2
Call of Duty has been increasingly losing me over recent iterations, especially Modern Warfare 3. Despite my like of the roller coaster single player campaigns, the lack of player agency, the linearity of the experience and the increasingly disinteresting multiplayer have been combining to make me lose interest. Black Ops 2 changed that by having what I found to be the best campaign since Call of Duty 4 in 2007. The story is ridiculous but interesting, the villain is genuinely fantastic and the moments and environments that you find yourself in are just great. The futuristic segments feel really fresh and the overall design and feel of the game just make it so fun to play. It is also a great example of how to do player decisions in a shooter experience. The multiplayer is not nearly as changed as the singleplayer, but its still fun to play with friends from time to time.
Dishonored picks up from where Deus Ex Human Revolution left off and shows exactly how first person stealth games should be done. A new IP with a great Victorian-esque setting filled with grim circumstance and political intrigue was right up my street. It also didn't hurt that Dishonored is so interesting to play. The player is free to approach any given situation however they want, from stealth to open attack and anything in between. The level design is open and immersive, emphasising player choice through direct gameplay. The story is not all that great, but Dishonored is successful in crafting a compelling gameplay experience with an interesting world. Also, man eating rat swarms.
8: Halo 4
I love Halo, and I was delighted to see that 343 did not destroy the series with Halo 4. Now it is not the fresh break for Halo that I would have liked to see, but is certainly a familiar and satisfying shooter experience with the same freedom of combat that I come to this series to experience. The story does a few new tricks, and the campaign is solid without reaching the heights that Halo 3 reached, but it is the multiplayer where Halo 4 really excels. The pacing has been increased and there is now an almost COD like class creation system, but it suits the Halo mechanics so well and everything just clicks together in a cohesive and complete way that compliments each other. The maps are also nice and I cannot fault free dlc in the form of the spartan ops missions.
7: Crusader Kings II
Paradox have been making super specialised strategy games for a long time now, and I have loved playing there many historical based products, especially the Europa Universalis series. Crusader Kings II is not only their most intense and personal game so far, but it is also their most polished and refined. Instead of being the manifest will of a nation you play as a specific character, and it is the plotting and intrigue, the little personal stories that crop up as you play that makes Crusader Kings II such an engaging and addictive game. No other game grabbed me in that "just one more turn" syndrome in 2012, and the deep layers of mechanics and strategy that covers and interacts with everything you do in it is a major part of that.
6: Darksiders II
Darksiders was a fun game but it didn't grab me in a significant way back in 2010, but Darksiders II changed that. I realise that I am going against the majority opinion here, but I thought that Darksiders II was one of the most interesting and engaging experiences of the year. The art direction is gorgeous, the music is truly fantastic and enchanting, and the combat is so satisfying, especially when you consider the increased speed of Death over War and the new loot drops that are just so good to pick up. Darksiders II felt to me like the HD Soul Reaver that I have been hungering for, and despite the padding at points I really appreciated the lack of chore heavy dungeons like the Black Throne from the first game. It is criminal that Darksiders seems to have no future after the dissolution of THQ in the last few days, but Darksiders II is one of my favourite games of 2012.
5: XCOM Enemy Unknown
I love strategy games, but XCOM Enemy Unknown brings a level of tension to its turn by turn gameplay that few of its peers can boast. It is becoming rare to see a bug budget strategy experience, but XCOM manages to be exactly that, with all the trappings of a top level game. It is easy to learn to play but difficult to be good at, with some chilling alien foes to take on and a heavy emotional impact when a team member you have had for dozens of hours gets disembodied in a single capricious shot from some monstrous enemy. Firaxis made an amazing game in this deep strategy reboot, and the lavish amount of love and detail that went into crafting this intense experience is impressive,
4: Mass Effect 3
It may not have been the final chapter that this incredible trilogy deserved, but Mass Effect 3 is still one of the most rewarding and powerful story driven experiences of 2012. It was the culmination of my Shepard, of my decisions in this immersive and magical universe, and the level of emotional involvement I had in this series had enough weight to guarantee it a place on this list. The combat is the best so far, with more refined shooting and new enemy types, and the multiplayer is not half bad either. However, the real brilliance of Mass Effect 3 is the way the different character and story arcs are resolved, resulting in some extremely powerful moments. The genophage, the Quarian-Geth conflict, the Reaper arrival on Earth and more are all dealt with in extremely effective and powerful ways that just make this a must play for any fan of the series. The ending of the game and the dlc policy are bad, but Mass Effect 3 is a great game even taking these into account.
I am not one for what I consider pretentious art games, with only Bastion hitting a sweet spot with me in the past thanks to its excellent gameplay. Journey had all the appearances of something that I would not enjoy, but after I finished it in a single sitting I knew I had just played something very special. It is a visually stunning experience, with haunting music and a level of polish that is far beyond what I would expect from a game of this size. The gameplay is simplistic yet intriguing, and the level of vision and concept that Journey makes good on is just jaw-dropping. I love Journey and was shocked at the sheer level of quality that it has in all aspects, and it is easily one of the finest games of 2012, being superior to many full retail releases.
2: The Walking Dead
Along with Journey, The Walking Dead manages to be the embodiment of the increasing quality in downloadable titles. Telltale managed to not only make their best game of all time, but also the most emotional and powerful narrative of the year for me. The Walking Dead admittedly has shallow gameplay, boiling down to a point and click adventure with some serious technical issues, but the character interactions, the decisions and the level of engagement with the player just make this one of the most engrossing games I have experienced in a long time. The Walking Dead also manages to have what I consider the best child character in gaming in the form of Clementine, and it is the relationship between her and Lee that makes this such a damn powerful game. The moments, split decisions and grim setting of the Walking Dead is a combination that makes it a must play.
1: Far Cry 3
I never expected to like Far Cry 3 nearly as much as I do, especially as I never enjoyed the first 2 and I do not enjoy Crysis either. However, Far Cry 3 is a game that just spoke to me in a meaningful way, matching almost all of what I love in a game like this. There is true free roaming, but the game manages to retain tight shooting mechanics in a harmonious way with the jank that comes with an open world setting worthy of Bethesda. Far Cry 3 also has gorgeous visuals, with incredible animations that I can only hope gives us a glimpse at that games will be like in the next few years as new platforms release. Vaas is an incredible villain, and I am a sucker for good dream sequences, and the way Far Cry 3 sets up its story is just magical for the first two-thirds of the game. It may not make good on this story potential by the end, but Far Cry 3 is the most fun I had playing a game in 2012, and it reminded me of why I loved Turok back on the Nintendo 64: animals killing each other and your enemies in an organic yet hilarious way. Far Cry 3 is mu GOTY 2012, much to my own shock.
Mark of the Ninja
Fall of the Samurai
Spec ops the Line