By dankempster 3 Comments
Well guys, here we come to the end of the long road that was 2012. There's just enough time on this, the last day of the year, to deal out a few more of My End of 2012 Awards.
...Actually, if you haven't already seen the first three parts, you've probably got just about enough time to catch up with those as well. Part One is here, Part Two is here, and Part Three is here. Be quick about it, lad! There's not much of the year left!
All caught up? Good, good. Let's dish out the rest of these miniature golden dankempsters I've got lying around, shall we? First up:
The Stuff That Wasn't Video Games
Believe it or not, my 2012 wasn't entirely defined by video games. I spent a fair amount of time doing other stuff as well - whether it be reading, or listening to music, or writing, there were plenty of highlights of my year that didn't involve having a controller in hand. Below are a list of some of those highlights.
I didn't read as much as I wanted to in 2012, but I did make my way through some pretty big books as the year went on. The first seven months of the year were spent plodding through the entirety of Stephen King's The Dark Tower series, a tale of epic fantasy spread across seven books. Overall I enjoyed the series, but I'm not sure I could sincerely recommend them to anyone. I thought the quality of the books was inconsistent throughout the series, with my personal favourites being the third and fourth (The Waste Lands and Wizard and Glass). My least favourite was without a doubt the seventh and final book, a seven-hundred-page tome that confirms the fact King has never been great at endings by serving as a series of increasingly more disappointing anti-climaxes. If anybody asked me if the series was worth reading, I think I'd advise them to just read Wizard and Glass. That book delivered on the promise that the series makes with some elegant world-building and a brilliantly told, isolated narrative that ensures it can stand on its own merit.
Other books I read and enjoyed this year included Who I Am, the long-awaited autobiography from Pete Townshend. As a huge fan of The Who, and of Pete's unique brand of songwriting in particular, it was a privilege to finally get some insight into his life and the workings of his writer's mind. After five-hundred pages of his captivating memoir, I admire and respect the man even more than I did before, not to mention I now understand the inspirations behind several of my favourite Who songs. Finally, I've spent the year's end reading J.R.R. Tolkien - specifically The Hobbit, and the first part of The Lord of the Rings. I have a confession to make - despite calling myself a fantasy writer and enjoying reading works of fantasy fiction, I've never actually made it all the way through Tolkien's seminal work before. I'm now planning to change that, and having reached the start of The Two Towers, I'm currently further through the story than I've ever been before. It's certainly nowhere near as tough-going as I recall it being from earlier attempts, and I can't wait to get stuck into the rest of the tale in 2013.
2012 wasn't quite as strong a year for music as 2011 was for me, but there's no denying that I've listened to some incredible stuff over the last twelve months. Among my most-played albums this year were the likes of Joe Bonamassa's Driving Towards the Daylight, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood's Big Moon Ritual and its companion piece The Magic Door, Muse's The 2nd Law, and Paul Weller's Sonik Kicks. A noticeable cut above the rest, though, were the following albums:
- Band of Skulls - Sweet Sour - soul-drenched blues-rock in the vein of The White Stripes and The Black Keys, from a three-piece band out of Southampton here in the UK. Sweet Sour has a surprising amount of depth to it, ranging from the riff-driven The Devil Takes Care of His Own through the psychedelic Wanderluster and the quiet contemplation of Navigate. If you like any of the aforementioned artists, you'll probably love Band of Skulls.
- The Gaslight Anthem - Handwritten - There's no point in denying it - this is my favourite album of 2012. Right from the opening gut-punch of a rock track that is '45', right through to its poignant finale National Anthem, Handwritten grabbed me and wouldn't let me go. Driving guitars and highly relatable lyrics ensured that this album saw an obscene amount of playtime through the year, and will most likely do so well into 2013 as well.
- Mumford & Sons - Babel - Mumford & Sons' Sigh No More is an indie folk masterpiece, so it's fair to say I picked up their sophomore album Babel with high expectations. Right from the off it didn't disappoint, delivering twelve more beautifully crafted tracks that make me wonder why I ever doubted the four London boys. My personal favourite from the time I've spent listening so far is Lover of the Light, but the whole thing is brilliant.
- Soundgarden - King Animal - I like Soundgarden as much as the next guy who prefers guitar-driven music, but I never thought I'd get as hyped for King Animal, their first new studio album in sixteen years, as I ended up doing. It's a master-work of heavy, riff-driven rock, taking the most beloved elements of Badmotorfinger, Superunknown and Down on the Upside and marrying them to create something that's instantly recognisable but also somehow brand new. My personal favourites are Been Away Too Long, Blood on the Valley Floor, and Taree.
One of my New Year's Resolutions last year was to write more, specifically in terms of my creative output, which had been lacking throughout my time at University and hadn't really been given a chance to pick back up since finishing my studies. To that end I started up Writer's Unblock, a personal writer's blog through which I intended to share various pieces of creative writing, as well as some musing on the creative process. Success has been pretty hit-and-miss, and I haven't been keeping it updated as often as I should have been, particularly through the second half of this year. It is, however, playing host to one of the most exciting pieces of writing I've worked on for quite some time - a serial novella called The Hawker. Centred around three sentinel-type figures as they try to protect a small town from being seized by a rival militia, I've not been this excited about an idea for a story in a long while. I was only able to pen five chapters' worth of the story in 2012, but I plan to continue it into 2013.
The Honorable Mentions
Sadly, not every game I played this year qualified for one of the individual awards I've spent the last three days handing out. That's what this Honorable Mentions section is for - to recognise the games that I either didn't finish, or didn't spend a substantial amount of time with before the year was out, but that still defined my 2012 in some way. Let's reward those games now, shall we?
Unfinished Games - Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4
Last year the equivalent of this mini-award went to Persona 3, which I was around halfway through at the time, so it's a little spooky that this year's version goes in part to its sequel, which I am also around halfway through at present. As for Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, I've played a significant amount of it, but ran out of steam about forty hours in an ended up putting it down in favour of other stuff. I plan to pick it back up with renewed vigour in the new year, and see it through to its conclusion.
Almost... ...But Not Quite - Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver
Ah, Soul Reaver, you were so close to making it onto the list of individual awards when I played you earlier this year. I saw most of what you had to offer, but my plans to finish you were scuppered by disc read errors that wouldn't let me progress through your last few hours. Later in the year I picked up a different version of you - the downloadable PC version on GOG.com - but I haven't been able to bring myself to replay those many hours I'd already spent with you. Maybe in 2013 I'll slog through your opening hours a second time and find out how you end. For 2012 though, you remain an also-ran.
Best Multiplayer Experience - Rock Band 3
When I think back on multiplayer gaming in 2012, I don't look back to hours spent with any online shooters (probably because I don't have any of those hours to look back to). Instead, my mind travels to the numerous evenings spent at my friend Matt's house, with all my other good pals in tow, playing video games until the early hours of the morning. This award could have quite comfortably gone to Mario Kart Wii, or one of the many versions of Buzz we played, but more than any other game, it's our heavy rotation on Rock Band 3 that I'll remember well into 2013.
Best Sports Game - Pro Evolution Soccer 2011
If you read the third part of this year's Christmas Mega-Blog, this probably won't come as a surprise to you. I spent a silly number of hours with Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 this year, pushing for success in its deep and involving Master League mode. Assuming that trend continues into 2013, I'm sure I'll achieve my goal of winning the European Championship, after which it will be eligible for a proper individual award in next year's end-of-year blogs.
2013 Hot Prospects - The Sims 3 and Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise
One thing that I've been craving as 2012 draws to a close is to spend some time with a zany, colourful sandbox game. I've just spent more than I'd care to admit on expansion packs for The Sims 3, in the anticipation that I'll be spending several hours with it in 2013. I'm also hoping 2013 will be the year I finally delve deep into the Challenge stuff in Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise. Between those two games, next year looks set to be full of silly sandboxy goodness.
Lifetime Achievement Award - Final Fantasy VII
For the second year running, Final Fantasy VII earns a Lifetime Achievement award for continued services to this here blog. It's incredible to think that my Enduring Final Fantasy VII series is now almost three years old, and with only the endgame content left to play through, it probably won't be too much longer before it comes to an end. This is therefore probably the last time Final Fantasy VII will occupy this slot, with 2013 likely to see it earn a full-blown individual award.
The Ten Games That Made My 2012
So this is what it's all boiled down to - the definitive list of the ten games that stood head-and-shoulders above all the rest to emerge as my favourite games played in 2012.
A quick disclaimer before I launch into the list proper - none of these games were released in 2012. I only played one game that came out this year, and while I enjoyed it, I wouldn't rank it equal to any of the titles on this list. Much like the individual awards handed out over the last three days, this final list of ten is drawn from the pool of all games I played and finished this year, whether they came out in the last twelve months or not. Another thing to bear in mind is that this list is not in any kind of hierarchical order. It was difficult enough to narrow it down to a top ten, never mind ranking the lucky qualifiers in ascending order of brilliance. To save any potential argument or confusion over this, I've elected to run the list in alphabetical order. With those two key points in mind, here are The Ten Games That Made My 2012:
(Remedy -- X360 -- 2010)
I went into Alan Wake expecting a fun but largely forgettable third-person shooter, and came out with those expectations totally subverted. Alan Wake kept me absolutely hooked, to the point where I played through it in just two sittings, both of which kept me permanently hanging off the edge of my seat throughout. The storyline unfolds like something straight out of a Stephen King novel, but the interactive aspect helps to keep it feeling fairly fresh, and the fact that certain questions (particularly those pertaining to Alan's sanity) are left unanswered strengthens the impact of the story and its ambiguous conclusion. I loved the 'fight-with-light' combat, which transformed the otherwise run-of-the-mill combat into some really tense third-person shooting, although by the end of the game's sixth episode I was longing for some new enemy types. I've since downloaded both the DLC episodes for Alan Wake, as well as the American Nightmare spin-off, and I look forward to playing through them all in 2013.
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood
(Ubisoft -- X360 -- 2010)
If you look at things logically, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood was pretty much a shoe-in for this year's Top Ten list - after all, Assassin's Creed II comfortably made the list last year, and Brotherhood is an improvement on ACII in just about every conceivable way. Almost every single facet of the gameplay was either expanded or improved - slicker traversal, more involved missions, a wealth of side missions both new and old to complete, a city to liberate, a whole Assassins' Guild to run... There was so much stuff to do in Brotherhood it was unreal, and I loved every single second of all of it. The story didn't quite grab me in the same way as ACII's did, mainly because I felt there wasn't as much focus on Ezio as a character in Brotherhood, but there's no denying that in terms of gameplay, Brotherhood blows its predecessor out of the water. Even irrespective of the status of its forebears, though, there's no denying that AC: Brotherhood is one of the greatest, most fun times I had with any game in 2012. That's ultimately why it's here on this list.
(Supergiant Games -- XBLA -- 2011)
The indie darling of Giant Bomb's GOTY Awards last year, I initially tried to play Bastion on my laptop but struggled with the keyboard-and-mouse controls. I later downloaded it through the Xbox LIVE Marketplace and found the 360 controller much more accommodating to the isometric action gameplay. It wasn't long before I was completely immersed in the post-Calamity world of Caelondia, thanks in no small part to some inspired scripting and narration work. I adored the music - in all my years playing video games, Bastion marks the first time I've ever actually gone out of my way to buy and download a game soundtrack, and Zia's theme 'Build That Wall' is one of my most-played songs this year. The gameplay was solid, offering up some challenging-but-fun combat supplemented by a cool arsenal of weapons and powers. The little RPG-like touches were much appreciated too - experimenting with different perks in the distillery was another personal highlight of my time with the game.
Batman: Arkham Asylum
(Rocksteady -- X360 -- 2009)
I am not a Batman fan. I have no investment whatsoever in the popular superhero franchise, having never sat through any of the films, TV series or cartoons, or even so much as picked up a comic book. After 2012, that may all be set to change, after I had a brilliant time with Rocksteady's Batman: Arkham Asylum. In the space of little more than a week I went from being completely disinterested with Batman as a franchise, to totally hooked by this game's amalgamation of incredible mechanics. The stealth sections are some of the best in any game I've ever played, forgoing forced player weakness in favour of giving them access to a wealth of awesome tools and gadgets to gain the upper hand. Speaking of hands, there's an amazing melée combat system at work here too, evolving the traditional face-button-based combat of games like God of War into something much more fluid, dynamic, and rewarding. I've since picked up Arkham CIty, and plan to dig deep into it in 2013.
Colin McRae: DiRT
(Codemasters -- X360 --2007)
In a year when I was convinced I'd never get behind a virtual wheel ever again, DiRT made me fall in love with driving games all over again. That's no mean feat, considering just how burned out Forza 3 left me feeling last year. DiRT managed to win me over thanks to a combination of accessible driving mechanics, a wealth of different off-road driving disciplines to choose from, a widely varied roster of cars and tracks to unlock and race, and a career mode that didn't demand total commitment from me as a player, but still managed to earn it nonetheless. DiRT confirmed for me that right now, my foreseeable future with the driving genre lies not with bloated simulations like Forza and Gran Turismo, but with exciting, arcade-ish racers that won't render me a slave to their depth. Contrary to my previous belief, it feels like a new era of virtual racing is just beginning, and it's all thanks to Colin McRae: DiRT.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
(Bethesda -- X360 -- 2011)
To say Skyrim made my year seems like an understatement. For the first three months, Skyrim WAS my year. In that time I put a grand total of 167 hours into this game - that's pretty much an entire WEEK of my life. I was totally immersed in the snowy realm of the Nords, taking the time to appreciate the game's incredible depth of design and attention to detail. I journeyed, I quested, I slaughtered and I saved, I hoarded and I sold. For the first thirty days I documented my every step and decision in a series of diary-like blogs, and although I stopped writing them after that first month, the way I approached my Nord's adventure didn't change. Perhaps the scariest thing about Skyrim is that more than half of its content remains untouched, ready to be explored when I inevitably buy all that DLC and roll a new character in 2013. Personally, scary as that thought may be, I really can't wait.
Halo 3: ODST
(Bungie -- X360 -- 2009)
Halo 3: ODST probably wasn't the greatest first-person shooter that I played this year, but it's certainly the one that's left the greatest impression on me, and I don't think that's just because I played it more recently than the other shooters on the short-list. ODST took the trademark gameplay and feel of the Halo series and injected it with something foreign and exciting. The result is a gaming experience that's still unmistakably Halo, but that also manages to feel like a new take on an established formula. I loved exploring the streets of New Mombasa as the Rookie, a bleak and desolate search punctuated by some of my favourite combat scenarios from the entire Halo series. The main story ultimately fell a little flat, but I was willing to commend Bungie for trying something a little different with their narrative. I really hope Halo: Reach can deliver a similar experience when I get around to playing it next year.
Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Anniversary
(Crystal Dynamics -- PS2 -- 2007)
Putting Tomb Raider: Anniversary on this list kind of feels like cheating. One of the unwritten rules I followed last year was to not allow games I'd already completed in previous years to be eligible for this final Top Ten. It's the reason why Grand Theft Auto IV didn't make this list last year, despite undoubtedly being one of my favourite gaming experiences of 2011. And yet here I am, singing the praises of a game I've now beaten a total of three times across two different platforms. "Why?", I hear you cry. I think the answer lies in the fact that after a lacklustre time with Tomb Raider: Legend, I was fully expecting Anniversary to be similarly disappointing. Thankfully, that wasn't the case. Anniversary succeeds in refining and updating everything that was great about the original Tomb Raider, presenting it in a package that's gorgeous to look at, fun to play, and incredible to experience. That in itself is worthy of a little recognition, wouldn't you agree?
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES
(Atlus -- PS2 -- 2008)
Persona 3 left a much greater mark on me than I ever expected it to. My initial misguided impression was that I was in for a lengthy, playable take on some Japanese animé, and the opening hours didn't do much to assuage that feeling. Giving the game more time to open up, though, I was presented with what is undoubtedly one of the finest JRPGs of the last decade. Characters that seemed to adhere rigidly to archetypes gradually revealed themselves as complex, interesting personalities. The trivial beginnings of most Social Links evolved over time into thoughtful commentaries on experiencing loss, and different ways of coming to terms with that loss. The combat was surprisingly deep, demanding a deeper understanding of the various buffs, debuffs and attack types than the first few encounters led me to anticipate. Persona 3 turned out to be much more than it initially suggested itself to be, and for once, it's something I was glad to be wrong about.
(Squaresoft -- PS1 -- 2000)
Vagrant Story had been a monkey on my gamer's back for almost a decade when I finally committed myself to seeing Ashley Riot's adventure through earlier this year. The story stands head and shoulders above most of its contemporaries, marrying religious cultism with political intrigue in Yasumi Matsuno's trademark fashion. Interwoven with the playable Riskbreaker's own personal tale, Vagrant Story's plot is one of the greatest I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing. It's as much a pleasure to play as it is to watch unfold, the gameplay comprising a solid mix of exploration, puzzle-solving and combat that's more than capable of holding the player's attention. A masterful combination of complex narrative, unforgettable characters and a battle system that's as rewarding as it is demanding... All this ensures that Vagrant Story deserves every single bit of praise it attracts. It will certainly go down in history as one of my favourite action RPGs of all time.
Here Finishes My End Of 2012 Awards
So that's that - 2012 well and truly wrapped up. With all the games celebrated and the awards handed out, all that remains for me to do is to thank you, the Giant Bomb community, for helping to make these last twelve months so memorable. Here's hoping that 2013 will be even better, and not just in terms of the games we play. Thanks very much for reading this fool's ramblings. Take care, all of you, and I'll see you around on the other side of this great divide.
Happy New Year, Giant Bomb!
Currently playing - Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (GBA)