1. The Walking Dead
Whereas some may feel awkward giving such an honour to The Walking Dead, due to the fact that gameplay isn’t exactly there a lot of the time. I feel justified in giving this the number one slot. Where gameplay may have been lacking at times something incredible was going on in its absence. A 5-part downloadable game from TellTale. The Walking Dead creates its own unique characters and storyline off the back of the popular comic book series by Robert Kirkman. The advances to the moral choice system are superb. Like Alpha Protocol before it, decisions are on a time limit forcing the player to think fast and with choices this difficult the game felt brutal at times. Who do you choose to feed when food is rationed? Whose side do you take in an argument? Does someone live or die? It’s all going on around you and you just have to decide. There’s no right or wrong answer, you’re just surviving. Big budget games like Mass Effect could learn a thing or two here, and I hope 2013 sees this sort of choice system continued and advanced even further. Never have I cried in a game, movie or any other form of media – until now – the characters, the choices, the story development, it all came together at the end for one of the greatest finales of anything, games, TV or otherwise. If you haven’t played this series – pick it up, it’s on console, PC and even ipad you just have to experience it for yourself.
2. Sleeping Dogs
Sleeping Dogs in my opinion is one of the greatest success stories of 2012. Starting life as a new addition to the True Crime series back in 2009, the game was stuck in development hell and was cancelled by Activision Blizzard in 2011. Thankfully, SquareEnix picked up the publishing rights and rebranded the game Sleeping Dogs. The game offers an incredible open world playground with a ton of stuff to do. Playing as Wei Shen you’re an undercover cop infiltrating the Chinese Triad. Obviously along the way, you loyalties get questioned and the story comes into its own right from the start with some incredible voice acting across the board. The combat is akin to that of the recent batman games, which is never a bad thing and with a world so stuffed full of side missions, collectables and those infamous ‘pork buns’, you can easily sit back and enjoy this game for a really long time.
3. Guild Wars 2
I’ve never, nor will I ever play the world’s number one MMO – World of Warcraft. It takes a lot for me to get into an MMO. I was big into City of Heroes but unfortunately that ship has sailed and subsequently sank as Paragon studios was shut down and the game closed its doors in November 2012. Suffice to say I was on the market for something new. Guild Wars 2 thankfully ticks pretty much every box I have. The first good point, it’s a one-time payment – you pay for the game and there are no monthly subscriptions. The actual world in the game is gorgeous, the best I’ve ever seen in an MMO. The usual ‘grind’ is eliminated through natural quests you run into throughout the world. XP is earned not just for combat, but crafting, for collecting materials and exploring – and with a world this unique, you really want to explore. And the people behind this game, really seem to care about their fan base and have already offered some great seasonal events which truly alter the world of the game. I’ve dropped over 200 hours into this thing and I can see more time disappearing way into 2013.
4. Hitman: Absolution
Hitman Absolution sees the return of Agent 47 after a long absence which has been filled by hooded Italian and Native American Assassins. The ‘Original Assassin’ as SquareEnix totted ‘was back’. I’ve always been a fan of the series, and I had some concerns when things were first announced as it came across more streamlined and it was unclear if the big expansive levels with multiple routes to completion were to be included. My fears were alleviated thanks to a couple of video walkthroughs which surfaced online. Absolution’s levels for the most part are smaller but the game is a solid and thankfully rather lengthy adventure for Agent 47. The various ways to take out your target offers some real replay value in discovering new ways to do ‘what you do best’.
5. Max Payne 3
With Rockstar taking over development duties from Remedy I was pumped for Max Payne 3. I have nothing against Remedy, I just knew that Rockstar would bring their incredible craftsmanship and polish to a franchise that was already a personal favourite of mine. Picking up sometime after the events of Max Payne 1 and 2, the game offers a fittingly dark and gritty story with of course that world renowned bullet time gameplay. The game looks incredible – the environments are so diverse and it’s clear a lot of time and effort went into their creation. The gameplay is smooth, the controls are tight and the cinematic moments are nothing short of incredible. Finally the unique soundtrack by Health helps to make this game really stand out.
6. XCOM: Enemy Unknown
I’m not usually one for top down tactical games, but with the amount of buzz behind X-Com I had to check it out for myself. Downloading and playing the demo prior to Christmas made me feel a twinge of regret as this wasn’t on my list to Santa. Thankfully I picked this up after the big day and I’m glad I did. The gameplay is addictive and easy to pick up and yet there are so many things to manage away from the battlefield as you develop your base, choose what to research and progress your soldiers through various ranks and choose upgrades and armour for them to use. Name your soldiers after friends or as I did favourite TV show characters and you really start to care about your squad and rue the day any of them fall in combat. RIP Jack Bauer – you died a hero. Ah hell who am I kidding – I reloaded to get through that mission with him still on the team!
7. Mass Effect 3
Mass Effect 3 got a fair bit of bad press this year after ‘that ending’ and the decisions BioWare made to change it in order to appease the fans. Either way there’s no denying how fantastic the series was overall. The high point for me will always be Mass Effect 2, but 3 still had some great story beats and rounded off a truly ambitious project overall. I would have liked to have seen a bit more in terms of my decisions impacting the story, and the morale choice system is pretty weak soon after you realise the top one is the good choice. Sure you might want to play things straight – but it shouldn’t be that easy to figure out – especially when higher ranking games in my top ten, make this choice system seem as advanced as a 6 year old with his hands held behind his back.
8. Far Cry 3
Far Cry 3 gives you an island, it gives you freedom and it gives you wild animals ready to attack you at a moment’s notice and scare the hell out of you. The game does a great job of making you feel you are simply surviving in the environment. There’s a lot to do in this big open world. Sure I can take issue with the choice of main character being counter intuitive to pretty much everyone that will be playing this game and killing multiple people five minutes after he says “I’ve never shot someone before.” But if you’re willing to ignore a design choice or two and just go with it, the world, the gameplay and the soundtrack all come together to offer a great game with so much to see, do and shoot. And if one character deserves villain of the 2012, it has to be Vaas. The voice acting is amazing and so sinister. I just love to hate that guy.
9. Mark of the Ninja
I always loved the smooth art style of Klei Entertainment, the problem was no matter how good Shank may have looked, the gameplay was rather repetitive and got old fast. Thankfully Klei has gone on to create Mark of the Ninja, a game just as gorgeous to look at as its predecessor, but also its fantastic to play. A stealth game at heart, there’s something incredibly satisfying about sneaking your way through entire levels like a ghost. The controls are tight, the skill tree is interesting, and it just continues to show that downloadable games are becoming stiff competition for their big budget triple-A counterparts. Here’s hoping for a sequel as I’m nearly done with the original.
A new beginning for the PS2 launch line up franchise sees a great entry into the series. Everything just felt right about this one. The gameplay, the soundtrack and the addictive Global events which saw you and your friends battle it out for score or time trial dominance. You beat a time only for your buddy to go ahead and shave a second or two off of it. The lack of actual multiplayer with more than one rider on the slope was a little disappointing, but the survival challenges did a great job of offering something new in its place. High altitude boarding with an oxygen tank, was a personal favourite. And with the ability to customise a full soundtrack into the game, your own music choices made things even better.