Game Of The Year 2015: DarkFury's Picks

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We’ve seen a ton of great games released in 2015. Everyone I talk to seems to agree that this year was especially good, making the process of deciding on a Game Of The Year list both easier and harder. Before I get into my list, I wanted to share some other recommendations from my year in gaming.

Local Multiplayer

2015 was far less successful in the local multiplayer space. My group was all over the local multiplayer craze that stormed the industry in 2014. We spent many a Friday night at my apartment, enjoying TowerFall Ascension, Gang Beasts and Jackbox Party Packwith some good friends.

This year, the spotlight has been elsewhere, and the number of Grade A hits took a steep nosedive. My personal 2015 callouts, however, are Duck Game, Quiplash, and Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, all 3 of which are remarkable new takes on the local multiplayer genre and would take pride of place alongside our favourites from last year.

Backlog of Shame

In the new year I’ve already got a playlist set, and a lot of that is comprised of 2015 releases that I wish I’d had more time for, as they could have been contenders for my affections and placement on my year’s list. Here's a list of recommendations for games that I've played, like, and can't wait to give a fair shake:

Fallout 4, DiRT Rally, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Nuclear Throne, SOMA, Rainbow Six Siege, Yakuza 5, and Destiny: The Taken King.

Honourable Mentions

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Halo 5 and Super Mario Maker got closest to breaking into my 10 without actually getting in - and that was a tough decision to make, because they're both amazing. I had a great time with Halo 5’s campaign, playing co-op with my brother, blasting through it on Heroic and experiencing the impressive set pieces and encounters. Multiplayer is very good too.

I think Super Mario Maker could have made it to the top of my list, but I just haven't been in a position to spend significant time with it myself. Instead, I have been experiencing it vicariously through the magic of Giant Bomb and Patrick Klepek, who have been obsessed with it for months now. I have a history with creating levels in other games, and really want to get stuck into this when I'm in the same place as my Wii U again. The user created levels are continuing to generate surprises and unique challenges, and I can't wait to join in!

Here's a list of other 2015 games that I've enjoyed: Battlefield Hardline, Ori and the Blind Forest, Cities: Skylines, Axiom Verge, Mortal Kombat X, Until Dawn, and Star Wars Battlefront.

Statistics

Lastly, I’ve been keeping track of my gaming activity down to quite a scary level of detail, noting down every instance of time spent playing. Here are some stats from that list, which is available here:

  • Number of games played in 2015: 158
  • Number of 2015 releases played in 2015: 62
  • Number of games completed in 2015: 24
  • Most played games of 2015: The Witcher 3 (30 days), Rocket League (25 days), Metal Gear Solid V (21 days)

Now here it is! Now is the time! My favourite games of 2015, in a carefully considered order!

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10 - Call of Duty: Black Ops III

Black Ops III is the first Call of Duty that I’ve picked up since the original Black Ops, and the last time I really got into the series multiplayer was with Modern Warfare 2. Six years later, and the old receptors are still getting fired up by the game’s fantastic and satisfying combat, its pace and snap drawing me in for several hours at a time, despite my reflexes and natural ability paling in comparison to my golden days in competitive gaming.

The game is packed with options, and an admirable breadth of content - the kind of which is sorely lacking in most other multiplayer shooters from this year. I’ve only put any significant amount of time into the core multiplayer’s public matches, matchmaking into random games on my own. It may well have taken a spot higher up my list if I’d played through the campaign, zombies mode and multiplayer with a group of friends, but as it stands I’ve enjoyed trying out the unique abilities of each Specialist, and experimenting with different weapons and unlocks to find something I can excel with. I think the best thing about this series right now is how the agility of each player factors into how combat plays out, full of wallruns and boost jumps. This is the online multiplayer shooter that has stuck with me the longest this year.

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9 - Forza Motorsport 6

Forza 6 was a pleasant surprise, because although it may appear to be yet another entry in a tried and tested semi-sim racing series, the changes made this time make it my favourite racing game of the year, and perhaps even the best feeling game of its kind. A big contributing factor is the Xbox One controller and its impulse triggers, offering asynchronous rumble on each side of the controller, and a feeling of resistance when pulling the accelerator and the brake. This was in place last time around, sure, but the addition of wet weather environments means that we have aquaplaning when driving through puddles, and that's just about the best feedback I’ve ever gotten out of a controller - a feeling of being on the edge of control at high speeds.

The new street racing locations that they’ve added are a great deal of fun to race around, from the steep descents of Rio de Janeiro to the sloping hillsides of Prague. The career progression is a little more exciting than in the past, giving you a choice between 6 different car types between each tournament, and then upping the overall vehicle class at the end of each series. I’ve still got plenty more Forza to get through, and I’m looking forward to picking that controller up again.

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8 - Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number

Hotline Miami 2 gave me everything I wanted out of a sequel to the incredible original. I compare it to what Portal 2 did on top of Portal: In place of the original’s purity, it crams in a ton of interesting new mechanics and characters, pushing the existing concepts to the limit. The game features multiple playable characters that all play quite differently, keeping things interesting for the duration of what turns out to be a surprisingly long story. I particularly enjoyed playing as Jake’s Irvin mask which puts a silent and deadly Nail Gun in your hands, and the Davis siblings, who don Swan masks and are both controlled by the player, offering close and long range combat at the same time. It features cutscenes and combat-less sections to flesh out the overall package, which tantalisingly serves up more questions about the story than answers.

I enjoyed that it ramped up the difficulty; From the very start, it poses challenges that are up there with the hardest sections of the first game, and from there you get thrown levels that took me close to an hour to complete, forcing me to learn new methods that had me clearing huge groups of enemies in a single, non-stop stretch, darting from pillar to post and improvising weapon use until no-one was left standing. The final piece is the soundtrack which galvanises the action just like the original did, and it's an awesome selection of tracks.

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7 - Splatoon

Splatoon is the most pleasant of surprises, and I want Nintendo to give us more stuff like it. It's super Japanese, from the day-glo art style to the J-punk music, and its fresh take on multiplayer combat is a resounding success - win by covering the environment in paint! The entire package is cool, and Nintendo has been building it with regular updates that add more maps, modes and ways to customize your squid-kid's look.

It's one of those games that plays great on the Wii U GamePad, building a case for why you should own the console. The map is displayed at all times, showing where your team hasn't splattered with their colour, and a quick tap on the screen will boost you through the air over to the location to get into the thick of it quickly. By default, the Y-axis is set to motion controls, and after suppressing my initial knee-jerk reaction to turn it off, I found myself enjoying the speed with which I was able to whip around my paint-gun - it's more important to cover the environment then it is to get attacks in on the other team, so it makes sense! I've been away from my Wii U for ages now, but I cannot wait to see what's been added recently!

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6 - Undertale

I’m going to keep this one short, because this is a game that deserves to be played sight unseen, in a single 6-7 hour sitting if you can manage it. Simply put, Undertale is a treat, an inventive and exciting little adventure packed with detail and love from its individual creator, entertaining from start to finish. I couldn’t wait to see what the next creative take on an enemy encounter was going to be. It’s genuinely funny and perfectly paced, and entices you to take a second crack at it - something I will certainly be doing once the dust settles on this year. Undertale is going to stick with me for a long time to come.

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5 - Guitar Hero Live

Between the release of Rock Band 3 and now, I’ve learned how to play an instrument for reals, and wasn’t sure what to make of the return of both the Rock Band series, which I was a diehard fan of, and the Guitar Hero series, which had fallen out of favour a long time ago. Guitar Hero Live made significant changes and has become one of the games that I regularly turn to for a quick bit of entertainment. The new guitar design forces you to re-learn some basic concepts, a very strange feeling going from expert difficulty with the old 5-button system to struggling with the regular difficulty with the 2-rows-of-3. It was a nice surprise that it wasn’t just more of the same, and is the main reason I've stuck with the game.

The Live mode is throwaway - the FMV is cringeworthy and difficult to watch at times, but it’s a fun few hours of gameplay that tries something new. I’ve sunk hours into the other half of the package, GHTV. I love how the song library is handled, because I get to play the entire expanding selection without having to pay for individual tracks or packs. Not only has that saved me from possibly ploughing a small fortune into it just to play the songs I know I’ll enjoy, it’s also had me discovering artists I didn’t know about! The music channels have enough variation to avoid being too repetitive, and if I’m not feeling it I’ll dip into the song library and play a la carte, and have never felt that I was running out of play tokens as the channels and progression is generous enough. I’m seeing new songs popping up often, so I’m very happy with the game and consider it one of the year’s biggest surprises. I’d rank it among my 3 favourite instrument games of all time.

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4 - Rocket League

Rocket League was an instant classic as soon as it released on PlayStation Plus. Whole swathes of my PS4 and flesh-bag real-life friends were hooked on it. It speaks to our group in particular as possibly the greatest form of virtual football ever - whilst clearly not a realistic representation of the sport, the way it encourages communication and teamwork, as well as speed and accuracy, makes it something that has us all shouting down the microphone in excitement, as we score brilliantly set up goals, and desperately save the opposing team’s efforts from off of the goal line.

There are several ways in which Rocket League has been a success story. Clearly the accessibility of it helps - you can easily explain the game’s core concepts because of their familiarity. The choice to release it on PS Plus at launch meant that it had a huge player base from the start, leading to match after match with no waiting, encouraging you to stick around for just one more game. Psyonix has supported the game with a combination of free and paid DLC at a regular pace since launch, and the common response from my peer group has been to give them the money due to the build-up of good will, mixed with a slight feeling of guilt from having obtained the game at no extra cost (or at the very least, the best reason to have a PS Plus account yet). There is personality in the unlocks available that allow you to pick your car, colour scheme, rocket trail, flag and hat to create a unique look for yourself, or agree on a uniform for your team to use and instill fear in your opponents with.

The final layer that seals the game as a favourite is the learning curve that exists with the in-air controls and barrel rolls, which once mastered unlock an entirely more spectacular form of competition, as you boost up to collide with an airborne ball to angle it toward goal, much to your opponent’s dismay. None of us have nailed down the techniques to excel at a higher level, but some of us have gotten our last gasp goal-tending worked out, which boosts the confidence of your team immensely. We’re sure to be dragging Rocket League out for the occasional session as we move forward, such is its pick-up-and-play nature. Fingers crossed everyone else feels the same way so matchmaking doesn’t take too long.

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3 - Bloodborne

Bloodborne is the only Souls game I’ve finished, despite trying to get on with Dark Souls I and II. What did it for me this time around was the speed of combat - they don’t give you the option of a shield and instead encourage you to be more agile - as well as the Lovecraft-inspired horrors that await you around every corner. The game delivered some of the biggest adrenaline bursts of the my year, suggesting a creeping evil was stalking you in several areas of the game. I felt lost whilst navigating through the Forbidden Woods, and felt both powerful and very very lucky after dealing with 3 bosses in a row on my first attempt.

It’s been quite a while since I played it, but I still have vivid memories of a great amount of the game, its inhabitants, and the strategies I came up with to deal with them. The thrill of seeing the next lamp up ahead, teasing you with the chance to retain the progress you’ve made whilst inching forward through unknown territory, it’s an incredible feeling. This will be nothing new for big fans of these games, but the changes made with Bloodborne have made it something that I’ve been able to experience as well, and I definitely understand what all the fuss is about.

The mystery, the dread, the feeling of discovery and helplessness, all converge to offer one of the most powerful experiences in gaming.

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2 - Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

MGSV is the greatest playing stealth game ever created. The act of sneaking around this open world is just so incredible, the tools at your disposal are satisfying to use and try out, and being able to infiltrate a base from any which direction you choose means that even with repeated mission parameters across the same ground, you can still be trying out new approaches long into your career with the game.

I enjoyed playing about in this sandbox, upgrading my arsenal of cool weapons and gadgets along the way, taking different buddies out for missions, fultoning everything from soldiers to cargo containers to tanks, staying glued to the screen for every cutscene, and genuinely loving the entire experience.

It's more than worthy an addition to my favourite game series, and although I wish there was more story content, the journey it took me on offered some of the highest highs in entertainment for 2015. I was absolutely engrossed for over 50 hours during the first few weeks, and wouldn’t stop until I was satisfied that I had seen pretty much everything it had to show me.

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1 - The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

I’ve been lost in The Witcher 3’s world for months now. I’ve occasionally felt like I should press on towards the end of the main story, but then I feel guilty that I’d miss out on the high quality content that’s around every corner. The game is populated with quirky characters and incredibly detailed side quests, there is so much to do, and I've never felt more compelled to see every last bit of it.

Plotlines are interconnected, much like in its predecessors, but in an open world game of such scale, it's nothing short of phenomenal that the logic stands up throughout, constantly surprising and delighting with new ideas and new takes on combat and adventure. There's a heap of Witcher Contracts which task Geralt of Rivia with taking down a specific and unique monster, and these have been my favourite missions because they commonly involve some sleuthing, some decision making, and some difficult combat that rewards combat research and deft use of spells, potions and blade oils.

The game's been on its own journey, launching with some technical issues that never got fully ironed out on PS4; It's kind enough to give me a good 40 seconds to think about how I can improve after I die and reload my save. A new control mode was added in, making it much more responsive and satisfying to play. Hearts of Stone, a truly impressive expansion, was also released and adds even more in, with another even bigger expansion coming next year.

Never before has an RPG engrossed me in such a way, and it has won over my head and my heart to be my Game Of The Year for 2015; I recommend it without hesitation.

My list was originally posted to GoPlayThat where our entire team is posting their GOTY articles every day this week!

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Games of 2013 - Check-in Session

Today, we had an 11 hour gaming session on our mission to check in on every 2013 release I have. Special thanks to Tom for staying till 1am, we got through 21 games. Here's what we got to:

On PC:

  • DmC Devil May Cry
  • Antichamber
  • The Swapper
  • Prison Architect
  • Monaco
  • Rogue Legacy
  • Super Hot
  • Gunpoint
  • Surgeon Simulator 2013
  • Shadow Warrior
  • Rise of the Triad
  • Outlast

On Xbox 360:

  • Anarchy Reigns
  • Dead Space 3
  • Crysis 3
  • Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
  • Gears of War: Judgment
  • Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
  • Rocksmith 2014

On Wii U:

  • Rayman Legends
  • Super Mario 3D World

There's more to come, and i'll be posting my thoughts on each game before posting my final GOTY list.

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GOTY Blogs Incoming!

I will be putting up a weekly blog post over the next 4 weeks, as I run down each other 2013 releases I played on my quest to work out my Top 10 of 2013. It'll follow a similar format to the one I did last year, but within a shorter time frame.

You can check out my list of completed games here, which also includes full lists of the games I played each month.

Back soon!

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Games of 2012 - Top 10

I've spent 2 months thinking about my favourite games of 2012, having played the hot new winter releases, revisited the games I rated highest throughout the year, and also invested some time on 2012 releases that other people seemed to be smitten by but which had passed me by. Right here I've got my final personal Top 10, as well a list of other HIGHLY RECOMMENDED games that I've put the spotlight on recently.

In January I will be finishing up some of the stragglers as well as making some other recommendations (my 4/5 rated list), but this list is the final version, as I've spent enough time deliberating it and trying everything out until I was happy. So without further ado, I give you my Top 10:

Final List

1

Max Payne 3

WEEK 6

2

Far Cry 3

WEEK 5

3

Journey

WEEK 2

4

Halo 4

WEEK 6

5

Hotline Miami

WEEK 1

6

Fez

WEEK 3

7

Forza Horizon

WEEK 3

8

The Walking Dead

WEEK 5

9

Dishonored

WEEK 1

10

Sleeping Dogs

WEEK 5

My list is full of games that got my heart racing. When Max Payne 3 released in May, I had the best time playing through that single-player story, and simply couldn't get enough. I played countless hours of multiplayer, and returned to the single-player again, loving it all the more. I felt pretty sure back then that the game would remain my favourite for the year, and it has. That is to say nothing of the high quality of the rest of 2012's releases, as Far Cry 3 came and entertained me far more than I had thought it would. The core gameplay is the most fun to be had this year, though I personally felt that Max Payne's overall package provided me with more quality time and higher highs.

2012 has been the best year yet for download-only releases. I have 4 unbeatable games on my list, all unique and thoroughly entertaining. My favourite series returned with a bang, delivering an awesome campaign and arguably the best Halo multiplayer to date. I got thrills out of Playground's debut, and can't wait to see what the UK racing supergroup dev team will get up to next. 2 new IPs round out my list, and delivered awesome experiences in 2 of my favourite genres, stealth and urban open-world action.

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Honorable Mentions

Mass Effect 3, Binary Domain, The Witcher 2, Borderlands 2, Trials Evolutions, Alan Wake's American Nightmare, SSX

My top 10, as well as these 7 honorable mentions all received the spotlight in my Games of 2012 blog - check it out here

Time Over!

ZombiU, Assassin's Creed III, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Mark of the Ninja, Darksiders II, Hitman Absolution, Yakuza Dead Souls

These are the games that I own and see potential in, but that I didn't get to complete or spend enough time with to spotlight and ultimately judge against the rest of my GOTY list.

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Games of 2012 (WEEK 6)

With one more week until the end of the year, I've still got quite a few games to get through. Here's my penultimate post, featuring the games I've played enough that are worthy of the spotlight.

WEEK 6

Mass Effect 3

  • Released: March
  • Giant Bomb Score: 4/5
  • My Score: 5/5
  • Quick Look

Mass Effect 3 is quite an achievement. An end to a sci-fi trilogy is a huge challenge, especially when the series has been about player choice. At some point I have to sit back and commend Bioware for wrapping it up, despite my misgivings about the way it was handled. It´s here where I remind myself that what I love of the game isn´t anything to do with the ending, but with the journey there. Meeting up with characters from the first and second games, Exploring new locations and engaging in much more chaotic and climactic battles than in series past.

The combat and general gameplay mechanics are also improved, though I did feel that the framework in use since the original gets stretched uncomfortably at several points. Multiplayer was an entertaining diversion though nothing incredible. I think its impressive that the game held together as well as it did, against the odds.

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Max Payne 3

  • Released: May
  • Giant Bomb Score: 4/5
  • My Score: 5/5
  • Quick Look

Max Payne 3 hosted the lion´s share of my favourite gaming moments this year. I was so exciting about getting to continue Max´s story, and when it arrived I found in it everything I had hoped for. The upgrade to the physics engine and masterful animation system made diving about so very exhilarating, and coupled with the solid cover mechanic it made Max manoeuvrable despite his heavier frame, a necessity given the increase in difficulty in this third outing. I found that difficulty to be very well balanced and a fun challenge - enough that it was the only game of the year that I played through for a second time on a higher difficulty level.

I loved the story and the variety in locations, I thought the colour separation-style to the cutscenes fit really well, and thought the voiceover from Max throughout gave the experience an extra dimension. The atmosphere throughout is thick, the mood is perfectly pitched and everything is so damn cool. The soundtrack by HEALTH is a masterpiece.

I found myself hooked on the multiplayer too, and sunk over a hundred hours into it, maxing out my level and prestiging to go around again. In its heyday around time of release, it was brilliant with enough players to keep full sessions going for long sessions played into the night. The DLC is still being trickled out to this day, and with double and triple XP weekends coming around at a regular pace, there are usually just enough people online at any time to get a good hour or two in. Max Payne 3 is the complete package for me this year, and hit all the high notes.

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Halo 4

  • Released: November
  • Giant Bomb Score: 4/5
  • My Score: 5/5
  • Quick Look

I´m in deep with the Halo saga. More than 10 books deep. All the games deep. Hundreds of Halo 2 online and clan match gaming deep. Halo 4 is my jam, and I´m really happy with how it turned out in the hands of the guys at 343 Industries. They made one the best Halo campaigns in the series, which takes the story to some interesting places and keeps the 30-second gameplay loop working its magic even with new enemies and weapons in play. I think the main complaints I have are with the lack of freshness on display - those new elements are very similar to what is already available - and with the lack of explanation around the Didact, a new antagonist for the series that is given no real introduction, as if everything should already know who he is. This is coming from someone half-way through a trilogy of books solely based on the Didact and the life and times around which he rose to power.I will let them off under the expectation that the go all out for Halo 5.

For the multiplayer, 343 seem to have learnt from the competition and modernised the game, for the better. Spartan Ops is also a grand idea (episodic multiplayer story with cutscenes, set after the campaign´s conclusion), and I really want to jump back in in the new year. Oh, and for crazy multiplayer shenanigans, Halo is still the place to be. Evidence can be found in the Community Nights hosted by us around the game´s launch.

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Spelunky

I loved Spelunky because every attempt through the randomly generated cave system was a new adventure that taught me new lessons that I could put into practice straight away. Encounters with new enemies would prepare you for future match ups, breaking your neck from a fall too far would teach you your characters limits for next time. The game is ruthless but not unfair in a way that will turn you off. You need to be cautious but also have the skills to react at a moment's notice. The feeling of progress and personal development will keep you playing, and you'll live for the runs that have you survive for entire worlds, riding on some crazy adrenaline high that sees you beat the odds and make it through.

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The Witcher 2

  • Released: April (on Xbox 360)
  • My Score: 5/5
  • Quick Look

The Witcher 2 starts off as the best RPG I´ve every played. The world and in-fiction is dense and impressive, the combat mechanics are unique and tactile, and the game looks gorgeous. It is however a shame that I felt the game had hit its high mark around half way through, and never reached that same height for the rest of the game. Things got slower, the story started to drag and my interest waned. However, I have fond memories of some of the earlier moments and characters that I still recommend it to anyone, even those, like myself, who would normally be intimidated by a straight-faced RPG. Well done, Poland.

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Alan Wake's American Nightmare

  • Released: February
  • Giant Bomb Score: 3/5
  • My Score: 5/5
  • Quick Look

An atmospheric trip through Alan Wake´s mind, borrowing gameplay mechanics, characters and quirky Remedy humour from the 2010 game and using it in a very unique fashion. The game´s 3 locations are visited several times as Alan picks up more manuscript pages and his story starts coming together. Not everyone appreciated this and felt like it was lazy design, but I thought it was very well done, and gave me more of what I wanted - more Remedy, more creepy Alan Wake atmosphere and more Poets of the Fall.One of the best XBLA titles of the year.

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Current List

1Max Payne 3NEW
2Far Cry 3vv (WEEK 5)
3Journeyvv (WEEK 2)
4Halo 4NEW
5Forza Horizonvv (WEEK 3)
6Hotline Miamivv (WEEK 1)
7Dishonoredvv (WEEK 1)
8Fezvv (WEEK 3)
9The Walking Deadvv (WEEK 5)
10Mass Effect 3NEW

Max Payne 3 takes the crown, Halo 4 slots into 4th and Mass Effect 3 takes number 10. Spelunky, The Witcher 2 and Alan Wake´s American Nightmare do not place.

This isn´t the final placing, I still need to spend some more time deliberating and also have a short stack of other games to spotlight at the end of the week.

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Games of 2012 (WEEK 5)

I've had difficulties dedicating time to this, but I still want to reach a conclusion, so here are some more awesome games.

WEEK 5

Far Cry 3

  • Released: December
  • Giant Bomb Score: 5/5
  • My Score: 5/5
  • Quick Look

I finished up Far Cry 2 less than 6 months ago. After having lived on shelf for a few years, I decided to get through it and ended up having a ton of fun, despite the game's many limitations - traversal seemed slow and arduous, missions weren't particularly exciting, there wasn't much variety in what you could do. Far Cry 3 is everything that it's predecessor wanted to be and more, and brings back the original's tropical island setting. On top of that, it takes you on some wild rides and its story is, for the most part, enjoyable despite some missteps.

Whatever you find yourself doing, it is always entertaining. The core components hunting, driving and combat are all brilliant, and the variety of mission types will keep you on the hook for a long time. Crazy stuff will just happen as you go about your business as pirates and mercenaries clash against the jungles resident wildlife. The game also features one of the best characters of the year in Vaas, whose dramatic performances are frightening. I did not expect Far Cry 3 to be as good as it is, you can see the components from Far Cry 2 here, but the way they all work together elevates FC3 to greatness. One of the best of the year.

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The Walking Dead

  • Released: April-November
  • Giant Bomb Score: 5/5
  • My Score: 5/5
  • Quick Look

The series'conclusion got its emotion hooks into me, I'll admit it. I'll avoid spoilers here, but suffice to say that the journey you take with these characters is perilous and at times moving. TWD is an episodic game done right, and the time between the release of each episode left me just enough time to have a true hunger to dive in for another 2-4 hours of tough decisions and dire situations. The gameplay is nothing special, but that isn't why you're playing. It's another zombie story, but is a fantastic use of the theme. Its also the best game Telltale has made in modern times, and leaves you sympathising with characters, and feeling truly torn up about the choices you're making. If you haven't played it yet, I'd advise that you do not take in all 5 episodes at once - that sounds like it'd be a little too much to handle.

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Sleeping Dogs

  • Released: August
  • Giant Bomb Score: 4/5
  • My Score: 5/5
  • Quick Look

I think Sleeping Dogs'sense of style is what sets it apart. Though it isn't the best as far as open city action games go, the hong kong undercover cop story and characters keep it entertaining whilst the high speed driving, incredible on-foot combat and traversal systems and strong licensed soundtrack will keep you playing far longer than the limited mechanics should allow. I dove deep into Sleeping Dogs, unlocking every achievement it had to offer, and generally had a blast kicking fools in the face, dumping them in the trunk of my car and then driving top speed through the city whilst listening to Flying Lotus.

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Current List

1Far Cry 3NEW
2Journeyvv (WEEK 2)
3Forza Horizonvv (WEEK 3)
4Dishonoredvv (WEEK 1)
5Hotline Miamivv (WEEK 1)
6The Walking DeadNEW
7Fezvv (WEEK 3)
8Sleeping DogsNEW
9Borderlands 2vv (WEEK 4)
10Binary Domainvv (WEEK 2)

Far Cry 3 takes the current top spot, The Walking Dead slots into 6th place, and Sleeping Dogs takes 8th.

Trials Evolution and SSX drop out of the Top 10.

WHAT ELSE?

Left to Complete

This list is of the games that I am trying to complete, or at least play for enough time to reach a qualitative conclusion on. From what I have seen and played so far, they could all be Top 10-worthy, so I have 3 more weeks to get stuck into them:

Hitman Absolution - I'm a big Hitman fan, and although this new one is more Splinter Cell than Blood Money, I'm still having a great time so far.

ZombiU - My first Wii U game, and after having lost a 3-hours experienced survivor, I need to get back in there and keep on going.

Assassin's Creed III - This one is picking up flak from everywhere. I need to sink some considerable time into it before I can draw my own conclusion.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown - The game I'm least likely to love out of the bunch due to its genre, but I want to give it a real go.

New Super Mario Bros. U - Arrived yesterday, my last NSMB game was the first for NDS (last Mario game was 3D Land).

Mark of the Ninja - Didn't stick much time into it originally but looks like something I should enjoy a lot more than I initially did..

Darksiders II - Maybe a little too much Darksiders for the year as I played the original in January, but we shall see..

Spelunky - Fell in love with it upon release but haven't returned since. Doubt I will 'finish it' but could certainly consider it for GOTY.

And?

There are other games that I have finished but have yet to feature. I need to return to them and sink more time in before I can reach my final decision on them. They include Halo 4, Mass Effect 3 and Max Payne 3. So yeah... could be close. See you next time.

3 Comments

Games of 2012 (WEEK 4)

Keeping to this deadline is proving difficult. Will make sure I get these written in the week I plan, but not necessarily at the start of each one.

WEEK 4

Borderlands 2

  • Released: September
  • Giant Bomb Score: 4/5
  • My Score: 5/5
  • Quick Look

A solid sequel, it knows what made the original a special treat, building on its key tenants: Questin', Shootin' and Lootin'. What can sometimes be monotonous is held together and made really enjoyable by always being thrown new characters, locations, scenarios and weapons. The first game became my 'lazy afternoon with a podcast playing on the side' experience, but with the second game I played from start to finish in co-op. I'd say either way is a valid way to play, so if you're out of friends but like having a semi-mindless game to have fun with, go for it.

I played as Zer0, the assassin class, and went with snipers, pistols and close combat melee attacks. My main 'decoy' ability allowed me to stealth around and go in for a super-strong melee hit, and coupled with bonuses that activated when switching between different attacks and maintaining constant movement, it all became hectic in a way that I can get behind. The game's pretty ridiculous, and though sometimes overly referential, it got me chuckling enough times that I wanted to play on to see more.

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Trials Evolution

  • Released: April
  • Giant Bomb Score: 5/5
  • My Score: 5/5
  • Quick Look

Another sequel that plays on its strengths, but this one goes even crazier. Fast-paced tracks make way for the sort of devious tests of skill and patience that you expect, with more mini-games and more ridiculous plays on the physics engine. Add to that the ability to create and share custom tracks, and the game has endless content. Trials Evolution has been my go-to XBLA game of the year, one that I can start up and always be served up a new challenge with ease. RedLynx are great at surfacing the cream of the crop and allowing you to just dip in. I've not even made any serious effort to create my own track, but that's about the only corner of the game that I haven't delved deep into, and I can't say that about my titles these days. More than I usually get from an XBLA title.

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Current List

1Journey<> (WEEK 2)
2Forza Horizon<> (WEEK 3)
3Dishonored<> (WEEK 1)
4Hotline Miami<> (WEEK 1)
5Fez<> (WEEK 3)
6Borderlands 2NEW
7Binary Domainvv (WEEK 2)
8Trials EvolutionNEW
9SSXvv (WEEK 3)
10

Borderlands 2 slots into 6th place ahead of Binary Domain. Trials Evolution come just affter, in 8th.

WHAT ELSE?

Other Noteworthy 2012 Releases

Syndicate - Above-par, but not spectacular single player campaign, married with a fantastic co-op experience that really had legs. Mission-based scenarios for 4 player co-op, with a wealth of new abilities on offer for those that make the time investment. Which I had spent more time on it.

The Darkness II - Loved the visual style and the dark humour, its a strange sequel that goes in some interesting directions. Storytelling in first person done well, and some brutal darkness kills. Never tried the multiplayer/vendetta mode.

DiRT Showdown - Couldn't complain when more DiRT was being served up, but it certainly feels like a half-sequel in every respect. Good fun, but loses some of the shine that made me love DiRT 3 so much last year. It gets the driving model right for what its doing, and I liked the Compound mode that returned from DiRT 3, but I want less destruction derby and more european point-to-point rally.

1 Comments

Games of 2012 (WEEK 3)

Doing this a little earlier this week as I had a 4-day weekend and had plenty of gaming time to leave Sunday night free.

WEEK 3

Forza Horizon

  • Released: October
  • Giant Bomb Score: 5/5
  • My Score: 5/5
  • Quick Look

Horizon has some real talent behind it. Former employees of Codies, Bizarre, Criterion, Reflections, Slightly Mad and Black Rock all under one roof, developing a game for Turn 10 and Microsoft Studios? That's a little unfair on anyone else out there trying to make a racing game, surely?

The handling is straight out of Forza, but is set in an open world setting, with a festival vibe running throughout. As a huge DiRT 2/3 fan, I also recognise a lot of visual design that feels borrowed, but it's certainly not squandered, as everyone works together to provide the number one racing experience of the year. It strikes a near-perfect balance between Forza and the more arcadey games out there, with all the community features from the previous Forza games.

What I liked the most was the sense of steady progression as you upgrade to better and better classes as you 'rank up' and unlock new events for faster car classes. Finally getting into an R2 or R1 car and unleashing it on the open world is fantastic. There are also a few events that aren't your usual circuit or sprint races, where you battle a bi-plane or a hot-air balloon. These are essentially time trials, but that additional layer and the visual effects in use keep it feeling fresh and exciting.

I finished up the 'story' and have plenty more to do, including new races, collecting, discovering hidden cars, and the simple yet engaging multiplayer setup. Whether I'll lay down 4000 Microsoft Points for the Season Pass is a question I'm hesitant to answer, that's a lot of additional money for more cars, though one pack will add additional off-road races.

Not just any screenshot, I took this and retrieved it from Forza's site just now.
Not just any screenshot, I took this and retrieved it from Forza's site just now.

SSX

  • Released: February
  • Giant Bomb Score: 4/5
  • My Score: 5/5
  • Quick Look

SSX got my heart racing on several occasions as I made my way through the core career mode. The deadly descent events are the best thing it has to offer. Each course is devious in its own way, challenging you with ice, huge gaps, narrow paths and even complete darkness. Scraping through at high-speed as the original soundtrack blasts electronica at you is intense. Elsewhere in the career mode, the difficulty is a little too steep, forcing you to be at the top of your game at all times to secure first place race positions and scores. It's worth it to get to the aforementioned unique events.

Online, the game sets up global challenges that thousands of people can attempt at once, with the game throwing you random ghosts at a time. Get a high-ranking score and you'll get a huge payout when the events timer runs out. It was a shame that there was no same-session multiplayer, though it was added to the game later on and isn't bad, though wackiness that made the early titles in the series so entertaining is missed. SSX gets a spotlight in my GOTY feature for the incredible highs of those deadly descents.

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Fez

I had the unrepeatable pleasure of playing Fez during the first few days of its release, and I believe that it might be difficult to appreciate just how brilliant that experience was if you didn't. The game, on face value, looks like a simple indie platformer, with an interesting dimension switching mechanic, but as you travel deeper into the game, the threads start to unravel. The music becomes more abstract, the map screen becomes more and more complex, and you begin to sense that there must be a meaning to the patterns and symbols in the levels.

What made those early days so incredible was that everyone internet-wide was discovering clues and solving puzzles together. These weren't traditional puzzles but far more obscure riddles with crazy solutions that required everyone's collective thoughts and ideas to reach. I stayed away from spoiling things for myself, and gave in only a couple of times when I found myself at the end of my wits, but the iconic 'cube found' audio sting made me feel so great every time. By the time I had discovered and unlocked absolutely everything, going back and thinking of it as it originally looked - a 2D platformer - is pretty crazy. I would recommend it for anyone out there who let it pass by originally, but make sure to push through and get deep in it. It is a special game, and oh so strange and wonderful.

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Current List

1Journey<> (WEEK 2)
2Forza HorizonNEW
3Dishonoredvv (WEEK 1)
4Hotline Miamivv (WEEK 1)
5FezNEW
6Binary Domainvv (WEEK 2)
7SSXNEW
8
9
10

I've put Horizon into 2nd place for now. Fez takes 5th behind fellow indie game Hotline Miami, and SSX brings up the rear.

WHAT ELSE?

Other Noteworthy 2012 Releases

Dear Esther - An eerie ride, a semi-interactive story and one that you need to experience under the right conditions: On your own, in a quiet and dark environment, and leave any pre-conceptions of the game at the door. Will avoid saying anything specifically, and simply recommend you play through it in one go.

Rock Band Blitz - Blitz requires different skills than normal RB or Guitar Hero, and tasks you with keeping all of the plates that are each instrument track spinning at the same time. Much better than handheld title Rock Band Unplugged, uses a combined leaderboard of LIVE friends and Facebook friends, and the hundreds of Rock Band DLC tracks I bought all plug into it. I've lost count of the number of times I've launched it to kill a spare 5 minutes and then found myself playing for a full hour.

Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack! - A solid Vita title, though very similar to the original PSN game. The gyroscope-heavy mini-game levels had me looking like a mentalist on the metro as I moved the console around a full 360 degrees to get the blob moving, and the touch-enabled platforms added a unique twist to the Katamari-like 2D platforming. If you've got a Vita, then this is one of the few good options available to you, so get on it, I guess.

Games Completed in 2012

Just hit 50 games that I've completed, at least in the traditional 'credits rolled' sense. That's 2 more than 2010 and 2 behind 2011 with a month and a half to go. Check out the list here.

2012 vs. All-Time (Part 1)

It certainly looks like an impressive year for games, despite the end-of-gen creative draught we're inevitably seeing, but how do I rate these highlights against my all-time genre favourites?

Forza Horizon vs. DiRT 3, Burnout 3

Horizon definitely picked up some good ideas from DiRT - maybe less picked up than brought over by the developers themselves. What I loved most about DiRT 3 was its sense of speed when tearing down mountain side paths, and a great soundtrack accompanying the rest of the experience. Horizon nails a great sense of speed in its open world, but doesn't quite match DiRT 3's feeling that you're on the edge of control. Burnout 3 wins every match-up, so that's a little unfair. An HD re-release of B3 with an improved online infrastructure would kill it.

SSX vs. SSX PS2, Amped 3

The actual snowboarding in SSX 2012 is better than both, but it overall package pales in comparison to the sheer stupidity on offer in Amped 3 and pure arcade action of the PS2 launch title.

Dishonored vs. Thief: Deadly Shadows, Deus Ex: Invisible War

Each game absolutely nails its sense of place. The inhabitants of Dunwall are creepy and at times grotesque, lending a feeling of griminess. Thief 3 is even dripping in atmosphere, and some locations build up a sense of dread that makes them unbearable - Shalebridge Cradle being one of the scariest levels in a game, not through traditional scare tactics but through the atmosphere alone. Invisible War's future tech was really cool, I really got a kick out of it. As for combat and open path traversal, they're all fantastic.

1 Comments

Games of 2012 (WEEK 2)

This week's first featured game, Journey, revealed an obvious though at times forgotten truth about what makes a game a contender for Game of the Year - Those that contain the most memorable experiences, the ones that define your year in gaming, are those deserving of the top spots. That game consists almost completely of emotional moments, and deserves a playthrough if you've not yet done so. I've got plenty more 2012 releases to feature, all of which I'll be ranking in the Top 10 list with each passing week.

WEEK 2

Journey

  • Released: March
  • Giant Bomb Score: 5/5
  • My Score: 5/5
  • Quick Look

Journey was one of only a handful of games that I felt needed to be played from start to finish in a single sitting. I definitely think that there are right and wrong ways of experiencing many games; You shouldn't play horror games in the day, you can easily burn yourself out on games with complex mechanics, and playing Journey in bite sized chunks would be doing it a great disservice.

Every component is expertly crafted. Each moment along the way evokes such emotion from the player, at times exhilarating, at others calming or even unsettling. Your character's movement and flight is always gracious, and the gameworld is simply beautiful, but I've yet to talk about the most impressive element of Journey - the online play.

The game is a 2 player co-operative game, but not in any kind of traditional sense. If connected to PSN (and you really should be), you are randomly partnered with another player who in the same location as you. It isn't announced, you don't see their name, and your only means of communication are with a 'chirp' button that can be tapped or held. They'll be your closest friend as you make your way through each environment, yet they may just as easily depart from your game. This can lead to some harrowing and sorrowful moments as you realise they're no longer beside you.

My experience with the game was defined by my moments spent with one such other player that I spent the whole back half with… Or at least, I was pretty sure I did. I encouraged my girlfriend to play it and she instantly fell in love with it, though her experience differed pretty greatly from mine. The first player she connected with was dressed in white and gold, signifying that they had experienced a lot more of what the game had to offer than we had. They guided us about, leading us to items hidden in the game world, and had an infinitely respawning cape that granted them near limitless flight that we could benefit from. This experience got me thinking about my second playthrough, and upon reaching that first area for the second time, and encountering another player that seemed somewhat lost, I felt compelled to be their guide.

Coming back to the game now, all of the moments came flooding back. Journey is the home to a lot of my favourite gaming moments of 2012, and will be on the Top 10 list by the year's end without any doubt.

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Binary Domain

Although I had high hopes for Binary Domain, my expectations of what it would be were pretty low. It turned out to be one of my favourite surprises of the year, full of brilliant characters and cutscenes, with a silly premise that wouldn't work if the tone wasn't in the right place, but it truly is, ad everything fits so well. It also turns out to be a solid third-person action shooter too. It's quirky, and is host to a number of pretty redundant mechanics (voice commands for responding to your friendly AI's inane questions during forced downtime moments springs to mind), but these matter little as the characters that you meet along your journey are fantastic, the action is ridiculous, and there are always new and engaging scenarios that you'll find yourself in. Taking down the enemy one robot limb at a time is satisfying and serves a strategic purpose; Take off their heads and they'll start shooting their allies, take out their legs and they'll have to crawl towards you. A characterful, solid experience.

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Current List

1JourneyNEW
2Dishonored<> (WEEK 1)
3Hotline Miami<> (WEEK 1)
4Binary DomainNEW
5
6
7
8
9
10

Journey takes the top spot for now, Binary Domain secures a position in the Top 10 at this early stage but could get bumped off in the coming weeks.

WHAT ELSE?

Other Noteworthy 2012 Releases

Here are a few games from this year that I enjoyed, but that I decided not to cover as a GOTY contender. They are still worth your time if they match your tastes:

Need For Speed: Most Wanted - Another fine racer from Criterion, with a few issues that stops it from hitting the high notes that their games have reached in the past. Without dwelling on what those issues are, its worth noting that the online experience here is very entertaining and comes highly recommended if you didn't "burn out"on the concept by playing lots of Paradise.

WipEout 2048 - An impressive achievement for the Vita, and recommended for any owner of the console. The sense of speed that you might expect from the series isn't quite there, and the loading times are atrocious, but a solid experience nonetheless with impressive online features.

Tiny & Big: Grandpa's Leftovers - One of many games that I went and bought based on a Giant Bomb Quick Look, the concept of cutting and pulling scenery in the gameworld to progress is unique and fresh. The game's got style and a great soundtrack, and doesn't outstay it's welcome. One of the better indie PC titles of the year.

New Releases I Wish I Had More Time To Complete:

  • Darksiders II
  • XCOM: Enemy Unknown
  • Assassin's Creed III

Other Potential GOTY Material I Will Be Picking Up:

  • Halo 4
  • Hitman Absolution
  • The Walking Dead Episode 5
  • ZombiU (which implies I'll be getting a Wii U)
  • Far Cry 3

The Spoiler Dilemma

I'd love to be able to finish every game that has a plot that might get spoiled in Giant Bomb's GOTY discussions, but its impossible for several reasons. I'll have to make some tough decisions, with this one top of the list: Spec Ops: The Line. All I hear is that its a thrilling story inside a fairly standard shooter, and although I'd love to experience that story myself, I don't have the time or money to invest in games that I'm not likely to consider for my own GOTY list.

Thanks for checking out the blog. Let me know in the comments if you have thoughts to share on this week's featured games!

1 Comments

Games of 2012 (WEEK 1)

Hello..

So I was looking back on how I handled my Best of 2011 personal debate and eventual final list, and got to thinking about how I'd like to do it better this time around. I wanted to start my own little feature blog that looks at the biggest and brightest games released this year and provide some opinions on them.

A great many potentially fantastic titles are due out over the next 2 months (the last few weeks have already been kind to us, actually), but then there are all of the other games that were released earlier in the year that I enjoyed but don't remember clearly, or that I picked up but didn't put the time into. I had been keeping a running list going, actually, which can be seen here, and in order to give them fair trial I will be briefly re-visiting them over the coming weeks, alongside the new releases, and building up my top 10 list as I go. I will keep them in order but might swap them around as I go, and when I get to 10 games, I'll start dropping games when I add new ones in. Exciting! I'm not looking at finishing everything, just at playing everything enough to form a solid opinion. I'll also give some thoughts on other topics and trends that have cropped up in 2012.

By the final week of the year, I will have my final list, I'll have provided the commentary I wanted to share, and I will have had some good practice at keeping to a schedule and staying committed to a blog, which'll come in useful for reasons that will become clear soon enough (with any luck!). I'll be covering a lot of 2012's best games, but only the ones that are of interest to me.

A note on spoilers: I will try to keep this free of information that would hamper someone's enjoyment of the featured games - I intend the opposite, in fact! In cases where I feel it is worth mentioning something potential spoiler-y, I'll tag it so you can avoid it if you want to.

WEEK 1

Dishonored

  • Released: October
  • Giant Bomb Score: 4/5
  • My Score: 5/5
  • Quick Look

A new IP, yet cut from familiar cloth (shades of Deus Ex, Thief, Half Life 2 and Bioshock run throughout), it perfectly hit the mark for me of empowering me when I want to be stealthy. The powers that I chose gave me new options that I'd not experienced before, key to it all being the ability to jump around instantly with Blink. I used it to move from one high point to another to avoid enemies and keep a good view of my surroundings, but after a while I realised that I could be much more bold with it. I tried using it to move directly behind enemies before going in for the knockout, and when times got tough and enemies were surrounding my position, I used it to skip around them and into a new hiding spot.

There were many abilities that I never even got to try, but that was my choice as I aimed to play it as cleanly as possible. Had I chosen to invest in some of the more deadly powers, I think I might have been more creative with my kills and escapes, and it looks like the game is well equipped to empower that kind of player as well - looking at videos of the abilities in action, I think I could have a completely different experience if I wanted to. The story and setting are fantastic, with the pronounced art-style giving it a distinct personality. The way that missions are set up initially feels stilted, but as you begin to become familiar with the world and your options, you appreciate it all much more. There are things that could be improved in a sequel (repetitive AI dialogue, some finicky use of the abilities), but as a stealth-adventure game built from the ground up to put the player in control, its a huge success.

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Hotline Miami

The most exciting and refreshing game I've played this year, with the best original soundtrack. This is a top-down, fast-paced action puzzle murder-em-up, and it just gets me all jumped up every time I play. You learn the mechanics of the game naturally, usually by getting smoked as soon as you encounter something you've not seen before - but every time you master that new gameplay wrinkle, you feel powerful and dangerous. It's instantly on my GOTY list for these reasons. When a games gets me excited or emotional like this, it's doing things right. The game's visual style is equally exciting - swimmy, trippy and vibrant, but clear in its intentions and hiding hidden depth in the environment details.

I don't want to go into it much more at this point, as I'd like to see people try it for themselves. I'll probably come back with some additional thoughts once I complete it, but for now consider it recommended without hesitation.

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Current List

1DishonoredNEW
2Hotline MiamiNEW
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10

WHAT ELSE?

My Giant Bomb Lists

I keep lists of the games I am currently playing, and those that I complete (which I then give a score out of 5). You can check them all out here, as you can see my 'To Be Completed/Currently Playing' list exploded over the last 9 months, and so I'm forcing myself to concentrate on 2012 GOTY hopefuls until January, and then go back to the rest.

Fresh Games Coming Up Soon

  • NFS Most Wanted
  • Forza Horizon
  • XCOM
  • Assassin's Creed III

If you do end up reading this, I'd love to hear what you think. Like the idea? Any suggestions on a better format?

2 Comments