Games: The Best Games of 2012
It’s been one of the acer years in gaming memory, hasn’t it? Despite their advancing years, both the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 have had a consistently strong line-up throughout 2012, and it’s been a banner year for indie games across all platforms. It’s been a particularly great year for desktop gaming; the likes of XCOM and Dishonored, with their emphasis on depth and thoughtful gameplay, marked a resurgence of the values of the PC old school, while the Valve-led push towards making Mac-compatible releases a standard has been gaining ever more steam (fnarr). With Newell and co. now focusing their efforts on Linux compatibility (and threatening to enter the console market), and the recent release of the Wii U, and the continuing trickle of details from Microsoft and Sony on their in-development consoles, 2013 could be a huge year in gaming. But for now, let’s remind ourselves of this year’s many high points, as Ramp.ie’s intrepid gaming krew present their top picks of 2012.
Halo 4 (360)
343 Studios were faced with the monumental task of delivering a Halo experience that continued the legacy of great titles provided by Bungie. From a refined control scheme to the most epic campaign of the series, 343 managed to take the time-tested style of Halo and deliver on the lofty expectations of fans and critics alike. While it’s not a revolution of the genre, Halo 4 is certainly the most interesting thing to happen to the series since Halo 3.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 (PC, PS3, 360, Wii U)
It would be very easy to look at Black Ops 2 and see nothing more than another entry in the tired Call of Duty series, but that would be doing a great disservice to the game. Developers Treyarch brought their A game to this entry, providing a branching storyline, a better-than-ever zombie mode and the same outstanding multiplayer the series has become known for. Add to this
a revamped upgrade system, gorgeous visuals and a voice cast that includes Michael Keaton, and we’re onto a winner!
Dishonored (PC, PS3, 360)
Stealth games can be very hit and miss for me. Sure, when I pull off my super-stealthy kill, disappear, and get away with it, I feel like a hero. But when things go wrong and I accidentally bump into an NPC, I become a controller-throwing, screaming shadow of my former self. Dishonored was the right kind of stealth game for me. Difficult, of course, but the game gave me enough tools to get the job done. The fiction was banal, the experience was far too short-lived and it could have done with some form of stealth-meter but ultimately, this single-player stealth action game was a refreshing change of pace.
Black Mesa (PC)
A fan-developed upgrade to Half-Life, which takes the veteran franchise and improves on it no end, putting to shame Valve’s rebooted Source-engine version. It’s also totally free, so if you’ve not experienced the joy of Gordon Freeman’s first adventure, it’s probably the best first person game from 2012 that you’re likely to play.
Lollipop Chainsaw (PS3, 360)
Suda51 can do a lot wrong, a trait he uses to his advantage. The variety and bombast of Lollipop Chainsaw shines through. Your cheerleading protagonist tears through thousands of zombies, minigames and power-ups in a beautifully colourful adventure that takes arcade gaming up a notch. Also featuring the greatest soundtrack to a game this side of Alan Wake.
Mass Effect 3 (PC, PS3, 360, Wii U)
From a gameplay perspective, Mass Effect 3 is better than its predecessor, which should mean it’s better hands-down. But the way Mass Effect 2‘s story unfolds is unique in all of art, let alone a single game series. That said, Bioware’s end to the trilogy was dramatic, engaging, shocking and moving all at once. Massive.
Mass Effect 3
The two main selling points of the Mass Effect series have always been the most complex and morally grey sci-fi universe this side of Babylon 5, with characters intriguing and multifaceted enough to match, and the fact that the tough decisions you make throughout the games count. Mass Effect 3 asks you to make impossible moral choices, with the fate of all life in the galaxy
at stake. The validity of artificial life, genocide for the greater good… big sci-fi ideas like these rarely translate so well into such an action-packed setting. As for characters, suffice it to say that saying goodbye to some of my old Mass Effect crew left me literally in tears.
Lego Batman 2: DC Superheroes (PC, PS3, 360, Mac, Wii, Vita, DS, 3DS)
This latest Lego game has three very important things going for it. First, it is a wonderfully, joyously fun game to play. While so many games these days aim to be grim and harrowing and oh-so-verymature, Lego Batman 2 revels in its slapstick goofiness, with laughs coming almost non-stop. Secondly, the game is a love letter to the source material. Affectionate references are made to the original comics, all the Batman movies, and even other video games. TT know their Batman. Third, it’s the first game to really capture what it feels like to be Superman. When you first take flight, and the first notes of John Williams’ theme fade in? Goosebumps.
The Walking Dead (PC, PS3, 360, Mac, iOS)
In the post-apocalyptic, zombie-filled hell of The Walking Dead, there’s no such thing as an easy decision. Not even conversations are easy; every one you have seems to end with the ominous message that that character ‘will remember you said that’ and you left worried that when the chips are down, that memory will lead them to turn on you. There’s also no such thing as good or evil. Can stealing unattended food be wrong, if it keeps you and the child you’re caring for alive? The Walking Dead is a grim and harrowing experience, where every decision weighs heavy on your soul. The Walking Dead will fray your nerves raw, but it’s an addictively compelling game.
Hotline Miami (PC)
Amidst a sea of powerful AAA sequels (Max Payne 3, Mass Effect 3, Assassin’s Creed III, Diablo III, Halo 4), it’s always great to see an original, innovative IP emerge. And boy, has it been a great year for indies. Hotline Miami, though, was the one that got everyone talking. The purpose of violence in gaming was questioned as you went on murder sprees and rampage violence every mission, and shamefully enjoyed every bit of it. Add a killer electronic soundtrack, a surreal eighties atmosphere, paint it with some pink neon lights and you have one of the coolest and most badass game in history. This is punk.
The Walking Dead
The adventure genre is strong within this one. Telltale have been delivering better and better franchises over the years. They embarked on a risky journey when they started with Bone, and few people actually thought they would be successful. The Walking Dead is their best series yet. Terrifying and poignant, their episodic construction make complete sense and left you hooked up thanks to some superb writing and cinematic tone. The Walking Dead proved that there is still an audience for commercial games with a focus on narrative.
The Secret World (PC)
This is a sad nomination. My heart tells me The Secret World‘s decline is imminent, and I think it will live in history as one of the most underrated MMOs. Ragnar Tornquist is one of the brightest writers in the industry, and his influence is notable in this ground-breaking game. By far the most different MMORPG I’ve played in years (being a fan of the genre, but feeling it’s been worn out and has become completely formulaic), The Secret World‘s lore and modern setting break conventions of what should be the priorities in a game of its kind. I believe the expensive subscription is well worth it, and everyone who is tired of mindless fantasy grinding should give this one a shot.
Games can be art. They can push the boundaries of what we think entertainment is, move beyond the space marine and Pokémon clones, past the franchises and create something truly unique. This is what Thatgamecompany does. First they brought us Flow, then Flower, and this year we were treated to Journey. Gorgeous, astonishingly intuitive and wonderfully absorbing, in Journey you take control of a robed character in the desert, singing wordless melodies at pieces of cloth to make bridges, magic carpets and to communicate with other players who you can share the levels with. One of those games that really must be played to be understood, Journey doesn’t show the way forward, because that implies that anybody else could do something this wonderful in this way again. They won’t.
Transformers: Fall of Cybertron (PC, PS3, 360)
The sequel to 2009′s excellent robo-shoot ‘em up sees improvements in gameplay, graphics and character roles, and picks up the story where the last game left off. In a refreshing blast of not-Michael-Bayism, the Transformers shuffle through corridors and underground tunnels and the freedom to transform into vehicle or robot shape remains as free and simple as in the original, but Fall of Cybertron sees everything tweaked and improved, with ramped-up attacks and the introduction of the Dinobots.
Actually, that’s the only thing this synopsis needs to say. Dinobots.
Football Manager 2013 (PC, Mac)
For any game which is the best of its kind it’s difficult to release annual updates and make them genuinely worth the cash. The various Call of Honourses tend to fall down on this count, as do the FIFA and Madden games, and for the last three instalments Football Manager has largely been guilty of the same sin. This year however, they’ve introduced new stuff, and it’s really good new stuff. While the gameplay remains life-consuming and the game skins and interface have been slicked up a bit, the real change has been in game modes: a new scenario mode, with options to take teams over halfway through a season and meet set objectives; a network versus option which allows you to take your current team and play a match against a friend’s current team; and classic mode, a streamlined, stripped-down version of the game which reconnects with the ‘play a season in a day’ amazingness of early Championship Manager titles and allows the more casual gamer or the lapsed addict to play without losing their partners/jobs/health to it. A fantastic update to an already fantastic, addictive, consuming game. Bastards.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 (PS3, 360)
If you’ve not been sold on the hyperbolic, schmaltzy grandeur of the Final Fantasy series up to now, XIII-2 is not going to convince you. Admittedly, it failed to convince a few FF diehards. But even with its flaws (it’s ridiculously easy, for a start), its intelligent, intuitive battle system, fun characters and brilliant soundtrack make it a solid, satisfying experience. Bigger and broader in scope than its predecessor XIII, XIII-2′s triumphs include Noel Kreiss, arguably the series’ most likeable male character since its PS1 days, a time-travel plot with a significantly eerie tinge, and its ending, a genuinely depressing conclusion which TV3’s Flathan certainly wouldn’t have seen coming. The surprise of the year for this gamer.
Taking survival horror to a properly anarchic level, Dean ‘Rocket’ Hall’s ARMA 2 zombie mod was a slow burner that, by the end of the year, had grown so much in stature that it’s now due a standalone release. Spawned into the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Chernarus with only a flashlight, a box of painkillers and a bandage, the player is required to do nothing but survive. That might seem doable when you’re only up against zombies, but the real terror in DayZ comes at the hands of other online players. More Lord Of The Flies than Resident Evil, DayZ is one of the most involving, compelling and frightening games in years.
Trials Evolution (PC, 360)
The rise of the indie game has led to one important gaming revelation: sometimes, simplicity rules. After the massive success of Trials HD, developers RedLynx were able to take their 2D platform racer and knock it up a notch with crazy tracks, beautiful new landscapes, and a potential learning curve steep enough to be practically vertical. The premise — you ride your dirtbike over obstacles – makes this as much a physics puzzle as it is a racer, and so it’s the sensitive, intuitive take on in-game physics that elevates this baby from your typical ‘pick up and play’ monster to dizzying ‘it’s 4am but I need one… more… go…’ territory. Trials Evolution proves that when developers get the little things right, it’s very hard to go wrong.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown (PC, PS3, 360)
Aliens are invading Earth. Become commander of the global organisation that fights back. Build your HQ, research and develop weapons, control your troops on the ground. ‘Reboots’ of a classic franchise are often disappointing. Not so XCOM. Like the recent Dredd film, it captures the essence of its source material: the anxiety of moving a valuable troop into unknown territory; the Sophie’s Choice of having to let some die to save others; the thrill of researching and deploying new technology and evening the odds a little. It looks and sounds great, and plays superbly on all platforms.
Half-Life is an FPS legend. The first shooter to blend scripted events, action and story together into an amazing whole, it set the bar without competition for many years. As theoretical physicist Gordon Freeman, you cock up an experiment so badly that extradimensional aliens invade your research facility. Put on a hazmat suit, grab a crowbar and slaughter your way to freedom. Black Mesa is more than just a graphical and audio update — the facility layout has been altered to make more sense, the puzzles have been fine-tuned, and there are new areas. It’s as great as Half-Life was the first time round. And free to boot!
Planetside 2 (PC)
Planetside 2 laughs at your puny console multiplayer, boasting 2,000 players per server, spread across 4 maps, each 60km2. Join one of three well-balanced factions and fight for control. Join massed lines of tanks, squadrons of gunships, or slog it out on foot with a variety of classes and weapon options. The scale of the game is breathtaking, as you watch fleets of artillery and outriders on scout bikes move out to conquer an area, or jetfighters scream overhead locked in deadly battle. Experience brutal room-to-room battle on foot as you take control of a facility from the enemy with hundreds of troops on each side. And free to play? You’d be mad to ignore this epic!
Little Inferno (PC, Wii U)
This is an odd one. A game in which you sit in front of a fireplace and throw things in, watch them burn, pick up the money that mysteriously pops out, then use mail-order catalogues to buy more things to burn. There’s no real challenge, although there are combinations of items to figure out. In fact it feels more like a toy than a game, albeit a toy that’s utterly compelling and satisfying, particularly when you treat it as a group activity. And how many toys have such a surprisingly engaging plot? Little Inferno is a curiosity, at once beautiful, sinister, playful and profound. Play it and be changed.
Hotline Miami is a perfect artifact. Every one of those nauseously gaudy pixels seems to have been placed by hand, with not a single extraneous element, and the result is a vastly more cohesive piece of work than you’d get if this was a big studio release with a dozens-strong development team. The purity of design is matched only by the purity of focus it requires from the player — it’s not for everyone, but for those of us lucky enough to be able to lose ourselves in it, it’s a masterpiece. What’s more, for all its relentless brutality and simplistic presentation, it still has a story with more emotional depth than pretty much any other game on this list. And oh my God, that soundtrack.
Far Cry 3 (PC, PS3, 360)
I said in my review that Far Cry 3 is a strong contender for game of the year and, well, here we are. Ubisoft’s island epic wrings every last bit of power out of an ageing generation of consoles to create a huge, immersive, often startlingly beautiful world in which to hunt wildlife, shoot pirates, make wallets and bomb around mountain curves at foolishly high speeds. Then there’s the hang gliding, the cave diving, the fire-starting, the Scots-baiting… it’s a game that will keep you occupied for many, many hours, one in which even travelling aimlessly is a joy. A triumph.
Super Adventure Pals (Flash)
Being quirky, cute and silly isn’t anything new for flash games. This year, in among the usual saccharin-soaked stupidity on offer came Super Adventure Pals. After the evil Mr B kidnaps Mr Rock, who happens to be your best friend, you and your trusty pal the toy giraffe must travel to the Icy Mountains to save him. With an entertaining mix of RPG and platforming gameplay that few flash games I’ve played can match, Super Adventure Pals is sure to impress. From its soundtrack to its Adventure Time-inspired graphics, this eccentric game seems to have been created to induce happiness.
Hanna in a Choppa 2 (Flash)
The satirical sense of humour in Hanna in a Choppa 2 combined with über-nerd references throughout make it highly enjoyable from beginning to end. You travel through the levels flying an array of vehicles ranging from a jetpack to a T.A.R.D.I.O. (Time and Relative Dimension in Orange). It’s the only flash game I can remember, at least from this year, that has a female lead with no emphasis on gender. This fun physics puzzler combines wonderfully with its in-game bonus ‘Where’s it from’ quiz and will have you stretching your grey matter and trawling through the recesses of your geeky pop culture archives.
Deep Sleep (Flash)
When a game starts with a Nietzsche quote you know things are about to get a little dark. Deep Sleep, an escape-themed adventure game, delivers wonderfully on that promise. With its dark and uncomfortable ambiance, you can’t help but be impressed by the designers’ capability to give you the 8-bit creeps. While attempting to escape reality you have induced a lucid dream, but you’re not alone. You’re being hunted by your own nightmare and it doesn’t want to let you go. Certainly my favourite flash game of the year and winner of the Casual Game Design Competition #10 awards, I highly recommend you try it. Just maybe keep the lights on…
- Borderlands 2: big dumb colourful FPS fun wrapped around a meticulously fine-tuned core of stats and skills.
- FTL: randomised space-hopping punctuated by tense, frequently panic-inducing strategic battles.
- Fez: deeply pretty puzzle platformer with a gorgeous soundtrack and a neat perspective-shifting mechanic.
- Spelunky: charming and unforgiving randomly-generated action adventure with a surprising amount of depth.
- Spec Ops: The Line: a military shooter that, in defiance of the jingoistic fists-a-pumpin’ standard of Modern Warfare et al, makes no bones about the kind of monster you need to be to win.
- Super Hexagon: rock-hard minimal actioner from indie maestro Terry Cavanagh, with a cracking chiptune soundtrack.