2012 was an interesting year for video gaming. The industry is facing a major shift in the way it works; less is becoming more, the big players are being moved aside by smaller independent studios, games no longer have to cost $59.99 to be good, and free-to-play is no longer a death knell. Gamers are no longer confined to a console, keyboard or mouse. Mobile gaming has finally come of age, and with the amount of games released in a year, this list was beyond difficult to compile.
When judging games, there are a ton of factors that can come into play. Music, graphics, story and that’s not even including the actual gameplay itself. When evaluating this year, an important question came to mind. Sure games may look good, sound good, play good and may have fantastic stories, but are they fun? Frankly, isn’t that why we play games? Our quest to explore other worlds, stop the evil villain, and pwn some noobs in Call of Duty all begins with a simple quest to have fun.
The following are some of the best games released this year. Some of them may not be the most expensive, the most artistic, the most perfect examples of what the gaming industry has to offer. Instead, they all have individual merits which make them stand out from the rest of the pack, and they all have one thing in common: they’re all a hell of a good time to play.
While not all games could make the list, there are some honorable mentions that were highly considered: Dishonored, Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Assassin’s Creed III, Journey, Borderlands 2 and Far Cry 3.
And now the Top 10:
10. Uncharted: Golden Abyss.
Few games make the transition from full console titles to handheld quite as well as the Uncharted series did with Golden Abyss. Nathan Drake’s first pocket-sized adventure certainly didn’t feel reduced in any way, with graphics, music and gameplay feeling very much like their console cousins.
That’s not to say that the game is without flaws. It depends too much on the new features available on the Vita, interrupting gameplay with DS like mini-games that require use of the touch screen, blowing into the microphone, and worst of all, using the camera to simulate a light source. It’s fun the first time or two, but it rapidly becomes a simple gimmick which gets old, dropping quickly to the much hated Kevin Smith level of “Fucking Clown Shoes”.
Still, the story is big, the action and adventure is truly breathtaking, and the scope of the game doesn’t feel like an unwanted little brother, like so many handheld titles. It’s certainly the best Vita launch title, and sadly may still be the best title for the system almost a year after release.
9. Angry Birds Star Wars.
Since its start as a humble free iOS app, Angry Birds has exploded into a franchise of unbelievable power, especially since the concept of the game hasn’t changed much since the original. Before long the developers began to cash in on its marketability, and began to license the concept with things like toys, fruit snacks, shirts and so much more. It was inevitable that licensing would become the way to take the Angry Birds further, starting with the animated film Rio. Angry Birds Rio was nowhere near the best game of the franchise, but it opened a very large blast door.
There wasn’t much time between the announcement of Angry Birds Star Wars and its release, but many were skeptical at best. Thankfully, the result was well worth the wait. Take the best parts of the franchise to date, throw in Star Wars based birds and elements and toss in a hell of a lot of nerd-fu and the result is an inexpensive and extremely entertaining game. It takes its source material and respectfully throws a giant wad of comedy at it while still feeling like Star Wars. A great game for little investment.
8. The New Super Mario Bros 2/New Super Mario Bros U.
Whenever I feel the need to relive a little bit of childhood, I fire up the Super Mario Bros 3. Playing The New Super Mario Bros 2 is like playing a modern version of Mario 3, and that is a wonderful thing. Mario 3 was easily one of the best NES games released, and revisiting its concept just shows why Nintendo is still making games after so long.
There is nothing new or particularly amazing about New Super Mario Bros 2 or U. Both offer the same Mario-style gameplay we’ve come to expect from Nintendo; they just do it a little bit better. It’s that level of consistency and simplicity that warrants the accolades for these games, as both, while essentially the same games, play incredibly well and are entertaining for all ages. I doubt that there is a gamer anywhere who wouldn’t at some point crack a little smile while playing these, they’re just plain fun, and isn’t that what really matters?
7. Mass Effect 3.
There is little doubt about the lasting influence of the Mass Effect series. While the first game was a compelling, somewhat action based RPG, the second game became the almost perfect balance of third-person shooter and RPG. Mass Effect 3 attempted to recreate the video game perfection that was ME2 on an even grander scale.
While the game fails on several levels (how is it that in a universe this big, you can randomly run into people you met two games ago?), particularly with the shoehorned and somewhat forced multiplayer and the lack of decision making weight from prior games, it still is an exciting and powerful conclusion to the “Shepard” Saga and leaves the door open for some cool new directions in the continuation of the series. Unlike Mass Effect 2, however, it’s not a great game. It is a good game that could have been so much more, but still succeeded in capturing the minds of millions. The fun is in bringing all of your hard work to a conclusion, in the exciting battles and the closure (which, of course, some fans say they didn’t get until the expanded ending).
6. Civilization V: Gods and Kings.
Sid Meier’s Civilization series is easily the longest running and most celebrated turn based strategy series of our time, and Civ V itself has had its fair share of accolades. While not the best game of the series, Civ V was a remarkable experience, and a pretty large shift in direction from previous titles. Gone were battles conducted in four directions, replaced with a system more akin to strategy board games like Battletech. Civ V seemed to be a slightly flawed but obvious evolution in the series, until the first expansion was released.
While not a game itself, Gods and Kings takes Civ V, applies some much-needed tweaks to the game: a revamping of the combat engine and the addition of espionage and the much-missed religious aspect of the game. Firaxis seemed to take the best parts of Civ IV and Civ V, let them make sweet, sweet love, with Gods and Kings being the end result. The expansion did just that: expand the fun.
5. The Pinball Arcade.
While once the staple of bars and arcades around the world, the pinball machine has become a bit of an endangered species. In most areas a player would be hard-pressed to find a single game available for public play, and for many, the price of purchasing a machine and its upkeep are too great a barrier for entry. For years, the average enthusiast had to either play games like Zen Pinball and Pinball FX or emulate with PinMAME in order to quench the need for the silver ball. Farsight studios sought to remedy this with The Pinball Arcade.
Farsight aren’t strangers to video pinball, having released the Pinball Hall of Fame collections for multiple platforms over the years which, unlike their competitors, actually licensed real tables for use. They took this one giant leap further with The Pinball Arcade, initially releasing a pack of four tables and somewhat consistently releasing DLC packs of additional licensed tables, even going so far as to use Kickstarter to fund the licensing of the more popular (and therefore the most expensive) tables.
The gameplay is some of the best pinball ever simulated electronically. The addition of tables at a reasonable price, as well as tournaments coming in 2013, make the replay value almost endless, and with an estimated forty tables scheduled to be released by the end of 2013, this year and next look to be particularly bright for enthusiastic pinheads.
4. Halo 4.
When Bungie announced that Halo: Reach would be their final game in the series and that Microsoft-owned 343 Industries would be taking over the franchise, gamers and critics alike held their collective breaths in fear. The Halo series put Microsoft on the map in the console market, and while a misstep wouldn’t ruin them, it would certainly tarnish the good name of the franchise.
Time to exhale. Taking a step away from the original trilogy, Halo 4 begins a new chapter with includes characters and enemies old and new, while still maintaining the basics fans have loved over the franchise. Graphically the game is a step further, with the new Promethean adversaries more terrifying than the Covenant or Flood ever were. The story takes the relationship between the Master Chief and Cortana to almost Shakespearean levels of tragedy, and for the first time, really develops the human aspects of the two main characters. The multiplayer is as polished as ever, with new features adding a new level of depth to the game.
Halo 4 is the total package; a great game with an excellent story combined with worthwhile multiplayer which doesn’t feel shoehorned in like Mass Effect 3‘s. 343 Industries has taken the baton from Bungie and sprinted across the finish in style.
Until Dune II (or Herzog Zwei, depending on your school of thought) and the birth of the real-time strategy genre, strategy games were limited to turn-based games. Essentially like a tactics-based board game (think Risk), the genre had plenty of impressive titles like Civilization, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Super Robot Taisen and Master of Orion. Microprose took the turn-based genre for a spin by reducing the scale down from world domination to individual sorties between alien and human forces in X-COM: UFO Defense. The original is still considered one of the top PC games of it’s era, and this year Firaxis finally released a follow up, the highly successful XCOM: Enemy Unknown.
Essentially a remake of the original, in which the basic concepts of the game remain the same. Aspects like the fact that characters die permanently, and their skill sets and abilities die with them, adds to a level of realism and establishes consequences for your actions. While these decisions are more action-oriented than morality oriented like in The Walking Dead, it still leads you to not think of your team as a set of disposable pixels, and many players will find themselves replaying a mission multiple time in search of perfection. Add to that a set of gorgeous graphics, good immersive music and complex gameplay, and you get one hell of a package.
Many players will be turned off by its level of difficulty, another aspect carried over from its predecessor. If you are up for the challenge, though, XCOM is certainly a fun and rewarding experience.
2. Diablo III.
Resurrecting dead franchises has been popular in recent years, and 2012 was no exception. Bringing vaporware to fruition is sometimes not the best idea (as shown in http://www.toplessrobot.com/2012/03/5_vaporware_games_that_should_have_stayed_that_way.php), but in the case of Diablo III, it’s easy to say that it’s about damn time. Taking the good bits of Diablo II (which is to say, all of Diablo II), modernizing it, and adding good multiplayer, Blizzard created another hit that will undoubtedly be enjoyed the world over for years, or at least until Diablo IV comes out.
One particular thing that makes Diablo III so good is that it was designed to work on most computers. You might not be able to get the highest video quality on a budget card or on your older PC, but you can at least play it, and with system requirements being the largest barrier to PC gaming, it’s good to see a company try to be accessible. Diablo III is a simple-yet-excellent point and click RPG, and with the amount of support Blizzard has been known to give in the way of expansions, it should be a favorite for years to come.
1. The Walking Dead.
There are few games that give the player a sense of urgency quite as well as Telltale’s The Walking Dead. Following the comics rather than the TV series, you take the role of a convict inadvertently released thanks to an outbreak of the zed-word, trying to survive the onslaught of walkers and human adversaries.
Taking a page from the Mass Effect series, a large portion of the game involves making decisions in conversations. Unlike in Mass Effect, these decisions are incredibly important, and instead of having endless amounts of time, your decision making time is limited, with sometimes only a handful of seconds to decide. To make things more interesting, NOT answering is also a possibility, one that can often have major consequences.
Combine the entertaining and thought provoking game play, the comic-like graphics, the atmospheric sounds and music, and you have a game that will keep you up for nights on end, either from playing or from nightmares.