Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Best Of 2012 (That I've Played)

The Best Games of 2012

            As 2013 is finally here, I thought it would be a good time to post my opinions on what I think were the best games to come out in the past year. This year brought the usual bunch of AAA titles from the big studios but we also had smaller developers step up to the plate and knock their big budgeted counterparts silly. Remember that I'm only one man, so this list will comprise of only games that I've personally played for an extended amount of time. This article is a long time coming, but it's also been a long time in the works.

2012 saw a new console from Sony in the form of the Vita, a handheld that although not as popular as Nintendo's 3DS, just might have the most power of any handheld system we've seen so far. We also had Nintendo finally join the HD world with the release of their Wii U console, a system with heaps of potential that should prove very interesting in the coming years.

So without further ado, here is my Top Ten of 2012.

Honorable Mention - Dishonored

As a gamer who was burned by Assassin's Creed III, I was more than happy to step into the shoes of Corvo Attano in Akrane Studios' fantastic Dishonored. Set in the fictional city of Dunwall, you set about exacting revenge on those who disgraced you. Dunwall is a superbly designed world in which to go about this adventure, which is basically Bioshock with a heavy stealth element. With myriad ways to dispatch your assassination targets, Dishonored featured some of the most fun to be had on a console. Those looking for a new game to sink their teeth into will be rightly pleased.

10. Hotline Miami

A top-down, SNES-style brutality simulator? The alternate universe, videogame version of Drive? An incredibly fun, yet incredibly challenging experience? A $10 PC game that I'd gladly pay more for? Hotline Miami is all of these things and more. From the first mission onwards, this is a totally engrossing game where you play as an unnamed protagonist (antagonist?) taking on various jobs as a hitman. Things just get weirder from there with quirky, vague dialogue and a Lynchian story, this game is fresh in a way that few are nowadays. The gameplay and soundtrack are truly top-notch and the graphics are a welcome blast from the past.

9. New Super Mario Bros. U

Nintendo did it again and this time in HD, New Super Mario Bros. U is the latest in the long line of Mario adventures. It's also one of the most challenging since Super Mario World way back on the SNES, more than a few times I've cursed my television during a particularly difficult lava level. I used to think that since Mario games had such great art design there was no need for HD, now I doubt I'll ever want to play a non-HD Super Mario ever again. This is a truly beautiful game, from the graphics to the super-tight controls, it's a Mario game for the ages and stands right up there with the classic games from this franchise.

8. Little Big Planet PSVita

Sometimes a portable game comes along that is leagues better than its console counterpart, Little Big Planet PSVita is definitely one of those games. From the upgraded touch controls to the wackier than usual story, this SackBoy adventure is one to behold. The online community is as strong as ever with gamers far and wide creating and sharing their own levels and different takes on the LBP world. This is an step up from LBP & LBP2 in almost every way, so if you're a fan of those superb titles, then get your hands on a Vita and this game and hop to it!

7. ZombiU

As someone who was and still is obsessed with Dark Souls I was very happy with Ubisoft's apocalypse adventure, ZombiU. This game is basically a first person Dark Souls with zombies that's set in London. It's also the truest representation of a zombie apocalypse I've encountered in a game yet, no matter how prepared you think you are, you will die. Even though you will die constantly, this is not a hindrance to your enjoyment of this amazing game however, because each time you die, you have to find a new way to approach each situation. ZombiU is impressive in nearly every way, from the smart use of the Gamepad to the RPG elements, to the pure Survival Horror experience, it's the best launch title for Nintendo's new console and I couldn't recommend it enough.

6. Binary Domain

From the looks of the box art you'd think that this was your typical Gears of War-esque bro-shooter, and surely it is, at least for the first hour. Once you assemble your Rust Crew of mercenaries, this turns into a whole different kind of adventure. Basically the best Terminator game ever made, Binary Domain seems like a spiritual progression of SEGA's fantastic Vanquish from a few years back with bullets flying everywhere, all the time. You control your squad using a surprisingly responsive voice recognition system into the depths of Japan's Amada Corporation. The bosses are beyond huge and the gunplay is an absolute blast. Shooting robots to little bits is one of the most satisfying things I've done in a game all year.  

5. Darksiders II

Having been unimpressed with the first Darksiders game, I was hesitant to go back to THQ's "God of Zelda" series. Thankfully I did go back because this is a truly captivating game. From its God of War like combat to it's Zelda on steroids dungeons, this game a blast to play. The WiiU version adds a nifty touchscreen inventory and most of the DLC from the original release, making this the most complete version of the game that's available. Death AKA The Grim Reaper is a great character and the people and creatures he meets in this tale are very memorable, the world is a rich tapestry of brilliant art/level design and though not without it's problems is still a fantastic addition to anyone's library.

4. Adventure Time: Hey Ice King! Why'd You Steal Our Garbage?!!!

Oh my glob! This game is beyond mathematical! In this, the first console Adventure Time game, we got the unofficial sequel to Nintendo's Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, so if you have fond memories of that classic, you owe it to yourself to get your hands on this as soon as you can. Playing as series heroes Jake the dog and Finn the human, you traverse the land of Ooo in hot pursuit of the dastardly Ice King, searching for your garbage and helping various characters along the way. Proof that licensed games don't have to suck, Adventure Time takes a proven set up and takes it to the next level with beautiful 2D graphics and a perfect control scheme, it's the best release on 3DS this year.

3. Persona 4: Golden

Bizarre, engrossing, challenging, fun as hell and oh so Japanese, Persona 4: Golden is the rich JRPG that Vita owners have been waiting for. An HD port of the 2008 PS2 release, Persona 4 puts you in the role of a high school student in rural Japan where strange murders have begun to occur. It's up to you and your classmates to save the town and put an end to all the craziness. To tell anymore of the story would spoil it, but let me say that it's some of the weirdest high school drama I've ever encountered. Battle controls are sublime with a great turn based system that's easy to get used to for anyone that's played an RPG before. Great doesn't begin to describe this title, it's truly sublime.

2. Borderlands 2

Fun fun fun 'til Handsome Jack takes your loot all away. Borderlands 2 is the most fun I had with a console game this year, an upgrade to the original in every way imaginable. This is a game you can sink hours into and not progress and yet feel like you achieved great things. Hilarious dialogue and precarious situations surround you on the planet of Pandora and in great numbers. Great controls and visuals are just icing on the cake for a game this large, it's amazing that Gearbox was able to make it all work in the end. Borderlands 2 shows that there's still room for an open world loot-fest as long as it's wildly entertaining and able to keep your attention for vast amounts of time.

1. Journey

Thatgamecompany's Journey is simply put, the most beautiful experience you can hope to have with a video game. This game is a true work of art, from the gorgeous visuals to its simplistic controls, it's a game that everyone should be able to enjoy, regardless of skill level. An emotional triumph, you take away from Journey only what you give it, no true dialogue is spoken throughout the two hour adventure, leaving you to make your own story for your weary traveler. By the end, I had tears in my eyes at what I had witnessed, Journey's ending is beauty in it's purest form. For only $15, this is a downloadable title that will stick with you long after you beat it. Not only is this the best game to come out this past year, it's the best game to come out in many years.

So there you have it, the best games I played in 2012. A lot of work and internal debate went into shaping this list and quite a few games were left off in the end. All in all though, I'd say that 2012 was a fantastic year across the board for gaming, and if what I've read is true, 2013 should be even better.