2012, the year of the Olympics, potential Armageddon and inexplicably popular Korean dances. It was also the year of the Vita, the Wii U. The year of Kickstarter and Ouya. 2012 will be remembered for a lot, both inside and outside of videogames. For me though, it's all about these titles. Let's take a gander at my top ten games of 2012, before yelling about what an idiot I am, shall we?
(These titles deserve talking about, but couldn't quite sneak in)
Assassin's Creed III: Although I'm enjoying III a lot, I only picked the game up on Christmas Day, having played only about two hours of it since then. Given that I'm still in the tutorial stages, it would be extremely unfair to other titles to include this without having played more of it.
Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask: Again, another Christmas gift. To be fair though, even though the game is a strong title, it's fun for the same reasons the others were. Fun game, but not the most innovative.
Theatrhythm - Final Fantasy: The game with the most ridiculous name ever ended up being a surprise hit with me. This 3DS title mixes a pretty enjoyable rhythm game with some nostalgia for older titles in the series. Left a surprising impact on me and could have sneaked onto the list in previous years.
Darksiders II: Honestly, I was bored with this title. The original Darksiders had a fair amount of variety in it's gameplay, but the sequel seemed to focus on more of a cookie cutter approach to it's gameplay. Dungeons felt repitious with little to do but hack skeletons and collect the occasional powerup. Again, not a bad game but just not what I was expecting.
Frog Fractions: http://twinbeardstudios.com/frog-fractions Just play it and love it.
10: Rhythm Thief & the Emperor's Treasure
A rhythm game set in Paris where a young thief is after a man claiming to be the resurrected Napoleon Bonaparte? While this may sound like the plot to an awful B movie, Rhythm Thief actually manages to pull off it's ridiculous tale with a fair amount of charm, creating likeable characters and a fairly diverse recreation of Paris. The game amps up it's presentation levels with some neat animated cutscenes and well mastered music. Think Professor Layton with dancing and you're getting there. The rhythm games are fun too, mirroring stylus swipes and button presses to the musical cues. A few poorly implemented ones using gyroscopic controls (e.g.. shaking the 3DS as though it were a pair of maracas) threaten to spoil the fun, but on the whole there's much to enjoy.
9: Paper Mario - Sticker Star
The Paper Mario series has quite a legacy. I'll admit my only previous experience was with the Thousand Year Door, but it was a quality game that I played through more than once. The others in the series are highly regarded as well so does the 3DS title match these efforts? Well it certainly maintains the traditions of the older games, creating a vibrant 'paper' world with a number of Mushroom Kingdom inhabitants making the transition. Levels are designed for jumping and hammering through, as Mario seeks out Royal Stickers to beat Bowser for the billionth time. The game changes things up by making stickers the primary focus in the game, required for solving puzzles and moves in battle. This causes a few problems, such as having a limited number of moves or only being able to discover which sticker a boss is weak to in battle.
Despite a few niggles holding the game back, Paper Mario makes a good impression and shows just how good the 3DS can be for RPGs.
8: Resident Evil 6
Assuming you haven't clicked away from this article in disgust, allow me to explain. Yes, this game has it's flaws. It has a poor camera, a badly changed health system and focuses too much on setting up the next big action sequence. Ok guys, I understand why people didn't enjoy it. Heck, I had one or two moments where I turned the system off because I was so annoyed about the game messing up.
But while I had the occasional moment of anger, I had many more of simple enjoyment. Yes the game focuses too much on action, but that doesn't mean these pieces aren't enjoyable. RE6 amps things up from previous titles, making clear that the whole world is under threat from the viral menace, hence the hopping all over the world fighting crowds of zombies. Not many other games also offer three unique campaigns from the off either. I also enjoyed the moments when campaigns crossed, just to see how characters old and new interacted. Maybe this game does have it's flaws, and maybe I had higher hopes for it, but I was far from disappointed.
7: Mass Effect 3
Few series have had quite such an impact over the last generation as the Mass Effect series. Mass Effect closes out the trilogy by bringing the whole universe in on the fight against the deadly Reapers. Commander Shepard leads the last charge, seeking to bring the forces of the different races together and boot the Reapers back out. 3 doesn't revolutionise the series, ultimately choosing to build on the successes of the second game and add a few new features such as the 'galactic readiness' meter, which shows how the forces rounded up by Shepard can help defeat the Reaper menace. Missions include new enemies and worlds, as well as weapons and comrades. Perhaps the game feels a little too similar to it's immediate predecessor, but Mass Effect 3 closes the book on this trilogy very effectively.
Also, I didn't think the ending was that bad. A little 'meh' but not worth getting that worked up about.
6: Final Fantasy XIII-2
After retrying FFXIII this year and finding that it wasn't as bad as I remembered, I felt compelled to give it's sequel a try to see how things had changed.
Seems like they changed quite a bit! For a start the game follows around Lightning's sister, Serah, who spent most of the first game being a giant crystal paperweight. She and her new BFF from the future Noel take advantage of the warps in time to go traveling through the ages to look for Lightning, who's disappeared completely. Of course the story escalates (concluding with the real disappointing ending of the year), but it also allows for some major improvements over the original. For a start, the linear nature of the first game is gone, with Serah able to travel to a number of different timelines and pursue different quests (there's a ton of sidequests). As well as this, the game also changes the battle system for the better, removing some poorer elements and bringing in a Pokemon style monster capture system to add variety. The game still looks great, and music wise there's a few highlights. The story isn't quite as engaging as FFXIII but there's much to enjoy here. Definitely one of the most successful sequels that I've played.
5: The Darkness II
Another cruelly overlooked title, The Darkness II was the surprise sequel to a cult classic. The game follows Jackie Estacado, a mobster rising to the top of his criminal family who has to live with a malovent power known as the Darkness inside of him. A plot to remove Jackie and take the Darkness from him is discovered, leading the mobster to take action. The game combines standard FPS gunplay with the supernatural killing option of the Darkness to create a wide variety of options with regards to playing through the levels. Mechanics such as Jackie's weakness to light are still in play, requiring a certain amount of strategy. Enemies are improved from the original and later enemies require a certain amount of skill to defeat.
The sequel makes a few interesting changes too. The game has a cel shaded style which actually looks quite good. It also brings in an optional campaign which can be played alone or with friends, bumping up the replayability of the game. Most surprising of all is the twists and turns the game's story goes through. There were a few moments that caught me out completely. If you've had any experience with the original or just want an FPS with something a little different, this has my recommendation.
4: Virtue's Last Reward
(Known as Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward in America)
What do you get when you combine Saw with Professor Layton? Probably something like Virtue's Last Reward, a sequel to DS title 999. In this game, as with it's predecessor, a group of seemingly unrelated people are kidnapped and forced to play a game with their lives. By solving puzzles to open doors, the group can choose to work with each other or betray each other in the hopes of escape. I've provided a really simplified synopsis of the game because it's impossible for me to really do the set up justice. Each decision made in the game has the potential to split the timeline of events, meaning that multiple playthroughs are a necessity far more than in most games. I won't spoil anything, but let's just say VLR makes some clever decisions across it's timelines.
The actual gameplay is focused around the puzzles in the game. These are mainly the old adventure game 'Get out of this locked room!' type of puzzle. They're generally fun, though a few feel obtuse and are pretty difficult to just casually work out. Even so, the game steps up from 999. There's a flowchart present, which allows the layer to go between different parts of the timelines and re-do an earlier section if necessary. The old sprites are bumped up to 3D models and there's even voice acting (though the European version chooses to stick with the original Japanese voices rather than pay for the English voices). Virtue's Last Reward may be light on actual gameplay, but it's a 30 hour tale that shouldn't be missed.
3: The Walking Dead
It may seem difficult to believe that a licensed game in 2012 could conjure up memories of Monkey Island and other adventure games but The Walking Dead takes the better elements of this old school genre and fleshes it out in the zombie stylings of today's gaming landscape. A knowledge of The Walking Dead universe isn't needed (though I highly recommend the TV series) to play these episodic games. All the background needed is that zombies have invaded the country and everything's going to hell. The game follows Lee, an escaped convict who is trying to survive the mayhem and look after a little girl named Clementine. The episodes follow the TV format, with 'previously on' appearing for a recap and 'next time on' for a preview of the next episode.
The game goes through the usual adventure game process of 'find item a, combine with b to complete objective' but it's so much more than that too. Lee has to work with the people in his group too, and that often means picking one side over the other. The game tracks the decisions Lee makes, and each episode contains a few game changing ones to make the player really work. The characters are interesting too, mixing a wide variety of personalities and beliefs. Clementine, who could easily have been another annoying brat to escort like so many other games, is actually one of the best characters introduced in the past year. She's so innocent that the game forces you to care about what happens to her. Even so, she's never a burden, and pretty level headed considering she's a ten year old in the end of days.
I'll close this entry on this. The only licensed game of any media that I've felt was brilliant was Goldeneye. In the Walking Dead, there's a serious competitor.
2: Resident Evil - Revelations
While I did enjoy RE6, I have to admit that it is an acquired taste. However, the same can't be said of Resident Evil: Revelations. Set primarily on the cruise ship Zenobia (with occasional detours) the game follows good ol' Jill Valentine and her new partner as they look around to discover what has caused the ship to go silent. Chris Redfield gets in on the action as well, along with a couple of newbie shooters who go investigating other mysterious areas. The tale plays out in the traditional Resi manner, but with these games it isn't really the story that keeps people going, it's the gameplay itself.
This is where Revelations excels. Enjoyed the over-the-shoulder style brought in by RE4? Revelations uses it with precision. Enjoyed the creepy zombies of the past? Revelations brings in the (rather stupidly named) Ooze monsters, sort of a fishy variant of the traditional zombies, with a number of disturbing variants popping throughout the game. Enjoy actually being scared in RE games? Revelations has some genuinely creepy set pieces, with bosses taking a fair amount of work and offering up a much bigger threat than previous titles. One stalks the corridors, suddenly rushing Jill when she least expects it.
The game's ability to make players jump is only possible when the environment looks so good. Revelations pushes the limits of the 3DS to provide a great looking experience with the best graphics I've seen in a handheld title ever. When the news game that a PS3/360 port was in the works, I wasn't surprised. Turned off by RE6? Pick up a 3DS or wait til the PS3/360 version hits, I guarantee you'll have a good time.
I've never really enjoyed stealth games. Titles like Splinter Cell and Metal Gear have passed me by without interest. When I heard Dishonored was focused on stealth, I thought that I would pass this one up to. I bought it when I saw it was going cheap and didn't expect much.
How wrong I was.
For one, Dishonored isn't just about stealth. The game can be conducted stealthy sure, but the player can be as violent as they like as well. Stealth and the non-lethal option will reduce guard numbers and provide a better outcome but playing aggressively brings more challenge and creates more chaos. I felt that bringing out the sword would be the more fun option, but Dishonored actually puts a lot of effort into making stealth entertaining as well. Which is the better option, killing a main character or knocking him out and brandishing him with a mark so he is excluded from an order? The game also gives Corvo some Bioshockesque powers, such as control over time or the 'Blink' power to zoom across level parts without being spotted by guards.
Speaking of Corvo, it's perhaps important to explain his story. Dishonored follows his quest for revenge after being framed for the murder of an Empress. He seeks out the daughter of this ruler and wishes to put her on the throne. The game's story may seem simple, but the narrative takes some interesting twists before the credits roll. It's a shame to see the story end, as much work has been taken to make Dunwall seem like a vibrant place, with unique characters and a steampunk environment that actually looks cool instead of tacked on. Comparisons with Bioshock have been made, but Dishonored creates its own world, with its own brand of gameplay. I've only beaten the game once but I'm itching to dive back in.