Thursday, 3 January 2013

Game of the Year 2012

Part of the problem with blogging on a game of the year, is that the games industry skews its releases to the back end of the calendar, to better catch a bigger slice of the lucrative Christmas pie. It isn't really possible to play all of those last quarter releases before Old Father Time brings his scythe down on the dying year, unless that's all you do in November and December. As attractive as that plan sounds, there are lots of calls - enjoyable, festive ones, mind - on my time in those months and I'm never going to be able to play them all.

Last year, there were two games, released in 2011 but which I only played in 2012 that would probably have kicked their way into my 2011 top 5 - the sublime Rayman Origins (bought in the post-Christmas sales) and Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (a Christmas present). This year, I own but have not yet played, several games that have featured in others' GotY lists - Journey, Hitman: Absolution, Far Cry 3 and maybe even the heavily criticised (but I still have a soft spot for the series) Resident Evil 6.

In any event, it hasn't been a vintage year for gaming - this generation is teetering towards its, somewhat delayed, end and console games (on at least the 360) don't seem to have progressed, technically at any rate, for a couple of years.  This is only to be expected when a hardware cycle nears its end and, in certain respects, actually whets my appetite for the next generation.

There have been two new hardware releases - the WiiU and the PS Vita - both of which I bought on the day that they were released but only one of which has provided a game in the list below.  There was also the revamp of the Nintendo 3DS, in the far superior 3DS XL - another day 1 purchase from me. I've enjoyed all three devices and, in the Vita and WiiU, there is a lot of potential for the future.
 Anyway,  in reverse order, these are my top 6 (couldn't narrow it to 5 this year) games (of those that I have played) released in 2012.

6. Resident Evil Revelations The first game on my list and also the first 2012-released game I played this year (unsually for a big name game, released in January). I found the demo near unplayable without the Circle Pro Pad add-on but, having bought the game bundled with this Franken-device,  it played very nicely.  A welcome return to old school Resi 1-3 style gameplay (in part, anyway - there were some action-oriented levels too).  I love the newer style Resis too but this was a great change of pace (and also had some great shout-out-loud shocks, particularly when played with headphones - not a game for the daily commute).

5. Lego Lord of the Rings - all the Lego videogames are great fun but this one, based around the films, made me laugh out loud several times.  It  makes a few tweaks to the normal Lego game template, all for the better.  One of the new aspects that I did not think would work, was using the actual voices from the film dubbed onto the Lego Minifigs but this was one of the most refreshing features, enhancing both the Lego-ness and the LotR-ness of the subject matter.

4. ZombiU - I bought ZombiU bundled with my WiiU.  As the name suggests, another to add to the growing list  of zombie videogames. This time, though, the action is set in London, a setting I thoroughly enjoyed, given my familiarity with the city (one area featured in the game is Bethnal Green - where I used to live - and another is Buckingham Palace, near where I work).  Innovative use of the WiiU's gamepad, a harder than usual (these days) difficulty level and perma-death for your character should (when) the zombies catch up with him or her, made this one of the scariest games I've played for years (possibly, ever)

3. Xcom: Enemy Unknown - A fantastic, cerebral, turn-based strategy game with RPG stylings - think human vs alien chess.

2. The Walking Dead A throwback to point and click adventure games, Walking Dead coupled a very strong voice cast to a powerful and genuinely shocking narrative.  Based in the same world as the comics and the TV series (and occasionally  sharing some of the same characters), it tells the story of escaped convict Lee and the child he befriends and protects, Clementine.   There's a large ensemble of characters who interact with Lee and Clem and decisions that you, the player, take have an influence on the direction the narrative takes, even across different episodes.  Released in 5 episodes through the year, I shotgunned the first three just after the third was released and then impatiently waited for the final two.

1. Dishonored -  its rare that a new IP launches so late in a console's life cycle and even rarer that it is as finely-moulded as Dishonored.  The central story of revenge and (to some extent, optional) retribution, was straightforward enough.  But the developers created a believable, cohesive world within which the events take place, with a rich mythos hinting at much more (for sequels, perhaps) than was needed or used in the game itself. A range of psychic and combat abilities give  the player a fair degree of freedom to complete the levels how they choose to (for example, I got through the final level without killing anyone at all but I know from other players' tales that that level can be a bloodbath.   Reminiscent of the sublime Thief series, I enjoyed it from start to finish.

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