2012 was an odd year. A new console released this year, one that will defy expectations of failure like its predecessor, despite being only on par with consoles seven and eight years older in terms of technology and selection of Library. A new handheld released this year, with all the technological promise to challenge perennial handheld king for its crown, and yet falling flat due to no creativity when it comes to unique IP's and games.
There always appears to be a bit of a lull in the year before major console releases, and while Microsoft and Sony made some efforts, everything seemed to just be waiting until February 2013 when Microsoft is rumored to unveil the next Xbox, or May/June where Sony is rumored to follow suit. Still, We were hit in the last quarter with some quality titles, worthy of filling up a top ten of the year. This list really isn't all that different from other bests of lists and does not vary greatly from lists of years past; chalk full of franchise sequels, franchise adaptations, and remakes. Only one original IP made the list this year. While I am a little disappointed that there weren't more original IPs that made the list, I am hopeful that maybe they were saved for the next console generation or maybe a value game that can be picked up next year and enjoyed.
A quick note about our panelists: This year, this list is a compilation of six people's input. While I will not name them specifically, I will state that I am the only member of this panel that does not work in the video game industry: Two people work for first party companies, one for a top tier developer, one for a prominent mobile game company and one for a prominent accessory company. Each provided me with their top games of the year, with a point value assigned to their choices. The tabulations were made by order of final point tally. So, without further ado...
10. New Super Mario Brothers (WiiU/3DS)
I have a soft spot for New SMB. Some will say that the 3DS version was way too easy, but Nintendo just keeps proving that if it isn't broken, don't fix it. Maybe this is my sense of nostalgia getting the best of me when it comes to this franchise, but with every iteration of Mario out there currently, just going to the basics of jumping around with the raccoon suit, flower power, or mini mushroom just does not cease to get old.
9. Journey (PS3)
(From Lord Bling): "Probably the best $15 you can spend this year. It contains not a single word of dialog, and yet inspires more emotion than almost every other game I've ever played. Until Fumito Ueda can finally deliver The Last Guardian, I'll be playing through this again."
8: XCOM: Enemy Unknown (Multi, PC)
This is merely an updated version of XCOM: UFO Defense that came out in the mid 90's on MS DOS. However, this version is allowing gamers to discover what I loved then, being the first game to keep me up into the wee hours of the night. This squad turn-based shooter involves elements of managing the XCOM project, keeping governments happy, researching, manufacturing, then going out on missions and killing aliens. The gameplay is addicting as it was almost 20 years ago, the seamless tutorial into game is fantastic. Just make sure you save often.
7. Halo 4 (Xbox 360)
Eyes rolled a bit when this game was announced; with majority of us thinking that Halo was going to be gone when Bungie moved on, and there may not have been equal faith in 343 to carry on. However, we were pleasantly surprised with a good Single Player and multiplayer that both added a needed upgrade while maintaining the integrity of the game most of us all started out loving.
6. Call of Duty Black Ops 2 (Multi)*
This game comes with a bit of a caveat: This game was voted on and included mainly on its multiplayer. The single player campaign is a hilariously ridiculous romp that continues to be the overlooked part of the franchise. I was a large hater when this game came out, but too many people had fun with multiplayer I famously caved and bought in on the fun. Again, Treyarch doesn't reinvent the wheel, here: they just continued with fast paced, multiplayer action.
5. Forza Horizon (Xbox 360)
One of those games that kind of flew under the radar, Horizon pissed off the racing sim purists, but for me combined the more fun elements of racing with the Burnout Paradise style play through. You aren't penalized for taking corners too sharp (as you can rewind your screw-ups). You are also able to play "ghosts" of your friends' races, creating an interesting competitive co-op as you play on.
4. The Walking Dead (Xbox 360, PC, PS3)
(from Lord Bling): "If video games ever expand into a larger art form, we may look back on this as one of the turning points. Even though it's more of an interactive novel than a traditional game, Lee and Clementine are the most 'real' characters in any game I've ever played. Struggling for their survival will have you making moral choices that you'll think twice about, and then you'll second-guess those choices after the fact. By the end of the final episode, I was an emotional wreck. This game had me excited for what this medium can eventually become."
3. Far Cry 3 (Multi)
(once again from Lord Bling):
"I punched a shark in the face.
Just when I thought I was burned out on open-world games, this one delivered more 'holy crap' moments and genuine laughs than anything else I played this year. It made me feel like the star of an action movie. The first two Far Cry games were ambitious but uneven. This one corrects all the wrongs, and has a blast doing it. The tagline of 'Skyrim with guns' isn't too far off. While there are many ways to get around the massive island (cars, jeeps, jet skis, patrol boats, ziplines, hang gliders, wingsuits), exploring on foot while hunting was just as much fun. The "L.A. trust-funder turns into jungle mercenary" story is enjoyable (especially by normal shooter standards, even if it starts to tail off near the end), and the voice acting is stellar. The side missions are varied too, and are short enough to not overstay their welcome.
The AI is fairly random, which leads to some memorable moments. Sometimes while trying to capture a base, I spotted a caged animal inside. You can shoot the cage door lock and let the animal out, and it will distract the bad guys. At one point, I was observing a base through my camera when a black bear came out of the jungle and started attacking everyone. Instead of firing at them, I just watched as they screamed in horror and tried to kill it, and failed. The bear ripped every one of them apart, and then I got credit for capturing the base. I was in the right place at the right time. And I couldn't stop laughing. Besides a lengthy campaign, and tons of post-game exploration and side missions, there is also a decent co-op campaign, a full competitive multiplayer, and a map editor. It's not all perfect though. The graphics on Xbox aren't as sharp as I'd like, but I suppose it's a fair trade for drawing such a huge open map.
The multiplayer feels a little floaty when compared to other AAA shooters. However, I think the biggest omission is not being able to start a "New Game Plus" and carry your unlocked perks and weapons over into a new game. But, these are all minor complaints in my book. It's the most fun I had with a game this year."
2. Mass Effect 3 (Xbox 360)
Everyone talks about the end, which was initially panned when spoiled on the internet. However, once you went through the game, which was a long goodbye wrapped in an action packed finale, you accepted the end. Still, Bioware went back to and amended an extended ending that gave fans more satisfaction. I had always been a huge Mass Effect fan (was my personal Game of the Year this year, as ME2 was my Game of
the Year in 2010), this game said goodbye to long time friends, solidified Shepard's mission to save an Earth under siege. The voice acting is top notch (I love you, Jennifer Hale), the story gives you difficult choices, and the game is actually pretty difficult.
This time around, Bioware incorporated a co-op Multiplayer element that was no only fun, but crucial to the Single Player campaign in effecting the eventual outcome.
1. Borderlands 2 (Multi)
This was the near-unanimous Game of the Year. Gearbox took all the fun, gameplay, story, humor, and enjoyment of the first Borderlands and turned it up to 11. This game was challenging, hilarious, and encouraged a full 4 player party with diverse classes in order to take down the big bosses. Downloadable DLC add ons were available not long after the game released in September. We all found ourselves running around talking to NPC's, frantically looking to finish every mission, laughing at most, but even taken back by a few outcomes.
The playability of this game will continue far beyond 2012 with the promise of new DLC down the road, and going back and trying to finish all the missions on the increasingly difficult "True Vault Hunter Mode". This game is the personification of what makes cooperative multiplayer a near necessity for future games. From the more coherent story and hilarious dialogue, to the improved gameplay, inventory, Borderlands 2 is the clear class of 2012.