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Wow, I can’t believe that 2012 is already coming to an end. I swear, the older I get, the faster time passes. It really just feels like we should still be in the middle of summer or somewhere near that time frame. I mean, really, Christmas is just a few days away; and New Year’s is just around the corner. Where did all that time go? Well, if you are a gamer like me, a lot of your time went into playing some pretty awesome games this year. Although, is it me, or did the fourth quarter of this year feel less than stellar compared to other years when it comes to game releases? Either way, the whole of 2012 had some pretty awesome games come out for every system this year. Even the mobile and portable platforms saw some pretty awesome games released for them – though I still think that Sony is completely wasting the capabilities of the Vita by not supporting it as they should. C’est la vie! Thinking about it all, that may be the reason the end of the year has come by so fast for me as I have been cramming in game time trying to come up with this list here.
Coming up with a “Best of” list is always really hard. You have to put some of your personal preferences aside and look at really stood out in a very crowded field of entertainment. I mean, I personally had about 25 to 30 games added to my collection. Just going through those games would be enough for some people, but then you count in games that I rented, received and played at my friends’ homes and other places and you have a pretty sizeable library to go through for one year. And that is still just a fraction of the number of games released within the year. So narrowing down the field to just a handful of games that you feel are worthy of recognition at the end of the year is quite a daunting task. Though, I have to admit that I do have a lot of fun doing so. So now that all that hard (but fun) work is behind me, I won’t delay any longer in presenting my list of the Best of Video Games: 2012 Edition.
Biggest News of 2012 – Wii U Launches
With everything that has happened in the gaming world this year – mass layoffs, people bitching about game endings, gaming press endorsing products – the launch of a new system is always going to win out. Nintendo decided to fire the first shot in the new generation of home video game consoles and put their new Wii U system on the market in the fourth quarter of the year. While some people still think the jury is out on the future success of the Wii U (I actually think it will ultimately succeed), it will be interesting to see just how long it takes for Microsoft and Sony to respond to this.
Best Video Game Trailer – The Last of Us “Story Trailer”
In this industry, trailers make a huge first impression more than just about any other kind of promotional material put out by the publishers and developers. And some trailers that I have seen over the past several years have been some really impressive ones. The nearly 20-minute trailer for Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, the 15-minute Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas trailer, the first trailer for BioShock, they have all been amazing trailers for their games. This year, the Grand Theft Auto V “Trailer 2” and the Assassin’s Creed III “Debut Trailer” were amazing videos in their own right but they could not compare to the “Story Trailer” for The Last of Us. What we all saw in that trailer was simply astonishing; the emotion, the intensity, the viciousness… The Last of Us looks like it is going to be great. Hopefully it won’t disappoint.
Best Looking Box Art – Assassin’s Creed III
If trailers are the “first impression” most gamers see when a new game is coming out the box art is the proverbial “book cover” that everyone judges. I know people say you should “never judge a book by its cover” but the simple truth is we all shop with our eyes. Not that we are going to pass up a seemingly great game because of a shitty looking cover (a la the original Mega Man box cover on the NES), it does make an impact when we see the final box art design. This year both The Walking Dead and Darksiders II presented some pretty impressive box art designs that really told a lot of story with one image (a picture is worth a thousand words), but the box art for Assassin’s Creed III was just beautiful. The image of Connor ready to slay the British soldier with his ax all while more British soldiers and Colonial soldiers wage war with the American Revolutionary flag with the 13 stars waves in the background was just one hell of a sight to behold.
Best Music in a Video Game – Mass Effect III
Music can really make a difference in what a game developer wants to put across to the player. The right music can set the mood for anything the development team has in store. From simple midi tunes on the Atari and NES to progressively maturing scores found in the current generation of games, the music from a game is just as important as anything else in the production process. Think about it, how would God of War or The Legend of Zelda be different if the music didn’t match what was on screen or delivered the emotional punch that it did? Halo 4 and Darksiders II had some of the most impressive scores I heard all year, but these two orchestral masterpieces just couldn’t match the audible poetry that the score for Mass Effect 3 delivered. Every piece of music in the score matched the game note for pixel and was truly a perfect complement to an amazing story.
Character of the Year – Master Chief from Halo 4
If story is king in the way I grade most games, characters definitely come in a close second. As an integral part of the story, if I cannot relate to the main character, than forget about me trying to finish the game. It is the character’s traits that help most gamers associate with them and care for them. As such, three games had amazing central characters that really helped connect them with the player: Assassin’s Creed III had Connor Kenway, Mass Effect 3 had Commander Shepard and Halo 4 had Master Chief. While I certainly connected with each of these characters on a deep and personal level, Master Chief was the one that I really connected with for the first time. Ever since the series debuted, this is the first time I actually cared about what happened to Master Chief and that is enough to win this category for him.
Best Social Game – Marvel: Avengers Alliance
I know a lot of hardcore gamers still stay clear of social games; but I think that they are missing out on some pretty entertaining games. Yeah, they might not be as challenging as an MMO, FPS, or Action/Adventure game, but the social interaction and level of fun that you can have in quick burst cannot be ignored so easily. This year, Draw Something and You Don’t Know Jack certainly provided some entertaining sessions for millions of gamers out there, but I think that the biggest and most impressive mark made in social gaming came by way of Marvel: Avengers Alliance. People were able to organize their own SHIELD sanctioned team of Marvel Superheroes and complete missions to progress through a decent story and even unlock some nifty exclusive heroes in the process.
Best Independent Game – Symphony
Beautifully simple. That is how I describe Symphony to everyone who has asked me about it. Taking the music tracks from your PC’s hard drive and creating these visually impressive vertically scrolling shoot ‘em up levels for you to play is a novel idea that is given a full game treatment in this game. While some tracks are overly simple because of their “sound” (like Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven), others create these amazingly intense shooting levels that can really test your abilities. Just try playing Saint Anger by Metallica or Bug Hunt by Skrillex from the Wreck-It Ralph soundtrack on the highest difficulty. Dust: An Elysian Tail and Mark of the Ninja also received high marks in this category, but Symphony is the game that I had the most fun with here.
Best Driving Game – Need for Speed: Most Wanted
This was a hard one for me to decide upon because I am not really a driving game fan. I play them on occasion but they are not my first choice of games. When I narrowed down this list Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed and Forza Horizon both managed to sneak into the remaining finalist. In the end, however, Need for Speed: Most Wanted won the day because it reminded me so much of EA’s Burnout series when they took it over from Acclaim starting with Burnout 3: Takedown. That you could race around the city and trigger different races instead of following a linear path that other racing games have you go on was a huge relief. It was a nice blend of open-world type gameplay with functional racing game mechanics.
Best Sports Game – WWE ‘13
I am not going to lie: I really enjoyed playing WWE ’13 for one reason and one reason only – the Attitude Era mode. Oh hell yeah, was it fun to get to relive the Attitude Era of the WWE, even if it was only in a video game. Going all out in these match types really took me back to a time when wrestling ruled my life. Nostalgia won this category for WWE ’13 away from two other great sports games; Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 and Madden NFL 13. Both of those two other games were amazing games, but being able to relive some of the best moments in WWE history in WWE ’13 just tugged too much at my memories to let another game win this category.
Best Role Playing Game – Torchlight II
This was another tough category for me to decide upon, but for completely opposite reasons than those of the driving game category. RPGs have long been a favorite genre of mine. Though everyone will say that The Legend of Zelda was their first foray into the RPG genre, it was Final Fantasy that really piqued my love for them. Since then, my likes and dislikes for the genre have been refined quite a bit and I can tell the difference between your average JRPG, dungeon RPG and action RPG; but I find all types of RPGs to be enjoyable and satisfying games. Mass Effect 3 and Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 are worthy winners of this category on any other given year, but the amount of fun and detail that Torchlight II had really just trumps them and takes this category for itself.
Best Fighting Game – Street Fighter X Tekken
I really love Dead or Alive 5, and Persona 4 Arena was a blast to play; but Street Fighter X Tekken really had no competition in this category – at least in my humble opinion. Mixing two of my favorite fighting games in a manner similar to other Capcom Vs. or Street Fighter Vs. games was just too much fun to play. And the mixing of teams was a great little addition. Playing with each character’s natural teammate was fun, but mixing styles and creating your own custom team was fun. Teaming Poison from the Street Fighter side with Lili from the Tekken side is still my favorite combo to play with in the game.
Best Action Adventure Game – Assassin’s Creed III
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think that Assassin’s Creed III would win this category. Even as I was compiling this list a few weeks ago, I had the feeling that when I got to this category Assassin’s Creed III would be the ultimate winner. Darksiders II and LEGO The Lord of the Rings: The Video Game were strong contenders, but nothing beats the sheer amount of fun I had with Assassin’s Creed III. It was a great addition to a strong franchise, had an incredibly amazing story and left me wondering just what is going to happen next in the series. Assassin’s Creed III is well deserved in winning this category for when it comes to action and adventure there was no other game that gave me a better experience in either category than Assassin’s Creed III did.
Best Shooter – Halo 4
Call of Duty: Black Ops II is a fun shooter, but I still feel that it is the same formula as other CoD games. Yeah, they improved a bit on it, but strip down the polish and it is the same game at its core. And Primal Carnage is a fun game and one that I love playing with friends late at night, but when it was released it was a bare bones game that needed much more than a few maps and one gameplay mode to make it a sustainably fun game. With new updates and DLC for it, it has become substantially more fun, but it still needs a bit more. So in comes Halo 4 – and compared to other shooters released that I enjoyed and played this year, Halo 4 was the complete package. From single player campaign to a new and redone multiplayer campaign, Halo 4 just hit all the right notes and is the kind of shooter that other games this year should have strived to be.
Best Multiplayer Game – LEGO The Lord of the Rings: The Video Game
Any game that I can have fun playing with my friends as well as with my three young children is certainly deserving of winning this category. LEGO The Lord of the Rings: The Video Game certainly managed that feat. While the game may be a bit tricky for them at times, it never took away from how much fun they and I had playing it. And I was still able to enjoy the game with my older friends as well Traveler’s Tale has a winning formula of fun and action with this series and it translates to the multiplayer facet of the game beautifully. Guild Wars 2 and Halo 4 certainly would win out this category in any other list; but as a parent who loves sharing his passion of video games with his kids, their level of enjoyment with a game is something I also take into consideration a lot when it comes to how I see games.
Best Handheld/Mobile Game – LittleBigPlanet PS Vita
For the longest time, Nintendo had a pretty good strangle hold on the handheld and mobile gaming market. But with smartphones and tablets quickly biting away at that market with every year, they have experienced some pretty good competition as of late. They would be facing even more competition should Sony ever decided to fully support the Vita platform (sigh) but it is what it is. Even still, that didn’t stop LittleBigPlanet PS Vita from leaping ahead of New Super Mario Bros. 2 and Funky Smugglers as the most entertaining of the handheld and mobile entrants. LBP Vita really showed what the Vita is capable of in terms of full interaction with a game and controls – sadly it was one of only a handful of games on the system that showed any kind of real promise.
Best PC Game – Torchlight II
While Diablo III and Guild Wars 2 certainly were amazing PC games in their own right, for a time, I really thought that Torchlight II would be a contender for my “Game of the Year” category. While it has since fallen off of that level it still remains my favorite PC release this year. To say that I had fun playing Torchlight II is an understatement in every form you can think of. This dungeon crawling RPG had everything I expected in a game of its type and really surprised with how detailed and polished the game looked. Out of every game that has come to my PC this year, this is one that I still continue to play to try and complete every level that I can.
Best Wii/Wii U Game – New Super Mario Bros. U
New Super Mario Bros. U really came out of the gate and showed that the Wii U is more than just a supped up Wii. Yeah, the similarities are definitely there, but the gameplay that you experience on the Wii U’s version of New Super Mario Bros. was vastly improved over what you had on the Wii a couple of years ago when New Super Mario Bros. was released for it at that time. I had so much fun playing both games, but the difference in playing on the Wii U over the Wii made a real difference in deciding this category. Wii RPG entrants The Last Story and Xenoblade Chronicles certainly made this a close one, but in this decision “new” certainly won me over “tried and true” in terms of games.
Best Xbox 360 Game – Halo 4
I really did love Assassin’s Creed III for what it did in terms of story and gameplay for the franchise, and while I have fun playing Borderlands 2, I just can’t seem to get a really hang for the game. That doesn’t take away from the fun factor of the game; it just means that personally I can only play the game in bursts before having to walk away in frustration. That being said, I don’t think that any other game really entertained me on the 360 this year than Halo 4. If you know me, you would know that while I am a fan of the story behind the Halo franchise, the games haven’t exactly been my favorites to play despite being FPSs. But all that changed with Halo 4. Part of it was the hype given to the game by way of Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn, but more was due to the slight improvements in the game by 343 Industries. Bungie did a great job before with their series, but 343 came in and decided on something new and I think it really paid off for them, especially when it comes to the multiplayer aspect of the game.
Best PS3 Game – The Walking Dead
Poor Assassin’s Creed III. While I had fun with the game on two systems that I got to play it on, it just wasn’t enough to win on either of them. Likewise, while I may have really loved playing Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 and still like going back to it for some fun and hilarious JRPG action, it wasn’t enough to top the game that I felt really delivered on the PS3. That honor goes to The Walking Dead – and deservedly so. The Walking Dead really changed the way I look at downloadable games, episodic games and action/adventure games. Never has the anticipation I had at playing the next episode in a series of games been as high as it was for this game. And the decisions you had to make in each episode that affected the overall gameplay of the rest of the series were brilliantly handled. (And the replayability it adds is just icing on the proverbial cake.) It has been a long time since a game affected me the way this one did. For that alone The Walking Dead deserves this win.
Studio of the Year – Telltale Games for The Walking Dead
Both 343 Industries and Ubisoft deserve recognition for the games they put out that got them on this list. Halo 4 and Assassin’s Creed III, respectively, will go down as two of the best games released this generation. But looking at what Telltale Games was able to accomplish with The Walking Dead and there is little room for any doubt that they really deserve this one. It is a rare feat that a game is known as a “game changer” but I would dare say that The Walking Dead will indeed be known as such in years to come. Bravo to Telltale Games for delivering such an amazing game.
Game of the Year – The Walking Dead
Hm, Assassin’s Creed III, Halo 4 and The Walking Dead all listed one more time. Feels like déjà vu, doesn’t it? But how can I not list these games as contenders for this award. Two other games that really deserve to be here include Torchlight II and Mass Effect 3 as both are really strong games that deserve all the recognition they have received throughout the course of the year. But Assassin’s Creed III, Halo 4 and The Walking Dead are simply the crème de la crème when it comes to games this year. I really do love all three, I had fun playing all three, and all three have received high marks in terms of reviews; not just from myself but from video game journalists all across the spectrum. Choosing one of these games is the most difficult choice I have to make in this list and I had to go back to play each of these games a few times more to finally come to a decision. So, in my humble opinion, I have decided that The Walking Dead is the most deserving game to win this category. Assassin’s Creed III and Halo 4 are both amazing games, but I still believe that The Walking Dead is a “game changer” in terms of what you can do in a video game of its type. And if it can be considered a game changer as well as a great game that is more than enough evidence that the game deserves to be Game of the Year.
Wow, so that is it for 2012. A lot of fun and amazing games came out this year, but only a few really made a long term impact to be remembered. Heaven knows I will definitely be playing a great majority of these games well into next year because of how fun they are. But since I just mentioned next year, 2013 is quickly lining up to be a banner year for video games as well. Already we are hearing of some amazing games set to be released for 2013 and I know I have a few that I am really looking forward to myself. So I will present just one more category; the game I am anticipating the most in 2013.
Most Anticipated Game – Tomb Raider
There are a lot of games that I am really looking forward to in 2013: BioShock Infinite, Grand Theft Auto V, Beyond: Two Souls, The Last of Us, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory, Dead Space 3… all are amazing games that either come from amazing franchises or have shown some stunning promise as new IPs. But out of all the games set to be released in 2013, Tomb Raider is the game that I am most looking forward to. I have been a longtime fan of the series and to see the series rebooted is something that I am really interested in seeing and experiencing for myself. Hopefully it will be worth all the hype and wait, but we shall see when we see, won’t we?