With another year of gaming gone by the wayside, I can’t help but to feel that in the overall sense, 2012 might have been the most underwhelming year for gaming that I can recall. While we’ve seen new IP’s released with critical success (Xenoblade) it seems that every other game has been a sequel, or a sequel of a sequel (typical Call of Duty yearly release, Soul Calibur V, Medal of Honor Warfighter, Sonic 4 Episode 2). There really wasn’t much that excited me at all in 2012, though what did excite me, grabbed onto me for a considerable amount of time. It’s just unfortunate that the newer IP’s seemed to have been flattened out by the juggernauts known as sequels, moreover, yearly releases.
Usually I would do a top five of the year as well as several honorable mentions, however for 2012, I can only count three games in total that were above and beyond all other titles for this calendar year. My tastes have been known to be a bit eccentric, however this might be the first time I’ve been totally in line with the general gaming world (well, at least the top two). I will name one honorable mention though.
So, lets get on with the festivities!
(Quick note: I actually bought The Walking Dead on a Steam sale a week ago, but have not had the time to sit down with it, so if anyone was wondering about my opinions of that release, that should explain it)
Honorable Mention: Sleeping Dogs (360)
Rating: 9.0 (reviewed by ExpertPenguin)
I had high hopes ever since I first started seeing gameplay footage and learning about the intricacies of the gameplay. When the final build was released, I was rather surprised at how polished of an experience Sleeping Dogs was overall. With a solid storyline to follow, a more hands-on approach to melee combat, fine tuned vehicular controls with loads of time/score challenges to compete against your friends with, and more, Square Enix’s rescue of “True Crime: Hong Kong” from Activision was a steal for both the company its self as well as gamers around the world.
3. Angry Birds Space (iOS)
I wouldn’t say that an iPhone game superseding other console or portable titles is a sign of how lackluster the year was as a whole. To be quite honest Rovio took the tired and true formula of Angry Birds, which they solidified throughout three installments (Angry Birds, Angry Birds Seasons and Angry Birds Rio), added a novel gimmick in the form of gravitational pulls, gave the birds a futuristic look to match the interplanetary/outer space motif, and once again created an addicting time sink of a game. The creative freedom is not only retained from the previous trilogy of releases, but expanded upon, thanks in part to the aforementioned gravity gimmick coming into play. Though it had its moments of frustrations in regards to its control imprecision and brevity overall, Angry Birds Space provided an out of this world experience on the go, and continues to feed the notion that mobile games are not to be scoffed at, but to be respected as an ever growing part of this industry.
If you’re wondering about my impressions of Angry Birds Star Wars, I have not purchased it yet, though I did give it a whirl on my sisters iPad. I’m pretty sure if I bought it right now and sat down for longer than the 45 minutes that I did on her copy, I would have both of these titles tied. I don’t know what it is about Rovio, but they seem to know exactly how to add to the franchise to make each new installment feel less derivative than the last.
2. Borderlands 2 (360)
Borderlands was a title that I had followed well before its drastic visual change to a more cel-shaded presentation. The promise of hundreds of thousands of different guns got my attention, but how could you blame me? It seemed like a mostly hyperbolic statement, but not only did Gearbox Software deliver those goods, but they delivered an entertaining blend of first person shooting and RPG elements, which was enhanced by four player co-op. The storyline was forgettable and the ending was another slap in the face, but everything else in-between was addicting.
Gearbox Software’s follow up was more or less everything about Borderlands 2, but across the board more polished, more impressive and just better….okay, minus the only slightly better storyline (Handsome Jack is one of gaming’s greatest antagonists) and an ending that’s a bigger slap in the face than the first game. Borderlands 2 is much prettier, offers a more enjoyable set of skills for each class, dev love in the form of Golden Keys (to use with the Golden Chest, which allows you to acquire some powerful rare weapons and items), a steady stream of DLC, and so much more. This would have came a lot closer to my top choice for the year if it hadn’t been for the game killing bug that I had caught (cliffnotes: hitting a save point froze my system) which killed a few weeks worth of time I could have spent playing it. Even still, Borderlands 2 rules the saying “bigger, badder, better” and gives players a wealth of content that will keep them enthralled for a long time to come.
1. Mass Effect 3 (360)
Rating: 9.5 (not officially reviewed)
If it weren’t for Borderlands 2, Mass Effect 3 would have handily ran away with “game of the year” honors on my behalf. This is really the tale of two completely different games: the single player and what has become the biggest surprise I’ve come across in this console generation – the multiplayer.
I wasn’t one of the raging nerds huffing and puffing over the ending that Bioware provided, so with that, I thoroughly enjoyed the swan song to the Shepard saga. Mass Effect 2Mass Effect 3 however, while the RPG elements are still a bit on the back-burner, they feel more important this time around. The actual experience as a whole went far and beyond what the second title provided, with a handful of moments that will be remembered until my gaming days are done. Allies past and present make an appearance, new alliances are formed, old grudges are put aside for the better of the universe, everything feels like its on a much grander scale, and so on. It was torture knowing that I had reached the end if the game, and was about to initiate the final moments. Not since way back in the 32 bit era had I felt so gutted about having to end the game once and for all (Suikoden on the PlayStation). Based off the single player game alone, I would have considered this to be the best game I had the privilege of playing this year.
But then I played what I thought would be a complete throwaway, tacked on experience, which was far….far from – the multiplayer.
In terms of total hours played, only Everquest, Street Fighter 3: 3rd Strike and Starsiege have been played longer than Mass Effect 3. I have 1450 hours played so far on Mass Effect 3, with 1400 hours being multiplayer alone. This has been the most pleasant surprise I’ve encountered in this generation of games. No one thought this would take off, and no one really put any effort in talking about it beforehand. For someone with addictive tendencies when it comes to games that feature leveling character, unlocking new items in a myriad of manners, multiple difficulties, a plethora of playable characters and the overall carrot dangling gimmicks, Mass Effect 3‘s multiplayer is dangerous. With as much time as I’ve put into it, I still haven’t unlocked every ultra rare weapon to its maximum count.
To make matters worse (better?), Bioware has constantly been releasing a stream of completely free DLC packs that have added more weapons, more characters, more maps, more expendables, and with its Retaliation pack, challenges to meet and defeat, along with a new character every week until the end of December or sometime in January. Balance tweaks are made, weekly objectives are laid out, which gives players a chance to obtain a free pack with an N7 ultra rare gun, and a community (on the Xbox 360 at least) that doesn’t seem to be waning much at all. Who would have thought an 11 round horde mode variant based on the Mass Effect universe would lasso me in this deep? In fact, I’ve been on the multiplayer menu the whole time I’ve been typing this out!
If you have an addictive personality, I’d probably recommend for you to stay as far away from Mass Effect 3‘s multiplayer suite as humanly possible. On the other hand, it would be a disservice to have never tried out what I will flat out say has been the best all around multiplayer portion to any game this console generation by a country mile. You will come to Mass Effect 3 to say goodbye to the Shepard saga in a memorable fashion, but you will definitely stay for its thoroughly impressive multiplayer suite.