Finally, 2012 is coming to an end. Did you have fun? Did it give you everything you wanted and more? Maybe you ate KFC for the first time. Maybe you had that threesome you always wanted and found it was more work than you’d think. Either way, you’re here on a gaming site so you probably want a break from all the razzle dazzle of real life and get your hands onto a controller and know what I, Oli J, thought was the bees knees of the year.
Well here you go then.
- Far Cry 3 – A case of too late for Far Cry 3, which at a push, would replace Sleeping Dogs in my Top 5. Why doesn’t it? Because I’ve only played 4 hours of gameplay at time of writing, and as much as I want to throw it in… I can’t. Just in case it turns baloney. However so far a combination of open world, clever implementation of stealth and, of course, fun diversions means Far Cry 2 is very much worth your time.
- Minecraft 360 – The game that took the world by storm made it to the 360, where hundreds of gaming shelled out a high-priced 1600 MS points for it, only to declare it “not as good as the PC version”. But is it good? Well ask yourself this, are you still playing it? Are you still creating massive structures and generally killing hours of your life? I’m not, but many still are. And I can empathise why…
- Gotham City Imposters – Ahh Gotham City Imposters… the gaming equivalent of an “in the moment” game. I got caught up in the world of GCI, a multi-shooter that took the world of Batman and made it wacky, and feverishly played it for a couple of months. Then, life came by and GCI got lost among the way… was it good fun at the time? Yes, thanks to being quite good at easing you into the multi-shooter world. Did it last? It should have, but then the big boys came…
- Carmageddon Funsize – An old classic came to iOS, and a new generation of gamers got their hands, or rather digits, on Max Damage. Carmageddon Funsize was a great example of what modern mobile gaming is all about: bringing an old classic back to touch screens. It used the control system perfectly and retained a lot of the old classic fun. With loads of smash clips still being uploaded on its website, Carmageddon has a lot of mileage yet.
- Tiny Troopers – Of course, as well as old classics on iOS, come the scrappy underdogs. Tiny Troopers was a brilliant game that was bought to my attention at Nerfed, and I fell in love with the way it invoked memories of games like Cannon Fodder with its war setting, humour, and general challenge. Much like Carmageddon, Tiny Troopers would have been in the Top 5 if not for the addictive qualities of a certain franchise screen-tapper, but suffice to say I’m still boosting my troops today.
- Alan Wake’s American Nightmare – What do you do when your franchise was received luke warm? Turn it into a grindhouse adventure of course! Many didn’t like American Nightmare’s new direction for Alan Wake, but I enjoyed the way it used this new, grittier style while also keeping some of the mentalness from its big brother. While the campaign was short, the challenge modes added a fair bit to the game. Alas, not quite enough to have that extra “zing”.
- Happy Wars – The Free-To-Play experiment on Xbox starts with this cutesy little tower defence game, which sees you choosing one of three classes to take on your opponents. It’s twee, often challenging and at times slow to progress, but there is something rather compelling about Happy Wars. Not only that, but it actually is fun for all ages, with an easy-to-pick up control system and gameplay. Now if only I could mute the other players so I don’t feel uneasy about players with children…
The Top 5 (in reverse order)
- Sleeping Dogs
Grand Theft Auto has a lot to answer for. And not necessarily in a bad way. With the third in its series, it revolutionised the idea of an open world, third person adventure game (which essentially it is) and became a template for gaming for years to come.
Don’t believe me? Take a bite of this list: Saints Row. LA Noire. Red Dead Redemption. The Getaway. Crackdown. Super Mario Galaxy. All utilized this style of sandbox gameplay that Grand Theft Auto. All had the tropes of a crusader against crime (especially Mario Galaxy) tackling the bad guys on, one mission at a time.
For me, Grand Theft Auto 4 showed a bit of rot from the original kings of this type of game, Rockstar. But then there are games which use it to fantastic effect to lure you back into its style and substance. This year, that game was Sleeping Dogs.
It is in my Top 5 by virtue of many things. A beautiful city to explore, a variety of missions and mini-games, a gripping story and interestingly implemented Moral Choice System. But most of all what made Sleeping Dogs make my Top 5 was the fact I didn’t rate it at first. I thought it was just another clone. After giving it a go, I was proved wrong, and that’s why it’s here.
- The Walking Dead
Point and Click games were the Lords of their day. The heady past of Monkey Island, Discworld, Grim Fandango and Day of the Tentacle made players use their noggins to try and solve puzzles that ranged from the bizarre to the plum forehead-slapping. As the future became faster and more eager to please, these games lost their way somewhere down the line alas. But what is old is new again, and the point and click is back.
This may be due to the tap-heavy gameplay of mobile gaming, and the rise of direct download for consoles, but one company has risen from the crowds that are emerging: Telltale Games. And they’ve done this by taking established franchises and adopting them for the gaming community via Point and Click. First it was Jurassic Park, then Back to the Future. Both were moderately received, with a few irks here and there.
But then came The Walking Dead.
While Robert Kirkman’s baby is a pop culture beast on its own, with an ongoing graphic novel and a hit TV show, for gamers The Walking Dead stood up and made us take notice. With a story segued out into 5 episodes, and taking place next to the one we were all familiar with, it gave us branching stories, where our choices mattered, and real thrilling moments.
Essentially, it bought you back to the good old days of Point and Click, where you were invested in the story. It wasn’t just a drive to solve every puzzle, it was a wonder to see what would happen next. With The Walking Dead, not only do you want to see what happens next, you want to know how your choices ultimately affect you and the world around you. It made me laugh, it made me gasp, and most of all The Walking Dead made me remember a time when I fell in love with gaming.
- Simpsons: Tapped Out
Mobile gaming is big. I mean really big. Think of a very big thing, double it, and you’re still no way near close to knowing how big mobile gaming is these days.
What I’m saying is it’s quite sizeable.
From iPhones to Tablet PCs, handheld gaming is as big as it was when the Game Boy was in its prime. Next time you’re out, look around you. Look to see how many people have their faces buried in their devices and tapping away to get one more level of Angry Birds, to open up the cube in Curiosity, or relive some old classic that has been released like Final Fantasy.
Mobile gaming is popular in one respect because of its pick-up-and-play mentality. A style of gaming that fuels an addictive nature. And for me, this year, no other game consumed my addicition than one heavily based on a hugely popular, and for me much loved, franchise.
Simpsons: Tapped Out is essentially a Farmville clone. It’s freemium, which means that there is cool stuff you can get with real money, as opposed to in-game stuff. It is brightly coloured, rife with Simpsons humour, and always tempting you to play more. And you will. Forever.
It wins the mobile gaming war for me (as there were a LOT of titles I liked this year) because of those two things. I don’t need to tell you about how awesome the Simpsons was, as we’ve all had our moment with the yellow family. No, for me, what makes the Simpsons: Tapped Out a home run is in its freemium personality. Most freemium games will ease you in with freebies, before dropping you at a stage where you HAVE to spend money to progress (Jurassic Park Builder, I’m looking at you. You shit). But Simpsons: Tapped Out doesn’t have that. Yes there are some cool things you can get with cash, but you can progress and have fun without that. For me that shows that EA, who produced it, actually want to give you a fun game without the push for your pounds and dollars.
Now if they’d stabilize the server, they may have a Game of the Decade on their hands.
New IPs are rare these days. Some would argue that originality is dead, that everything that has been done, will be done. There truly is nothing new under the sun, and we should all just enjoy our established Big Dogs like Halo, and Gears of War, and, grrr… Call of Duty like good gamers.
But of course, the companies don’t want to feed you the same old, same old. They want to spark your brains. Make you feel again. Make you grab your controller and never let go.
I was lucky enough to go to Eurogamer this year with the Nerfed crew, and while there one game intrigued me. It was a new IP, by a big company in Bethesda, and had a unique look and style that made all gamers there stroke their ample chins with intrigue. It was called Dishonored, and it’s runner-up in my 2012 Game of the Year.
At first I was unsure about Dishonored. I loved the look, which reminded me of a steampunk Bioshock, and of course being a First-Person game it made me lick my lips with anticipation. But then I played it at Eurogamer, and found myself sucking most arse. I couldn’t get to grips with the stealth, felt like I was playing it “wrong”, and walked off feeling a tad saddened by the whole thing.
But then, spurred on by a colleagues comment of it being “boring”, I bought it and resolved to try it again. Suffice to say, I was glad I did. Because my Eurogamer experience didn’t do Dishonored justice. It didn’t show me the wide variety of ways you can play, from running around in a dark stab-a-thon, or quite simply never being seen, never harming a soul, and moving through the game like a ghost.
Most games have this idea of completing it as a pacifist shadow, but Dishonored was the first time I played a game, felt IMMENSELY challenged, but highly rewarded at succeeding. It took me 8 times to complete the first mission by fulfilling the requirements for such a task, and once I did I played through the game in a spirit-like fashion like it was how it was meant to be played. It was a joy, a wonder, and one that will stick with me for a long time.
And that’s not even touching the gritty story, the wonderful visuals, set-pieces, dialogue, various gameplay elements and other such things that make Dishonored a gaming experience that is far from “boring”. To be fair, something huge would have to beat it as my personal Game of the Year.
- Borderlands 2
And of course, here is that huge thing.
Last year my Game of the Year was Portal 2. Long story short, it was my Game of the Year for many reasons. It was fun to play, looked great, sounded awesome, had a story that made me both wet myself with giggles and gasp in amazement, and it was a franchise I was already big on in a groinal way. Everything about it met my expectations and ran away with them, tittering as it did so. For me, that is a Game of the Year.
Borderlands 2 ticks all those boxes. Anyone who reads the site, or knows my gaming habits out in the real world, knows I fell deeply in love with the first Borderlands. Everything about it resonated with me, from its unique, cell-shaded graphical approach, to the shoot-and-loot mentality within the game, opening up various possibilities of what you’d have at any one time, and of course, the humour. Borderlands wasn’t just a video game to me, it was an addiction.
If you’re a person with a keen eye, you’ll notice that everything I’ve given thumbs up to in my previous Top 5 come back here with Borderlands 2. It takes an established gameplay style and makes everything about it brilliant again (Sleeping Dogs). It has a story that engages you, both with laughs and wonder (Walking Dead). It’s bloody addictive, as you run around finding fresh new loot to replace your old one, and waste hours “farming” for the good shit (Simpsons: Tapped Out). And finally, there are so many ways to play and do things that each game, despite the same missions, feels fresh (Dishonored).
And it doesn’t look like stopping. Borderlands was infamous for its stellar DLC, and its sequel is continuing this trend. From space pirates to roided-up weapons manufacturers, Borderlands is full of moments which you recall, smile, and shake your head at with glee. It has characters you love and recognise, and dares to do things to them which will make you drop your controller in disbelief. Without spoiling the story, there was one moment where I genuinely beamed, only to later cry out “No!” when that was shattered. The story is… well it just is that. A story. One that you drags you around the gamut of emotions so much that after completing the game, you sit back, relax, and feel like you’ve been on an adventure.
Borderlands 2 is my Game of the Year. There was never any doubt. If it was a woman I would say embarrassing things to try and woo it. If it was a curry it would be one I’d order every time and savour each bite. If it was a friend, it would be a brother, sister, or brosis.
But it’s not. It’s a video game, and it’s one you should own. End of.