We've been glancing back over the past six months this week, looking at the best games that have emerged this year so far, and in tomorrow's podcast we'll take a deeper look at some of those decisions and look towards the next six months too.
But what have we learned from this year so far? When we look back on 2012, what will these early months have told us?
Retail's Feeling The Burn
One of the more consistent cries that has emerged from the press machine thus far has been the constant wave to folks debating current pricing models. Sales were down, high street chains felt the burn, and the UK saw its flagship specialist games retailer go under, eventually closing a massive chunk of its stores before it could even think about rising from the ashes. GAME is bouncing back, slowly but surely, but it took a huge hit.
The inexorable march of digital continued into the new year. TIGA pointed towards startup figures that spoke for themselves. Studios like Remedy and Mojang espoused the joys of digital distribution, as others (particularly those who'd already left the home market and gone F2P or mobile) criticised the pressure retailers still exerted over platform holders.
Western pricing models came under fire as more and more games continued to go free-to-play, the most high profile "casualty" perhaps being the slow (yet inevitable?") descent of EA's latest blockbuster MMO - Star Wars: The Old Republic - into freemium territory. The game's first year has seen it haemorrhage subscribers, with BioWare unable to act swiftly enough to deliver the content it promised.
The Last Bespoke Handheld
As much as Sony probably wanted folks fixated on their new, powerful handheld, in all honesty the Vita's been something of a specialist product. The hype that preceded the launch - perpetuated by launch window lists that promised much - has descended into a lull. We thought lessons might have been taken away from Nintendo's 3DS troubles last year, but it looks as if Sony are on course to do much the same, except they don't have Mario and chums to fall back on, and Sackboy is no Italian plumber.
The 3DS, by contrast, has had a phenomenal few months, mainly achieved through that most simplest of gaming methods - delivering good games. Resident Evil has found a new lease of life on the platform, Nintendo have dusted off old IP in stunning fashion (Kid Icarus), and demoed cracking new IP too (Dillon's Rolling Western), and there's a new model on the way too.
The Vita has some ground to make up, and Sony getting even remotely excited about the console that they themselves made would be nice, but games such as Gravity Rush perhaps pointed the way forward towards games that didn't just try to port across experiences from the home consoles for enjoyment on the move, but looked to the Vita itself for inspiration in creating new and unique games.
We're still waiting on any news of that FFX remaster.
Blockbuster vs. Indie
A glance at the sales charts each month will indicate that its been a slow period where conventional retail has been concerned. FIFA and Mass Effect dominated the top three spots for weeks, with newcomers to the top ten swiftly banished, to be replaced by the big hitting usual suspects from the Christmas period of last year. Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3, Skyrim, FIFA 12, and FIFA Street ruled the roost, later being joined by Mass Effect 3, and fleetingly by the likes of Sniper Elite v2, and Max Payne 3.
There was a sense of treading water there too, deja vu and familiarity the order of the day - a number of games that proved solid, yet unspectacular; good without being great. Titles that provided means by which to pass the time, but which would be largely forgotten one the disc had left the tray. Even the big hitters failed to match up to expectations on some level. Diablo III's end-game left much to be desired, as did Mass Effect 3's for that matter, though for vastly different reasons. Syndicate buckled under pressure, and EA have been disavowing it ever since. Max Payne 3 came and went, proving solid but hardly earth-shattering. Spec Ops: The Line was a game saved by its story...that's not supposed to happen, right?! Amalur led to bankruptcy. All of the signs pointed towards 2012 being the year of the calm before the next-gen storm.
Unless you were an indie gamer...in which case you were probably having the best time of it ever. Even console gamers were allowed in on the action: with smaller budget titles like Fez, Journey, Trials Evolution, Sine Mora, Alan Wake's American Nightmare, Quantum Conundrum, I Am Alive, Babel Rising, Minecraft X360 and plenty more besides serving up a rich banquet of diverse gaming experiences for under £15.
On the PC, too (perhaps more so than anywhere else), choice was the order of the day. A Valley Without Wind, Lone Survivor, Dear Esther, Endless Space, Legend of Grimrock, Vessel, Botanicula, Pineapple Smash Crew...and then, just to top everything off, Paradox Interactive stepped up several gears and delivered the finest grand strategy game seen in the best part of a decade. Oh, and let's not forget the 300 bizarre, baffling, and occasionally brilliant games that emerged from the Molyjam - an indie extravaganza of creativty, borne out of the musings of a parody Twitter account.
There's a case to be made for more companies delivering larger games earlier in the year, but as consumers it allowed us to dip below the veneer and explore games that we might not necessarily have discovered otherwise. Just as there are many arguments for the open-ended Ouya arriving a little late to the living rooms of the world, the waves of indie invention in the past six months showed that if it can be built, it may well become a terrifically exciting hub of unbridled creativity.
A Subdued E3?
Traditionally the pinnacle of the hype machine to help usher in the second half of the year, E3 seemed a little flat this year, with Sony and Nintendo in particular seemingly saving much of their best stuff for after the expo had wrapped. One of the rare opportunities for the spheres of industry and consumers to overlap, the collection of press conferences seemed fairly unassuming, and many pointed towards the impending end of a console cycle as reason enough for this. Everyone seemed just a little bit tired.
Nintendo's second chance at delivering explanations for the Wii U appeared to roll downhill after a fantastic opening featuring Pikmin 3. You'd think that spending large amounts of money on a press conference would be incentive enough to use it to its full extent, but the running order seemed somewhat confused, the 3DS was left out in the cold, and the Wii U once again came across as a novelty rather than a gamechanger...until after the conference, that is, when P-100, Smash Bros., and promises of price points this autumn were made. It's to be hoped that Nintendo can provide some form on concrete clarity in the coming months, because having a console that you have to play to fully understand will not, one fears, inspire buyers feeling the pinch this winter.
It was also a conference that told gamers they were stupid, with nearly every marketing campaign appealling to the stereotypically ultraviolent, testosterone-fuelled, ADD-suffering picture of your average gamer. Although these games were occasionally expanded upon to the press behind closed doors - justifying our existence I suppose - it provided a parade that did not take long to deliver the killing fatigue. And we were only watching. With booth babe scandals, the press gleefully picking up on every sexist remark coming out of the expo, and blowing the Tomb Raider "rape?" fiasco out of all proportion, it was a year to perhaps forget relatively quickly.
Nintendo entered the fray to thunderous applause, if only because we knew that they at least would deliver something different. By very virtue of that, and violent exhaustion, the Wii U might just have a killer winter. Maybe. Perhaps.
The Road Ahead
But if it seems like we've been treading water a little bit in the mainstream thus far in 2012, it looks like we're in for a rollercoaster ride as we hurtle towards the year end. 3, 2, 1, ready or not, the Wii U is coming. We're going to see more of it, hear more about it, the impatience has really shown with consumers and in the media since Nintendo unveiled it last year, but we're finally going to get what we want. There are so many games to look forward to as well, perhaps marked by the fact that for the first time in a while, all of the Dealspwn staff are tentatively excited (more so than usual, anyway) about a Call of Duty game, and the questions over 343's ability to take on Bungie's Halo mantle will finally be addressed.
We can hope for more news on the Ouya as the year goes on and, if they're following the standard curve of console growth, a period of consolidation for Sony's Vita - I say that with the optimism of a press perative who wants to see everyone involved in games succeed, and a gamer who bought one at launch. It's time for that price tag to be justified.
If there is a worry, perhaps it's that in a number of ways 2012 has felt like a preview for 2013. With so many games slipping back, it's easy to lose sight of the ones that remain. But we reckon that between Assassin's Creed III, Dishonored, BORDERLANDS 2, Hitman Absolution, Sleeping Dogs, LEGO Lord of the Rings, South Park: The Stick of Truth, NFS Most Wanted, Blops 2, Halo 4, Warfighter, and Far Cry 3, we're going to have a pretty good Christmas.
And we'll probably be playing a swathe of indie titles that trump the lot of them too.