What with the gaming industry still being keen to strangle itself every year by releasing all the good games at once, I’m going to be playing catch up on some of the great titles long into next year. This might even give me something to do next summer if the lineup for the ‘sunny’ bit of the year is as grossly thin as it was this year.
I’ve played some great stuff this year though, many of them get a mention below, but a few other honourable shouts go out to Dishonored, Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed, Black Ops II, Sports Champions 2 and WipEout 2048 and Virtua Tennis 4 on the Vita.
The lows of the year include a few bum releases from games we expected so much more from, troubles on the high street retail market for the gaming industry and a frankly lacklustre launch from the new console, the Wii U. But when you look at the games we’re getting in the first quarter of next year (aka Xmas 2), 2013 is looking hella strong. I think the Wii U will start to gain some legs and if it doesn’t, who gives a damn? As with any luck, next Christmas will see stores tearing each other to pieces get our money for the new consoles from Sony and Microsoft.
So here are my picks for 2012 and we’ll do it all again next year. Unless the Mayans turn out to be right. In which case, I’m totally not paying this gas bill.
Game of the Year | Far Cry 3
Swooping in at the last minute, it has to be Far Cry 3. While most shooters this year were content to stick you in an A-B corridor and say ‘enjoy,’ Far Cry 3 gave me a huge playground to enjoy. Packed with interesting side-missions and hundreds of collectable items, it made exploration between missions consistently worthwhile and enjoyable.
It consistently outclassed the competition in numerous disciplines. Take stealth, the gradual unlocks of various takedown skills allowed you to grow into a lethal assassin, briefly reaching out of the jungle to snuff out base guards one by one. Hunting animals for better equipment, improved fast travel options, and unlocking bases and radio towers had a real impact on the game world, giving you a real impression you were making changes. Essentially, this game improved on every weak aspect of the last game.
Even when I’ve collected everything on the huge map, Far Cry 3 will still be safely nestled in my usually dormant 360, as the online action is absolute win sauce. The multiplayer is smooth to play and has some great modes, especially the maps where you basically set fire to everything, turning the whole stage into a fiery labyrinth. It’s the lengthy co-op stages that have been seeing the most action though as I regularly enjoyed teaming up with up to three other players, making our way through long stages packed with enemies to hunt down while watching each other’s back and making hero runs to revive each other. Don't forget to check out my Far Cry 3 Survival Tips.
Favourite Game of 2012 | Uncharted: Golden Abyss
Since those glory days of the Vita’s launch period where I had some great games to play on Sony’s incredibly capable handheld console, things went a little quiet. Then they got quieter and every time I went to turn on the poor fella, I had to wait that little bit longer before the charging cable gave him enough juice to power up. It became apparent that his battery’s lifespan was fading, he was dying. Black Ops: Declassified dashed my hopes of a late resurgence, but a Gamescom-glimpse of the future and Sony involving the Vita with PS+ membership (Gravity Rush for free? Why thank you Uncle Sony, I think I will), gives me hope that the Vita won’t continue to die in a corner with the PSP and PlayStation Move controllers.
Frankly, I want Sony Bend to get to work on a sequel to my favourite game of 2012, Uncharted: Golden Abyss on the PS Vita. Nobody told this little studio that launch titles aren’t meant to make the rest of the year’s games look like they were designed by masturbating chimps on unicycles.
Rather than hint at what the console could do, these developers nailed every aspect straight out of the gate. Motion-assisted aiming, perfect dual-analogue control and oh-my-f**k visuals showed off just how far ahead of the competition the Vita is.
I’m a gamer that hates touchscreen phones, so it was a surprise to me how much I enjoyed the touchscreen elements of the game. Using my finger to follow patterns to cut through material into secret areas felt better than bashing buttons and desperately following the prompt to swipe up on the screen was a great way to add some urgency when making a jump and a handhold would crumble away.
Having a familiar cast there made the transition to handheld gaming seamless. While the game was missing some of the huge action set pieces from the PS3 games, I was constantly entertained by the characters and script as the chemistry that runs through Uncharted’s veins was clear to see despite Naughty Dog not being at the helm for this one.
Best Gaming Moment of 2012 | The Favela in Max Payne 3
I’m a big fan of life-like detail in games and overall visual design and one game in particular stood out for me, Max Payne 3. It was the favela section that nailed it for me. There was so much detail packed into those tight poverty-ridden streets. The graffiti on the walls, the rubbish covering the streets and ambient sounds all helping to create a stark contrast with the rest of the game, which up to that part had been showing the rich and comfortable side of Rio, looking down at the favela from their balcony parties.
Character animation for background characters during this part was exceptional too. Residents were quick to clear the streets to avoid being seen talking to you as you saw window shutters slam shut and people outside cafes clear their tables ignoring your requests for directions. One scene that you might not even notice is a group of boys playing football in a yard. Rather than repeat several stock animations on a loop, you’ll see some Brazilian soccer flair as they pass the ball between them, with no lazy repeat animations. This goes on for a few minutes before they eventually pick up the ball and leave, giving the scene a credible air of authenticity, rather than what we get with most background characters, something more akin to an on-rails fairground ride with characters rocking back and forth in their automated patterns, indifferent to your presence.
It reminded me of one of my favourite moments of Uncharted 2, the peaceful village section, where Drake wakes up in the sleepy mountain community and has a walk round saying hello to the locals. It’s a very similar approach to calming things down a little in between all the violence. Well, apart from nobody’s glad to see you and they all wish you were dead.
Biggest Surprise | Game’s High Street Survival
We thought the Game Group were goners this year as their financial troubles reached breaking point. Over half of their stores were closed, including all Gamestation sites. The group found a buyer for the company though and have been working hard to try to re-establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with on the high street and as an alternative to the online market.
While Game’s survival will be little comfort to the many employees left jobless after their individual site closed, it must have been a huge relief to those remaining at the company. The UK high street sales figures for games compared to last year are currently down a disturbing 28% and we’ve had one of the poorest release schedules in years as all the big games seemed to bookend the year, with the summer time being particularly dry for games while we had one of the wettest summers in years.
Stores like Game have been forced to over-depend on having a good Christmas, which doesn’t exactly help pay the bills for the rest of the year. They’ve had some great deals over the last few weeks online and crucially in store too. 2013 will be a tough year for them as they aim to prove to their new owners that they’re worth the investment. They’ll be hoping to continue to evolve the in-store experience to provide consumers with a worthy alternative to shopping online. Ultimately though, for many of us, the prices of the products is where our priorities will lie and will Game be able to continue selling new games like Hitman: Absolution for £19.99 a fortnight after launch? It’s unlikely, as profit margins on games are notoriously thin as it is.
We wish them luck though, as a strong video gaming presence on our high street -even in our internet-savvy world that moves ever closer to digital games- is vital to raise awareness of products to newer gamers, casuals and those of us that don’t spend hours online.
Biggest Disappointment | Amy
After a scintillating start, the PS Vita has done sod all. Blunt, but let’s be honest, where are the goddamn games? Some encouraging signs for next year were shown at Gamescom this year, which has us crossing our fingers, toes and everything in-between. I’d been hoping that Black Ops: Declassified was going to be the tipping point for third-party publishers to fall in love with the Vita, but then I saw a few clips of the action at Gamescom and the alarm bells started to ring. Having just obtained a copy, I can tell you the fugly visuals are the least of your worries, but you’ll have to wait for my full review for more (FYI: It’s Metacritic score is currently down to 31).
You’d think that Black Ops: Declassified would be taking my pick for disappointment of the year then? Oh no, that turdtacular trophy goes to Amy.
Amy is the one game from 2012 that gets my blood boiling with pure rage just thinking about it. Matt reviewed the game here and I was also unfortunate enough to write my own review. After showing so much promise, I penned an eager preview piece bigging up the PSN survival horror title months before release. What we got was an unplayable broken mess of unbelievable proportions. A horrible save system, glitches, AI bugs and terrible controls ruined what we thought would be a new outlet for the genre on the digital marketplace. Read the reviews for more info, just don’t buy it.
Most Anticipated for 2013 | The Last of Us
Seeing as this time last year I was getting all excited for Bioshock Infinite and Tomb Raider (both eventually delayed into 2013), I thought I'd give something else a shot.
It has to be Naughty Dog's, The Last of Us. While I'd saw one of my feet off for a new Uncharted game, I felt Uncharted 3 didn't match Uncharted 2, so the fact that the devs are working on a new IP allows them to get stuck in to a load of new ideas, features and styles. Seeing as this is the studio that brought us regular classics like Crash Bandicoot, Jak & Daxter and Uncharted, I think the continuous evolution into more mature story-telling, content and gameplay is something they look set to excel at. Check out my other picks for 2013 right here.