2012 has been a fantastic year, both from a writer and gamer's standpoint. Crucially we've always had new and exciting things to play, whether on PC, consoles or handhelds, from the biggest AAA studios and the smallest one-man outfits. Indie gaming has fully integrated into the mainstream, delivering countless killer titles for pocket money prices. We've gotten to grips with two new pieces of gaming tech, and though the Vita and Wii U have yet to prove themselves, they've already provided plenty of fun and happy hours spent in front of a touchscreen.
What an amazing year. And what a horrible few days it's been trying to whittle down an enormous selection of great games to a tiny shortlist. Here, as they say, goes nothing. - Jonathan
Game of the Year | XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Far Cry 3, Vessel, Defender's Quest, Torchlight II, Thomas Was Alone and Crusader Kings II all jostled for my attention this year (amongst many others), sucking me in for countless hours and spitting me out, bleary eyed, after innumerable sleepness nights. Any number of games have impressed from a graphical and mechanical standpoint, while others showcased fantastic art direction or innovative concepts that defied conventional thinking.
What most games failed to do, however, was make me care - not just about the protagonists and storyline, but about the consequences of my actions. XCOM: Enemy Unknown managed to accomplish this in sensational style and deliver the perfect reboot in the process.
Objectively, I'm hard-pressed to find fault with Firaxis' effort. Abyssal depth resonates with fans of the original game, while intuitive menus and visceral camera pans attract a whole new audience. The joy of pulling off a supremely risky plan tempers the numerous heartbreaking deaths and idiotic mistakes you'll suffer. There's scope for new and exciting tactics in every playthrough, and basically, our only criticism is that we'd like more of everything. A worthy winner in a year of champions.
Favourite Game of 2012 | Dust: An Elysian Tail
If choosing the 'best' game of 2012 was difficult, imagine how tough it was to pick a favourite. Defender's Quest, Endless Space, Crusader Kings II, Borderlands 2, Halo 4, Thomas Was Alone, Torchlight II, Vessel, Dragon's Dogma, Planetside 2 and a dozen more excellent titles have captured my imagination and affection over the past twelve months.
Looking back, though, I've probably gleaned the most joy from Dust: An Elysian Tail: a MetroidVania platformer starring an anthropomorphic samurai, an adorable hovering Nimbat and a talking sword.
I'm still not entirely sure why I derived so much enjoyment from this XBLA indie title. Perhaps the tight gameplay and exquisite combat reminded me of some of my favourite games of yesteryear. Maybe Dean Dodrill's one-man studio resonated with my love for small independent projects. The lavish world and colourful characters are certainly still fresh in my memory, buoyed up by irrepressible personality and a storyline that's compelling yet never overpowering.
Whatever the reason, I emerged from each playthrough completely satisfied, feeling that the preceding hours had been well spent in good company.
Best Gaming Moment of 2012 | Huntus Puntus!
In previous years, I've used this section to talk about some of the most exciting and outlandish preview events and junkets on my calendar. For the record, I've frequented plenty and generated an enormous amount of content that wouldn't have been possible to secure any other way, but it would be in very bad taste to bang on about 2012's selection considering the current air of introspection and cynicism surrounding UK games journalism.
So instead I'll bang on about Spartan Ops, the weekly selection of cooperative Halo 4 missions that lead to Matt, Carl and myself dropping everything on a Monday night for 'SpOps Day.' We've had Mongoose madness, assassination funtimes, impromptu races, hilarious communication breakdowns and friendly fire aplenty. By far my favourite moment, however, was Carl demonstrating his unique skills at punching Hunters to death on Legendary difficulty and teaching us the tricks of the trade in the middle of a pitched firefight. Before we annihilated an entire Covenant task force with a fleet of respawning mechs. Then we ran Matt over.
Crimson Team's new motto - Huntus Puntus - says it all really. Roll on Season 2.
Biggest Surprise | Planetside 2
I used to be a bit closed-minded when it came to Free To Play games. I know I shouldn't be. World Of Tanks is fantastic, as are any number of excellent freemium games on the market. Upcoming titles like Little Warlock, Warface and World Of Warplanes look equally impressive. I still play Team Fortress 2 on a daily basis. But like many fellow gamers, I suffered from a borderline mental illness: a little voice in the back of my mind that whispers dark and dangerous lies about the fast-growing market. "F2P is crap," the voice urges, "just look at Farmville. Stay away!"
I don't hear that voice any more, thanks largely to Planetside 2. A game that I barely acknowledged at the beginning of the year has become one of my favourite online experiences, delivering the massive sci-fi vehicular assaults that even AAA titles like Halo only provide in cutscenes. Intense battles on an epic scale, featuring literally hundreds of combatants. Dogfights that fill the skies. For free.
If you still suffer from nagging doubts about the quality of Free To Play games, I'd urge you to give Planetside 2 a whirl too.
Biggest Disappointment | Gravity Rush
Gravity Rush certainly talked the talk. "Look at me!" the cel-shaded visuals seemed to scream. "I'm an innovative and exciting game with radical new mechanics. I'm exactly what the Vita needs right now. Buy me, damn it." So I did.
But Gravity Rush isn't an innovative or exciting game. Instead, it's a cuckoo with plumage bright enough to disguise players from a decidedly mediocre core gameplay experience. The fantastic mechanics, which would have worked so well in a surreal puzzler or epic adventure, end up wasted on a woefully repetitive and clunky brawler starring a small selection of recycled enemies. The enormous city beckoned so seductively, yet was squandered on pointless and lazy timed challenges that made no sense in context or canon. Worst of all, SCE Studio Japan were more interested in finding increasingly lame excuses to rob Kat of her powers than coming up with interesting new ways for players to use them.
Don't get me wrong: Gravity Rush isn't a bad game. It's just a crying shame that so much potential remained untapped, and so many opportunities wasted. At the risk of setting myself up for another fall, the sequel can't come soon enough.
Most Anticipated For 2013 | SimCity
BioShock Infinite, BioShmock Schminfinite. My boundless enthusiasm surrounding Irrational's upcoming shooter completely derailed along with the delayed hype train, and eventually attached itself to other things. The Wonderful 101. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Rayman Legends.
Just hearing the word makes my mind wander to the perfect town I'm already planning out. There'll be curved roads as far as the eye can see, and casinos galore (using electricity and frequented by sims supplied by Matt and Carl). The three of us will construct the nation state of Dealspwnia, turning a barren tract of land into a bustling conurbation the likes of which the real world has never seen. We'll share our resources, populace and even emergency services, conspiring to build enormous grand works that'll make the rest of the virtual world green with envy.
And you're invited. SimCity may be always-on, but after seeing what the 'always-connected' philosophy will allow us to do, I wouldn't want to play it any other way.