We saw a number of franchises return this year, some older than others, with many taking risks to refresh and revitalise their good names. With the middle ground dissipating, and the current console cycle slowly entering its twilight years, it might have perhaps been understandable to worry a little over new IPs. Thankfully, once again, an indie sector blessed with even more ways of getting games in front of an audience delivered wholeheartedly.
And they weren't the only ones.
NB. Click on the thumbnails for price comparisons and the game's title for the relevant review where available.
Like the very best mad scientists, Binary Domain proved incredibly entertaining, stuffed with smart ideas, and occasionally got things wrong. But the very fact that it tried to innovate in such a relatively lazy genre was worthy of applause. Boasting some incredible boss battles, slick gunplay, and a cracking story, Binary Domain threw off any Gears-clone tag it might have attracted and became a barnstorming title that married the best East and West had to offer.
Dishonored did better than simply revive the stealth genre, it made us wonder why the hell it went away in the first place. Arkane delivered a blank canvas in Corvo Attano, with a commendably mature approach to player freedom that asked much of you, and delivered ultimate gameplay satisfaction in return. In Dunwall, we had one of the finest video game worlds of this generation. Nothing short of astonishing.
It was broken in places, and Gransys was one of the more forgettable worlds we've seen from an RPG, but Dragon's Dogma was one hell of an endearing game. Breathtaking combat, an innovative Pawn mechanic, and deep customisation options made it a firm favourite in spite of its flaws. Plus, the opportunity to take down a hole bunch of mythical beasts made it all the sweeter. Refreshingly mature.
A sensational 4X title, Endless Space was absolutely epic in scope, but packed with dense, enjoyable features and boasted an intuitive, palatable GUI. Its infinitely customisable sandbox gave us plenty of toys and things to occupy your time, providing profound choice and variety at every gameplay level. As Douglas Adams said: "you just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is."
A bona fide Kickstarter success, FTL allowed us to take control of our own ship and live out our fantasies of become Captain Kirk/Picard/Reynolds/Hunt. In fact, the mod tools meant you could pilot the Enterprise, or Serenity if you really wanted. A little repetitive, and frequently punishing, FTL was nonetheless genuinely thrilling, hugely rewarding, and deeply satisfying.
Gloriously life-affirming, utterly transcendental, Journey was one of those few games that not only provided a thoroughly unique experience, but also deeply personal one too. It didn't matter whether or not you considered it art, or even if you defined it as a "game", one thing was for sure: it was absolutely unmissable.
Sleeping Dogs was this year's little-big game that could. Dropped by Activision whilst it was still True Crime: Hong Kong, Square Enix snapped it up after a year in the wilderness and dropped it over the summer. Wei Shen's adventures provided the perfect antidote to the traditional sunny lull. Perfectly sized, utterly OTT, United Front Games refused to take themselves too seriously, instead providing an immaculately balanced open world game, stuffed with things to do, and supported with a near endless stream of cracking DLC.
Funcom's loyalty to an archaic subscription model might have proven unwise, but that shouldn't take away from the fact that The Secret World was an outstanding game. Smart scripting, hugely imaginative world-building, cracking combat, and compelling content made TSW an attractive prospect...until you factored in the system requirements and the monthly payments, and a little game called Guild Wars 2.
Vessel was a truly superior puzzler and one of 2012's biggest indie hitters. Boasting quality, quantity, innovation, and impressive competence abound, as StrangeLoop provided one of the finest puzzlers we've seen since the original Portal emerged from Valve's vaults.
Dishonored might not be the very best game on that list, and it was a close run thing between this, Journey and Sleeping Dogs, but Arkane delivered such a gloriously rich tapestry of steampunk, Victorian London-tinged action that it was difficult to ignore in topping the list as no only a brand new IP, but one that we desperately hope gets revisited. The game itself might have fallen ever so slightly short in capitalising on the world of Dunwall, but what a world it was - a diseased, rat-infested metropolis stuffed with depth, and perfectly designed. The lore, the look, the lovely sense of empowerment, everything about Dishonored's concept and execution was spot on. Arkane didn't just revive a seemingly unfashionable genre, they made us wonder why stealth ever fell out of fashion in the first place. Enormously engaging.