Halfway through 2012, now that the E3 backlog has been shifted, it's time to take stock of the past six months. We've had games aplenty and, although it seems everyone's saving nearly all of their big guns for the winter gridlock, the first half of the year has seen some fantastic games. Here are our highlights from 2012 thus far...
Diablo III - It finally arrived, and is awesome. Apart from the DRM. And the lack of a proper end-game. And the fact that it was built around an auction house. And the fact that it wasn't properly stocked. And the persistent connection issues.
But that aside, Diablo III is absolutely brilliant.
Sine Mora - The alliance between Digital Reality and Grasshopper Manufacture yielded an absolute cracker early this year with a steampunk SHMUP that managed to breathe some new life into a classic genre.
Total War: Shogun 2 – Fall of the Samurai - In an age of on-disc, day one DLC, in an age of publishers demanding that every last drop of gameplay is as fully monetised as it possibly can be, it's refreshing to find a company that still releases expansion packs as they used to be. There was so much brilliant content to this that frankly Creative Assembly could have released it at full price.
10. Waking Mars
Sifting painfully through the endless swathes of poorly organised titles in the app stores for something of real quality can be frustrating. But every so often you come across a game like Waking Mars. A scientifically-minded platform-puzzler built around giving and creating life to the red planet rather than taking it away, Tiger Style's game proved to be a perfect synthesis of aesthetics and execution, delivering a strikingly complete and joyously satisfying experience.
The adventures of Kat gave the PS Vita the first game that was unmistakably it's own. Inventive, endearing, and aesthetically stunning, SCE Japan built a fantastic new IP around the Vita's unique qualities. Risky, bold, and somewhat flawed, it was also thoroughly refreshing, and a true killer app for the system.
The signs were out early. Polytron's quirkly, 8-bit flavoured platform-puzzler was touted for greatness months before release, and an initial run through affirmed it's status as a pleasant little game with a strong, simple central mechanic. But a second glance yielded some utter treats - puzzles etched into the fabric of the game itself - and secrets that we're still ekeing out. Fiendishly clever.
We've castigated Nintendo for a lack of ambition, for looking backwards far too much andrunning back to 2D tropes when out of 3D ideas. ut in Kid Icarus, the Big N not only breathed new life into a dusty and underutilised IP, but they provided an unmissable killer app for the 3DS in the process. Wildly inventive, hugely innovative, this was Nintendo once again delivering the AAAA standard those with long memories have always expected from them, and reminding us all that when they're on-song, no one can really touch them.
For two months, Draw Something was inescapable. The wildfire of social gaming, it spread with a speed that showed pure contempt for previous sales records, amassing followers with alarming pace. It brought complete strangers together in convulsions of laughter, and planted its flag at the forefront of the connected zeitgeist.
Paradox's affinity for incredibly beardy strategy that often laughs in the faces of newcomers is well known. But in Crusader Kings II they produced a staggeringly deep and compelling game, married to a tutorial system that actually worked. Putting the "grand" back into "grand strategy", Crusader Kings II delivered the finest genre experience since Rome: Total War, weaving an intricate tapestry of emergent historical narratives that were an utter joy to shape and sabotage. An utter triumph.
As well as having a phenomenally kick-ass main theme, Dragon's Dogma gave us exactly what we wanted. Capcom heeded the call for a JRPG with real-time systems and non-linear gameplay by delivering a game that not only challenged gamers to stand on their own two feet, but gave them all of the tools to do so. Gransys wasn't exactly the most unique of worlds, but by populating it with massive mythical beasts, and giving gamers a finely tuned combat system, innovative Pawn mechanics, and respec incentives aplenty, Capcom delivered an utter gem of a game. Rough around the edges, yes, but precious nonetheless.
Boasting some impressive visuals, a glorious soundtrack, and an expertly paced learning curve that constantly challenged the player and made you earn every reward, Vessel was a stunning achievement from Strange Loop - a 2D physics-based puzzler that managed to dazzle and astound. Often confounding, with intricate puzzles that taxed the brain harder than most pretenders since Portal, the satisfaction upon completion was all the sweeter, with fluid mechanics serving up a real treat for cerebral gamers. A candidate for puzzler of the year as soon as it released.
BioWare bottled the ending, and then made it ten times worse by making countless U-turns, excuses, and concessions, but we'll always have Tuchanka. And Palaven. And Rannoch. Before we arrived at Earth we revelled in the characters that BioWare had given us. The pride at Jack's new position of responsibility. The easy friendship of kicking back with Garrus in the rafters of the Citadel. The satisfaction of seeing a krogan we saved on Virmire preside over a new dawn for his race. The only reason ME3's ending proved so disappointing was simply because everything that had come before it had been exceptional.
Perfectly paced, beautiful to behold, Journey never outstays its welcome, and it's never given licence to be indulgent. In a world of cookie-cutter shooters and slashers, Journey eschewed all violence and competition, instead inviting players to immerse themselves in an utterly unique experience that meant something different to each person who played it.
It was pricey slice of creativity, but we're yet to find anyone who regrets taking the Journey. Here's what we said in our review:
Like the finest feel-good films, or those books you read again and again until the title on the spine is illegible from creasing, Journey is a game that exhibits pure joy. It plays with it, subverts it, threatens to take it away at times, but the end result is something inherently euphoric, deeply personal and, dare I say, even a little bit spiritual as well.
What have your favourite games of the past six months been? Let us know in the box below!