The Best & Worst Video Games of 2012
With only one day left of 2012, I think it’s now safe to post my Best & Worst of the year. This is my third such entry here at Toomanywires (2010 – 2011).
Though not without highlights, 2012 was far from a vintage year for video games. Major series faltered, hotly anticipated games were delayed and it felt like we couldn’t go a week without a major developer or publisher embarrassing themselves. E3 was a disaster and we finish the year with video games making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
While 2012 may have been a down year, it was not a disaster. Wii U and Vita gave us two new ways to enjoy Call of Duty, PSN bounced back with a strong showing, a number of smaller, unheralded games became critical hits and it was a much improved showing for new properties.
I played a wide range of games in 2012, mostly on my PS3. Portables made a comeback, as I completed more handheld titles this year than the previous two combined.
PLAYED: 999: Nine Hours Nine Persons Nine Doors, Alex Kidd in Miracle World, Assassin's Creed 3, Assassin's Creed Revelations, Asura's Wrath, Binary Domain, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, DanceStar Party, Dark Souls, Dyad, Far Cry 3, Final Fantasy VIII, Final Fantasy XIII-2, Gravity Rush, House of the Dead Overkill, Journey, Lumines Electronic Symphony, Mass Effect 2, Mass Effect 3, Max Payne 3, Metal Gear Solid 2 HD, Metal Gear Solid 3 HD, Metal Gear Solid 4, Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker, Monster Hunter Freedom Unite, Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Papo & Yo, Pixel Junk 4am, Pixel Junk Sidescroller, Rayman Origins, Resident Evil 6, Resident Evil Revelations, Skyrim, Sleeping Dogs, Sonic Generations, Sound Shapes, Spec Ops: The Line, Super Hexagon, Super Stardust Delta, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, Tokyo Jungle, Trials Evolution, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Yakuza: Dead Souls
BOUGHT THIS YEAR BUT HAVE YET TO PLAY: Dragon's Dogma, God Hand, Hitman Absolution, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, Lollipop Chainsaw, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater 3D, Persona 4: Golden, Rage, Virtue's Last Reward, Witcher 2
These are the best and worst games of 2012 spread across a variety of categories, some more unusual than others. All feedback is greatly appreciated and please do share your own picks in the comments below.
Enjoy your Games and have a Happy New Year
1. Game of the Year: Mass Effect 3
I’m usually itching to write my Game of the Year blurb. This time, however, I found myself avoiding it, reluctant to crown a champion in a year that was missing a truly great game. My absolute favourite experiences of 2012 were either recycled - a second run on Mass Effect 2, a trophied-up Metal Gear Solid 4 and an HD Snake Eater - or a carry-over from 2011 - another 60 hours of Skyrim.
With that in mind, Mass Effect 3 is my favourite new game of 2012. Playing the superior Mass Effect 2 immediately beforehand did it few favours, but Mass Effect 3 is still an excellent game and a worthy finale to an outstanding series. The characters, cultures and universe remain thoroughly engrossing, and the combat so finely polished that it is able to support a more than worthwhile multiplayer component. Bioware hit all the right notes with a narrative that was gloriously dark without ever being too dreary, and while the final scenes may have been over-simplified, they did offer closure and were not deserving of all that hatred.
With Mass Effect 1 now available on PSN, I’m already considering re-doing the trilogy and look forward to revisiting ME3 sometime in the near future.
Honourable Mention: Journey, Far Cry 3, Sleeping Dogs
2. Portable Game of the Year: Uncharted Golden Abyss
Between my Vita, 3DS and even my iPhone, I spent far more time with portable games in 2012 than the year before. It probably says a lot about my gaming preferences that I have chosen a title that most resembles a home console experience as my portable of the year, but it’s difficult to overlook a game as stunning as Uncharted. Golden Abyss is not quite on the same level as its home console brothers, but it did do the series proud and is the high-water mark for visuals on a handheld. Some of the touch controls feel forced, but the combat and clambering work wonderfully on the Vita, and Nate and Sully remain two of the most entertaining characters in modern gaming, no matter the screen size. Just don’t mention the log balancing!
Honourable Mention: Lumines Electronic Symphony, Resident Evil Revelations
3. Downloadable Game of the Year: Journey
I have been deliberating between two PSN exclusives for this category, in a bounce-back year for digital downloads. I loved Papo & Yo, but a third run-through of Journey last weekend convinced me that Thatgamecompany’s latest should not be denied.
Papo & Yo was the more powerful experience the first time around, but was far less affecting on subsequent playthroughs. I have played Journey three times in the space of nine months, and it has never been anything less than beautiful and engaging. While it may be a bit short and light on game-like qualities, it is one of the most unique and memorable experiences I had with a video game in 2012.
Honourable Mention: Papo & Yo, Tokyo Jungle
4. Best pre 2012 Game Played this Year (excluding re-releases): Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Skyrim should have been my game of the year in 2011. At the time, I didn’t feel that I’d experienced enough to place it above Uncharted 3, which was a more familiar experience and one that I had played through twice, start to finish. Sixty of my one hundred hours of Skyrimming were racked up in 2012, and those were the hours that convinced me that this is not just a good game, but an outstanding one. Glitches continue to hold it back, and Bethesda’s approach to its PS3 difficulties has been disgraceful, but I know that once new DLC drops, I’ll immediately put aside whatever else I’m playing in favour of forging dragon armour, slaughtering bandits and putting moves on Lydia.
Honourable Mention: Pixel Junk Sidescroller
5. Best Update or Remake: Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater HD (MGS HD Collection)
What more can I say about MGS3? Konami and Blue Point took one of the greatest games of all time, made it look prettier and bundled it with a similarly polished MGS2 and Peace Walker. I was inspired to purchase the collector’s edition, the Vita repeat and even shoot all those reclusive Kerotan to achieve platinumization. Game of the Year, 2005–2012!
Honourable Mention: Metal Gear Solid 2 HD
6. Biggest Disappointment: Assassin’s Creed 3
Assassin’s Creed 3 is not a bad game, but my god was it disappointing. We’d best get used to the sloppiness of Assassin’s Creed 3, as Ubisoft seem hell bent on releasing a new instalment each and every year, even if it results in an unfinished product and their ill-advised productivity will eventually run the series into the ground.
Dishonourable Mention: Final Fantasy XIII-2, Resident Evil 6
7. Pleasant Surprise: Sleeping Dogs
I think it’s fair to say that Sleeping Dogs took the majority of us by surprise. A brand new property in another year of sequels, dumped by its original publisher and subsequently re-branded and restructured by Square-Enix, the odds were against this Hong Kong actioner being a success, yet succeed it did. Sleeping Dogs struck the perfect balance between sand-box exploration and narrative focus. With its entertaining and brutal unarmed combat, it rendered guns, a sandbox staple, an afterthought and made the most of an exciting city that has been underutilized in video games. Also, it’s very difficult not to like a game that lets you sing the Clash’s London Calling at karaoke, in a blood-splattered-suit.
Honourable Mention: Tokyo Jungle, Spec Ops: The Line
8. Most Original: Tokyo Jungle
I have played my fair share of games over the years. I’ve collected all manner of shinnies, massacred all sorts of nasties and helped a girl worm stretch through space, but I’d never even contemplated killing a tiger as a Pomeranian or mounting a tabby on the Shibuya tracks. That all changed when Tokyo Jungle came along. Chasing high scores in a deserted Tokyo is great fun, managing risk and reward whilst trying to build a powerful pack and establish a family line that will live on long after a hungry dinosaur has had you for breakfast. Now that’s a game worth playing!
Honourable Mention: Sound Shapes
9. Best Online: Need for Speed Most Wanted
Need For Speed’s Autolog, a networking feature that records your friends’ activities, turns even the most lonesome of sessions into a social exercise of one-upmanship. It constantly goads you into beating times plucked from your friends list, feeding you pertinent information while being so well integrated that it never gets in the way. Online multiplayer is very Burnout Paradise, which makes me exceedingly happy, offering so much more than straight forward racing, which it also happens to do very well.
Honourable Mention: Journey, Mass Effect 3, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2
10. Memorable Moment: Max Payne 3 – Entering the Favela
The colourful sights and sounds of the Brazilian favela are both inviting and foreboding. With his newly shaven head, pale white skin and garish Hawaiian shirt, the hulking and newly sober Max Payne couldn’t look more out of place if he tried. For the most part you are merely a spectator, tasked only with pressing forward, leading Max to inevitable confrontation and a spot of ultra-violence. The colour and rhythm of the favela combine to create a most striking and memorable five minutes.
Honourable Mention: Papo & Yo (cable car ride to the finale), Journey (surfing the sand)
11. Best Soundtrack: Theatrhythm Final Fantasy
Never one to pass up the chance to make a quick buck on their back catalogue, I’m surprised Square Enix didn’t make this game much sooner. While my fondness for the series has lessened over the years, my love of Final Fantasy music remains. Theatrhythm has a stupid name and the gameplay is straight forward and repetitive, but it doesn’t matter when the soundtrack is this stunning. Nobuo Uematsu and co. have barely put a foot wrong over the last twenty five years and few songs get me quite as worked up as those from the PS1 era FFs.
Honourable Mention: Lumines Electronic Symphony, Journey, Mass Effect 3
12. Best use of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness: Spec Ops: The Line
At its core, Spec Ops is a bog standard, third-person shooter. It separates itself from the chaff with an inspired setting and engaging story, loosely based upon Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. A post sand-storm Dubai is your killing ground, partially submerged but still home to pockets of desperate survivors, including the remnants of the 33rd, whose AWOL colonel you must recover. It is an unforgettable setting and unlike anything I have ever experienced in a shooter, home to a story that is brutal yet thoughtful, and as trippy as you like.
Honourable Mention: Rayman Origins
13. Best Character: Haytham Kenway (Assassin’s Creed 3)
I loved the opening hour of Assassin’s Creed 3. From Opera House to Boston, I thought it was the most tightly designed and engaging part of the game. This was largely down to stabby gentleman extraordinaire, Haytham Kenway. Brilliantly acted and well written, he was wasted on a game that was more interested in following the ever vacuous Desmond and his monotone ancestor. Head villain Charles Lee is also deserving of praise, but Haytham was a more intriguing and sympathetic figure, neither antagonist nor protagonist.
Honourable Mention: Vaas Montenegro (Far Cry 3), Max (Max Payne 3), Nathan Drake (Uncharted: GA)
14. Worst Character: Desmond (Assassin’s Creed 3)
I have written so many negative things about Desmond over the years that I fear I may be repeating myself. However, I know for a fact that I have yet to do a poem about him, so here goes:
Wearing a confused expression
Carrying your shit bag
Being far less interesting than your ancestors
The voice of Drake
with none of the charisma
You are such a boring twat
You are a twat
Dishonourable Mention: Ada Wong (Resident Evil 6): speaks to herself far too much, despite never having anything interesting to say, the cast of Final Fantasy XIII-2
15. Shouldn't have Enjoyed as Much as I Did: Yakuza Dead Souls
Guns and Yakuza do not mix. While the combat is shoddy, the Yakuza mini games are present and as pleasurable as ever. These glorious distractions, along with the always amusing cast, convinced me to spend over twenty entertaining hours with a game that was semi bollocks. Dead Souls also featured one of the funniest moments of the year, as Kazuma attempts to fight off the zombie apocalypse with only his fists, before very reluctantly deciding that a gun probably wouldn’t be a bad idea, probably. That’s my Kazzie!
16. Able to Overcome its Biggest Failing: Far Cry 3
There has been much discussion about undercurrents of racism and misunderstood/badly executed parody in Far Cry 3. While such debate is certainly interesting, it overlooks the simple fact that FC3’s story is a bit wank, no matter how it was intended. With the exception of Vaas, the cast are forgettable and the premise so ridiculous that you’ll pay it no mind, yet Far Cry 3 still soars. The joys of the Rook Islands are to be found in exploration and experimentation, not the narrative; you’ll stay because you want to jump off the highest peaks, dive to the lowest depths and hunt endangered species in an effort to fashion a slightly larger wallet.
Honourable Mention: Need for Speed Most Wanted: it’s about bloody cars!
17. Improved With Time: Max Payne 3
For the first couple of hours, I hated Max Payne 3. It looked and felt dated and was far too depressing for its own good. But I persevered, gradually warming to a game that I had been ready to shelve, becoming caught up in Max’s struggles with booze, drugs, guns and dead women. Despite his toxic personality, I found myself rooting for Max and was so desperate to help him shoot evil shits in slow motion that I played through a second time, immediately after watching the final credits roll. Max Payne benefited greatly from Rockstar’s style and panache, and while it’s not game of the year material, it is an experience that I’m sure to recall whenever I think back to 2012.
Honourable Mention: Trials Evolution
18. Got Worse with Time: Gravity Rush
If I hadn’t been so desperate for a new Vita game, I would never have persevered with Gravity Rush. It had some nice ideas, and flipping through the city in search of crystals was great, but it insisted on repeatedly taking you out of that setting and into other, far less interesting locales. The combat quickly grew stale, and the story was bollocks, viewed from the floor or ceiling. I found Gravity Rush to be competent, but ultimately dull, and I’m not sure how I managed to stick with it to the very end.
Dishonourable Mention: Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 (single player)
19. Most Entertaining Stereotypes: Binary Domain
Binary Domain’s stereotypes are so offensive that they are amusing, and even end up being endearing. The token black guy is muscle bound and talks nothing but gibberish, the American’s brash, the English man attractive and well read (not strictly a stereotype, more an accurate portrayal), and the French, oh the French. Cain is the most Gaelic robot you’ll ever meet and Jean could never hope to evade the police with a nose that size. Pretty good game though.
20. Fastest Shelving: Final Fantasy XIII-2
I was convinced that lessons had been learnt, but in the end XIII-2 was unbearable tripe. I lasted about five hours before deciding that I hated all video games and that a home console Final Fantasy should no longer be a guaranteed purchase.
21. Best Part of an Otherwise Disappointing Game: Assassin’s Creed 3 – The Naval Missions
It didn’t appear to fit and it really shouldn’t have worked, yet the at-sea portions of Assassin’s Creed 3 ended up being its most entertaining. Whether full blown naval engagements or smaller skirmishes in and around Caribbean reefs, these brief sections offered more strategy than the rest of the game combined. I loved battling with the elements and there were few things more satisfying than timing a cannon barrage just right and sinking the pesky British.
22. Best Value: Lumines Electronic Symphony
Twenty seven hours of block puzzling and excellent tunes: not bad for £5.96, at launch! Good on Amazon for honouring their pricing error.
Honourable Mention: Rayman Origins (same as above)
23. Wish I’d Made Time For: Dragon’s Dogma
For the best part of six months, Dragon’s Dogma remained at full price. It finally received a discount two months ago, but my copy went missing in the post. By the time I’d received my replacement, the year was almost done and I was too preoccupied with other games. However, my wife has been playing it for the last couple of weeks and it looks exactly like the game I was so looking forward to back in the summer. While it may be six months late, I have every intention of climbing all over a Griffin before the February rush.
Honourable Mention: Lollipop Chainsaw (I’m doing it next week, I promise)