Games of the Year 2012

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We hope you have had an excellent game-fueled Christmas. It’s that time of year again when our writers pick their favourites titles from the past 12 months. As always a wide array of games were voted for, from the mainstream to the obscure. So many of our personal top games have not even made the top 20 – such is the depth of quality titles released this year. Here are the ones that accumulated the most votes, let the count-down begin!

20. New Super Mario Bros. U

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Chris: What more do I need to say? It’s Mario in HD, for the first ever time (unless you play on the Dolphin emulator) and it looks spectacular. Featuring that same wonderfully paced gameplay the series is renowned for, New Super Mario Bros. U refines the Mario we all know and presents it in a wonderful and unique manner through fantastic use of the Wii U GamePad in multiplayer, and the ability to play off-screen with no concessions visually (except a resolution dip due to the GamePad screen resolution). This is one of my games of the year and one my girlfriend won’t mind me sitting there playing for hours as I don’t have to hog the TV.

19. Dishonored

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Chris: Dishonored on face value can be lauded as one of the most beautiful games of the last twelve months. The visual design is directed by Victor Antonov, the man responsible for the look of City 17 in Half-Life 2, this game comes with a wonderfully unique aesthetic. Looks are not all that compliment this wonderful game, the game’s protagonist Corvo Attano, the last bodyguard to the Empress, is embroiled within a scandal whereby he is wrongly accused of killing his charge. What follows is a tale of revenge where stealth, cunning and wanton destruction with multiple endings dependent on the path you choose to take through the game.

18. ZombiU

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Chris: The game that started out as ‘Killer Freaks from Outer Space’ ended up becoming one of the games synonymous with the launch of the new Wii U console, and for good reason. As the survivor you are tasked with finding out what is going on at the epicentre of a zombie outbreak in London, guided by a man known only as the ‘Prepper’. A welcome return to proper survival horror ZombiU is no visual behemoth nor feat of technical prowess, but it works very well. One of the best features is the utilisation of the Miiverse to bring your friends’ fallen protagonists into the game as zombies in the area they died, to batter them to death for their loot. Tense, sparse, clunky (to good effect) wonderful use of the GamePad and a world full of untold terrors, Zombi U is a fantastic experience recommended to all fans of survival horror.

17. Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed

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Ben: This year has seen a number of new kart racing games, but the consensus is that this is the best of the bunch. Traditionally not a genre known for innovation, Sumo has pushed the boat (and plane!) out with this one to make the most of Sega’s characters and iconic worlds. The air, land and sea combination is reminiscent of legendary Diddy Kong Racing on N64 but there are plenty of new ideas on show here. Tracks feel like living environments and evolve throughout the race – from the seasons of the Shinobi track to levels which are unrecognisable over the three laps. World Tour mode offers up an excellent and challenging experience that can be played flexibly either in single or multiplayer. I could play all day with friends on split-screen, or online. I still love the supremely polished Mario Kart Wii, but in the HD era Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is better looking, faster, and trying to innovate. There are a few bugs and crashes I hope Sega and Sumo iron out with a new patch; until then be sure to backup your saved data. Despite losing my progress once to this I’ve had more fun with this than any other game this year. The hard difficulty option is also genuinely challenging for the serious gamer, ensuring you will be battling your way through for quite some time. Very reasonably priced (£20-£25) and available on most platforms, this is easy to recommend.

16. Resident Evil: Revelations

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Dominic: In a year where the Resident Evil franchise has either been disappointing in survival horror or plain average as a game, thanks to Resident Evil 6 and Operation Raccoon City, it was nice to have at least one Resident Evil title that was great to play and felt that it still kept the survival horror intact. Of course, this just happened to be on Nintendo’s 3DS system, but even so, it had quality production values and an eerie soundtrack that needed you to sit down in a room and put on some headphones. It successfully captures the spirit of the franchise, but modernises it successfully at the same time. Resident Evil: Revelations is my favourite 3DS game of 2012.

15. Call of Duty: Black Ops 2

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Nathan: I’ll admit – several of us were worried about this one. The hangover from MW3 was barely off our minds when this one was announced, and many of us were not ready to move to the future that quickly. Shame on us, really. Even the biggest COD hater had to admit that Treyarch evolved the series with bigger set-pieces, impressive level design, and a plot that – dare we say it – was emotionally involving. Smart, addictive, and incredibly re-playable, Black Ops 2 is the best Call of Duty yet.

14. Max Payne 3

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Alasdair: Everyone’s favourite self-hating, drug abusing, gun-toting alcoholic returned in this bullet-laden romp through Brazil. As well as growing a gruff beard and an unhealthy dislike of everything that can’t be consumed in a bar, Max has gotten a lot prettier since his original outing (the visuals, unfortunately not the man). Tweaked shoot-dodgy action, with slow motion bullet impacts made this Max’s most cinematic and entertaining mission yet.

13. Mark of The Ninja

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Simon: Many “smaller” digital download games get in, do their thing, and get out. They’re products of a singular vision, with a singular goal, and they don’t dilly dally. That said, there’s an amount of dilly dallying inherent to what we’ve long thought of as a “full” game, or a “retail” game. Not “dilly dallying” in a sense that it’s wasting your time, or doing anything entirely tangental – but simply going that extra mile in filling up every corner with stuff. Games like that immediately feel timeless, they feel like they’re taking their given opportunity to be the most they can be. Once in a blue moon an Xbox Live Arcade game comes along that feels substantial and expertly executed to that degree. Shadow Complex was one, Mark of The Ninja is another – and they merrily sit alongside the Gears of Wars in the 360′s list of greats.

12. Kid Icarus: Uprising

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Alasdair: Few games can claim to be as carefully and thoroughly designed as this year’s Kid Icarus: Uprising on 3DS, and the closest contender in my book was even made by the same minds. A lengthy story mode that on the surface may not have looked worthwhile became seriously entertaining with imaginative characters and thought-provoking motives. On top of all that came hundreds of challenges, fiercely competitive multiplayer and hordes of collectables.

11. Rayman Jungle Run

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Anthony: Our favourite IOS title of the year. It’s everything you could ask for in a phone game. The entire game can be played through with one finger, the art style is unbelievably beautiful, and most importantly; it’s addictive. Jungle Run’s difficulty is where the fun lies; finding every single ’lum’ and completing the secret levels should keep you hooked for hours. It’s just like having Origins on your phone. What’s not to like?

10. Guild Wars 2

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Dominic: Guild Wars 2 does so much right for the MMORPG genre. The world feels alive, with dynamic events that appear out of nowhere as you go around exploring. It’s the fact that the game rewards players for exploring that makes it so rewarding to discover these huge vistas and take back in the lovely graphics. No matter what style you want to play in this game, you are compensated, go PvP, do the quests, create things, whatever you do you feel like you can progress in the game. The fact that each race has its own story is a huge plus, and with small choices in character creation that change bits of the plot it feels like you are having your own adventure compared to being a sheep and having the same story experience as every other player in the game. And best of all? No subscription, which allows people to play at their own pace. A massive achievement from ArenaNet and I cannot wait to see what content comes next year.

9. The Last Story

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Anthony: It may not quite be what some Hironobu Sakaguchi fans expected, with its few locations and mere 20-30 hours of gameplay, but The Last Story does a remarkable job of portraying characters, brought to life by their great voice acting and comical personalities. Few games have the ability to tug on your heart strings, but the relationship between the characters drag you in so much that you can’t put your controller down. You laugh out loud when they play and damn near feel like crying during an emotional moment. Storytelling at its finest.

8. Hotline Miami

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Simon: I’ve realised in the last couple of months that Hotline Miami speaks differently to different people. I’ve heard some describe it as fascinating, citing emotional impact and deeper meanings I can’t fully relate to. For once! I’m no stranger to reading too much (or just enough) into things. All I know is that Hotline Miami to me is everything every cinematic shooter ever tried to be. It’s stylish and brutal and the music is great – all of these things elevating it to various degrees – but underneath is a game that gets the adrenaline kick and satisfaction of its shootouts fundamentally right in a way that no amount of polygons and cover systems ever have. It is visceral, for lack of a better and less abused term. Its neon tinted drug haze presentation and subject matter invites comparison to this year’s Max Payne 3, but by stripping away slow motion bullet cams and elaborate cutscene setups and by essentially being a video game, Hotline Miami delivers on the cinematic shooter fantasy in a way no other game has.

7. Sleeping Dogs

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Dominic: It seems game developers have been nice to me in the past two years, I have had the pleasure of playing some of the best criminal open world games; Saints Row: The Third from last year and now the surprisingly awesome Sleeping Dogs. Mechanically, this game hits it out of the ballpark with top-rate animation, a Batman blended kung-fu melee combat system, respectable third-person shooting and easy to use free running. Wei Shen makes for a very likeable main protagonist and is surrounded by a worthy cast of characters. The story is interesting, especially if you are into the whole Triad gangster plot lines, and features a very unique setting, Hong Kong, which had yet to appear in an open world setting. Also, if you play it on the PC, then wow, what a brilliant looking game.

6. Far Cry 3

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Chris: After the mixed opinion that greeted Far Cry 2, Ubisoft took the series back to its roots, placing the setting of Far Cry 3 on a seemingly idyllic paradise island, yet again. All is not as it seems, which becomes apparent in the opening scenes of the game following an ill-fated sky dive with the introduction of one of gamings most unhinged, crazed and memorable antagonists of recent times in Vaas. Combining stealth, shooting, exploration, free-form gameplay and cinematics to great effect, Far Cry 3 almost wins my game of the year just for the setting that they allow the player to explore; providing the opportunity for multiple memorable experiences in a world that seems to be bustling and full of life, you’re not only the hunter, you are the hunted, whether by the pirates or the wildlife that inhabits the island and its surrounding waters.

5. Borderlands 2

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Alasdair: Borderlands 2 is a true sequel in every sense. It takes every great element of the original and expands, expands, expands. The shooting and looting that made Borderlands so much fun to play in a group have been bolstered by the additions of more weapon varieties and millions more potential guns. A wide range of environments and enemies, with a steady stream of DLC have kept this game feeling fresh well into the new year.

4. The Walking Dead

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Dominic: When Telltale’s The Walking Dead was announced I was not interested in it. I was so bummed out with the disappointment that was Jurassic Park that I was worried The Walking Dead was going to be same. This is certainly not the case and what has appeared is one of the best adventure games I have played for a very long time. As a game, this is a somewhat similar situation as Virtue’s Last Reward, in that the gameplay itself is not exactly fantastic, but the dialogue options, story and the feeling of creating your own persona in Lee is what makes The Walking Dead shine. It’s a raw tale that will bring all sorts of emotions out of the player during the five episodes. In a year where endings were detested by fans, The Walking Dead finishes with a brilliant closure that makes you look back on your own experience with the game – like Virtue’s Last Reward – discussing with people your adventure and what choices you did in this high quality written story. In an industry where zombies have become used to the point of becoming boring, The Walking Dead shows us that zombies aren’t the enemy, we humans are, oh and the fact that someone somewhere can write a child character that I want to care for is a miracle. For Clementine!

3. Mass Effect 3

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Nathan: The further removed we get from the game’s release, the more convinced I am that Mass Effect 3 is the definitive RPG of 2012. Yes, there will be always be clamor about the game’s ending. But every story has its wrinkles, and we shouldn’t be distracted from what the game did right. In a word – catharsis. All the stories, missions, characters, and lives you encountered were summarily condensed into a 30+ hour adventure that only gets sweeter with time.

2. Halo 4

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Chris: A return to the world of the Spartans and specifically the Master Chief, a new threat arrives in the guise of the Prometheans whose very appearance affects the balance of the universe. Halo has always had a wonderfully solid single-player experience and that is the same here, 343i have crafted another fantastic experience. Multiplayer is where the fun lies for me personally and Halo 4 has afforded me some wonderful gaming sessions with my friends which since becoming (apparent) adults we can’t all crowd around a TV in the same room like we used to with the original.

1. Journey

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Dominic: I did not get to play Journey until just a few weeks ago. What a great way to come into the last month of the year with such a magical and heart-warming experience. Journey is a one-of-a-kind game that forces you with a single objective to climb up to the top of a mountain. On your way you will meet with other anonymous pilgrims, coming together to find secrets and helping each other by signalling with the only communication tool of a glowing symbol that somehow manages to work. You will see pilgrims come and go. You will see them blown away, frozen or attacked by strange beings, and even though you do not know these fellow pilgrims, you still feel a sort of sadness develop for them. This is a passionate game with a great soundtrack that is unlike anything else this year.

Nathan: This game has had numerous accolades already bestowed upon it, but the greatest compliment I can give it is this – I never actually played it. However, I did watch a friend of mine play the game one afternoon – as a game and a work of art, I have never more thoroughly enjoyed a gaming experience from afar. The story and visuals were enthralling, and I’m still thinking about the game these months later.

Congratulations to Journey, our 2012 Game of the Year.

DarkZero wish you the best for 2013. Happy new year!

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