When I was asked to sit down and compile a personal top five list of the best of the first half of 2012 I thought it would be easy. I was wrong; it took a little more thought than I originally had planned and while thinking about it a few things were revealed to me. The first is that I do not follow directions very well, I was told to make a top five list of the first half of this year and there are six games on this list, one of which was released at the tail end of last year. Secondly, I think I may becoming fatigued by shooters and not one graces my list. And finally, the majority of my list relies on tried and true gameplay mechanics with a new twist, which show that you can teach old dogs new tricks.
Nostalgia can sometimes play dirty tricks on you. I remember thinking Perfect Dark on the Nintendo 64 was a great game but when it re-released on the Xbox 360 the charm and wonder was gone. Perfect Dark had gotten old, I still had my memories of it but I couldn’t go home again. Despite it being an entirely new release, I feared the same fate for SSX and I could not have been more happy that I was wrong.
EA updated SSX to feel like I remember it but at the same time deliver a new and exciting experience. Utilizing a modified version of Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit’s asynchronous multiplayer, SSX offered an score chasing experience few games this gen have offered and kept me coming back for more.
5B. The Walking Dead
One of the biggest discussions for the first half of 2012 has been the issue of storytelling in games. Mass Effect 3, Max Payne 3 and Spec Ops: The Line all brought something to the table with varying degrees of success and failure but it was Telltale Games that delivered, at least in my mind, what was the best interactive narrative of the year so far with its take on The Walking Dead. While the game aspects of The Walking Dead are minimal at best, it is the well paced narrative, believable characters and gut-wrenching decisions that have to be made that drive it to the top. It does what Spec Ops: The Line wishes it could do, it makes its decisions matter.
So if I love the game so much why is it so low on my list? With only two of the five episodes currently available, I am just hedging my bets. If it remains at its current level of quality, expect The Walking Dead to rank higher in a few months time.
4. Star Wars: The Old Republic
Everything I hate about massively multiplayer online role-playing game is prominent in Star Wars: The Old Republic. Combat is mostly just watching cool down bars refill, enemies are always in the same place, mission objectives are often met with a line of players waiting for a spawn, player characters have stupid names (HanSolo420) and the world seems empty. Yet the well integrated single player narrative for each of the character classes is what I want out of a Star Wars RPG. So much so that it is the game I’ve spent the most time playing so far this year and I’m still paying to play it.
3. Lumines: Electronic Symphony
The Vita launch left quite a bit to be desired but Lumines: Electronic Symphony made owning the system worthwhile for me. I missed the initial Lumines train so my experience with Electronic Symphony was my first and what I found was that it is a drug best done in moderation. I’ll sit down to play a round of Lumines and 90 minutes later I emerge from a trance-like state. Only one other game in recent memory has been able to hook me like that, that of course being my 2010 game of the year Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, and that only did it in five and 10 minute bursts. While it’s not a great “portable” game because of its ability to suck time, it feels great on the Vita and makes me happy to own one.
2. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
Skyrim was great and I loved all my time with it but its seriousness, in its art design and story beats, left me feeling I needed something lighter after putting so much time into it. I still wanted swords and sorcery though and Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was right there to answer my call. Reckoning is not as open as Skyrim was and that is honestly a good thing, it allowed for me to focus on completing quests and fighting enemies. While there are certainly serious aspects to the game, the cartoony art style never let those aspects overwhelm my enjoyment of the game. On top of that KoA is an exciting place to explore with tons of well thought out lore that makes it both fun and interesting. It may just be a mix of Fable and The Elder Scrolls but it’s a finely crafted one that has offered me hours more fun than I would have initially imagined.
After ten years Blizzard did exactly what it did with Starcraft, it delivered more of the same. But that is alright because the core Diablo experience is still better than most other games today. Does it have its problems? Sure it does, it is certainly not a perfect game. Its always online requirement, a general reliance on the auction house to fuel high level activity, and a purely borked economy are big drawbacks to the title but at the end of the day Diablo III delivers pure fun in quantities few other games even come close to. While other games chase the unicorn of what games could potentially be, Blizzard delivered something that is just damn fun to play and at the end of the day, having fun is the main reason I play games.