It has been a long year filled with great games. Some people have thrown out that they are disappointed in this year’s crop of titles but I personally could not be happier. If you had told me at the beginning of the year that Diablo III or Mass Effect 3 would fail to make my end of year list, I would have called you crazy and they were both fantastic titles. But a great many titles that ended up on this list surprised me, while others completely blew past my expectations for them. 2012 was a great year for gaming. These are the ten I think were the best.
At the end of E3 I was highly skeptical of the WiiU’s potential. Nintendo did a piss poor job of answering my nagging questions, instead just leaving me with more. One of the biggest questions was if ZombiU was going to be any good. For the second straight generation, Ubisoft was throwing its weight behind a Nintendo launch but we all know how that turned out the first time. Fortunately ZombiU is no Red Steel.
What ZombiU is, is a title that expertly shows what the WiiU hardware can do. And it probably does it better than any other game, sans NintendoLand. But not only is it a great piece to showcase Nintendo’s new hardware, it is a great horror game that is genuinely terrifying. The game stresses me out so much that I cannot play it for long periods of time, this is a feeling I haven’t had with a horror game in years. It is the revival of survival horror that I have been waiting for and one of many games that absolutely surprised me this year.
9. The Walking Dead
I have been quoted as saying The Walking Dead is not a game. That was wrong, it is a game. It just is not a very good one from a technical gameplay perspective. So why is it here on my top ten list? It is because it is a fantastic interactive storytelling experience that mostly transcends its gameplay deficiencies.
Where ZombiU stressed me out because of its phenomenal blending of atmosphere and gameplay, The Walking Dead does so from an emotional standpoint. What makes The Walking Dead so special is that it tells a story that ties players to the characters by forcing them to build relationships through their choices. Its execution has some issues, especially in its final act, but the overall story arc of Lee Everett and Clementine is fantastic. Hands down, The Walking Dead is the best storytelling experience of the year.
8. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
Much of the talk about Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning in future years will be about its ties to Curt Schilling’s failed 38 Studios as Reckoning was meant to introduce us to the wonderfully lush world of Amalur before inviting us to play the long-in-development, never-to-be-released Copernicus. That is a shame because Reckoning is a great game in its own right.
Forget the expertly crafted lore, the expansive world to explore, and the phenomenal artwork, what makes Reckoning so good is its simple yet satisfying combat system. While comparisons can be drawn to Fable, Reckoning blows it out of the water. This is the Fable game that Peter Mo lyneux wished he had made.
NFL Blitz, Tony Hawk and SSX made 2012 the return of extreme sports gaming. While the latter two left a lot to be desired, SSX was a breath of fresh air. Incorporating elements from Need for Speed’s Autolog, SSX took asynchronous multiplayer to a whole new level. I lost an entire month in SSX, chasing after friend’s race times and scores, dropping Geotags and trying to level up my chosen characters. It is hands down my easily both my classic series revival of the year and best sports title.
6. The Last Story
If you were to sit me down and ask me to list out my favorite roleplaying games ever, I’d wager a bet that most of them would be Japanese roleplaying games. The sad part about that fact is that the games that would make my list are mostly a decade or older at this point because JRPGs have mostly failed to deliver the same quality experiences that they have in past generations. Before this year there were only two titles I felt were of the same level of quality as some of my all-time favorites, those being Eternal Sonata and Lost Odyssey. This year I can add The Last Story to that list.
It doesn’t have the depth or exploration of Xenoblade. And it doesn’t have the pretty visuals of Final Fantasy XIII-2. But it is filled with great storytelling, memorable characters, a wonderful visual style that takes full advantage of the Wii’s strengths, magical music and a unique and fun combat system. Frankly, The Last Story has everything I look for in a great JRPG.
5. Far Cry 3
I have a confession to make. I did not really like the original Far Cry and I hated Far Cry 2 so my initial expectations for Far Cry 3 were dwelling in the basement. But then I played it and found an engrossing world to explore, a diverse range of missions to perform and some of the best visuals in a game this year. And it is damn fun. It is not exactly Skyrim with guns and it is plagued with a host of issues (so maybe it really is Skyrim with guns) but it is a fantastic ride nonetheless.
4. XCOM: Enemy Unknown
When I first sat down to play XCOM: Enemy Unknown, I felt it was fun but nothing to write home about. It was not until I started to name and model my soldiers after friends and family that its specialness began to sink in. Instead of min/maxing my team for best results, I would stress over who to send with who and how their potential death could would change things in the real world. I refused to send my friend and his wife on missions together for fear that they both would die and their three year old son would grow up without parents.
I sweated everytime my wife, a high ranking assault class soldier, would engage an enemy at close range with her shotgun. What would I do if she died? How would I take care of our nine month old daughter, let alone my other three kids. It was these meta-stories that played out in my head that made the game so much more than what it really is, which is a fantastic turn-based strategy game. And because of that, XCOM: Enemy Unknown will go down as the game that gave me a new outlook on narrative delivery in games and how force feeding story is not always the best approach for every title.
I put off playing Journey for most of the year because I’ve never really enjoyed game developed by Thatgamecompany. That’s not to say I thought they were bad but just that they never hit me the right way. Also, Jeff, my Perfectly Sane Show co-host, kept stating that it wasn’t a game. With that said, I was never so happy to have such wrong expectations about a title.
At its core Journey is a fairly simple and straightforward platformer. But like an onion it has so much more depth to it. Despite no words ever being spoken in the entire game there is a deeply touching story that the game tells in a wonderfully realized world. No game for me this year was more emotionally stirring than Journey and it is all because of the experience the game delivers when playing with other people. The anonymous drop-in, drop-out multiplayer is near perfect and the experience of communicating with those other players is a transcendent gaming experience.
2. Halo 4
There was a time, not too long ago, where I was a Sony fanboy and thought Halo was the most overhyped game of all time. It is funny how things change. My love for Halo began in 2007, with the Halo 3 beta and it has grown every year since. While I figured Halo 4 would be a good game, after all Microsoft would not allow its biggest gaming property to shit the bed, I was still a little worried that 343 Industries was going to mess something up. They didn’t. In fact, if anything they breathed new life into the series for me.
The game is the best looking Xbox 360 game to date. Despite its problems, its narrative is the best the series has ever seen. And the multiplayer, oh the multiplayer is so silky smooth and wonderfully sweet. Sure there are things to nitpick at but they do not diminish what Halo 4 has accomplished and those slight imperfections give me hope that Halo 5 will be even better.
1. New Super Mario Bros. U
There are a lot of intangibles that go into making a great game but for me there is one aspect that always has to stand above the rest, gameplay. And no game this year played better for me than New Super Mario Bros. U.
It would be really easy to dismiss New Super Mario Bros. U as just more New Super Mario Bros. and after New Super Mario Bros. 2, I can see people not wanting that. But NSMB2 was a huge letdown, it lacked the imaginative level design and inventive gameplay that past Mario games had. But NSMBU has that imaginative level design and inventive gameplay, additionally it has a level of challenge that all prior New Super Mario Bros. games lacked. All of this together makes New Super Mario Bros. U the best 2D Mario game in over two decades.
I get the same feeling playing New Super Mario Bros. U that I did two years ago when playing Pac-Man Championship Edition DX. Pure, unadulterated joy. And it is all because the gameplay is near flawless.
Those were mine, now tell me yours.