Diehard GameFAN 2012 Year in Review Staff Commentaries

So here we are, a few days after the end of 2012. As usual, several of the Diehard GameFAN staff have sat down and written up their own personal “Top Ten Games of the Year” list. This gives you, the reader, a chance to see each of our own specific tastes and preferences. It also lets us touch on our own personal favorites that might not have earned a 2012 Gaming Award Nomination, due to only having been played by a few individuals, or perhaps they were the only one that actually liked it. Join us as we look back at the best of 2012, be they highly marketed games from large corporations or smaller easily missed independent excellence.

Aaron Sirois’ Top Ten
Staff Writer

1.) X-Com: Enemy Unknown (PS3)
2.) Dishonored (PS3)
3.) UFC Undisputed 3 (PS3)
4.) Call of Duty: Black Ops II (PS3)
5.) Sleeping Dogs (PS3)
6.) Madden NFL 13 (PS3)
7.) Twisted Metal (PS3)
8.) Mass Effect 3 (PS3)
9.) Da New Guys: Day of the Jackass (PC)
10.) Velocity (PSP)

This year represented a big change in terms of my overall gaming diet. Mostly, I saw a large infusion of hidden object games and point and click adventures. I’ve dabbled in the past, but this year I went full out. While only one may have made my top ten, my horizons have been broadened for sure.

Honestly, this list is far different from how I thought it would turn out at the beginning of the year. Only two of my top ten were on my most anticipated list at the beginning of the year. Those would be UFC Undisputed 3 and Twisted Metal. The rest were pleasant surprises.

Overall, I felt incredibly strong about my top three, such that there was no conceivable way for any of the other seven to crack that upper echelon. That speaks both to their overall quality and the strong desire to play them that I still maintain.

At number ten we have Velocity. I agreed to review this game on a whim, seeing as my PS3 was down at the time and I needed something new to fill the void. I normally avoid traditional shooters like the plague, but this one was undeniably fun. Zipping through levels as fast as possible while trying to find every last escape pod was a blast, as was the incredibly unique teleporting ability that allowed for slick maneuvers and skillful gameplay. Velocity is one of the best Minis I’ve ever played, and has more than earned a permanent spot on my PSP.

Next up is Da New Guys: Day of the Jackass. This is the lone point and click title to make my top ten, and that’s for several reasons. For starters, I just couldn’t stop laughing as I played. The misadventures of a group of professional wrestlers proved to be one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. It may help that I’ve been a diehard wrestling fan since before I could walk. The humor just resonated with me. Honorary mention goes to Brink of Consciousness: Dorian Gray Syndrome. A hidden object/adventure hybrid, it would have made my list if not for the fact that it came out in December of last year.

When Mass Effect 3 came out earlier this year, I honestly couldn’t have cared less. However, towards the middle of the year, I finally sat down with ME2. While I didn’t love it the way most people seemed to, I had enough fun that I decided to rent the third game, especially when several people on staff urged me on. I ended up really loving ME3. There were several characters I had grown to care about, most of which died horrible deaths because of my decisions, and I actually had an investment in the outcome. I may also be one of the very very few people who didn’t mind the ending (though I played the game after the patch, I forgot to download it). I’m still not a fan of the shooting elements, but the story was one I sunk my teeth into gladly.

Twisted Metal came back and came back in a big way this year. Not only did Eat Sleep Play nail the controls, atmosphere, and sheer fun of the game, but they also put out quite possibly the best game in the series to date. I never thought I’d see the day where you could not only play as a helicopter in a TM game, but have it work like a dream without breaking the game at all. They pulled it off. The only reason the game isn’t higher on my list is because I kind of stopped going to it after a few months. While I’m sure I’ll pop it in once in a while, it hasn’t, so far, become the staple that previous TM games were for me on other systems. Time will tell.

This is what happens when I don’t play a Madden game for a while. I go nuts. Madden NFL 13 is a darn fine game, but hardly mind blowing in any sense of the term. The new physics engine caused as many mishaps off the field as it caused great moments on the field, the new experience system was interesting though not fully fleshed out, and they seriously underrated the Bucs’ pass attack. Okay, that last one might be just me, but still. Anyways, I’m not sure how many hours I’ve poured into this game, but I’m fairly sure that number exceeds the total for most of the games on this list combined. For that reason alone, I had to put it high up on the list.

I may not gush over Sleeping Dogs the way I do some of the games below it on the list, but it completely deserves the number five spot. Why? Because I hate GTA. I can’t stand the very idea behind those games. I mean that in terms of the setting. Why on earth would I want to mow down hookers and make my fortune selling drugs? It’s just not me. Sleeping Dogs got past that, thanks to the main character being an undercover cop. I found myself relishing the role of a cop playing both sides and trying to maintain order in the midst of absolute chaos. It also helped that the combat was top notch in all phases. Even the navigation was top notch, thanks to just the right about of influence from Assassin’s Creed. In short, it addressed all of the problems I had with the GTA formula and delivered a satisfying game on all fronts. Plus, it was a new IP. That always deserves rewarding.

God help me, I love Blops. I loved the first game, though I was in denial for months, and I love its sequel. It’s not a CoD thing either. The only thing I liked about MW3 was the Spec Ops mode. However, I kept playing Black Ops up until the day before I got my hands on Blops 2, and I think I’ll end up playing Blops 2 for a good portion of the next two years. I actually really got a kick out of the story mode. I started caring about the characters, and the various way things could play out made it a far more enriching experience than I could ever have guessed. There isn’t a thing about the multiplayer I’d change, except for perhaps upgrading my connection so I don’t randomly bottom out. Every time I play, I end up spending hours on a different mode than the day before. I swear, if they ditched the zombies mode and put in a Spec Ops, I might never need another game again. Sadly, Blops 2 has those zombies, so therefore it gets relegated to the number four spot.

UFC Undisputed 3 is the single greatest MMA game ever released. There may not be all that much in terms of competition, but it’s still worth saying. There are seven weight classes to run through, two different promotions to conquer, over a hundred and fifty actual fighters in the game, and so much more. On top of that, the fighting is simply sublime. Every single aspect has been refined to a sheen, while still adding some new stuff to make it so you can recreate just about anything you see in an actual fight. I can’t explain the sense of achievement that comes from going back to the drawing board and getting it right on the second attempt. Seeing hard work and effort pay off with a big win over a heated rival is just good times. I tried, and I simply can’t go back to any of the previous games. They’re just not good enough anymore, despite both having been on my previous top tens. Let’s hope that EA doesn’t screw the series up now that they’ve got the license.

The second I saw Dishonored, I knew it was going to be the most ambitious game to come out this year. After all, it pretty much hands the player a series of tools and dares them to see what they can do with them. Do you use the blink ability to move from shadow to shadow and avoid detection, or use it to pop up behind a guard for a well timed throat slice? What new powers do you take? How about the ability to bend time so that you can get away from guards/slash them to ribbons in seconds? Maybe the possession ability is more your style. Taking over guards can be great for getting through security without raising suspicion, or it can be just as fun to force someone to walk right into a force field. After beating the game, I immediately started a second playthrough, which I do very rarely. Best of all, I could play probably a few more times before I’ve seen all there is to see. When a new IP is one of the best games of the year, things are definitely looking up for the industry.

So back when they announced the XCOM FPS, I was mildly interested, simply because it was being crafted by the guys from Bioshock 2. However, I wasn’t jumping at the bit because I figured they’d have some issues creating their own title. They couldn’t just re-purpose the assets from someone else’s work. Anyway, I was interested, but not dying to play it. Then they announced Enemy Unknown, which I initially thought was the new name for the FPS. Nope. Instead it was a turn based strategy game, more in line with the old PC games in the series. This too had me interested, but not all that psyched. However, I’m always up for a strategy game, so I put in on my list. Then the game came out and started getting rave reviews. Then I played the demo to see what all the fuss was about. Then I put the game on the top of my list. Then I had some of the most fun I’ve had with a game in years. There’s just so much RIGHT about this game. It manages to create an emotional attachment between the player and a group of faceless grunts, to the point where a death becomes a blow to the heart. It creates an atmosphere where one wrong move can mean disaster for your squad. I found myself apologizing to my fallen soldiers. I could only vow to use their death as a learning experience to avoid such casualties in the future. I also found myself holding my breath when going for a fifty/fifty shot on an enemy I just knew would wreak havoc on its turn in the event this shot missed. I haven’t been this personally attached to a video game in years. It works on every level. Any problems I can find are nitpicks that honestly do nothing to deter my love for the game. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined a game like this coming along and so clearly earning my nod for game of the year. However, Enemy Unknown did just that, and I couldn’t be happier. Let’s hope this is a sign of things to come for consoles.

Ashe Collins’ Top Ten
Staff Writer

1.) The Walking Dead Episodes 1-5 (PC)
2.) Mass Effect 3 Collector’s Edition (PC)
3.) Uncharted: Golden Abyss (Vita)
4.) Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation (Vita)
5.) Dungeons and Dragons Online: Menace of the Underdark Expansion (PC)
6.) Borderlands 2 (PC)
7.) Darksiders II (PC)
8.) Alan Wake’s American Nightmare (PC)
9.) Torchlight II (PC)
10.) Transformers: Fall of Cybertron (PS3)

This year held some surprises for me, not just in terms of games I picked to buy on my own, but games I’d gotten a chance to review, several of which made the list. While the selection hasn’t been as overwhelming this year, I think the quality of the titles I played was up for the most part, which is not a bad thing. I will take quality over quantity any time. This is the year the Vita replaced my PSP as my favorite handheld as well, so there is that. What are my favorites for the year?

The sequel to Transformers: War For Cybertron, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron makes itself stand out by not only not relying entirely on the storyline from the first game to keep things moving, but letting us get a bit more involved and intimate with the characters and their motivations. They came up with a great explanation for the Dinobots and designed the levels to work with the characters they chose, which really drove the single player from just being an all right experience to something I thoroughly enjoyed. The multiplayer side of things got an overhaul and let players really go wild with choosing different chassis parts, go nuts with the colors a bit more, and improved the game connections between players just a little bit more. Some obvious choices were made to save character chassis and release them as DLC later, entirely optional, but left me feeling a little sour about that. This was still a better outing than the previous game, and easily toppled other Transformers games for the top of the heap.

I loved the first Torchlight, but I thought it had room for improvement, and just about everywhere I thought the developers could go with the series, they went beyond those expectations with Torchlight II. Multiplayer, different classes, new styles… what was a really solid game before was expounded upon and has become one of my favorite isometric dungeon crawling action RPGs. I’m glad they took the time to polish it, and I look forward to playing this one for a long, long time yet.

Take Alan Wake‘s gameplay, throw Alan into a television show he used to write for, make sure it’s suitably Outer Limits like, add in the ability to alter events, add in a challenge mode and watch the insanity unfold. I can’t put my finger on exactly why I like American Nightmare over Alan Wake‘s base game, but this one charmed the hell out of me from the start. I think part of it was that Alan Wake felt like a mini-series unfolding with a big “to be continued” at the end of things, and while this never has a feeling of total closure, the way the story unfolds, it’s not meant to. It feels like a twisted up episode of the Outer Limits or Twilight Zone, and while some of the emotional baggage Alan has had to endure carries over, Alan feels different this time around, ready to kick some ass as he realizes that wherever he is now, is most definitely not reality, and he can have at it.

While I never did get around to playing the first Darksiders, but own it now thanks to the Humble Bundle, I have to say I absolutely loved Darksiders 2. It has a great blend of game mechanics that really set it apart from other titles, feels insanely grand scaled and epic, and every boss fight leaves you feeling like you just accomplished something major. It had some great voice talent to it and really sucked me in, which any good game should do. I think a side benefit is that the game, while tying into the first, is running alongside the first game, which also leaves it fairly easy to get into with a short primer at the start so you know what’s going on. While the DLC offerings haven’t been that great, the main game itself was entirely solid and was just about perfect as far as content and length already.

Borderlands 2 offers a shake-up of the classes, a bonus class for pre-ordering, solid DLC offerings on top of a great campaign, good visuals, and lots of freaking guns. While it goes with the ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ mentality, it does so while trying to provide the player another experience set in the same game world, while driving the story in another direction as well. Co-op seems more accessible from the PC end of things, and the stream of updates and bug fixes to the game is more than welcome. Gearbox stepped things up a bit but didn’t lose sight of what people loved from the first game, which is always a notch in the win column.

Yee gads! An expansion? On my top ten games? You betcha. While Dungeons and Dragons Online: Menace of the Underdark has received mixed reactions from players, the decision to make an expansion for Dungeons and Dragons Online to introduce a new world to Eberron characters, the Forgotten Realms, was a bold one. While it got off to a rough start, it’s provided some unique experiences, a whole new set of gear for players to sport into the Epic levels, more epic quests, with quite a few that actually were fairly inventive, and a shot at taking on one of the Forgotten Realms bigger evils, Lolth herself. If you pre-ordered, there were some amazing bonuses to the expansion, and even if you didn’t, the expansion itself has enough content to more than satisfy the DDO player.

Assassin’s Creed III Liberation was my first foray into the world of Assassin’s Creed, and I have to say that aside from some hiccups, Ubisoft delivered a fantastic title for the Vita. Sony apparently agreed, as it was one of the bundled titles, and Amazon went even further to sweeten the bundle deal around Black Friday. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that the Vita bundle with this game was the one I was recommending. It’s a great game, and while the multiplayer is lackluster and tacked on, the single player experience is really well done, aside from a few story-telling goofs here and there that
can leave someone new to the franchise scratching their head. I think the combination of techniques coupled with the persona system and the setting all sealed the deal for me, easily making this one of my favorite titles of the year.

While Assassin’s Creed III on the Vita was a good translation over from that series, Uncharted: Golden Abyss is an even better transition from the series that debuted on the PS3. I’ve heard the complaints that this just doesn’t have the same feel to it as one of the other Uncharted titles, and I’d have to respectfully tell you to stuff it. Great dialogue? Check. Exploring ancient locales with amazing scenery? Check. Lots of gunplay with a seemingly never-ending army of bad guys? Check. An artifact that could alter the face of the planet that Drake is after? Check. Sully? Check. Female interest that doesn’t just roll over and take everything Drake says at face value? Check. It’s all here. Couple that with some neat ways to interact with the game world through the Vita’s touch screens and the option to use the old control scheme (except for melee, boo-freaking-hoo) made this one a must have for the Vita. Honestly, right now for me, it’s this one and Assassin’s Creed III Liberation as far as must have Vita titles go, with a strong recommendation for Gravity Rush. It’s amazing and they did a great job working with Naughty Dog to get the feel just right.

Mass Effect 3 would almost be my top title for the year. Almost. The multiplayer and DLC have kept me coming back to this game since it came out. Hell, I liked it enough that I bought the trilogy edition on PS3. I think there were a few missteps; it’s not as open as the other two, there’s a questionable ending, the game excised a squad member, and there are a lack of options for female Shepard as far as male love interests go. While Bioware did some things wrong, however, there are an overwhelming number of things they got right. The different storylines for past and current squadmates, that first escape from Earth, Tchunka, dealing with the war with the Quarians, all amazingly done. If you had the Collector’s Edition, like I did, you also got a few bonuses, including Javik who made some of the missions much more fun. Overall, though, it was the subtle shift in the way Shepard’s story played out and the way players were forced along a path that did this in for my Game of the Year. Both of the other games are Shepard’s story, starting off talking about or featuring Shepard. From the beginning, this one is about the Reaper invasion, then featuring Shepard, with thinly veiled attempts at giving us the illusion of choice. In both the first and second games you had a bigger variety of options in the order you did things, as well as more dialogue options. While I think it’s a great RPG, I think that the shift wasn’t handled as well as it could have been, and it would have been better off with Bioware giving us options like in the first and second games, or at least that illusion. The multiplayer has been solid from day one and I’ve loved it, with the free additions fueling the urge to play, but the unlocks still rub me the wrong way, and will continue to do so. An option to buy the weapons and classes should have been provided, with the random unlocks for other things like upgrades or appearances. For all my bitching, they did far more right than wrong this time out, but I think personally there was one other game that will be my game of the year.

From start to finish, Telltale Games not only had me hooked with the story of Lee and Clementine set in the world of The Walking Dead‘s zombie apocalypse, but had me caring about the characters and their fate. You were given choices in conversations, and your actions could lead to having your friends and group members live and die, betray you at the last second, or genuinely make you feel bad because you look bad in the eyes of an eight year old girl who is looking up to you to save her from all that death. This first season is Lee’s story, but also happens to be Clementine’s story as well, and it is a story about redemption, and saving those who you can. They managed to accomplish this in ten to twelve hours, across one complete game, or five episodes, recreating the emotional roller coaster that it took the creators at BioWare almost ninety hours, over three games to achieve. It’s a brilliant bit of story-telling, crossing the adventure genre with the interactive movie, and the memory of all your choices with the mechanics there of the modern RPG. While ending up at almost the exact same place, the roads you take to get there can be vastly different, depending on your choices in previous episodes. The voice actors do an amazing job bringing the characters to life, and the writers have to be complemented as well for giving us a well spread group of characters that may not always be likeable, but are definitely sympathetic or relatable.

Sean Madson’s Top Ten
Staff Writer

1.) Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii)
2.) Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy (3DS)
3.) Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward (3DS)
4.) The Last Story (Wii)
5.) New Super Mario Bros. U (Wii U)
6.) Darksiders II (360)
7.) Borderlands 2 (360)
8.) Code of Princess (3DS)
9.) The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (360)
10.) Final Fantasy XIII-2 (360)

There are arguments to be made about the game industry being a cesspool of sequels, spinoffs, ports, and adaptations. I would be just as guilty as the next guy in supporting that sort of environment, as it’s much easier to take a chance on a franchise where you know exactly what you’re getting, as opposed to an untested IP. Despite all that, I had to rearrange my top ten several times because I played so many games I liked this year, and after I finish writing this, I’ll probably want to switch it around again. So while 2012 may go down as being one of the least innovative years as far as introducing new franchises goes, it certainly makes a case for providing strong entries to current properties.

There were a couple of new IP’s that I had to bump off of my list, but would like them to succeed all the same. Dragon’s Dogma introduced an addictive combat system and layered it onto a massive world to explore, though it has some kinks to work out. Binary Domain, on the other hand, was a very polished third-person shooter that, while it didn’t contribute anything to the genre save for a voice command gimmick, was an absolute blast to play. I also had to omit a few other games that I really liked, such as Tales of Graces f, Mass Effect 3, and Kid Icarus: Uprising on account of a few minor quirks. So, with that out of the way, let’s start from the bottom, shall we?

While Final Fantasy XIII-2 does address many of the problems that plagued its predecessor, namely the linearity and the pacing, it introduces a few issues of its own that keep it from being higher on the list. Namely, the poorly handled cliffhanger ending and the absolutely atrocious DLC offerings that followed. Putting those issues aside though, it manages to focus the narrative on just a couple of characters, and builds two likeable protagonists out of it as a result. The combat system saw a few tweaks, with the addition of a monster collecting mechanic as well as a few QTE actions for moves to make the player feel less passively involved. Oh, and let’s not forget the time travel mechanic that opens the way to multiple endings as a nod to Chrono Trigger.

I had an opportunity to play both Witcher games this year, and The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings definitely make a case for the success of PC to console ports. It’s a very well written affair, first and foremost, with one of the most likable and entertaining anti-hero main characters I’ve ever had the satisfaction of playing as, and the verbal exchanges he has with the characters he meets on his journey are incredibly amusing. It’s also nice that you can take two very different paths through the game and have a unique experience in each. Here’s hoping this isn’t the last game featuring Geralt of Rivia.

Given how abysmal the GBA sequel to Guardian Heroes was, I never thought I’d see the formula successfully return in another game. Code of Princess is certainly not better than the original title that it tries to ape, but it manages to at least come close, while lending itself to portable play on the go. It doesn’t hurt that the game supports four player cooperative and competitive play, as well as the ability to play as each character that is encountered during the story. As much as I would’ve liked to have seen something like it on the consoles, it was at least one of the reasons I kept my 3DS on me all year.

There wasn’t much changed in Borderlands 2, save for reworked classes, an improved narrative, and just a much bigger game overall. That didn’t stop me from sinking a plethora of hours into it over the last several months, though. The game is best played with friends, despite how humorous the dialogue may be during solo play, and this fact is never more evident than when a party of a diverse set of classes use their abilities effectively to bring down high level bosses or accomplish difficult quests together. It’s more fun than a Butt Stallion made of diamonds.

Darksiders II didn’t have a tough climb to get on this list. While the plot was a bit lacking compared to the original, it still succeeded in pulling core game mechanics out of many franchises that I enjoy immensely, such as The Legend of Zelda, God of War, Diablo, and more. The fact that they actually meshed well without feeling tacked on was probably the most surprising thing, but the fact that there are loot drops at all was enough alone to justify picking up the sequel. Having a fluid combat system and dungeons that utilize the game’s items in unique ways certainly helps though.

This year saw the release of Nintendo’s Wii U, and while I haven’t yet played enough games on it that I can confidently say it’s worth picking up for most people, New Super Mario Bros. U was certainly enough to justify my own purchase. The core concept at work here is to take its Wii predecessor, polish up the graphics, add in a world map more akin to Super Mario World, and throw in a new ability or two, and you have New Super Mario Bros. U in a nutshell. The best part is, I’m quite enthralled with the outcome, even despite the lack of innovation. Oh, and having a fifth player able to offer assistance by creating platforms with the Gamepad control is a nice touch too.

The Last Story was a huge guilty pleasure for me. There are some huge pacing issues with the story, as well as the fact that you can muscle your way through the game with a small amount of power-leveling, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a good time with the gameplay. Crafted by Mistwalker Studios, also known for Lost Odyssey (another game I liked immensely), the game allows you to command a party of six characters in real time combat, while being able to utilize the environment around you to inflict damage or send enemies falling to their deaths. There’s also a mode for both competitive and cooperative play, though only the latter is really worth any sort of time investment. I sincerely hope that the Wii U sees JRPG’s of this caliber.

I was a latecomer to 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors on the DS, but when I finally did get a chance to delve into it, the overarching plot took me by surprise. While the bad endings were entertaining in and of themselves, it was how the story resolved itself that really made me appreciate the experience. Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward utilizes many of the same plot devices as its predecessor, and while that leads to some level of predictability, the game still has many plot twists that I did not see coming. Anyway, I don’t know how they will be able to pull out all the stops in the inevitable third entry, but if they have some way to keep the momentum going, I invite them to try.

While it was incredibly simplistic in nature, Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy found itself playing the role of a permanent companion to my 3DS. It’s that good. The Elite Beat Agents style gameplay is decorated with the trappings of your typical JRPG, such as leveling up, statistics, and equippable skills, while still keeping the focus on the music. The game certainly has a memorable soundtrack, pulling what are arguably some of the best songs out of the main entries in the franchise, while allowing players to purchase additional ones via DLC. Throw in cooperative play and a slew of unlockables, and the game has literally given me no reason to ever stop coming back to it.

Of all the times that I’ve remarked about how much I wanted Xenoblade Chronicles to come to North America, there’s no bigger feeling of relief when you realize that the game you’ve been waiting for so long for is actually worth the wait. I’m a sucker for JRPG’s anyway, but to play one that managed to break out of the norm for once was especially refreshing. The characters do skate very close to being archetypal, but are well written enough that you’re able to look beyond this, and the various twists and turns in the plot kept me guessing. Further, the gameplay was up to the task of carrying the title for the sixty plus hours the player has to invest in it in order to roll the credits, with a neat mechanic that involves Shulk’s ability to see the future. Not just one of the best games of the year for me, but also one of the best games I’ve ever played on the Wii, period.

Matt Yaeger’s Top Ten
Staff Writer

1) Trials Evolution (360)
2) Halo 4 (360)
3) XCOM: Enemy Unknown (360)
4) Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii)
5) Sleeping Dogs (360)
6) Max Payne 3 (360)
7) Binary Domain (360)
8) Dust: An Elysian Tail (360)
9) Gateways (360)
10) DiRT Showdown (360)

For me 2012 will go down as a year of unexpected pleasant surprises. There were several games that I wasn’t sure about that ended up blowing me away, including some that didn’t make it on this list.

DiRT Showdown is not a game I think everyone will enjoy. The DiRT brand is typically known for the series of rally racing games, and Showdown is a departure from that style. As a fan of demolition derby games, Showdown is my kind of game. Trading paint, bashing cars, a demo car that looks like the Ecto 1, and just smashing everything at the end of your hood makes Showdown a fun time. Rally fans may not have appreciated it, but I had a great time with the game and hope that Codemasters makes more like it.

To be fair, I’m sort of a fanboy for Smudged Cat Games, the developer of Gateways. I own all their other Indie Games and I’ve expressed my love in the past for The Adventures of Shuggy. But Gateways is a great example of why I’m a fan. Gateways is an Xbox Live Indie game (also available on the PC) that can be quickly described as a 2D Sidescrolling Portal style game. That doesn’t do it justice though. Great production values, amusing writing, and mind bending puzzles that deal with portals, but also different variations of manipulating space and time. It’s as good as any retail release, but as an Indie title will only set you back a a dollar. A DOLLAR!

Dust: An Elysian Tail is another game developed by one man, but you could never tell by playing the game. Dust has all the polish of a retail title; however it has the charm, personality and creativity of a game created by a man who has put a lot of love and effort into it. Fun, and surprisingly well written, it is a game that fools you with bright colors and well animated graphics, but brings up dark subject matter. This contrast, and how well it all works together, makes Dust feel like a one of a kind game that’s worth experiencing.

Another game with writing and charm that has made it sort of a cult favorite is Binary Domain. I have Sean to thank for borrowing it to me, and I’m glad I had the chance to play it. There are certainly some issues with the game, like the multiplayer not really working, but the single player campaign was this weird Blade Runner-like story with some twists, turns and at least one very shocking moment. It started off feeling like a generic cover based shooter, but by the end I liked many of the characters and was invested in the events of the sci-fi story they were telling, and that’s a feeling I don’t get out of many games.

Max Payne 3 is shoot porn. By that I mean it takes the act of one person putting bullets into another person and builds everything around showing that act with as much detail and from as many angles as possible. I mean that as a compliment, as the gunplay offers some of the most intense displays of digital violence I’ve ever seen. When the game went into slow-mo as I pumped round after round of bullets into a enemy, and the camera zoomed in on him to show the impact of the bullets as they entered and the carnage they left as they exited the guy, I was simultaneously amazed and disturbed. The story is pulpy as hell, though in a more modern way, and has all the polish of a blockbuster film, albeit with graphical effects that wear out their welcome over time. A great return for a great character.

Sleeping Dogs is a game that should not have been good. It started as a new IP, was picked up by Activision and was going to be made into a True Crime game, then they dropped it and Square Enix picked it up and let the studio release it as a new IP. The True Crime games aren’t very good. Games passed around by publishers tend not to be very good. Sleeping Dogs, however, is very good. As a fan of Hong Kong movies in general and of martial arts movies in specific, Sleeping Dogs is a fantastic homage to the style and tone of Hong Kong police thrillers while having all of the action of a martial arts movie. It’s a style that hasn’t really been done too often in video games before, so the tone of the game retains a unique feel throughout. Between that and the different from the usual open world setting and focus on melee combat over shooting, you have a game that draws inspiration from multiple sources and yet stands out on its own. I loved this game and hope to see more from this studio in the future.

Sure, it took a grassroots campaign and other pressures before Xenoblade was finally released in North America, but it was worth the wait and the hype. It’s a fantastic JRPG with interesting combat mechanics, a great story, and art direction that rivaled most HD games this year. Xenoblade is one of those rare games that build up a lot of hype but manage to actually meet those expectations, and at least for this typically cynical gamer, exceeded them.

XCOM is a game that I wasn’t expecting, as in, somehow it was not on my radar at all. I remember hearing about the FPS game getting delayed and though I knew that they were working on a classic tactical version, I just assumed that it was going to be released sometime as a supplementary experience to the FPS and ignored most news on it. I went into the game with no expectations at all, and have been blown away. Even though there is little reason, narratively, to care for the squad you control, the game digs its hooks deep into you until you give a shit about these tiny guys that you will potentially send to their deaths again and again. It’s also a tightly designed game, and every mechanic feeds into another part of the game. The user interface is one of the best of any console tactics games. XCOM is a masterwork of video game design and an unexpected treat for either long time XCOM fans or people who have never played an XCOM game.

Compared to XCOM, I don’t think Halo 4 is as well designed of a game. That’s not to knock the effort of 343i studios, who have made a great Halo game, but there are some minor issues I mentioned in my review. The reason I put it so high on my list is mostly personal reasons. I’m a fan. My wife plays it with me. I’ve had some of my favorite Halo multiplayer experiences with this Halo title versus any other (mid-air assassination while falling off of the map!). They keep releasing interesting new episodes of Spartan Ops week after week. So while I think XCOM is better designed, I’ve had more fun with Halo, and that is why I place it in my number two spot.

Finally, my number one game is where it is on my list because, in terms of both fun and amazing design execution, it is the best game I’ve played this year: Trials Evolution. It’s a game that I had so much fun with I apparently forgot to review it. If I had, it would’ve just been page after page of gushing praise. Trials Evolution takes a simple concept: driving left to right on a bike while navigating through different obstacles. That’s it. Around that one concept, though, they’ve built a challenging, amazing experience that’s more addictive than pure crack cocaine. The developer managed to nail the difficulty progression this time, and further, they’ve created the best creation system AND the best interface for easily sharing those creations with others. I’ve spent an insane amount of hours just marveling at the interesting creations that people have made. No other game released this year provided as much pure enjoyment per dollar spent as Trials Evolution.

Michael O’Reilly’s Top Ten
Staff Writer

1.) Far Cry 3 (PS3)
2.) Dishonored (PS3)
3.) Spec Ops: The Line (PS3)
4.) Sleeping Dogs (PS3)
5.) FIFA 13 (PS3)
6.) Sniper Elite V2 (PS3)
7.) Need for Speed: Most Wanted (PS3)
8.) Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 (PS3)
9.) SSX (PS3)
10.) The Wreckateer (360)

2012 was a good year. The world didn’t end, and there were a number of terrific games released. I won’t waste too much time blathering on about why certain games made my list and others didn’t. Lets just say there were crap games and there were good games, and then there were these games: games that made my list primarily because they surprised me by exceeding expectations in one way or another.

The Wreckateer, while certainly not the most original game in history, did make me a believer that finally someone had figured out how to make use of the Kinect. The Medieval fantasy setting, the voice acting and the varying levels of difficulty found in the puzzles made wrecking a perfectly valid use of your time.

EA chose this year to revive the SSX snowboarding brand, to the great delight of many. What started off as a horrifying display of everything SSX wasn’t in the reveal trailer turned into a happy ending for all, as the absurd jumps and crazy tricks returned. Then they threw in a online scoreboard system that showed your friends’ scores and demanded you beat them. Hopefully we’ll see more of the SSX gang, minus the silly story.

There must be a reason the Call of Duty games keep selling by the oil tanker full. Oh yeah, they are actually pretty good, and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is no exception. Yes, this is the same game released for the fifth consecutive year with little or no changes but the maps, but there is something to be said for polish.

While I only recently picked Need for Speed: Most Wanted up, it has quickly become obvious to me that it’s one of the best games of the year. It helps that the game is the spiritual sequel to Burnout Paradise. Fairhaven isn’t quite as awesome as Paradise City, but the online scoring system that started the year in SSX makes its way here, only in a much more personal way. Blasting down the street, seeing your friend’s face plastered all over the billboards because his score is better than yours, fuels a certain… competitiveness not seen since the days of getting the high score in arcades.

A real pleasant surprise, that’s what Sniper Elite V2 was. No two ways about it, I went in expecting a less than impressive experience and walked away singing its praises. It wasn’t perfect; you were dead if you had to use anything other than a sniper rifle, and the story was a bit far fetched, but who cares? Climbing to the top of an AA tower in Berlin to shoot an SS General a mile away was pretty awesome, and that’s only one of the many situations I found myself enjoying thoroughly.

FIFA continues to impress me. Every year they do something to increase the value of the package. The training minigames this year were a great way to get people who hadn’t played seriously in years to learn how to play the game at its more advanced difficulty levels. The disappointing lack of real stadiums was made up for by the staggering amount of teams included that you could play as. You will not find a better soccer game… until next year, I’m guessing.

Sleeping Dogs was a great little game. Its hard to call an open world sandbox game little, but when its main competition is GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption, it’s true, the game is a little on the smaller side. That’s not so bad really. The developers managed to squeeze quite a lot of experience into the game, and playing as an undercover cop managed to put a new twist on the standard formula of a bad guy taking over the underworld. Really glad I didn’t let this sleeping dog lie.

In truth, the gameplay in Spec Ops: The Line isn’t exactly the greatest. It’s actually designed to be frustrating and a little bit traumatizing the further into the game you get. No, the reason this game is on my list and ranked so highly is because somebody finally took the time to make a game that had a story to tell. Not just a basic story, not just saving the princess. Instead, the story here took a very hard look at the modern war videogame and contrasted it against what might really happen. Highly recommend you play this game at least once. Just be prepared for what you’re getting into.

I managed to avoid all of the hype for Dishonored, and as a result it managed to sneak up on me. Funny that, because it’s sneaking up on people that this game was designed to do. You don’t often say that about a game where you gain magical powers, but it’s true. You CAN go through the game massacring entire levels of people, but there are consequences for your actions. Better to not even let them know you were there…

Sometimes developers take chances, and sometimes those chances don’t quite work out. Sometimes, though, those developers are lucky enough to take a second run at things. So it was with Far Cry 3. Taking what worked in Far Cry 2 and removing what didn’t, gamers were given the opportunity to experience what it’s like to be a one man army, and you could be that one man army in so many different ways. Knife. Flame Thrower. Explosive Tipped Arrows. Sniper Rifle. Ubisoft had a so so year, with Assassins Creed 3 failing. But with Far Cry 3 they got it right.

Alex Lucard’s Top Ten

1.) The Pinball Arcade (Vita/PS3/Kindle Fire/Android/iOS/PC)
2.) Elminage Original (PSP)
3.) Baseball Superstars 2012 (Kindle Fire)
4.) Crimson Shroud (3DS)
5.) Pokémon Conquest (DS)
6.) The House of the Dead 4 (PS3)
7.) Super Hang-On (PS3)
8.) Astral Towers (PC)
9.) Tekken Tag Tournament 2 Wii U Edition (Nintendo Wii U)
10.) FIFA ’13 (PS3/PS Vita/Nintendo Wii U)

2012 was another dull and uninteresting year for me, full of games that were technically sound, but lacked the heart and soul of previous years. When even a new core Pokémon game fails to get a rise out of me, you know the year is chock full of disappointment. It’s no wonder I spent far more time with the tabletop side of the site. Of course, I might have felt different had I a chance to play even one of the five games that I was excited for this year (XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Xenoblade ChroniclesThe Last Story, Persona 4 Golden, and Secret Files 3), but alas, time constraints, rabbit health issues and having to review things that no one else on staff could (or would be bothered to) meant that it just wasn’t possible to get to them. Now that doesn’t mean 2012 wasn’t all sequels and a decided lack of innovation. Even without playing the aforementioned big five, I still found it hard to whittle down my list of prospective games for this feature to the requisite ten.

I had to play through over a third of the Wii U’s launch lineup and came away pretty impressed – even finding several of the ports to be superior to their PS3 and 360 counterparts. The PC had an amazing year, although much of that year revolved around Kickstarter funding and the fruits of which, like Double Fine Adventure, Shadowrun Returns, Shadowrun Online, Wasteland 2, Shadowgate, two new Sega Dreamcast games and a score of high profile point and click adventure titles, won’t be realized until 2013 (or later). The PSP had an amazing year, despite so little releases. We gave a positive review to everything that came out, be it Hakouki, Ragnarok Tactics, Gungrir, Growlanser, Unchained Blades or Elminage Original. There might have been less than a dozen releases, but what a lineup to go out on, right? The 3DS had a solid year, and I spent a lot of time with my Vita, even if most of those games were pinball related. So on and so forth. So while 2012 didn’t have any games that collectively blew us away, it still had a number of fine games well worth receiving accolades. Here, now, is a look at the ten I enjoyed the most. I have avoided putting remakes or re-releases on this list, so as much fun as I had with the Vita versions of Mortal Kombat and Disgaea 3, or the Wii U version of Batman: Arkham City, you won’t see them here.

First some quick honourable mentions: Avengers: Battle For Earth (Wii U, not Kinect!), Shadows on the Vatican Episode I – Greed, WWE ’13 Kid Icarus: Uprising and Tokyo Jungle all had to be cut unfortunately. Still, they deserve a quick mention, so there you go!

Starting off my list is a sports game that people either seemed to love or hate – FIFA ’13. I enjoyed my time with three different versions of the game. Looking at Crystal and O’Reilly’s picks, I don’t seem to be alone in putting this as one of the best games of the year. Regardless of the version you played, FIFA ’13 had an insane amount of content, from various modes to hundreds of playable teams. The Create-A-Player was a lot of fun, and even though I’m not a big Soccer/Football person, FIFA ’13 impressed me enough that I dabbled in it THREE DIFFERENT TIMES. While 2012 will be the year I found myself enjoying sports games other than baseball titles for the first time in many years, FIFA ’13 was the best non-baseball sports game I played. I actually preferred the Wii U and Vita versions, as the new controls were a lot of fun. I realize a lot of detractors felt they were bare bones versions of the 360 and PS3 editions, but I’ll take the excellent touch screen controls and the Wii U’s GamePad versions any day. The gameplay was more interesting and innovative on those two systems, and I have a feeling I’ll be back for FIFA ’14 next year as well.

The number nine position was a shock to me. I generally don’t like Tekken titles. In a year where Marvel Vs. Capcom Origins, Persona 4 Arena a re-release of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and other big name fighters came out, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 was the top fighting game for me. Of course, I didn’t get to play too many fighters this year, which is sad since it’s one of my favorite genres, but TTT2 blew me away with the sheer number of characters, the long and intricate (also usually hilarious) endings and its amazing graphics. The Wii U Edition is definitely the version of the game to get, as it offers extra modes and some pretty innovative touch screen controls that make the game accessible to even people who have never played a fighting game before. My only real complaint is that TTT2 is one of the easiest fighters ever made, but then again, I grew up with Neo*Geo fighting games.

Astral Towers is a very under the radar strategy game for the PC. With a price tag of under ten dollars, this is an exceptionally fun, but very short, fantasy game where you go through a series of battles that are more like strategic puzzles and resource management than what you typically think of from a fantasy RPG. In fact, I’d put this game more into the puzzle genre than a turn based RPG, simply because of how things unfold. Story mode is excellent, and the battles are so unique and addicting that the game is extremely hard to put down. The only downside is that the game is exceptionally linear, and once you’ve beaten it, there’s nothing to go back to. It’s a fun little time sink, and for under ten dollars, it’s a real gem that got lost in the plethora of games released for the PC this year. I’d love to see a sequel or some extra content for it. If you’re looking for an extremely well done puzzle/rpg/card game/resource management hybrid that costs less than a ten spot, definitely go over to BigFishGames.com and purchase this. You won’t be sorry.

Oh man, I loved The House of the Dead 4 in the arcade, especially the extremely rare wrap around version that is one of the most intense arcade experiences I have ever had. I introduced my friend Dan to it when we were in Portland, Oregon in 2011 and it just rekindled my love for this game. So when Sega announced a PS3 exclusive port, I was pumped. When I realized the game was as close to the original experience as you could get with a console game, I was thrilled. When I saw The House of the Dead 4 SP was a secret unlockable, well, needless to say – this was my PS3 exclusive of the year. Nothing else came close. For less than ten dollars, you can download what is arguably the best light gun game ever (although I will admit I really love CarnEvil for some sick, twisted reason) and see why so many people go on road trips to track certain versions of this game down. I spent an insane amount of time with HotD4 this year, partly because it was short and I could get to it in between the insanity my life has become, but mainly because it’s just so damn fun.

We hit the halfway point of this countdown with the first racing game I’ve truly loved in… wow, at least a decade. No, it’s not Sonic‘s latest racing game, but it is a Sega release. It’s Super Hang-On, one of the most beloved racing games of all time. Much like The House of the Dead 4, I used to play this in the arcade all the time, and I loved the fact that the controller was a scale motorcycle you actually sat on. It was such a thrilling experience when I was a tiny tot. Yet for all the love this game received by critics and gamers alike, Sega never did anything with it, save for a Sega Genesis version that, while fun, was a pale comparison to the arcade classic. Even stranger is the fact that Super Hang-On‘s 16-bit version was never bundled in the many Sega Genesis collections that Sammy Sega has put out over the years for every system since the Dreamcast. Well, that all changed with 2012, as both the Xbox 360 and the PS3 got a high definition remake of the game. Even better was the fact this wasn’t one of the many Sega Genesis re-releases that we’ve seen Sega do over the past few years. Instead, this version of Super Hang-On was the wonderful arcade version in all its glory – and it was arcade perfect to boot. Oh man, I loved getting the chance to play through this game. It was nostalgia all the way. At the same time though, Super Hang-On held up exceptionally well, to the point where it puts a lot of modern racing games to shame. I still don’t know why Sega sat on this franchise for so long, but it’s probably because they did keep it from being re-released or part of a compilation for so long that, when they finally did give us this gem of a game again, it felt truly special. You know, unlike the dozens of time we’ve gotten Sonic The Hedgehog ported to a new system with cleaned up graphics.

My number five game of 2012 was Pokémon Conquest. This should really be no surprise. After all, I adore Pokémon in all its forms, I’m a huge fan of Koei’s Nobunaga’s Ambition and Romance of the Three Kingdoms series, and this game had Shining Force style SRPG combat. How could I not be in love with this game? It merged two of the biggest franchises in Japan into one truly unique game. I loved every aspect of this, from the combat to finding new Pokémon and generals for my army, to the defense and resource management aspects of the game. Pokémon Conquest was pretty much a lock for my favorite RPG of the year until the last few weeks of this year, when two under the radar digital downloadable only games hit portable consoles and blew me away. That doesn’t take anything away from Pokémon Conquest though, as it’s a truly awesome game in all respects. My only fear is that this will be a one-off, or that Nintendo will throw the concept to the wayside like it has with so many other high quality Pokémon spin-off ideas (Where’s my Pokémon Snap 2, dammit?)

Crimson Shroud takes the #4 position, and is a wonderful example of how great a year the 3DS has had. There are so many quality games for the 3DS that came out this year, most of which didn’t make this list for room, but any system that has Code of Princess, Liberation Maiden, Kid Icarus: Uprising and more released for it in 2012 has really come a long way since its unimpressive debut last year. The fact that Crimson Shroud could be released in December of this year, as a digital release. with little to no fanfare by Nintendo. and STILL take my number four spot tells you how fantastic this title is. For those unaware. Crimson Shroud is the brain child of Yasumi Matsuno, the creator of my beloved Ogre Battle series, who then went on to create Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre and Vagrant Story. Pound for pound, Matsuno has easily the most impressive track record for JRPGs in the business, and Crimson Shroud is no exception. This incredibly deep RPG is meant to simulate a tabletop roleplaying experience. Character models are miniatures, backgrounds are terrain pieces and you roll dice rather frequently to determine successes and failures. Characters don’t level up. Instead, your equipment determines all your stats, and even what magic each of your three PCs can use. Then there’s the story. Much like everything Matsuno has penned, the tale of Crimson Shroud is deep, extremely complex, filled with memorable multi-faceted characters and is written to feel like you’re reading a novel or sitting at a table with your friends role playing rather than playing a video game. It’s so brilliant that it’s a damn shame this game isn’t getting the accolades it truly deserves. The gameplay, story and overall design of Crimson Shroud are so unique that it deserves to be played by anyone who is remotely an RPG fan out there. Plus, it’s only eight dollars for the 3DS. Go get it already. Hell, the only reason this isn’t my number one or two game is that it’s just so new.

I know that a lot of holier than thou gamers tend to have nothing but disdain for iOS/Android or “freemium” games, but every so often there is a good one. Marvel Avengers Alliance isn’t too bad. Simpsons: Tapped Out is another. Hell, Facebook has had two decent Dungeons & Dragons oriented games, and last year Dragon Age has a pretty solid one as well. This year, I’m pleasantly surprised that Gamevil’s Baseball Superstars 2012 is not only this high up on my list, but was also that awesome of a game. I mean, I like The Show and Out of the Park Baseball, but my true love will always be arcade style baseball games like MLB Power Pros or the greatest sports game ever, Baseball Stars for the NES. Baseball Superstars 2012 is kind of a mesh of both of those titles. You have arcade style gameplay, but after every two games, you have role playing bits that define your character, their personality and his relationship with others. In some ways, it’s like Persona 4, except that instead of dungeons, you have baseball games and instead of classes, you might go to the mall on a date with a lion lady or you might enhance one of your attributes through training or purchasing items. You can develop your player in a myriad of ways, but you also can’t let things fall behind in one particular area, or you’ll face a strong penalty in that category. As well, cash purchases let your character engage in enhancements, but if you’re good enough at the game you won’t need to actually spend real currency; you’ll be able to make do with what’s in the game. Still, I did find myself dropping about five dollars in total on the game, which isn’t bad considering the many hours I spent with it. Although none of the baseball games released this year gave me exactly what I wanted, Baseball Superstars 2012 gave me what I NEEDED, which was a fun arcade baseball game with a pretty detailed story mode and the ability to play in very short bursts. A lot of fun and very well done.

My runner up this year is another latecomer in Elminage Original. Even though it came out in November, I think I’ve spent more time with this game than any other, save my top game of 2012. I’m a huge fan of the Wizardry series, from its inception as the first Western RPG series to its complete embrace by the Japanese as the precursor to what we now refer to as JRPGs. I’ve seen many a Wizardry clone come and go over the past thirty years, but only The Bard’s Tale ever really came close to capturing the same magic as Sir-Tech’s franchise. Class of Heroes was just terrible in all respects, Etrian Odyssey was too easy and was too watered down, and The Dark Spire was great, but just not the same. Elminage Original, however really kept true to what made Wizardry great. Not just the gameplay, adherent to character alignment, the prestige classes and lack of linearity, but the heart and soul of the franchise is intact here as well. What a lot of gamers have forgotten is that the original Wizardry games were chock full of weirdness. From pop culture jokes that would make Working Designs blush to odd puns and strange creatures like Vorpal Bunnies, Wizardry had some very light-hearted moments. Elminage Original also has a lot of these thrown in, although the English localization is pretty bad, so some of it is lost to the North American gamer. Even more fantastic is that Elminage Original is simply a Wizardry game with more of everything! More classes, more races, more dungeons, more monster types, more optional side quests, MORE EVERYTHING. It’s a wonderful game, and the fact I can have a Werewolf martial arts master on my team alongside a dragonoid ninja is just insanely awesome. So is the fact that said Werewolf could, say, meet a vampire in a dungeon and convince it to fall in love with him and bare his children. It’s just as deep and cracktastic as a dungeon crawler could ever get. Factor in the fact this game is only fifteen dollars and the sheer depth of it more than makes up for the crappy translation. If you own a PSP and enjoy Wizardry clones in the slightest – you need this game.

My number one game this year really isn’t a surprise if you know me. I love pinball. If pinball tables didn’t take up so much room and require a lot of upkeep, I’d own several, including Addams Family and Jurassic Park. I also really enjoy games like Zen Pinball and the myriad of tables Zen Studios has put out for that, but as good as that collection is (and god knows I have staffers that have tried and failed horribly to beat my high scores on some of those tables), they don’t feel like a true pinball experience. Well earlier this year, I got my wish with The Pinball Arcade – a constantly growing collection of authentic classic pinball tables, digitized into video game form. They look, sound and feel just like the real thing, save for the fact I can play sitting down, and the sheer number of tables don’t fill up an entire house. Now Farsight, the developers of The Pinball Arcade, have gone down this route before with collections like The Gottlieb Collection and The Williams Collection, but neither of those compilations were as expansive or as well done as this one. Currently The Pinball Arcade has tables originally produced by those two aforementioned companies, but also Stern and Bally. The game started off with four amazing tables: Black Hole, Ripley’s Believe it Or Not, Tales of the Arabian Nights, and Theatre of Magic. I loved them all. Now, as the year comes to an end, we’re up to TWENTY tables, including two that were thought to be impossible licensing wise –The Twilight Zone and Star Trek: The Next Generation – both of which were funded via Kickstarter. Now we just need them to snag us Addams Family Pinball and this really will be the crown jewel of pinball gaming. I love this thing so much. I can play it on my PS3 for a big screen experience, or I can play it on my iPhone, Vita or Kindle Fire on the go (I prefer playing on my Vita). All of the tables are so well done, and I’ve yet to encounter a single bug, although I know others have been hit with some nasty ones here and there. Still, with twenty classic pinball tables, it’s no wonder I’ve spent more time with The Pinball Arcade over any other video game released in 2012. It’s got so much content, all of it high quality, and it fulfills a need I’ve had ever since the actual Pinball Hall of Fame left Georgetown and is now gods know where. It’s great to have pinball whenever I want, wherever I want, and for it to be a TRUE pinball experience. In a year where I was either nonplussed or outright disappointed by the majority of things I played through, The Pinball Arcade never failed to make me happy.

Aileen Coe’s Top Ten
Staff Writer/Editor

1.) Growlanser: The Wayfarer of Time (PSP)
2.) Devil Survivor 2 (DS)
3.) Torchlight II (PC)
4.) Ys Origin (PC)
5.) Pokemon Conquest (DS)
6.) Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom (PSP)
7.) Journey (PS3)
8.) Unchained Blades (PSP)
9.) Lone Survivor (PC)
10.) Analogue: A Hate Story (PC)

Since I don’t have a 3DS or Vita, I haven’t been able to play the likes of Virtue’s Last Reward, Persona 4 Golden, Code of Princess or Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask. I’m sure there’s more I’m missing out on – oh the slings and arrows of budget and time constraints. At first, I thought I wouldn’t be able to come up with a top ten, as while I was brainstorming games, I’d have to keep reminding myself, “Oh right, that didn’t come out this year”. But lo and behold, I managed to come up with ten games that came out this year – more than ten, actually, as I ended up having to whittle down and shuffle around my initial list. Still, this did shape up as a year with some solid titles.

I have a predilection for visual novels, but I hadn’t had the chance to play any of Christine Love’s games until after Analogue: A Hate Story came out. Since I’m a stickler for playing games in order, I started off by playing her other two games first, Digital: A Love Story and don’t take it personally babe, it just ain’t your story (both of which are available for free). The way she incorporates technology and a unique interface into each of her games adds to how the story unfolds in each of them. Analogue was her first commercial title, and she deserves the success she’s had with it. The way Korean culture (specifically, the heavily patriarchal Joseon dynasty) is depicted and how issues arising from it are handled indicates she did her research thoroughly – there’s even a list of references she used in the bonus content section.

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned it before somewhere, but I’m partial to horror games despite the fact that I lack an iron constitution and can get scared by them kind of easily. While Lone Survivor isn’t the scariest title I’ve ever played (that honor goes to the Fatal Frame games), it still provides a creepy atmosphere in spite of the lack of realistic graphics. The management of pills, hunger, and sleep all helped with the immersion and drives home the “survivor” portion of the title. Weighing the pros and cons of taking the pills to stay up longer or restock on depleted supplies despite their effects on your mental health, and of taking a stealthy approach versus going in and blasting away, gives some semblance of control in an environment that affords you very little else.

The PSP has had a dearth of Wizardry style dungeon crawlers in comparison to the DS, which has gotten the likes of Strange Journey, Dark Spire, and the Etrian Odyssey series. The closest the PSP has is Class of Heroes, though that hasn’t gotten the warmest of receptions. The second game is also being released next year, despite the failed Kickstarter, though whether that’ll be any better received remains to be seen. There’s also Elminage Original, though that mostly slipped under the radar. Unchained Blades is a solid addition to the genre and the PSP’s library. A good number of big names worked on this game, including Toshio Akashi (who worked on Lunar), Takashi Hino (who worked on Grandia), and Nobuo Uematsu (I doubt he needs any introduction). The plot and characters are mostly standard fare light hearted anime tropes, though they do provide enough impetus for you to keep going unless you’re really not a fan of that sort of thing. The follower system and unchaining enemies to make them your followers added another layer to building your party, even if the follower battles can rely a bit too much on luck. The skill grid also provides some flexibility to how your characters develop. While it can take a while to build up your party to the point where you can proceed deeper into the dungeon without getting squashed, the challenge is ultimately manageable.

The first word that comes to mind when I think of Journey is surreal. Attention to visual detail is apparent, as can be seen in light reflecting off of grains of sand and flakes of snow, as well as the patterns on the cloth and scarf your character wears. There’s plenty to explore in each area, and the plot is conveyed completely without words, just hierography on the walls depicting past events, leaving you to fill in the blanks yourself. The soundtrack added to that overall feel, and the fact that it got nominated for a Grammy speaks volumes. The way multiplayer is handled also contributed to the surreal feel – you don’t know the name of the other player, the closest thing to voice communication is chirping, and the only identifier either of you have is a unique symbol assigned to each of you. You do get to see the usernames of people you encountered after you reach the end, which was an interesting touch.

Not many otome games (or games with otome elements) get released outside of Japan. Persona 3 Portable comes the closest with the female protagonist route, along with Yo-Jin-Bo, My World, My Way, Princess Debut, and the Harvest Moon games featuring female player characters. The fact that Aksys decided to take a risk with Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom despite the fact that the PSP has been losing steam (especially with Vita’s release) and that the game fell into a rather niche genre was surprising, but in a good way. However, the historical context the story takes place in (though naturally with some liberties taken, like the presence of demons and the different routes) makes the plot compelling, especially if you’re familiar with the history of the Shinsengumi and the Bakamatsu period. The abundance of battles and political intrigue can help anyone feeling weird about the idea of romancing pretty boys feel less so. It does have its more sentimental moments, of course, but there’s a whole lot going on besides that. I found it hard to put down until I had completed every route in the game, and it was interesting to see which events stayed consistent across all the paths despite other events differing according to who you choose to pursue.

While Nobunaga’s Ambition and Pokemon are far from the first two franchises that would come to mind for a crossover, it worked out surprisingly well in Pokemon Conquest. It helps that the gameplay is fairly reminiscent of Fire Emblem and other turned based strategies of that ilk. Types play a major role, as they do in the main Pokemon games, as does linking warriors with Pokemon that will best thrive with them and evolve and become stronger. There’s lots to do and plenty of units to recruit and use. Even after you beat the main quest, you can still download additional episodes online, ensuring this game will last you a while. Watching the number of kingdoms under your control grow on your map is satisfying, and the juxtaposition of cute, brightly colored Pokemon and a traditional historical Japanese setting is actually not jarring.

Thanks to XSEED, the Ys series (and other Falcom titles like Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky) has gotten a new wind outside of Japan, with Ys: The Oath in Felghana, Ys I and II Chronicles, and Ys Seven all being released for the PSP. This year, XSEED started branching out into Steam releases, with the release of the PC version of Oath in Felghana and the first official release of Ys Origin. The Ys series is known for fast paced action accompanied by awesome music, and Ys Origin is no exception. While it may seem confining to be locked into one big dungeon throughout the whole game with no overworld or towns to explore, the dungeon is expansive enough to not feel suffocating. The fact that there are three playable characters (one unlocked after beating the other two characters’ routes), each of whose routes show a different perspective, provides ample reason to keep coming back to this. Plus, mowing through wave after waves of enemies and taking down bosses never gets old.

I enjoyed the first Torchlight, but wished it had a multiplayer option, so I was really looking forward to its sequel. I had the chance to play the beta, and that only whet my anticipation for the final game. I wasn’t disappointed when it was released. While I’m big on waiting for Steam sales before grabbing most games, I happily plunked down the full twenty dollars for this, and feel like I more than got my money’s worth. Going loot collecting and monster mashing with other people is always a good time, though I also like the fact that I can play solo without having to log online. While I haven’t tried any mods, it’s nice to have the option to use them. The different classes are fun to play, and being able to experiment with different skill and stat setups is a nice option to have. The inner hoarder in me both rejoices at the bounteous amount of loot to be had and weeps at not having the space for it all.

I enjoyed the first Devil Survivor immensely, so it stands to reason that this would also be the case with its sequel. Much of what made the first game enjoyable, such as fusing demons, the demon auction, and the multiple endings, remain intact in Devil Survivor 2. The addition of the Demon Compendium provides more room for experimentation and fusing for the right demons and skillsets by allowing them to be stored, while not entirely breaking the game due to the high cost of withdrawing demons. The new Fate System helps the last part along, as it’s easier to see which characters you have a stronger relationship with, and thus, whose ending you’re closer to getting. It also proffers gameplay advantages and new demons, which provides further incentive to play the game more than once. Battles are challenging and mostly balanced, though the difficulty can spike in later parts of the game. It feels a lot like its predecessor, but given how solid it was, that’s a good thing.

I kept going back and forth between which game to put in the number one slot, but I finally decided on Growlanser: The Wayfarer of Time. I’m a sucker for JRPGs and SRPGs, so this filled that niche nicely. It does start off on the slow side, but I don’t mind games with slow starts, and it does pick up. Once it does, the plot is filled with political intrigue, and character development abounds when your roster starts to fill out and you get access to furloughs. With forty six endings, it’ll take quite a while to see everything (okay, you can just hop on Youtube, but where’s the fun in that?). You also get a familiar you can train and even go on furloughs with. The mix of turn based and real time elements during battles make them fun to play through. Queuing up spells to be released at any time after they finish charging (and ensuring the caster doesn’t get hit in the meantime) and timing attacks while taking cooldown times and distances into account makes for a fluid and strategic battle system. It’s definitely good to see games like this come out before the PSP stops getting releases altogether.

Robert Hubbs’ Top Ten
Staff Writer

1.) Fly’n (PC)
2.) Guild Wars 2 (PC)
3.) Torchlight 2 (PC)
4.) Legend of Grimrock (PC)
5.) Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown (PS3, Xbox 360)
6.) Giana Sisters Twisted Dream (PC)
7.) Tera (PC)
8.) Dead Or Alive 5 (PS3, Xbox 360)
9.) Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii)
10.) Mass Effect 3 (PC)

I must say that, with so many triple A titles released this year, the majority of the games that have captivated me were a bunch of under dogs, save for a few high profile releases. But to me, the most surprising games of the year came from the indie game companies.

Mass Effect 3 rounds out the bottom of my list, because it pretty much fulfilled all my expectations. The multiplayer was fun, I loved the story, and honestly, I found the ending to be quite enjoyable without the added scenes. I was happy to have experienced the ride to the end.

Xenoblade Chronicles is just hands down one of the best Japanese RPG’s I have played in a long time. XSEED did a great job in localizing the game, and the British voice acting from the European release adds quite a bit of style to Xenoblade. The combat is kind of like playing an MMORPG offline, and it works brilliantly on the Wiimote. The story is wonderful, the lore is incredibly deep, the characters are all likeable and easy to get attached to, and the graphics force you to do a double take. It’s also the first RPG in a while that has a New Game Plus that actually made me want to play it again.

Dead or Alive 5 actually disappointed me at first, but it grew on me. I wasn’t too impressed with it at first, because it was a glitchly mess and the online was horrible. However, after a couple of quickly released patches, the game is above and beyond what I was hoping for. The graphics are leaps and bounds better than any other 3D fighter out in the current generation. The controls and fast paced combat are enhanced by the new sidestepping mechanics and guaranteed damaged combos that actually reward hardworking players. The music, unfortunately has taken several steps back, but that’s a minor gripe.

A big surprise for me was the exceptionally pleasing Action MMORPG Tera, which to be honest, was worth the wait. I was watching this game since its announcement, and to finally be playing this game makes me all giddy. I love the real time action combat that allows for either strategic gameplay or just a straight up beat down. The game is also incredibly fast paced for an MMO. You can easily keep yourself immersed in the game as you pile up and complete missions at the drop of a hat. The worlds are huge and breathtaking, the character, NPC and monster models are gorgeous and the lore is incredibly deep.

Probably one of the best side scrollers I have played in a long time is the new Giana Sisters game. I haven’t played a Giana Sisters game since the good old days of gaming on my Amiga 500. Now the sisters have returned and literally can run, jump and spin in circles around Mario. The main draw of the game is its level changing (twisting) mechanics that allow you to progress and explore the game’s challenging levels almost however you want. Giana Sisters Twisted Dream actually features some great music, as well as a few throwback tunes from the first game. It’s truly an instant classic in my book.

Now, to be honest, what more is there that I haven’t said about Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown? It’s literally the best fighting game to be released in the past five years. While the graphics aren’t really the best when compared to Dead Or Alive 5, it still holds up, and the animation is quite smooth and flawless. The combat is still intense, fast paced and honest. No other fighting game, besides maybe King Of Fighters XIII, can prove that you either have what it takes to compete with the best or show that you still need work. One of my favorite features is the ability to change the game’s existing soundtrack with any other OST from VF1 to VF5R.

Legend of Grimrock is just a game that screams excellence in game design that harkens back to classic pen and paper dungeon crawling. My first initial playthrough was just full of strong nostalgia of classic gameplay, but after that appeal wore off, I still found Legend of Grimrock to be a solid game. The challenge is very adaptable to anyone’s play style and the game can be altered or modded to make each playthrough a new experience.

I am going to be brutally honest here: I feel like Torchlight 2 is ten times better than Diablo 3 in almost everything gameplay based. The scaling and leveling system is evenly paced. The item drops are fair and the multiplayer is fun and exciting. The game is more fast paced than the first, and the worlds are bigger, with more to explore. While the story and narrative isn’t really on par with Diablo 3, everything else surpasses it by leaps and bounds.

Guild Wars 2 is easily my new favorite MMORPG. It is a complete revamp of the original Guild Wars and allows for exploration and more lore. Guild Wars 2 offers so much for the player to do it’s almost hard to imagine what you want to do first. Do you want to jump straight into one of the two PVP arena modes, or do you want to explore the world and complete the game’s storyline? The classes and characters that you can select are very unique and fun to use. The combat is very engaging and the world is huge and beautiful. Honestly, this could have been game of the year for me, but something came out that completely surpassed any expectations I had.

Fly’n is a wonderfully brilliant indie title that came out of nowhere. I saw a trailer just a month before its release and I just had to try it out. What I got was quite possibly the most rewarding gameplay experience ever. Fly’n is the screaming definition of art in the gaming world. The art style of Fly’n is simply breathtaking. The graphics and animation of all the critters that populate the world of Fly’n are truly captivating. The only thing to best the art style is the game’s incredible soundtrack. The melodies and sound design are easily the best I have heard all year. The gameplay is fast paced and, while easy to learn, hard to master but rewarding. Upon completely each level I am constantly tempted with replaying them to better myself each time. The stages are brilliantly designed to utilize what you have learned and offer up a lot of challenge. I honestly can’t think of any faults with this game, and I seriously urge people to give this little title a shot.

Mark B.’s Top Ten
Senior Editor

1.) Persona 4 Golden (Vita)
2.) XCOM: Enemy Unknown (360)
3.) Resident Evil: Revelations (3DS)
4.) Hitman: Absolution (360)
5.) Far Cry 3 (360)
6.) Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward (Vita)
7.) Tekken Tag Tournament 2 (360)
8.) Doom 3: BFG Edition (360)
9.) Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City (360)
10.) Dance Central 3 (360)

While I’m certainly happy with my list this year, don’t get me wrong, I’m actually fairly sad about what’s not on it. Mass Effect 3, Resident Evil 6, Assassin’s Creed 3, Ninja Gaiden 3, all games I felt would easily be on the list this year up until the moment that I played them. Not that they were bad (well, maybe Ninja Gaiden 3….) so much as they were underwhelming in comparison to other entries in their franchises, entries I rather liked, and I simply didn’t find them to be worth celebrating. Further, a lot of great games came out this year, like Dishonored, Tokyo Jungle and Sleeping Dogs, that I simply didn’t have time for this year for one reason or another, and while I certainly got to enjoy the games I did play, it’s always disappointing to miss out on games everyone seems to like quite a bit. If there were magically thirteen months in the year, and one of those months somehow featured absolutely no game releases that I wanted to play during it, there would probably be a few things on the current list that would be cycled out in favor of other games, but that’s not to say that the list I’ve come up with is one I’m not confident with. On the contrary, in fact, as even though there are games I missed out on that I’m sure I would enjoy, the ten games on my list are certainly ten games I had an exceptionally large amount of fun with this year, and I’m glad I got to play them at the very least.

I’m not what you’d call a dancer (well, not without sarcastic laughter involved), so I’ve never been particularly interested in the various dancing games that have come out for the consoles, outside of Dance Dance Revolution, which is more “spastic foot movements” than “dancing”. For those who have been following along through the podcasts and such, however, I’d been working on a rather involved exercise regimen that ended up tanking due to a shoulder injury (more or less), and having heard the benefits of such games before, I picked up Dance Central 3 during a sale, figuring I had nothing to lose trying it out. Well, it turns out that this camera looking device sitting on top of my television that Microsoft claims is meant to be for gaming isn’t entirely a torture device, as Dance Central 3 is basically awesome even if you can’t dance worth a damn. The game is more than willing to forgive that you’re a terrible dancer, the soundtrack features a wide variety of fun songs, and the game offers a pretty intense workout if you’re looking for some exercise to go along with your gaming. It’s basically the first really good game I’ve played on the Kinect so far, and while I feel like someone, somewhere will eventually do something with the system that makes it really easy to recommend as a peripheral, this is likely as close as we’re going to get at this point.

I know a lot of people really didn’t enjoy Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City on the review circuit, and I didn’t enjoy The Walking Dead so clearly I’m not in touch with anything most gamers would agree with. That said, the Resident Evil series has largely been heading in the “action over horror” direction since Resident Evil 4, which isn’t the worst possible thing if handled properly, and while I’m not in the camp that thinks Resident Evil 6 was “handling it properly,” I’m fine with Operation Raccoon City. I tend to like the idea of Capcom releasing experimental side stories in the Resident Evil universe, even if the games tend to suck out loud, but further, I like Operation Raccoon City because if you have a full group of players, it’s an astonishingly large amount of fun. I mean, yeah, the bosses take way too much damage to kill, and yeah, the AI is completely bone stupid when you’re working alone, but even then you can still make progress so it’s hardly the end of the world. Further, when you’re playing with others, the game is fun, mostly because it’s entertaining running around, murdering franchise enemies with your team of mercs, especially if you find one you happen to like (mine being Four Eyes, in this case). It’s certainly not the most mechanically sound game, but it’s one of the few online multiplayer games I really enjoyed this year, even in spite of its flaws, so here it is, and here we are.

Doom 3: BFG Edition is one of those entries that speaks more from my general lack of enthusiasm over Halo-styled first person shooters (I’m not calling it Call of Duty-styled because Halo invented it, shut up) that basically have taken over the genre en masse. Recharging shields/health and two gun capacities are… well, slightly more realistic than health packs and backpacks that can carry every gun ever made, but I don’t play video games for realism, I play them to have fun, so the current state of the FPS genre doesn’t wholly impress me. Black Ops 2 is technically competent and I enjoyed it fine, but given the choice between having every gun ever and enemies who take a lot of ammo to kill or active time event boss fights, it’s not even a competition at that point. Serious Sam 3 scratched that itch to a point, but Doom 3 is more in line with what was great about the genre “back in the day” as it were, and the BFG Edition comes packed with so much content that it was an easy purchase, one I didn’t regret in the least. I know that it’s not a well received FPS and a lot of people don’t like the scripted enemy spawn setup or the flashlight system, but I didn’t play the game to be scared, I played it to shoot demons in the face, and hey, it let me do that a lot. Sometimes I’m a simple man, I don’t know what to tell you.

The fighting game genre seemed like it was going to be huge this year, with new entries in the Tekken, Soul Calibur, Virtua Fighter and Dead or Alive franchises, as well as Persona 4 Arena and Street Fighter X Tekken coming out, but… I don’t know. Dead or Alive 5 just felt like an overpriced also-ran expansion pack, Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown basically felt like a needless update of Virtua Fighter 5 Online, Soul Calibur V changed too much and left out too many interesting characters, and Persona 4 Arena and Street Fighter X Tekken were… unexciting, to me. For some reason, though, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 worked for me in a way none of the other games I was more interested in than it could, to the extent that I didn’t stop playing it until I basically did everything I could possibly do with it. The controls were as solid as ever, the game looks and sounds fantastic, and I was still able to wreck people (to a limited extent) with Bob and Asuka, and for whatever reason, that was enough to keep me interested. The expanded character customization and novel additions made to the formula certainly helped as well, as the game didn’t just feel like Tekken Tag Tournament so much as it felt like a logical evolution, one I enjoyed immensely. Oh, there’s also the fact that Namco Bandai gave me a crapload of free characters months after the fact instead of (hypothetically) asking for twenty bucks to unlock on-disc content, which is basically going to be a big factor in impressing the cynic in me if nothing else. For my money, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 was the best fighting game of the year, and it’s certainly the one I spent the most time with, if nothing else.

I pretty much knew Virtue’s Last Reward wasn’t going to be as good as 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors going in. It couldn’t have been; the latter was a game written with no definitive sequel in mind as a standalone story, while the former had to expand the latter to open up for a sequel while also leaving room for its own sequel down the road. It’s certainly possible to make that happen (Aliens compared to Alien) but it isn’t likely, especially if the original is a massive fan favorite (Ghostbusters 2 compared to Ghostbusters). While Virtue’s Last Reward seemed to be a bit too up its own ass at times, too self satisfied with its scientific explanations and thought experiment discussions, for the most part, I wasn’t expecting 999 going in, and I was basically pleased with what we did get. While some of the plot twists that came up were telegraphed, more than enough were completely out of nowhere but made perfect sense in context, and the overall plot was interesting enough to make up for the few instances where things were overly windy or obvious. Mechanically, the game also does a really good job of mixing things up, as it doesn’t force you to repeat puzzles and ensures that there is a unique challenge behind every door, and the flowchart system allows you to jump around in the plot with no difficulty. Virtue’s Last Reward was never going to be better than 999, and when viewed in comparison doesn’t seem so impressive, but taken on its own merits it was a fun and interesting ride, and if nothing else, it built a strong foundation for the inevitable third game. I couldn’t ask for much more than that.

Looking at Far Cry 3, it’s interesting to note how many additions the game features that seem to come from the mentality of “well it worked for Assassin’s Creed,” especially when one realizes how many of them work. Climbing tall structures to reveal more of the map, liberating locations to take them for your cause, sneaking around and using stealth tactics to take enemy installations instead of brute force, these are all elements that made Far Cry 3 feel like something unique, even though Ubisoft Montreal has been doing these same things for years, just in a different series. Granted, the strong storyline, excellent presentation and general freedom of the experience certainly help a lot, but a big part of what was interesting about the game in the long term was the experimental nature of the product. At the end of the day, it’s still a first person shooter, sure, and it certainly wasn’t “Skyrim with guns” (which would be Fallout 3), but it also manages to expand on the “sandbox FPS” idea developers have been kicking around in a logical and interesting way. As such, the game supports many different play styles, allowing the player all kinds of crazy options, like unleashing caged animals on unsuspecting guards, sniping from the bushes, ninja-stabbing everyone they see and more, which makes the whole experience a lot more fun. Yeah, the driving sucks, but I don’t play FPS games to drive, I play them to shoot things, and Far Cry 3 offered many creative and interesting ways to accomplish this task, which is all I can really ask for, and as such, I liked it quite a bit.

That said, Hitman: Absolution offered me even more creative and interesting ways to end people, and challenged me to do so intelligently (which is a weird way to describe it on consideration), which is why it ranks higher overall here. Granted, Hitman: Absolution isn’t as robust, overall, as Far Cry 3 and I’m not going to try to pretend that it is. It tends to punish you for out-and-out combat, lacks substantial multiplayer options, and tends to be more about one specific style of play over allowing the player significant play style options. That said, however, the game embraces its concept and, instead of trying to expand on what the player can do, focuses on offering the player numerous ways to accomplish the one task assigned them. I mean, sure, I can say “I unleashed a tiger on an enemy base and watched it rend the inhabitants asunder” in Far Cry 3, but how many times can you say you killed a target by dropping a whale skeleton on them, or by detonating a remote mine in a gas station, or by hooking up the sink to the power generator and frying the target when they washed their hands? It’s a subtle distinction, if you think about it: Far Cry 3 is satisfying because it allows you to be a tactically violent jerk, while Hitman: Absolution is satisfying because it allows you to be a creative, sadistic jerk. That’s… not an especially flattering portrait to paint, in fairness, but I killed a target by dressing up as a luchador and beating his ass in an MMA match, okay? If I need to explain why that’s hilarious we can’t be friends.

If someone had told me that the best Resident Evil game released this year was going to be the one on the 3DS at the beginning of the year, I’d have called them a crazy person, but here we are and there it is. I might have enjoyed Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City but I’m not even going to pretend it’s not a broken game, and while this might be surprising to those who have read prior reviews I’ve written about the series, I thought Resident Evil 6 was such a boring endeavor I couldn’t even be bothered to complete it, let alone review it. However, Resident Evil: Revelations was absolutely fantastic in all of the ways it needed to be, as it stayed somewhat true to the concept of the franchise, made use of the 3DS mechanics in a way that felt right, and included a multiplayer mode that expanded beyond the normal Mercenaries mode in a logical and interesting way. Capcom streamlined the mechanics of the franchise down in a way that made sense, while keeping the core gameplay intact, and the 3DS specific gimmicks actually worked pretty well all in all. Also, instead of attempting to introduce new characters that absolutely no one cares about in an attempt to create new plot threads we’ll never see again, the game started off with a bunch of secondary characters, resolved their plots cleanly, and finished the player off with Chris and Jill working together, which was the smartest possible way to end the story. Resident Evil: Revelations ended up basically being everything the franchise should be on a handheld device, as well as every good thing Resident Evil 6 was not, and even if it ends up being the last game of its kind in the franchise, that’s not a bad note to go out on, really.

Two and a half years ago, I sat in a conference room in Los Angeles as a 2K Marin employee showed myself and several other press representatives XCOM, a first person shooter based on the old strategy franchise, and my entire thought process was “Well, at least we might see a strategy game come from this someday.” Today, the first person shooter still has yet to come out, but someone in either 2K or Firaxis decided to try and make some money off of the license, and the end result was a reinvention of a classic series that completely defied my expectations by being really damn good. I mean, I’m kind of a dick when it comes to reinventing a franchise, especially one I liked beforehand; I was tolerant of Splatterhouse to a point, but Castlevania: Lords of Shadow took the full brunt of my abuse and Tomb Raider and DMC have been the subjects of scorn despite not even being released yet. As such, I was all set to hate XCOM: Enemy Unknown if it didn’t manage to do something similar to the original games, and I had very little faith the game was going to be good, let alone great. Well, it turns out that I shouldn’t have doubted Firaxis and their commitment to making a classic experience, as XCOM: Enemy Unknown is, to my mind (and the minds of others here), the best game released in 2012, largely because it took what made the originals great, streamlined the experience to allow accessibility, and did so without sacrificing anything. The end result is a game that, in any other year, would have easily been my favorite game released, and was certainly the game I felt was the best to come out, such that even if the XCOM FPS is terrible when it comes out I’ll buy it just to say “thank you” for this.

This year, however, was basically the year that paid off my investment in the Playstation Vita (a console I have been… tolerant of at this point otherwise) by way of Persona 4 Golden, a rerelease of what is basically my favorite Atlus RPG ever. It might seem depressing to say “my favorite game this year was a rerelease of a four year old game” when one considers what this says about the rest of the games this year, but I don’t mean it as “everything else sucked” so much as “Persona 4 Golden was that damn good”. Making a game that was already pretty solid better isn’t a hard task, but making it significantly better, so much so that it justifies owning even if you have the original, isn’t always an easy task, something Atlus is certainly familiar with. While their remake of Persona on the PSP somewhat accomplishes this task, their remake of Devil Survivor on the 3DS isn’t significantly improved over the original, and Persona 3 Portable is in many respects a step backwards. Persona 4 Golden, however, retains everything that made the original great and adds so much more useful and smart content that it’s almost a shame that the game is only available on a platform not many people have yet. From the rebalanced party members to the added events to the new mechanics to the extra content and beyond, the game is a joyful reinvention for fans and the best possible version to own for newcomers. I’m hopeful that a whole lot of content will come out for the Vita to justify the console to others or, failing that, that Atlus will eventually release the game on the PSN system for PS3 users, but if you have a Vita, there’s really no reason for you not to own Persona 4 Golden unless you hate fun. I’m not going to say you should run out and buy a Vita just for this game (even though I basically did), but if you happen to find yourself in possession of one, this is basically the first game you should get.



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2 responses to “Diehard GameFAN 2012 Year in Review Staff Commentaries”

  1. […] Final Fantasy, Rhythm Thief, Pokemon Conquest and more found their way into the market and onto our Staff Commentary List for the year, so it should be no surprise that several such games made it onto the awards list this […]

  2. […] Returns, Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded and Mysterious Cities of Gold, many of which made it onto our Staff Commentary List for the year, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that these games also made it onto our end of the […]

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