Opinion: Top Five Games Of 2012
Borderlands 2 – selected by Jacques Voller
My choice for Game of the Year has to be Borderlands 2, the sequel to one of the most innovative and exciting games of the past few years. It took everything that we loved about the first installment and cranked it up to 11. There was a real danger that, like seemingly every modern-day FPS, it would simply be ‘more of the same’; but with new locations, enemy types and, somehow, millions more weapons, Borderlands 2 proved to be a superb sequel.
Brilliantly tying the previous game’s characters into the main story made the struggle for Pandora more worthwhile. With twists and turns along the way, including a couple of surprisingly emotional moments, the plot for Borderlands 2 had much more weight to it, and was a great deal more personal.
Add in a whole raft of new supporting characters, with side quests that intersected with one another, and you had a true sandbox experience where you spent more time trying to complete optional tasks than completing the main quests.
Everything was just so much fun. And it’s a credit to the game’s hugely successful comedic writing that one of the greatest pleasures was simply listening to the dialogue from each of the characters, as well as the chatter from the townspeople of Sanctuary.
Honourable mentions: Assassin’s Creed 3, Dishonored
The Walking Dead – selected by Mark Butler
At a time when the quality of writing, plot-progression and characterization in mainstream gaming remains woefully poor in general, Telltale’s magnificent downloadable series put gripping narrative and emotive storytelling centre-stage; spinning a saga that was both incredibly immersive and regularly thrilling. Proving that you can provide edge-of-the-seat moments and extraordinary tension without resorting to the cheap theatrics employed by bombastic shooters, never has a point-and-click adventure been so relentlessly enthralling.
Guiding determined yet vulnerable protagonist Lee through a world gone to hell, this was a stark and captivating view of what life really would be like if civilisation crumbled. Battling desperately to keep your weary and divided group of fellow survivors intact, safeguard endearing child companion ‘Clem’, and find both personal and literal salvation, The Walking Dead made a real virtue of every fateful moment, whether large or small.
Hard-hitting tragedies, nail-biting struggles and jaw-dropping revelations sat alongside genuinely agonising moral dilemmas – with the murky, shattered ethics of its post-apocalyptic society providing the backdrop for scenarios where ‘good and evil’ became highly relative terms, and your choices were often more about hard-headed pragmatism versus noble folly.
The star of the show was undoubtedly the terrific writing, which brought complex, believable characters to life – making certain losses all the more poignant – while providing some of the best dialogue ever composed for a video game. Sometimes harrowing, often intense and never anything less than compelling, Telltale’s narrative was a force to be reckoned with.
I’m not ashamed to admit that it brought tears to my eyes in the closing stages. Detractors will dismiss The Walking Dead as nothing more than a series of cut-scenes triggered by basic puzzles and quick-time events. In my view, however, the game is one of the greatest examples of interactive entertainment I’ve ever had the privilege of experiencing.
Honourable Mentions: XCOM, Borderlands 2
Sleeping Dogs – selected by Jonathan Szafran
This won’t come as a surprise to anybody who read my 5-star review back in August, but my top game of the year would have to be Sleeping Dogs. The combination of its exciting open-world gameplay and fascinating, if occasionally over-the-top plot, was what truly enraptured me.
Just like a Hollywood film, its tale of a young detective infiltrating a Triad gang, rising through its ranks and eventually losing himself in the murky underworld was an engaging story that set it apart from other big-budget titles released this year.
Having full reign of wherever I wanted to go on the island of Hong Kong, and fast, stylish vehicles to take me there, was a joy to play around with. And with fully upgradable combat moves and weapon skills, Sleeping Dogs breathed new life into the somewhat stale sandbox genre.
On release it was met with great critical acclaim but didn’t fly off the shelves like most thought it would. It’s a shame that we may not see a sequel to Sleeping Dogs because of that, but with an array of downloadable content already released, and more to come, I can sleep a little easier knowing I get to spend a little more time with this hidden gem yet.
Honourable Mentions: Journey, Dishonored
DayZ – selected by Dave McConkey
I had to really sit down and think hard about what my GOTY actually was. Even though I have played a huge amount of titles this year, only a handful instantly came to mind – but maybe that’s a pretty good way to eliminate non-GOTY contenders. I seriously doubt I’m going to be sitting here in a few weeks and suddenly think: ‘Oh shit, I totally forgot about Sniper Elite’.
XCOM was a real contender, let down by some serious bugs and the omission of some of the original game’s cool features; I’m still trying to get to grips with the brilliant Sins Of A Solar Empire: Rebellion – which has a learning-curve like a fucking cliff face; and Total War: Shogun 2 is a great game, but not as great as my clear winner.
Yes, it may actually be a mod, but I simply had to pick DayZ for a number of reasons. There are few things as engaging as spawning on a beach armed only with a flashlight, working your way up and arming yourself to the teeth, only to lose it all due to one minor mistake – and have to start all over again.
DayZ is a game that punishes mistakes. It punishes impatience, poor tactics and, occasionally, just plain bad luck. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve carefully scouted a settlement, sneakily infiltrated it to gather up all the gear I need, and then run out over an open field to be gunned-down by some random asshole, who wouldn’t have even seen me if I’d have just kept my cool. No other game has had me sitting on the edge of my seat so many times for such unbroken spells. It is fun, tense, unforgiving, organic and engaging – qualities that should be present in all the best experiences.
Honourable Mentions: XCOM, Total War: Shogun 2
Journey – selected by Dan Jenko
In a year in which I had an absolute blast fighting red-coats, shooting terrorists and saving the galaxy, it’s somewhat fitting that I’m choosing Journey as my favourite game of 2012. Created by a small team of artists rather than a large team of game developers, thatgamecompany’s third creation is a sign of how far the games industry has come this calendar year.
Focusing on awe instead of action, Journey is an experience I recommend to all cynics of video games as a real piece of art. Its desert setting is the most stunning I’ve ever seen in the gaming medium, and while the experience may be relatively short, it stays with you long after the credits roll. Journey gripped me from the moment I picked up the controller, and for the next three hours I found myself fascinated with the game’s mystical world, which slowly reveals itself as you approach the mountain’s peak.
thatgamecompany’s ingenious use of online multiplayer makes the already incredible experience even more special. Chirping to a fellow traveler – who could be literally anyone playing the game anywhere in the world – as you progress in your journey, certainly has a lot more meaning than shooting them in the face, which makes playing this spectacular experience online particularly rewarding.
With the success of The Walking Dead, The Unfinished Swan, Sine Mora and more in 2012, this has certainly been the year of the downloadable game. Journey is the absolute pinnacle of this type of title, and in my opinion outclasses anything else released in the last twelve months, regardless of platform or price. While it lacks the content of a full-fledged retail release, Journey will leave you with something truly special. For that reason alone, it’s the best game of 2012.
Honourable Mentions: Mass Effect 3, Spec Ops: The Line