Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Top Ten Games of 2012

        Merry Christmas to one and all!

        For a bit of holiday cheer, check out my Top Ten Games of 2012!

        Similar to 2011’s list, which can be seen by clicking HERE, I feel I must put a little disclaimer up first. This isn’t a definitive list of the very best games from all platforms to have come out last year (I’ll be honest, most of them are on PS3 – my weapon of choice), nor do they all have to have been released during the course of last year. This is a simply a list of the top ten games that I enjoyed playing during 2012 – that's it.
        So none of this what about Halo 4? nonsense, ok?

        Right, so here we go! (Note: Where possible you can also click on the title of each game to be linked to commentary-free gameplay footage of each game).

        Although I’m not one of those guys who prestiges multiple times, I do put a fair few hours into COD Multiplayer, ever since the first Modern Warfare game. In fact, the only one I have actually prestiged twice on is the original Black Ops.
        I can safely say the Multiplayer mode on BlOps 2 is just as good as its predecessor, if not better, due to the simple fact of being able to fully customise your loadout – a idea so simple you wonder why they didn't think of it before. You have ten slots to fill – don't need a secondary weapon or tactical grenades? – then just free up those slots for extra perks or attachments for your primary weapon.

        Everyone gets to have a setup that suits their own unique playstyle whilst still retaining a fair sense of balance and compromise – it’s genius! I like to forgo tactical grenades and have three attachments on my primary in case you were wondering. ;)
        A huge improvement over last year’s frequently frustrating experience of Modern Warfare 3, the maps in BlOps2 are varied and fun to play. MW3 is the only one I haven’t prestiged in, incidentally, but I don't think I’ll have that problem with this game.
        The near future setting (a first for the COD series) allows for a fresh take on the material whilst still keeping things fairly grounded (I generally dislike sci-fi shooters).

        As for the Campaign or Zombie mode… to be honest I haven’t even played them yet as I have been so engrossed in the multiplayer, hence why this isn’t further down the list. I’ll let you know how those are when I put some time in to them in the New Year.

9) Dead Island (Techland)

        Despite having its fair share of criticisms on release and problems inherent in the game design, I thoroughly enjoyed playing this Zombie Survival RPG, even going so far as to obtain the Platinum for it.
        Sure, it never managed to live up to the hype that the initial amazing trailer promised but despite the flaws there was a (fairly) open-world, loot-heavy, quest based, melee centric and occasionally very creepy zombie game.
        For me, the beginning of the game when you first get to wander around the island was a highlight - that feeling of nervously exploring the eerily quiet and abandoned tourist resort with nothing but a broken oar held out in front of you for protection - has rarely been matched in any other game I've played. You got a real sense of ‘place’ - something that I love in games – and not just being funnelled down endless corridors and set pieces.

        Of course much of the tension would be dispelled when you play online with three other people (fun in a totally different and anarchic way) so I’m glad my first playthrough of the game was done on my lonesome, in order to maximise the atmospheric nature of the game.
        Just for the record, I generally hate western RPGs – I can’t stand Fallout and Skyrim – and yet melee flailing in first person actually works in this game. And besides, any game in which you can craft a customised electrified katana is a win in my book.
        I am mildly curious at how the sequel Dead Island: Riptide will turn out following its release sometime in 2013.

        I wrote a little about Dead Island back when I was playing it. You can read that HERE.

8) The Binding of Isaac (Edmund McMillen)

        This randomly generated Zelda-esque dungeon shooter is fairly simple in its mechanics but appealed to my sensibilities just because I love its design and aesthetic. It’s got that cute yet disgusting appeal to it – super-deformed and actually deformed mixed together to great effect.
        At heart, it's a top down twin stick shooter similar to Smash TV (except your tears are the bullets) and your opponents are usually flies, spiders, maggots, zombies and all manner of weird and gross creatures along those lines. The fact that each time you play the levels are constructed randomly, means that you never know what power-ups you might get or which of the numerous bosses you will face on your way to square-off against your abusive mother.
        Yes, the story is darkly comic with weird religious overtones but you can’t help but feel for the little guy, as small vignettes between each level show painful memories from his life that make you both laugh and go ‘awwwww’ in sympathy.

        Some may hate its perceived simplicity but with tons of items to discover and unlockable characters, this game makes me keep wanting to give it another go, even though I never know if my next attempt will last 20mins or 2.
        I still haven’t managed to reach ‘mother’ yet… Maybe one day.

7) Skullgirls (Reverge Labs)

        Since this game was announced, this 2D fighter was top of my list of games wish list. After a few delays it was eventually released and certainly didn't disappoint. With stylish cartoon visuals, combo heavy mechanics and tournament worthy gameplay, this game is probably my favourite fighter ever (with the exception of the various incarnations of Street Fighter).
        I love the diverse character designs (although a little pervy), the way it plays and the music (provided by regular Castlevania composer Michiru Yamane).

        My only one major issue with this game is that it only has 8 playable characters – which severely shortens its lifespan. Since developer Reverge Labs fired most of the team responsible for making the game (who have since reformed to make their own studio) there have been delays in expanding upon this game, but here’s hoping they will add more characters via DLC or bring out another expanded version of this game sometime soon in the future.

6) Double Dragon Neon (Way Forward)

        A brilliant throwback to scrolling beat-em ups of yore, with plenty of 80s references and nods to the original Double Dragon game, this one managed to charm the pants off me.
        The music was excellent, the humour spot-on and the enemies and boss fights (Skullmageddon being the most awesomely realised villain in recent memory) were all top notch. Being able to level up your stats and abilities added further replay value.
        Just as great playing with a friend – although no online play was a huge oversight.

        You can read more about Double Dragon Neon in this article I wrote earlier in the year.

        I’m a huge fan of the 2D Castlevania games and so when this one was announced I was really excited. However, upon playing it I discovered it was a different beast all together.
        Recycling characters, enemies, bosses, backgrounds and music from a multitude of different Castlevanias this game is really about cooperative online play, with up to 6 players simultaneously charging through a castle to reach a boss – one that is revealed on the huge map of each level from the outset.
        Beating each map was a challenge in itself at first, but the real longevity of this game came from hunting for rare weapon and items that have ridiculously low drop rates from certain bosses – something that sounds unappealing at first but ends up being terribly addictive.
        You can read more about Castlevania: Harmony of Despair in this article I wrote about it earlier in the year.

4) Dragon’s Dogma (Capcom)

        Dragon’s Dogma was a game that took me a long while to get into.
        At first it felt utterly generic and uninspired, but as the world opened up and all manner of huge beasts revealed themselves for you to clamber onto and hack away at, I gradually became addicted. Combining aspects of Lord of the Rings, Shadow of the Colossus, Devil May Cry and even MGS Snake Eater, this game was both accessible but also had hidden depths for those willing to delve deeper.

        What I loved about this game is that you didn't have to do absolutely everything, but was the kind of game that made you want to. Nearly always accompanied by a trio of AI companions called ‘pawns’, a sense of ‘fellowship’ in your party and embarking on a quest together was always present – the world big enough to inspire a sense of awe without being oversized to the point of not caring where the limits lay.
        Sure, there were complaints about pawns constantly repeating bits of dialogue, a preponderance of monotonous fetch quests and lack of fast travel for the most part of the game, but the inspired postgame section, mind-blowing ending and inclusion of a decent New Game Plus made me play this right up until I obtained the Platinum.

        If you don't mind spoilers you can read my article about the surprising ending of Dragon’s Dogma HERE.

3) Portal 2 (Valve)

        In many ways, just like its predecessor, Portal 2 is designed to within an inch of perfection. There is nothing superfluous or wasted – everything is succinct, areas as open as they need to be and everything is there for a reason – whether it is there to serve the gameplay or simply to bolster the narrative or the background mythology of Aperture Labs.
        Although some puzzles are tricky, you are never lost as to where you should be heading or what you should be doing – and all this is done without spoon-feeding you explicit instructions – its all done subtly in the layout and game design, leading to a frequently rewarding (without being frustrating) experience.

        Although the original Portal has a special place in my heart due to its unique freshness at the time, Portal 2 manages to improve upon it in almost every aspect. It’s bigger, bolder and adds new puzzle elements (just as a sequel should) but also surprisingly has more story and is actually funnier. I cant remember any other game that regularly made me laugh out aloud – the majority of the gags coming from the sharp script and voice work from the returning GLaDOS (Ellen McLain) as well as new characters Wheatley (Steve Merchant) and Cave Johnson (J. K. Simmonds). The result is pure gold - the choice of Merchant particularly being an inspired one).

        As the this game is longer than the first, the story had to be much better in this game, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. There are many twists and turns that will take even the most jaded player by surprise and the ending… just wow!

        I’ve written about the design aspects of Portal 2 in a previous article that can be read HERE.

2) Uncharted 3 (Naughty Dog)

        What can I say? I love the Uncharted games. They are the closest thing to feel like you are playing a movie – without all those horrible associations of simply watching cut scenes and following QTEs.
        Sure, Uncharted 3 does have those very occasionally, but the majority of the time you are right there in the action controlling everything- whether it’s escaping a burning chateau, dashing across rooftops or jumping from jeep to jeep racing through a desert canyon. The set pieces are consistently exciting, whether it be platform based, shooting based or melee based- all of which have been improved throughout the series and work together flawlessly.
        Of course all of this wouldn't mean much if the story wasn't good. But here it is superlative. Not simply in terms of the actual plot (which was never really that original in any of the Uncharted series) but the deep characterisation, sparkling dialogue and constant wit makes you fall in love with the characters and help you get that much more involved and emotionally invested in their journey.

        The Uncharted games are good examples of great writing in games and coupled with amazing animation (unusually for video games, Naughty Dog have mo-capped the actors performing the dialogue and movement simultaneously, leading to a very naturalistic representation onscreen) - the whole thing is brought to life in a way that many other games simply dream of achieving.

        Thematically, Uncharted 3 nicely rounds off the end of a trilogy, and although it may not scale the dizzy heights of Uncharted 2, this game was definitely a joy to play from start to finish and its sad that we wont be seeing another of Nathan Drake's adventures for a while. Oh, did I mention it also looks jaw-droppingly beautiful? Or that it also has decent multiplayer too?
        If you haven’t played any of the Uncharted games you don't know how great games can be.

1) Batman: Arkham City (Rocksteady Studios)

        Following on from the excellent Arkham Asylum seemed a daunting task, but Rocksteady Studios more than rises to the occasion making everything bigger and badder – the main difference being the play area opened up to a vast area of Gotham separated off and dubbed ‘Arkham City’.
        I don't know what else to say except everything is improved upon – from weaponry and gadgets to the large increase in side missions – everything is better. Even the combat had become much more versatile – there are even moments when you can take on 20+ thugs at once in a huge brawl, but due to new attacks and battle tactics this becomes achievable not to mention hugely satisfying.

        The addition of a slingshot and glide mechanic later in the game allows you to (almost) fly through the city – one such example of the gradual release of equipment and abilities that always keeps the experience fresh and gives you something new to play with.
        The story is also wider in scope than Asylum, and there are sections where you get to play as Catwoman and Mark Hamill has a fitting end to his last ever performance as The Joker – all of which lead to a sumptuous experience.

        Boss battles are also improved from the original game – an encounter with Mr.Freeze standing out as a particular highlight, where you have to attack him in different ways each time as he learns from them and takes appropriate action.

        Not only is Arkham City the best Batman (or indeed Superhero) game ever made – it is also one of the best game experiences out there. If you like Batman, this is unmissable, if you like action adventure games this one is essential.

       And that's it for the Top Ten Games of 2012. Any comments, let me know!

       Merry Christmas!

25 Dec 2012

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