Monday, 31 December 2012

Games of the year - 2012

No messing about, let's get straight into my favourite games from 2012. Enjoy.

10. F.T.L

Permadeath, micro-management, edge of the seat combat and the threat of alien boarding parties kept F.T.L fresh no matter how many times I played it – and I played it a lot. Being constantly pursued by an alien fleet and fleeing into danger - and usually disaster - F.T.L managed to keep the suspense up at all times. Having to send your long-suffering team to put out fires and repair life support systems while battling space pirates was a frantic affair but the rewards were always worth it. A gem.

9. Gravity Rush

Sony’s hand-held finally arrived earlier this year and was met with the usual babbling about a lack of quality software. Nonsense, of course, as the Vita has had plenty of wonderful experiences tucked up it sleeve if you look hard enough. One of the gems to arrive was Gravity Rush, a cracking cell-shaded jaunt with gorgeous visuals and enough gravity-defying gameplay to give the Mario Galaxy games a run for their money. True, the combat could become an awkward kerfuffle due to weird camera angles, but Kat’s world was a joy to explore thanks to beautiful environments, varied game styles and the cast of quirky characters she met along the way.

8. Persona 4 Golden

The remake of this PS2 classic isn’t out until February in Europe but with Sony’s hand-held region free, I decided that was just too long to wait and dropped the cash on the US import. The mix of dungeon crawling and juggling the demands of teenage life in rural Japan remained as intoxicating as ever and with new bells and whistles added – such as online help and new Personas to summon – this is the definitive version of the Japanese RPG. It’s perfectly suited on Vita and the bright visuals really pop on the OLED screen making for a sugary sweet visual feast. The presentation is top drawer, with funky menu screens and a quite brilliant soundtrack tying the experience together.

7. Asura's Wrath

Capcom's interactive anime shouldn't really work. After all, most of the time you're watching cut scenes and when called into action, you'll spend much of your time battering away at the controller in furious QTEs. But despite this, Asura's Wrath yelled and roared its way into my heart. From start to finish, the game is a heart-in-mouth rollercoaster ride, boasting spectacular visuals and a crazy storyline. Even those pesky QTEs work well and compliment the relentless on screen action. More please, Capcom.

6. Final Fantasy XIII-2

I really enjoyed Final Fantasy XIII – even the 20 hours it took to get to Gran Pulse and the open environments so many people craved (why is linearity seen as bad thing, anyway?) but this sequel improved on the formula to create something I found to be a bit special. The story might be wafer thin and delivered in a saccharine sweet style, but the fluid, fast-paced combat - combined with a host of stunning locations to explore - managed to create some of my gaming highlights from 2012. It’s certainly not for everyone, but those who desperately wanted to love FFXIII but came away disappointed should find everything they hoped for bundled in this sequel. Special mention goes to the soundtrack, which manages to be even better than XIII's fabulous score.

5. Torchlight 2

There's always been a special place in my heart for dungeon crawlers and loot drop games and I was spoiled this year with the release of Diablo III and Torchlight 2. I enjoyed both but for me, Runic’s Torchlight 2 shone brightest. Its chunky, World of Warcraft-inspired visuals were instantly appealing and as the action wasn’t confined to a single location like the original, the art team were free to go wild and create a variety of delicious locations to explore and plunder. New classes, a multitude of quests, co-op and an almost endless supply of loot has kept Torchlight 2 firmly in the spotlight, leaving Diablo III looking on enviously from the side of the stage.

4. Crusader Kings 2

I’ve always loved the sound of grand strategy games but usually find myself frustrated by their huge size, complex play mechanics and archaic UI. However, Crusader Kings 2 invaded my life back in February and left me daydreaming about murderous plots, elicit affairs, sowing descent among neighbouring countries and locking up members of my family for treasonous thoughts. In allowing the player to strive towards their own goals, developer Paradox opened up a world of possibilities and created intricate storylines which brought delight and dismay in equal measure. A superb game in every way.

3. Binary Domain

I don’t particularly enjoy third-person shooters but with Yakuza developer Toshihiro Nagoshi at the helm, I decided to take a punt on this blast from the future – despite the best efforts of the box art to put me off. But it’s not just the awful cover that creates a bad first impression – the stereotypical loud-mouthed characters and the uninspiring trudge through the first few levels made me wonder why I was even bothering to play. But after a few hours, Binary Domain managed to turn the corner and blossom into a frantic, over the top and quite brilliant game. Chipping chunks of armour off the relentless rush of mechanical masses was pure entertainment – as was the fact that a headshot would instantly turn an enemy into an ally - but it was the story (and a certain robotic sidekick) which sealed the deal for me.
Like Spec-Ops: The Line, Binary Domain took me completely by surprise and a worthy inclusion in my top games of 2012.

2. Journey

Some complained this epic journey was more of a day trip but such was the emotional and visual beauty of Thatgamecompany's latest PS3 title, that to criticise it for its length seems churlish. There's a sense of wonder as you explore Journey's exquisite world - whether that's sliding down sun-kissed sand dunes, trudging up snowy mountain passes, discovering abandoned buildings or finding another player gleefully jumping through the beautiful environments. The journey was underpinned with a spellbinding musical score which contributed to one of the finest gaming experiences I've had in years. A masterpiece.

1. Dragon's Dogma

It’s not often I start playing a game again immediately after completing it, but such was the magnificence of Dragon’s Dogma, that I reached for the controller the very second after the credits rolled – and that was after a mammoth 73 hour playthrough. No other game this year gave me such a sense of adventure, with surprises around every corner, scores of wonderful quests to get lost in and a unique online play mechanic which allowed me to pick and choose from a team of player-made creations. The world of Gransys was a beautiful place to explore, with exquisite lighting effects giving the game a wonderful atmosphere, while the combat was equally magical, with battles against hulking mythical beasts causing me to gawp at the screen with slack-jawed disbelief on more than one occasion. What I presumed to be another by-the-numbers high fantasy romp turned out to be a glorious fusion of Dark Souls, Monster Hunter and Skyrim. Game of the year by a considerable distance.

Honourable mentions go to Botanicula, Spec-Ops: The Line, Dear Esther, Legend of Grimrock and Sound Shapes.

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