This year, like any, had its fair share of AAA titles with huge budgets and copious amounts of eye candy. Unfortunately, the big two's reluctance to dump their current generation of consoles for the next breed of powerful gaming hardware saw majority of development studios stick to the tried-and-tested formula of tapping into established franchises. The sequel-induced ennui, however, was broken thanks to the rare original IP, or a refreshingly new take on a popular trope. By that, I mean Arkane Studios' Dishonoured and Tell Tale Games' The Walking Dead—both of which feature in our list of top-three games of this year. The latter takes the ultimate honour for a very good reason.
Contemporary video games have stagnated visually due to aging consoles, whereas gameplay has increasingly been compromised to appease the lowest common denominator. However, the Walking Dead breaks the mould and eschews both fancy graphics and complicated gameplay mechanics to leverage a deep narrative that deftly dissects the human condition in the backdrop of a zombie apocalypse. It steers clear of the pop/horror schlock of the traditional zombie setup, and instead captures the true essence of the TV show. It is the perfect epitome of how a bit of ingenuity can overcome the lack of a big budget or eye candy and humble established franchises.
Game of the Year: The Walking Dead
No one saw this coming. A point-and-click adventure game with mediocre gameplay winning an award for Game of the Year. But here we are, and there is a good reason why The Walking Dead got this award. Telltale has done a stellar job with the plot and writing, and the character development was brilliant to boot. The writing was so good that you actually started getting attached, and depending on how messed up your life is, relating to some of the characters. The strength of this approach can be seen at times where you are offered choices to save characters, and you actually end up using all of the limited time you have in deciding who to save. The gist of why we have chosen this point-and-click adventure title is best explained by this excerpt from our review, "despite the lacklustre gameplay, The Walking Dead manages to be one of the best games of the year purely on good script writing. The replay value thanks to the branching storyline is a pleasant bonus. It pushes gaming as a creative medium much further than most AAA games have managed to in the past."
The mature portroayal of humans propels this to the top of our list
First Runner Up: Far Cry 3
Far Cry 3 missed out on being the game of the year just because of the rather clichéd story that basically played into the white male power fantasy. Other than the main story though, FC3 got everything right thanks to a beautiful open world and exhilarating gun play. Far Cry 3 also managed to be one of the few games that actually mean it when they say that you can tackle situations however you want—as long as you're outside the main story missions though. The game gave you everything you needed to kill hordes of enemies, and look like a total badass while doing it. It also has the honour of having one of the most memorable villains of all time. The baddie Vaas had some great moments, and generally made the otherwise boring and linear main story missions interesting. While not perfect, Far Cry 3 manages to be a great game with a beautiful tropical island setting.
Has he ever told you the definition of insanity?
Second Runner Up: Dishonored
It’s been a long time since we got this kind of game. An FPS that prioritised stealth, allowed for many ways of getting through a mission, and even gave you the option to pull off a complete pacifist run. We haven’t seen a game like this since way back with Thief or Deus Ex. While it does have a rather simple plot, Dishonored is a triumph in every other way. Not only does it set you free in large, sprawling levels with multiple ways to pull off a mission, it also offers spells to get around better, quicker, and in a much more fun manner. If stealth isn’t your thing, Dishonored also has an excellent combat system to boot. Here’s hoping more games in the franchise, since the world that has been created is a very interesting and frightening one.
As they say, revenge solves everything
The video game industry is larger than the movie and music industries. The sheer volume of big-budget AAA games releasing each year just beggars belief. Needless to say, there are many worthy contenders that couldn't make the cut, but are pretty damn good games nonetheless. Here are some of these that caught our fancy:
Spec Ops: The Line
Another game that took us by surprise (I’m beginning to notice a pattern here), Spec Ops: The Line was originally marketed as a standard third person modern military shooter. While gameplay isn’t its strongest point, the game achieves greatness thanks to the story. Without spoiling much, the game manages to be a brilliant deconstruction of the modern military shooters, and turns the entire concept of "America saves the day" on its head. The action sequences themselves are mediocre at best, and this is one of those games that you’ll probably play only on the easiest difficulty, just to see what happens next. However, the impressive story more than makes up for it.
Also wins our award for the "most depressing game of the year"
Mass Effect 3
The conclusion to the epic trilogy that began five years ago, Mass Effect 3 brought some of the best gameplay and writing from the previous games and improved upon it. It managed to build even more on the already rich universe created in the previous games and pulled off the element of desperation in the final fight against the Reapers. It's a shame that the ending was such a disappointment, but then again it's doubtful if any ending could actually do the series any justice. Despite that, Mass Effect 3, along with the rest of the series, remains one of the best and most important games of this generation.
Neatly wraps up almost every loose plot thread the series had
Halo is to Microsoft what Mario is to Nintendo. The original Halo was, in simplest of terms, a game worthy enough to sell an entire console platform on its own merit. It may not have shown the ingenuity of French or Japanese games, nor was it revolutionary in any aspect—it was, however, a veritable distillation of FPS mechanics to the casual confines of the couch. It had a no-nonsense plot that drew from Heinlein's power armour-equipped space marine trope from Starship Troopers, and buffed it with excellent gameplay tweaks that overcame its gamepad limitation.
Master Chief came back after a long hiatus to pull off another reason to buy an Xbox 360
Halo 4, was the relative newcomer 343 Industries' first instalment in the new Redeemer trilogy. It had all the trappings of a Halo game: mind-bending graphics, frenetic gameplay, cool weapons, engaging storyline, and a fun multiplayer. However, it still couldn't compare to the benchmark set by the Bungie's last instalment. Mind you, Halo 4 is a very good game by itself, but its lack of innovation, linear gameplay, short SP campaign, a standard multiplayer mode and its propensity to force the unwieldy Waypoint system to get the complete Halo experience keeps it from snatching the top honours.
That’s our G.O.T.Y 2012 for video games. Do let us know what games made it to your list. We’d love to know just which of 2012’s big launches left their impression on you.
Compliments of the seasons to all of you. We hope you’ve had a great year and wish you all the very best for 2013.
Check out our other G.O.T.Y 2012 award lists here.