Best Games of the Year 2012: Staff Picks

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We might have rattled off some of our least favourite games a few days ago, but there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. 2012 still presented us with some truly stellar titles, so here are but a few key staff picks you should go out and play!

1Phillip: Sleeping Dogs

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Sleeping Dogs Review – 8.5 / 10

My personal GOTY is Sleeping Dogs. Oh, there are undoubtedly better games out there. Games that, objectively speaking, are more worthy of the title, but Sleeping Dogs is the one I most enjoyed this year. Why so? Vindication. When I first heard about True Crime: Hong Kong I wanted it. I so very desperately wanted it. I’m a sucker for those sorts of Sandbox games and having one that took you out of the usual facsimiles of American cities? Sold! Unfortunately, it was cancelled by Activision and that was a bitter blow. But like a phoenix from the flames, it was resurrected and re-labelled, and the more I heard about it, the more excited I got. A storyline like Infernal Affairs. A combat system like Arkham City. Gunplay like Stranglehold. Driving like a Need For Speed game.

I was hyped and when the finished product was released, I wasn’t disappointed. Well, not much anyway. The game could have been longer and there’s an awful lot of wanky DLC being released for it, but the game was great. Despite its horribly troubled development history – which is rarely a harbinger of good things to come – and the fact that it was more derivative than revolutionary, the resulting package was great and it vindicated all my original hopes.

It took a number of disparate parts from varying titles and combined them all in a way that worked marvellously. It told a story as ably as some of the best of Hong Kong cinema. It also gave us a city that had a very different look and feel to your usual fare. The result was one of the most well made titles in the sandbox genre and for that reason I give Sleeping Dogs my game of the year.

2Jackson: Theatrhythm Final Fantasy

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Theatrhythm Final Fantasy Review – 8 / 10

This one might ruffle a few Chocobo feathers but I have to give my GOTY 2012 to Theatrhythm Final Fantasy. Back in July, I reviewed the game and handed it a “you’re-pretty-good-at-what-you-do” 8. It may seem some sort of insane to give my GOTY to a game that only registers an 80% on my personal metacritic, but it’s a game that I have come back to constantly. Daily, in fact, since its release.

You see, nostalgia is a jerk. It makes me buy things that I don’t even want. A Super Mario plushie here, a Star Wars prequel trilogy there. This was the case with Theatrhythm. It was as if a personal friend had constantly tugged at my heartstrings until I caved in to their demands. “Yes, yes, I will buy you Theatrhythm, I want to taste that sweet nectar of my youth just one more time.” Nostalgia made me buy this game, but fortunately, the game made me want to keep playing this game.

If you’re unaware, Theatrhythm is essentially Elite Beat Agents presented by Nobuo Uematsu (and others). A rhythm game that utilises the incredible soundtracks of the first 13 Final Fantasy games and has you tapping, sliding and flicking along on your touchscreen. The game is delightfully challenging, has a unique art style, can be played in short bursts (which is how I usually play because public transport + just can’t get enough of Man with the Machine Gun!) and a sufficient amount of collectibles to keep you slaving away.

It may have put a number of dents into my 3DS’ touchscreen and it may have caused me more frustration in my loins than my girlfriend leaving me for an entire month (from the constant, annoying slamming I do when I fail a song), but it is without a doubt the one Final Fantasy title that is worth buying this year. That’s really saying something.

3Mark: Journey

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The instant I was asked on what my game of the year was, I instantly thought Journey, and wondered if that was too obvious a choice. Then I realised how fundamentally stupid the idea of that was. Why the hell would the obvious choice be the wrong one simply because it was immediately apparent? Bad Mark! Too much time spent in meta, not enough time spent masturbating.

My biggest passion, or at least, my most over-arching passion, is narrative. To me, a coherent plot driven by strong, interesting characters in a consciously logical universe with good pacing is like getting a blowjob while a room full of people cheer you on while shouting out how great you are. It’s how the mind has sex.

Journey is, if anything, a short story. Like a short story, it doesn’t take that long to get through. The premise is simple. The universe is explained succinctly in a limited amount of time and mostly indirectly, as opposed to ‘THIS IS WHAT IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW’. You are immediately invested in the character and experience the gamut of human emotion in a single sitting. Whether games are art is no longer the question; now it’s ‘how can games further art?’

I find it almost hilarious that in an age of games like Skyrim, Dark Souls and Kingdoms of Amalur, the game I would feel had the most personal story was Journey. Hell, you may have even shared a majority of your play in Journey silently partnered with someone who’s doing the exact same task as you, yet still your struggle feels completely unique. Every time I think about the game I get goosebumps.

2012 held a lot of AAA titles and thousands of hours of gaming, but the three I spent with Journey were special to the point of life-changing. If you haven’t played Journey yet, you really haven’t experienced the best gaming has to offer.

4Martin: ZombiU

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Even though 2012 was full of big hitters the games I really enjoyed were the sleeper hits. Titles like Dragon’s Dogma and Sleeping Dogs were a dose of goodness I was not at all expecting. And then I played ZombiU.

I’m a big fan of survival horror. I’ll take Dead Space and Amnesia over Call of Duty and Battlefield any day of the week. I love that it encourages players to take things slow and soak in the surrounding atmosphere. For me that atmosphere leads to an experience of immersion that few other games are able to offer. For the right player ZombiU offers this in spades and is a return to the genres roots that other titles seem to have forgotten *cough* Resident Evil 6 *cough*.

Admittedly Ubisoft’s latest Wii U title is not the prettiest game on earth and it’s unlikely to excite through a five minute pick-up-and-play session. It’s only after a couple of hours once you’ve gathered an arsenal of weaponry and ammunition and evaded scores of zombies swiping you to your death that you really appreciate what Montpellier is offering. The game offers a true zombie survival experience and its one life mechanic perfectly demonstrates this. The fact the gamepad results in one of the best uses of a controller system in any title to date is icing on the cake. I found the action so compelling that I became my survivor and his backpack my survival kit. I’m jumping back in for another play-through which is rare to say the least.

Don’t believe me? I challenge any fan of the genre to play through and successfully finish the game’s survival mode then claim that time was not one of the tensest, emotional and ultimately rewarding experiences they’ve had with video games. A must for old-school survival horror fans.

5Alex, Daniel & Adam: Borderlands 2

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Borderlands 2 Review – 9 / 10

Alex: GOTY 2012 was tricky for me. I didn’t feel that any game in particular really EARNT the title, no one single release really smashed it out of the park, so to speak. Borderlands 2 gets my pick for what it promised and what it delivered. Simply, it’s what a sequel should be.

It really is just balls-to-the-wall crazy for lack of a better term. Gearbox said the 87 bazillion guns would get bazilliondier and they did; each zone is vastly unique, each engorged with beautiful colour palates, and each character is wonderfully insane.

While not at all a story-heavy series, the plot of Borderlands 2 is above average; good enough to see you through, to keep you motivated, engrossed and moving forward. The writing, voice acting and humour were all turned up a notch, and you can tell the team had a lot of fun pumping this sequel from the amount of inside jokes and just plain silliness that abounds. In addition, Gearbox have provided solid, consistent and high quality DLC well rounded out with new content for those itching to get into Pandora, hardcore and casual alike.

For a game so focused and designed with co-op in mind, Borderlands 2 was just as fun playing solo. Simply, that’s what won me over. A game I had the most fun playing.

My one major gripe? Dubstep. Please.

Daniel: Take a page from Reggie and prepare your body for this one: my GOTY isn’t Far Cry 3. Though I thoroughly enjoyed my time on Rook Island and absolutely lost my shit over how fascinating Vaas was/is, Rumble in the Jungle 2012 has to take a back seat to Borderlands 2. When I think back on my time spent playing Borderlands 2 I get nothing but giddy feelings – like a smoker taking that first puff in the morning. Far Cry 3 by comparison was fun, but severely marred by technical issues.

For some bizarre reason, Far Cry 3 wasn’t (and still isn’t) properly optimised for dual graphic cards and multiple monitor displays. Despite having a monster PC that looks like the monolith out of 2001, the game actually runs better on an inferior rig with five year old tech. Work that out. It probably plays like a dream on a 386. Vaas Montenegro, bow down to Handsome Jack, your optimised superior. Leaving all that aside, Far Cry 3 is still a fantastic game, it just loses on a technicality.

And I really don’t feel as though I need to sing Borderland’s praises, great gameplay, sharp wiritng, witty characters and easy to cosplay as!

Adam: In an attempt to stay up to date with the latest happenings within the gaming industry, I don’t often get to stay with a game for as long as I would ordinarily like. As a result, it’s rare for one to grab my attention and then hold it in a vice-like grip. I never would have suspected it, but Borderlands 2 quickly became one of those games.

Maybe it was the consistent humour or the addictive nature of the gameplay; constantly having you on the hunt for better loot. Maybe it that Gearbox has created one of the bets co-op experiences in years. Whatever it was, it had me thinking about it at work and dying to play it when I got home. It might not be a perfect game, but it’s certainly one of the best 2012 had to offer.

They were some of our picks, but we want to know yours. What did you think were some of the best games to come out of 2012? As always, let us know in the comments section below!

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