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Announcing the 2012 Game of the Year Awards from First Hour!
These aren't your normal awards, we cover everything from older game of the year to worst first hour. We also don't sum up votes on categories or anything either, we simply present each writer's thoughts on their pick, so if you don't like something, you know exactly who to blame! Of course, we do all this just for fun (spare time!) and buy all of our own games (real money!), so most of us don't even touch some of the big releases of the year. Woe to the unpaid game critic!
We're doing something a bit different this year, since we had so many writers submit their picks, we're spreading the goods across multiple days. The schedule is below, so let's continue!
GAME OF THE YEAR
Get past all the internet hate, past all the whiners and complainers and bitchers about the last five minutes of a 120 hour science fiction adventure, and what you're left with is the final, masterful piece to the greatest new gaming series this generation. Games are judged for their whole, not as a sum of their parts, and Mass Effect 3 is that whole. It is not only the culmination of dozens of running storylines and characters that I have come to know and love since 2007, but a near perfect meshing of the best features of Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2. If you write off the entire Mass Effect trilogy for only its ending, even if you hate it, just don't forget what came before it that made you feel so strongly.
Now that I have that out of my system, I'm not selecting Mass Effect 3 as my Game of the Year simply out of spite, heck, I came close to giving it to a trio of other games, but because it really was the best game I played all year. Combine the hyper-polished shooting gameplay from Mass Effect 2 with many of the RPG weapon and character upgrades from the original and you have a third-person shooter that plays perfectly. Mass Effect 3 concludes plotlines that I began four years earlier, reintegrates characters I haven't seen much from in years, and tranforms a faceless threat into the terror of the galaxy.
Mass Effect 3 isn't perfect even ignoring the ending, some storyline and character conclusions are a bit dissatisfying, but the gunplay, voice acting, environments, and the simple feeling of "God, this is fun" while playing are all spot on. I'm proud to finally present my Game of the Year to a Mass Effect game, and hope I can again in the future.
You know, it wasn't exactly a no-brainer, but I have to agree with Greg on this one: 2012's Game of the Year is Mass Effect 3. It's a shame that expectations change proportionally not to the standards set in the medium, but rather how much people love to hate a particular publisher. In this case Bioware, as a child of EA, is subject to some of the most intense scrutiny available. I'll be the first to admit that Mass Effect 3 is not a perfect game; I'll even be the first to admit that it's not a perfect narrative. The thing that Mass Effect 3 had, however, is easily the most provocative experience I've encountered during the last decade and a half or so I've been gaming.
Like a superbly crafted film, Mass Effect 3, more of an ending to an epic saga in and of itself than a 3rd chapter before the epilogue, managed to tug at the heart strings as 5 year old storylines came to sweet, bittersweet, and sometimes downright bitter conclusions. But really, that's what Mass Effect is all about - it provokes something in you, and it always has. It's a downright shame that in this case it provoked anger, because behind noise of the internet there is a superbly crafted 3rd person shooter that follows the story of the brave (or dickish) Commander Shepard, and she saved the galaxy one last time - and the story of friends who take their lives to the edge (and sometimes over) in order to help her do it. Mass Effect is about Mordin, Thane, and Legion, not an idillic ending with an extended colour range like yellow, orange, and violet.
Congratulations on your Game of the Year from this humble publication, and best of luck in all your future endeavours, Bioware. May you never lose your way.
Nintendo's and Sora Ltd.'s surprise Kid Icarus reboot has everything: slick action, deep customization, perfect polish, abundant imagination, and infectious charm. It's also the least ergonomic video game experience since the Virtual Boy. The necessary hand contortions will chase off many potential players, but those who can tolerate the game's stiff digital requirements will experience an impeccable and heartened adventure for all ages, the likes of which just isn't seen in top-flight games anymore.
It might be safe to say that stealth games fall into two categories: love ‘em or hate ‘em. Either you enjoy taking your time, examining a room thoroughly, plotting out a path, creeping down it as if you are one with the shadows, and silencing anyone silently that gets in your way--or you don’t. For me, games like Skyrim, Fallout: New Vegas, and Deus Ex: Human Revolution give the player enough skills and items to play stealthily, but never go the full distance to embrace the term “power fantasy.” Plus, in those previously mentioned titles, once you are found you are found, and then there’s no going back. Better bust out some weaponry and make some noise.
In Mark of the Ninja, a new standard for stealth has been set. Gone are mini-maps and vision cones and monitoring patrol routes, enter visual tricks, cool weapons, and sound radiuses. When you can’t be seen, you are a darker shade of ninja, and illuminated brightly in light. When you run, noise pulses off your body in a large circle; if any enemy is within the circle, you are heard. It’s a simple mechanic, but it works magnificently. You can clearly see everything before you, which makes moving through the level all up to you. Getting caught is not an end, with plenty of places to hide to reset without actually resetting. If anything, the story could have used more of a substantial conclusion, but otherwise Mark of the Ninja is an amazing experience through and through that really challenges you while also rewarding you greatly. And there’s a New Game+ mode that removes all the visual and sound cues, which I can only imagine ramps up the difficulty to eleven.
I didn't play many video games this year. In fact, this may have been my most inactive year in video gaming since receiving my Sega Genesis as a Christmas gift in the early 90s. Chalk that one up, almost entirely, to my new-found board gaming hobby, which sees me pushing cardboard with other enthusiasts anywhere between 5-25 hours per week. So, while my choice for game of the year is definitely biased, I nevertheless feel it deserves recognition at least in the RPG genre, and that is Xenoblade Chronicles.
One of the freshest RPGs to come out of Japan in a long, long time, Xenoblade is a tightly wrapped gift for Wii owners, packed with an epic 150+ hour adventure featuring hundreds of quests, characters, monsters, items, and abilities to find, unlock, and interact with, not to mention one of the most innovative battle systems I've ever experienced. Real-time combat finds the player in control of one of up to three party members who work together to out-manoeuvre and overwhelm their enemies, whether they be a group of unassuming creatures or a single, gargantuan monster. Customizable weapons and abilities allow players to tailor their part as is necessary to see them through a particular area or encounter, though skillful command of the party is always required.
The odd but enthralling tale of Xenoblade features a likeable cast of characters, both playable and otherwise, and sees players traversing lush, sprawling environments and cities that truly feel alive. Alongside are hundreds of quests to complete, collectables to find, and boss monsters to slay, ensuring a lengthy and satisfying experience for even the most seasoned RPG player. To put it simply, if you are a fan or even a former fan of Japanese RPGs, you need to give Xenoblade Chronicles a try.
This is the Resident Evil game I've been wanting for 10 years. ZombiU is a true survival horror. And boy does it really put the impetus on survival. Keeping count of how many lives you spend to get the job done and showing you each one with weight and a sense of urgency. You get to meet those you portray, learning their names, their occupations and even learning their quirky grunts and groans as they slay zombies. I played as one survivor who, rather than groaning as he beat the zombies brains in, he actually cackled with glee. It was quite unsettling. But it was nothing compared to having to hunt him down and slay him in order to get the backpack back that he, now a zombie was wearing after I had failed to keep him alive in the previous mission.
Also, the game makes amazing use of the new Wii U gamepad, improving both control and immersion in a genre that truly benefits from both.
A surprising gem that just made me so happy to play. A real joy.
MOST ANTICIPATED FOR 2013
Without a doubt, my most anticipated title for 2013 is Animal Crossing: New Leaf. Those lucky bastards in Japan has already been enjoying the latest time-sink from the beloved franchise since November, which is looking quite promising. Like Animal Crossing: Wild World for the Nintendo DS, portable is the way to go for this series, and the Nintendo 3DS is a fantastic system to bring out new features with StreetPassing and in-game screenshots. Firstly, you are not just living a life in a digital town inhabited by talking animals; you are now the mayor of it all, and that means making decisions like where to place a bridge or what time the shops operate around and so on. We still don’t have a solid release date, but I’m hoping for early in the year, when the weather gets warmer and color returns and those leaves rip for turning over are bright and green.
That's an easy one. After falling in love with Capcom's Monster Hunter 3 (Tri) in 2010, I'm highly anticipating taking up the hunt once again in Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, an enhanced revision of Tri featuring more monsters, quests, weapon classes, armour, and probably less sleep for me. The game will launch in Europe and North America on both the 3DS and Wii U next March, and I expect will be my only reason to own either platform for some time.
The new crowd sourced and Kickstarter project from Obsidian, the developers behind Neverwinter Nights 2, Alpha Protocol and Dungeon Siege III. It looks to be a pretty ambitious D&D-like RPG. I helped fund the project and can't wait for the first beta, hopefully late next year.
I was spoiled rotten in 2012 playing all four Blackwell games for the first time, so now I want the fifth one, Blackwell Epiphany, which could potentially be very far away. All I know through Twitter spying is that Dave Gilbert has a kid on the way, so that's likely to totally ruin my year.
My Most Anticipated for 2012 unfortunately returns for 2013. We've still seen nothing of Devil's Third since the E3 2010 trailer that stole the show for me. And this year it lost a publisher: the struggling THQ relinquished the IP's rights back to developer Valhalla Studios, which has yet to find a replacement publisher. I've still got hope that it can make its 2013 release date, but not much. And there's not much else on the horizon that particularly excites me. These days, all the best games seem to just sneak up on you.
I'm watching for new consoles, and I want to see what the Wii U does next, but the one thing I know I need to have next year is The Last of Us. I've not spent a whole lot of time with the PS3 this generation (Heavy Rain, L.A. Noire, etc.), and I really disliked the Uncharted series. Somehow, though, the Last of Us just speaks to me. Maybe it's the desolate wasteland found in I am Legend, or the impending apocalypse from Children of Men; perhaps though, it is the vision of Naughty Dog back on form. This looks like the studio that made Crash Bandicoot popular on an untested platform. The Last of Us appears to be more than the last big date for the Playstation 3 - it looks like a reinvention of how Sony wants to approach storytelling in the future, and I embrace it.
Steve demanded this section, mostly because he's a non-conformist and doesn't understand that when I want "Game of the Year" I really want just one game and a description, not a block of stream of consciousness text. So here's that block.
Amazing indie titles bursting with freshness and creativity, this is the other side of gaming that I hope keeps getting better. Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes is stupidly fun, everyone needs to play this "puzzle" game. Ultimate Marvel 3 is a crazy entertaining title and a great spectator sport. Spacechem is genius, most intellectual game I've ever played. Dungeons of Dredmore is a decent time waster. Binding of Isaac is even better, but it's programmed like garbage and I'm looking forward to the remake. Borderlands 2 is a good game. Trine 2 is fun, has great co-op, and is gorgeous. No one is on Frozenbyte's level in terms of translating art design to game. Wadjet Eye is releasing some of the best games out there, and anyone with a computer can play them, they need to be more popular. Thanks to everyone for reading, thanks to the developers who offer early copies or any review copies at all (especially indies), thanks to all writers and the Persona comment crew.
Guess I'll take this opportunity to point out some great games I played this year that didn't make the cut. The Walking Dead came out of nowhere and was super enjoyable. Very dark game that required many heartbreaking decisions. Also from Telltale Games was Tales of Monkey Island which is a few years old now but a worthy successor to the Monkey Island name, also a great implementation of the episodic game format. I beat Arkham City in January which was brilliant in so many ways and am really, really, really glad I finally got to play through Heavy Rain. It has so many flaws but is so unique in almost every aspect. Also finally got around to playing Portal 2 co-op with Steve which was a blast, and special indie shoutouts to VVVVVV and NightSky for being awesome in their own ways. Huge negative shoutout to Bit.Trip Runner for being one of the most annoyingly frustrating games I have ever played. BAH! Really wish I could have given some awards to Borderlands 2 and Trine 2, but them's the breaks.
There have been more than a few excellent games this year, and more than a few backlogs that made it into the hopper. Just this last night I started playing Mirrors Edge, a game I can only describe as "tough, but fair." A re-release that came out this year was the PC version of Alan Wake, which just reminded me all over again why I love this game and how everyone who didn't enjoy it is just wrong. And then there were two new titles that I wanted to talk about but wasn't able to. The first is WRC 3, which is essentially the closest any rally game has come to providing the Colin McRae '04 experience during this generation - hats off to Milestone for that one. The other is Gimbal, a fun and engaging top-down spaceship shooter where you face-off ships you design in small arena matches in order to acquire more budget to make more interesting and powerful ships.
Thanks to Greg for all his hard work, and for letting me write here when I find the time, and to the rest of the writers who fill these pages with their knowledge and wisdom. Move along, 2012; bring on 2013!