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!
GUILTY PLEASURE OF THE YEAR
In which Principal Belding puts a hit out on Zack, Slater, and Screech. As pop culture parody parades go, Retro City Rampage doesn't aim much higher than Friedberg and Seltzer movies. It's not particularly remarkable among open-world crime games either, thoroughly competent though it may be. But something kept me coming back to Theftropolis every now and then for more pixelated carnage.
My favorite hours with a Pokemon videogame are clearly the first few hours, where you go out and collect your first few Pokemon and take down that first gym. This is when you begin to make connections with the few Pokemon you got while you try to find more and gain levels. I still feel a little uncomfortable with these games, especially since Pokemon White 2 is nearly Pokemon White all over again, with maybe a few new things to do, but more or less the same Gym crawl that all these go through. I haven’t beaten the Elite Four yet, but I’m making my way there in between other portable games. But I hope I’m not playing Pokemon White 3 next year.
A simple and flawed game, but one that I had a blast with. Unlike most games, I played The Lord of the Rings: War in the North game from start to finish over several days without putting any other games in my Xbox. That's unheard for me. I looked forward to each session and this is a game that is meant to be played co-op, yet I happily complete it solo with no regrets.
Having a smartphone at work can be dangerous, especially during those extra long bathroom breaks where games like Temple Run, CrossMe, and Pocket League Story can distract me from... returning to work. But Jetpack Joyride was the king of throne gaming for me this year, with an addictive combination of fun gameplay and coin collecting, I feel a little guilty putting so much time into this one.
I was originally going to write a piece on the wonderful top-down space ship shooter known as Gimbal, which has taken an inordinate amount of my time, but I had to be honest with myself: my guilty pleasure of the year is Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. I first saw CS:GO at PAX Prime 2011 (literally - I knew nothing about it until the day before the show in our hotel room), and I was taken by it. In my youth I spent what many would consider a disgusting (see: average COD player) amount of time playing Counter-Strike 1.6, and its graphically enhanced sequel Source. In recent years, though, I had fallen away from my CS fueled past. It wasn't that I stopped liking it, but more a combination of a lack of time and other distractions. Global Offensive changed all that. Between the Beta and the Release versions I've easily destroyed 100 hours my time in the game (second place being 42 hours in Mass Effect 3) - most of which spent in Arms Race (see: Gun Game). CS:GO also holds the trophy of being the only game I've spent money in a gaming cafe to play when my PC was out of commission. This is a guilty pleasure if I ever did have one - and I love it.
BEST SURPRISE OF THE YEAR
The Blackwell Legacy, Blackwell Unbound, Blackwell Convergence, Blackwell Deception, Resonance, The Shivah, and Primordia. Was that enough Wadjet Eye gaming for one year? Nope, because I missed out on Gemini Rue. Either way, this is a stellar little developer with a keen eye for spotting other Adventure Game Studio developers in need of a helping hand, releasing three of the best games I played in all of 2012 (Blackwell Deception, Resonance, and Primordia). Plus, Blackwell Unbound may be the single best point and click adventure game I've ever played. I don't know what they have planned for 2013, but I may need all year to recover from their greatness.
It's been a hell of a year for fan-driven publishing. Not only are small- and mid-tier developers going straight to the customer for funding via Kickstarter, but big publishers are putting their ears to the ground and taking fan interest to heart. After years of begging (and a few months of uproar), fans finally received their Operation Rainfall demands for Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story after they were quarantined by Nintendo of America for years. Perhaps publishers will see the success of these niche JRPGs and take more chances on riskier niche investments.
I was totally not expecting much from Castlevania: Lords of Shadows game but it ended up being one of the best beat em ups I'd played in quite some time. It's loosely comparable to games like God of War (I know, it's everything these days?) but proved to be a much more enjoyable experience that even the game it is most likely to be compared to.
On the surface, Fez looks like a retro platformer where you collect cubes to open doors. Sure, its perspective-shifting mechanic where you rotate the world to see all sides of everything was well known before it came out, but the depth of the world in Fez and the use of language surprised me. Everything has meaning, even if you can’t grok it. You can even complete the game without seeing many of the hidden secrets, despite them being directly in front of you. Once you begin to figure out all the cryptic symbols and owls and secret pipes and QR codes, Fez opens up in a whole new way, one which can only be described as surprising. After all that, it begins to resemble more of a mediocre platformer with amazing potential for discovery.
Having never played the original mod, I had no idea what to expect when entering into the dimly lit unknown of Dear Esther. What I found was one of the most beautiful, haunting, and subtly told narratives bookended by what I consider some of the best 3D artwork known to game. Source may not be a graphics powerhouse like the household names of Frostbite and CryEngine, but Dear Esther proves that, in the right hands, you don't need an effects suite that is the envy of Hollywood to create deep and engaging experiences. Some people claimed that Dear Esther wasn't a game at all - those people are what I like to call closed minded. Gaming is an interactive experience, told in all shades, and this is one to remember.
NiGHTS into Dreams re-release, Rock Band Blitz, Barkley sequel, take your pick.
WORST SURPRISE OF THE YEAR
Borderlands 2 is a game that was undoubtedly good but ultimately disappointing for me, beings that I'm the biggest possible fan of the original. They improved a lot but in many cases made design decisions that I thought drained some of the fun that made the first game so amazing. In particular the loot experience and drop rates leave much to be desired. Even after more than 100 hours in the game, I only found a single orange weapon. In a similar amount of playtime in the original, I would have found 5-10 orange weapons.
I was about two-thirds of the way through Mass Effect 3 when the grumbling started on the internet about the game's ending. A day later and Bioware was in the crosshairs of both fans and journalists for its treatment of not only the last five minutes of the game, but of the entire series. We probably should have seen this coming, with Dragon Age II sparking fanboy rage a year earlier, any misstep in Mass Effect 3, no matter how minor, would cause an eruption of vitriol from the masses towards the once-beloved company. Was the ending perfect? Nah, but after 100+ hours of just a single Shepard through three games, not everyone is going to get what they want. I think the people upset went overboard, but hey, that's the internet. Bioware's half-hearted Extended Cut didn't help much either.
It saddens me when people who have spent long and hard hours creating what they may consider the magnum opus and receive nothing but shit and abuse in return. It angers me when people talk about games as some kind of right they are entitled to. Both of these things happened over the ending to Mass Effect 3, and it was a terrible surprise to be sure. I recognize that it's not a perfect game, but it was, and still is the most emotional experience I've had playing a game. From noble sacrifices to personal destinies fulfilled, to entire races saved from extinction, Mass Effect 3 was a triumph of storytelling in the medium. Even for those people the epilogue distressed, I should hardly think that could be enough to sully what is easily over 100 hours of a single playthough's journey - and what a journey it was, Commander Shepard.
Co-op done correctly is an amazing addition to a game, but too many games are forcing the issue at detriment to the full experience. Publishers know that multiplayer combined with peer pressure drives sales like no other, but it's clearly overpushed.
SHAME OF THE YEAR
It’s been a little strange watching the world embrace Game of Thrones since HBO’s show came out. At this point, I’m still more excited over the books, but the show has done some great work, even if season two suffered from dropped plotlines—Dany’s brief skip through the House of the Undying, for instance—and forced interactions, but is still a fantastic piece of entertainment to watch. Now, in terms of playing, there really has not been a great Game of Thrones videogame, which is weird because you can easily find mocked up 8- and 16-bit versions on YouTube that look fantastic and exactly what you want. You could also blame Cyanide Studio, as they are the only ones making them. Their Dragon Age-wannabe Game of Thrones fails on a graphics and mechanical aspect, though I’ve heard the story goes to some great places. I, however, gave up on the whole thing after too many first-person dog stealth sections. Given that the developers had to go and create new locales in a realm as vast and littered as Westeros, it’s not surprising that this came out and was quickly forgotten. I bought it Day One, and my justification for that is that I hope my support helps the franchise grow, in hope of something better, in Azor Ahai reborn.
This year has been wrought with fanboyism and whining on a scale that begs the question: is the average age of the gamer actually going up? Between talk of the Vita's slow uptake, the marginalization of the Wii U on nothing but graphics power, the furor over the ending in Mass Effect 3, and industry heavyweights calling Windows 8 "the end of gaming as we know it", there has been all sorts. The biggest shame is that all this overshadows what has been an excellent year in innovation, from indie games like Fez to the inventive controller in the Wii U - in reality, 2012 has kicked some serious ass. Hopefully 2013 brings the same growth in quality and innovation 2012 enjoyed; let's just leave behind the whinging.
It's not that the game itself is bad. Street Fighter X Mega Man is a solid amateur effort, and the price is definitely fair. But as a celebration of Mega Man's 25th anniversary, it reeks of neglect. This is a franchise that has thrived for a quarter century, but its future is in serious doubt when Capcom fumbles the brand so badly that it scrambles to license a fan-game in an attempt to appease indignant fans.
Until Epic Astro Story, I didn't think Kairosoft could do any wrong. Sure, their games were starting to feel repetitive at times, but at least they were solidly built and still fun. But Epic Astro Story was an epic failure on both fronts. Pointless, boring gameplay destroyed a lot of goodwill I extended the small Japanese developer, and I'm afraid a lot of the magic is lost.
Bethseda quality assurance once again. Played Fallout: New Vegas and had a terrible time fighting through crashes and bugs.
I'm ashamed that I've barely used my PS3 which I purchased new sometime towards the middle of the year in anticipation of playing, well, everything I've missed out on for the last few years and more. God of War, Uncharted, Assassin's Creed, Mass Effect, Demon's/Dark Souls, Batman: Arkham City... So much to choose from. So much on my to-do list. So little accomplished in so much time. Damn you, board games.
Sure this isn't a game, but wow. After 3 amazing movies, they give us what amounts to nothing more than a cash-in? These producers should be ashamed. No wonder Matt Damon wouldn't touch it with a 10 foot pole.