Is it wise to reboot a strategy game, remembered for being one of the best in its genre, in a completely different style? Developer Starbreeze did that with Syndicate this year turning the franchise into something almost all their own. Sadly, publisher EA didn't feel the game sold well enough and Starbreeze didn't support it post launch (perhaps A equals B, in this case). Syndicate's once high-profile reboot quietly came and went.
And yet Syndicate was an excellent experience. Once mastered by the end of the game's campaign, you unleashed cyberpunk-fueled death at clans of enemies in record time. You could hack into an enemy's head and make him kill himself for you! That's crazy.
Syndicate's co-op mode was the real winner as a side-story that visited great locations and offered plenty of challenge. Banging my head against a wall for an hour attempting to complete the final mission with a handful of other reviewers during the game's launch, and finally walking away successful, is still one of the best experiences I've had all year. It's a pity the game has so much promise and potential for a sequel, while Starbreeze will likely never have the chance to make it.
First released in 2010 in Japan and then in 2011 in Europe, Xenoblade Chronicles arrived in North America just in time for our "Best of the Year" awards. Not since Final Fantasy X was released for the PlayStation 2 have I really cared to play a Japanese role-playing game, a genre I grew up adoring as a child. It's a genre that commands a lot of your time and, unlike other time-consuming endeavors, it's more difficult to return to a JRPG after you've put it aside for an extended period of time.
Reading the Joystiq review from the wonderful Heidi Kemps told me I had to play the game and consider it for an award this year. Not only is it a gorgeous, but it tells a wonderful story and has an outstanding mix of combat systems I remember from my old JRPG days. It's a game I wish I would have played earlier, if only to force everyone on staff to finish it off as well. It made my top five of the year, and I had hoped it would carry enough weight to make it to the final ten. Sadly, it was shy of the mark. Still, Xenoblade Chronicles from developer Monolith Soft is something you should spend time with because it's one of the best games of 2012 (and 2011 ... and 2010, apparently).
I'm never going to finish FTL: Faster Than Light. I'll get right to the end and either get destroyed or enter into a stalemate with the final boss ship. When I first played the game, the notion of me not being able to complete the task at hand was frustrating. But I've come to accept it. It's an exceptional game and a positive showpiece for indie developers clawing at the walls for support on Kickstarter in the face of bigger companies entering the crowd-sourcing arena. And the music ... seriously, it's fantastic.
The original Borderlands never got its hooks into me, but I spent countless hours stalking enemies in Borderlands 2. Maybe it was the fresh locales, insane and inane cast of characters, and all the guns ever that helped sway my favor. Maybe it was my lust for more loot in a post-Diablo 3 world. I can't really put my finger on it. Sure, its referential humor wears unbelievably thin and some of the characters still grate on my soul (urgh, Tiny Tina), but it was some of the most fun I've had playing a game. What was even more surprising about my enjoyment was that I played the majority of Borderlands 2 solo, completely eschewing a major component of what makes the series special. If the quality of the upcoming DLC is there, I look forward to playing it some more.
As I sit here typing this paragraph, M.O.O.N.'s track from Hotline Miami,"Hydrogen," is blasting on my iPhone. Like Fez and FTL: Faster Than Light, the music in Hotline Miami is fantastic. But unlike those games, the music really helps sell the experience. It's a dark, violent game and the pulse-pounding sound helps move that frantic and exciting action along in a big way.
In Sound Shapes, from developer Queasy Games, music is the game. Rolling around the beautiful worlds on a Vita (or on a PS3), collecting notes to continue the music, was a lot of fun. It kept my Vita battery primed and ready for months. Community levels kept it fresh. I also have a soft spot in my heart for it, since it was born from a team in my hometown of Toronto, Ontario.
During the Game of the Year selection process in 2011, I was at a different media outlet. Near the end of the year, the staff there each wrote a "most anticipated games of 2012" feature and when I didn't mention Diablo 3 on my personal list commenters were upset. Fast-forward twelve months and even naming Blizzard's latest in the series as a potential "Best of" game seems like it would evoke the same "How dare you!" response.
But Diablo 3, despite its server issues, still missing PvP and shady auction house nonsense, was one of my favorite games of the year. I spent over a hundred hours with the game alone and with friends, and would have played more if I hadn't been forced to play other things for work (poor me, right?). I understand where the anger comes from, but Diablo 3's problems, in a year where a lot of great games were broken, didn't detract from my overall experience. Like Skyrim last year, if it worked for you it was amazing, but if you ran into issues (Sup, everyone on PS3?) you wonder who in their right mind would select it for any kind of award. I respect that call -- it's why I didn't vote for The Walking Dead this year because I had nothing but trouble playing it, despite loving the story. In the case of Diablo 3, the only thing I could really say is that Blizzard delivered on of my favorite games of the year, in spite of themselves.
Frog Fractions: Get your ass to Bug Mars!
Persona 4 Golden: Not considered because it's a revamp of a PS2 game, but I'm loving it.
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive: Technically a new entry in the series, CS:GO took a lot of my time this year. I loved every minute of playing it on PC. You should check it out.
Cook Serve Delicious: I haven't played one game on my iPad for this long in forever.
The Room: I literally just finished it yesterday and my immediate reaction was, "why can't I have more of it now?!"