If there was one consistent thing I heard all year from other students, it’s that the student lifestyle isn’t always conducive to trying things out as soon as they’re available. Whether that be in terms of games, films, books or television shows, we now live in an age where there is no shortage of good content, regardless of its media format. Admittedly that has been negated somewhat by the combined forces of Netflix (and other streaming services) with regards to film and television, Amazon (and the general shift to eBooks) for books, Spotify (and other similar applications) with regards to music, and Steam (and other sources of digital distribution) for games.
Nonetheless for many students on a tight budget, simply waiting a bit can often be a viable strategy (provided you’re okay with skipping out on the cultural zeitgeist). It’s with this in mind that we have decided to split our ‘Game of the Year’ features in two: with one being about
So, without any more delay, here are our favourite 2012 games of 2013!
It’s very rare to come across a game that you really click with almost instantly. After loading up Hotline Miami for the first time earlier this year, I all but slapped myself for having ignored it for so long. Perhaps it’s no surprise that I enjoyed it so much, based on my love for the film Drive (the director, Nicolas Wending Refn, is even specifically thanked in the game’s credits) and faux-nostalgia for the 1980s, yet the game still deserves recognition for all the things it does right. Hotline Miami just oozes style, with its minimalist (yet still highly affecting) almost-pixelated aesthetic design, its downright creepy imagery, and its brilliant haze-inducing soundtrack being able to win almost anyone over.
Even the way the game plays is fantastic, introducing both a sense of urgency and fragility to the top-down shooter genre. Both yourself and the enemies die with a single hit, so the game encourages you to simultaneously be patient and willing to disregard your own safety in order to continue. Despite how brutal the game is, it also isn’t afraid to shy away from, or comment on, the violence it displays. It’s both unrelentingly honest about what it is, and willing to question why it is as fun as it is. And for that, it deserves to be commended.
After playing Batman: Arkham Asylum, everyone thought it couldn’t get better; I mean how could you improve on the perfect blend of detective work, fantastic voice acting, gadgets and classic Batman villains? Well, Arkham City improved on the previous game in the series in almost every way; you could experience the world of Gotham in its entirety (almost) and explore as Batman properly in a way that wasn’t possible in the confines of the Asylum. The game itself also looks stunning, bringing the section of Gotham City that has been transformed into an open-air prison to life in a way that Rocksteady should be truly proud of.
There is also the option to play through a separate, but concurrent plot as Catwoman, which is an interesting aside and a nice change from playing as the The Caped Crusader. The plot is generally engaging and interesting, however, personally I found that the finale fell on its face a little, losing some of the pace and energy that had been created by earlier set pieces, such as the battle with Ra’s al Ghul or Penguin. Though Rocksteady may not have worked on Arkham Origins (the latest in the series), I do expect they will maintain the same level of quality for whatever their next project will be.
Forza Horizon is the racing game that other racing game developers want the audience to think isn’t possible. It combines a beautiful open world with Forza’s realistic driving engine (although the mechanics are not as deep as Forza 4 or Gran Turismo). There is a full day/night cycle, around 300 cars- none of which feel like filler- deep tuning and customisation options, and visual vehicle damage. In a genre so full of compromise and convention, for a game to have contain all of this feels like a breathe of fresh air (especially the combination of realistic driving mechanics and an open world).
It also creates some of the most enjoyable driving that I’ve played in recent years. Driving across the open road at sunset in an Aston Martin DB5, tuned to an almost racing pedigree, is simply a joy. It’s easy to lose afternoons to simply exploring the map in the wide variety of vehicles, tracking the various breakable signs, trying to get new high speeds past the speed cameras or merely appreciating the variety in scenery. This variation is carried over into some of the events too- alongside vanilla racing there are multiple special events, which have you racing aeroplanes, helicopters or even a hot air balloon. Whilst Forza Horizon might not be as good a racing game as its competitors, with slightly shallower mechanics, in terms of pure driving pleasure, it has the competition beat.
Leaping from the familiar setting of Ezio and Renaissance Europe, the Assassin’s Creed franchise came of age with its third numbered title in the series. The story truly mattered for the first time, giving us real motivation beyond slaughtering the next pixelated bad guy, and the developers showed commendable bravery and balance in giving us the fantasy element of the protagonist, Connor, fighting alongside the Founding Fathers in the American Revolution, while also not ignoring the tragic fate of Connor and his people as Native Americans. The new historical setting also leant some much needed freshness to the gameplay, such as the addition of muskets, free-running through forests, and hunting a target in the middle of a battlefield. The game as a whole showed a polish of genuine enthusiasm and innovation that had gradually tarnished as the franchise dwelled on Ezio’s story.
Its strength, however, was the strength of every installment in the Assassin’s Creed series: an immersive and alien world from history in which to sink into. Exquisitely designed, Revolutionary America was a brilliant playground to while away the hours. With all the complaints lodged at the franchise, it’s one that gets better with every iteration. It just cannot be beaten for sheer adventurous fun, and a swashbuckling thrill that is lost in most games today. Now if I can only find time to play the sequel, I’m sure I’ll be back in 2014 to say the same thing.
The Diablo series has more or less defined what is now expected of dungeon-crawlers. Diablo III is much like its predecessors in basic style and appearance, but every aspect has been tweaked and refined. No longer does a player need a stock of mana potions, because all the characters’ mana equivalents refill more quickly and can be restocked by using standard attacks. No longer does the player need to worry about investing skill points carefully, because skills can be adjusted at any time, and each skill has runes that modify how that skill works and appears. The ‘Town Portal’ spell can be cast infinitely instead of having to stock scrolls, and the Resident Evil-esque inventory system is gone, in favour of a simplified system that ultimately allows the player to carry considerably more loot. The loot chest also allows you to transfer items to any of your characters.
The visual scenery is massively improved upon previous instalments and there is a lot more to do in the game with countless random events. All of the characters play differently, with weapons being for the large part aesthetic (unless you’re a melee class), but boost skills, which are now exclusively used with a lot of variety and potential customisation. The storyline continues from the previous games, and rolls out in true Diablo style, building to a climax that is positively epic.
Though it may have endured a rough launch, the core gameplay is still incredibly tight. And for that, Diablo III is a game that all action-RPGs should aspire to.