Dust yourself down. Put away that hateful anorak. Winter has come and gone and as the year draws to a close it’s time for reflection. Revel in the first glimmers of sunshine as spring ushers in the first whiff of the festive season.
To celebrate, we’ve compiled a list of 2012’s best games. Don’t expect to see Assassins Creed 3 or Halo 4 here. These games still have a few days to go before their release; as does a certain bald-headed killer in his latest and as for December, Far Cry 3 looks set to round off the year in style. But these are all moments to look forward to. Instead, enjoy this list of the best games we’ve enjoyed thus far.
6) Sleeping Dogs (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
From the bowels of the Activision machine dropped a game deemed unworthy of their name. Sleeping Dogs was all but finished, but when it was dropped by its publisher it was certain never to see the light of day. Sensing potential in the game, Square Enix stepped in to save Sleeping Dogs and released it in August to worldwide fanfare. Truly Activision missed a trick.
Taking place in Hong Kong, Sleeping Dogs is, to the casual observer, Grand Theft Auto dressed up in oriental frock with pretty neon lights. But give this game a chance and you’ll realise its far more than a mere clone: it boasts brilliant action and a great selection of cars, motorbikes and boats to navigate Hong Kong in style. The kinetic hand-to-hand combat borrows a page from the Batman: Arkham City handbook and the story is the stuff of B-movies. But you’ll be having too much fun to care.
5) Borderlands 2 (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
Enter the badlands of Borderlands 2 and you’ll struggle to free yourself. The more you play, the more you’re rewarded. Scavenge the wasteland and you’ll unearth better gear and bigger guns. Keep shooting, keep looting and you’ll level up as you do so.
By retaining the cel-shaded look of the first game, Borderlands 2 has all the customary Borderlands flavour, but with the bonus of a wealth of new content. It’s the sort of game that inspires reckless devotion. So much so that a man by the name of Matt “BLiTZ” Siegfried (yeah we don’t get the lowercase ‘i’ either) was the first to reach the game’s 50th and final level after playing for a whopping 43 hours – nonstop. There’s a video of his achievement on Youtube if you have two whole days to spare gawking at a screen. Just remember to keep yourself alive while you watch.
We love Borderlands 2. But perhaps not as much as “BLiTZ”.
4) Max Payne 3 (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
Max is back after a long hiatus. Sporting a beard and a bad Hawaiian shirt, he’s bristling with angst and a bloodlust unquenched. Much has happened in his life since his run in with Mona Sax. He’s living in Sao Paulo, Brazil and working as a bodyguard for corporate bigwigs, trading his gun for a bottle of whiskey on his days off.
The favelas, football stadiums and bruised Sao Paulo streets are step away from the snow-clad New York of old. Rockstar has imbued the game with more vibrancy and colour. It’s a brave move given Max Payne was once characterised by its sombre palette of greys and blacks. But it works.
On the other hand, the story is every bit as dark as it’s ever been. In places it actually feels overly morose as Max sinks deeper into despair – and Max Payne 3 has lost some of the surreal humour of its forebears. But anyone who clamours for a tale full of forks and twists, of duplicity and betrayal, will be more than satisfied. The story comes to a disappointing close, all the subtlety and pacing of the earlier levels left in the wake of mind-numbing action. But the ride to this point is brilliant fun.
3) Mass Effect 3 (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
Commander Shepherd’s role as Earth’s intergalactic jetsetter and political mediator comes to a close in Mass Effect 3. History shows that the concluding chapter in any trilogy is notoriously difficult to get right and, surprise, surprise, many fans were unhappy with the way Mass Effect 3 ultimately ends. I suppose getting personally invested in a tale of fiction has that effect on you. In fact, Bioware was so inundated with hate-mail that they released an extended cut of the game’s final hurrah. Personally, I prefer an ending told once, not twice.
And if you recognize Mass Effect for what it is — pure, silly, unadulterated space opera — this final instalment is great fun. A worthy member of this list, it’s full of action, diplomacy and a little bit of sauce. Shepherd, you have a galaxy to save. Get to it.
2) Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition (PC)
For the discerning masochist, Dark Souls is a must. Watch as you’re stabbed, impaled, thrown from ledges and crushed by boulders. Laugh with glee as hours of progress are erased by a single misstep. Indeed, sadists will similarly revel in Dark Souls as they watch their friends try to beat the game in vain. Dark Souls caters for everyone.
And it’s back, only now for PC – the full, meaty experience with ten hours of new content. The new stuff ramps up the difficulty providing an added challenge for even the diehard fan. Sadly, as ports go, Prepare to Die is as shoddy as they come, with a fixed resolution and slowdowns aplenty. But the modding community has already fixed the former.
Possibly the hardest game ever made, you’re free to check FAQs, game guides and walk-through. It won’t help. And as for browsing the web for cheats? Don’t bother – there aren’t any.
1) Dishonored (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
Our best game of 2012 (so far!) also happens to have the most established lineage. This might seem paradoxical. Dishonored is a new IP after all. But dig deeper and its DNA is clear. This is Thief meets Deus Ex with a touch of City 17 sprinkled on top.
And what do you know? These comparisons are salient because Dishonored’s development team is made up of men and women who worked on those aforementioned games. The lead game designer? Harvey Smith of Deus Ex fame. The boys behind Thief: Deadly Shadows? Check. Then there’s Viktor Antonov, the visual designer of Half-Life 2’s urban jungle, who has lent his creative touch to the city of Dunwall in Dishonored.
And Dishonored oozes quality. Its artistic merits are considerable while the levels are painstakingly elaborate. This is not a sandbox game, no, but it gives you the best possible sandbox to explore at every turn. As Corvo, you’re tasked with assassinating certain targets, but the way you wish to proceed is utterly up to you. Utilising one of the many paths to the target’s location, you can dispel of them as you see fit. And if you’re a pacifist at heart, you can even find a way to remove your mark without resorting to force.
Given its heritage, Dishonored unsurprisingly harks back to the philosophy reinforced by Thief and Deus Ex: player choice is the zenith. Dishonored resists the temptation to bog you down in scripted sequences and silly quick-time events. Truly it represents gaming at its purest, and its finest.
So there you have it: the best games we’ve played so far this year. Check out the titles that didn’t quite make the cut below.
Diablo III – It’s Diablo. What more needs to be said? (PC)
Journey – A whimsical, ethereal experience like none other. (PS3)
The Walking Dead – Putting the fun back in point-and-click. (Cross-platform)
Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition – Lots of sex and nudity… oh, and role-playing. (Xbox 360)