It does not seem that long ago when gamers were in the thrall of Skyrim, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Batman: Arkham City and Modern Warfare 3 back in 2011 and compiling their best of lists. Yet now it is July, the third quarter of the year is starting, and six months have already passed in 2012. While the summer is usually a lull in gaming, there are some big titles on the way in July and August like The Secret World, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, Sleeping Dogs, and Darksiders II, as well as some exciting titles coming out for XBLA and PSN. Despite a little something for all gamers in the next three months, it is all time biding until the Holiday season rises from its slumber and unleashes its gaming colossi upon us, even if most will be run over by the lumbering behemoth that is Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. One of the other benefits of these slow summer months (besides being perfect for BBQing) is that it gives gamers a chance to catch up on some of the releases they missed at the beginning of the year or did not have time to play. The staff here at Gaming Illustrated figured we would share some of our favorite titles from the first six months of 2012. Since this only covers half of the year, we will limit choices to two retail games, a XBLA or PSN game and if there has been any standout ports worth mentioning (collection or otherwise).
Max Payne 3 (PS3/Xbox 360/PC) – It had been too long time since I had last seen my good friend Max Payne. He went through a lot of changes since the last time we met, but he is just as entertaining as I remembered. This game may have been criticized for straying too far from the first two Max Payne installments but it helped Rockstar reinvented Max. Instead of regurgitating the old games, Rockstar brought Max to a new environment in Brazil. Bullet Time is just as fun on this console generation. Max Payne 3 is a strong candidate for game of the year.
Street Fighter X Tekken (PS3/Xbox 360) - When it comes to the fighting genre, I mostly stick to HD versions of the classics. However, it was impossible to ignore the blend of the two best fighting franchises ever. It seemed like a fighting fan’s wet dream but there was some concern if it would work. Bringing Tekken characters into the 2D world of Street Fighter could have easily backfired, but instead it came together like peanut butter and jelly. I hope that lightning can strike twice if Tekken X Street Fighter ever comes to fruition.
Soul Calibur V (PS3/Xbox 360) – The character creator alone makes the game worthwhile for me. I literally spend more time in Create-A-Soul playing around than actually dueling anyone. All of the improvements and additional options to said creator really allow for some creative designs, even little things like designing your character’s battle portrait. The fights play out intuitively as usual, and the new fighting styles have interesting potential. As one of the lucky people that did not lose a favorite character, I consider everything, besides the lack of individual story modes, an improvement.
Diablo III (PC) - I already have over 150 hours devoted to this game, so Blizzard must have done something right. At higher difficulties, the game plays out like an exercise in problem solving while still maintaining the intense action we all expect from Diablo (and its clones). Engaging an elite phase beast with invulnerable minions, vortex, arcane enchanted, and waller becomes a dangerous dance that will elicit cries of victory upon triumph not seen since Dark Souls. Those of you that counted know that is not even an inferno mode elite pack.
Mass Effect 3/Max Payne 3 (PS3/Xbox 360/PC) – This is a tie or at least, these two games occupy a similar space for me. The writing in both is superb and each exists as excellent genre pieces, Sci-Fi and Noir respectively. While Mass Effect 3 is seemingly an end for the franchise, Max Payne 3 marks a rebirth of a series where a new entry was a surprise. Mass Effect 3 marks a refinement and improvement to the combat system of a series known for muddled combat at best while adding more customization to character traits, power and abilities. Max Payne uses its signature gameplay mechanic to spectacular use while not seeming gimmicky or trying to tug at gamers’ sleeve like, “hey, remember this from those games on the PS2?!” While Shepard is making difficult decisions to decide the fate of the galaxy and trying to overcome impossible odds, Max is trying to fight shadows and demons doped up on pills and soaked in alcohol in the midst of overcoming corruption, conspiracy and personal vice. Help the Krogans try to restart their civilization or try to make up for failing another woman in another god forsake place at the end of the world; either one is intensely compelling and satisfying.
Gravity Rush (PSVita) – Okay, most people do not own a PS Vita and yes, the launch for the handheld was bungled by being port heavy and frustrating to find titles. So why include a Vita game on one of these lists? The simple answer is because Gravity Rush is extremely good. A level of whimsy and charm is present here that needs to be experienced to understand. Once gamers get into the habit of shifting gravity, there is nothing more gratifying or delightful. It is a game mechanic that not only takes advantage of the PS Vita’s unique properties, but also should be mandatory travel in every game. Playing through Gravity Rush is like being able to be a character in one of Jean-Pierre Jenuet’s films.
Journey (PS3) – The debate about whether a game is art or not is a long, complicated, and ultimately irrelevant topic. If games are not art then who cares? Who wants to be a part of something that is so turgid and inflexible? Journey may not be art in a traditional sense, but it is an experience that could not exist without the medium of video games. It is not often for a game (or book, movie, etc.) to come along that showcases why it needed to be exist in its particular medium. As another piece of art or entertainment, Journey would not have such an emotional impact. The game is beautiful and lyrical; by the end, it feels like something indescribably spiritual. Journey likely could qualify as art, but why bother limiting it to simply that? [Journey the collector’s edition comes out August 28th and is a must own for PS3 owners]
Resonance (PC) – Point and click adventures have been getting the short end of the stick as time’s gone by which is indicative of the mainstream gaming industry’s attitude that action, not intelligence, is where the money is made. The indie game community has really helped to keep games of this kind alive. With last month’s release of Resonance for the PC, Wadjet Eye games marks the end of a long five-year development. The game is a true surprise in a year where games that run on adrenaline have run rampant. It showcases that there is a reason, despite the constant claims otherwise, that the adventure game genre is not dead. It has a spectacular story, it is challenging and displays nostalgic visuals that should remind people of the older Lucasarts adventures. It is not a long game, but it is a worthwhile for anyone who would rather not wield a gun but their brain cells instead and be rewarded with a well-woven tale for using them correctly. It is just the best thing to come out of the indie gaming community and stands out from many of this year’s mainstream games, almost many of which have been underwhelming, because the industry producing has grown to the point it prefers profit to substance. Resonance has the latter in great abundance. It is highly recommended on this basis alone. Has it been mentioned it’s just $9.99? How is that for an affordable escape from reality?
Jax and Daxter Collection (PS3) – If you are looking to reminisce about PS2 era games and encounter an overwhelming amount of nostalgia for no extra cost then the Jax and Daxter Collection is right for you. I had not played nor seen these games for years, so when I picked this collection up, it was like I was 12 again, using my Dark and Light powers with my guns to wreak havoc on the miscellaneous cities Jak traverses. Since these classics were remastered, they look better than ever, making your childhood memories (at least they are for me) all shiny and new again. It is like someone polished them up and set them out on display.
Tribes: Ascend (PC) – Another noteworthy release is the new Tribes title, Tribes: Ascend. This fast-paced FPS is probably one of the craziest shooters I have played in a long time. There is always something going on, so you are never at a loss for action during a game. It is free to play on Steam, thought it is only for PC, sorry Mac users! Pick it up, play it with your friends, and get in on some of this intense action.
Max Payne 3 (PS3/Xbox 360/PC) – 2012 saw the continuation of one of my favorite video game series with Max Payne 3. The first two games always held a special place in my heart as brilliant shooters with amazing style. Not only were they that but they were some of the first games that depressed the hell out of me. Max could never catch a break and I just wanted to give the poor guy a hug after all he had been through…or just buy him another round. Max Payne 3 retained many of the elements of the series but made an old character feel new and refined. A gritty story, stunning graphics, awesome bullet time mechanics, and refined multiplayer proved that Max still has life left in him.
Mass Effect 3 (PS3/Xbox 360/PC) - The year also brought the Mass Effect series to a close. For those of you who have played it: you know how great it is and you do not need me to tell you more about it. Over the course of three games, Bioware managed to tinker with gameplay to a point of near perfection. Not only that but they crafted one of the best universes in video game history that is ripe with content. While the multiplayer aspect of the game was not mind-blowing, it was actually extremely fun for anyone who loved sitting back and playing Mass Effect. Of course, there are those endings. I think the response generated through the endings of the game will become just as important as the games themselves. Will gamers be able to force the hand of developers if enough negative and passionate backlash is seen? Regardless of how you feel about the conclusion of Commander Shephard’s journey, there is no denying that Mass Effect 3 is one of the year’s best.
Rainbow Moon (PS3) – On the downloadable side of things, Rainbow Moon is one of the better games I have played. Rainbow Moon features an insane amount of content for being just a download. Anyone who is craving an old style RPG from the old SNES days has to get this game. The game does not try to tell a convoluted story or weigh you down with features. Instead, you have a grid-based strategy RPG with just enough mechanics to add depth and a thought out plan before jumping into battle. The game has an optional difficulty setting but be warned: if you choose hard you are going to be in for a fight and lots of grinding. It also sports some crazy trophies (one for playing 100 hours and another getting a character to level 500) and even a platinum trophy (rare for a downloadable title). The fact that Rainbow Moon features more content than most retail releases makes this a must have title.
Diablo III (PC) - While I dabbled in Diablo II, and even though I would not consider myself the ultimate Diablo fan, this game has not let anyone down except for maybe the release day disaster and error 3007. With a new look, new characters, faster, harder game play I absolutely loved running around as my monk racking up chain kills, working on combos and messing with my builds. When you think your character cannot get any better Blizzard throws new talents and just eggs you on to keep playing. Do not get me started on Hardcore mode, while normal mode was fun, it does not start until you reach nightmare mode, and begin mowing down bosses grabbing gear and taking advantage of the new Auction House. The latest title in the Blizzard franchise should hold up in popularity for many years like its predecessor(s).
Dishonored (PC/PS3/Xbox 360) – Back at E3, it is easy to get into the big hyped up games, systems etc that garner all the attention. You can put your spin on them but really you want to discover the sleeper game that, number one garners good attention, gets reaction during its demonstration that has the crowd in awe with a couple of “f*** yea’s” in the background. While I did not see everything there, we pried though the crowds for the game that was generating buzz and it was Dishonored. So, I went to check it out, after seeing the new Morrowind online preview at the Bethesda booth, we got to check out the main event. It did not disappoint. With decisive game play, which seemed innovative, Dishonored offers up so many options to help your character get the job done in this first-person stealth game. If you need to make your way around a few buildings, hear an important conversation, or find out how many guards are blocking your way; you are offered plenty of skills that range from the futuristic to telepathic to just plain fun to help you out. Think of your character as Sam Fisher’s great great great grandfather. Want to skip all the quiet stuff and just kill guys, you can do that, and in glorious yet satisfying fashion. This game was far from easy too, when we got our hands on it, most of us did not come close to executing the same moves with the effectiveness the demonstration showed us, this game will prove that there is a learning curve but it is very rewarding. I cannot wait for this game when it comes out.
TERA (PC) – TERA is a gorgeous game that really rekindled my love of MMOs, thanks to some over-the-top character creation, a unique story and wonderfully cool collision based physics for combat. While TERA does not revolutionize gaming or even the MMORPG genre, it felt like a nice step forward and the combat system simply cannot be ignored – it has almost become a must-have for me when trying out a new MMO. TERA showed me that simply running around and hitting my macro all day long grinding was not something I wanted – I needed more.
Mass Effect 3 (PS3/Xbox 360/PC) – I have stayed on the sidelines for the most part with the whole Mass Effect 3 debate. I think the backlash from gamers giving it a low score was purely the disappointment in how it ended (for them). Like Ben, I was pretty satisfied with the ending but taking a step back, realized that it was one hell of a game even if you hated the ending. Whether you liked that ending or not, it does not change that the game still stands as an amazing achievement in gaming.
Journey (PS3) - Journey is seriously one of the most emotionally stirring games I have ever played and is such a wonderful departure from all the other games I have played this year. The graphics are part of the storytelling adventure, in fact, they are most of the vehicle in which story is given to the user. The gameplay is elegant, simple but addictive. I have to say it just might be our early nominee overall, not just for downloads, for game of the year in 2012.
So there it is, Gaming Illustrated’s Staff Picks of the best games for the first half of 2012. Part of the benefit of this is obviously to see what games made a large impact among the writers here (but as a microcosm for the larger population in a way). Clearly, Mass Effect 3 and Max Payne 3 stirred something in many of the staff, but so did Diablo III. This is not too surprising considering they are giant entries in well-established series. That is not a knock on the quality because they are well-made games regardless of the number affixed to the title. What is interesting is to see what picks fell outside of these games. Games like Resonance and Tribes: Ascend are worth checking out for PC users, as well as some quality PSN titles. It will be fascinating to see what impact the games of the second half of 2012 will have (here a preview of one of them was offered, so look out for that).