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D+PAD’s Games of the Year 2012

14:2507/01/2013Posted by D+PAD Staff4 Comments

2012 has been a funny old year in the world of videogaming; though the standard of releases was high throughout there was a feeling of uncertainty and impending change hanging over the industry. Most significantly, the console – once seen to be an inevitable and, indeed, unstoppable part of the gaming landscape – has had to face up to the very real threat posed by smart phones and the tablets. Then, of course, there was the ever looming promise of the arrival of the next generation, leaving gamers uncertain as to whether or not this year marked the final hurrah for their beloved consoles or just another year in the ongoing cycle. That the next gen arrived in the form of the Wii U further mixed things up, with Nintendo once again attempting to disrupt the usual evolutionary path of bigger, better, more.

Whatever the impact of these factors, we were still spoilt with a wonder eclectic release schedule, and it’s now time to take stock and pick our favourite releases of the year. Although we obviously like to think of ourselves as a team, the contributors who write for D+PAD work very much independently and for this reason we have chosen not to select a single title to hold up as the year’s best. Instead, below you can see our individual selections and the reasons why each writer considers their choice the cream of 2012.

Thanks for reading and here’s to 2013 – it should be a fascinating year to be gamer!

Simeon Paskell

Chris Morell’s Game of the Year 2012: Mass Effect 3 (PC, Wii U, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)

In the end it came down to which came offered the best and most consistent experience. Mass Effect 3 stands as my favourite of the year for being one of the few games that never had me hurling the controller in frustration – a sin that Assassin’s Creed 3 is all too guilty of. ME3 is prettier and more expansive than its predecessors, telling the story of how Commander Shepard united a galaxy on the brink of annihilation. It’s both epic and immensely personal, as long-time fans of the series saw their customised Shepard through to the endgame.

It’s no understatement to say that many of the more vocal fans were left disappointed, even perplexed by the ending to the point that Bioware offered a free, ‘extended cut’ download. While this may be seen as an admission of guilt, the Mass Effect trilogy is all about the journey as opposed to the outcome. We’ve launched into worlds rife with danger, full of intrigue and interesting characters, and brought together a host of races to counter the Reaper threat. If Mass Effect 2 was the serialised lead-up, then ME3 is the explosive climax that answers questions and concludes the tale. Boasting an accessible combat system featuring gunplay, melee and class-based abilities, there’s no shortage of ways with which to lay waste to the Reaper forces. Will you take rifle in hand and go in gun blazing, or will you play Vanguard and lift opponents, making use of your force-like powers? Will you be a hardened renegade or show a softer side to build friendships with your crew? It’s completely up to you.

As with anything, there’s still room for improvement, but with Bioware continuing to release add-ons as downloadable content, we’re seeing life in the old dog many months after its initial release. Not only that, but ME3 was the first in the series to introduce the popular multiplayer component – something many of us hadn’t even seriously considered when thinking of a sequel. With a wealth of sci-fi action and a story that brings the epic series (at least in its current form) to a close, Mass Effect 3 stands not only as a triumph in gaming, but as a new benchmark for what can be accomplished in the years to come.

Charles Etheridge-Nunn’s Game of the Year 2012: Borderlands 2 (PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)

Trying to scale the uncanny valley is one thing, but lot of games find it easier to look interesting by avoiding it altogether. In an age where off-grey shooters all look identical, Borderlands 2’s world of Pandora is more like the fire/ice/rock world layouts of more classical games which is no bad thing at all. The monsters are baffling and different in the way they behave, and the supporting characters are all entertaining lunatics with their own funny (and sometimes quite sad) backstories. Everything feels rich, bright, dialled up way beyond eleven, to a place beyond numbers and where there is only screaming.

Borderlands 2 is a first person shooter like few others. Rather than having the gun-porn of lovingly recreating accurate real world guns and what they do, it has the gun-porn of shiny, shiny guns in strange shapes doing unrealistic things like blowing up when you throw them or electrocuting people. There’s a weird brand-loyalty which even happens as the randomised weapon stats follow patterns according to manufacturer (Tediore & Maliwan for the win!) For a world where the most popular shooter’s missions are, “Follow the invincible NPC down a corridor and kill the forrins”, Borderlands’ missions range from ’shoot these guys’, ‘steal hood ornaments’ to ‘take part in the saddest birthday party known to man or droid’ and far, far more. In this day and age of ‘grimdark’ games puffing their chests and acting like they’re mature, Borderlands 2 is capable of being both very funny and very dramatic all at the same time.

At times the weight of pop culture references and wacky hijinks can feel overbearing, but it’s rarely for long. There’s always a new shiny object, awesome new ability, strange enemy or level to deal with.

All of that doesn’t even touch on the characters. With simple controls, they’re fun enough to control, but then you get the powers. While the first couple of levels are dull, the moment you get your class skill, everything lights up. Abilities like the Gunzerker’s two-gun attacks, the Siren’s phase-locking and buffing, the Commando’s increasingly huge and explodey turret are all great additions to an already fun game. The passive abilities add nice buffs and abilities somehow not exploited in FPS’ like making ammunition regenerate. Different abilities stack and complicate issues, but not in a way which ever seems overwhelming. The same goes for the busy, strange world of Pandora and the gear system.

Experiencing all of this is one thing, but so is getting to do it with friends. In a world with less and less offline opportunities, it’s refreshing to be able to experience multiplayer Borderlands 2 from the same couch. When you hear the mania of Claptrap or see something berserk happen, the best thing is having other people to go, “What the hell are we watching right here?” Online or offline, for the first, second or fifth playthrough, Borderlands 2 consistently delivers a fun experience.

Simeon Paskell’s Game of the Year 2012: Nintendo Land (Wii U)

When it comes to selecting my Game of the Year, I’ve always had a tendency to lean towards the epic, sprawling, big budget triple-A titles that consumed hours/days of my time. While there have been plenty of titles released this year that fit this mould, there is one title that stole my heart – Nintendo Land on the Wii U; a game that slapped a Mario cap atop my Mii’s head and let me play hide-and-seek with a room full of mates.

As a Wii U launch title, it was difficult to approach Nintendo Land with much of an open mind; surely this would just be a collection of forgettable mini-games, mirroring the vapid-minimalism of the Wii’s own Wii Play, and at a glance it appears to be just that. There are hidden depths however, and over time Nintendo Land reveals itself to be a fascinating smorgasbord of individual and multiplayer experiences that may be thematically all over the place but that still do an amazing job of delivering the theme-park-esque thrills hinted at by the game’s title.

It is with a room full of players Nintendo Land really comes to life – delivering an experience that can only be described as riotous. The competitive attractions each translate Nintendo’s vision of the potential of the Wii U into giddy reality, opening with the frighteningly simplistic Mario Chase which lays down simple concepts that are built upon elsewhere in the package. Chasing a Mario-costumed family member around a multicoloured maze is as dumb as you can imagine, but it distils everything that is fun about videogames into a laser-beam focussed burst of gameplay, and Nintendo Land’s attractions are stuffed with the ability to deliver such moments that rarely fail to enduce hilarity – be it through the swollen-headed waddling of Animal Crossing: Sweet Day or Scooby Doo-esque survival horror of Luigi’s Ghost Mansion.

The final reason why Nintendo Land is my game of the year is in how successfully it manages to bridge the gap between gamers and non-gamers, without ever feeling patronising or dumbed down. Playing The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest with my father was an experience I will genuinely never forget; I honestly can’t remember any other game that had us both saying ‘We’ll have just one more go…’ in unison as we attempted to best another level. It was truly, truly brilliant and a further hint that the notions of ‘hardcore’ and ‘casual’ gamers might not be with us for much longer.

There were many other titles released in 2012 that made a big impact on me – the beautiful Journey, the creepy and immersive ZombiU, the beguiling Dishonored, the head-spinning Gravity Rush – but it is Nintendo Land that delivered the most eye-opening, memorable and downright enjoyable experiences. It isn’t perfect – to get the most out of it you need meet hefty hardware and player requirements, there are few wobbly attractions and it can be a bit explanation-heavy – but it has given me so many memorable social gaming moments and it presses so many buttons while pushing gaming in new and interesting directions that I can’t help but adore it.

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