Dazcooke’s Video Game Land Review Of 2012

2012 – a year that promised much, and will no doubt go down in the textbooks as one of the most interesting years of modern times. The Olympics offered a summer of sporting enjoyment in Britain, a Korean man dancing like a horse became the most popular thing the internet has ever churned out, and the world didn’t end as predicted by ancient calendars running out. Each point to their own a notable landmark I guess.

And so what of the world of videogames? It was an enviable task set for this year by the exploits of 2011; a year where games reached levels of exceptional quality in some cases. 2012 was a horrifically clichéd year in that some things were very good, and some things very poor. Below is my run through the year; I’ve broken away from looking specifically at the big three companies in detail to allow some more room for analysis, and to keep the points a bit shorter for reading purposes.

The Eight Generation Is Here! …. And Also 11 Months Away?

Much of the year has seen an uneasy aura following Nintendo and the plans for their new console, the Wii U. Up until E3, they were incredibly tight lipped about the whole affair, and even after the conference we were still no wiser about release dates and prices. This November saw the console finally released across the world, finally marking the origins of the eighth generation of consoles…and yet Sony and Microsoft are quite content at the moment to stick with the PS3 and Xbox 360 until at least the end of the next year.

The Wii U is an undeniable gamble on Nintendo’s behalf, and the initial results aren’t too promising. Those who have it claim it’s a good bit of kit, whereas those on the outside are unsure on the whole ‘dual-screen gaming in the living room’ approach. My personal reservations with the Gamepad have been solved after some time spent with it; I find it to be a surprisingly comfortable and intuitive thing to handle. But as for the console, I cannot see what it is offering me – the initial line-up is lacking those key titles that can show off what the console has going for it, and the current price is too high for a new console in the current financial times.

It also doesn’t help that over the past year, while Nintendo have been producing the square root of jack for the Wii, the PS3 and Xbox 360 have been slowly developing in line with the visions to create the ultimate multimedia entertainment hubs. Long gone are the days when consoles merely acted as game players with the occasional CD/DVD/Blu Ray capability; the addition of several new entertainment goodies (especially on the 360) means that certainly amongst my friends at least, consoles are becoming more a gateway to stuff like Netflix than a games console first and foremost. And as both consoles are both cheaper than the Wii U/already owned by several million people around the world, what is it that Nintendo are truly offering, and more to the point who are they aiming their product at? Their messages have been confused for the past few years now, and I find it little surprise that over the last year they posted their first operating loss.

In the meantime, there is going to be a very interesting crossover for the next-generation Playstation and Xbox. They are definitely in the works; that much is proved by the internal documents that have been leaked over the past year or two. But we are not at a stage now where the old consoles are necessarily obsolete – in particular, I still reckon more can be gotten out of the PS3 hardware. 2013 is going to be a very important year in terms of convincing us, the gaming public, why we need a new console. I guess shinier graphics always help…

The Handheld Game Changes…Again

Last year the 3DS was released, and this year Sony got round to releasing the PS Vita, which for all intensive purposes is a great piece of kit – the screens are graphically excellent, its comfortable and powerful to boot. And yet no-one has bought it.

Just over 4 million sales in a calendar year makes for pretty depressing reading, and yet its problems are very clear; game developers simply aren’t committing to the device. When people were promised that big name franchises like Uncharted, Call Of Duty and FIFA were going to be on the Vita, what they didn’t mention was the games were going to be watered down versions of the games found on the PS3. Aside from one or two really original titles like Gravity Rush, the games that you would really want to play on Vita are limited to either old game remakes like Persona 4 Golden, or PS1 titles that can now be fully enjoyed on the move with decent analogue sticks. The 2013 release calendar also looks pretty dark for the Vita.

Around four million sales in the first year is below Sony's expectation for the Vita
Around four million sales in the first year is below Sony’s expectation for the Vita

The only consolation that Sony can really take is that the 3DS hasn’t exactly raced off into a commanding lead. It’s the biggest selling piece of hardware of the year thus far (13 million worldwide compared to roughly 10 million PS3’s), with the addition of an XL version to the line-up helping, but the 3D gimmick isn’t paying great dividends for Nintendo. The real worry for both platforms as I hinted at in last years report, is the threat posed by mobile phones and tablets, which have enjoyed another profitable year in the gaming market.

With a swathe of new tablets added to the smart-phone that seemingly everyone now has in their pocket, the potential audience is vast, and the range of games being made available on Android and iOS devices is crazy – I find that being able to play Vice City, which only 10 years ago was at the peak of video game development, on a phone is mind-blowing, and more big names games are certain to find their home on a portable screen in the future. Other games that made the headlines for portable devices include Curiosity: Whats Inside The Cube? , which for at least a week was a fascinating way into seeing how people would co-operate to basically poke pixels on a screen – even if most people just drew a enormous cock, as is the way of modern doodlings.

Motion Gaming Is Still…Meh

Same story, different year. People still buy Kinect peripherals, and they still do not have a single piece of software that impresses me. And no, saying that FIFA 13 ‘works better with Kinect’ on the box isn’t going to make me want one. Motion gaming for me is just another idea in a long line of concepts that have failed over the years (laserdisc games, virtual reality gaming etc.).

“Originality Is Dead, Man”

The above quote came from a friend of mine after discussing the games coming out in Winter, and to an extent they are right – an overwhelming amount of games released this year, in particular the big name releases, were sequels, threequels or even fourquels of previous games. Now don’t get me wrong; quite a fair few of these games are still being produced with a high mirror shine and were very enjoyable to play (I would cite Halo 4 here as the best example – doesn’t do anything I haven’t seen done already in a Halo game, but as far as presentation goes its second to none), but not enough are trying something new. Are the developers afraid of titles not selling?

Wait…Originality ISN’T Dead!

Well, not of all them are, and to be honest most of the highlights of the year have come from the independent scene and smaller developers. Minecraft continued the charge of the indie scene with a successful transition to Xbox Live, but other titles such as Fez, Journey and Hotline Miami have also received warm praise this year from critics and consumers alike. The organisers and contributors of the Humble Indie Bundle also deserve special congratulations this year for the fifth bundle, which contained the likes of Amnesia, Bastion, LIMBO and Superbrothers, arguably the strongest line-up yet.

The Bitter, Bitter Disappointments Of 2012

And so before we look at the highlights of the year, we move swiftly into the depths. So, what caused me to despair this year?

  • The entire furore over the ending to Mass Effect 3 – not only was the ending disappointing, but the backlash was even more ridiculous
  • Sony choosing to advertise the woeful Wonderbook over the not-as-good-as-Brawl-but-still-mindless-fun-in-multiplayer All Stars Battle Royale
  • Persona 4 Arena getting delayed in Europe until 2013
  • Bioshock Infinite getting delayed to February 2013…then March 2013…then probably never coming out
  • The GAME administration fiasco
  • Usher’s performance at E3
  • Sony’s conference at E3
  • Nintendo’s conference at E3
  • E3 in general (bar Ubisoft and The Last Of Us)
  • THQ’s fall and further fall from grace

There are bound to be more if I think about it in more detail – but let’s not concentrate too much on the negatives, eh?

The ‘Dazcooke’s Video Game Land Awards’ – 2012 Edition

To finish off, I’ve decided to expand the very basic awards that I had last year, to also include runners up for each category. These awards are prestigious, so no bickering about the results alright?

Game Of The Year

I’d say about 60% of the titles that I have played this year are from before 2012, such was the quality of games that I have simply not found the time for over the years. I was still completing my GOTY from last year, Skyrim, in the early months of this year, and I have only just recently finished Metal Gear Solid 4, and that’s four years old now! That said, I quite enjoyed some of the games released this year. Far Cry 3, whilst not being quite everything I had hoped for, is one of the most inventive and downright fun open-ended games that I have played in years. I also really enjoyed Catherine, which finally got released this year in Europe, even though I’m hopelessly inept at climbing towers. In the end though, it’s a downloadable title that I have picked as my game of the year – and it’s Trials Evolution.

Trials Evolution

I’ve wasted so many hours trying to shave milliseconds of time off of my runs that it’s unreal – and when I do finally do it, several hours later with a voice wrecked from constant screaming and shouting, a glance at the leaderboard shows me that I’m still several seconds behind the best times in the world. It has the age old quality that marks so many great games; easy to pickup, impossible to master. It’s addictive in single player, moreso in multiplayer, with a budding creative community and quality presentation. It’s a triumph for downloadable games

Developer Of The Year

I would be quite tempted to give this award to 343 Industries for not making a mess out of Halo 4, or to Arkane Studios for bringing out a well received new IP in the form of Dishonored, but I will plump for Ubisoft Montreal this year, if not just for providing us with two of the more exciting experiences of the year in the form of Assassins Creed III and Far Cry 3. It will also be Ubisoft Montreal who will be at the helm of Watch Dogs, the game that wowed the plaudits at E3.

Best Xbox 360 Game

Little competition here. There haven’t been as many Xbox exclusives in 2012 as there have been in past years, and it was clear from an early stage that Halo 4 was the title that Microsoft were pinning all of their hopes on. I quite liked the transition to open world racing that was pulled off in Forza Horizon, and the Xbox Live Arcade of Minecraft has proven to be surprisingly popular given the title’s origin of PC’s. But Halo 4 represents all that is good with Microsoft in gaming; a lavish budget spent tweaking the standard Halo experience to be familiar and yet distinctively under 343’s direction – the presence of a more ‘human’ storyline is the best example, as now the Master Chief isn’t just the faceless super solider of old times.

Best PS3 Game

Not having constant access to a PS3 means my choices here become a bit more stunted – from what I have seen of it, Journey is a lovely little game and something that I look forward to playing soon, but the best game I played on a PS3 this year was Tokyo Jungle, which is stupidly hilarious. You pick an animal (starting off as a Pomeranian Dog but soon unlocking bigger predators as you fulfill tasks), and last as long as you can in a small area of run down Tokyo where all the animals are out to kill you. Survive by hunting other animals, attracting mates and breeding the new generation. There’s no real story attached, and the main ambition is to get as high a score as possible, but its compellingly addictive.

Best Wii Game: N/A

Honestly, I have played a single Wii game this year, so this award is null and void for 2012. I attest it to Nintendo focusing purely on the Wii U and giving up on the Wii in the meantime. I guess…at a push, I played about two hours of Xenoblade Chronicles and quite enjoyed it. So there you go.

Best Handheld Game

I’ve sunk a lot of time into Pokemon Black 2 this year, but I have found it to be too similar to its predecessor once the story is out of the way to give it much praise. As a result, my favourite handheld experiences of the year have been Android and Iphone games played on friend’s devices (I still prefer old style moblie phones – you know, the ones where calling people is still the main priority), and the one that caught my attention the most is Rayman: Jungle Run. Featuring the style of the series reboot, Rayman Origins, the limbless wonder will run through levels of increasing difficulty, and all you have to do is tap the screen in order to make him jump, glide and punch. It requires minimal effort, and is very good fun in execution.

Gaming Moment Of The Year

My new award for this year – the moment in a game when I simply sat back and was left speechless; either through drama, comedy, effort or some other variable. Now this award is completely subjective, as the way I play a game will invariably be different to everyone else, and therefore reactions will change accordingly. However, in order to preserve the moment for posterity, I’ll recap what I most enjoyed this year

  • Completing Inferno 3 on Trials Evolution – Ah, the bastardly hard level from Trials HD (which took me precisely 495 attempts to complete) returns with an almighty vengeance. Arguably, it’s not the hardest level in the game, but it still took well over 40 minutes of my precious time to complete. Completion was marked with a sigh of relief they heard on the other side of the English Channel
  • Getting the Serendiptious Acheievement on Final Fantasy XIII-2 – Even now I simply do not understand why I spent almost two days straight, with an awful headcold to boot, playing slots to get this fucking achievement. But after hours of repetitive, mind numbing gameplay, I finally did it, and ran around the house screaming ‘YES!’ to anyone in the vicinity. The reaction after the long wait made it all worthwhile
  • Winning the EA Cup in FIFA 13 – My route to the final (playing as Manchester United of course) was a relatively stress free experience; a 6-0 win, followed by a 3-1 win in extra time, followed by a 2-1 victory where my opponent scored an equaliser in the 120th minute…and then I went up the other end and scored with the last kick of the game. What made this memorable was the final against a guy with several X’s in his gametag (by all accounts, an idiot) playing as Arsenal who took the lead in the 6th minute and proceeded to batter me – but instead of scoring more, De Gea pulled out a wondershow and pushed 5 of his shots onto the woodwork. I equalized late on, and won a penalty shootout. This made me laugh. The ridiculous underdog win was capped off by the opponent sending a message proclaiming me to be ‘a fukin lucky prik’. This made me laugh even more

All of these moments were memorable because I overcame some sort of challenge or adversity. Only one moment this year however made me genuinely impressed thanks to gameplay alone. Now, Far Cry 3 has plenty of entertaining moments, some of them mission based (everyone seems to enjoy burning a field of drugs to the sounds of Skrillex) and some of them utterly spontaneous (getting ready to attack an enemy camp, a wild tiger infiltrated the base and did it for me while I watched on). My personal favourite comes as literally the last action moment of the game – not to spoil too much, but you have to escape an enemy compound in a helicopter. Suddenly, the sweeping strings of Wagner’s ‘Ride Of The Valkyries’ flare up, and you take to the skies putting several tonnes of hot lead into anything that moves. It’s nothing more than a carbon copy of the famous scene from Apocalypse Now, but my word it makes you feel all kinds of badass cool.

Best Song In A Video Game

A simple enough choice in the end – the standard version of An End, Once And For All (which plays after the player has made the final choice of the Mass Effect trilogy) was nice enough, but for the extended cut they lengthened the track in line with the additional scenes, and gave it a more bombastic build up to the final note. When people attack the ending of the game, I counter with this and tell them to shut up and listen. A fitting track to end the Mass Effect saga.

Also, a side note to say that the song ‘Panda‘ from the FIFA 13 soundtrack was by far the most catchy song I heard in a video game this year.

Best Graphics In A Video Game

This was a tough one to call. Seeing the enormous Reapers descend upon unsuspecting planets in the background of Mass Effect 3 made Bioware’s RPG an early contender. And then in September, I saw Halo 4 in action, with its ridiculously good looking faces and space environments. In the end, the graphical heavyweight of the year barged in right at the end of November, in the form of Far Cry 3. The Rook Islands are utterly spectacular to gaze upon (get up to a high point with a hand glider and the draw distance is spectacular), and the developers really aced getting facial likenesses into the game with some well done motion capture work. Prettiest game of this generation? Quite possibly…apart from when you are digging shrapnel out of your arm with a stick. That’s a bit gruesome.

One To Watch For 2013

It seems almost cliched, but who isn’t looking forward to Grand Theft Auto V? Few other games can command the attention of the gaming masses like the GTA name can (with the exception of maybe a Half Life 3), and Rockstar do know how to tease us. This year we have only been given the odd trailer or screenshot with a few details on the gameplay, but it’s been enough to have most of us salivating at the mouth. Will three separate protagonists work in a GTA game? Only time will tell when the game launches (Hopefully) at some point next year.

Elsewhere, I’m already pretty hyped about some other titles. I look forward to the reboot of Sim City in the early part of next year, and I also have high hopes for the likes of Gears Of War: Judgement. Ironically, a fair few titles that I want in 2013 are also the ones that I wanted in 2012, but which got delayed; the jury is still out on Bioshock Infinite, and Atlus will be bringing Persona 4 Arena to European shores soon. In any case, when I come to write next years review, I will probably be still going through games from the past few years anyway.

Finally, will we be seeing (or even owning and playing?) the PS4 and Xbox 720 by next Christmas? Nintendo have hit the opening shots of the eighth generation bout – its up to Sony and Microsoft to counter sooner rather than later

Well, that’s about it for another year. Thank you very much not only for reading this article, but for supporting the blog over the past two years, and I wish you all a Happy New Year.