2012 will probably go down as a year of disappointment for me. Looking back at my most anticipated games of the year, only half of them made my best of 2012 list. Between delays on games like BioShock Infinite and DmC, to games just not living up my expectations such as Xenoblade Chronicles and Ninja Gaiden 3, there was much to be disappointed with this year. Despite all the disappointment of the year, there was still a lot of good to come out of 2012. I got my PS Vita system which is my new favorite handheld and also got a new PC to finally get into all the great games it has to offer. Here were the 10 (11) games that impressed me the most this year:
Honorable Mention: Persona 4 Golden
I don't normally give out an Honorable Mention, but this is a special circumstance. Persona 4 on the PS2 is my second favorite game of all time behind only Final Fantasy X. Persona 4 Golden is bigger and better with more events, 2 new social links, new personae, updated graphics, and various gameplay tweaks such as the ability to choose which skills are inherited through fusion. Being an improved version of one of my all time favorite games, this would have easily won my GOTY and I felt it wasn't fair to all the other great games I've played. I still felt it worth mentioning how great this game is though with so much new content. For anyone with a Vita or just a lover of JRPGs, P4G is an absolute must play.
10. Binary Domain
I picked up this little gem recently during Steam's Winter Sale. Right off the bat you're thrown into combat situations with robots, and this don't let up. This game features set piece after set piece and nails almost every one of them. Destructible limbs add depth to your strategy of defeating the relentless stream of robots and works out great. Boss battles are big and challenging to further add to the top notch action. There's also a very solid story led by some pretty good characters. A trst system adds depth to story, as a high or low level of trust can alter some aspects of the story. Binary Domain is easily one of the most underrated games of 2012 and is definitely worth checking out.
9. The Darkness II
The Darkness is easily one of the most underrated games of this generation. It featured a rich story and solid gameplay and never got the due respect it deserved. Jackie Estacado returns in The Darkness II, and things are just as good this time around. The main draw of this game is obviously the story, and while I didn't think it was quite as good as the first game, it was still very good. Jackie's internal monologues during loading screens are as good as ever, and the overarching story will test both Jackie's morals and his psyche. The gameplay is where this game makes it's biggest improvement over the original game. Quad-wielding demon arms and guns is extremely satisfying and there are some cool Darkness abilities at your disposal too. A shame that the game was so short, but it was still a very worthy followup to the first game.
8. Tales of Graces
Tales of Vesperia is one of my favorite JRPGs this gen, and Tales of Graces manages to improve on the gameplay in almost every way. Combat has been revamped and is better than ever. Titles now have meaning as a way to learn new skills. The crafting system has been improved, and the Eleth mixer adds more depth to both crafting and combat. The story plays HEAVILY on the theme of friendship, and while it wasn't terrible, I didn't think it lived up to ToV. A lot of the characters are bland, but there are some truly great ones like the quirky Pascal, and the often over-serious-to-the-point-of-being-hilarious Hubert. There are tons of sidequests to get into and an entire prologue chapter to keep things rolling after you've finished the main story arc. The story won't blow you away, but the gameplay is as good as ever to make it a worthwhile game for Tales fans and JRPG fans alike.
7. Assassin's Creed III
This is one of my biggest disappointment of 2012. When this game was first announced and the trailer was shown off, I was almost pissing my pants with excitement over how good it looked. After getting my hands on it though, it hasn't lived up to that feeling I got. Gameplay is mostly fluid, and climbing through trees was a fun addition to the parkour elements, but there were still some issues with Connor leaping off trees or buildings. Combat was beefed up a bit from previous games, but still not a strong aspect. Naval missions seemed like a cool concept, but the execution left much to be desired. Story was decent, but didn't live up the previous games. It didn't help that Haytham was a far more interesting character than the bland star, Connor. The ending was also a total mess. I don't have enough time to type out all the things I found wrong with it so I'll leave it at that. Assassin's Creed III does a lot of things well, but for everything it did well, there was something holding it back. Despite all the disappointment, Assassin's Creed III is still a very good game and is still worthy of my number 7 spot.
6. Final Fantasy XIII-2
Lightning returns in the followup to my 2010 GOTY. FFXIII was a heavily criticized game, and the fact that it got a sequel was a bit of a head scratcher for most. Admittedly I was a bit skeptical myself, but it turned out to still be a good game. The story centers around newcomer Noel, and Lightning's sister Serah traveling through time in search of Lightning and a way to stop the end of days. Noel and Serah are far less interesting characters than those of FFXIII, but the villain Caius is easily one of the best and most developed in all of Final Fantasy. Seeing how different locations changed over the course of hundreds of years was very cool and the time travel was actually very well done. The addition of monsters to party was a cool mechanic, but I would have preferred a developed character to fill that role. FFXIII-2 addressed a lot of the complaints with the first game like linearity, lack of towns, and lack of true sidequests so the gameplay experience is better on the whole. The story wasn't quite as good as the first game and this one is a fairly short game, but with tons of side content there's plenty of reason to go back to it and experience all this great game has to offer.
5. Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance
Kingdom Hearts has always been one of my favorite series. The fusion of Disney, Final Fantasy, and original characters has worked out so well in the past, and KH 3D delivers as well. There's new worlds that are a first for the Kingdom Hearts series so it was good to have fresh new locations to explore. Combat has been fine tuned with the Command Deck and rush attacks and is easily the best in the series. The addition of Dreameater pets as party members was a cool idea, and combo attacks help add even more depth to the already great combat. Boss battles are fantastic, although so of them can be infuriatingly difficult. The story alternates between Riku and Sora which I found to be an excellent way of pacing, although I didn't like that the game forced you to "drop" to the other character in the middle of a level if the gauge expired. While the overarching story can get a bit convoluted at times, it was still very well done and made KH 3D into one of the finest entries in the series to date.
4. The Walking Dead
Few games have ever tugged at my emotions the way The Walking Dead did. You play as Lee, an escaped convict in the middle of a zombie apocalypse looking to find a way to survive. Throughout the 5 episodes Lee interacts with other characters and your decisions can affect who lives or dies, or how characters react towards you. There are some absolutely gut-wrenching decisions to make that really challenge your own morals. There are so many fantastic characters you encounter throughout the game, but the real star is Clementine. This little girl has changed how I look at video game characters. Lee is forced to look after her after he encounters her all alone in her treehouse with nobody to take care of her. You quickly grow attached to her, and I found that every decision I was making was trying to do what's best for her. It brought out this fatherly instinct in me I didn't even know I had. The bond between Lee and Clementine is one of the most powerful feelings I've ever had playing a video game, and the ending was almost enough to make me cry. The gameplay will probably turn off most people, as it's a point and click adventure game made in a day and age where shooters and over the top action games reign supreme. If the gameplay doesn't completely turn you away, The Walking Dead is an absolute must experience.
3. Far Cry 3
Far Cry 3 was a game that didn't catch my attention until E3 this year. I had next to no knowledge about it, but I liked what I saw so I gave the game a chance and don't regret it. Far Cry 3 takes place on 2 huge islands and they are a joy to explore. There's radio towers akin to the viewpoints from Assassin's Creed. There is plenty of various wildlife to hunt or plantlife to harvest for crafting various syringes, wallets, bags, holsters, etc.. There are a ton of sidequests and collectables to find to give you even more reason to spend your time wandering around the island. I often found myself abandoning the story just to explore. Sadly enough, the story is where Far Cry falls flat and why it wasn't ranked higher. It wasn't completely terrible, but it was entirely too up and down to really make it all that memorable either. The main character Jason Brody is a whiny little b*tch, for lack of a better term. His voice is cringeworthy and dialogue just as bad. His friends that you have to rescue are very bland characters and I had no attachment to any of them. The first villain you encounter is Vaas, who is one of the most well written and well acted villains in any game I have ever played. The other main antagonist Hoyt was fairly bland at first, but as you get farther he turns out to be a decent enough villain too. Things really died down at the start of the second island, but after a few missions they pick back up and game finishes on a good note. With heavy focus on action and exploring, and a few great characters far Cry is easily of the best games of 2012.
2. Mass Effect 3
Let me get this out of the way first. Yes the ending to Mass Effect 3 was probably my single biggest disappointment of 2012. There was no true sense of closure, and it made so many of the tough decisions you make through the 3 games to be entirely inconsequential. The need to play MP to raise your military strength to get the best ending was a cheap way to get people to play it, but I will admit that it was surprisingly fun so it made the grind a little more enjoyable. The extended cut did help alleviate some of the disappointment, but it still left a bit of a biter taste. Despite the disappointment with the ending, Mass Effect 3 was still a very good game. Gameplay has been fine tuned taking the best aspect of the first 2 games and meshing them together for the most cohesive experience to date. ME3 also features some of the most gutwrenching decisions and heartfelt moments in the series. The events on Tuchanka and Rannoch are possibly my 2 favorite parts of the entire series. It's a shame that the ending couldn't deliver in a more satisfying way, otherwise Mass Effect 3 would have easily been my GOTY.
1. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
I went back and forth on whether I wanted to include this here or not. I don't normally include remakes or ports, but this game was far too good to ignore. I never played the PC version in 2011, so my first experience with it wasn't until the Xbox 360 port in 2012. Being that this was my first experience with the game, and that it was an enhanced port as opposed to a 1:1 port I felt like it was worth including. Ever since seeing the first Witcher game, I've always wanted to play it. I had heard so many great things about it but never had the PC to run it. There was a console port in the works, but sadly that was canned. Then The Witcher 2 was released and again, I was left without a means to play it until the 360 version was finally announced and released. After hearing so many great things about it, I would definitely say this lives up to all the hype. Combat is fast paced and fun plenty of spells to cast, traps to set, and ranged and melee weapons to use. Looting is very addictive, which is good because crafting and alchemy play an important role. Character customization is very well fleshed out too. The story is very well written and led along by a very good cast of characters, including the main man Geralt of Rivia. There are 2 distinct story paths to follow, and everything comes to a head near the end of the game. I chose to take Iorveth's path and have no regrets. There were some great quests and Iorveth is a total badass. With 2 sides of the story, minigames, sidequests and other various choices to make throughout, it leaves a lot of replayablilty and gives plenty of reason to re-experience this incredible game, and my 2012 GOTY.