If you asked me last year to guess my top five games of 2012, the list would've looked something like this: Grand Theft Auto V, Mass Effect 3, BioShock Infinite, The Last of Us and Tomb Raider. In the end, four of those games were delayed into 2013. The fifth - ME3 - could've used some extra development time to flesh out the multiplayer and ending.
Still, unlike fellow Gaming Blend writers Ryan and William, I don't think 2012 was a disappointment. True, some high-profile releases failed to live up to the hype. However, while you were sulking about D3's always-on DRM or ME3's ending or whatever, another game would come out of nowhere and completely knock you on your ass. Who saw DayZ coming? Or FTL? Or The Walking Dead: The Game? The pleasant surprises of this year more than outnumbered the unpleasant ones.
#5: Hotline Miami
Don't let the retro graphics fool you: Hotline Miami is one of the most complex shooters you'll ever play. You don't have a personal shield generators or regenerating health; one hit is all it takes to kill you. Clearing each stage of enemies requires timing, strategy, and maybe a little luck. It's like Super Meat Boy with guns: you'll die over and over in order to scope out the level and eventually overcome it.
While I was discussing the game with William, he mentioned that it was too dark for his tastes. It's true that the game's ultraviolence, gore and disturbing story can wear on you. I'm not sure it's a game I'll want to pick back up. Nonetheless, Hotline Miami is an experience I'm not going to forget anytime soon.
#4: XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Back in the nineties, X-COM was one of the best strategy series on the market. The games, which put players at the head of an agency battling extraterrestrials, were a combination of 4X strategy and turn-based combat. However, the series took a nosedive by the turn of the millennium because of ill-fated attempts to branch into the shooter and space sim markets. The strategy games became cult classics and remained unknown to most younger gamers.
Then Firaxis Games came along. The Civilization studio managed to resurrect X-Com and the turn-based strategy genre in one fell swoop with Enemy Unknown. Their reboot of the series kept the core strategy elements of the older games intact, while also introducing welcome improvements like vivid story-telling and deep character progression. The result is one of the most addictive games of the year.
#3: PlanetSide 2
Many games try to make players feel like they're in the middle of a war. Few succeed as well as PlanetSide 2. In this MMOFPS, thousands of players battle for control of the planet Auraxis. The three factions wage a 24-hour war with scores of infantry, aircraft and land vehicles. Battles for fortresses can take hours. The first time you take an enemy's base after spending the afternoon pounding away at their defenses, you'll be hooked.
The game manages to combine the strengths of the RPG and shooter genres. The progression system provides players with abundant specializations, such as sniping, piloting and first aid. At the same time, the game still retains the feel of a shooter. If you shoot someone in the head, they're going to die no matter what Battle Rank they've attained or what upgrades they've purchased.
The craziest part of all with this game is that it's free-to-play. You can pay to speed up your progression but F2P members can (and do) dominate the battlefield. You'll get plenty of hours of enjoyment from this game regardless of whether or not you fork over any money.
#2: Far Cry 3
Weapon deterioration. Poor quick travel. An empty game world. Endlessly respawning enemies. You won't find any of these nuisances in FC3. Ubisoft took fan feedback for Far Cry 2 to heart and delivered a dramatically improved sequel.
Even if the game didn't have its co-op campaign and competitive multiplayer, it would've made my Top 5 list. The single-player world is such a pleasure to explore, with diverse and meaningful side missions around every corner. The campaign missions are just as varied and engaging. Stealth, hunting, racing, shooting - this games does it all and does it well.
In the months before Dishonored's launch, the game drew comparisons to BioShock, Thief and Deus Ex. This hype turned out to be well-deserved. The vivid steampunk setting, abundant player freedom and tense stealth action of Dishonored proved it worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as those classics.
There are so many memorable experiences in the game. Teleporting from rooftop to rooftop through Dunwall City. Stopping time and slicing a group of guards apart. Possessing a rat. Dishonored fully immersed a player in its fantasy world and let them do things they had never dreamed of before. It's the sort of game that makes you remember why you play games in the first place