Aaron’s Top 5 Games of 2012

GOTY 2012

Looking back at 2012, I have to admit it was a great year to be a gamer. If there is one word I could use to describe this year, it would be diverse. When I look at the list of 2012 games, it amazes me how different some of this year’s best experiences have been.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to play quite a few of these games, although I have to admit that the list of games from 2012 that I have yet to play far exceeds those that I have. I still have the likes of Mass Effect 3, Borderlands 2 and Mark of the Ninja on my backlog, and I will hopefully be getting to them sometime this year. I also found myself immensely enjoying quite a few older games, some of them classics that go back over a decade. With that said, I will keep this list limited to only games that were released in 2012.

So without further ado and starting with number five, here are my favorites and why I felt they stood above everything else I played.

5. Wargame: European Escalation

Wargame EE Screen

I have a sort of love-hate relationship with real-time strategy games. While a select few of them rank among my favorite games of all time, I also tend to get frustrated when they become a puzzle to figure out an optimal build order or depend on how many clicks per minute the player can execute. I’m also a huge fan of tactical war games and enjoy plotting an intricate attack and carrying it out on the virtual battlefield. Wargame: European Escalation scratched both of those itches. Though the game plays out in real time, it feels much more like a “beer and pretzels” war game than most recent entries in the RTS genre. Much of this is due to the fact that base building has been swapped for a system where units can be deployed throughout the match in exchange for points earned in battle. And speaking of units… There are no less than 361 individual Cold War Era units in the game each modeled to downright ridiculous detail. Luckily the interface does an incredible job keeping everything intuitive and in order. Similarly to Eugen’s previous game R.U.S.E. the player can zoom all the way out to see the entire battlefield on the screen at once, giving a birds-eye view that is sorely missing in many other games. Information bubbles also keep the player informed of the status and capabilities of each weapon system at all times. The detail never really felt overwhelming but instead helped me to connect with the units on the field in a way that hasn’t happened with many other games. In the end this game kept me continually coming back for more and will be a game that I can see myself putting many more hours into in the future.

4. Halo 4

Halo 4 Screen

I have to admit from the inception of the franchise, I’ve been at best a casual fan of the Halo series. I’ve also played them mostly for the single player campaign. With new developer 343 Studios on board for the fourth proper game, I was hopeful for a new wrinkle in an old standard. Upon playing the game for the first time it didn’t take long to see that 343 made some serious improvements. The previous Halo games never were much as far as graphics go, but Halo 4 felt almost like a whole new generation for the series. Even though I have not finished the campaign, I can already tell 343 has taken a different approach to the storytelling. The previous entries just never seemed to develop the characters’ personalities, where this one does just that.

The real reason Halo 4 is on this list, however, is for the multiplayer. I don’t know if I just never gave the previous games a chance or if this iteration is indeed a huge step up from the rest of the series, but after playing a few matches, I was hooked. I’m not used to playing a shooter with a controller, as I primarily play them on PC, but after a few matches, I found I was wanting to improve my skill as opposed to blaming the controller for my occasional failures. The new leveling system does a great job making the game enjoyable and rewarding even for the player who’s typically not within sniffing distance of a decent kill/death ratio. Without a doubt, I will be playing more of Halo 4 in the coming year, as it has become my multiplayer shooter of choice on the console.

3. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

Reckoning Screen

Looking back, it’s a shame that 38 Studios closed the way it did, meaning we will never see Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning live up to its full potential. Honestly, RPGs have never really been my cup of tea. I’ve always found them to be a little slow, confusing and lacking in any real action. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reconing instead blends both traditional RPG mechanics with fluid action, something that I found much more appealing. For me, the high point of this game is definitely the combat; exchanging dice rolls for something more along the lines of the God of War games was a great way to make the game flow more effectively than most other RPGs. This evolution kept the game fun and interesting even when the characters and story were a little on the generic side.

Many people complained that the progression of the game was also uninteresting and that it played more like a single player MMO than an epic tale as in other RPGs. I found it to be rather refreshing, and it meant I always knew what I had to do next, even if it was just killing a bunch of spiders. Kingdoms of Amalur makes my list for being the first RPG that I haven’t felt as if I was “playing it wrong.” Too bad we’ll never see where the series could have gone from here.

2. Black Mesa

Black Mesa Screen

If this list was titled “Most Anticipated Games of 2012,” Black Mesa would have been at the top of my list. The game is a completely fan-made recreation of the original Half-Life (minus the Xen level) using Valve’s own Source engine, and I’ve been looking forward to to it pretty much from the day the project was started. Black Mesa was definitely worth every minute of the wait. From the beginning tram ride into the Black Mesa Research Complex on through this classic story of an experiment gone wrong, it feels like a modern game that could have been created by any of today’s big developers. Honestly, I have yet to finish the game in its entirety as I’ve been playing at a snail’s pace, observing every corner of the levels and enjoying what the artists have done to bring the feel of the original game to life.

2012 definitely saw its fair share of shooters, many of them exceptional, but Black Mesa was the game in this genre I enjoyed the most.

1. MLB 12 The Show

MLB The Show Screen

If I were forced to only play one game released in 2012, I would not hesitate to choose MLB 12 The Show. In my opinion, this game is the most complete and feature-rich baseball game ever made and is by far my favorite game of this past year. Honestly, I could pretty much say this every year as the series has consistently been nothing short of greatness. With the inclusion of a new right stick control system and a renewed interest in baseball due to my hometown Milwaukee Brewers being in the hunt for the World series the year before, this year’s take on the game really hit home for me. I’ve been playing baseball games for the past twenty years, and MLB 12 The Show ranks as my second favorite of all, time right behind MVP Baseball 2005 on the original Xbox.

Most of my time with the game was spent playing the Road to the Show mode, where you play as a single created player throughout their career from the minor leagues on. I spent hours simply creating my 2nd baseman and fine tuning his looks and attributes to match the player I desired. The options are virtually limitless.

The best praise I can give MLB 12 The Show is that, throughout the many hours I spent playing, I can only pinpoint a few times when the game broke the illusion and did not feel like a close representation of the real sport. This series really came into its own on the PS3, and with the announcement of the PS4, I am looking forward to seeing what advances Sony can add in the next generation.

The year 2012 was indeed a great time to be a gamer, and with the promise of new consoles and a plethora of great games slated for release, 2013 looks to be even better. Personally, I can’t wait to design a mini metropolis in Sim City, explore the city in the sky in Bioshock Infinite and conquer Europe in March of the Eagles.  There will be moments of personal creativity, hours of exploration in a multitude of virtual worlds and epic adventures to talk about around the water cooler, all experiences that can only be had in the life of a gamer. And after all, isn’t that why we play?

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