This year should be forever known as one of the most reasonable years video gaming has ever had. Series were completed, sequels were released, and there was generally something new and great to play.
The video game industry has had its ups and downs, but 2012 was an indicator that the video game bell curve is finally situating itself (now that the major publishers have had 20+ years to figure out how they'd like to sell games). Downloadable content and paid access to pre-packed features on video games is depressing, but innovative titles shined brighter than the yearly sequels we're used to. Madden may have outsold everything, but I'll be damned if my favorites didn't try.
5. Spelunky (XBLA): Derek Yu's randomly generated opus was finally remade for consoles and released in July. [i]Spelunky[/i] features revamped graphics, many different rooms, and a co-op mode that utterly changes the original title's game mechanics. The co-op is the Spelunky base game, but the cooperation is a trial in a sublime mix of frustration and betrayal. You can kill each other, and once dead you'll wait to respawn as a ghost who can push your friends into spikes, homicidal shopkeepers, and the various traps the randomly generated terrain lays out for you. Eventually, though, you'll take your buddies into the all-new secret levels and unlock a bunch of adorable characters.
4. Mass Effect 3: It may be a sequel, but it does wear the sequel hat fairly well. ME3, if anything, is a swansong for why ramping it up to 11 sometimes doesn't pay off. Mass Effect was a game where you spent 15+ hours chasing after a prick who you were mostly trying to murder because he was a prick. There was no threat to the safety of the galaxy (give or take every life on the Citadel), and Shepard was cast as a cog in a wider spectrum of events occurring in a massive world. ME3 places you in the center, and the illusions of an unexplorably huge world fade away. That aside, Mass Effect 3 and its epic plot form a satisfying conclusion to the past 5 years.
3. Sleeping Dogs: Jackie and Bruce Lee had their genes spliced and Wei Shen punched his way out of the surrogate game developer's computer. Sleeping Dogs is a good step in the open world genre with both a fun, campy plot and a combat system that isn't just firing wildly through thug windshields. The punching and kicking evokes awesome Kung-Fu movies from the 70s, and the Max Payne-esque shooting give it an all-important John Woo flavor. We also suggest you check out the Zodiac Tournament DLC, an add-on inspired by Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon.
2. Halo 4: The Halo series has been a defining marker for the consolized first person shooter. It added regenerating health, slower gameplay, and an emphasis on weapon-based gameplay. The result was one of the most popular shooters over the past 10 years or so. Its most recent iteration was developed by 343 Industries, a Microsoft Games Studios satellite dedicated to producing more Halo games after the original developer split from Microsoft in 2007. Halo 4, the company's first direct sequel to the franchise, is a return to form from the last handful of titles. The game almost scales back the gameplay, bringing it in line with competitors like Call of Duty, while still maintaining the 2001 Halo flavor that we crave.
1. Dishonored: We're rarely good enough at a video game to truly roleplay a supersoldier, but Dishonored tries its damndest to cast us as one. The game is almost unbalanced in how much control it gives players with powers that allow them to fly across the map at the touch of a button. Powers translate to control and planning, however, and the game's design is such that the player is essentially a Batman figure. The difficulty does not come from actually beating the game, but how cool we can look while we do it. Oh yeah, the plot, visual design, and almost everything else is really great too.
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