Just a little bit late, but no less the relevant for the delay, the OnlySP team is proud to present to you our inaugural end of year awards. You very likely took a look at our nominations list when we sent it live and came up with your own theories as to what we were going to finally select as the winners. Prepare to be surprised, because you can bet that just about every member has raised their eyebrows at the winner of at least one of our categories. Without any further ado, the best of 2012 awaits:
007 Legends managed to fall short of even the dubious standards set by licensed games. Its miserable blend of unresponsive shooting, near-broken stealth, confusingly designed levels, jumpy plot, loading times longer than the average red traffic light and horrid visuals and sound all combined to make one of the most downright unpleasant experiences of the year. It didn’t even manage to provide decent fan service, as it took baffling liberties with the films it was based on and otherwise trampled over the beloved legacy of James Bond. It left players shaken and stirred, but for all the wrong reasons. The runner-up, Amy, was a nearly unplayable mess of a game, but we felt 007 Legends won out simply because we expected more from such an esteemed developer and publisher duo.
Oh Capcom, what have you done to my beloved Resident Evil series? There are a variety of reasons for Resident Evil 6 taking the dubious title as “Most Disappointing Game of 2012”. First off, the movement and combat mechanics are a confusing mess. Secondly, the developers seem to have attempted to squeeze as much content as possible into the game, haphazardly piling elements from numerous genres into one big, infuriating heap. While these aspects of the game are frustrating, the fashion in which it seemingly abandons the series’ roots in the survival horror genre are the proverbial cement boots that drag it down. While it does feature some dark corridors and flesh-eating zombies, Resident Evil 6 clearly sets the series on action-focused course, seemingly turning it’s back on longtime fans. As Michael Urban said in his review for the game, in order to fix this franchise, Capcom is going to need “more than just a few healing herbs.” More even than would be required to bring Ninja Gaiden back to greatness after the Ryu’s third adventure was more akin to an abortion.
A little known developer rebooting an inglorious IP that had been in hibernation for over a decade. The scenario behind Spec Ops: The Line does not inspire confidence and this is what allowed it to come out of left field and surprise the critics. The actual gameplay may have been bog standard, and the multiplayer segment was nothing to write home about, but the weight behind the themes of the story and the compelling way in which the narrative unfolded was enough to open eyes. Having the player commit atrocities against innocents is nothing new, but showing the consequences to bring that home was a brilliant move. Setting it in a ruined Dubai was another stroke of genius as it gave the game a unique identity thanks to the distinct visual traits of the city. Effectively, it was a perfect storm of low expectations, and this raises it above the Xbox 360 indie darling Dust: An Elysian Tale.
Telltale’s writing team put forth an impressive effort in The Walking Dead, but the game’s characters wouldn’t have been quite as endearing if it weren’t for the talented actors and actresses that provided voices for them. Each one was perfectly cast, and their enthusiastic and grounded portrayal of the various survivors made them all the more believable. Not a single character’s lines felt phoned in, and they all displayed a complex web of emotions that made each one interesting. It was the ultra-personal setting and the way that it was realised that gave The Walking Dead the edge over Far Cry 3.
Austin Wintory’s score for Journey was the first ever game soundtrack to be nominated for a Grammy. That alone should make a convincing argument, but in all seriousness, Wintory’s compositions were just as breathtaking as the game’s visuals and story. Utilizing what might be called ‘the optimistic violin,’ he manged to create tracks that were deep, almost vibrational, while also imbuing it with a sense of encouragement and ambition that beautifully fit the theme of the hero’s journey. It was far-reaching yet grounded, and strange yet familiar. All in all, it was like nothing we ever heard. Putting in a strong showing to achieve second place was the similarly powerfully haunting tracks of Dear Esther.
Dunia is quite a technical feat. It may not have the textural fidelity or poly-count of something like CryEngine 3, but what it does it does beautifully. Taking full advantage of the Dunia engine’s features, such as volumetric and deferred lighting, and enhanced facial animations, allowed Far Cry 3 to wow us with its gorgeous sunsets and spot-on characterisations. What’s more, it streams in all that data dynamically without load times. Even the rare texture and object pop was elegantly handled. The runner up Halo 4‘s 343 Industries managed to eke a lot of horsepower out of the ageing Halo engine, and great art direction (especially in the lighting department) and code optimisation goes a long way, however it can’t compare to the raw pixel-pushing power and technical superiority of Far Cry 3‘s Dunia engine. From a technical point of view, Far Cry 3 looks breathtaking.
Haunting in several ways, Journey’s simplistic art style was a sublime accompaniment to the simplicity of the story and mechanics that it is home to. Shifting sands in an endless desert. A featureless mountain topped with a brilliant beacon. ‘Enemies’ made of fabric and the sense of varying environments created solely by altered hues of light, the striking look of this game was enough to take our collective breaths away and outpaced Borderlands 2 by a considerable margin.
There are many things that make a great villain: diametric moral opposition to the hero, clearly defined and believable reasons for their convictions and a memorable presence are just a few of these. Bearing this in mind, Far Cry 3’s Vaas is far from a perfect antagonist, but it’s impossible to deny that he has the last facet down. From the outset, players are treated to a delightful show of outright insanity, though it isn’t impossible to sympathise with him, considering the beats of the story that prompt the player character player down a very similar path. It is these factors that allow the deranged pirate lord to take the crown of the year’s best villain from the far-reaching and selfishly evil machinations of Borderlands 2’s Handsome Jack.
It’s hard to make a great protagonist in a game where the player can make such dynamic and varied choices. However, thanks to smart writing and characterization, Lee ended up being the most beloved and interesting protagonist in a year filled with them. His backstory, which was slowly revealed throughout the game, turned out to be complex and sympathetic, and his approach to raising and caring for Clementine was heartfelt and touching no matter what choices you made. Above all that, however, he was a man that was approachable and mature while also having a sense of humor. It was the ease of the ability to sympathize with the character that made him more appealing than the depressed, sardonic Max Payne.
Alright, I’ll say it – Dishonored didn’t have the greatest story ever. Plot holes and rambling randomness was not enhanced by its brevity. Despite that, Dishonored quickly became a darling of critics and players everywhere, with the strength of its mechanics shining. Present throughout all of Corvo’s exploits, however, was the ever present city of Dunwall. Whether blinking across the rooftops or swimming through canals as a fish, Dunwall gave a distinct sense of place. Dunwall was there, always just there – not a level, not a maze, not fake: a stone and metal testament to the lives of an oppressed people. The subtle expositioning of Corvo’s Heart went a long way to create the fiction of Dunwall, establishing the whale-oil city as a real and believable place. Story is best absorbed through the skin, and Dunwall’s subtle tactile viscosity is the standout story setting for 2012, surpassing our second place’s Amalur.
Here at OnlySP, we hold storytelling and narrative content as one of the most important aspects of single-player gaming. With that said, we were not ready for the level of artistry that Telltale Games presented in The Walking Dead: The Game. Much like the television series and comic books that bear the same name, this game was more focused on the living, rather than the undead. The character development and focus on relationships highlighted what turned out to be the most emotionally gripping tale of 2012. Protagonist Lee Everett and his young companion, Clementine, were the centerpiece of the game’s story and displayed a bond that was both touching and ultimately heartbreaking. It’s no small feat to leave gamers in tears, but that’s exactly what the culmination of The Walking Dead‘s story did to many of us. It was this combination of factors that left the powerful-yet-obscure narrative of Dear Esther a distant second place.
With Naughty Dog’s pedigree, perhaps it was impossible that any other remaster effort was going to take the crown from their acclaimed Jak and Daxter series. Handled by Mass Media Inc., who have helped to optimise the likes of Darksiders and Saint’s Row 2 for the PS3, the trilogy ran at a locked 60 frames per second at 720p, but what really gives them the edge over the runner-up Ratchet and Clank Trilogy was the quality of the games in the first place.
Flower put us in control of the wind in 2009, but thatgamecompany opted for a slightly more traditional game in 2012 by giving us an avatar in Journey. Devoid of combat, this is an adventure in the truest sense of the term as you glide across land and fly through the air towards an obscure goal. Synchronous play only enhances the singular feeling of Journey due to it being neither co-operative or competitive. Instead, it alleviates the loneliness, even if the only possible interaction is a chirp. It isn’t just the individual elements that elevate Journey above the tactical requirements of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, it is the very nature of the gameplay.
It’s rare that the content DLC add-on can live up to the quality of its full game counterpart, but Artorias of the Abyss rose up to the challenge. Providing a focused, atmospheric and challenging campaign, it was the perfect extension to the Dark Souls experience for fans hungry for more, and a great example of DLC that was passionately made rather than being a cash-in. It was more the fact that FROM Software got it unequivocally right the first time than that Dragonborn failed to similarly live up to Skyrim that makes it our winner.
Telltale’s game is one that perfectly fits its method of delivery. Abandoning the huge budgets, expectations and restrictions of the AAA format, the developer instead found their groove in the adventure genre and cel-shaded art style, both of which were simple and niche-like but also tremendously unique and appealing. This allowed them to devote time and resources into their story and characters, and their choice in continuing the episodic format allowed them to create a game that was free from deadlines, and maintained its carrying over of player choices while being split into digestible, focused chunks that each had its own unique narrative backdrop. The Walking Dead: The Game was a perfect example of quality over quantity, one that had immense breathing room for its creativity during development and one that even managed innovation with its rendition of the downloadable episodic format. Ultimately, what gave it the edge over runner-up Journey was how meticulously it used its delivery method to the advantage of the game as a whole.
Not many games have the ability to hold the attention of every member in the family, but the Dance Central franchise has proven itself worthy of such a descriptor once again. Although not a drastic departure from the previous two, Dance Central 3 retained the easy to learn, hard to master gameplay formula of the previous two while still tweaking it for the better. What we were left with was a colorful, approachable and fair simulation of dancing that could be easily recommended to anyone and made great use of the otherwise neglected Kinect sensor. What made the decision to grant this award to Dance Central 3 over Lego Batman 2 was the party atmosphere, which just makes it that little bit more appealing and seemingly accessible.
Considering that the Need for Speed franchise has been around since 1994, it’s hard to expect anything new or groundbreaking to come out of the series. While Most Wanted didn’t present any new elements to the racing genre, the near perfect amalgamation of vast content, balance, and polish helped it to take the top spot in 2012. The game retains the feel of a Need for Speed title, employing real cars, mods, and breakneck speeds, but the folks at developer Criterion have added their own flavor. The open-world driving, over-the-top stunts, and collectibles are very reminiscent of their Burnout series. Combining the best elements of both franchises and adding RPG-like leveling of the driver and cars helped Need for Speed: Most Wanted to edge out runner-up Forza Horizon.
Best Sandbox goes to Ubisoft’s Far Cry 3. An effective sandbox gives you a world to play in, while still allowing for player interaction and presence, and Far Cry 3 did that with aplomb. The Rook Islands always felt like a real, believable place, while still being a cleverly constructed game world that is subtly and intelligently designed to scale to the player’s abilities. Above all, Far Cry 3‘s Rook Islands were alive. Whether it was pirates or tigers or even just a lizard or bird, the world gives the impression of life – a world that exists and interacts with itself. Scenes such as a group of Bad Men finding themselves in a heated gunfight with a herd of angry buffalo are frequent enough to be visible and dynamic, while still being infrequent enough to feel unscripted and special. The Rook Islands are a real pleasure to explore, and it’s this joyous variety that allows Far Cry 3 to win over runner-up Borderlands 2‘s Pandora
Although home to neither the depth or complexity of previous incarnations of the classic XCOM series, Firaxis’ reinvigoration is still a game for strategy fiends. From having to balance your resources and try to keep the worldwide panic down while at base, to requiring the utmost care in the movement of your troops when out in the field, this Enemy Unknown taxed those of us that played it to the limits of our patience in the best possible way. This, in our collective opinion, makes it more deserving of this particular award than the space-based strategy roguelike FTL: Faster Than Light.
One probably wouldn’t expect Thief’s first-person sneaking and Bioshock’s fantastical powers to mix into a great game. Fortunately, that’s exactly what happened in Dishonored, one of the most polished and imaginative stealth games the genre has seen in years. The various gadgets and magical powers Corvo had at his disposal were inventive but also balanced, and the assassination missions themselves were approachable with practically any tactic imaginable. Dishonored simply let players loose within large intricate puzzles and encouraged them to plan their own ingenious solutions, making for one of the most in-depth and replayable games of this generation. It was the sheer scope and polish of this game that gave it the edge over Mark of the Ninja.
In what is inarguably one of the biggest upsets of the year, Capcom’s internally developed Dragon’s Dogma has taken the crown of best RPG from Mass Effect 3 by a very slim margin. With a strong focus on hack-and-slash action, an interesting fantasy narrative thread, the ability to grab enemies and climb on larger bosses and an online structure that seems a permutation on that found in Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, Dragon’s Dogma was a delightful breath of fresh air for its genre and it is this novelty that tips the scales in its favour.
Games don’t necessarily need to be original in order to succeed; they just need to be well made. In the case of Darksiders II, this is especially true. From Zelda-like dungeons to World of Warcraft-ian loot to platforming reminiscent of a certain Persian Prince, the game didn’t have a single original idea to its name. However, it managed to smartly and cohesively combine every one of its gameplay mechanics in a uniformly excellent way, all of which was imbued with a daunting sense of scope. While Assassin’s Creed III was similarly varied, polished and cleverly designed, we consider Vigil’s latest the closer to truly defining its genre.
Spec Ops: The Line wasn’t the most competent third-person shooter to release this year. That honour would be better bestowed upon its closest competitor, Max Payne 3. Where it makes its point of difference is in its complexity. This game is a character drama, more than a tale of war and it makes sure you know this as you pick your way through a war-torn and sandstorm ravaged rendition of Dubai. It asks you to take a good hard look at the actions of the character and, by proxy, yourself. It is a game, more than any other, that makes you realise that the wanton death and destruction that you cause has consequences and it is this theme – this almost unique ability to force perspective and introspection – that gives us a clear-cut winner.
And the winner of the Best FPS category is… Far Cry 3! There are few things in a game this year more thrilling than leaping off the top of a radio tower, wingsuiting into a hostile enemy base, shooting out the lock on a Komodo dragon cage, and releasing fiery death with molotov cocktails – and most of them involve wrestling sharks and tigers in Far Cry 3. The gunplay itself is solid, but it is the sheer variety of activities on offer that will see your time disappearing quicker than the endangered Yellow Neck Cassowary. Whether it’s stealthy base infiltration, a full out rocket assault, or shooting seagulls with a handgun, Far Cry 3 hits every entertaining beat. While Borderlands 2 has several bazillion guns, it’s Far Cry 3‘s gameplay variety that edged out Borderlands 2 for the best FPS.
We were not prepared to be blown away by The Walking Dead: The Game. We were not prepared for its complex, emotionally rounded characters. We were not prepared for the touching bond between Lee and Clementine. We were not prepared for the tough choices, all of which would have lasting consequences. We were not prepared for the great pacing, writing, and subtle nuances of characterization. But much to our surprise, we got all of that and more from what is easily one of the finest point-and-click adventure games ever made.
From the very minute you start The Walking Dead, you can tell that it is a labor of love through and through. This is that oh-so-rare kind of game where every single member of the development team shared one cohesive vision and worked tirelessly to bring it to life. During the perilous journey, one slowly witnesses the transformation of Lee into a father figure and Clementine into a hardened survivor, prepared for the brutal challenges the world will throw at her. In many ways, this theme of teaching and raising a child mirrors the challenges of raising a family in real life. It’s challenging and demanding, often calling for sacrifice and the giving up of certain things. However, when all is said and done, it’s also rewarding, and knowing that you prepared Clementine for the harsh world she lives in is something that we can all understand the appeal of. She was a beacon of innocence, kindness and fairness in a world in desperate need of all three, and players were determined to protect and preserve as much of her as possible.
We could go on for hours about things like the attention to detail, the unique comic book art style, the ways in which the game dodged the vagueness and frustration so commonly associated with adventure games, the replayability due to the flexibility of the choices, the urgency that is created by the dialogue timer, and the sublime voice acting, among others, but we have to stop somewhere. Simply put, The Walking Dead is a near-perfect game that has not set, but thrown the bar for storytelling in games and has established Telltale as a top-tier developer. We look forward to many more excellently crafted stories from them, and we’ll remember Lee and Clementine years after even some of the best games from 2012 have faded from memory.
Notable mention must be made of thatgamecompany’s Journey. For many, it was just as powerful as The Walking Dead, but for very different reasons. It eschews the typical narrative tropes of character and plot, instead presenting video games in their rawest form: experience. As the name implies, it takes players on a journey. One of discovery and meditation, where the goal is only there to present an endgame. There could hardly have been a better production to round out thatgamecompany’s trilogy of peaceful, meditative games developed under the Sony umbrella but its uniqueness was not enough to win over the entirety of the team.
There you have it folks. The worst, the best and almost everything in between. Regardless of what won in the individual categories, it is impossible to deny that 2012 was home to a number of incredible games and showed a trend towards more meaningful and mature products that is sure to continue into 2013 and beyond. And we look forward to that as we continue to provide for you, our faithful readers.
Without you, OnlySP would never have had a chance to exist, so we are eternally grateful to you for allowing the site to thrive and you can bet that we’ll be here for years to come as strive to bring you all of the news and highlights that are deserving of your attention as single players, as well as insight into the direction of SP games and broader industry topics through our editorials. We are especially thankful to those readers that have taken the time to comment on our articles over the past ten months and hope that you’ll stick with us as we attempt to grow our community into a haven for gamers to come and talk about all that which interests them.
Now, we look forward and move wholly into 2013. With the slew of games on offer, it’s going to be a blockbuster year, and not just for the games. As OnlySP celebrates its first anniversary, we’ll be looking into enhancements and improvements for the site, trying to get into more of the big gaming expos and bringing you more exclusive interviews and giveaways. So stick with us and we’ll steer you aright.