Top 5 games of 2012... so far


  • Mass Effect 3
  • The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition
  • Spec Ops: The Line

Six months of blistered thumbs

We’ve officially rolled past 2012’s half way point. In that space we’ve enjoyed a trio of ‘worth a try’ entries and at least five ‘worth a buy’ titles.

Realistically, on average there’s actually been a worthwhile title every second week this year. The likes of Starhawk, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, Journey, Diablo 3, Sniper Elite and the unpredictably accomplished Street Fighter X Tekken have graced disc trays on a regular basis.

But due to an admittedly self imposed ruling, I’m limited to choosing but five games to represent this year’s opening salvo. These choices are far from flawless, most suffer some nagging flaw or quirk.

But amidst the plateau of copycat efforts, to their credit each carves itself an identity, via creative narration, gameplay or immersion.

5. Dragon’s Dogma
[Capcom – May]

Dragon’s Dogma is soooooo booorrrinng. It’s not that it’s vanilla, because in all honesty, Vanilla is delish. It closer resembles faux, own brand vanilla – a squalid concoction of skimmed milk, sugar and what I can only assume is puréed cardboard.

Derivative source material, generic archetypes, commonplace settings and banal creature design plague cut-scenes and hub worlds while uninspired fetch-quests sours variety. Worse still, an unceasing barrage of ye-olden chatter quickly rams down any and all defensives measure your patience can muster!

In spite of all this drivel, Dragon’s Dogma is rather splendid, commendation solely attributable to its combat.

With a host of hybrid classes and styles, players can scale colossal beasts, hacking at soft flesh with enchanted daggers, block, pre-empt, parry and riposte armed foes, conjure whipping maelstroms, frozen protrusions and fiery barriers of dark magic, pin enemies to trees with brutally accurate archery, lay sizzling dynamite booby-traps, unleash staggering martial combos and wheeling kicks or simply chuck some unfortunate, squealing bugger off an adjacent cliff.

Dragon’s Dogma is guilty of numerous missteps. But thankfully, monster hunting, its core essence, is not among them.

4. Spec Ops: The Line
[Yager – June]

Spec Ops is hard, and I don’t just mean as a cover to cover enterprise in shooting bullets from guns. Yager’s latest is a praiseworthy effort in delivering an unflinching, ugly examination of the human condition when stripped of society’s comforting, restraining shackles.

An impressive voice cast, led by gaming A-lister Nolan North, weave cynicism and humour through sympathetic exchanges while the surrounding dereliction of a once opulent Dubai hammers a stark visual disparity to compliment the unfolding narrative.

Spec Ops is let down only in execution. Sand traps are few and far between and amount to little more than overpowered, level-shifting enviro-triggers. Its third person personing is generally tight but as ever, cover hopping proves problematic and instances for melee and stealth scarcely exist.

Still, in contrast to entry no. 5, it is those moments of subtle, minimal involvement that so elevates this effort, lingering in the mind.

The very best games offer an alluring narrative.
Spec Ops offers a genuinely challenging one.

3. Max Payne 3
[Rockstar – May]

Similar in vein and execution to the above, Max Payne 3 recounts the grim tale of a royal f*ck-up of a man who sinks to increasing depths of pill addiction, alcoholism and general worthlessness.

Irreparably damaged by the tragic death of his family, Max resigns himself to the fact that he is good for but one thing and attempts to drown this acknowledgement (if not himself) in a sea of narcotics and booze until finally, violently shook from his rut.

Redemption hardly an option, it’s the promise of purpose, however shady, within his drunken reach that angles this debacle of violent heft on a straighter, narrower route.

Also of note, Max is terribly good at killing.
Unforgiveable control oversights and verbose soliloquies aside, MP3 (Hah!) offers a campaign of considerable length, spotted with handsome spectacle and furious battles. Incorrigibly bleak and seldom light, Max grips players by the windpipe, unrelenting til the credits roll.

2. Mass Effect 3
[Bioware – March]

Haters gonna hate.
Mass Effect 3 marked the finale to the gaming world’s most beloved Space Opera and your feelings on the divisive conclusion notwithstanding, it remains a celestial effort on Bioware’s part.

Missing those rich character bonds so cleverly fashioned in its matchless predecessor, ME3 compensates with strong multiplayer, an arsenal of weapons, a cluster of new biotics, a batch of new tech and some series defining set pieces.

Striving for drama at every turn, the galaxy’s incomprehensible expanse is subtlety ignored as you encounter everyone you’ve ever so much as made a sidelong acquaintance with, wondering if they’ll make it to the long heralded climax intact.

It’s all in there: Dialogue trees, power combos, alien sex-scenes, weapon modifications, journalist punching (a personal favourite) melee finishers, suspect dancing and a string of sweeping engagements both earth based and star-bound.

Mass Effect aims to overwhelm players with tumultuous waves of exhilaration and raw emotion.
And to its does so, for the most part, without compromising that role playing integrity held secure since its debut in 2007.

1. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings: Enhanced Edition
[CD Projekt Red – April]

A difficult decision, allowing a year old game to lead this bi-annual charge but ultimately, it boils down to this...
The Witcher 2’s console debut is the very best game released this year. No exception.

A scum crusted fantasy, foaming with personality and charm, TW2AoKEE sidesteps destiny, prophecy and similar messianic moulds for a more personal tale. Geralt is a humble mutant, quite handy with a blade and can usually be found chasing monsters, memories and tail!

TW2AoKEE hurls terms at you, expecting you to do the corresponding research. But unlike too many stiff, turgid fantasy yarns, this one does it with a wink, grin, belch or f-bomb.

Combat is a brutal choreography of sword thrusts, base conjuring, hurled ballistics and majestic finishers, made easier with some forethought, poisonous traps and improving narcotics. Dialogue is an altogether more ambiguous, dangerous enterprise. Each bribe, growled warning or spoken voodoo trigger events which shape entire acts in the game’s latter half.

Most games pompously boast replay value, but TW2AoKEE is the very first game to make good on this lofty promise. Exclusive characters, dialogue, plot, locations, items and revelations unfold with an early, seemingly ordinary decision.

This is a game for adults, who don’t shrink at the sight of digital fornication, flinch at the tune of a raunchy drinking game, have the patience to read 30 seconds of text every second hour and can live, or play, with the consequences of seemingly innocent actions, be it the persecution of entire races of overturning warring nations.

It also plays like a dream... in case anyone’s interested.

Top 5 games of 2012... so far on
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