The final year of the Mayan calendar has come and gone, and the world is still here (even if the Mayans aren’t), so it’s time for Icrontic staff picks: five games we loved in 2012.
2012 was a great year for gaming, with some major blockbuster titles coming out. Borderlands 2, Assassin’s Creed III, Call of Duty Black Ops 2, Planetside 2, Far Cry 3, and more all came out this year. Some games that were highly anticipated but quickly fell off the radar arrived this year as well (Ahem, Max Payne 3, we’re looking at you).
As we did last year, we won’t necessarily be choosing games that were released in 2012, just games that we enjoyed playing in 2012. Icrontic staffers and regular contributors weighed in, and here’s what we came up with.
Brian “primesuspect” Ambrozy
Borderlands 2—My 100+ hours in Borderlands 2 speaks for itself. What’s not to love? Guns, graphics, guts, and glory, with humorous writing and memorable characters—I loved Borderlands (300+ hours), and Borderlands 2 is one of those rare sequels that gave me exactly what I wanted: More of everything that made its predecessor awesome. It’s like Borderlands never ended, and it never needs to. With four DLC packs out already, the Borderlands world just keeps getting better and better and I will always be a fan.
Team Fortress 2 Mann vs. Machine—At this point, I just have to break down and admit that, by the numbers at least, Team Fortress 2 is my number one favorite video game of all time. You’d think that five years would dull the edge a bit, but with Valve’s constant updates and ever-expanding lore, it just keeps getting better. The Mann Vs. Machine (MvM) update was incredible—it brought many old players back and made the game feel like brand new again. Not only did it bring people back and get us all playing a lot, they started printing money with the Mann Up system, ensuring future development. Now they just announced a new robot enemy class and new MvM map which should serve to bring everybody back in again. I can’t wait.
Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess—Listen, jerks. I bought this game in 2006, OKAY? Fine. I played it for 20 hours or so, loved it, got to the part before you get the master sword, and then just stopped playing. I was going through a lot in my life at that time. Then, I just never picked it back up because I would have had to start over because I forgot what I was doing, and… well you know how it goes. Finally my life settled down and I started playing again, in October of 2011. Restarted it from the beginning, got into it, started enjoying it again, and then… Just stopped. Again. Same place. Before the master sword. I had a lot going on. Finally, I decided a couple of weeks ago to pick it up and grit my teeth and finish it. Hell, it’s only been out for six years, has been re-released as a classic “selects”, and a whole new Zelda game has come and gone in that time. Well, this time something clicked, I got the master sword and have been continuing on Link’s grand adventures. The character design is off the charts, it has everything that makes Zelda games great, and the story is unique and grand in scope. I’m finally in a place where I can play the game through and enjoy it, and I’ve been doing just that. Anyways, if you’ve never played it, you should. It’s good.
Dragon Quest VIII—Right? I know you’re tired of my nostalgia kick by now, but I put over 100 hours into this game (I haven’t played it since 2005 or so) this year and it is still just as good as the first time I played it. It is the pinnacle of the classic jRPG form—turn based with phenomenal graphics (that hold up today), and simple yet deceptively deep game mechanics. The really good part about this game, though, is the music (fully orchestrated and performed by the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra), the voice acting (a stellar cast of all-British voice actors), and the art (Akira Toriyama from top to bottom). The production values were stellar, especially for the time it was made. The story is deep and engaging, the characterizations are phenomenal, and you’ll be sad to part with old friends when it’s over (but then, in typical Japanese RPG style, it’s not over until it’s over—and then it keeps going, and then some more).
Kid Icarus Uprising—I missed this game when it came out, and just got it recently as an early Christmas gift, and wow. The controls are hard to get used to at first, but as far as a showcase title for the 3DS, Kid Icarus uprising puts out. The graphics are better than the Wii (not that hard to pull off, lololo), the 3D is done well, and the game is fast paced… but most important, just like its 1987 namesake (which was famous for its legendary difficulty on the NES), it is actually a hard game. While certainly not as unforgiving as 1987-era games were, it’s is refreshingly challenging. The plot is thin and the characters are a bit cheesy, but there is a lot of self-referential nostalgia humor (like showing old bosses in their original 8-bit form before introducing them in full 21st-century 3D graphics) for old guys like me. Good fun and a great title for the 3DS (although I’d prefer to play it on the 3DS XL since the controls are a bit cramped).
Nick “Mertesn” Mertes
Hero Academy—Brian got me hooked on this one. Hero Academy is a turn-based tactical board game. There are six teams to choose from, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. You win by either knocking out the opposing team’s player or by taking out their crystals. It’s fun and inexpensive. Bonus points for cross-platform play between PC and iOS.
Borderlands 2—Ok, here’s the obvious one. I’ve had an absolute blast playing through Borderlands 2. The story is excellent and the weapon combinations are endless. I’m on the second playthrough with my Mechromancer, and can’t wait to face that…thing at the end of the game. Yes, it’s more of the same we got in Borderlands, but what we got there was sooooooo much fun.
Team Fortress 2—If you sorted my Steam games by play time, Team Fortress 2 would be the top game by a significant amount. It was on my list of games last year, and it returns this year because of Mann-Up Mode. Valve found yet another way to breathe new life into this game (and make a tidy profit at the same time).
New Super Mario U—The New Super Mario Bros series is a great throwback to the classic Super Mario Bros on the NES. The tradition continues on the Wii U. Thankfully it doesn’t throw some gimmicky inventory management onto the screen built into the controller, allowing you to play the game without use of a TV. Add to this a level of challenge that matches the number of extra lives you’ll pick up while playing and you’ve got a fun game that will take far more than a single gaming session to complete.
Pandemic—Brian didn’t say the list had to be only video games, so I’m going in a different direction for my final pick. I first learned about this game on the web show TableTop, hosted by Wil Wheaton. It’s a collaborative board game in which the players try to rid the world of several nasty viruses. There’s a lot of teamwork and planning involved, and those plans often explode as new viral outbreaks happen. With three ways to lose and one way to win, I’ve never had so much fun losing a game.
Binh “Church4252” Nguyen
Journey—This title has great gameplay along with amazing visuals and audio. At any given time, you are teamed up by a random person to travel with you on your journey. The game is only about 2 hours long, but it is worth playing it over and over again.
Borderlands 2—What more can you say about this game? Tons of actions, lots of guns for you to use on Handsome Jack, and of course ClapTrap.
Mass Effect 3—To finally finish the story on this amazing series brought tears to my eyes. The multiplayer is a lot more fun than people gave it credit for—including myself.
Torchlight 2—It is everything I wanted Diablo 3 to be, and more.
Guild Wars 2—The MMO that has finally replaced World of Warcraft for me. Appealing storyline, great game mechanics.
Andrew “Basil” Brush
Civilization V—Between Icrontic’s Giant Multiplayer Robot matches and the new Gods and Kings expansion, Civilization V was easily this year’s biggest threat to my free time. Thanks to the sweeping changes Gods and Kings brought to just about every aspect of the game—and the asynchronous multiplayer added by GMR—Civilization V finally feels complete. So grab a copy, sign up for GMR and get in-game with some Icrontians already.
Mark of the Ninja—So the folks behind Shank decided to make a stealth game, and it rocks. Though a potentially interesting plot receives barely any development, this 2D platformer’s comic book visuals are fantastic, and its gameplay flows beautifully. Pulling off a perfectly-timed series of actions is incredibly satisfying and the swathe of unlockable content ensures tons of replayability.
MechWarrior Online—With Piranha Games’ latest project finally released, gamers can once again clamber into a battlemech cockpit for some giant robot-based destruction. I’ve been following this one from closed beta and it really has come on leaps and bounds from those early days of horribad UI, supersanic swaybacks and gaussapults. Word to the wise though—if you aren’t rolling Jenner just disconnect and stop wasting everybody’s time.
Saints Row: The Third—It’s exactly as crass and absurd as you’ve heard and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Saints Row: The Third is a game that strives to constantly one-up its own inane antics to hilarious effect. It takes the occasional misstep along the way, but on the whole Saints Row: The Third is a solid open world game smothered in ridiculously over the top humour. Easily one of the best co-op titles I’ve ever played.
Supreme Commander—An oldie but a goodie. Supreme Commander popped back onto my radar when a buddy mentioned I could redeem my old CD key for a shiny new Steam copy. With hundreds of individual units duking it out across some truly massive maps, it’s one of very few RTS games that can convey an appropriate sense of scale in its combat. If you’re a fan of genre you owe it to yourself to pick up Supreme Commander and the Forged Alliance expansion—especially now that even a modest gaming PC can handle this former monster in all its glory.
Phil “Rootwyrm” Jaenke
Tribes: Ascend—Insane fast paced action, and a F2P model that definitely seems to work. It’s not without its hiccups, nor is it a copypasta of the original, but damnit, it’s FUN… until I forget to hit spacebar. Then it’s kinda “augh, dead again”.
The Secret World—What can I say that I didn’t already? It’s one of the first truly innovative and interesting MMOs to come along in a while. It just went to no subscription as well. Eldritch horrors, solid storylines, quests that make you think…what more could I ask for? I guess another ARG—oh wait, they just launched one!
SimRaceway—It’s not often I praise a simulator, much less a racing one. But SimRaceway gets it. The physics are near spot-on. The car selection is excellent. New tracks and cars get added regularly. It’s completely free to play, and you can get some great rides for cheap on Test Drive Tuesday. Worth the download—if you’ve got a wheel.
Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams—Disclosure: Haven’t played the game, my fingers just are no good for platformers any more. It’s still going on here. Because A) crack development team and the original soundtrack composers. B) Just get the damn soundtrack by any means necessary. The game is just a wonderful bonus with it.
Natural Selection 2—Where to begin? It’s the best and worst. We’ve been waiting more than six years for it, staying loyal despite directional changes that made no sense. But finally, it’s here. RTS + FPS = win, but it’s also the most disappointing game of the year, for me, by far. The engine is abysmal—even the most high-end gaming systems get to enjoy 5FPS stutter regularly. Patches are still wrought with massive balance changes over 100 builds in. The netcode is severely lacking. And dear gods, shoot the person responsible for the menu system and server browser—worst ever. Yet for some reason, I have logged over 700 hours playing it.
CB “CB Droege” Droege
Civilization V—Civilization has long been my favorite non-narrative game franchise. From the first iteration in 1991, each Civilization game has taken hundreds upon hundreds of hours of my time. Civ V, however, was a bit disappointing at release. For all of its tactical advances—like hexes and single unit stacks—it was also missing some of the most compelling features from previous Civ games—like asynchronous multiplayer and ideological choices.
Now, however, there is the Gods & Kings expansion, which adds religious influence and espionage to the game’s tactical options, along with several other additions that increase the variety of the game and improve the replayability. In addition, the unofficial Giant Multiplayer Robot app adds asynchronous multiplayer options which make long games with friends much more viable. Though the Icrontic crowd didn’t get into it as much as I expected they would, it has still turned Civ V into a game I can play daily without it taking over my life. I’m currently playing in about a dozen games. If you start a new one, feel free to invite me to it!
Borderlands 2—For years, The cooperative gaming group I play with on Thursday nights, The Mitey Worriers, were waiting for Diablo III to come out. Then when it finally did, we were, on the whole, pretty disappointed with how it turned out, so we’ve been spending the time we had expected to spend on Diablo on Borderlands 2 instead—and it’s been a blast.
Much like the first one, the game challenges our teamwork skills, and provides a lot of loot variety, which are features we’re always looking for, but it also has a sense of humor which has been refined over the goofy shtick that passed for funny in the previous entry. As the four of us play this game we are constantly surprised, perpetually challenged, frequently upgrading, and always amused. The only disappointment is that I paid extra for a special golden key, only to find that they, apparently, grow on trees.
Riddle: How many free golden keys can a free golden key tree grow free?
Answer: A free golden key tree can grow free as many free golden keys as there are free golden key tree keys times three.
Orcs must Die! 2—It’s time to kill orcs, and this is the best way to do it. A combination of FPS and tower defense, it’s a great single player adventure, but it really shines in cooperative—especially when each player takes a different hero of the two available. The players can find ways to work together and complement each other, and most of the levels are designed with two players in mind. We occasionally lament the lack of more than two players, but really, it might get too crowded with any more. The game allows a couple of friends to really get into the tactical play, and work through teamwork and trial and error to defeat the orc horde in a way that can’t happen with three or more players.
Magic the Gathering: Duel of the Planeswalkers 2012—Since I retired from the hobby years ago, I only play MtG with real cards about once a year, in June, at the annual Icrontic draft. Duel of the Planeswalkers is the way I get my fix in between. It’s perfect for just playing the game without worrying about buying cards or building decks. The game is played with prefab decks, and everyone has access to the same decks, so there is no worry that your opponent will defeat you just because they have more to spend on cards. As a bonus, the in-game UI is perfect.
It’s not a game for the serious collector, but with multiple game modes and a dozen or so prefab decks it’s plenty for the casual player or the old hand who just needs an occasional fix to keep up with the new mechanics.
There is a Duel of the Planeswalkers 2013 out since the summer, but I haven’t tried it yet.
Pocket Planes—This is the only game on my list you won’t find on Steam. It’s a simple and humorous mobile game that I’ve been playing on my personal communicator. The UPS clan introduced me to this game in October, and I’ve been playing every day since. Why? Because it’s the perfect bathroom game.
You start the game with a couple airports and a couple planes, and the primary gameplay consists of loading and scheduling fights. As the player’s airline earns money, it can be upgraded with more planes and terminals in new cities, eventually spanning the globe with an air transport empire. The planes take real time to get where they’re going, but that’s what makes it a great game for the bathroom. Each time I sit down I check in on my airline, load up and schedule some flights, check the classifieds for some new planes, see about opening a new terminal somewhere, et cetera. All told, checking in takes about the time I need to be sitting anyway, and the next time I sit down all my flights have arrived, and I have more things to manage. It’s possible to spend real money on the game, but, unlike other such games, there is never a point at which you have to spend real money to continue doing well.
The game does have some cooperative play, but it’s not very visible; one simply joins a team, and can see how the team is doing without seeing who does what, but if you decide to play, team #icrontic would be happy to have you.
Bobby “UPSLynx” Miller
Tribes Ascend—Seriously, this game rules. With a structure that frequently gets content additions, fast-paced gameplay and combat unlike anything else on the market today, Tribes Ascend truly stands out in a sea of generic FPS titles. I’ve already said much about the game, and many months later, I still love this game to death. It’s the return to glory for the old franchise that we’ve always wanted.
Max Payne 3—If you know me, you likely know that the Max Payne games are among my all time favorites. After nearly ten long years, Rockstar Games picked up where Remedy left off to complete the trilogy of noir-dripping slow-mo gunplay. Though Max Payne 3’s story does little to connect itself to the canon of the first two games beyond a couple small cameos and references, the game on its own is a tremendous example of storytelling, style and writing in games. Also, the gunplay is some of best I’ve ever seen in a game. Max Payne 3 frigging rules.
Mass Effect 3—I love this game. Deal with it. Nothing more can be said about Bioware’s botched ending to the epic trilogy, or EA’s obvious influence in the game’s painfully needless microtransaction and DLC model, but when you look beyond all the bullcrap, ME3 was a fitting ending to one of the best video game trilogies of all time. Even with all of its faults and issues, I love Mass Effect 3.
Diablo III: Blizzard brought a lot of drama when Diablo III was released with a real money auction house and ‘simplified’ skill tree system, and it managed to piss off a lot of long-time fans. I’ve played every Diablo title and expansion since the very beginning, and I was quickly put off by these changes when I first played the game. I shortly got over the complaints, however, when I realized how much fun I was having playing the game cooperatively with my friends. Yeah, the cash shop sucks and the skill system is totally weak, but I managed to sink over 100 hours into this game with my buddies, and I loved every minute of it.
Company of Heroes 2: Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. Regardless of the reasons, I’ve played more Company of Heroes 2 this year than I have played any other game with the exception of Diablo 3. Currently poised to launch in beta, CoH2 already kicks ass, and I’m looking forward to the countless hours of multiplayer that I’m going to log once the game comes out. When the beta starts, get in on it. This is RTS at its finest. (Ed. note: Bobby works for THQ and he wants you to Buy His Shit™).
Ryan “Bandrik” Wilsey
Dust: An Elysian Tail—I’ve already professed my love of this game in my official review, but here’s a short recap: I’ve followed the development of this one-man project for three years, eagerly anticipating its eventual release. While I expected good things, I was blown away by the quality of both the gameplay and the musical score.
Borderlands 2—I absolutely loved Borderlands. The visual style, the humor, the guns, the mindless killing. Toss in some friends and you have the recipe for a damn good time. Now take the winning combination, spruce it up and give it a shiny coat of polish, and you have Borderlands 2. Even playing it solo for the story, I loved every bit of it thanks to the constant jeers from Handsome Jack. I can tell I’ll be re-visiting this game for years to come.
League of Legends—Already a well-established game, I really enjoy playing League. It gives me a good excuse to spend an hour or two with some friends, laughing it up while going rampant on the Fields of Justice. League also has mastered the free-to-play model, reserving in-game purchases for conveniences and cosmetic items, while leaving upgrades that actually affect gameplay to be earned.
Tribes Ascend—This game. I haven’t had this much fun playing a FPS since TF2. Zipping around at breakneck speed, lobbing exploding discs and spamming insults never felt so good. And the best part? It’s totally free to play. You gotta go fast.
Team Fortress 2—While TF2 has been a long-time Icrontic favorite, only recently have I really gotten into the game. Sure, I’ve been playing it for years, but it wasn’t until the Pyro update and the Mann vs. Machine that I paid more attention than a casual play here and there. I even dabbled in the item trading scene, something I never thought I would bother with.