I spent last week describing my least favourite parts of 2012 and it was really quite awful and depressing.
I won’t go on in that vein this time, though, because you’re likely reading this column at the very beginning of 2013 and we should all kick off the New Year with a bit of hope for the future, shouldn’t we? To that end, I’ve compiled a list of videogame highlights from 2012 that should help perk things up a bit around these parts.
Auld lang syne everyone.
A Host of Surprisingly Great Games
Last January I hadn’t heard much of anything about what would go on to become some of my favourite games of 2012. Titles like Hotline Miami, Lone Survivor, Sleeping Dogs, The Walking Dead and Spec Ops: The Line were really nothing more than rumours, uninteresting screenshots or names that didn’t mean a thing to me until they were released and promptly knocked my socks off. While every year comes with a number of great surprises, 2012 seemed particularly full of unexpectedly fantastic releases. This trend is the sort of thing that makes playing videogames exciting and I’m looking forward to more wonderful games appearing out of the blue in 2013.
Indie Devs Dominate the Year 2012 now seems like something of a watershed year for independent developers. Some of my favourite experiences came from the solo creators or small teams behind excellent games such as Natural Selection 2, Journey, Mark of the Ninja or the aforementioned Hotline Miami and Lone Survivor. While the mainstream release calendar was its usual mix of disappointing and fantastic big-budget titles, 2012 saw the little guys creating a steady stream of extremely interesting (and often innovative) games that had a far greater impact on the medium. Indie games have always been an essential part of the videogame landscape, but this year they seemed to enjoy better visibility and critical buzz than in the past.
Kickstarter Represents an Alternative to Publishers
If you read last week’s column you may be surprised to find Kickstarter mentioned within the context of both the best and worst parts of 2012. Despite my earlier complaints (regarding the massive popularity of Kickstarter leading to it having a lessening impact on indie games), the site still offers a great venue for established developers tired of having publishers dictate the suitability of their concepts. Double Fine Adventure proved this through a landmark crowd funding campaign that saw Tim Schaefer et al able to fully finance the kind of traditional adventure game that an Electronic Arts or Ubisoft would see as fiscal suicide. While Kickstarter may not be an ideal platform for amateur dev teams, it still provides a great degree of potential for more recognizable creators who want to explore ideas unlikely to be funded by publishers.
PC Games Defy the Generational Cycle
The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 are getting a bit long in the tooth now. Despite this, the aging hardware of the current console generation has been compensated for by PC games. Steam’s Big Picture mode makes the most common complaint leveled against playing on a computer — having to sit at a desk — less of an issue and a year full of games designed with graphical scalability in mind (Sleeping Dogs, Far Cry 3 and Dishonored to name a few) make PCs feel more like sophisticated consoles than ever before. Sony and Microsoft may be dragging their feet in introducing new systems, but, if the PC continues to offer as great an experience as it did throughout 2012, it won’t be too painful waiting for the next generation of consoles to appear.
Free to Play Games Become Actual Fun
The release of titles like Super Monday Night Combat, Planetside 2, Hawken and Tribes: Ascend have gone a long way toward changing industry expectations for what free to play (or F2P if you hate typing) games can be. While many F2P games still feature the lazy and greedy “pay to win” design approach, other developers have worked to give players robust, mechanically satisfying titles that are well worth their time and — if they find themselves invested in the experience — money, too. It was easy to be cynical about F2P business models in the past, but 2012 shows that they are likely to have a pretty exciting future ahead of them when made by the right teams.