2012’s gaming canon: the next five titles you can’t miss from a wonderful year of games
What does it take to make it into our list of can't miss games for 2012? The game has to be enjoyable, it has to stand out, and it has to provide something that other games lacked, or pushed its respective genre forward in some way. That's the long answer. The short answer is that we'll allow games to sneak in simply for being fun, and two entries today certainly fall into that category. I won't say which ones, you'll have to work it out on your own.
Gravity Rush (Vita)
The PlayStation Vita may still be without a true “killer app” that justifies the hardware (and its spendy price tag) but if you've already been sold on Sony's newest handheld or are considering one, Gravity Rush should be your first software purchase. The game is dream-like and surreal in just about every aspect, from its dark-yet-goofy plot and comic book art style presentation to the main character, Kat, and her mysterious super power that lets her bend gravity to her will. Gravity Rush sells us on the Vita's potential not because of touchscreen controls or other gimmicks, but because it takes advantage of the system's bright, crisp screen and dual analog controls. Everything pops and everything feels good. Want to read about it? Funny how falling feels like flying: PAR plays Gravity Rush
This may be a controversial choice, and I can understand why people dislike ZombiU, but the game offers a punishing challenge, heaps of atmosphere, and rewards players who understand how to move slowly and attack intelligently. It also helps that ZombiU is one of the rare Wii U games that uses the hardware in a way that aids game play instead of adding on a gimmick. You have to look down at the Game Pad's smaller screen to do everything from checking your motion tracker to looting corpses, and the zombies have no problem sneaking up on you when you're thinking about what to do next. The reviews for ZombiU were all over the place, and I've disagreed with the ones that seem not to want what the game is trying to do, whether than the reviews that understand how skillfully the game goes about its goals. Rarely do we see games where our lives are measured in actual lives, and dying after you've lived with one of the characters for an hour or two can feel like a punch in the gut; especially if you've gained levels in your favorite weapons. If the idea of Resident Evil mixed with Dark Souls gets you excited, you need to at least try this. Want to read about it? ZombiU is Resident Evil mixed with Dark Souls… for better or worse The screen is your weapon: hands on with ZombiU for the Wii U
XCOM: Enemy Unknown (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC)
You see the genius of XCOM: Enemy Unknown once you begin to name and customize your soldiers. Characters gain experience and abilities as they're used in battle, but if they die… that's it. You lose them forever. At least if you don't allow yourself to abuse the game's save options in the lower difficulty level. The game is a throwback to the classic XCOM titles, but it hasn't shackled by what had been done in the past. This looks and feels like a modern game, and introduced console gamers to this style of play. XCOM is incredibly tense, and can feel brutally random when the odds don't work out in your favor. Turn-based strategy is rarely better, although you'll curse the game every time you lose one of your favorite soldiers. There is even a limited, but enjoyable, multiplayer mode. Some would argue that this sort of game has limited commercial potential in the modern age, and that's arguable, but whether or not the game is successful enough for a sequel is secondary to the fact that we have this game now, and it's amazing. Want to read about it? Hands-on with the PC version of XCOM: Enemy Unknown (spoiler: the enemies are aliens) XCOM is a gamble on a hardcore genre, and there is more riding on its success than you think XCOM: Enemy Unknown offers just as many choices in your base as it does on the battlefield
Far Cry 3 (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC)
While the gaming press argued about whether or not this game is racist, and it can seem very racist at times, it's hard to underestimate how fun the game can be when you step away from the main quest. Sure, the main character and his friends are hard to be around for an extended period of time, but who cares when there's so much enjoyment to be found flying gliders around the island, hunting rare game, and exploring the caves and secrets that dot the island. You can spend hours doing side-quests or climbing radio towers, and it's fun to play with the different weapons and liberate enemy bases. The main story may not have been as successful as it could have been, everything around it is fascinating, and the story itself provides some memorable scenes. Burning down pot plants while dubstep thumps in the background and the drug's smoke does bad things to your head is certainly one of the more unique gaming moments in 2012. While Far Cry 2 enjoys a large cult following, Far Cry 3 has much to offer console and PC gamers. Want to read about it? This is your island: PAR plays Far Cry 3 Far Cry 3 is secretly a horror game, and you’re the monster
Halo 4 (Xbox 360)
Halo 4 isn't an improvement on Bungie's legacy so much as it is an overhaul. Everything has been revamped and reworked here: guns sound heavier, graphics are prettier, writing is better. There are new weapons, new vehicles, new enemies, and new modes. 343 Industries proved themselves more than capable of following up on Bungie's work, and the result is a sequel to a franchise more than a decade old that still manages to feel fresh, interesting, and fun. The game has stumbled a bit with Spartan Ops, 343's attempt to bridge story and multiplayer, but even that has been steadily improving. Halo 4 is the first entry of an entirely new trilogy, and one we can't wait to experience. Want to read about it? Halo 4: This isn’t Bungie’s Halo anymore – it’s better Halo 4’s multiplayer brings cohesion, depth, and a fresh feel to well-worn ideas In the shadow of greatness: How Certain Affinity co-developed Halo 4’s multiplayer and Forge modes We continue our march through the best of 2012 with five more games tomorrow. Until then, how are we doing?