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Personal GOTY: FIFA 12
Aside from the creepy melding of fantasy and real life as I reviewed a print build of FIFA 12 during the August transfer window, my transcendent moment with FIFA 12 happened as I played against a Manchester-based gamer for charity in October. As we jostled back and forth for a good cause, I found that EA's usual buzzwords and taglines became weapons, not unlike new features you discover playing a fighting game sequel.
Past FIFAs felt good as I managed my runs, but the tools to contain and intimidate my opponent out of ball possession on defense proved effective to thwart the usual crutches that I encountered in my online opponents. I found that my tactics against both human and AI opponents transformed, as I felt a confident mastery in attack that had been shakier in the past.
Some gamers don't understand the thrill of sports games and their subtleties. But if the Arkham games succeed in making you feel like Batman as you hang from a gargoyle and string up a goon, shouldn't there be something said for the thrill of taking your forward past three lumbering defenders, flicking the ball around himself, and slamming it in past the keeper? It's never felt as good as it does in FIFA 12.
Personal GOTY: Portal 2
More than any other game I've played in my entire life, Portal 2 proved that gameplay and story don't have to merely co-exist in a game – they can blend together so seamlessly as to be one and the same. It's not just that Portal 2 tells a compelling story, but that it does so entirely through the gameplay. For me, it really felt like a true "first-person" experience beyond the technical definition of the genre, like I was really seeing and experiencing everything exactly as Chell experienced it.
Nearly everything about Portal 2 was perfect for me. The pacing felt particularly strong throughout, with a steady flow of new puzzle elements that kept me challenged yet made me feel clever at the same time. Seeing behind the curtain into the inner workings and origins of Aperture Science over the course of the game felt like a satisfying reveal, yet at the same time it wasn't laid so bare as to ruin its mystique, either.
Personal GOTY: Bulletstorm
As a man who grew up on Quake 3 and Half-Life 2 I’ve long classed FPS as one of my favourite genres. But for the longest time before Bulletstorm, I couldn’t really qualify the statement. You see, for year upon year, the big FPS releases had become increasingly akin to gun-laden mammoths. Visually impressive, yes, but little more than huge, simple, lumbering beasts, so weighed down under mainstream convention as to be able to do little more than lumpenly crawl along in a straight line, thoughtlessly destroying whatever may be in their path. There was no openness anymore. No room for player creativity. No thought for how inventive I could be in playing with the games’ environments. No imaginative use of space, or AI cat-and-mouse. In short, there was nothing of what made FPS worthwhile in the first place. Instead there were guided corridors, scripted pacing, and set-pieces that played themselves.
And that’s why Bulletstorm’s unapologetic battlecry for real, player-driven, improvisational FPS mechanics got me so fired up this year. Not only did Bulletstorm give me a crazily inventive arsenal and tell me that what I did mattered again, it rewarded me for being as stupendously, ostentatiously creative as I could be throughout. Also, it was funny as hell, and didn’t care how many po-faced bores it pissed off.
Personal GOTY: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
It may have been nostalgia getting the best of me, but even with all awesome games the out this year, the one I was most excited to play was Skyward Sword. Hell, I even got the limited edition with the packed-in Wii remote that I didn’t need. Since I was a kid, I enjoyed every little bit of getting a Zelda game – opening the golden packaging, the slow burn at the beginning, the rise of the hero, and the destruction of evil at the end. I love it all, and Skyward Sword is no exception.
I caught myself with my mouth open and a smile on my face on more than one occasion, just from how imaginative the dungeons and puzzles were. The combat is the best in the series, being much more complex and precise and upping the difficulty, something that the lack of game over screens in other 3D Zeldas left me craving. From a long-time Zelda fan expecting more or less the same, Skyward Sword exceeds every expectation in terms of story, gameplay, and overall quality. For me, there really is no comparison for my favorite game this year.
Personal GOTY: Dead Space 2
Let me guess, everyone else is going to choose games like Portal 2 and Skyrim, right? Screw that. Sure, those games are amazing, but how quickly everyone seems to have forgotten the masterpiece that was Dead Space 2, a game that married the horror of Resident Evil with the cinematic action of Uncharted, all the while turning the series into the blockbuster franchise it was born to be. Visceral really hit its stride with this sequel, polishing up some of the problem areas of the first while really honing the action and fleshing out the universe.
From the conflicted, mentally damaged protagonist to the massive, insane boss battles (which were some of the best in recent memory), Dead Space 2’s journey was an absolute treat, and one that I’ll remember for years to come. And it even helped prove that slapped-together, needless multiplayer can actually be a blast without getting in the way of the core game – it can be done!
Personal GOTY: The Sims 3: Pets
It’s not easy being a horse, especially a horse at GamesRadar. But I digress. Putting all other phony pony pet-care sims to shame, the Pets expansion pack for The Sims 3 offers fat humans lots of new ways to enjoy their more productive and attractive Sims with new lifetime wishes, skills, career opportunities, buildings, and items. But more importantly, human players will be able to strap on their saddles and experience The Sims from the horse’s perspective for the first time in the series. That’s me, galloping through the sleepy streets of Appaloosa Plains, flirting with hot mares at the park, and coming home to a dinner of fresh oats and hay prepared by my human Sim servant. This is living.
Above: The Pets expansion also features dogs and cats. But this is not as important as the introduction of playable and customizable equines
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