Death's quest to free his brother from the corrupt powers that be changed almost completely from the first title's copy-cat Zelda formula. Instead the sequel grabbed RPG-inspired looting, adopted a God of War-style combat system, and featured an astounding presentation. All of those elements culminated into one of the best gaming experiences this year. Though the first was well received, the ride of the second Horseman gave the series its own identity, expanding the fascinating world and characters and having us eagerly awaiting the next entry in the series.
Battling ancient evils, collecting powerful weapons and armor, and having a story set around saving all of mankind certainly makes Darksiders II the most typical Action Adventure title to come out this year. But it is still of the highest quality in the genre. The nimble combat kicks the action up a notch from the original, letting players unleash combos with weapons like Death's morphing dual scythes or massive hammers, but the action keeps an excellent balance with exploration, platforming, and item-hunting. Couple all that with fantastic voice work and the emotionally charged soundtrack, and you have a tough contender to beat.
Not since Gordon Freeman picked up his Gravity Gun have real-world physics meant so little in a game. Stepping into the shoes of the adorable anime cutie Kat, we were completely entranced by the dreamlike city of Hekseville and its hostile jelly-monsters, old men with portals in their chest, and a kitten with translucent skin resembling a star-speckled galaxy. As Kat learns to master her gravity-manipulating powers, the games small town opens up into a vast, vibrant cityscape ripe for anti-gravity exploration, where up and down have no bearing on your travels.
Say what you will about Kats preliminary fretfulness about getting boys to like her (she is just a teenager, after all)--theres no denying that she answers the call to heroism during the wildly unexpected events of the games final third. Even after youve saved the day, theres still plenty to see in the super-stylized districts, including a fascinating subplot involving inter-dimensional rifts. With its novel gameplay and storybook setting, Gravity Rush is as disorienting and charming as a wonderfully strange dream. Gravity Rush was the first Vita-exclusive game to truly wow us, delivering a fanciful adventure unlike anything weve played on a console.
Dunwall's diseased city streets, infected citizens, corrupt officials, and mystical god-figures create the unique backdrop for Corvo Attano's revenge. Framed for regicide, you're a highly trained, supernaturally powered bodyguard who must discover the true culprits of the queen's death while slicing and dicing anyone who gets in your way (unless you decide to go the stealthy route). Dishonored gives you the freedom to accomplish your missions the way you want, from the level of blood shed to your infiltration point.
Dishonored has the tone of Bioshock, Thief, and Deus Ex all bound up into one game. Your actions determine what course the story will take. Will you murder innocent guards, disregard the citizens of Dunwall, and cause the city to fall into a deeper pit of despair, or will you set out to help return it to prosperity? From the gameplay to the engrossing narrative and lore, Dishonored will hook you from beginning to end.
The action: Sneaking up behind a Russian mobster, slitting his throat, then flinging your knife at a gunman across the room before he can fill your torso with lead. The adventure: Falling farther and farther backward into the madness of a hyper-violent 80s acid-trip--one laden with animal masks, hallucinations, and the introspective wonder of whether you truly enjoy hurting people. Hotline Miamis distinctive mix of gory, pulse-pounding combat and narrative intrigue makes it one of the most memorable games we played all year--and somehow, the fact that the graphics resemble the original Grand Theft Auto only accentuate Hotlines greatness.
Few games can capture tension like this top-down shooter, where scoping out a room full of enemies feels like the build-up to a strategic, blink-and-youre-dead marathon of murder. Tying new abilities to unlockable animal masks was a stroke of genius; it tickles our gaming sensibilities that you can see farther when wearing a giraffe mask, or walk faster while wearing a rabbit mask. If you disagree, we might be inclined to pick up a bat, don a horse mask, and drive our car to your place.
Kid Icarus: Uprising
The return of Kid Icarus was something Nintendo fans had hoped for more than 20 years, and their prayers were finally answered with Kid Icarus: Uprising. Uprising was developed by a high profile team led by Masahiro Sakurai of Smash Bros. fame, and the quality shows in the product. The gameplay is an experimental mash-up of on-rails shooting and on-foot exploring, and its hampered with a strange control set-up, but once you got into the groove you were treated to one of the best adventures of the year.
Featuring some of the funniest dialogue of 2012, the story is full of twists and turns as Pit, a humble angel, defends Earth from being overrun by demons. The lengthy campaign is packed with variety, and theres tons of replay value thanks to a clever difficulty system, online multiplayer, collectible AR cards, and Achievement-style rewards. Heres hoping it isnt another 20 years before the sequel.
Agent 47 could've spent his six-year vacation eating pizza and slamming Miller Lite by the six pack, but instead decided to learn a few new tricks for turning targets into corpses. Gaming's baldest, baddest assassin made his return without missing a beat in Hitman: Absolution, which is easily the most accessible game in the franchise to date.
The new story-based approach gave a bit of cohesion to the series, which had traditionally been structured around unconnected assassination missions. Sure, sometimes the story in Absolution didn't make a ton of sense, but that hardly detracted from what is easily the most intelligent stealth game to make the rounds this year. Each mission provides a wild degree of freedom; we often had a bevy of options available for taking down each mark, and 47's new moves only reinforced that flexibility. Instinct Mode allowed us to identify targets from amidst a crowd and anticipate their next moves, and we had a blast executing bad guys in style with Point Shooting. And oldschool fans? Well, they'll still spend hours going for that coveted Silent Assassin ranking.
And the winner is...Dishonored
Though there was stiff competition, Dishonored comes out on top with the Action Adventure of the Year 2012 title. Each nominee had outstanding strengths and were amazing gaming experiences, but none managed to surpass the gameplay depth, immersive new world, and engrossing, reactive storyline of Dishonored.
The art style, characters, and moldable city of Dunwall created a place that we had never experienced before. There is an entire world to explore, and every route you choose, brutal tactic, or sneaky workaround is a decision made by you. The semi-open world missions created experiences that could be done completely different by every single person that played them--depending on what paths they explored. From getting a deeper insight into the fascinating world lore and characters, to opening even more gameplay options than you thought possible, the more you peek into the rich world of Dishonored, the more it rewards you.
Gaming on the go
Gaming on the go has seen a drastic surge in the mobile/tablet market and while were getting to a point where these games can exist across all platforms, we decided to keep things simple and honor the best games to have come out on traditional handhelds--the PlayStation Vita and Nintendo 3DS. The 3DS has been out long enough that its already gone through a redesign, whereas the PS Vita hasnt quite been on the market for a full year in the US. Nonetheless, both platforms have been expanding their library with some impressive offerings in 2012.
Youve seen our list of nominees, and we hope youve had a chance to play through them. But there can be only one winner that deserves to be on your person at all times. So lets take a look at this years greatest and most portablest (?).
Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack
Considering the PlayStation Vita's launch lineup included games such as Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Lumines: Electronic Symphony, who would've thought that the platform's first must-have game would be an inexpensive downloadable?
Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack is 1958's The Blob in video game form. It's a 2D platformer in which your ultimate goal is to gobble up as many stinky sneakers, discarded scraps of junk, and, later, pesky human beings as you can in order to grow in size and consume the universe. It's quirky, full of funny jokes and pop culture references, and absolutely endearing. While you eat planet earth to death, Mutant Blobs will devour your heart.
Gravity Rush was what the PlayStation Vita needed most: a completely original, entrancingly enjoyable game. Squeezing the dazzling open-world city of Hekseville onto a handheld couldnt have been easy, but the end result was something that blew away most console experiences. Kats adventures were so surreal, and her gravity-reversing abilities so empowering, that the sheer act of exploring became a delight.
And yet, at its core, Gravity Rush is a superhero game, tasking you time and again with saving the day from bizarre blob creatures. Watching Kat blossom from a timid tomboy into an astonishing, brave heroine is as gripping as the gameplay itself. Its the kind of handheld game that you give your undivided attention to: Plug in some headphones, relax in a quiet area, and prepare to lose yourself in its anime-storybook world.