Mass Effect, Assassin's Creed, Call of Duty, Halo... Granted, 2012 like countless other years within this generation of gaming has bore witness to many of the usual suspects within our industry. But don't let that fool you, because there's still plenty of gaming goodness found within just waiting to be uncovered in time for Christmas. From epic naval battles in Assassin's Creed III, to the long-awaited return of a certain Master Chief, and the epic close to one of this generation's finest series. Not to mention the launch of the successor to one of the best-selling home consoles ever. Yes, 2012 was another fantastic year for games.
Here's what it had to offer...
Our hands-on time with Nintendo’s latest home console might well have been an all-too brief affair as part of our Gadget Show Live Christmas coverage, but there’s little to convince us otherwise that the Wii U isn't a must-buy for gamers this Christmas. Marking the beginning of the next-generation for home consoles – a long time coming, let me assure you - the Wii U is not only an evolution of the Wii that came before it, but with its unique tablet controller (the 'Gamepad') at the heart of its USP, it too has the potential to offer the very best from the DS.
Despite day-one launch niggles, of which there were a few, Nintendo has already done so much to convince us that there's good times ahead for the Wii U. Its predecessor might have been shunned by many for its apparent failure to cater to a 'hardcore' market, but if launch titles are anything to go by (ZombiU, Mass Effect 3, Batman: Arkham City, Darksiders II) then there's good reason to be excited.
What would a Christmas Game Guide be without a selection of giant triple-A blockbusters to call its own? With development having moved from series’ creator Bungie to debutant studio 343 Industries, Halo 4’s reception may not have been filled with the kind of hysteria that greeted the closer of the original Halo trilogy, but nevertheless its sales have been incredibly strong. Five years in hiding since Halo 3 (and feared KIA), Halo 4 marks the long-mooted return of Master Chief and also marks the beginning of the series’ second trilogy. Microsoft might well be bleeding us dry of cash by now, but the visual spectacle, intensity and grandiose scale of the production is rarely matched.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2
As long as Call of Duty continues to sell record-breaking amounts year-on-year, no time soon will we be seeing COD not topping the top of gamers’ Christmas lists. Not to everyone’s tastes and a dirty trio of words amongst many, Call of Duty is nevertheless a blockbuster to end all others. Black Ops 2, then, is no different. Straddling two different time periods (the late 80s and 2025, as the world witnesses the dawn of a new Cold War), Treyarch’s fifth Call of Duty in the driving seat is as bold and brash as ever; upping the stakes in terms of spectacular destruction, meticulously orchestrated set-piece moments and, with the new time era, futuristic warfare. The always-brilliant online multiplayer puts the icing on the cake – as if you needed convincing!
Playable in one form or another for well over two years, 2012 was arguably the year Minecraft went mainstream. Having picked up millions of faithful followers in the couple of years prior on PC, in May of this year Minecraft was finally released on Xbox 360 as an XBLA title (see our review here). For those of you yet to enjoy Notch's masterpiece in all its blocky splendour then consider this an NRM-flavoured ultimatum to buy the game in time for Christmas. For 1,200 Microsoft Points, you can really do no wrong – Minecraft is as deviously simple as it is supremely addictive, where a 5-minute pick-up-and-play can turn into an all-nighter without batting an eyelid. Going on the kind of phenomenal sales figures the game is attracting – Gamasutra reports it's selling 40,000-60,000 copies every week, while the total approaches 4.5m for the XBLA version alone – then we're not alone in our admiration.
Mass Effect 3
So the whole Mass Effect ending debacle shed somewhat of a poor light on an otherwise superb franchise (so much so that developer Bioware released an extended Director's Cut as DLC), but there's little doubting that Mass Effect 3 deserves it's place amongst any 'Top Games of 2012' list, and it's for that reason why it has to be included here. Ironic, really, that such a franchise would end in so much drama on the developer's front when the series itself - like the tremendously ambitious, narrative-driven space opera it is - has been one to define a whole generation of story-led role-playing game. With countless twists, turns and story arcs, the trilogy closer lived up to our *substantiated* lofty expectations and then some. Epic.
One of three indie titles to receive the spotlight in documentary Indie Game: The Movie, Fez is the creation of Polytron co-founder and indie darling Phil Fish. We first got our eyes on the game way back in October of last year (where we applauded its 2D-to-3D perspective shifts and found its unique visual design lovingly crafted), but having since been released on XBLA after a lengthy delay in development, Fez is one of 2012’s more intriguing titles that simply deserves recognition.
Assassin’s Creed III
The third numbered instalment in the Assassin’s Creed lineage far from re-invented the series, but with its switch to the era of the American Revolution, ACIII can at least be commended for bringing something new to a franchise that otherwise felt so by-the-numbers. A vast, authentically-delivered and supremely-detailed open-world (spanning the East Coast of the United States, from New York to Boston) was just the very start. With its bustling cities, ambitious assassination set-pieces and large-scale naval battles – as well as some of the slickest animations and sharpest visuals of the series so far - it’s the best Assassin’s Creed to date.
Marking the first time the Forza Motorsport series has left the smooth tarmac of circuit racing, Forza Horizon is an open-world, less serious alternative to its petrol head cousin. Developed by start-up studio Playground Games, the game introduces off-roading, illegal street races and over-the-top high-speed chases to the mix, but manages to keep that same authentic Forza feel that fans will love. Gorgeous in the extreme – it’s set in Colorado, and is the first game in the series to feature a 24-hour day/night cycle drives – Horizon also happens to have one of the best game soundtracks ever. Get behind the wheel, cruise the open road, and let the good times roll.
A follow-up to the massively-multiplayer FPS from 2003, PlanetSide 2 is not only one of the most ambitious first-person shooters currently at market – supporting not tens but hundreds of players in any one large-scale conflict – it also happens to be entirely free-to-play. Set approximately 300 years after the discovery of the planet Auraxis, PlanetSide 2 once again has players choosing from one of three factions to fight for as they fight for territorial control. With a variety of ways to play the game (offensive, heavily-armoured classes are off-set by on-field medics), numerous customisation options and plenty of vehicles on show, this might just be the only FPS you need until 2013 rolls around.
Download PlanetSide 2 here.
Look past the cartoon caricatures and fluffy delights of the rest of Wii U’s launch line-up (Nintendo Land, anyone?) for a second, because there is a horror hidden within. Not only is ZombiU one of the first proper ‘adult’ games for Nintendo’s new home console, but it’s so far one of its best, getting the very best out of the Wii U both performance-wise and in terms of its mooted features – the Gamepad doubles up as your inventory screen, for example. Set on the murky streets and dimly-lit alleyways of London, ZombiU might well be yet another zombie game on console, but with some unique features to call its own – dying is permanent, with a zombie bite causing the player’s character to become infected – there’s enough here to be of genuine interest. For Wii U owners over the age of 18 that is….