At the end of each year, we gather our staff and regulars together and put the question to them: what were the most standout games for you? Here, then, are our staff picks for the Most Surprising Game of 2012. Let’s see if you agree…
Brendan Keogh: Spec Ops: The Line
I knew nothing about Spec Ops: The Line when I first played it, which, really, is the ideal way to experience it. It’s a clever game that subverts the most ingrained tropes and expectations of the stagnating military shooter genre. To achieve this, it almost demands that the player doesn’t know what it is doing when they start playing. I sure didn’t. At first it was just another shooter—adequate, but nothing special. But slowly, as the game progressed and my character’s sanity unravelled, the game became less about its own story and more about me, the player who typically enjoys violent videogames with an uncaring ambivalence. I was made complicit—not just in The Line, but in every violent videogame I ever played. When Walker’s face reflected back to him on the targeting monitor, my own face was reflected back to me on the TV screen, making my role in countless acts of virtual violence over the years undeniable. The Line made me think about myself, which was something I never expected from any military shooter.
Toby McCasker: The Darkness II
So. The Darkness II. Had no idea it was going to be that good. In fact I was pretty sure it was never going to live up to my intense love for Starbreeze’s unflinching original on account of, you know, Digital Extremes and all their gross colour. How wrong I was. I should never have let it languish on the shelf for months before I got bored one day and chucked her in. What followed was the best coupla days of gaming I’ve had in years. I actually fly-kicked an inconspicuous lamp off our coffee table. Not ‘cos I was angry, but ‘cos I was so amped I had to break something for real.
Jess Colwill: Assassin’s Creed III
The game that most surprised me was actually Assassin’s Creed III. I’ve heard a lot of people singing the praises of the Assassin’s Creed franchise over the years, but it never really grabbed me so I’ve just dodged it as much as anything. But we got sent a review copy of Assassin’s Creed III and, lacking any other game to play at the moment, I decided to fire it up. That was maybe a week ago, and I haven’t thought about anything else since. It’s actually making me want to go back and play the others.
James Pinnell: The Walking Dead
Telltale Games have had somewhat of a mixed bag when it comes to their re-imaginings of famous films and television shows. Its attempts to breathe some alternate stories into Jurassic Park and Back to the Future were lacklustre at best, lacking in narrative strength and atmosphere. The Walking Dead, however, surprised almost everyone with its extraordinarily gripping, heart-wrenching and horrific glimpse at a world stripped of all humanity, complete with a set of extraordinarily well written dialogue and a fantastic cast of characters. The wait between episodes fit perfectly with the “TV-esque” perception it attempted to form, concluding with easily one of the most emotional endings to any game I’ve ever played. A standout effort and one of the most surprising turnarounds for a development studio, ever.
Alex Walker: Natural Selection 2
In many respects I very nearly regretted not having this as my GOTY pick, given its deep ties to eSports, particularly in Australia. And had it not been for the lack of actual tutorials — YouTube videos are not a proper substitute — it very may well have been. But to say Unknown Worlds’ labour of love, which had a six-year gestation period that survived only on the strength, intellect and talent of what is one of the most tight-knit communities in gaming, is the best surprise of the year, is hardly a consolation.
NS2’s greatest triumph was the power of the collective, showcasing the strength of a community that contributed in any way possible to prevent a truly great idea from dying in the wind. And yet NS2 looks just as good, just as polished, just as refined and just as fluid as any other game I’ve seen this year. You will never find a game whose history is quite as remarkable on a console, nor will you find a community as dedicated and willing to stay the course despite all the obstacles and challenges ahead. NS2 represents everything that makes PC gaming exceptional, which is the only truly befitting compliment I can bestow to what is the rightful sequel to one of the greatest hybrid games of all-time.
Patrick Vuleta: Mass Effect 3
Never has a game so trolled its fans as Mass Effect 3. The finale of BioWare’s operatic magnum opus managed to collectively surprise millions of players. We were all expecting Shepard to ride off into the sunset with Kelly, save ‘umanity, cure the Krogan, and… rainbow space lasers?
Not that I’m complaining. I enjoyed the freedom to write my own interpretation into the ending. But for many, the surprise shock was so great, that even now thousands of Bioware fans lament the day that Mass Effect died (the day the Bioware cinematics team decided not to cast Kelly in the epilogue, to be exact). Of course, what would be even more surprising is if BioWare didn’t find a lame excuse to resurrect Shepard from the rubble in time for Mass Effect 4. Oh yeah, like we haven’t seen that one coming, BioWare.
Alice Lynton: Dishonored
Dishonored really got me. I expected to find its aesthetic a played-out steampunk, I though its stealth sequences would be dull, console-friendly nonsense or fiddly, frustrating trawls. I thought I’d laugh through its plot and hate the characters. I thought the talk of its pedigree was wishful marketing speak. I was wrong, and I’ve never been happier about that. What a fascinating world Dunwall is, and an inherently satisfying new twist on stealth the blink proved to be. Plus, freezing time and stabbing in slow motion is amazing. A control-pad friendly modern streamlining of those classic immersive sims without losing the PC-favourite embedded narrative drive and systemic fun they became famous for.
Matt ‘El_Funko’ Long: Day Z
This is my very favourite zombie survival hardcore PvP FPS game, which is also a genre I wasn’t previously aware existed. Encountering another player stalking the forests of Chernarus is like finding a Unicorn, and the intense rush from killing that Unicorn so you can open his body like a piñata is unique to Day Z. At least, it was great up until the hackers ruined it all. ArmA 2 has spent the better part of the year on the Steam sales charts because of this mod, and no one looks more surprised than Bohemia Interactive, the game’s original developers.
Tim Colwill: Mass Effect 3
This got a lot of love in our Best Game of the Year section and, you know, I get that. I enjoyed the final piece in the Mass Effect trilogy, I enjoyed beating the snot out of the Reapers, and I enjoyed the cameos and conclusions. But there were just too many inconsistencies, too much railroading, and so many missed opportunities that it’s hard for me to put it up there as my Game of the Year. But damn it all if I haven’t played the bollocks out of the multiplayer.
When I heard Mass Effect 3 would have multiplayer, I think I literally snorted. “Multiplayer! In a BioWare game!” is probably what I said, derisively, after the giggles subsided. But you know what blew me away? It’s good. It’s actually, really, bloody good. I’ve logged nearly 100 hours of it and I don’t feel any burnout. If it wasn’t hosted on the truly awful, unstable, hideously-badly-designed EA Origin network I’d probably even give it Game of the Year just for that. Still, can’t win ‘em all.
What was your most surprising game of 2012? Reveal all to us in the comments below.