PC PowerPlay Game of the Year 2012

From sole programmers, to small indie teams, to hundreds-strong triple-A studios, the releases in PCPP's Game of the Year countdown are each worthy of significant recognition. But there can be only one...

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PC PowerPlay Game of the Year 2012
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Yet another stellar year for PC gaming, 2012 highlighted the variety available to the PC gamers whilst proving that quality wasn't concerned with the size of a development team. From sole programmers, to small indie teams, to hundreds-strong triple-A studios, the releases in PCPP's Game of the Year countdown are each worthy of significant recognition. But there can be only one, so let the countdown begin!

- 11 -

The

“Worth The Wait”

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Black Mesa

Black Mesa Modification Team

For so long we were waiting for Gordon Freeman to re-emerge into the Anomalous Materials Lab test chamber. Eight years, in fact. Then, as if it teleported from Xen itself, Black Mesa suddenly appeared in September of this year. The same question was on everyone’s lips: was it worth the wait?

The answer was yes, which should be quite obvious since the mod is a GOTY nominee. Against all odds, the team behind Black Mesa delivered a product that was true to Half-Life and, some argue, even surpasses it.

They pulled it off by not reinventing the wheel that is the original game. Instead, the team focused on improving the atmosphere and appearance, with only minor changes to the design here and there.

Incredibly superior lighting, deliciously high-res textures, and extraordinarily improved architecture are among the feats, along with many smaller details that helped give Black Mesa a new sense of place that the original could only dream of.

It’s a product drenched with the love, and its brilliant – and a relief – that it can finally be shared with the rest of the world.

- 10 -

The

“Must Go Faster”

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Tribes: Ascend

Hi-Rez Studios

It seems like such an inconsequential addition to a game, but the Tribes franchise, including the somewhat poorly received Tribes: Vengeance, is all about going faster. Speed is survival. Skiing down the sides of mountains to hit speeds verging on 300kph is not only thrilling, but also the only way to survive in this chaotic world. It is what sets the franchise apart from its multiplayer shooter peers and it is one of the many features that Hi-Rez Studios has so successfully bought to this most recent iteration.

Not only has the development team managed to revive the classic Tribes experience, but they have also managed to tie it to one of the fairest free-to-play models this side of League of Legends. No pay-to-win here – it’s all about skill.

A modern title that successfully evokes the spirit of one of the most hallowed names in competitive shooting that costs not a penny? Ascend’s nomination should come as a surprise to no one.

- 9 -

The

“This Is What War Is Good For”

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PlanetSide 2

Sony Online Entertainment

With tank columns rolling in over hills as hovercraft and heavy bombers light up the sky, even the average engagement in PlanetSide 2 is a sight to behold. It may not be that first massively multiplayer first-person shooter – that would be its predecessor, naturally – but it is the first MMOFPS that works. The original PlanetSide truly was a game ahead of its time, and it’s only now that technology has finally caught up to deliver SOE’s vision of continental combat.

Technology may still even have some room left to grow, however, as PlanetSide 2 will bring your system to its knees. It’s right to do so, for the game looks gorgeous even without thousands of players peppering the environment with tracer fire. And though PlanetSide 2’s approach to the free-to-play model may not be as successful as that of Tribes: Ascend, it still offers balance and accessibility without needing its players to pay a cent. Battlefield and Call of Duty may offer tighter shooting mechanics and instant gratification, but they’d be mad to ignore the power of PlanetSide 2’s massive-scale war. As would you.

- 8 -

The

 

“Terror In The Dark”

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Mark of the Ninja

Klei Entertainment

You’d better believe that an indie release can play with the big boys when it comes to GOTY awards. See, Mark of the Ninja isn’t just a rock-solid indie title – it’s as close to perfect as a stealth game can get. By restricting familiar stealth tropes to a two-dimensional plane, and communicating clearly and concisely all the typically frustrating vagaries of the genre’s artificial intelligence, Mark of the Ninja becomes a master class in stealth gaming.

But what truly sets it apart is the sheer range of playstyles even within its sneaky scaffolding. Violence, non-violence, ghosting, speed, confusion and terrorising – nothing is invalid in Mark of the Ninja. Player expression and creativity is of paramount importance to Klei, and the game’s systems deliver wonderful opportunities and feedback for the actions eventually chosen. And let’s not forget just how gorgeous Mark of the Ninja is, with an artful and consistent animated style that never sacrifices systemic readability. 2012 has been a fantastic year for stealth, but Mark of the Ninja is the reason why it’s been one of the best since the genre game to light.

- 7 -

The

“How Are You Still In Business?”

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Guild Wars 2

ArenaNet

It seems impossible that this is valid business model for a game of this quality. Free-to-Play works, but usually it’s with Korean style MMOs that see you needing to grind more than coffee factory. Guild Wars 2 finds the core that’s at every MMO, gives it a little twist to make it quite a lot of fun to play, and then forgets to charge us for the experience. We’re not sure why more games don’t utilise this model, but we do know that every game released following it, will get directly compared and judged accordingly.

We love the massive open world server vs server PVP that’s highly reminiscent of Warhammer Online, laying siege to forts and taking map control.

Gorgeous landscapes and intricate detail in the visuals, pick-up and play style quest design, surprising nooks and crannies hidden in a lovingly crafted world, and a combat system that sees players actively engaged rather than watching their characters standing still while executing a spell macro of some description all combine to pull MMOs kicking and screaming into the next generation.

- 6 -

The

“Badass Award For Outstanding Badassitude”

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Borderlands 2

Gearbox

Naturally, Borderlands 2 offers more: More levels, more variety in climate and map geometry, more villains, more monsters, more midgets, more crates, more midgets hiding in crates, and way more guns. The original game’s flaws were identified and excised, be they great (the lack of a proper ending) or small (fall damage). The FPS/RPG game mechanic at its core was preserved, and enhanced by myriad customisation options, groovier weapon properties, and an endgame defined by titanic raid bosses and ultra-rare loot drops. Underpinning all these tweaks was science – reams of player telemetry data extracted from Steam. The story got super-charged too, thanks to full voice-overs for optional quests, and the very sensible decision to turn the most boring characters from Borderlands 1 into martyrs.

Borderlands 2 has vibrant colours, sweeping vistas, striking architecture, and monster trucks. But above all, it has character. Whether it's a cannibal screaming “I smell delicious!” as he's roasted alive, the gripping electronica of Jesper Kyd, or the fact that you can turn a rogue AI into a wise-cracking shotgun, you always feel like you're venturing into a larger-than-life world where anything can happen (and usually does). Borderlands 2 is sick. Fully sick.

- 5 -

The

“Cassowaries In The Mist”

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Far Cry 3

Ubisoft Montreal

Ubisoft Montreal may have floundered in its attempt to both tell a story and comment on the evolution of a first-person shooter protagonist, but it doesn’t matter – Far Cry 3 still offers some of the most incredible first-person shooting on PC. Though it sacrifices the sublime side of Far Cry 2 and offers a less-immersive, more game-like experience, it does so without compromising the systems that cause firefights to escalate and force reactive gameplay. Fire spreads, fingers need to be jammed back into place, enemies flank, counter and swarm. And then a jaguar jumps into the fray.

The game’s tropical locales are as stunning as they are technically impressive, offering a variety of vistas we thought not possible in such a specific climate. It’s an open world where walking and driving are just as viable methods of transports as a hanglider or a wingsuit, and the destination is often less entertaining than the systemic engagements encountered in the journey. Look beyond Vaas’ psychotic stare and you’ll find a game that is Far Cry through and through.

- 4 -

The

“Just One More Jump”

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FTL

Subset Games

There’s no shame in admitting to being captured in FTL’s gravitational pull. Even when we were supposed to be spending time reviewing November’s myriad blockbuster first-person shooters, we’d continually find ourselves returning to this seemingly harmless management sim. But its attraction is no anomaly; FTL’s approach to the roguelike genre is notable for one thing above all: its ability to cloak your demise in a nebula of optimism.

FTL is a game about hope; the inevitability of destruction only becomes apparent in retrospect. A series of minor, manageable events will cascade into a torrent of disaster – but it was that first asteroid impact, or hull breach, or crewmember getting sucked out the airlock, that sealed your fate.

It’s not only the random nature of death that pushes us forward, but the sheer variety of valid strategies that arise from the random assortment of weapons, subsystems and crewmembers that can be encountered. Or not encountered at all. FTL strikes the perfect balance between desperation, curiosity, courage and terror; all valid reasons to spin up the hyperdrive and push ever onward. Just one more jump, indeed.

- 3 -

The

“Just Something In My Eye”

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The Walking Dead

Telltale Games

A studio best known primarily for comedic adventures; god-damned overplayed zombies; the dreaded spectre of a licenced game. These are things that might otherwise have been solid grounds to ignore The Walking Dead. But despite these disadvantages, Telltale have managed to craft an incredibly powerful, emotional experience like none other.

Fight the dead, fear the living is this franchise’s mantra, and it holds true in Telltale’s creation. It is not in action-packed fight sequences, but rather in the web of relationships that surrounds the player, that the true beauty of The Walking Dead is to be found. Are there any other games where you’ve genuinely, meaningfully cared about how much a character actually trusts you? Gaming is rife with ‘save the world’ and ‘chosen one’ stories, but none have ever inspired so much emotional investment and attachment as this simple struggle for survival.

Perhaps this sense of agency is, in certain ways, an illusion. But it’s an involving and compelling illusion, one that any game would be proud to deliver. We cared about Lee, and we cared about Clementine. And we cared about The Walking Dead.

- 2 -

The

“City That Could Get Any Worse”

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Dishonored

Arkane Studios

With its spiritual successors ranging from Thief to Deus Ex – basically, some of the greatest PC games ever made – Dishonored had much to prove to devoted fans of Looking Glass Studios, Ion Storm and the immersive simulation sub-genre. But it did so with aplomb, crafting one of the most unique worlds we’ve ever visited and filling it with interconnected details that only the trained observer will appreciate.

Though the ambience is akin to Garrett’s own urban locale, it’s important to note that Dishonored is as much a successor to Arkane’s previous titles as it is to the genre greats it can proudly call company. Building upon the feedback and fluidity of Dark Messiah’s combat, Dishonored features some of the smoothest and most satisfying first-person melee we’ve ever performed. It is, as they say in the biz, real damn crunchy. Then, stacked with the impressive range of general-purpose supernatural powers, Dishonored offers a power fantasy where that power must be earned through creativity and decisive action. The boldest measures may be the safest, but they’re also the most satisfying.

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