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CalmDownTom’s Game Awards 2012 – Biggest Surprise

Asura's WrathThere were many surprisingly great games out in 2012. In fact, if you had to characterise 2012 in gaming, it would be the year of the great indie games that came from nowhere, and the seemingly average big releases that were much better than anyone expected.

And the surprises weren’t just the games either. There were big news stories in games this year. There were too many sad stories, and many great games devs sadly disappeared this year. Thankfully, to balance out all the bad events of the year there’s been great stuff like new consoles, Kickstarter (the success stories) and more more creative and original games than any other time I can remember. Well done everyone!

So here are some of the Biggest Surprises of 2012!

Far Cry 3
Far Cry 3Far Cry 3 didn’t seem like anything special. Early footage of the game played up the controversial aspects of the story while the gameplay videos marked it out as a filler entry in the series. It seemed like an average title that would impress technically, but little more. While the first game was a showcase for the Cryengine and a gorgeous game, the second game was a more complex title with some good ideas, but it was a game as many people hated as loved. Neither game was a massive triple A success.

It was surprising then when Far Cry 3 was an open world game with an involving story, great soundtrack and was probably the best shooting in a game in 2012.

DayZThe past few years have seen a massive resurgence in PC gaming, and if you’re a gamer with the money to buy a good PC, it really is a no-brainer. You need a gaming PC to experience the best games of the year with the best resolutions and the best framerates.

But PC gaming offers something much better than just high performance visuals. User generated content. Mods. Amazing fan made titles that are full of more originality and innovation than anything in the mainstream gaming market. DayZ is exactly that.

Based on the ArmA 2 engine, the zombie survival mod was so popular it actually drove up sales of a game that otherwise had fallen off most gamers radar. Suddenly, ArmA 2 was moving up the Steam sales charts as gamers eagerly sought a way to visit the world of Chernarus to see how long they could survive the zombie apocalypse.

Most surprisingly of all though was how DayZ captured the imagination of gamers. The game is a virtual anecdote simulator, and gamers spent as much (maybe more) time watching videos and reading about peoples adventures in Chernarus as being there themselves. Even CalmDownTom explored that world and Jonathan’s diaries of his time there remain an absorbing read.

Who would have thought the biggest story in gaming this year would be a mod for a realistic military simulator?

Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer
Mass Effect 3When EA announced Mass Effect 3 fans of the series were unanimous. No thank you! Multiplayer was not something any of the fanbase wanted. While many fans went overboard and complained that devs working on multiplayer would be better spending their time on the singleplayer (that’s not how development works) I still agreed that multiplayer Mass Effect was a terrible idea. Happily, I was wrong!

Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer was well implemented and cleverly designed. Perhaps that shouldn’t be so surprising; EA took the multiplayer component seriously and recruited former League of Legends designers to make the mode a success. Their experience working on the most popular online game in the world right now proved invaluable. Mass Effect 3 multiplayer is addictive brilliance. The way that it feeds into the singleplayer game through the “Galactic readiness” meter, and the fact that I don’t mind dipping in to play it to improve my ending in the campaign each time I play, means that it is an unexpected triumph.

Combining class-based combat with detailed character progression and a huge choice of races and troop types to choose from as well as numerous enemy types, Mass Effect 3 multiplayer is a big deal. Choosing whether to be an Asari Force user (I know its not the Force) or a Krogan with a shotgun is a tough choice, but a good one. The game has even garnered a following even though it factors in micro-transactions, something that hardcore gamers traditionally hate.

Asura’s Wrath
Asura's WrathWell that was weird. That’s what I thought when I finished Asura’s Wrath. An anime inspired game where you punch God’s in the face. Over and over. Lots of Gods. Almost all of the 30 million or so Gods of Hinduism in fact. Whether it’s Elephant-headed Gods or Gods with laser shooting eyes in their heads, the solution for titular protagonist Asura is always the same. Face punch. Face punch to the face!

So Asura’s Wrath is over the top and thoroughly, intentionally stupid. A great deal of the game is also quick time events. This would normally turn off almost any serious gamer, so why is Asura’s Wrath still worth playing?

Well a lot of that has to do with the games insane presentation and story. It has an episodic nature, with each part of the game showcased as a discrete chapter of an anime series. Meanwhile, the quick time sections are strange with buttons prompts appearing all over the screen. The way these prompts flash and move adds to the sense of urgency and adrenaline present in the story and action. The fight sequences meanwhile are as goo as anything you would see in Naruto or Avatar or Bleach.

And if all of that wasn’t enough to qualify Asura’s Wrath as one of the biggest surprises of the year, wait till you see the (real) ending. Sadly, you need to buy DLC to see the true conclusion to the story, but its so insane I can’t help but recommend you do. It serves as a prequel (of sorts) to another very famous game series. I’ll say no more. Go play!

Sleeping Dogs
Sleeping Dogs“Hey gamer, do you want to play a new True Crime game?”
“How about a True Crime game that was abandoned then lost the license.”
“God no! That sounds awful!”

And then it wasn’t awful at all. In fact, it was one of the best games of the year. Simply put, Sleeping Dogs should have been really bad, and it really wasn’t.

SyndicateWhen a developer takes a classic series and changes its genre from something else (like RTS or strategy) to an FPS, there is an immediate fan backlash. FPS games are seen as the most mainstream and commercial of all game genres, and as such when a beloved series is changed to become an FPS its often seen as a betrayal by the fans.

For Syndicate though, there was only a small group of fans of the series (like me) to begin with, and only a small number of those bothered to check out this FPS version of the game. Those who did found a surprisingly brilliant little title with a short-but-fun singelplayer campaign that played out liked a more action based version of Deus Ex. This was only half the game though; Syndicate also offered a brilliant multiplayer co-op mode for four players. This mode is reminiscent of Left 4 Dead, but with a cyberpunk setting and the ability to hack the computer chips in the brains of your enemies. It’s fantastic.

Even today Syndicate is a surprise to most gamers. It shouldn’t be, Starbreeze are an amazing developer. But most gamers missed it. Make sure you don’t. Syndicate is one of the best games of 2012, and one of the biggest surprises.

And the winner is… Sleeping Dogs!
Sleeping DogsWhile many could argue that DayZ is a more important and groundbreaking game than Sleeping Dogs, this was still the game that surprised me the most and the one that I enjoyed most too. My interest in an open world GTA game was low, but Sleeping Dogs combination of brilliant hand-to-hand combat and cinematic shooting and car chases made it (almost) my favourite game of the year.

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