Review of 2012 in gaming

29 Dec 2012

We take a look at the last 12 months and ponder what games and consoles have left an impression on us. Money-makers, crowd-funding, Irish game development – Adam Renardson looks at what 2012 meant for gaming.

The year of the cashcow

If I can describe 2012 as a year in gaming in one word it would be ‘safe’. It was a safe year for publishers, not willing to take any risks with the development of new gaming franchises, instead milking the already established franchises a little further. So, all that was left for gamers this year was a big pile of sequels, expansion packs and downloadable content.

It’s frustrating seeing people with so many good ideas be shot down in favour of the guaranteed pay loads that mainstream titles generate. The year 2012 was the epitome of what a bad year in gaming looks like, even the games that were released were little more than glorified add-ons to previous games with short story modes, tacked on multiplayer and DLC to milk a few more pennies. Oh, and when the hell did offline multiplayer become extinct? It seems every game released this year had the same pitfall of not being able to play with a friend sitting 3 feet from you in the same room, instead forcing you to experience this through online multiplayer.

The year developers began to fight back

Fear not gamers, it seems there is a revolution in progress. Finally, after years of publishers unwilling to take a chance on new ideas, the developers have taken matters into their own hands. This year saw the rise of crowd-funding for the video-game industry. Major success stories have emerged this year from Kickstarter projects including Tim Schafer’s new company Double Fine Productions, who went to Kickstarter looking for US$400,000 to develop and distribute a game. What they got was more than US$3.3m in funding for the project. Similarly, the apocalyptic predecessor to the Fallout series, Wasteland, received more than US$2.9m in funding through Kickstarter.

After the success of Kickstarter, a new video-games dedicated crowd-funding website, GameLaunched, will be live from 1 January 2013. With the likes of Steam, Desura, IndieCity, and IndieVania making it easier for developers to distribute their games, 2012 really was the year developers took the power back.

The year of delayed releases

You can understand this one, really, with Call of Duty: Black Ops II and Halo 4 being released so closely together this year and raking in a combined US$800m in their first week of launch no other publishers wanted to go head-to-head in the sales race in the second half of the year. That combined with the video-games industry constantly having to shift gameplay to match expectations and trends have resulted in a trove of games being delayed from their original release dates.

Next year will see the release of Bioshock Infinite (originally set for release this October), Tomb Raider (reboot of the franchise, originally intended for autumn 2012), Alien: Colonial Marines (originally due this autumn) and hopefully the long-delayed The Last of Us and The Last Guardian will see the light of day in 2013.

The year Irish games development shone

It was an absolutely fantastic year for Irish games developers. In November, it was announced that jobs in Ireland’s video-games industry are up 91pc in the last three years with an estimated total of 3,344 workers and has generated revenues of €2bn since 2001. The Games Fleadh festival saw a huge growth in interest in February. Dublin GameCraft was launched with two hugely successful development days, one in February and one in November, and a charity game craft in aid of the ISPCA in December. (Tim Schafer even gave his support on Twitter). State of Play saw a flux of showcasing developers and Games Ireland Gathering was also launched in 2012. This truly was the year the Irish games-development community shone.

The worst game of the year

I could keep up my rant-induced theme of this piece and write “they all were” in here, but I’m slightly above that level of laziness. Slightly. Besides, the vast majority of games released this year weren’t bad. They weren’t great either, they were just, well, bog-standard games, really. That’s more a depressing representation of the video-game industry at the moment rather than a reflection of the quality of the games being released.

One game I do have to single out though is Forza Horizon, not because it is a bad game, far from it, but because it is the most blatant example of everything I’ve spent this review ranting about. It’s a run-of-the-mill driving game, the likes of which are released every year. Forza Horizon, however, was released two weeks after Forza Motorsport 4. Two weeks! I know it is seen as more of a spin-out rather than an expansion of the series, but at least pick your release dates properly before expecting gamers to fork out full price for a game very similar to one already released. Coupled with that, the product placement in the game is painfully obvious, and some of the products shoved in your face have very little or nothing to do with motorsports or racing. Oh, and whoever slapped the “Better with Kinect” sticker on the front of this is a bloody liar.

The game of the year

Somewhere in the mire of games released this year were some decent ones, I must admit. I can rag on the likes of Halo 4 and Call of Duty: Black Ops II for being cashcows and safe bets for publishers to make some money, but sometimes popular things are popular for a reason (then I remind myself that Two and a Half Men is still one of the most-watched shows on TV). Dishonored was one of the few original games to be released this year which caught my eye, it seems Bethesda are simply incapable of releasing a bad game. Unfortunately, though, I haven’t had more than a fleeting chance to play Dishonored (it’s on my Christmas list).

So who has taken this award for 2012?

Far Cry 3

In a year when tacking a number on the end of a title was a licence to make the same game again, repackage it and sell it for full price, this is the one game that shone through for me. I was a huge fan of the original Far Cry, which took the open world aspect and stealth gaming to its utter peak in 2004. I, like many others, was a little disappointed with the second instalment in the series. It left a lingering bad taste in my mouth, so seeing Ubisoft correct this by making an absolutely immense third instalment was the shot in the arm the series needed.

Yes, it’s like all the other games I’ve been infuriated with this year but at least they’re taken a step away from the “you are a super marine, go do your job” style to you playing as a complete nobody who must build up their skills in order to master combat in a wilderness landscape. The shake-up of style is what makes this game enjoyable to play.