2012 – The Year that 7/10 beat 9/10

2012 has been a funny year for videogames. Despite the critical and commercial success of Mass Effect 3, Halo 4, Borderlands 2 and Dishonoured et al, it is a year that is being retrospectively viewed with a bit of a ‘meh’ by the majority of the gaming community. Blame it on the looming next-gen consoles or even current-gen fatigue, but for one reason or another, 2012 has failed to ignite in the way that the last few years have.

Still, while 2012 has lacked that something special, looking back, it has still proved an interesting year for the industry with some genuinely intriguing trends in both development and distribution. Some would argue that it’s the year that download only titles have come to the fore and that the freedom that comes with cheaper development has really shone through, but honestly, while some of the XBLA, PSN and heck, even a few iOS games have really delivered the goods, 2012 still has to go down as a year in which the major blockbusters largely failed to live up to the hype.

Don’t get me wrong, some of the big name games were very solid (Halo 4 in particular was fantastic), but with the exception of Dishonoured, the majority of the big name releases were sequels and, more importantly, very few did anything particularly new or exciting…..that is where the indie/download scene came in.

While the indie/download scene has been doing well for a few years now, 2012 felt like the year in which the possibilities for experimentation and freer-thinking that come with smaller development costs really started to shine. From the fantastically old school design of Spelunky and the brilliant simplicity of Super Hexagon to the artistic nature of Sony’s, Journey and Telltale’s much celebrated Walking Dead series, 2012 has undoubtedly been a great year for non-retail releases.

Still, while the majority will argue between the relative merits or smaller budgets and big, blockbuster releases, I’ve actually found that it’s the games that lie in-between that have brought me the most joy this year. They say that the mid-budget game is dead, that Japanese game development is becoming less and less relevant, yet, despite these somewhat damning claims, many of my favourite games of 2012 happen to be both mid-budget and Japanese…..go figure.

Now, I’m not claiming these as the best games of the year; in fact, I reviewed many of these games and the majority fall into the 7-8 category, but despite their individual faults, it’s these, more than any that I look back on with the most fondness and affection from the past year. Dragon’s Dogma, Asura’s Wrath, Lollipop Chainsawm, Binary Domain; these are not games I expect to see on too may ‘game of the year’ lists, but are games that undoubtedly overcame their individual flaws and, from a personal perspective, managed to deliver something relatively unique while still having that big game mentality which I still crave.

Be it that uniquely Japanese visual style and sense of playfulness that I still think is lacking from many major western releases or the simple fact that few games allow you to fight a boss bigger than a planet; these are the games that stick in my mind most clearly. None of these games are perfect, heck, few are even great, but they all have something unique about them that make them more than the sum of their individual parts. Be it Dragon Dogma’s fantastic sense of place, Binary Domain’s brilliant art design, Lollipop Chainsaw’s irreverent and often outrageous sense of humour or Asura’s Wrath sheer audacity, these releases all remind me in one way or another why I love videogames, why I think Japan is still relevant and why their still a place for the 7/10 game.

Oh, and in case you’re interested or didn’t catch it on the latest episode of Brashcast – my game of the year (favourite, not necessarily best) is Dragon’s Dogma. If you haven’t played it, it’s well worth giving a go…..and a lot more fun than Skyrim.

Yeah, I said it.

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