2012: This year’s biggest surprises

Whether it’s a refund from the tax man or one of those elusive Kit-Kats that’s accidentally had the wafer left out, we all like a nice surprise. Here are eight games from 2012 that exceeded all expectations:

Binary Domain – PS3, 360

When Sega’s Japan-developed shooter was first shown it looked rather grey in both senses of the word. Awful memories of Quantum Theory then came flooding back – another Japanese developed game that tried to mimic Gears of War, but failed to capture what made Epic’s series so great.

Thankfully it turned out to be quite a refreshingly different shooter, with a focus on creating a strong bond with your team-mates. The robotic enemies were satisfying to shoot, the colossal bosses even more so. For the £10 it can be found for nowadays it’s well worth a purchase.

Spec Ops: The Line – PS3, 360, PC

When we first heard that Take-Two were reviving the Spec Ops franchise – a series that’s been dormant since the PSone era – our first thoughts were that it wouldn’t better even Medal of Honor, let alone Battlefield or Call of Duty. Like Binary Domain, it managed to put a refreshing twist into the third-person shooter genre.

The Dubai setting allowed for some unforgettable set-pieces, and the story was one of the best in recent times. There was a good use of licensed music too – well known tunes occasionally blared out of the stereos left switched on in the wake of Dubai’s destruction.

Dragon’s Dogma – PS3, 360

Although the first batch of screenshots of Capcom’s RPG looked pretty, it did look rather hackneyed – every western RPG cliché appeared to be present. The developer’s plans for the game’s online functions didn’t appeal at first either. Wouldn’t proper online play be better than simply being able to borrow somebody else’s AI controlled cohort? The answer tuned out to be no. The AI controlled Pawns were an important part of the experience, so brilliantly programmed that you’d be forgiven for thinking they were being controlled by another human player.

We clocked up over 60 hours of play in this RPG masterpiece, eventually becoming strong enough to take on the Ur-Dragon – a massive beast that took us almost four hours. That’s not four hours worth of attempts – we’re talking about a single four hour long battle, which is what it took to whittle down the Ur-Dragon’s health bar to nothing. Epic isn’t a word we use often, but it’s fully justified here.

Learn with Pokemon: Typing Adventure – DS

History is repeating itself. Just as Typing of the Dead on Dreamcast is something of a hidden gem for the system, Learn with Pokemon has become something of an underrated treat for Nintendo DS owners.

Nintendo really didn’t publicise this one at all. We don’t know for certain why, but they must have either felt that it would distract from sales of Pokemon Black and White 2, or they didn’t want to create too much of a demand seeing as they didn’t plan on releasing many copies in the UK.

See also: Pokemon Conquest.

Far Cry 3 – PS3, 360, PC

For us, the original Far Cry was love at first sight. Those tropical beaches and leafy jungles were a welcome change of setting from the usual war-torn cities and muddy trenches that most FPS were set in at the time. Far Cry Instincts on Xbox was well ahead of its time too, letting you choose which order to complete missions.

Over time though the series took a tumble – Far Cry Vengeance on Wii was an abomination while Far Cry 2’s open-world approach didn’t please everybody. Far Cry 3 saw the series back on top form, becoming one of this year’s highest rated shooters. Whereas Ubisoft’s own Assassin’s Creed III tells you exactly how to complete a mission, Far Cry 3 gives you the tools and lets you get on with the task at hand however you please.

The Walking Dead – PS3, 360, PC, iOS

Telltale’s reputation before The Walking Dead wasn’t exactly glowing. The Wii versions of Sam & Max were approaching unplayable due to slowdown, and both their Jurassic Park and Back to the Future licensed games failed to make good use of the source material. Jurassic Park had an QTE event to climb a hill, for pity’s sake.

The Walking Dead saw the studio go back to basics to create a five-part series that had us on tenterhooks from the very start. The interface was simple yet pleasing to use and the character development was very finely crafted. We ended up genuinely caring about the characters – something that made the gripping ending even harder to stomach.

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed – PS3, 360, Wii U

Rather than being a mere sequel to Sonic & All-Stars Racing, except with karts that now transform into boats and planes, Transformed turned out to be a total overhaul. There’s a slight hint of Blur about it, which is probably (well, almost certainly) because ex-Bizzare Creations staff were partly responsible. The tracks were brilliantly designed and the power-up assortment both well balanced and creative.

A fine celebration of all things Sega, with the NiGHTS track being a particular highlight.

ZombiU – Wii U

Now, this is a game that ended up being completely different to its original concept. It was first introduced to the world as a shooter called Killer Freaks from Outer Space, starring mutated versions of the Raving Rabbids. The Rabbids were dropped in favor of zombies and the B-Movie feel was scrubbed completely.

The end result was one of the most ambitious launch titles of recent times, drawing you in from the very start and leaving you hooked. It was surprisingly hardcore too – comparisons with Dark Souls were made by the gaming press. The Killer Freaks weren’t left out of the game entirely – they can be found inside a supermarket, albeit it soft toy form. A nice touch, we think.

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