With the console cycle winding down, it seems Microsoft is relying more and more on third party contributions. While it may have made it difficult to put together this list, it wasn’t impossible as Microsoft’s console still had some really great exclusive titles this past year. We saw the return of Master Chief, a new installment to a popular racing franchise, and a ton of great arcade titles so all in all, a pretty good 2012.
And the nominees are…
I know many people had their doubts considering this is the first major Forza game to not have Turn 10 as the primary developer. Playground Games however was the perfect choice being composed of developers from major racing franchises and the quality that’s presented in Horizon shines through. Horizon is an open world title based in Colorado during a fictional event called the Horizon Festival. While not as serious as the other Forza games, Horizon retains the gorgeous visuals, large number of drivable cars, and also brings an added pinch of lightheartedness with it’s setting. Still no where near an arcade style game, Horizon retains the trademark physics engine and introduces a new progression system based around completing events, driving fast, and smashing stuff up. It’s a unique take on Forza and one that really succeeds in my opinion.
With Bungie out and gone, the task was up to 343 Industries, a relative newcomer, to maintain the high standards for the franchise. Not only that, they had the task of bringing back the iconic Master Chief and start an all new trilogy. A mighty task that 343 met and exceeded. Halo 4 sees an all new enemy race, new weapons, and a brand new engine to power the game. What is old is made new again.
Dust: An Elysian Tail
As I mentioned in the downloadable content awards, Dust is a game that sprung up on me as I was focusing more on the other titles in this year’s Summer of Arcade promotion. As it turns out, Dust is arguable the best of this year’s offering. The thing that impresses me most about this title is that one person pretty much handled the entire development. Playing the game just makes that seem impossible. Featuring a gorgeous art style, Dust remains a well made action platformer that sits comfortably between an RPG and metroidvania action game. A dream come true for many gamers out there.
Another game that went through a very long development process, Fez is one of those games that was worth the wait. Featuring a cute lead character named Gomez wearing a Fez, the game oozes style with it’s pixellated look and vibrant colors. The real hook to this game is the ability to rotate the world to see a different perspective. This opens the game up to some real clever and devious puzzles. Fez is more proof that it was a really strong year for arcade/indie games.
Ok, so not a true Xbox exclusive but the game did receive a major overhaul on Microsoft’s system. The enhanced version hit the 360 in July of this past year and it remains a game as easy to love as it is to hate. You play an unnamed Spelunker whose sole mission is to explore underground caverns to grab as much treasure as possible while avoiding traps and enemies. The other big thing? If you die, you have to start over. Spelunky is an action rougelike title so the levels are randomly generated each time you play providing players a unique experience every time. While it may be a difficult game, it sure is fun and addictive.
The next step in the Trials franchise is also one of the best. Evolution takes the addictive and maddening formula already established (and loved) and blows the top off of it. No longer confined to a dark and muted warehouse setting, the game really shows off it’s visual style as we’re treated to all sorts of interesting locations like Mayan ruins, deserts, nuclear powerplants, to lake shore cabins. Not only that, players are given access to a more robust campaign, a greatly expanded multiplayer element, and an insanely powerful editor that lets players create all sorts of things not rooted in racing. Better yet, these maps can be posted online where players all over the world can download and play them. RedLynx proves that this franchise has a lot of life left in it.
And the award for Best Xbox 360 Game goes to….
Winner: Halo 4
You have to admit, 343 had massive amounts of pressure on their shoulders not just from the die hard fans of the franchise but even Microsoft themselves considering this is their flagship franchise created and previously maintained by Bungie. Being the new kid on the block, 343 proved to the world that they have what it takes to continue the franchise and even surpassed the lofty expectations. The game has a new look, added features, a brand new soundtrack, and somehow manages to feel like Halo. It’s a feat many of us didn’t think they’d be able to pull off but they have and also managed to push the established franchise forward.