Don’t you just love when a game comes along that you’ve paid little to no attention to and it totally blows you away? Sure, surprises work both ways, but for this category, we’re only looking at the good ones for this year. These games below came out of no where and really took me by surprise on how good they were. Flying low under the radar sometimes pays off.
And the nominees are…
What a ride this game went on prior to release. First known as True Crime: Hong Kong, Activision was on board to publish the game. Then, in the middle of development, Activision backed out, leaving United Front without a publisher and putting the game in doubt. Thankfully, Square Enix stepped up, helped United Front finish the game, and put Sleeping Dogs in the hands of gamers. I’m glad they did because Sleeping Dogs is a fantastic open world action game and one that blindsided me. Hong Kong is wonderfully detailed and a fantastic city to explore. There’s a heap of content from a length campaign, to side missions, and collectables galore. The combat is fast, fluid, and a ton of fun. Combat is set up similar to Batman: Arkham Asylum/City and you’re also able to use the environment to your advantage.
Spec Ops: The Line
I remember hearing all the previews for Spec Ops: The Line and while it looked cool, I didn’t get a hugely compelling vibe from the game. To me, I just saw a third person cover based shooter set in an interesting location and that sand could be utilized as a weapon. Still, I took a chance on the title and I’m glad I did. What I’ll always remember about this game is not those shooter elements but the writing and story. I was floored by the game’s story, touching on things that most shooters shy away from and not only that, the dark twists and turns I experienced. And no, you won’t get any details from me because it’s a game that needs to be experienced first hand. While the multiplayer components don’t do the game any favors, it’s the single player experience that shines brightly.
I’ll admit, I enjoyed the first game. It had a cool premise but it also suffered from some gameplay flaws. Darksiders II takes the established formula and completely revamps it for the better. You play as the more nimble and agile Death as you set out to clear your brother’s name for what happened in the first game. Vigil created an enormous world to play around in and added in additional RPG elements including glorious loot, skill points, and stat boosts. Not only that, Jesper Kyd joined on and created one of the most memorable soundtracks in recent memory. Darksiders II represents what all sequels should be: a big improvement over the first game.
Like Darksiders above, Prototype was a fun but flawed game. Also like Darksiders II, Prototype 2 managed to be a serious upgrade from it’s predecesor. In an interesting move, Radical Entertainment switched things up by making the lead character of the first game, the villain in the second. They also worked hard at improving a lot of the aggravating and frustrating elements of the first game while also adding new mechanics that really work including tendrils and a sonar like hunting pulse. Prototype 2’s biggest strength is making you feel like a complete badass. Sure, you may be overpowered, but there’s no denying it’s extremely fun.
Dust: An Elysian Tail
What can I honestly say here that I haven’t already? This is it’s third nomination in my awards and you can’t really be surprised. Dust was my favorite game from this year’s Summer of Arcade promotion and it took me by surprise because I paid very little attention to it before it’s release. What’s more impressive is that this action-adventure game was created pretty much by one guy. It’s crazy.
And my biggest surprise game of 2012 is…
Winner: Spec Ops: The Line
It was another difficult choice picking a winner but for me, it was the narrative and writing that completely elevated Spec Ops above its fairly standard third person gameplay. The characters were surprisingly compelling and the story went places I never saw coming. The setting was unique and interesting and the use of sand to help tell the story of a ruined Dubai was a nice touch. I won’t go into detail about the story because it’s completely worth experiencing for yourself. When the game has menu text that openly questions you (the player) and the things you’ve done, you know you’re on the right path. I went into Spec Ops with limited expectations and came out completely blown out of the water. Congrats to Yager on a job well done.