The worst gaming drought of my life struck in the summer of 1995. I’m sure someone remembers that as the year their all-time favorite Super Nintendo or Atari Jaguar game came out, but it haunts my memory as a solid three month block of grinding digital hopelessness. There I am, in the prime of my life, and all there is to do, all day every day, is play street hockey, go swimming, and a hike mountain trails with my friends!? That’s no way for a gamer to live, and it taught me a valuable lesson about keeping a strong backlog of games for those times when the brightest thing on the horizon is -shudder- Star Control III.
But games can only sit in my backlog so long before they start to spoil, taking on that murky look and creaking feel of an engine past its prime. It’s important to rotate the stock frequently, which is why I like to take some time each January to sift through the previous year’s untouched titles for the ones I’m most motivated to play through and finish. Let’s take a look through the winners for 2012, all of which were definitely released during 2011, shall we?
It’s not that I haven’t been interested in StarCraft II; it’s just that every time I get the urge to battle space marines, ravenous bug monsters, and quasi-ethereal alien psychics, I remember how awesome Relic’s Dawn of War II is. That procrastination has to come to an end sometime though, and I’m genuinely curious to see how Blizzard’s old-school mechanics strike me in a post-Company of Heroes, post-Rise of Nations, post-Supreme Commander II world.
The first game was a stiff, grimy mess that left such a poor impression, I didn’t bother with the sequel until halfway through 2011. No one had told me how the battery of subtle tweaks to everything from the character responsiveness to the color palette had combined to produce a substantially better experience. I even managed to coerce a shooter-adverse friend of mine into co-oping through a second run with me on one of the higher difficulties, and even he’ll grudgingly admit he’s looking forward to doing it again for the third game.
Experience has taught me that classic Nintendo franchises still have the power to crowd out my entire gaming schedule, monopolizing my time until they’ve been played to completion. And I mean total completion: every collectible in the Mario games, every upgrade in the Metroid games, every Piece of Heart in Zelda. Everything else falls by the wayside, making them the perfect choice for the late spring-to-midsummer doldrums.
As anxious as I am to go globetrotting with Nathan, Elena, Sully, and…er…Claudia Black again, my wife is even more invested in their adventures. Waiting for a sufficient break in her schedule could potentially push this game all the way back to November, but witnessing how wrapped up she’ll get in those signature setpieces will make it well worth the wait.
Dead Space 2
Ever get the sense the development team behind your latest purchase really, genuinely adored putting it together? That’s exactly the way I feel watching that slick 3D holographic interface project itself out from Isaac Clarke’s chest, or hear the soundscape become claustrophobically muffled as he steps out into vacuum. Painstakingly polished elements like that helped 2008’s Dead Space knock Resident Evil 4 off its perch as my favorite survival horror game, so I just need to work up the nerve to see what they’ve done for an encore.
Unlike Ron, I almost never play massively multiplayer games. My gaming time is not so abundant that I want to gamble it on the quality of the random strangers I’ll need to rely on to finish my next objectives. I’ve been known to have my obsessive periods with World of WarCraft and Rift, though, and if Bioware’s class-specific storylines are as well executed as I’ve been lead to believe, this might just be the first MMO to keep me hooked past the typical mid-level hump.
Wherever Rage was previewed or advertised during development, it slipped completely under my radar until the week of its release. Even then I was inclined to dismiss it as another engine-tech-demo-masquerading-as-forgettable-FPS from id Software, until, of all things, AMC’s gripping drama Breaking Bad finally piqued my interest. When was the last time we saw a high budget lightgun shooter for any platform, much on the PC? This one should be worth it for the novelty factor alone!
Driver: San Francisco
It was a toss up between this game and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. Driver wins primarily because of the remarkably high praise from friends who’ve played it, though with its more story-based progression, it’s also the game I’m more likely to play to completion. Plus, the ability to be a psychokinetic ghost beats out playing as a cop any day of the week.
I played through the first two Resistance back-to-back in the autumn of 2011, and with all due deference to individual tastes, anyone who thinks the series suffered from a sophomore slump has been overpowered by nostalgia. Yes, the story in Resistance 2 seemed almost impossibly stupid and the shift to a limited arsenal was ill-advised, but in every other respect – controls, level design, weapon effects, color palette – it was a considerable improvement over Fall of Man.
Space Pirates and Zombies
The inclusion of this game represents slight cheating since, technically speaking, I installed and ran SPAZ back in December. It was just the briefest of visits, though: fifteen minutes to cruise around the tutorial, let it tantalize my craving for another Space Rangers 2, and decide it deserved more attention than I had to spare at the height of the Christmas season. Tom Chick and Bill Abner are both outspoken fans, and I figure any game that can appeal to gaming tastes as divergent as theirs deserves a fair shot.
So those are my plans for the next twelve months. They’ll be interspersed with new releases I just can’t wait to try, of course, and I’m sure I’ll wind up bailing on one or two before reaching the end, but the majority of them I’ll be following through all the way to end credits. Anything you think I missed? Let me know in the comments section below or even in our community forums!