For me, this was an amazing year for nostalgia. Every one of my picks for the year is some newfangled version of former videogame love affairs. It's not often that I get to relive the games I adored back in the 90's, but this has been one of those years, and I have relished every moment of glorious retro-fitted gameplay.
One thing that stands out from my childhood years is playing every single iteration of Street Fighter II that I could get my grubby little mitts on. I favored Guile at first, then Chun-Li, until I finally settled on Ryu as my go-to fighter after a few years with the series, and I was largely unstoppable. Then I got a PlayStation and Tekken 3. I was unbeatable with Paul, so my friends stopped playing when I chose him, so I moved on to King. Then I learned King's chain throws, and they stopped letting me play him either. It was glorious.
Fast forward to March 2012, when my two favorite fighting franchises, each of which I'd spent innumerable hours, days, even weeks with, merge into a single entity. Suffice to say, I was excited. The game isn't quite everything I'd wanted it to be, in fairness, and it's not game of the year material. If, however, you're anything like me, and you grew up on Street Fighter, evolving eventually from the quarter circles to the meticulous button entry of Tekken, finally getting to pit Paul against Ryu is by itself just cause for inclusion in my favorite games of the year.
The secret is out, the jig is up. I'm a Magic nerd. I've played Magic on and off since Ice Age in 1995, back when Ante was still in the rulebook, and it was, at its core, a gambling game of skill and luck. I passed my level one judge test this summer, I've written columns, and even did a few internet videos about Magic. So, when they introduced the digital version on the Xbox 360 back in 2009 with Duels of the Planeswalkers, I was ecstatic, and played the game to completion, unlocking every card for every deck. Then they came out with Duels 2012, which I played to near-completion, unlocking about half the cards for every deck which, mind you, is still a boatload of games played. This year they released Duels 2013 which, to be frank, was not my favorite entry in the series, but all the same is still absolutely worth playing. If you've played Duels and you're looking for some new decks to try out, or if you've never played Duels, but you're interested in playing or learning Magic, then trust me when I tell you that you need to play this game. For newcomers, it's an amazing way to learn the ins and outs of Magic, with an in-depth tutorial to teach you the basics, and hours of gameplay to learn the nitty gritty. For advanced players, they offer puzzle-like challenges, where you must cast just the right spells at just the right time in order to win. Did I mention I like Magic?
While my enjoyment of Black Ops II is a bit unorthodox, I still expect I'll have spent more time playing this game than any other, excepting my numero uno. With an in-depth campaign that, while leaving a bit to be desired in some places, is still a thrilling temporal hayride, Black Ops II has a lot more going for it than just a few hours of campaign play. Multiplayer is probably fun, but I can't really speak to that. You see, I play Zombies. Exclusively. I did play the campaign in between rounds of Zombies, but that was more of a passing diversion. The real fun is Tranzit. Imagine a fortified bus rolling through town with four heavily-armed survivors on board, fending off the Zombie apocalypse all by their lonesome. That is pretty much what Zombies mode has in store for you, round after round. If you've never played Zombies from World at War or Black Ops the first, you're basically in a group of up to four players, pitted against ever-stronger, and ever-increasing numbers of zombies. There is no win condition, so you can't come out on top. All you can hope to do is survive a couple rounds longer than your last match.
2. Diablo III
Okay, so the loot drops were completely random, and only suited your character, or any character for that matter, one in twenty times. Sure, you could use the Auction House to pick up gear that suits you, but the economy was so wonky you had to farm for days to afford even a single upgrade, assuming it was still available by the time you accrued the gold to buy it. Perhaps the character customization was a little too user-friendly, making customization largely a farce, especially in higher difficulties. I won't deny it had problems. I also won't deny that it was some of the most fun I've had all year. If clicking enemies to death and watching them explode into piles of loot isn't your thing, Diablo III is not for you. I, for one, love loot. I love clicking monsters to death. I love dodging boss attacks, learning patterns, and executing take-down strategies. I love Elites and Uniques and the worst combinations of affixes which can make even regular encounters devastatingly brutal. Sure they did some things wrong, but they're heavily overshadowed by the things they did right. Now if I could only get past Act II on Inferno.
When all is said and done, everything else pales in comparison to the re-imagining of the classic strategy/tactical game XCOM. XCOM is the greatest game in videogame history. There, I said it. Since UFO Defense in '94, I've been getting zombified by Chryssalids, building laboratories in my underground base, and researching Plasma weapons as soon as humanly possible. I wasn't sold on the interim games, favoring another campaign in UFO Defense over a fresh start in Terror From the Deep, so I was naturally wary of the latest iteration of the game. I'm happy to say that these fears were entirely unfounded. Even playing on the Xbox, rather than PC, the controls were ported so flawlessly that something as potentially tedious as base management is painless. They got rid of a bit of the administrative work involved by consolidating the multiple bases you used to have to build into a single primary base on your continent of choice. They improved the base building, the monthly funding, the tactical combat, and, of course, the graphics. Those things that weren't improved upon were at least fairly consistent with the original. Other than the class restrictions on guns and occasional game crashes, XCOM is simply perfect.
Don't forget to check out the rest of our favorite games of 2012. You can even take the Five Favorites Quiz for a chance to win sweet prizes like a Limited Edition Far Cry 3 Engraved Gaming PC from iBuyPower and a Devil 13 Dual GPU from AMD!