Most Anticipated of 2012: Steve's Picks

By Shack Staff, Dec 27, 2011 11:00am PST

There's a lot to be excited for in 2012, and the Shacknews staff each have five games on their radar. The editorial team at Shacknews outlines their most anticipated games of 2012 individually. Next up we've got staff writer Steve Watts with his list of 2012 titles.

Final Fantasy XIII-2

I don't think I'm in the minority when I say that I had my share of problems with Final Fantasy XIII. The overlong tutorial, the few and far between likable characters, the completely nonsensical plot -- by any measure it should've been a game I hated. But the combat system was so fast and frenetic that it kept bringing me back. The game didn't get much right, but it made battles fun and engaging for a more modern RPG audience.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 is an opportunity to make good on the wasted promise and potential of its predecessor. The combat system appears almost completely untouched, and this Square-Enix seems to trust us more without the hand-holding. While I could take or leave QTEs, the ability to train monsters reminds me of a personal favorite, Final Fantasy Tactics. Add a time-travel mechanic that's purported to be reminiscent of Chrono Trigger, and it's hard not to feel cautiously optimistic about this second journey into Cocoon.

Mass Effect 3

One of the best-known examples of a game declaring itself a trilogy from the start, BioWare's Mass Effect has been building to this installment for years. We've been promised a persistent, continuing story that we slowly shape ourselves. Mass Effect 2 made good on that to some extent, but the final battle with the Reapers is where I hope it will all come together.

I don't even remember some of my choices, but I want them to come back to reward or haunt me as they will. I want people I've angered to hobble my progress. I want those I've helped to give me a hand. I want my fallen crew members from the ill-fated suicide mission to be honored through my deeds. More than anything, though, I want to explore the detailed world BioWare has constructed. The series has become one of my favorite settings in modern games, and I want to visit it again.

Plus, I can't wait to see the sparks in Mass Effect 3 when Liara and Tali realize they're stuck in a love triangle. Rawr.

Borderlands 2

Borderlands caught my attention more than I expected it to. I've never been much of a loot fiend, but bringing it into a shooter context hooked me like nothing else has. The elemental powers lent the game a distinct RPG feel that other FPS games don't quite capture. I couldn't wait to find the next powerful acid-shooting SMG, or a better health-leeching grenade.

The concept of "more Borderlands" is powerful enough on its own. I don't need a better story or more varied environments, but I'm glad the sequel is including them. I don't tend to play games for the power fantasy, but Borderlands was the exception for me. I transformed from a lowly treasure hunter who would run from the smallest skags to a remorseless, unstoppable killing machine. I'm looking forward to that transformation again.

Paper Mario 3DS

Mario has visited every genre, some of them more than once. In the case of RPGs, he's appeared in three distinct incarnations. To me, the classic Super Mario RPG and still-strong Mario & Luigi series don't hold a candle to Paper Mario. Its distinct art style, expressive characters, fluid animation, and easy-to-understand, tough-to-master gameplay is the purest RPG distillation of what Mario is all about.

I'm sure we all had our own fantasy concepts when we heard about the Nintendo 3DS, and imagined which of our favorite franchises would make a strong case for the technology. For me, it was Paper Mario. The diorama style seems custom-tailored to the system. The videos available on the 3DS as previews provide an intriguing look at things to come, and I'm sure I'll lose too many hours exploring each nook and three-dimensional cranny.

BioShock Infinite

I enjoy the satisfying fun of scoring headshots as much as the next guy, but the element of video games that tickles my brain on an intellectual level is the narrative. While fans debate whether games are art, I think we can all agree that it stands as a unique story-telling medium. Nothing else invites the audience to be an active participant in our own story, to give us virtualized experiences that are fantastical or raw or depressing or uplifting. Games are special, and their potential has barely been tapped.

BioShock is one of the few series to showcase that potential. The first game told a story so specific to the medium that it could only properly be told as a game; what else can claim that? The second game wasn't terrible -- and in fact, the Minerva's Den downloadable content could go toe-to-toe with the first game's plot -- but it lacked some of Ken Levine's wit and heart. Maybe it's the part of me raised on debating politics with my family, but Levine's projects explore uniquely fascinating subject matter that most other games don't dare to touch.

BioShock Infinite looks like a fun shooter, of course, and I'll be happy to find my weapon upgrades and Vigors and zip-line around Columbia. I'll enjoy my time in the traditional "game" aspects of BioShock, but that's not why I'm looking forward to it. I want to pick through long, discussions with friends about the meta-meaning of Levine's next bit of interactive political commentary.

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