It's a strange time to be a PC gamer. With fewer high-profile exclusives, it has become a glorified Xbox 360. Thanks to efforts from developers and publishers, it's a superior 360 where draw distance, anti-aliasing, and frame-rate rarely get in the way.
If you are a PC gamer, you'll rarely feel left out as most of 2012's biggest titles are coming to the platform. What's more exciting is that some of the most beloved franchises are finally making a return this year, including Jagged Alliance, Diablo, and Counter-Strike. As someone who recently purchased a new PC, I'm happy to say I don't regret it one bit looking at these upcoming titles.
South Park: The Game (PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Release: TBA 2012
I haven't watched an episode of South Park in about a year. Outside a couple episodes, it's never held my interest (You Have 0 Friends" was the last great one). The episodes typically start off with a good premise, but then run that premise into the ground through repetition and dull writing. Yet, here I am looking forward to Obsidian's attempt to RPG-ify the beloved brats and bring new life into Matt Stone and Trey Parker's ever-aging lovechild.
The world of South Park is a fun one I'd like to explore, and with gems like Super Mario RPG and Final Fantasy as an influence on this project, I think I'll have a good time doing it. South Park: The Game is a left turn for the developer, lacking the ambition, mature themes, and sequel-driven nature of their past projects. But, maybe a focused, immature, and original RPG might be exactly what Obisidian needs to finally make a classic. Even the overlooked glitches of past Obsidian titles will feel at home in this offbeat, crass world.
Dishonored (PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)
Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release: TBA 2012
Arkane Studios make the type of games I like to play. It so happens that these are the type of games that rarely get made these days. Beyond Irrational Games, Bethesda, and Valve, no developer wants to take the risk of spending years crafting a rich, varied world that you can explore. It takes time, money, and a whole lot of skill. And, finally, Arkane have all three of these, which is why I think Dishonored will shape up to be one of 2012's most memorable single-player games. That, and I was blown away when I saw it in action at QuakeCon last year.
Arkane are taking lessons learned from their past games (Arx Fatalis, Dark Messiah of Might and Magic), while taking inspiration from Bioshock and '90s PC classics. With one of the strongest creative teams in the industry -- including key members of the Deus Ex and Half-Life 2 teams -- and a drive to finally prove themselves, Dishonored could be the gem that merges their Thief: The Dark Project worship with smart, approachable design that will make any Bioshock fan feel at home.
Quantum Conundrum (PC, Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network)
Developer: Airtight Games
Publisher: Square Enix
Release: TBA 2012
The worst thing about Portal 2 is that it ends. Thankfully, we already have a promising Portal-like adventure on the horizon to fill that void in our hearts. Rather than a knock-off, Quantum Conundrum is Kim Swift's (co-creator of Portal) debut for Airtight Games. Like her previous project, Quantum Conundrum is a charming, colorful puzzle game played from first-person.
Rather than traversing obstacles with portals, the player alternates the environment's physics by swapping between four dimensions. One dimension slows time, one makes objects featherweight, and one reverses the direction of gravity. The fourth dimension hasn't been reveled yet at this time, but just thinking of the puzzle possibilities with the above abilities alone boggles the mind. After the utterly forgettable debut of Dark Void, Kim Swift's inspired puzzle adventure with Pixar-esque visuals is exactly what Airtight Games needs to win our faith back. With an entirely new rule set and environment, Quantum Conundrum could make the puzzle-platforming introduced in Portal feel fresh all over again.
Honorable Mentions: Shadowrun Online, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Natural Selection 2, Darksiders II, Brothers in Arms: Furious 4
Diablo III (PC, Mac)
Prior to playing the beta, I wasn't so sure about Diablo III. All these years later, could it compare to the fond memories we have of its predecessors? My doubts disappeared almost immediately. It's funny how quick I was to forget that Blizzard takes its sweet time for a reason.
The game is still very much the essence of Diablo, but that's not to say its designers locked themselves in a room and ignored the genre's steady advances. The attention to detail and seamlessness of it all is impressive in a way that's hard to describe through summary. It takes considerable development time to allow for high internal standards and iterative design, but you can't argue with the results.
Dota 2 (PC, Mac)
Despite having spent hundreds of hours playing Warcraft III custom games, I never got seriously hooked on "Defense of the Ancients." The same can be said of today's growing multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) scene, though that has more to do with a fear of hyper competitiveness and loss of sleep than anything else.
Why care about Dota 2, then? Love or hate Valve's games, they're always interesting -- especially for people like me who actively think about design choices that most would consider to be largely insignificant. Given the studio's brilliance when it comes to building sustainable online communities, I have high expectations of this game. Hell, even the journey to a public beta -- remember the $1,000,000 Dota 2 International? -- has been enjoyable to watch.
Guild Wars 2 (PC)
I've long struggled with getting into MMOs. The promise of ever-changing worlds and the like is usually there, but boredom arrives too quickly to warrant keeping my credit card on file more often than not. Having had a decent enough time with the original Guild Wars years ago, I'm incredibly hopeful that its sequel will be the MMO to pull me back in.
Repetition, particularly when it comes to killing the same old forces of evil, has always been the deciding factor. Choices which have a noticeable and persistent impact, a focus on individual player stories, and improvisational combat are among the highlights of this game for me. Not having to pay a monthly subscription fee means I'll be there on day one rather than wait and see.
ArenaNet has a clear vision for Guild Wars 2 -- one I desperately want to see for myself in person. Even if some promises aren't fully met, I suspect they will, in part, influence the genre going forward.
Honorable mentions: Hawken, StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, and Super Monday Night Combat.
Additional staff picks for PC:
Alex Bout: Guild Wars 2
Alasdair Duncan: Dishonored, Monaco, The Secret World.
Jim Sterling: Firefall, The Secret World, Super Monday Night Combat
Jonathan Ross: Diablo III, Guild Wars 2, Mass Effect 3
Jason Cabral: Metro: Last Light, Diablo III, Kingdoms of Amalur: The Reckoning
Josh Derocher: Diablo III, StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, Guild Wars 2
Kyle MacGregor: The Witness
Andrew Kauz: Diablo III, Torchlight II
Jonathan Holmes: New games from Team Meat, Terry Cavanagh, and Konjak
Maurice Tan: Torchlight II, King Arthur II, Wargame: European Escalation
Tara Long: Diablo III, Torchlight II
Josh Tolentino: XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Mass Effect 3, Hawken
Chad Concelmo: Diablo III
Sean Daisy: The Witness, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Max Payne 3
Daniel Starkey: Torchlight II, Prey 2, Firefall
Sterling Lyons: Blacklight: Retribution, Blade & Soul, Prey 2
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