The 25 best PC games of 2012
13th Feb 2012 | 17:34
PC gamers: it's time to brace yourself for what promises to be a rollercoaster ride in 2012. This year's roster of PC games is going to be simply monstrous in terms of both quality and quantity.
So you might want to invest in a new graphics card, and splash out on that flash gaming keyboard/mouse combo you've had your eye on. And perhaps have a word with your bank manager: 20-odd must-buys adds up to a pretty penny. These, then, are the upcoming PC games we're most stoked about - arranged in alphabetical order to avoid any suspicion of favouritism.
1. Alan Wake
Not before time, Remedy's third-person action-adventure, studded with plot-twists, surreal episodes and a heavy dose of horror is endowed with an agreeably intelligent storyline that would grace a best-selling psychological thriller. Thanks to Nordic Games, which picked up the PC game's publishing rights, its stunning Pacific Northwest landscapes will be lusher than ever, with the graphics cranked up to the max now that it has been unleashed on PC freed from the constraints of the consoles. It may not be all-new, but PC Alan Wake oozes quality.
2. Aliens: Colonial Marines
This one is a real labour of love, fuelled by Gearbox's eternal love for James Cameron's film and promising - with plenty of justification - the most authentic Aliens experience ever. With jaw-dropping graphics, meticulously modelled xenomorphs and storylines that fill in many of the film's narrative gaps, Aliens: Colonial Marines the PC version positively drips with malevolent atmosphere. Unless you're a diagnosed psychopath, it will give you nightmares. And you shouldn't be annoyed that it has been delayed until later in the year - that's merely a manifestation of Gearbox's extreme perfectionism.
3. Arma 3
Bohemia Interactive's fierce open-world military sim represents the nearest you can get to experience modern warfare without running the risk of getting a fist-sized hole blown in your head. A graphical illustration of the franchise's realism occurred in 2011, when ITN got in trouble after running footage of Arma 2 in a news report, presented as the real thing. Still, that's the power of the PC for you, wouldn't get that from a console version would you? Arma 3 is set in 2030, on a meticulous mapped and modelled rendition of the Greek island Limnos. You get to play as an SAS man, too, which is always good. Meat and drink for the most fanatical military nuts among us - and far too hardcore for those wussy console gamers. This promises to be outstanding on PC soldier.
4. BioShock Infinite
This should reaffirm the faith of those who found BioShock 2 disappointing. For a start, it marks the return of BioShock creator and guru Ken Levine and it looks like nothing you've ever seen, especially on PC. The game world is a city called Columbia which floats in the air, suspended from dirigibles, with a spaghetti junction of rails, onto which you can hook, providing a means of traversing it. It's set in 1912, so it's Steampunk central. And you play Booker DeWitt, a private eye who teams up with Elizabeth, a teenager with psychokinetic time-warping powers who has managed to escape the clutches of a giant robotic bird called Songbird. Everyday sort of stuff, then. With a fat-cats versus workers storyline that will resonate with the Occupy brigade and insane, plasmid-injected gameplay, BioShock Infinite is a shoe-in must-buy for PC
5. Borderlands 2
It's going to be a busy year for Gearbox - so much so that there's a question-mark over whether the second instalment of its much-loved, open world, fps-meets-RPG franchise will make the shops before the end of the year. Frankly, we want it now and especially the PC incarntion. The original was fantastically addictive, and Borderlands 2 adds new character classes such as the Gunzerker, for whom dual-wielding rocket-launchers is a breeze. With drop-in-drop-out co-op, a complete lack of linearity, a procedural weapon-generation system, comic book-style graphics and a completely over-the-top game world to romp around, what's not to like?
6. Brothers In Arms: Furious 4
And here's Gearbox again, wreaking something of a franchise reboot on what was previously a set of meticulously authentic - and beautifully crafted - World War II shooters. There's nothing authentic about Furious 4, though, and it's all the better for that. This fps is all about four-player co-op, as a squad of four completely OTT characters hunt down the Fuhrer himself, having to negotiate fearsome (and fictional) experimental Nazi weapons in the process. Not, perhaps, the year's most sophisticated game. But who doesn't fancy kicking Hitler's butt one more time?
7. Call of Duty: Black Ops 2
OK, it hasn't been announced yet. And it might not be called Black Ops 2 (rumours currently in circulation favour Iron Wolf, although that could just be a codename). But if a year elapsed without Activision releasing a Call of Duty game, surely that would signal the start of the Rapture? And this year, it's Treyarch's turn to have a crack at the all-conquering first-person shooter, hence the likelihood that it will carry on where Black Ops, by far Treyarch's best ever game, left off. Right now, that's all we can tell you, although it will surely hog the headlines at E3 in June. And of course you'll be wanting to buy it and buy it on it PC, won't you?
8. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
Nothing gets the juices of competitive, hardcore, team-based first-person shooter enthusiasts more than a new game from Valve, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive should more than make up for the continued non-appearance of Half-Life 2 Episode 3. At last, thanks to Global Offensive, those famous clans will be able to take each other on in something that actually looks like it was made in the 21st century. Hidden Path is sharing the development duties with Valve, and since it's already in beta, we might not have to wait too long before it comes out. The CS legend all started on PC and that's where it's going to be best again. You know where to go if you want to make a name for yourself as a pro gamer.
9. Darksiders 2
The second instalment of THQ's apocalyptic hack-n-slash casts you as Death this time around (in the first game, of course, you played War). So get ready to wield that scythe. While Darksiders 2 will take place in the same time-period as its predecessor, its game-world will be way bigger. Once again, you can expect lashings of dark, gothic atmosphere, lashings of dungeons, and games of Twister with Theodore "Ted" Logan. Actually, we made that up.
10. Diablo III
"Mythical" is the word that springs to mind when we think of Blizzard's elevated-view, fantasy-horror RPG. The all-conquering World of Warcraft developer first announced it was working on the third instalment of the game in 2008, and it's now 12 years since Diablo II came out. But Blizzard, of course, is a law unto itself, and deserves props for refusing to put Diablo III out until it's absolutely spot-on. When it does arrive, however, you simply won't be allowed to call yourself a proper RPG fan until you've bought a copy - you know we're right. They may tease us with talk of 360 version occasionally but Diablo 3 is PC game heartland territory.
Any new intellectual property published by the mighty Bethesda Softworks is bound to demand our attention, and Dishonored - developed by Arkane Studios - looks like a potential genre-buster. Gameplay-wise, it has echoes of Deus Ex and BioShock, with a heavy emphasis on stealth. You play as Corvo, once a bodyguard for the Empress, and a man with supernatural powers - and its up to you to combine those powers in imaginative ways in order to negotiate the open game-world, a city called Dunwall. Arkane Studios took inspiration from 19th-century London for this one and yep, it's another Steampunk game. But any game that lets you gain entry to inaccessible places by possessing the bodies of rats is fine by us.
12. Far Cry 3
Here's another franchise receiving a reboot and once again it'll play best as a PC game: Far Cry 3 will still be an open-world shooter, but this time with much more emphasis on storyline, and featuring non-player characters with infinitely more character than in previous games. Which means you can expect more cut-scenes, and more of an action-focused feel. The franchise's legendary lush tropical environments are present and correct (in even more glory than before). Ubisoft no doubt hopes that Far Cry 3's tweaks will bring a new, less hardcore, audience to the game, without alienating the core fans. And from what we've seen, it looks set to achieve that.
13. Ghost Recon: Future Soldier
We haven't had a Ghost Recon game since 2007's GRAW 2, so Future Soldier is eagerly anticipated. And having got our hands on it, we reckon it will do the business. As ever, it's a third/first-person shooter set in the near future - with weapons technology to match - with you cast as the leader of a Ghost team of four super-soldiers. The storyline will ping around between Norway, the Middle East and Asia, and you'll be able to avail yourself of some deliciously futuristic military toys, such as optical camouflage and even a sniper rifle with heat-seeking bullets. The whole confection, as ever, will be topped off by stunning graphics, and there's no doubt that it's one of 2012's most wanted PC games.
14. Guild Wars 2
The second instalment of NCSoft's much-loved MMO is awaited with much eagerness. It moves the action forwards 250 years - and the environments into proper 3D, with a shiny new skill-based combat system and a level cap upped to 80 from 20. As with the original game, Guild Wars 2 scores heavily over competitors like World of Warcraft by not forcing you to shell out for a subscription, and its 21st-century graphics engine will at last present the world of Tyria in all its glory. With five races and eight character classes to distil into your (unique) character, it demands the attention of all dedicated MMO-players.
15. Hitman: Absolution
One of the games industry's great mysteries of modern times concerns why Io Interactive was allowed (or forced) to abandon the awesome Hitman franchise in favour of the frankly dire Kane & Lynch games. Thankfully, sanity has finally prevailed, and Agent 47 is set to return for his first outing since 2006, in Hitman: Absolution. And how we've missed the old baldy with a barcode tattooed on the back of his head. As ever, you'll be able to engage in some tasty stealth-em-upping - aided by a new Instinct mechanic, which allows Agent 47 to cash in the cumulative effect of all those and head-shots and do things like see the path patrolling enemies will take. And in something of a departure, less hardcore players will be able to take a more run-and-gun approach, though we probably won't dirty our hands with that. Typically, the story begins with Agent 47 icing his beloved handler Diana Burnwood, possibly his closest and indeed only friend, before descending into an orgy of paranoia. Welcome back, old friend.
16. Mass Effect 3
The third instalment of BioWare's space-based action-RPG (and the final part of the trilogy, although we're promised plenty more from the world of Mass Effect) needs little introduction - if you've never played a Mass Effect game, there's no hope for you. As those who played Mass Effect 2 may have guessed, Mass Effect 3 starts with the Reaper invasion that Shepard has been banging on about for ages - and those pesky, unstoppable machine life-forms start off by laying waste to Earth. Gameplay-wise, it's familiar stuff - thankfully, given how superb it already is. But it looks even more stunning than before, and for the first time, supports four-player co-op (albeit with from-scratch characters rather then old favourites like Shepard, Garrus, Liara and so on). There will be other multiplayer elements, under the banner Galaxy At War, but BioWare hasn't yet shared those with us.
17. Max Payne 3
The third starring vehicle for the world's most deadbeat ex-cop has an interesting provenance: the mighty Rockstar Games has taken over the reins from previous developer Remedy. As ever, Max Payne 3 is a third-person shooter, featuring the legendary Bullet Time. But because of Rockstar's involvement, we can expect all manner of innovations, some of the most hard-boiled storylines and dialogue ever and new levels of atmospherics - the game is set in Sao Paulo, where Max works in security for the wealthy Rodrigo Branco. Combine an expanded set of Max's abilities with Brazilian street gangs and Rockstar's unparalleled story-telling skills, and we'd say that you're onto a winner.
18. Prototype 2
If you like your games dark and freaky, Radical Entertainment's Prototype 2 is well worth checking out. Set in a quarantined Manhattan in the grip of a deadly, mutant-inducing outbreak of the Blacklight Virus, you play James Heller, a man endowed with incredible powers - shape-shifting, turning people into BioBombs, consuming their memories, chucking heavy objects around using tendrils that sprout from his arms and the like. Again a non-linear, open-world game, Heller's overriding mission is to cause havoc to the shadowy military organisation Blackwatch and ultimately destroy the Blacklight Virus. Heller's implacable hatred of Alex Mercer, the player-character from the first game, adds an extra bit of spice to proceedings. Prototype 2 has cult hit written all over it and PC will be the best platform to play it.
19. Sleeping Dogs
Never heard of it? You can be excused for that: Sleeping Dogs was originally going to be the rebooted third iteration of the True Crime series, until original publisher Activision chucked it in the bin. Luckily for us, Square-Enix picked up the publishing rights (although not the naming rights, hence the new moniker). It's still going to be a gritty, Hong Kong-based open-world, third-person crime-drama, combining shooting with the ability to use whatever comes to hand for meleeing. Rather like a Hong Kong version of Yakuza, in other words, except you play a cop rather than a gangster. With Square-Enix at the helm, we can expect some polish and quality, and we're certainly looking forward to it.
20. Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2
Despite being published by the previously unfancied City Interactive, Sniper: Ghost Warrior was a rather big hit. Admittedly, that was in large part due to its being as cheap as chips, but it also offered plenty of quality, no-nonsense sniping action. And that's exactly what we can expect from its successor. We know Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 is going to look fantastic, as it's powered by Crytek's CryEngine 3. It will add a pinch of stealth, some nice takedowns and even, we're promised, a decent storyline. Which is all good news for those who feel happiest when staring down a virtual PC scope, holding their virtual breath.
21. South Park: The Game
At first glance, you might be tempted to imagine that South Park: The Game sounds like one of those dire cash-ins designed to act as a form of merchandising for some movie, which inevitably sour or love of the entertainment properties whose coat-tails they cling onto. But THQ's take on the adventures of everybody's favourite potty-mouthed kids is different. It's going to be a proper RPG, in which you play a new kid in town, who must befriend Kyle, Stan, Cartman and Kenny, and fend off a serious of (hopefully preposterous) threats to the Midwestern town. Trey Parker and Matt Stone are heavily involved. Let's hope it features a swearing engine, extra XP for every time somebody kills Kenny and giant Barbra Streisand and Robert Smith mechs as bosses.
22. Spec Ops: The Line
This third-person, squad-based tactical shooter published by 2K Games looks set to be a quality effort. Set in a post-apocalyptic Dubai (how could they tell?), Spec Ops: the Line puts you in control of a Delta Force team. It promises to "Challenge your morality", and the destroyed Dubai setting, with its implied criticism of Mammon-worship, ought to strike a chord in these straitened times. Likely to possess a tad more intelligence than the average console game, while providing an agreeable dose of PC based military action.
23. The Witcher 2
Yes we know it's coming to Xbox 360 this year but you'll also find that the Witcher 2 gets a massive content update on PC FREE OF CHARGE for existing fans - you can't say those CD Projeckt guys aren't good to you. With a fantastic looking new CGI intro movie from BAFTA nominee Tomasz Baginski and hours of new in-game cut scenes and cinematics to enhance the story, there's also up to four hours of new missions, with new characters, new locations and a whole bunch of new Witcher action. What amounts to a massive free DLC update for one of the standout PC RPGs, fans should be tucking into this one with full force and firing up the Witcher 2 for another bash this April.
24. Tomb Raider
In recent years, though still one of the games world's most popular icons, poor old Lara Croft had been let down rather by the rather tired games constructed around her. So - you guessed it - it's franchise-reboot time. And Square-Enix appears to have done a pretty decent job of giving Lara her mojo back. This time around, we get to play as a 21-year-old Lara, fresh out of university, who ends up getting shipwrecked on an island off Japan. Starting with literally nothing, and suspended from her ankles in a cave, she first has escape to the surface of the island, using whatever comes to hand, such as a flaming torch. There she finds a rather battered Captain Roth, from the ship she was on, and after reviving him, he becomes her mentor, helping her develop the climbing, shooting and adventuring skills which were to the fore in the pre-reboot games. Imaginative stuff, all conveyed in a much grittier style than previously. For the first time in years, we'll have to take Tomb Raider seriously again.
XCOM sparked some controversy when it first saw the light of day at last year's E3, attracting opprobrium for apparently sharing nothing but a name with its illustrious turn-based, 1990s predecessor. But whether or not you think it should be allowed to use the name, XCOM looks like a pretty interesting proposition. It's a tactical first-person shooter, which is heavy on the strategy, under development by 2K Marin of BioShock 2 fame. It resembles the X-Files if it was set in 1940s America, with you desperately trying to keep the lid on a pretty widespread alien invasion - and having to use considerable ingenuity, plus agents endowed with all manner of special powers, in order to prevail.