Rather than pick a blockbuster or indie from this year, I'm going to turn the calendar back to 2010 and raise BioShock 2 above my head. I was in a shooter mood and keen to see how well my new notebook -- an ASUS UX32VD -- could handle the visual load. The only problem was... I didn't really want to play it.
I'd just come off consecutive playthroughs of Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Dishonored and was burnt out from games that promoted stealth over action. I was never a big fan of the Thief series, so you can imagine how frustrating these two games proved to me, the guy who loves grenade launchers and heavy machine guns over sleeping darts and hand-to-hand.
Don't get me wrong -- I had a blast with both games and I know you can just gun your way through them -- but I'm not a fan of games that passive-aggressively pigeon-hole you into the stealth mentality. I think Dues Ex was the most disappointing to me in this respect. I played the first one and kitted myself out to be a walking tank and expected a similar path would be available in the latest one. There sort of is, but it is nowhere near as viable, where even with the armour upgrades you're still incredibly fragile and you get reduced XP for "loud" kills.
As I said, I enjoyed both games. I'm not criticising them, more I had certain expectations that weren't met, but I understand (and have no lingering issues with) why that's the case.
But yes, back to BioShock 2. It was something I was extremely reluctant to play, but I was desperate for an action shooter that wasn't completely mindless (say, anything starting with Call of Duty). I felt the story of Rapture was a hard one to tell twice and I had doubts about how well the game could impart vulnerability and isolation when the player is in control of one of the city's most fearsome foes. A good way to mix up the formula, sure, but it departed from the staples that made its ancestor, System Shock, so successful.
Yet, I persevered. And for the first couple of hours, my fears were validated. It started slowly, everything looked and felt the same and the story, well, I wasn't sure if there was one. But, once the game found its groove things picked up quickly. You get a few weapons and some plasmids, the gene tonics open up and suddenly it started being fun. The way the game handles Big Daddy encounters is excellent and allows most of your arsenal to remain useful.
So, what game surprised you this year? It doesn't have to be the latest triple-A, or even released in 2012. Just a title you expected to be one thing and was something else. Or you thought would be a bit rubbish, but deprived you of sleep and human contact for longer than it should have?