Going through the lists of top reviewed games from 2012 is a strange experience, with reviewers universally throwing their weight behind novel, low-budget indie-style titles rather than the top releases from all the major game studios. Unique gameplay mechanics are "in" it seems, and gruff, indestructible space marines are out.
For example, take Journey, a Playstation Network exclusive that's been called one of the most beautiful games of all time as well as the first game to be nominated for a Grammy Award for the musical score. The game emphasizes puzzles and exploration, as you control a character that glides over the sands of a desert world on its way to a distant mountain. No guns are fired and nobody dies, the entire point is to pick up little tickets of magical fabric that will let you jump higher, float further and create bridges between pieces of the stunning world.
The Walking Dead video game, based on the comic series, also made a lot of "best of" lists this year. It's unique for a few reasons: for one thing, it's a point-and-click episodic adventure that's heavy on making choices and exploration. Secondly, it's filled with dialogue and cut scenes, integrated in such a way that you're never really taken out of the game. There is violence and people do die, but the true genius is in the strength of the narrative, your emotional connection with the characters and the tension that builds as you go — you always feel like you're one wrong click away from disaster.
Mark of the Ninja is a bit of a throwback, a two-dimensional platformer that emphasizes stealth over button mashing. It's heavy on action but you need to use all the skills and weapons in your growing arsenal as you go, plus a load of strategy. The level design is amazing, the cartoonish animation is stunning and the overall ambience makes an old genre seem new.
Fez is a puzzle game that has been in development since forever. It will test your spatial awareness, memory and problem solving ability as you rotate the world around the main character, and while the graphics are nothing special compared to any A-list title, that's part of the charm — it has a style that's all its own.
Super Hexagon, if you can refrain from blinking for minutes at a time, is also a cult hit of sorts, combining some truly ear-splitting 8-bit music with a game mechanic that has you moving your sprite around to avoid being crushed by inwardly collapsing prisms. There's always a way out but you can't relax even for a second.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is an A-list title but it's also completely unique because the battles are turn-based and the consequences — such as the death of team members — are extreme. One game mode won't let you reset when battle goes bad so you have to live with the consequences of every decision you make. In between battles, chess matches against a wide range of unique alien classes, you collect alien technology, aliens and intelligence, improving your team members and developing new technologies of your own. I can't wait to see a speed run of this title.
Dishonored is also an A-List title, but the steampunk parallel universe that it's built around, the storyline and the unique stealth game mechanics make it one of the most unique gaming experiences of recent years. Liked Deus Ex, Assassins Creed, Hitman and other franchises, the game lets you solve problems your way. You can use stealth or force, deception or special powers to get ahead, and it is possible to win this game without killing a single person.
Angry Birds Star Wars was the biggest casual gaming title of the year, with reluctant reviewers — all sick of everything Angry Birds — praising the humour and level design. Somehow Rovio found a way to make Angry Birds seem new.
The only mainstream titles that reviewers seemed to agree on were Far Cry 3, an ambitious Sandbox game and the graphically interesting shooter Borderlands 2 and Halo 4.
It's hard to know what to make of this year's top games. Are reviewers just jaded and looking for something different? Or are game developers finally deciding that it's better, and cheaper, to create something that stands rather than churn out another first person shooter in the latest rendering engine?
Update or disable Java
Doing nothing isn't an option this time.
The discovery of a major security flaw in Java prompted an international call-out to PC users to disable Java in their web browsers — something that could hamper performance, but might be necessary to prevent an attack. The easiest solution is to update your version of Java to the newest iteration, but some security experts are still recommending you disable the software for now until the patches have been tested and experts have had time to look the patch over.
To find out how to disable Java, type the name of the browser you use into a search engine along with the words "disable Java."
The exploit, which was patched in Java 7 Update 11, fixes two vulnerabilities that trick users into visiting websites running applets that can steal personal information or upload malicious software.