Great PC Games of 2012 (and the PCs to Play Them On)

I’m just gonna call it – 2012 was a BIG year for PC Gaming. Forget all this talk about consoles or going mobile. There’s been some huge developments – and huge games – that came out in 2012. So for some end-of-year celebrating, We’re taking a quick look back at a big trend and some great games.

 

 

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Steam hits the big screen.
Valve’s Steam has been a godsend for gamers as far as digital storefronts go. And as of yesterday, they’ve officially launched the Big Picture Mode that was in Beta a few months back. I already wrote about Big Picture Mode, but here’s the deal: The Steam client software, at the push of a button, is now easily navigable via a gamepad with a nifty interface that looks great on a big screen. To put it another way,  you can turn your gaming PC….hell, just about any PC….into a better-than-console gaming experience plugged into your TV. (Read about it here).

 

As for which computers I’d recommend using for said gaming….well, the two best gaming choices from the HP stable include a proper desktop and a rock-solid laptop.

 

HP’S GAMING DESKTOP – The ENVY Phoenix h9

I’m going to say up front that if you’re any kind of gamer and you want a mean machine sitting at your desk, this is the guy for you. Starting at $899 right now, you can config this machine out as much as you can handle (and afford). A couple optical drive bays, three hard drive cages….drop in up to 16GB RAM, pile in a top-flight CPU and graphics card. In short, every game I will list below runs great at 1920 by 1080 resolution, with most of the visual details cranked. So this machine is the no-brainer that I won’t list below. It’ll run anything that you can throw at it right now. Thanks to the 600Watt power supply, it should be able to also fuel newer graphics cards to come down the road.

 

HP’S BANG-FOR-YOUR-BUCK GAMING LAPTOP – The ENVY dv7is worth a look. This humbly-priced laptop (currently starting at 850 bones) is probably the best secret weapon to playing just about every game coming out. “Why,” you ask? This system can pack a lot of graphical heat (a 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 650M), up to 16GB of RAM…and Intel Core i7 juice. My advice for you guys: if you’re playing games on this, start by setting the graphics at 1600 by 900 resolution and have games at “medium” settings. From the get-go, you’ll have better-than-console graphics that you can take with you.

 

 

[OK, a quick caveat / update: When I first created this story, I knew I'd be opening up a whole bag of "why this game and not this one?" There are two huge ommissions on my part: Mass Effect 3 (I've plugged in a bit on this below) and a game that actually surprised me with how fun it was -- Sleeping Dogs. Both of those games are going to be graphically intensive, and I'd recommend you look into a decent machine with discrete graphics if you want to get a good play-through experience.] Now, about some -- but hardly all -- of my go-to games from 2012….

 

SHOOT!

First person shooters are usually the most demanding, best-looking games to come out on a PC any given year. 2012 isn’t looking much different.

 

Leading the charge is Far Cry 3, which, coincidentally launches today. The game is soaking up critical love, but here’s the short version: You’ve been kidnapped by modern-day pirates and you’re trapped on a tropical island. How you escape this open world is entirely up to you. And if you’re skilled enough to try punching a shark – you’re welcome to try. Yes, you can do that. (In the coming weeks, we're going to look at how you can tweak your system so that this game looks even more awesome!)

 

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. Really, what am I going to say here that you won’t see in every other place online? This series is what Michael Bay is to movies.  Its cast in the near future, after society collapses, and it’s an action flick in your hands. It looks sweet and plays well….but this game is really all about multiplayer. So get online!

 

Borderlands 2 contains comic book-like cel-shaded graphics. There’s cartoon-like hyper-violence. It’s got a twisted sense of humor….and guns. Lots of guns. There’s a lot happening here, but I want to focus on two things: First, this is a game that really takes advantage of your PC. The best way to show off its sense of humor – and its PC-friendly features – is in this love-letter to PCs. Second, the game is seriously fun.

 

While I didn’t have the above-mentioned game-rocking ENVY g7 on-hand for testing, I do have a tasty-looking backup. To get this particular job done, I pulled out an ENVY 17 that came out late last year. To give you an idea of what’s inside….

 

Processor: Intel Core i7-2860QM @ 2.50GHz

Video: ATI Radeon HD 7690M XT 
Memory: 8GB RAM
Native Resolution: 1920 by 1080

Recommended Game Settings: By Default, when I play games on this PC, I game at 1600 by 900 with medium settings. Of course, if you ever want to play it safe, you can always lower the resolution and kick up detail settings (textures and whatnot). The results – even at 1280 by 768 – are going to look better than most console games.

 

Word of caution for any PC user: Know the graphic limits of your PC. If you drive a car in the redline on the freeway for a prolonged period of time, you can screw up your engine. Same holds true with playing demanding graphics on a unit.

 

ROLE-PLAYING

Diablo III – When this highly anticipated title came out, I did a cross-PC dissection of what set-ups would work for this game. You can see that right here.

 

Guild wars 2 – Here’s another massive role-playing game that I’d been looking forward to for a long time. When it came out at the end of the summer, I found myself wondering if I could pull off a minor miracle: Would the game work on a first-gen Ultrabook? Yep. You can read that story here.

 

Torchlight 2 – If you’re a fan of comic art style and a sense of humor with your dungeon crawling, check this game out. One thing I liked about the original is how well it played, no matter the system. Heck, the original even has a “netbook” mode. The sequel? Well….it runs great in Windows 7.

 

Here’s a random machine that these games will actually run on – an OG, first-gen Ultrabook (I used the ENVY 14 Spectre)

 

Processor: Intel Core i5-2467M @ 1.6GHz

Video: Intel HD Integrated Graphics (I downloaded the latest HD3000 graphics drivers from Intel)
Memory: 4GB RAM
Native Resolution: 1600 by 900

Recommended Game Settings: 1280 by 720; Keep settings at medium to low. (In Diablo 3 / Torchlight II, you may dial textures up a little further, but don’t go crazy with it). Remember, the unit that I had on-hand was a 2nd-Gen Intel Core processor from January 2012. These games fare even better with the newer 3rd-Gen Intel Core-based Ultrabook options (like, say the SpectreXT or the ENVY TouchSmart 4 Ultrabook).

 

 

[update] Mass Effect 3 --  It's funny. I almost don't know how to classify this game. It plays and feels like and action-heavy shoot-em up, but the role-playing elements (and story telling throughout) are fantastic. You could jump in and play this third game in the trilogy, but you'll be missing out on the emotional impact of the three-game journey and the friendships your character has fostered along the way. I can say without hesitation that Mass Effect 3 is easily one of the best games of the year and you should try it. And I should also get my head checked because I originally forgot this game came out this year.

 

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning – A lot of people forget that this game – which is actually a lot of fun – came out at the beginning of 2012. It feels like a cross between Skyrim and God of War. It’d be a shame to not try it out for yourself considering you can find the game for a bargain now. Just remember that this game will require a little more graphics horsepower. I’d recommend the Pavilion dv7if we’re talking laptops.

 

SILENT BUT DEADLY

What is it about assassins that I like so much? There are AT LEAST four sneaky action games that came to mind when I started thinking about what came out this year.

 

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Assassin’s Creed 3 and Hitman: Absolution couldn’t be more different. In Assassin’s Creed III, you’re a shadowy behind-the-scenes figure involved in America’s revolutionary war. You’re an assassin – and you’re practicing a revolutionary war-era flavor or parkour throughout Boston and New York. In Hitman: Absolution, you’re a modern-day contract killer that slinks through assignments and covers his tracks before leaving the scene.

 

Dishonored, the highly-stylized steampunk action title, is another great case for stealthy PC gaming. Like the above-mentioned assassin’s you can creep your way through the world or go in with guns (and powers) blazing. And there are rats. Many rats (you’ll see when you play).

 

Mark of the Ninja is a stunningly beautiful stealth action game that plays like something out of a classic arcade, but looks as good as any hand-drawn cartoon you’d seen. But it’s bloody. Very, very bloody.

 

What they all have in common – besides slicing through people – is that these titles look amazing. Even at 1280 by 768

resolutions with medium settings. (At that level it’s going to look on par with what you see on home consoles….but it only gets better from there). Just don’t think that you can get these games working quite yet on baseline Ultrabooks. You really need some kind of discrete graphics card “oompf” in order to get these games running at all. Out of curiosity, I pulled out a two-year old laptop – the ENVY 14 Beats Edition – to see how it’d fare.

 

Processor: Intel Core i7-Q720 @ 1.6GHz

Video: AMD Radeon HD 6500M

Memory: 8GB RAM
Native Resolution: 1366 by 768

Recommended Game Settings: Not seeing as I have much choice here, but you could dial up games to the native resolution. Just to play it safe, go with 1280 by 720; Keep settings at medium-to-low. It works well in most games and this is the laptop I initially used in my Steam Big Picture Mode tests.

 

 

AT THE ARCADE

I also happened to pick a couple games that are available for download through Microsoft’s App Store. Two that jumped out at me: Hydro Hurricane Thunder and Pinball FX2. Here’s two titles that are available on the Xbox 360….and on your PC. Now, to make things interesting, I played both of these games on an ENVY x2. This slick-as-grease laptop/tablet isn’t really built with gaming in mind, but this sort of stuff is perfect for it. Just make sure to keep the settings reasonable. Let me show you what you’re working with here.

 

Processor: Intel Atom Z2760 @ 1.8GHz
Memory: 2GB RAM 
Native Resolution: 1366 x 768

Recommended Game Settings: 1280 by 720, tops…I might even recommend trying something a little more modest, depending upon the game. Also, here’s something else to factor in: The ENVY x2 runs a 32-bit version of Windows 8 – and not every game is 32-bit these days.

 

STRATEGERY

I love my strategy. And while I saved these titles for last, they are easily my two of favorite games from 2012: XCOM: Enemy Unknown and FTL. XCOM is more than a game to me, it’s like waiting over 15 years to reconnect with an old buddy (who still owes me a drink). I spent countless days with the original games, building up my squads and taking the fight to alien invaders as I defended the Earth. The game, reimagined and rebooted for 2012 is true to the original and looks awesome. You need a discrete graphics card and solid computer to get the most out of this guy.

 

FTL, on the other hand, is an indie game project that puts you at the helm of a spaceship simulator. Imagine an episode of Star Trek (ToS or TNG) where the captain is yelling orders about phasers, rerouting shields, beaming down…or just yelling “Kahhhhhhhhnnnn!” That’s what this game is about. So, a game about running around on your ship. Best of all, it’s system requirements are SUPER low – it can run on the ENVY x2...or on a giant powerhouse home computer. Either way, check that game out!

 

…and then there’s Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead, that doesn’t fit neatly into a category. It is a great, interactive story – probably one of the best to come along in a while. Spanned over five episodes, you make life-or-death choices as you try to avoid the undead. By the end of the first “season,” you’ll be emotionally drained. And waiting for the next season. If you’re a fan of the comics – or the TV show, you need to play this. The beauty of the Telltale Games’ design is that its games work on just about every system – even an Ultrabook.

 

All right, so here we are at the end of the list and here’s my gift to you: A tease! Follow @hp and my wacky exploits @gizmogladstone on Twitter…..for a chance at my copy of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.

 

 

In the spirit of giving I have my personal game code for a free copy of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 right here. Want it? Well, here’s what I’m going to do: I’m actually going to give you the beginning of the code to activate the game. (You can activate the game on a digital download service like Valve’s Steam.)

 

First part of the CoD: Black Ops 2 code: [THE CODE HAS BEEN CLAIMED]

 

But the rest of the code is going to show up in a tweet. Keep your eyes on the @HP twitter account  for the rest of that code. The second part of the code will go live on Twitter no later than 9pm Pacific Time on Wednesday, December 12th. The first person to activate the code, once it goes up, gets it.  Simple as that. There’s only one code to give – after that, it’s gone. The winner needs to be 18 years or older and this is only valid in the United States. (The legal fine print is all below, if you’re curious.)

 

What are your favorite games of 2012?

 

 

 

 

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY & PURCHASE WILL NOT INCREASE CHANCE OF WINNING.  OPEN ONLY TO LEGAL RESIDENTS OF 50 UNITED STATES & THE DC, 18 YEARS OLD OR OLDER. Void in Colorado, Puerto Rico, U.S. territories, possessions and where prohibited by law.  Employees of Sponsor, its subsidiaries, affiliates, their immediate family and household members not eligible. Public sector employees are not eligible. Entry constitutes agreement to these rules & Sponsor’s decisions. One entry per person. Prizes: One (1) download code for Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 (ARV $59.95).  No substitution, cash redemption or transfer of prizes.  Odds of winning depend on the number of people attempting to retrieve remainder of code. Entrants release and hold harmless Sponsor, its subsidiaries, affiliates, and their officers, directors, employees, agents from any claim arising out of entry or prize receipt or use.  Sponsor: Hewlett-Packard Company (3000 Hanover Street, Palo Alto, CA 94304-1112). 

 

Comments
by David5886
on ‎12-04-2012 02:41 PM

Minecraft

by GizmoGladstone
on ‎12-04-2012 04:07 PM

Yes! Though Minecraft kinda falls in that perpetual game that people will always play. ;p

 

Also, I kinda omitted two games that I had fun with: Mass Effect 3 and Sleeping Dogs. Both were good fun....and I somehow forgot that they came out this year. 

 

That's the problem with these lists, you're always bound to forget something.

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