Anyone who writes about video games knows that this time of year is a dead zone as far as news goes. The whole industry pretty much shuts down for this month, and no new notable games come out. While this is pretty standard, there have been exceptions over the years; really outstanding games that crept out at the end of their respective years to great success and fanfare.
This year, there have been a ton of relatively high-profile games being released at year’s end. Most notably, the first episode of the new season of The Walking Dead came out on December 17th. Considering how well-received Season One was, it was a curious and bold choice for Telltale to release it so late, but time will tell how it all pans out.
*By the way, these are all North American release dates. If Japan were to be included, it would consist of pretty much every Zelda game in existence and that wouldn’t be any fun. Anyway, onto the list:
Final Fantasy X
Date of Release – December 17, 2001
Granted, this game was released in Japan in summer of 2001, but the first Final Fantasy title on the PS2 dropped just in time for Christmas later that year. Being released so late certainly didn’t do the game any harm as it sold millions of copies and, with a little bit of hindsight, is generally considered one of the finest games in this storied franchise. You know, thinking about it, December is actually the perfect time to release a Final Fantasy game. People are finished exams and ready to hunker down for the holidays with a lot of free time; perfect for diving into an epic RPG that lasts dozens of hours. Final Fantasy X, with its bright colors and amazing story, would have been the perfect game to sink 100 hours into over the 2001 holidays.
The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay
Date of Release – December 8, 2004
“Hey guys, let’s release a licensed video game that’s a tie-in with the new Vin Diesel movie!” The Chronicles of Riddick, was a summer blockbuster that failed to meet expectations. Mostly, it suffered from forgetting what made its predecessor so appealing in the first place. The game was designed to serve as a prequel to the films and is referred to in the films, but came out long after the movie was forgotten. Butcher Bay was somewhat of a commercial hit upon release, and it was extremely well-received by critics as well. Its combination of first-person action, stealth, and creepy atmosphere elevated it far above the usual licensed game tripe. Along with its initial splash at the end of 2004, Butcher Bay has also gotten a new lease on life thanks to its availability on Steam and GOG.
Date of Release – December 12, 1999
This is a title that certainly didn’t set the world on fire with its sales, but it more than made up for it in acclaim and cred. Planescape: Torment was the product of a group of extremely talented developers going way above and beyond the call of duty to deliver a game narrative that still stands as one of the greatest in the history of the format. This game’s release at the end of its year, and of the century, signals a turning point of sorts. Storytelling in video games is becoming by-and-large more complex and mature, and Planescape: Torment is owed a debt of gratitude for that. You really should pick it up on GOG and see just how ahead of its time it is.
Far Cry 3
Date of Release – December 4, 2012
The first two Far Cry games were each very beautiful and fun games featuring frustrating issues that dragged them down. With the third installment, Ubisoft fixed pretty much everything and delivered one of the best open-world games ever. Shooting, stealth, takedowns, survivalism, side-missions…this game has it all, and it has a better story and characters than it gets credit for.
Due to its late release in 2012, Far Cry 3 missed out on some Game of the Year lists (including ours). It’s really too bad, because it very well may have topped a few of them. In spite of that however, it managed to sell a lot of copies and even spawn a mod/spinoff in the form of Blood Dragon. If I were doing an award for the best 2012 game that we played in 2013, Far Cry 3 would easily take it.
Date of Release – December 10, 1993
The First-Person shooter that REALLY started it all just turned 20. My first thought when I learned that was, “Has it really been 20 years since I played it on my university’s computers back in the day?” My second was, “Wait, that game came out in December?” I guess we’re all conditioned to expect big games to come out in the Fall, and in terms of impact they don’t come much bigger than DOOM.
Super Smash Bros. Melee
Date of Release – December 3, 2001
No offense to Luigi’s Mansion, but the Nintendo GameCube didn’t exactly have the greatest launch lineup. It was late to the ‘sixth generation of console games’ party, and it didn’t have a decent flagship game to go along with its new system. Shortly after its November release however, Super Smash Bros. Melee hit stores and was an instant success for Nintendo fans starving for something fun to play.
And play it they did! Melee sold upwards of 10 million copies and kept things going on the GameCube until Nintendo’s big guns (Super Mario Sunshine, Wind Waker, Metroid Prime) were ready for release. It is also considered by fans of the series to be its high point as they eagerly anticipate the upcoming installments on the 3DS and Wii U.
As we head into 2014, a whole new batch of video games awaits us. While there are certain to be high-traffic weeks and months when tons of titles are released simutaneously, it’s always interesting to see which games end up coming out after the dust has settled. As of right now, Tom Clancy’s The Division is slated for Q4 of 2014. Will it be an afterthought, or will it be a strong finisher for the coming year? I don’t know about you, but I’m excited to see what it all holds.