Hey, here's the games I enjoyed the most out in 2012. See the bottom of this post for the obligatory apologies and excuses.
10: Thirty Flights of Loving
A game with simplistic graphics and controls that only takes maybe 15 minutes to play? Thirty Flights of Loving scattershot narrative echoes Reservoir Dogs (a heist movie where you never see the actual heist) but it's told in such a fractured way that it's always moving between action sequences and surprisingly touching moments between your character and his band of crooks.
Be right back, booking my flight to Hong Kong so I can hang out with my close friends and peel some oranges.
09: Mass Effect 3
Yes, the ending was muddled but when it comes to games, I'm more of interested in the journey instead of the destination. The road to the end of Shepherd's tale still delivered some great highpoints in the series. The Krogan genophage is handled really well, returning characters come back with some great moments and the improved gameplay from ME2 (I preferred the shooter-centric style over ME1's loose gunplay).
There were problems with the the third installment; the pacing felt all off after the initial excitement of the Reaper invasion of Earth. The random fetch quests you pick up whilst wandering around places seems really weird and keeping seemingly important story information in paid DLC is really disappointing. Where does the series go from here? No idea, but I'd love to see something different in this universe. A space combat sim during the First Contact Wars? Sign me up!
08: Tribes: Ascend
I already mentioned how Tribes: Ascend was an under-rated game this year. Whilst the aesthetics aren't very original and hardcore fans weren't keen on a classic multiplayer shooter being re-tooled for a modern free to play title, Tribes: Ascend managed to get the frantic, fast paced combat intact.
It's just so fast compared to modern twitch based shooters, the arenas are large and allow you to get a good sense of where the flashpoints on the battlefield are. Seeing a scrap in the distance and skiing over to it was super satisfying and Tribes: Ascend became my multiplayer shooter of the year.
Amanita Design have been bringing us charming adventure games for a number of years now, Botanicula doesn't follow the lead of their previous title Machinarium, it still has the same European sense of style and craft. Following the journey of a group of tiny tree dwellers as they seek to protect a precious acorn from a life sucking spider creature, Botanicula manages to communicate purely through tt's wonderful artwork and sound design.
Whilst the puzzles are sometimes simplistic, Botanicula wowed me with every new screen; there's strange and wonderful creatures going about their weird business and new sounds and music that kept surprising me. The scene where the group encounter the magic being in the lamp who grants their wishes was one of gaming high points for me this year.
06: Hotline Miami
I feel dirty after playing Hotline Miami.
Whether it's the slightly queasy visuals or the relentless beats that accompany your balletic bloodshed, I don't feel empowered or like a superhero after wasting a room filled with Russian mafia types. There's a lingering sense of unease after each mission and whilst managing to clear a floor of enemies is rewarding, it's never without a "ooooohhhh shit" that comes with beheading a dude.
Whilst the controls don't have the tightness that might make the game a little easier, Hotline Miami is more about quick planning, reactions and weighing up your options. Ok you only disarmed a guy when you threw your baseball bat at him; should you rush in and take him on before he recovers and picks up a weapon or retreat and wait for a better opportunity. The lightning fast restarts help the sense of speed and meant that experimentation was encouraged. I frankly suck at the game but that doesn't stop me from wanting to come back to it time and time again.
05: Max Payne 3
I played the original Max Payne games back in the day and whilst I really liked them, I recognised there were flaws with them too. The script often veered too much into self referential humour and I often found myself just clearing a room of enemies, quicksaving and continuing which negated a lot of the challenge.
But Max Payne 3 was different; the older, paunchier and even more miserable Max struck a chord with me. What ex-cop who'd been through what he had would not be strung out on booze and pills. The game's presentation was top notch, both in it's visuals and audio and the challenge was rock hard (remember, I generally suck at games but not as bad as babee Britt Zaddler). The multiplayer was decent and I enjoyed playing the Gang Wars mode with the Dtoid Crew on Friday Night Fights. All in all if this is the last Max Payne game then I'm okay with that, the dude deserves a break.
Just like Hotline Miami, I suck at FTL but again, failure isn't a bad thing. With FTL, I learn a little more about the systems at play and I quickly realised that sometimes I was up against a stacked deck. I didn't have the right combination of early luck to get me the right upgrades or weapons to secure victory or maybe additional crew. Maybe I didn't respond quickly enough to emergencies; maybe I panicked when I got boarded; maybe I forgot about re-sealing that hatch and everyone suffocated.
Whatever the reasons for my failures, it never put me off FTL. Modern gaming is generally failure averse meaning there often feels like a lack of geniune challenge, or at least a sense of learning from failure. FTL did such a good job of hooking me in that it was hard to resist jumping into a game every few hours just to see how far I could flee the rebel fleet.
03: Mark of the Ninja
Unlike a lot of people, I really enjoy stealth games; I enjoy the patience and tension they provide and when a game like Deus Ex or Dishonored offer me a stealth option, I'll take it. Mark of the Ninja is stealth above all but the way it communicates information in the levels is sublime. It took me a while to realise that my character had line of sight, it just felt really natural to have to peek over a ledge to check the position of a guard.
Sure, all the indicators and visual cues are super-gamey but it's never distracting; Mark of the Ninja is similar to Hotline Miami as you need to work out the best route to clear a room before you can proceed. Leaping into action expecting to cut the guards to shreds is never gonna work, you need to be thinking clearly and ready to respond to danger. The controls feel so right that I never felt that I was screwing up because of them, rather I hadn't thought a situation through well enough.
When I read that Harvey Smith and Viktor Antonov were working on a systems heavy stealth/combat titles I was instantly excited. Smith was one of the key designers on Deus Ex and Antonov's designs were used to great effect in Half Life 2's City 17 levels. Deciding how I should extract revenge on the conspirators that murdered the Empress was a delight, especially when I realised that the harder non-direct solutions were so much more rewarding.
Considering I'm a big fan of Deus Ex, it was no surprise that Dishonored scratched that particular itch; the option of whether to play as a pacifist, a blood thirsty stab-a-holic or a mix of the two is always intriguing. I wish there was a bit more to the stealth mechanics, especially coming off the back of Mark of the Ninja, but the blink/teleportation system was a great choice and the whole city of Dunwall was a strange place that begged exploring. Lady Boyle's party was a highlight of 2012 with the guests' grotesque masks making the vibe so creepy.
Oh, and stop calling it a "steampunk game".... did you see any cogs, steamworks or goggles? No. If anything we should call it "whale-oil punk".
Actually, that sound pish.
01: Torchlight 2
Hey Steam, how many hours did I plough into Torchlight 2 since it came out? 62, really? It feels a lot more. I know I'm almost at the end of my third playthough and I still want to play it in between sessions of the other titles I've been struggling to finish this year. Whilst it's accepted Diablo III's combat has more "crunch", I've loved the build of my Outlander character. Blasting away with dual pistols, her blinding back flip can get her out of trouble really easily and she can summon a whole host of Shadowling allies if things are too overwhelming.
The addition of the interconnecting maps was a great addition, the tweaks made to the pet were fun and the allure of collecting gems and armour sets was totally compulsive. The fact the game ran like an absolute treat on my laptop was a great boon. It meant playing sessions when I was out then returning to my desktop via cloud saves a total breeze. I played no other games this much during 2012 and I certainly didn't return to any game again one I finished playing it. The fact I've started over twice in Torchlight 2 is maybe the highest compliment I can pay it.
2013 and beyond!
"Hey, you bearded pretentious twat! You didn't enjoy (insert name of acclaimed game here)? You useless tit!!"
Hey, whoa.... the year wasn't perfect. I was unemployed for almost half the year, so I wasn't buying a lot of games. My laptop meant I could play fairly undemanding titles like FTL and Hotline Miami but it was only when I got my gaming PC in October that I was really able to play really graphically intense games. Then there were reviews I did and other delays (PC broke, got it fixed)...
Basically, I grossly underestimated the time I had before submitting my top 10 games for the Destructoid end of year list. I purchased titles like XCOM, Spec Ops: The Line and Sleeping Dogs but have only played maybe an hour of each, same with Dark Souls on PC. I waited until all 5 episodes of The Walking Dead to be released only to have a few days to play the whole thing before my list was submitted. Then there's games like Journey, Sound Shapes, Rhythm Heaven, Super Mario 3D Land, Persona 4 Golden that I really want to play but I'm lacking the funds for either a PS3 or Vita right now. Dammed European release delays aren't helping either. I bought a few iOS games but my original model iphone won't support them.
Right now I'm almost at the end of Borderlands 2 as quickly as I can and I've set a backlog challenge of completing 25 titles in 2013. Since I've got a PC that can handle anything I can through at it, I want to eliminate big titles from my backlog as quick as I can. I also want to avoid being an idiot in the Steam sales (probably too late at this point). I'm also considering doing a backlog challenge that will be similar to the one Conrad Zimmerman did a recently, where I list some options for a game to play and you all can vote on which one you'd like to see me play. Won't be streaming them but I'll do a write up on each one I finish, is that something people would like to see?