I really don't know where we go from here. Adventure and real-time strategy are now genres getting attention in the mainstream media via games developed by major studios. Nintendo has farted out the rather underwhelming Wii U, Sony all but abandoned the Vita, and Microsoft continues to lose interesting exclusives and independent studios. Black Ops 2 and Max Payne 3 made me question if next-gen console games will even compare to these games on PC, while Journey made me wonder if what we really should be chasing is better art direction instead of higher-res textures -- I mean, YES we should be aiming for better art direction instead of higher-res textures (or, better yet, both!)
Most of all, I've been left wondering where my love affair with games goes from here. I've always devoured games at an alarming rate, but 2012 might have been the year that did me in. I played so many games I hated, finished so many games I barely enjoyed, and obsessed over far fewer titles than in 2010 and 2011. Before I paint myself as a negative Nancy -- or whatever the male equivalent is -- it must be said that there were many games I enjoyed in 2012. I had a list of 30+ titles that I narrowed down to these very special ten. Some of these are games I anticipated, but most of them I would have skipped entirely if not for my curiosity and endless appetite for games. I'm glad I took a chance on some titles that weren't exactly critical darling. Yes, I regret spending $60 on Resident Evil 6. No, I don't regret spending 20 hours in Teleglitch.
After the 100+ games I must have played in 2012, I have concluded that the answer isn't abandoning games but knowing when to put a lackluster game down and walk away. As a wet around the ears reviewer at Destructoid, I learned that it's not the money that gets us but the time wasted that no amount of money can get back. Here's to a new year of time better managed and less games to worry about -- because, let's be honest, there's going to be less than nothing to get excited about this summer. For now, here are the games I'd tell a clone of myself to purchase and play.
Honorable Mentions (15 - 11):Teleglitch, Spelunky, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, Trials Evolution, Sleeping Dogs
Borderlands 2 could have been very boring if not for the absolutely mad world that Anthony Burch helped Gearbox's better minds create. Improved AI and enemy design made combat far superior to that of the original, but it's the story and quest lines that gave me incentive to keep playing. When I admitted to playing the game for 30 hours in three days for review, I received a disapproving look from my friends. Yet, even if taken out of the circumstances, I would have approached the game the exactly same way. Combat and gear provide that hook to get you in and Burch's clever writing never lets you wander too far away.
I was highly skeptical of Mark of the Ninja but upon putting the controller in my hand, all doubt faded: THIS IS SOME REAL ASS NINJA SHIT! No other stealth game has made me feel so empowered and in control while still making me feel overcome by the challenges thrown out me. From the platforming puzzles to taking down a room with 10+ enemies, Mark of the Ninja's impeccable controls and user interface make playing the role seamless. A little more variety in level design would have set this one over the top.
Orcs Must Die! 2 is less Half-Life 2 and more Doom 2 when it comes to sequels. Its level design isnít quite as good as the first, it doesnít take any bold strides in storytelling -- though the dialogue is consistently laugh-out-loud funny -- but it perfects the originalís formula while adding some welcome additions to the series. Whether you are playing the story solo or going up against the never-ending horde in Endless mode with a friend, itís easy to lose many hours to Orcs 2, especially when it offers so many incentives to keep playing.
The stakes only seem to get higher in Enemy Unknown. The team you build for 30+ hours is a house of cards waiting to be blown away by an enemy's grenade. When fortune smiles upon your squad of roughnecks, the high of having a plan come together is second to none in 2012 games. There are some core elements in this game's design that sours the combat, but the snappy console controls and fast pace of combat formed an addiction that I cannot deny. It could have been an absolute classic if it were a bit more polished in certain areas. Don't let that deter you: Enemy Unknown is more accessible and rewarding than you might imagine.
I threw up a little in my mouth when I saw Darkness II arrive in my mailbox. ďWhy did I want to play this again?Ē From watching the private E3 demo to reading reviews, I couldnít be less impressed by the game. I was shocked when I found myself legitimately drawn into the gameís story, charmed by the visuals, and addicted to its unique combat. In contrast to Halo 4, the campaign had a great pace and made me genuinely interested in the mysteries that the narrative presented. In contrast to Black Ops 2, the combat gave me freedom and challenged me with new enemy types and scenarios. Ironic then that I once found the yearís most charismatic first-person shooter to be uninspired. Follow my lead and give it a chance.
Is it too early to call Akai Katana Caveís greatest achievement since the Ď90s? Well, Iím going to go ahead and say it anyway. After supplying some of the greatest bullet hell shooters to reach arcades, Akai Katana refreshes the format with its innovative system that encourages players to consider bullets as possible lifesavers along with life-enders. The new Climax mode makes things even better by providing superior weapon power and scores by controlling enemy bullets. Akai Katana is about so much more than dodging and firing. There is a metagame that surrounds the core mechanics of the genre, making for a thrilling arcade shooter that continues to excite me.
I havenít had more fun with a game this year. Surely, thatís enough for GCI to earn my #1 spot and it did for some time. Even so, I must concede that I likely wonít have as much fun next year with it. This isnít the gameís fault but itís developer and publisher, who have left one of the most refreshing, joyful competitive shooters of our generation out to die. With a limited map section, half-assed transformation to free-to-play, and very small community (on PC), I donít see a bright future for Gotham. But, letís remember the good days: The days of rappling across building tops like a madman, gliding down with bat wings, double jumping over enemies and unloading a shotgun into their back, and trampolining our way to victory. [Do add me on Steam if youíd like to play with me: Lonelyspacepanda]
I will forever remain skeptical of the spell Sine Mora's absurd, mysterious fiction and world cast upon me. From a distance, I continue to think to myself, "This is in no way better than Akai Katana: A modern masterpiece in the shoot-em-up genre." But upon jumping back into Sine Mora, I am floored by the otherworldly nature of the games aesthetic and plot. It's rich world, existentialist aspirations, and memorable characters bring you into a genre that isn't often (ever?) associated with strong, emotional storytelling. Sine Mora can be exhausting, both as a shooter and a dark story, but it's an incredibly rewarding experience that I won't soon forget, even if I continue to forget that unknown, indescribable factor that makes it so great.
In a year with no shortage of first-person shooters, Far Cry 3 is one of the most thrilling -- hang-gliding across islands, battling alligators in the swamps, riding an ATV through a gang war, and taking down helicopters with a pistol are just a few of the things make Far Cry 3 a wild ride that dedicates itself to the intensity that the player wishes to sustain. Sometimes I just want to have a mellow trek into the ocean to craft an awesome wallet made of shark blood. Other times, I want to ride the winds in my wingsuit, jumping from atop a radio tower and landing in an enemy camp below. No matter what course you take, that of stealth or a bazooka-weilding psycho, Far Cry 3 has a way of making other plans for the player. Get cocky as enemies run away in fear, sensing your arrival -- but the reality of the situation comes to light when you see them fire their rifles elsewhere, screaming "KOMODO DRAGON!" These moments are bountiful and keep Far Cry 3 exciting, even when the mission structure becomes rote and the story becomes distracted by its numerous villains. At any moment in Far Cry 3, you can stand still and see its world moving on without you. That's something special.
The city of Dunwall feels alive in a way that few videogame environments do. Last year, critics talked about how exciting Deus Ex: Human Evolution's environments and freedom of choice were. Sure, look at that very thrilling grate you left untouched and that empty alley you left unexplored with that one NPC with that one line of dialog. Iíll let my bitterness toward that overrated disappoint be taken over by my enthusiasm toward Dishonored. Itís a game where rooms, scenarios, and characters have multiple sides to show but never all in the same playthrough. The story told in cutscenes is good but the story learned from the gameís books is even better. And yet, the best stories will come from player interaction.