2012 is a long lost memory filled with lukewarm thoughts and infuriating outbursts. Still, 2012 was still filled with good games. In fact, the games of 2012 were plenty good! But nothing exploded onto the scene with the white hot heat of 1,000 suns. At least, that's how it felt for me. It took me a while to decide what was really good this year, and that's why I feel 2012 was a little more subdued in terms of high profile releases. But when you get down to brass tacks, thee games were still great. Great to the point that it's maddening that it took me this long to put this together in the first place.
Here are my choices for 2012. Not necessarily divided into specific choices or categories because like I said, 2012 felt subdued. Still, it was still a subtly good year.
There is an absolute deluge of shooters to choose from. But how many shooters task you with hunting down monsters that your quest giver will constantly name change them officially throughout the quest? As you kill one group to the next, their name tags will change Bullymonger, to Primal Beast, to Bonerfart? And that is only one example among a selection of excellently written dialogue to paint the world of Pandora in Borderlands 2
From Handsome Jack's condescending attitude to Clap Trap's nearly insane rambling to even Patricia Tannis' paranoid social tendencies, Borderlands 2 is colored with a varied and diverse cast of characters and situations that makes what should be a normal slog through hordes of killable fodder into the most hilarious game ever that happens to include tons of guns.
Speaking of tons of guns, that aspect of the game also clicks with a certain primal instinct in me. An instinct that wants me to constantly assert my strength and dominance by number-crunching my way to the top. This gun might be two whole seconds longer in reload, but I get a massive boost in damage. This is possibly the simplest example I can give as other guns can have unique features that makes choosing my perfect gun impossible. Therefore, I have several perfect guns to choose from, all fitting a possibly different role with my favorite skill build. It doesn't help the game doesn't mind if I respec my skill points. Heck, it encourages it by making the cost to respec fairly low.
In short, this game isn't about guns. It's about numbers. And those numbers are your ticket to fun, not necessarily math.
The little indie game that stole everyone's hearts, then stomped on them until they turned into dust. FTL
is just one of the many examples of how 2012 turned into the year of the roguelike. And like many roguelikes, FTL
doesn't have a system in place that allows the random variables in place of this spaceship simulator to fall into a completely fair game. Why not have Mantis pirates board your ship on the second jump? Why not? There's no way you'd be prepared with most stock crews but FTL
says, "Tough cookies."
But then why did everyone love it? And more importantly, why did I love it? I suppose as far as most roguelikes go, with my last moments of life after getting chewed up through the meatgrinder, I think to myself, "Well fuck you FTL
! I'm going to try again and this time, I'm going to kick your ass for sure!"
When things go your way in FTL
, you feel like you're on top of the world. You have a tough crew who can repel boarding parties and a badass set up with an ion cannon and beam weapon. What can go wrong? You'll tear through hostile galaxies and the like no problem.
Then comes the last boss. He's not a last boss though. He's an achievement. An achievement that probably less than 1% of the population playing FTL
has completed. The last boss is there to remind you it had given you that nice Mantis crew member or that sweet burst laser. And what he giveth and can quickly taketh.
Then your fine ship explodes into hundreds of pieces at the last moment and you think to yourself, "Well fuck you FTL
! I'm going to try again and this time, I'm going to kick your ass for sure!"
For many, Mass Effect 3
as a whole seemed to sour quickly. I would like to herd those many into a spaceship and launch it into the sun.
It's likely I only feel this way because I don't treat Mass Effect 3
as a game by itself. To me, Mass Effect 3
, the whole game, is the end to a very ambitious project. The start a game that was planned from the get-go as a trilogy, and keep the whole thing interesting throughout without losing too much steam. I started a Shepard who wanted to do the right thing, but would sometimes be forced to take action when action was required. He didn't lose a single crew member on his suicide run, felt that the krogan had suffered enough and helped them, and he took a keen interest in how the quarians and geth lived as a society. Most of all, he loved Tali and gave Legion a meaningful purpose.
If you want to talk about the ending, I'd be talking philosophical about how I was ok with it and I don't understand the backlash. Shepard might be viewed as a mythic figure but he's still just one man. For me, Mass Effect 3
stood as a a testament to my Shepard's personal odyssey of discovery and duty in the face of something greater than he is.
His story came to a satisfying end but more importantly, it came to an end.
The second roguelike on my list, Spelunky
might technically fall under the same umbrella but the two couldn't be more different in approach, and I'm not talking about mechanical gameplay.
is punishing for the sake of being punishing, Spelunky
is punishing because you are either new to the game or sloppy. Spelunky
gradually teaches you how to be better at the game, to the point where death is something you can blame yourself for. Sure, levels, enemies, and loot are still randomly generated, leaving a large element of luck involved. But many players are perfectly capable of surviving 15 straight floors without a store to buy new equipment or item refills. It'll be hard but it's far easier to navigate the countless traps and deadly fauna using just your wits and skill compared to just hoping you don't get some uppity pirate who may or may not have a boarding party, a cache of loaded weapons, or both during a solar flare event.
is difficult in a sense that it wants to get you to replay it out of a twisted sense of vengeance, Spelunky
is difficult in order to provide you with a genuine challenge, where it will then sit back and tell you to beat it, as if having a the exit surrounded by two spike traps and maneater plant is the most fair thing in the world. Because it is totally fair, you're supposed to be better than that bro!
's difficulty can be punishing but at least it's consistent. Once you know how something kills you, you'll forever be armed with that knowledge and it'll never change. It's up to you to put that knowledge into practice so you never die that same way again.
Not that you won't die to it again the same way. Still, figure it out genius. It's not rocket science, it's archaeology!
Stealth has been forever tainted by the games of yesteryear as being an unfairly balanced, slow, and a generally stupid genre to play in. Most expect us to derive enjoyment out of memorizing guard patrols and slipping in and out of their paths while also supplying us with vague details on how hidden we are through use of cover and lighting.
Mark of the Ninja
takes everything that isn't fun about stealth games and leaves it on the cutting room floor. Everything that is supposed to make stealth fun, it distills into its purest form and infuses it into a 2D platformer. Instead of being visible, hidden, or sort of visible and sort of hidden, Mark of the Ninja
gives you clear details that make you 100% hidden or just plain visible. If you're underneath the walkway a guard is walking over, you are hidden. If you are standing under a light in line of sight of a guard, you are visible. If you are standing in the shadows in front of a guard with no flashlight, you are clearly hidden.
After Mark of the Ninja
presents you with clearly established rules of stealth, it then gives you a wealth of tools and creativity to proceed. Will you sneak around everyone? Here are some smoke bombs and caltrops. Do you want to kill everyone in your path? Then wear this costume for automatic assassinations and deadly spike traps. Or maybe you'll forgo a sword in favor of completely silent running. All while navigating surprisingly diverse environments suited to sneaking around despite just moving in two dimensions.
Stealth is sometimes a hard sell in these fast times ruled by twitchy action games. But Mark of the Ninja
proves stealth doesn't have to be a secondary feature. It can still be a core asset that's worth furthering.
No one's talking about Crashmo
and I don't blame them. The 3DS has been very warm this year but it hasn't caught fire. This might change in 2013 with th release of Fire Emblem Awakening
and motherfucking Animal Crossing New Leaf
. But this is about Crashmo
, the little puzzle game that could.
started out as 2011's Pushmo
. For months, I've heard people talking about how good Pushmo
was and how they were looking forward to Crashmo
So when I finally decided to try it, I had to buy it straight away. But I didn't regret what I had purchased.
A simple game about pushing, pulling, and sliding blocks within a 3D space is deceptively simple. But there are literally hundreds of puzzles with the same concept but slight wrinkles while keeping the same idea: get to the goal at the top. The hundreds of puzzles, slowly introducing new blocks like cloud blocks or manhole gadgets, is a testament to how well it all comes together to just work for such a long time. But probably the best part is how it's all wrapped up in a cute little package. Where your little sumo dude works his way across puzzles with a little guidance from Papa Blox, who is still cute yet crotchety looking. Plus, the whole thing can be enjoyed on the fly with the 3DS and can be easily popped out in a line and closed quickly when business concludes.
is easily one of the funnest games you've never heard of. And maybe that's ok because it's a lot like Pringles. Once you start the damn thing, it's hard to stop.
Arc System Works had a unique problem on they're hands. They are capable of making fine fighting games, but now it had the unenviable job of making a fighting game that is irrefutably Persona 4
. Neither element can be too strong or too weak or else the other will be viewed as a glaring weakness to the game's design.
In the end, ASW crafted a game that is unmistakably Persona 4
while continuing to be a fighter.
In terms of single-player content, you have things Persona
players should be used to. Maybe fighting gamers will scratch their heads over why you'd want to read blocks of text but Persona
fans just ate up the canonical story. Meanwhile, fans of Guilty Gear
were right at home with a refined fighting system that is difficult to call unbalanced. At the very least, it was a fun fighting game. Something that can't be said of many fighting games this year. It had speed, style, presentation, fundamentals, and strategy. Yosuke players are downright jumping right out of Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3
highlights while Yukikos were playing delicate mindgames of keepaway and hit confirms. And then there are Teddy players...
There was a style for any picky fighter and no matter what the match up was, it made sense and it was fun to watch. Kanji might have bad match ups but they made sense because his opponents would have options to keep him out. But if he got in even once, he'd score crazy, comeback amounts of damage. It was exciting to play as well as watch.
See? Not every fighting game has to be from Capcom or Namco.
Is it Grand Theft Auto
but with Honk Kong flavor? Or is it Arkham City
with Honk Kong flavor? Sleeping Dogs
apes so many things that people who have played other games within the last two years will think it was downright copy and pasted code.
And yet Sleeping Dogs
is still its own game. Asian cinema style is rarely held up in the West and that works to Sleeping Dog's
advantage. It doesn't hurt that despite using familiar game mechanics, it uses those familiar game mechanics so masterfully, rather then some kind of clunky game that didn't bother streamlining the whole process to its own merit.
What it does well, it holds up high. What is more questionable, it passes off into smaller varied chunks. Sure, combat feels directly lifted from Arkham City
, but Arkham City
doesn't have you playing as a mandarin-speaking, undercover cop who breaks bones as an area-of-effect stun that makes surrounding combatants wince and back off. Plus it's all wrapped up in a convincing Honk Kong style cinema arc where allegiances are tested, plots are twisted, and revenge is sworn. GTA
might have treaded this type ground before, but never in the same way John Woo would capture it.
Every piece was dealt with care and quality. Driving is snappy and action hijacking is not only hilariously over-the-top, it's downright useful. Combat is so good, you'll start fights whenever you can to experience the buttery smooth kung fu. Even in small pieces, the shooting is passable as the slow-mo action scene triggers provide enough of a burst of wow factor that it continues the adrenaline.
Take Farcry 2
, put in the elements of Skyrim
, and put in a satisfying and flexible combat system and you get Farcry 3
, one of the best games this year when it comes to fighting brown dudes (or bad dudes in general).
On top of a flimsy excuse to kill people in a multitude of creative ways are themes that aren't so much debatable than they are just direct to the point; you are the white man who is obviously superior to all these brown people. Ignoring the fluff on top of the game is the core of an open-world with a rucksack full of bombs, flammable tools, guns, bullets, and arrows just waiting to be employed onto the unsuspecting ne'er-do-wells of Rook Island.
The game doesn't care how you approach the seemingly endless scenarios of bad guys who start off not knowing you are on your way to snuff them out. You could go in guns blazing with the biggest LMG ever. Or you can surgically assassinate them with silent guns or a bow and arrow. Or if you really want some bloodletting satisfaction, you can sneak up on one enemy to initiate a takedown. Then after a few upgrades, you can chain takedowns together for ludicrously smooth and brutal kills. Stab the first in the back, rush into his buddy, take his knife and throw it at another, then pull the pins on his grenades and kick him into his other buddies. Not to mention the healthy selection of guns and attachments you can trick them out with. Just because that rifle doesn't have a suppressor doesn't mean you can put one on and make it a stealthy weapon.
Take my word for it. Lots of people criticize the story and the themes going on. But as long as there are camps full of bad guys just waiting to be dissected by your diverse repertoire, you will find fun in every bullet hole, every laceration, every burning leaf.
Admittedly, I've only gone through two full episodes out of the five. However, I know enough from the first two to know that The Walking Dead
is a gripping story about a man stuck in the zombie apocalypse with a little girl and one thing is obvious to anyone playing the game: everything sucks in the apocalypse.
The Walking Dead
is a stressful exercise in juggling your emotional states. One second, you're awkwardly walking down a hallway, clicking on whatever you can find to see what advances the story. The next, you're stuck with a gut-wrenching choice between who to save or side with and if you don't act quickly, shit is about to hit the fan- oh god! Walkers are bearing down on us! Click like crazy! Click like crazy! Is that a wrench!? Grab it! Grab it! Grab it! Smash its face in!
This game takes every chance to make you feel uncomfortable with the choices you're forced to make despite taking solace in the idea that it was your choice. And the idea of player choice is the only thing keeping you going as the situations in The Walking Dead
slowly spiral more and more out of control with unbearable, crushing despair and stress.
But everything that happens, happens because you chose for it to happen that way. It's a story that sinks its claws into you and makes you want to play more to see what happens next and wants to see how you do things because your choices will make your story that more intimate. So you wanted it to happen this way? Nobodies judging you. I just hope you can sleep at night knowing that other guy you didn't save is now dead because of you.