I'm growing older all the time. It's getting to the point where it's embarrassing.
I think Dark Souls is a work of art that belongs in a museum. The Royal Ontario Museum disagrees, but I think I'm starting to wear them down.
When I was in grade 5 I went to school as Robin for Halloween. The costume was basically a pair of green lady tights and a tunic that had to be Velcroed at the crotch like a baby's onesie. My self esteem never fully recovered.
I believe Alan Wake was criminally under-appreciated. It's unclear if this notion stems from a legitimate love of the game, or my loyalty to any piece of media that is going to include tracks from Nick Cave, Poe, and Depeche Mode.
Some of my stuff has been front-paged. I'm super proud!
It's easy to be a snob. It's easy to write 2012 off as a dud year in gaming. I mean hey, the consoles are winding down, releases are drying up, the Wii U landed rocky, and this was another year where most of the big game releases we saw had a sequel number plastered to the back end of them – and some of them were real disappointments to boot (looking at you Assassins Creed 3.)
But looking back, I played a LOT of games this year.
In fact, I played a lot of GREAT games this year.
But what were the BEST? We'll, lets take a look.
If you had told me a year ago that a turn based strategy game would be my favourite new title of 2012, I would have thought you were crazy. But here we are. XCOM: Enemy Unknown came out of nowhere to steal my heart and destroy my social life like a time-vampire. Entire nights melted away as I struggled in the pressure cooker of XCOM to keep the alien menace at bay while growing the most advanced R&D facility in the world and simultaneously grooming my personal hit-squad of super-human soldiers. The mixture of thrilling squad combat and the base management/research meta-game resulted in a constant level of tension and edge-of-my-seat exhilaration – even when just going through menus and comparing stats. XCOM puts the screws to you early and never ever stops. It doesn't talk down to you, but every mechanic is crystal clear and easily understood by even a strategy novice like myself.
It isn't often when a game comes out and rejuvenates a dead genre. XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a phenomenon in motion.
Runner Up: FTL FTL is very similar to XCOM. It also came out of nowhere, blended together some genres that I'm hot and cold on, and delivered them in a package that I just couldn't say no to. I spent a whole lot of blood, sweat, and tears trying to get my crew all the way to Sector 10 this year, and every time I watched my ship go down in flames, I hit the newgame button without even hesitating. It takes a special game to make failure fun.
Honourable Mention: Mass Effect 3 Yeah yeah I know we're all supposed to hate ME3 because of its garbo ending. And yeah, the ending was pretty bad. But lets not throw the baby out with the bathwater. ME3 might not be quite as good as ME2, but its important to remember that we're comparing it to one of the best games ever made. To me, ME3 wasn't about the last 20 minutes, it was about seeing the cumulative efforts of over 5 years of galactic adventuring and life-and-death decisions come to fruition. It was about finally getting closure on some of the friendships, and animosities, my renegade Shepard cultivated over the years. And in those respects, ME3 did not disappoint.
I've logged over 100 hours visiting the desolate lands of Lordran on my PC this year. This is after easily chalking up over 300 hours on the 360 by my best approximation. Dark Soul: Prepare to Die Edition gave me what I craved the most this year – more Dark Souls. New areas, new bosses, PvP re-balancing, and a fresh player base, what more could I ask for? DkS: PTDE was Christmas in August for me.
Dark Souls was my favourite game of the year - for the second year in a row.
I spent more time playing indy titles in 2012 than I have in any previous year. I'm not sure if it represents some kind of Renaissance in the indy scene, or a general slowing down of the major studios as this console cycle comes to a close. Whatever the cause, I'm glad for it because I got to enjoy some of the most imaginative and beautiful games I've ever had the pleasure of.
Chief among these is the sublime FTL. Somewhere between a spaceship simulator, a roguelike, and an RPG, FTL is hard to put in any particular box. But it's SO GOOD. Lovingly embracing every sci-fi spaceship trope in the book and managing to pump some of the best dramatic moments of the year out of top-down simple graphics, text descriptions, and Fisherprice-esq characters; I've never had a better time losing in a game. FTL is a harsh mistress that forces you to make peace with defeat early on. In fact, I would say a good chunk of fun in the game comes from seeing just how far you can take your duct-taped together ship and half murdered crew in the wake of some disaster. Games where I got lucky with my upgrades and random events pale in comparison to that one time I was able to limp on a single bit of health all the way through Sector 4 before my last crewman was devoured by Mantis monsters.
Runner up: Mark of the Ninja Full disclosure, I didn't actually play Mark of the Ninja. I WATCHED it. Just about the whole thing. I made suggestions, cheered as guards were hung from lampposts, and puzzled over the best way to navigate through tricky series of tripwires and spotlights with my bro. I wanted to do it on my own, but It was too good to stop watching. And with MotN's extremely tight mechanics, it was actually helpful and purposeful to make suggestions and plans, rather than the bumbling fussing and frustration that usually results from people trying to backseat drive a stealth game. MotN is a watershed in stealth games. I wouldn't be surprised if we saw big studios taking lessons from this little gem.
Honourable Mention: The Walking Dead I've only played the first chapter. Yes, I'm a terrible person. But even so I was blown away by the quality and emotional impact of the game - and I hear the first chapter is the weakest. I can't wait to see the rest.
Yes, it's a horde mode. But what a horde mode. Mass Effect 3's multiplayer had me eating spoonfuls of humble pie with a smile. While adding a multiplayer component to Mass Effect's tight single player narrative seemed like a recipe for disaster, Bioware did a fantastic job creating a fun and challenging experience that kept me hooked long after my Galactic Readiness was sharp as a tack. Turian Sentinel for life.
Runner up: Far Cry 3 I wrote Far Cry 3 off pretty early on as another game trying too hard to be dark and edgy and tipping its toes into some weird, possibly offensive, territory. And its story is a try-hard pile of edginess. But if you can get past that, if you can lose yourself in the chaos of a tropical paradise gone mad, you'll find one of the most purely enjoyable game experiences of the year. Hunting sharks with a jet-ski, taking out pirates by setting a field of dry grass ablaze, fending off random tiger attacks – the game is a "HOLY SHIT!" moment factory.
Persona 4:Arena is a fantastic game. Blending the lovable characters, whacky universe, and visual flair of Persona 4 with some of the tightest fighting game mechanics ever devised, P4:A is a treat to play. It looks, moves, and feels amazing. Arc Systems are masters of creating unconventional fighters that layer on multiple systems and character specific rules while keeping everything relatively balanced and understandable. They did themselves one-better with P4:A by managing to keep their high complexity ceiling while providing meaningful ways for novices to participate without feeling insulting or cheap. No handicap or "easy input" mode to be found here, just clean well presented mechanics. It's beautiful. The story mode/visual novel got a little long in the tooth for me, but still provided plenty of reason to come back and play long after the Online game left me behind. A fantastic fighter, and an excellent way to spend time in the Persona universe.
Runner up: Soul Calibur 5 The character creator alone is worth playing.
I used to fall asleep playing Borderlands 1. I'm not sure what it was. Maybe it was the generic boring landscape, the brain-dead kamikaze enemies, or the fact that I found a great gun early on that synergized too well with my skills and cheesed through the game. Whatever it was, I don't think "great nap time inducer" is the way any FPS wants to be described.
It's impossible to fall asleep playing Borderlands 2.
Whether it's because you're laughing too hard at constantly snarking Handsome Jack, dealing with some of the most imaginative and FUN enemies of this generation (yay mega Goliath!) or ducking in and out of combat with a variety of unique skills and powers that actually make you think and react during a firefight, Borderlands 2 will keep you pumped and happy to be on Pandora well into True Vault Hunter mode. And you can do it all with friends seamlessly dropping in and out. Yes, Borderlands 2 is very much a sequel. It doesn't take any crazy leaps away from the core of the Borderlands experience. What it does though, is refine and perfect that experience to a sublime level. I would consider Borderlands 2 to be the real Borderlands, that game we played before was some kind of massive beta test before they NAILED IT.
Runner up: Far Cry 3 This is a toughie to put into the runner up slot. Far Cry3 is an amazing game. As far as pure "fun shooting people in the nuts" gameplay, its probably better than Borderlands 2 truth be told. The staggering number of ways to come at any situation, dynamic fire generation, and crazy wildlife just screams excitement. But where I loved the characters and world of Borderlands 2, I've spent most of my time in Far Cry 3 wishing I could strangle the protagonist and his buddies while trying to construct an elaborate head-canon to explain away the insultingly stupid story. These things matter, and can get in the way of enjoying a game.
The basement just keeps getting deeper. Wrath of the Lamb not only injected scads of new content into Isaac, it fundamentally changed the way the game plays. With the addition of over 100 new items, entire new chapters, characters, a (depressing) true ending, and a slew of super challenging bosses and new enemies types, WotL to me plays like Binding of Isaac: The Lost Levels. It is a tougher, nastier, and deeper experience for hardcore Isaac fans. It's almost hard to imagine the game without it now.
Runner up: Rockband Blitz What, this wasn't DLC to get more out of your Rockband library? How odd.
Spec Ops wasn't my favourite game this year, but I respect what it tried to do. Some of the moments come off as trying too hard and a few of the mind bending twists might be a little easy to see coming if you are a connoisseur of Tyler Durden-esq tropes, but man, that ending. The single best part of Spec Ops comes after the credits when you have to make a choice about the kind of legacy you leave. The uncertainty and weightiness of the moment has stuck with me even if the rest of the game is less than a classic.
Runner up: Dark Souls: PTDE - Taking Down Black Dragon Kalameet Taking down Black Dragon Kalameet has you enlisting the aid of one of the legendary knights I spent the better part of last year speculating about. The lead-up to the fight and the actual first time you try to bare your blade against the legendary dragon gave the Dark Souls-nerd in me a shiver. If there was one thing Dark Souls was missing, it was a straight up fight against a dragon. The Hellkite was a puzzle boss, Seath was more of a monster than a dragon – Kalameet is the real deal - a winged beast that spews black fire from his mouth and pounces on unfortunate knights without hesitation or mercy. The fight with Kalameet is one of the best moments to come out of one of my most beloved titles.
From top-to-bottom, everything about SFxT feels like a rushed and shoddy product. From broken netcode that made the game unplayable online, horrible character balance issues, day-one infinities and reproducible game freezing glitches that should have been weeded out in testing, and lame time-out victories being the norm instead of the rare exception, you could have more fun pounding nails into your dick then playing SFxT. Add on a gem system that treads dangerously close to the "pay-to-win" line (some would say tap-dancing right over it) and insultingly expensive DLC characters, and you have a game that just takes and takes and never gives back. The worst part was how excited I was for this game, its galling lack of quality genuinely blindsided me. Hands down the biggest singular let down of 2012. Fuck you SFxT, you broke my heart.
Runner up: Diablo 3 I stalled out in the last Act and couldn't think of a compelling reason to keep going. Has the hack-and-slash formula gone stale? Or was Diablo 3 polished to such a high level of dungeon grinding efficiency that I felt like my participation was an unnecessary afterthought in the process? Well, despite the disappointment, it still featured the best use of jars full of spiders.
This should come as no surprise to anybody. I think it is fair to say that fully half of the Hotline Miami experience is losing yourself trance-like in the sustained mania of the music. Surreal creepy tracks that sound like the audio distillation of madness and fear fill out the quiet story moments of the game, creating a palatable sense of unease. Frenetic murder-sprees are committed to pulse pounding techno and uptempo dark-wave beats, a kind of super idealization of 80's synth cranked up to 11. When the murders are over and the music stops, it's like coming out of a haze. It all blends together as an integral part of the game, rather than some background noise you sometimes kinda half-notice.
Runner up: Max Payne 3 I don't think Max Payne 3 gets enough credit for its musical score. Some of the tracks in that game are just amazing. I've spent entire shifts at work with the soundtrack on loop. I wasn't aware of Health before MP3. I am now.
Honourable mention – FTL.
Stabbed. Beaten. Immolated. I've seen the King of Chinatown die a dozen times or more to a variety of gruesome exits, and it still isn't enough to slate my bloodlust for that douchebag.
My love of the original Max Payne games is bone deep, and while MP3 might be a very different game from them, it still captured the core of what made the series great – playing as a super sad-sack, self hating, wash-up of a protagonist who can bend time and murder hundreds of dudes in slow motion.
Still in the second chapter, barely any online play. Why do I fail so bad?
I've sunk days worth of time into Mechwarrior since I started playing in November. I've amassed a fortune of cbills, spent them, and amassed them again. I'm the Mech Romney of the Inner Sphere and I make my throne on the bent frames of my fallen enemies. All this with only 4 real maps and two (identical) game modes. Why do I fail so bad?