So, we’re now half-way through the very first month of 2013 after all the hype and the disappointment surrounding that whole end of the world thing. Of course that means plenty of new games to look forward in the coming year, but like practically everyone else out there I’d like to just stop for a few minutes and talk about my favorite games from 2012! Yes, every site and person and person’s dog does one of these lists about this time of the year, but they’re fun to write and always spark some good conversations, so I figure why not do one myself. If nothing else it gives me a valid excuse to get out my posh pipe and pretend I’m a professional for a few minutes. Before we get started, though, here’s a few points to consider:
- This is my personal list. That means it’s formed entirely out of my own opinions, and so will likely differ from your own. No matter what people might like to tell you, these lists aren’t fact. Just because I liked a game and feel it deserves a spot, doesn’t mean you do to.
- Only games I’ve actually played will be on this list. That’s obvious, but needs to be said, because it’s amazing how many people out there just don’t get it. That means no PS3 exclusives since I’m not a PS3 gamer. Sorry, PS3 fans, I know you’ve had some stellar titles this year.
- Review scores I awarded don’t matter here. When I review any game I try to be as fair as I can, but when it comes to this list it’s purely personal and so review scores don’t count. In short, you might see a game I scored an 8 ahead of one I scored 9, and that’s simply because something in that game clicked with me.
Got that all that? Sweet. I should also warn you that there’s some strong language in here, although not very much. Usually I refrain from such things, but this is my chance to let loose a bit So, without further babbling, here’s my top fifteen games of 2012, a list that almost resulted in my death as my feeble mind attempt to put my favorite games in some semblance of order:
Number 15: Binary Domain
Kicking off my list is Binary Domain, a game I don’t really expect to see in many other people’s list of favorite games from 2012, but one that I feel was massively overlooked, largely because the game’s marketing didn’t really sell it very well, nor did the opening hour of the game itself, making it come across as a pretty bland shooter.
You see, Binary Domain takes place in the future where robots are just an everyday part of life, but in true douchebag fashion one company just has to go and screw all that up by creating robots that look like humans, and who also believe that they are human. Obviously this a bit of a problem, not just because it’s a bit on the creepy side but also because they could be anywhere, listening in to your sordid secrets, and you’d never know. Unless you stuck a magnet near them, obviously, in which case it’d be bloody obvious. So, as Dan Marshall, you team up with several other people to investigate what the hell is going on and shut it down by shooting stuff up. Not exactly an original setup, I admit.
Delve into the game, though, and you’ll discover it’s actually pretty good, both in terms of gameplay and its story. Hurrah! And huzzah, even. As a cover based shooter the mechanics of hugging walls works pretty well, apart from the bizarre inability to go around a corner whilst staying in cover, a tactic I’m fairly certain most soldiers should learn but that Dan Marshall somehow didn’t. Maybe he had to take a bathroom break when that particular lesson was going on or something. What really makes the difference, though, is what you’re shooting at, which is robots! I know that sounds strange, because though we don’t like to admit it humans are actually sadistic gits who enjoy shooting people in games, but blasting apart your robotic foes is incredibly satisfying, As you unload bullets into their metal bodies bits of armor get blasted away to reveal their inner-workings. Limbs can also be blasted off with careful aiming, and so with some patience you can literally dismantle them piece by piece.. What’s really cool, though, is how they just keep coming at you! Shooting off legs doesn’t stop them, they’ll just keep crawling toward you. If they lose the arm holding their gun they’ll pause, bend down, pick up the gun in their other hand and continue their attempt to introduce bullets to your face They’re implacable, making firefights with them sort of eery as they continue to advance toward you. Blasting them to pieces just feels brutal, even more so than fighting human enemies who tend to be a bit too squishy.
But what really dragged me in was the cast of genuinely likable characters and the surprisingly good plot. Sure, there’s some cheesy dialogue, but there’s also some great moments and twists along the way, packed in with a few good old-fashioned moral lessons and such to remind us that…I dunno, to be honest, I lost my sense of morality down the back of the couch sometime in 2010. Cheesy dialogue aside, though, I actually found myself liking Dan and his crew of chums, which is something of a rarity in shooters where I’m usually either completely indifferent to them all or I want to shoot them in the face with a shotgun. And because I actually gave a toss about them it also meant that I cared about what happens to them throughout the story, which features a few branching storyline moments as well. The initial setup may not be entirely original, but the plot and characters are more than well enough written to ensure that I don’t care.
Binary Domain is an entirely underrated game. So go and buy it.
Number 14: LEGO Lord of the Rings
Every time a new LEGO game is announced I always end up going through the same process. They announce it, I curse Traveller’s Tales for making so many of these games and accuse them of milking it far more than Call of Duty ever has been, and then the game comes out and I’m completely entranced by the charm of it all. Happens every sodding time. But to be fair to Traveller’s Tale’s, this was a year of new things for their LEGO games, with LEGO Batman 2 introducing an open-world to explore, an actual storyline of its very own and, for the first time ever, voice-acting! Meanwhile LEGO Lord of the Rings expanded on that with a huge version of Middle-Earth to wander around in and dialogue ripped straight out of the film and used in the game. And it chucked in a tonne of side-quests. Repetitive ones, but side quests nonetheless.
Most importantly, though, it’s LEGO and Lord of the Rings. How the hell could I possibly not like that? As a child I was raised on The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, and when the Lord of Rings film came out (Yes, the trilogy is one big film, in my eyes) it immediately went to the top of my list of favorite movies, while the LEGO games have provided me with many happy hours of play over the years, so combining these things was always going to be a recipe for fun. And I was right!
At first hearing the dialogue from the film being spoken by small, plastic people was a little bit disturbing, but once I got used to it things went rather well. Or at least until plastic Gollum turned up. Plastic Gollum is scary. But no plastic Andy Serkis is going to scare me away from a good game. In all honestly the gameplay in LEGO Lord of the Rings hasn’t changed all that much: you still round around swapping between the various characters and solving simple puzzles. But it’s just so much fun! A lot of people say it’s just a kids game, but I reckon they’re getting kids games confused with family games. A kids game is something only a kid would appreciate, while a family game is one everyone can enjoy, and damn it, everyone can enjoy LEGO games! It’s like Shrek: kids and adults alike can have a blast watching it.
In short, LEGO LoTR is just lots of charming fun. Although playing it does remind me how much I want an epic singleplayer role-playing game set in Middle Earth.
Number 13: Sleeping Dogs
Sleeping Dogs came out of developement confusion and surprised the hell out of me and a lot of other players. With very little in the way of build-up to its release this game hit store shelves and became not just one of the best games of the year, in my eyes, but also one of the best new IPs in a while. Speaking of which, the fact that it was a new IP was also pretty impressive given the industries current trend of avoiding them like they’re covered in pustules and screaming abuse about their grandmothers, managing to pick up a reported 1.5 million sales by the end of September. Those numbers aren’t huge, but frankly for a new IP in this age where gamers don’t tend to support newcomers on the block the sales were solid and I wouldn’t have expected any more. Sleeping Dogs deserved to sell more than it did. Still does, so go and buy it. I’ll wait.
Right, back? Okay, so why did I love it so much? The thing that drew me into the game was Wei Shen and his story. As an undercover cop he walks a fine line between his duty and trying to maintain his cover, forced to do terrible things to stay in the game. Sleeping Dogs presents this well with Wei being under immense psychological pressure as he finds himself becoming one of the very criminals he’s trying to stop. He begins to like these people, and thanks to good writing I began to like them too, even if they were all a bit too keen on shooting people. I just wish they’d taken Wei’s mental decay a bit further because there could have been some great character moments. And there is a bit of a problem with how you can go around killing so many people and never get pulled out of your undercover operation, but that’s something I’m more than willing to forgive given the context of the open-world gameplay. Once let loose in an open world gamers can be trusted to be about as morally reliable as your average politician, and so the developers clearly decided not to let that actually get in the way of the story they wanted to tell. The story as a whole immersed me from pretty much the start thanks to some great writing and terrific performances, although it does go off the rails a bit about three-quarters of the way through when Wei somehow ends up ferrying some idiot around the place.
It ain’t just the story I loved, though, because the open-world gameplay was pretty damn good too. The star of the show was the hand-to-hand combat which was fast, fun and incredibly brutal at times. Attacks had to be timed correctly and matched to the different enemy types that make up the large groups that you’ve got to deal with, and the environmental attacks were awesome to behold. It had a surprising amount of depth to it, and I gleefully looked forward to every fist fight like a kid looking forward to Christmas morning. Every time I learned a new move I couldn’t wait to go and try it out on some unsuspecting fool. And then there was the fact that as a responsible cop I could jack any car or bike I wanted and hurtle around town, ensuring that through my reckless speeding and insane driving there was always plenty of work for the local policemen. Yeah, I’m considerate like that. The only thing that let it down was the shooting mechanics. While it was claimed that fisticuffs would take precedence I did end up in a lot of firefights, and while the mechanics were okay they definitely weren’t up to the same standard as the rest of the game. Oh, and a few more interesting side-missions would have been most welcome.
One day I might even play Sleeping Dogs and be a good cop! Yeah, like that’ll ever happen.
Number 12: Ghost Recon: Future Soldier
Like a certain game a bit further up my list Ghost Recon: Future Soldier was the return of a franchise that had been a way a while, and also like that certain game further up my list it got a bit of a bashing from the series fans. And like that certain game, I understand where the fans were coming from. Yes, Future Soldier has lost a lot of the more tactical elements of the previous games, not that the previous games were actually all that tactical. What most people seem to view as tactics, I view as common sense. And possibly vice versa. “You can flank enemies”, my friend told me, “That’s tactical”. No, that’s just common sense. Tactics to me implies considerably more thinking to be required than just, “Let’s go and shoot ’em from the side!”. But enough ranting as it’s likely not going to do down that well with the fans. Future Soldier is much of more of a straight up cover shooter than past games, but with some sweet tech chucked in, like being able to turn on active camo, sneak up behind enemies and give them a wedgie. Or shoot them. Probably shoot them. The thing is, the change in style for Future Soldier didn’t bother me much, because it wasn’t claiming to be a sequel to Advanced Warfighter, it was just claiming to be Future Soldier, a game set in the Advanced Warfighter universe while still being a whole new sub-series of its own. In other words, it didn’t have to follow the same rules.
Most people just view Future Soldier as a good shooter and nothing more, but something about it just clicked with me. I loved the setting, the combat was slick and I felt they nailed the balance between stealthy sections and Shooty McGee sections perfectly, although a few more levels where I had the option of doing either have been appreciated, as would some larger, more open environments. There’s just something awesome about stealthing along, silently taking out guards like nobodies business before you cock-up and all hell breaks loose. All the next game needs, for me, is to marry the slick action and tech of Future Soldier with some beefed up tactical elements to create a game that fans of the older games can love as well.
The multiplayer aspect of the game hit the sweet spot with me as well, which was something of a surprise as I’m mostly a singleplayer person. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some online action, but usually you’ll find me in the singleplayer because most multiplayer games can’t hold my attention for all that long. That wasn’t the case with Future Soldier, though, as I quickly found myself hooked. It didn’t shake up or revolutionise the multiplayer scene in any way, but like the singleplayer it just clicked with me. I loved putting together my own gun in the gunsmith mode, a feature that I loved in the singleplayer as well, and then going out and owning some people with it. Actually, maybe the reason I like it so much is because I was pretty damn good at it. Normally I’m pretty solid online, near the top, but on Future Soldier I was a beast. Something I’m so stupidly proud of that I spent the last few sentences talking about it in a list of the top games of the year. HA!
Number 11: Minecraft (Xbox 360 Edition)
I spent a good while arguing with myself about whether Minecraft would actually get on this list, and if it did where it would actually go. You see, I can’t honestly call Minecraft a good game. Nor can I actually say I had fun playing it, I just ended up in a weird trance-like state that I’d usually associate with drugs. You just keep playing and playing, lost in the mindless action of digging bloody great holes in the landscape in the hopes that you’ll find rare minerals for no other reason than because.
Alright, so it’s not exactly fun, but what Minecraft does do well is create a sense of satisfaction and reward. Lots of games hand you arbitrary rewards for wiping your nose or remembering not to fall down deep holes, and most of the time you never feel like you actually did much to earn it, which takes some of the satisfaction at having been given it. But in Minecraft it damn well makes you work for it all! My massive Skull Death Fortress with real lava flowing out of the eyes wouldn’t have been half as satisfying if the game had just handed it to me. No, I had to work hard to get that fortress. I literally built it from the ground up, acquiring each material required through patience and using up every pickaxe in the history of the universe. And because I built it myself and had to work hard to acquire enough gold to build the giant hand giving the middle finger in the courtyard I appreciate it all the more. I take immense satisfaction in lording it over the land from the hand-built fortress, and get incredibly depressed when the game decides enough is enough and sends the suicide shrubs to demolish my hard work.
In short, Minecraft isn’t so much fun as it is satisfying, and I spent so much time playing it that the real world began to look like it was made out of blocks and bad textures, a situation not helped when I took out a pickaxe and attempted to open up a new mine in the middle out of the highstreet. Turns out that’s illegal, or something.
Number 10: The Witcher 2
I’ve got to be honest here, when it comes to gameplay I found the Witcher 2 to be good. Not great, not bad, but good. The combat was enjoyable at times but largely came off as clunky, and the user interface was a bit of a mess. Other ideas just didn’t work, like taking potions before combat without actually knowing what you were going to be facing, or how you’ve got two swords, one for humans and one for monsters. I get the idea, but frankly that monster slaying sword looks pretty sharp, so surely it could deal with both monsters and people I dislike? By which I mean…well, everyone, really. I’m not a people person.
No, the reason The Witcher 2 makes it on to my list is because of how good CDProjekt Red are at building an immersive world, because of how good they are at writing great characters, because of how good they are at telling a gritty story, and because of how good they are at handling morality. I was lost within the Witcher 2 from pretty much the very start of the game, and I emerged blinking in the sunlight numerous hours later with the same lovely feeling I get when I read a fantastic book: satisfaction at a well told story, and also a severe hunger because I’d forgotten that food is occasionally required. Geralt has that perfect world-weary way about him that just clicks well with me, possibly because I’m a cynical bastard who feels that a good old fashioned world-wide disaster would be just the thing for the human race to finally gain some perspective. And his cast of supporting characters have a depth that few games main characters can hope to match. They all feel like real people with real motivations and reasons for their actions. The world may be linear and the people may not exactly move around it very much, but it still feels like a real place, filled with detail and just waiting for me to explore it all.
But back to that morality stuff. These days moral decisions in games seems to be one of those things that practically everybody in the games industry believes their latest title should have, alongside regenerating health, a cover mechanic and as little player interaction as physically possibly, because that would get in the way of the cinematic experience. Usually how this works is you’re given a decision to make with the “Good” and “Bad” choices so obviously signposted as to be laughable. And usually the game is strongly encouraging you to pick the good decisions, because while it claims it won’t judge you it usually does by having a “good” ending and a “bad ending where you are either made out to be Mother Theresa or Satan himself respectively. Yeah, Dishonored, I’m looking at you – you claimed you wouldn’t judge players for being either a sneaky ninja or Throat Slitter McGee, but you damn well did by telling us in a loading menu that there was a good and bad ending, thereby automatically making me shoot for the good ending. And then of course games tend to reward you with things for being either completely good or completely bad, making it pointless for us to have any choice at all. We’d have been better off just picking whether we wanted to be good or bad from the character creation menu. Anyway, back to the point. In real life morality isn’t that simple, it’s a fluid concept and black and white decisions are pretty rare. This doesn’t bother me all that much, though, because it’s sort of nice to have the complex issues simplified into “Good” and “Bad”, but the Witcher 2 is one of the few games that I can say gets the whole idea right. There’s no “good” and “bad”, there’s just a situation, a decision and the consequences of that decision. It’s up to you to decide whether you’re actions were right or wrong. The game doesn’t signpost things or make it obvious what the ramifications will be far down the line – it leaves that to you to figure out. Most of the time what the morally good or morally bad choice is completely blurred, leaving you to simply try to do what you think is right, just like in real life. More than once did I make a choice thinking it was the best and most morally good decision to find out that in the long run it was actually a pretty terrible idea.
Marry all that with some good gameplay mechanics and the end result is a great RPG that’s easy to immerse yourself into. Not to mention a decision in the first chunk of the game leads to you playing a fairly different middle section depending on who you sided with! And most people never even realised it. Now that’s awesome.
Number 9: Hitman: Absolution
The media absolutely love to blame the worlds problems on videogames, and often assert that games are nothing more than violence simulators. Frankly, when you play a game like Hitman: Absolution, a game which I described in my own review as a murder simulator, you can sort of see their point. It’s a game which scores you on how well you eliminate people. It’s sadism for the truly refined among us. It’s bloody good fun, to boot.
There’s still a lot of manful (read: girly) tears coming from series veterans who say that Absolution isn’t truly a good Hitman game, and like those media muppets I can see their point as well: levels are smaller and there’s more moments where you’re prey rather than predator, but that’s all liquid shit under the bridge because I enjoyed the hell out of Absolution. Levels may be smaller, but honestly I’d rather have smaller, more detailed levels filled with things to do rather than have sprawling levels with relatively little to do, which is what Blood Money often had if memory serves, although it probably doesn’t serve because it has been a while since I played Blood Money (try around release) and my brain is currently attempting to fight off an enthusiastic attack from a hangover that hasn’t moved out since New Year. I do agree that Absolution needed more of its more open levels where patience and planning where key, though, as they’re the most fun while the linear levels simply aren’t as good.
So maybe Absolution isn’t quite the Hitman fans remember. It’s definitely under the influence of the modern games industry with a more focused story line and heavier reliance on cinematic “experiences”, but none of that matters when you’re carefully stalking a target from the crowd, waiting for them to wander into your trap and kill themselves in some spectacular way you made look like a complete accident. It’s so incredibly satisfying. Maybe it’s not the Hitman of old, maybe it has given into the more action orientated games of today a little bit, but if so I can accept it. It’s fun, brutal and satisfying.
Number 8: Trials Evolution
Here’s a bike, a physics engine and a tonne of tracks devised by people so fucking devious that Dr. Evil offered them each a million dollars to come and work for him. And yeah, it’s pretty good.
Honestly, what else is there to say about Trials Evolution? It’s a simple premise: you use a few basic controls to guide your little motorbike over various obstacles before the difficulty begins to ramp up and you find yourself with the terrible urge to either throw your controller at the wall or find the developers and do something terrible to them involving rabid weasels, superglue and a certain part of their anatomy. It pretty much improved on everything that Trials HD had going for it and fixed the problems it had. The difficulty curve is more forgiving, there’s more environments, more variety in track design and a “track editor” which is actually an entire bloody game design suite in a cunning disguise. The only complaint I had is that many of the levels had a rather fast pace, sometimes forgetting its more patient trials roots in favor of holding down the accelerator until the landscape blurs and your face begins to melt into the back of your skull..
Other than that it’s a stunning game, and one that can support its community for ages thanks to the ability to share custom track designs, almost eliminating the need for DLC. Almost. Not quite.
The thing about Trials is that it’s just plain addictive. It’s an easy game to pick and up play, but one that takes a lifetime to actually master. There’s no cheesy reward system here, the simple act of becoming better, of getting over obstacles that previously stumped you in a single, flowing movement, is so satisfying that it’s all the reward you need. Watching your times come down on the tracks, witnessing your visibly increasing skills and laughing as you pass your friends on the leaderboards feels like a bigger achievement than shooting some guy in some place in some Call of Duty ever did.
For me, it’s the best Arcade game of the year. To be honest, though, that’s not saying much as I didn’t play very many Arcade games in 2012, unlike 2011 where I played a load of ’em.
Number 8: XCOM: Enemy Unknown
I literally picked up XCOM: Enemy Unknown as I was in the middle of writing up this list, a process which took me an absurd amount of time due to my indecisive and often manic personality switching around what games went where roughly ever five minutes. I then played the McShit out of XCOM, because I was fairly certain that it was one of two games I’d missed in 2012 that could make it onto my list, the other being Spec Ops: The Line.
Now in case you missed it XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a remake, or reboot, or renenergising or resomething of the franchise. It’s a turn-based strategy game where you’re tasked with taking command of a newly formed defensive initiate called XCOM and defending the entire world against the invading aliens, who despite being so technologically advanced that they could wipe us out from orbit are obliging enough to send down their crappy troops first to give us time to figure out what the fuck we’re doing, apart from just having a panic attack and trying to work out whose going to pay for all the new tech we’re going to be needing really soon. As such you alternate your time between combat missions where you direct small squads of troops and your base, where you manage various research projects, equip and train your soldiers, construct new facilities and more.
The balance between the base management and the combat feels spot on, too. In many strategy games it can feel fairly obvious that one over the other has been given more time and love, but in XCOM they work in perfect unison. I spend my time at the base building shiny new toys thinking to myself, “Gosh, I’m looking forward to killing some aliens with these” and I spend all my time in the field thinking to myself, “Gosh, I can’t wait to get this alien tech back to base and build me some new toys with it”. I also love the fact that it makes you think about what to build and when, because you’ve got limited funds and time. You can’t just order a shiny new lab, it takes time to build it! It teases you with it, and by time it gets there you may have forgotten what you wanted it for but by Christ you’ll throw a party for it anyway. The only bummer is XCOM does have a nasty habit of kicking your arse later in the game if you didn’t research a certain thing waaaaay back down the line before you ever knew you would need it. That’s a bit unfair, I reckon.
Admittedly XCOM: Enemy Unknown isn’t a very deep RTS. In comparison to the original game this is a fairly streamlined affair with only one base to manage and fairly limited tactical options during combat. Maps are pretty small and linear, so there’s not much room to employ some strategic maneuvering of troops, either. As a console gamer even I don’t mind admitting that XCOM probably was kept fairly simple for the sake of controllers. However, my favorite console RTS managed to retain a considerable amount of depth while still employing solid controls, so it can be done. I speak of course about R.U.S.E., a game so criminally underrated and ignored that I’m fairly certain gamers as a whole should be brought up on trial for not playing it. It’s a beautiful game that never got the recognition that it so richly deserves. I’m wandering off topic, though. Ultimately I feel that XCOM hits a nice balance in its strategy. Yes, as somebody that plays a lot of PC RTS games I’d love more depth, but sometimes it doesn’t need that, it just needs to feel right for the game. The gameplay in XCOM feels just right, balanced between being able to leap in and just play while having just enough depth to keep it fun and challenging. It’s fine the way it is.
There’s some problems, definitely. Nothing a patch won’t fix, mind you, like the line of sight glitches and such. But at the end of the day XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a superb strategy game, and I found myself getting attached to my little customisable troopers, because as they ranked up and fought numerous battles they forged their own stories and personalities within my imagination, and the loss of one of them was a painful blow. Like when I lost Mister P.J TallyWacker, who had valiantly fought a rearguard action in order to save his friends from certain death before being smooshed. And that’s another thing does XCOM does right: not every battle can be won. Sometimes you need to retreat, to live to fight another glorious day. Or you could just rage quit.
FirAxis have created in XCOM: Enemy Unknown a truly fantastic and fun strategy game. My metaphorcal hat is off to them. Not my real hat, mind, it’s not like they’ve cured cancer or something.
Number 7: Darksiders II
Darksiders II is one of three games within this list that contains copious amounts of loot, which says something about me and my gaming habits: chuck in bucket-loads of shiny objects with plenty of stats and I’ll drop my pants quicker than you can say “Jesus Christ! Put it away!”
I always felt that the original Darksiders had a hell of a lot of potential, and when Darksiders II crashed onto consoles a few months back I was proven right, and so I immediately went and bragged about it to anyone that would listen. Sure, the story is a bit crappy, but underneath that is a vast, dungeon crawling hack-‘n’-slash game with some puzzling, platforming and RPG elements chucked in for good measure, and damn is it good fun. And that’s the key word right there: it’s fun, plain and simple, something which a lot of games and developers seem to completely forget about these days in favor of ladling on stupid amounts of grit and depression until I have to fight against the urge to pop a couple hundred happy pills, enjoy a few brief minutes of bliss and then pass into the afterlife. In Darksiders II, things are simple: I have to clamber and puzzle my way through the various awesome dungeons killing everything that gets in my way and collecting all the shiny loot that’ll help me kill even more things that get in my way. The balance between all the various gameplay elements feels pretty much spot on and the combat, of which you’ll be doing a lot, is great , as is pretty much everything else in the game – the platforming is basic but fun, the puzzles are easy but enjoyable, the RPG mechanics simple but satisfying.
It’s just fun. Fun, fun, fun, fun, bloody good fun. There were some glitches, though, or at least so I hear. Personally I never actually encountered any, but plenty of other people seem to have. And to that I say: HA! In your face.
Number 6: Deponia
I was practically raised on point and click games like Monkey Island, Discworld, Day of the Tentacle and Sam & Max, so understandably I’ve got a healthy love for the genre and a paranoid distrust of modern-day attempts at recreating it, because quite frankly the developers these days just don’t get it, like how I just don’t get wasps. I understand that they exist and that they possibly even do something important, but I just don’t get why. Not a specific why, just why wasps in general. Daedalic, though, do get it, and as such Deponia was a masterclass in how you make a point and click game. Hilarious from start to finish the game boasts a surprisingly heartwarming story about Rufus, a bloody hopeless, arrogant, kind of brilliant, loser douchebag that just wants to get off his home planet of Deponia, which is quite literally made of trash. And then a beautiful girl called Goal drops out of the sky and Rufus’ life becomes even more interesting and hilarious than watching a dog in a washing machine trying to eat a particularly sticky toffee. What was I saying again?
Oh yes, Deponia. Rufus is an idiot, but he’s a likable idiot and Goal very nearly manages to topple the lovely Trip from Enslaved as the virtual love of my life, but underneath the charming characters, humor and absolutely gorgeous graphics lies the beating heart of a classic point and click game. Deponia’s world is utterly mad and the situations you find yourself in are often strange, but what’s important is that the solution to almost all of the puzzles make sense within the framework of the games logic. Sure, you might have to adjust your thinking a bit, but once your mind is working like a Deponians things make sense, ensuring that puzzles are both entertaining to solve and usually feel fair to do so.
I did consider also including Deponia’s sequel, Chaos on Deponia, in my list as it’s almost as good as the original. I say almost only because the second game in the planned trilogy has obviously lost a bit of the novelty factor that the first game had going for it. Ultimately, though I decided against it because having Deponia in here is more than enough. Suffice to say that both games are outstanding examples of the genre and I urge you to head onto Steam and get them both. Free yourself from underneath the boot of the tyrannical and oppressive shooter regime and experience a bright, vibrant, funny, charming and entertaining game that asks you to use your mind and not just your trigger finger! You know you want to.
Number 5: Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
Maybe because it has a name which sounds like it was pieced together by the Association of Generic Names but Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning has been largely forgotten about now that we’ve reached the time when everyone is writing up pointless lists…….like this one. Yeah, I admit my own list is pointless: no developers are going to be excited when I email them to inform them that their game made it onto my top games list, but somewhere within the fantasy that my mind tells me repeatedly is real life I like to think this is interesting stuff to them, and to you. And to me. Mostly me.
Back to the topic at hand, though. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was a brand new IP attempting to enter the locker room of the games market and avoid getting its head stomped in by the legions of burly, gruff shooters oiling their muscles and trading insults, and because of that it was always going to have a hard time of it. It made it, though. It damn well charged in to that locker and socked the very first shooter it could reach right in the face! It promptly got the shit kicked out of it, a terrible analogy on my behalf for it not selling that well, but it got some stellar reviews and gamers loved it, me obviously included. Sadly the company that were responsible for the game simply ran out of money and had to shut down. Some of the crew were actually picked up by Epic who wanted to lend a hand to a fellow games company. Ironically the closing of the studio boosted sales of Amalur, and it ended up doing fairly well. Not amazing, but fairly well.
Right, so why did I love Amalur? Well, for starters it’s a beautifully colorful action-RPG, which is good news because like your average small toddler I’m completely entranced by bright colors and fast movement. Speaking of fast movement Amalur also boasts a combat system that I utterly loved, going so far as to call it the best combat in an RPG, although really I should have said action-RPG as that’s exactly what Reckoning is. Combat is fast, fluid and, more importantly, incredibly visceral – you just feel powerful in Reckoning, even from the very start of the game when your abilities are at their lowest. Unlike other RPGs which make you devote your life to them before letting you do anything cool, Amalur hands you epic magic attacks, massive swords and badass looking gear right from the very start and tells you to bloody well get on with it. And by time the end of the game comes around you’ll be dropping meteors on people’s heads and welding armor and weapons forged by your own hand that could slay the very Gods themselves.
It’s far from a perfect game, mind you, but then what game is perfect? The story has a great setup but falls flat pretty quickly, and while the game is utterly huge it’s also pretty damn repetitive, a problem most RPGs still seem unable to sort out. But the game just clicks with me: I’ve spent a stupid amount of time wandering around, beating up enemies and completing quests, carefully amassing an armory that could equip a fairly large army as I went. Actually, that’s a big selling point for me: loot, and arse-loads of it! It’s to my great sadness that we’ll likely never get to see a sequel to Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, nor the planned MMO. And the worst thing is that ultimately the blame lies on gamers: we didn’t buy it, we didn’t give it a chance, and so its developers died. Shame on you gamers! Shame!
Number 4: Dishonored
Dishonored is an interesting beast to me. Having been watching the various debates that have sparked up about the game within the “community” I don’t hesitate to call it the most divisive game of 2012, with some people like me loving it, others thinking its okay, some hating it, some not getting it and others calling it the most overrated game of the year. Needless to say I’ve been kicking back with the popcorn and watching it all go down, vaguely hoping that should people get angry enough sharp implements might be drawn and we could get back to some good old-fashioned blood sports! Although I would hazard that many of the people who hated it seem to have played it largely as a straight up-action game with the occasional touch of stealth, whereas those that loved it played it as a stealth game with some action bits only coming along when everything went so utterly tits up that the Red Dwarf crew would look impressed. What I’m getting at is that as a straight action game it’s not so great, but as a stealth game it’s awesome.
As a brand new IP entering the currently shooter dominated market Dishonored was always going to find it hard to achieve big sales numbers, because while everybody complains about how there’s not enough new IPs coming out gamers are ultimately hypocritical buggers who don’t actually go out and buy the few new IPs that do, instead spending their cash on established titles. Not that I can blame them with the current economy we have, an economy where money has now become harder to get hold of and keep than a good slave. What do you mean we don’t keep slaves anymore? Oh. The point is that gamers would rather spend their money on games they know and trust, rather than new IPs.
I’m still rather baffled as to how mute protagonist Corvo actually got his job as the royal protector: presumably he must have actually said something at some point otherwise the interview might have been a bit awkward. It’s also why he gets sent on bloody stupid suicide missions so often, I suppose. Perhaps if he opened his gob he could tell them to go bugger themselves with a large stick. Hell, if he actually bothered to talk then he could have maybe even stopped himself being chucked in jail for a crime he never did, but nope, so committed is he to the role of voiceless lead character in a game that he rots in a cell, all in the name of….uh, being an arse? Yes, I know he’s voiceless to allow us gamers to project a personality, but I have two problems with that: everyone clearly already knows him, implying that he must have talked at some point, and the game tries to make us form emotional connections which is hard when the conversations are a little bit one-sided. Like Corvo’s relationship with Emily – it just doesn’t work with a voiceless protagonist.
Anyway, this first-person murder simulation had me hooked from the get go, employing open but no overly huge environments and a variety of powers and tools to keep me grinning like a maniac that’s just be handed the keys to a nuclear sub and told to go nuts! I’ve got a love for sneaking around, and the magical powers at Corvo’s disposal made it all the more fun to do so. The Blink power in particular keeps the gameplay flowing nicely through the rich game world, although speaking of the game world it can sometimes feel like you’re standing in an impressive film set rather than an actual living, breathing place Personally I’m a soft-hearted mass murderer so I went with non-lethal means on my first play through of Dishonored and it was incredibly satisfying, because while I tended not to kil people I did like to mess with them quite a bit. My second playthrough was a lot more bloody though, and the more creative side of me came out, coming up with all sorts of ingenious methods and ploys to clear every area of almost every living thing, all the while toying with them. The only downside was that by the end of the game there were so many infected people running around that you could be forgiven for thinking I was playing a zombie game.
Number 3: Borderlands 2
The inclusion of Borderlands 2 so high up on my list should hardly come as a surprise to anyone. My near manic obsession with loot continuously annoys the local police who are starting to get a bit fed up of being called out to deal with me stealing all the shiny objects I can find in my local town, a problem that came to a head when I came to the amazing realisation that banks contain vast amounts of shiny things called coins. As such Borderlands 2 is healthy for me as it allows me to channel my love of loot and of guns into a single game that also just so happens to be funnier than watching your best mate try to drunkenly cut his hair with the cat.
To be entirely honest Borderlands 2 isn’t exactly going to win any awards for most radically changed sequel in history. What they did was pretty much take what made the first game good and ramp it up to 25, an arbitrary number that I just plucked out of the air for no discernible reason other than why the hell not. There’s more loot, a wider variety of loot, a kickass villain who comes second only to Far Cry 3’s Vaas, more environments, more enemies and even more repetitive quests! It’s also bloody addictive because there’s always that urge to open up just one more loot chest and drool over the contents contained within. If they’re going to make a third one, though, they definitely need to come up with some new gameplay mechanics because I did get bored with this one quicker than the first: I love loot and guns, but there’s only so much shooting I can do before my head begins to feel like there’s a conga line composed of fat people wearing spiked shoes in it.
To summarise: guns, loot, awesome. Hence third on this list.
Number 2: Far Cry 3
Trying to choose between Borderlands 2 and Far Cry 3 for the number two position on this list had me almost literally vibrating in my chair, the indecision threatening to either make me explode or snap and go on a horrendous abusive post-it note spree around town. Eventually, though, I settled on Far Cry 3, despite still not having actually completed the bloody thing. It’s not that I find the story missions boring: sure, they’re unforgivingly linear and it’s during them when it becomes apparent that the core shooting mechanics aren’t all that great, but mostly it’s because I keep getting distracted while wandering around the massive tropical paradise and go charging off enthusiastically to check it out before getting distracted by something else that’s shinier than the last thing.
What I’m driving at here is that Far Cry 3 is at its best when you’re just wandering around the island, letting the emergent gameplay work its magic and create set-pieces before your eyes that actually require player interaction, unlike most modern action games which show you lets of cool things by grabbing your head, smooshing your face into the TV and screaming, “LOOK AT THIS! ISN’T THAT AMAZING!? LOOK AT THAT PARTICLE LIGHTING!” Yes, very good mister modern shooter, but can I actually do something now? After all I’d quite like to do some of this cool stuff as well. “WHAT? HELL NO! YOU THINK THIS IS SOME SORT OF A GAME? NOW GET IN THAT VEHICLE SO YOU CAN EXPERIENCE THE NEXT 5-MINUTES EXACTLY HOW MY DEVELOPERS INTENDED!”
There’s a place in this world for rollercoaster games, but Far Cry 3 claims second place on my list because it isn’t one. I’ve amused myself for hours and hours simple going around and tackling different pirate ridden camps in different ways, happily taking enemies down with stealth, setting fires, fighting the local wildlife and enjoying the interaction all the different game systems can have, like the time a tiger charged in, killed some pirates and turned on me. As I backed away from the snarling mass of fur a fire began to rage – suddenly I was caught between fire and tiger, so I turned and dove off the edge of the cliff into the river, only to find myself in a fight with a crocodile determined to claim my arm as its personal chew toy. In most games this would be some epic set-piece, in Far Cry 3 it’s organic, and that’s why it’s second on my list.
Oh, and Vaas easily takes my imaginary award for Best Villain. He’s brilliantly written and the actor who plays him delivered an outstanding performance.
Number 1: Mass Effect 3
The top three games on this list swapped around more often than the dresses on a supermodel that’s getting ready for an important night out, but eventually I settled on Mass Effect 3, a choice that’s liable to raise some eyebrows from the many people who are still refusing to even look in its general direction in case it somehow mistakes their brief glance for forgiveness and breaks down into blubbering tears. Point in case, though, aside from the ending I loved every bloody minute I spent with Mass Effect 3. So there.
Okay, so I do have to mention the ending, and more importantly that I did not feel like the entirety of the rest of the game was ruined by it, sort of how a vegetarian completely ruins a BBQ by merely being there. I think this is partially because I didn’t go into it with certain expectations: by Mass Effect 2 I’d already pretty much come to the conclusion that my choices wouldn’t honestly affect the ending of the trilogy all that much because if they did then the writers would still be putting pen to paper in the year 2025, by which point I’m planning on either being king of the world, and thus having no time for games, or dead, also meaning I’d have no time for games. Still, despite this there’s certainly no denying that the lack of choice in how the ending played out sort of went against the core tenets of what Mass Effect was about. But honestly, that didn’t bother me as much as how it actually ended. Where the hell where my epic fight scenes with my hard-earned war assets and my old crewmates? No Wrex leading a valiant charge? No Garrus sniping down fools like he’s playing fucking Space Invaders? And what the hell is up with these plot holes!? So yes, the ending left a sour taste in my mouth. It got the same level of reaction from me as when Fox abruptly cancelled Firefly, and that’s saying something because when Fox cancelled Firefly I wanted to call up Agent 47 and get that shit sorted out pronto.
Thing is, I accepted it, like I eventually did the aforementioned cancellation of the aforementioned awesome TV show. Years of reading books, watching movies and playing games means that when a bad ending comes around, no matter how much I hate it, I just accept it and carry on. These things happen, and while it sucks that’s just how shit goes down sometimes. Apparently I was on my own, though, as the rest of the net exploded and we got the Extended Tut in aftermath. Which was better, yes, but to me I just don’t see the point. The ending had happened. It wasn’t good. It sucks, but there you go. Still, the Extended cut was a better ending. Still not what I wanted, but better. And I’m still not sure if Bioware capitulating and giving us the Extended Cut was a good thing or not. They didn’t have to do it, and for that Bioware earned some more magical respect points from me, and it’s nice to see that gamers do have some power. On the other hand, it’s Bioware’s game, not mine, and not yours. The fans are responsible for a game’s success, but they don’t own it, nor should they be able to dictate what the developers do with their game. Maybe it was a good thing, and maybe it wasn’t. I don’t know, but what I do know is that it’s a testament to Bioware’s epic trilogy that so many gamers were so passionate.
Sweet Mary fucking Poppins I’ve said a lot about Mass Effect 3 that’s negative! This is at the top of my list, after all, so maybe I should talk about why it’s here. And the reason is simple: ending aside I loved playing it. A lot of people claim it’s too action based, but for me the original Mass Effect was never an RPG, it was an RPG/Shooter hybrid, and I was certain it was going to go the way of action more than anything else. And also nobody can actually come up with a solid definition of what is and is not an RPG, anyway, so in my disturbed mind ME3 is still very much an RPG, just an action heavy one. In short the fact that Mass Effect 3 was big on shooting didn’t surprise me much, and anyway it was the end of the universe and stuff so I was fairly certain that we wouldn’t have much time for much else, apart from eavesdropping on people gain side-quests. God that was stupid. As always I felt that the writing was excellent, delivering some awesome moments that genuinely had me all emotional. Mass Effect 3 felt epic from start to finish, made all the more powerful for me by the simple fact that it was the end of my favorite space-based trilogy, so by this point I was so invested in everything that the Geth/Quarian situation had me leaning so far forward in my chair that I was practically no longer sitting down, with my eyes wider than dinner plates as they gazed at the screen. Mordin’s heroics had me shedding hardcore man tears, something I have no problem admitting. Then there was Thane, and seeing Jack doing so well. There were just so many amazing moments.
The combat felt like it had arrived with what Mass Effect had been trying to achieve since the start, and the levelling up felt nicely balanced with the branching options making me feel like I had some say in my character, although I would have liked a few more things to choose from because forcing me to actually make decisions between things is something I enjoy in these situations, as mad as that sounds. The guns felt meaty and I liked being able to customise them to a small degree, although I could have done with more customisation options and the ability to deck out my team as well. Speaking of which, not so chuffed with the small character roster. From the huge team in Mass Effect 2 it just felt weird having so few people to take along on missions, especially as I felt that some of the new characters were a bit weak.
Point is that even with its flaws I utterly loved Mass Effect 3. It and the other two games in the series remain in my list of favorite games ever, and shall remain there forever more. The ending left a sour taste in my mouth, but the journey was a thing of beauty filled with so many great moments. In my eyes, it’s the best game of 2012. And Fox can go jump off a cliff into a razor blade factory for cancelling Firefly, the twats. Alright, I still harbour a small grudge. So what?
There we have it, my top fifteen games of 2012. Before I finish up this article, though, there’s some games I should touch upon, others than deserve mention and other bits and pieces to chat about. The first is the lack of racing games on this list, a surprise given my love of the genre, but really there wasn’t much out this year. Sadly I missed the new Sonic & SEGA Transformed, sequel to a game that I loved. It may have a strong chance of making it on here. Forza: Horizon did get a lot of consideration, but ultimately I just couldn’t justify adding it to myself, likewise F1 2012.
Halo 4. There’s probably a lot of people wondering why this isn’t anywhere to be seen. Did I even play it? Well, it’s sitting on my shelf right now and yes, I’ve played it. Some of it. Frankly, I can’t be bothered finishing up the singleplayer side of the game, which says a lot to me. I’ve always had an on and off relationship with the franchise, and the singleplayer in Halo 4 just ain’t doing it for me. The multiplayer is a blast, though, with the usual chaos that I’ve come to love in full swing.
Assassin’s Creed 3. As a massive Assassin’s Creed fan even I’m surprised by it not being here, but something just told me I couldn’t put it up. On a personal level Ubisoft dropped the ball with ACIII. More linear gameplay, few assassinations, awkward missions and a lead character I couldn’t connect to left me feeling let down with the game. On retrospect, I should have scored it an 8. I guess I was too caught up in it at the time. Still a great game, and it was on the cusp of making it onto the list, but at the end of the day there were plenty of games that I had just as much, or more, fun with. Consider it my 16th favorite game from the year.
There’s also a lack of digital only titles on here. Unlike 2011 I didn’t get to play very many of them in 2012, which is a shame as there were a few that looked brilliant. In particuilar The Walking Dead has gotten a lot of praise, although from what I’ve been told the words “interactive story” apply more to it than “game”. Still, I’m always up for an engrossing story. Hopefully I’ll catch up on them in the coming year.
And finally Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. I said it in the review and I’ll say it again, I had fun playing Black Ops II. I almost always have fun playing Call of Duty games, simply because they do the rollercoaster style shooting so well, but ultimately it’s pretty familiar stuff and I had more fun playing far more deserving titles.
There we have it, my favorite games from 2012. Arguably not one of the best years we’ve had for gaming, but there were some strong titles released that provided me with many happy hours of gaming. Hopefully 2013 will be a stellar year with the likes of Bioshock: Infinite coming out. Before that, though, I’ve currently got DmC: Devil May Cry in from Capcom, so that’ll be the first review of 2013 from me.
Only one question remains: what’s your favorite games of 2012? Agree or disagree with my list? Think some games shouldn’t have made the cut? I look forward to hearing from you. I’m off to kick some demon ass.