Reflecting on 2012

Gaming had quite a busy year in 2012. Besides the excellent lineup of games, there were a few moments that ultimately defined the year for me and probably a lot of others out there. Rather than dissecting my favorite news story in a sort of list that would feel more organized, I’d rather have a sequence of these definitive moments laid out and thoroughly explained. Because no one likes half-assed work, right?

Mass Effect 3‘s Ending Debacle
FOR THE LOVE OF THE PROTHEANS, SHUT UP! Rather than being remembered as the spectacular title that Mass Effect 3 was, every pissed off, mouth-breathing, neckbeard chose to focus solely on the last twenty minutes and set the Internet ablaze with their displeasure. The controversy became less about the game and more about how players felt “robbed” or “cheated.” It’s almost as if most players felt as though the dozens of hours spent in the Mass Effect universe had gone to waste because of the sketchily-defined, A/B/C endings of Mass Effect 3. BioWare even felt pressured to add the Extended Cut, which sparked even more hatred because of them “going back on their creative vision.” They couldn’t win.

I’ll admit that I didn’t much care for the endings, mostly due to plot holes and the suddenness of it all, but I didn’t demand something from BioWare. I just moved on and remembered Mass Effect 3 for what it was: an outstanding game with an deep universe, satisfying combat, and weighty decisions that just so happened to have a flawed ending.

The Rebirth of the Assassin
Stealth games don’t come out very often as evidenced by my nearly insatiable hunger for it. Year in and year out, we maybe see one quality game with some sneaking elements in it and we make what we can of it. We just get by.

Someone removed the plug from the dam holding back all of the sneaking games, because we saw quite a few of them in 2012. And fantastic ones at that. Dishonored, Assassin’s Creed III, and Hitman: Absolution (and technically Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation too, but we don’t talk about that) all saw the light of day, each brilliantly giving its twist on the concept of silently disposing of a target. Even though they strike a similar nerve, each did it in its signature way to avoid redundancy and remain fresh.

Dishonored felt so inventive with its world and power-focused and streamlined sneaking, Assassin’s Creed III gave a list of historic targets to assassinate, and Hitman tested my mettle and made me blend in, kill, and casually walk away as if nothing peculiar had happened by my demented hands. Liberation only tested my patience but we won’t reference that one again.

Seeing as these games all hit some sort of impressive success threshold, both critically and commercially, I’m optimistic that publishers will see that the stealth genre is nowhere near as dead as they may think. Give players a deep, well-designed game where explosions don’t take precedent and they’ll eat it up.

Steps Forward in Storytelling and that Sinking Feeling
Walking Dead Spec Ops
Zombies and modern war are incredibly worn topics so most products containing that usually drown in a sea of bland titles harping on the same points ad nauseum. The Walking Dead and Spec Ops: The Line are entries in their respective subject matters, but they defy all expectations, ones that were honestly pretty low. Maybe it was this low bar that allowed both to have such an emotional impact. I’ve had that sinking feeling before whilst finishing a game, but both The Walking Dead and Spec Ops: The Line took that to a whole new level of misery and despair… and I love them for that.

Spec Ops: The Line flew wildly under the radar for nearly everyone because, from the surface, it doesn’t appear to actually have a carefully constructed narrative that differs from other military brouhahas. Word of mouth had to become the biggest factor of people playing it because, in such a crowded genre, no one wants another third-person cover-based shooter where you shoot military dudes (even though the shooting is surprisingly good here).

The personal struggle for you and your squad mixed with the slow descent into chaos made a journey that was not only forgettable, but one worth dabbling over long after the credits rolled especially since it contains a few themes worth some critical thinking. I just kind of sat there, mulling over what just happened after I beat it. I needed to talk about it with someone because you can’t keep these kinds of games to yourself. Such depth and discussion spark from few other titles and the unexpected weight of Spec Ops made it that much more surprising. It was a war game with something to actually say and said so in a method that made it stand out.

The Walking Dead is a similar experience. Although it’s a take on a different subject matter, the obvious steps forward make this a noteworthy game in the narrative aspect. Traveling with Lee and caring for Clementine above all else made the story less about zombies and more about the personal struggle, something Spec Ops did with its military influence. It’s not about curing the zombie plague. It’s not about saving the world. It’s about getting a little girl and yourself to safe and the arduous journey to see that task completed. Unmatched characterization made you feel every loss right in the heart and even though nothing good comes from anything ever in this universe, you still felt compelled to trek on in hopes of seeing a completed goal. Even when all hope is shredded, you want to see Lee and Clementine safe all the way up to an unforgettable, tear-jerking ending.

Most this boils down to “No, just trust me on this one,” because many of the bold talking points delve heavily into spoiler territory, something I’m avoiding here. The point remains that no other games have lingered around in my mind as long as Spec Ops: The Line and The Walking Dead and even if you don’t enjoy these genres, they are must-plays.

Metal Gear Mysteries
Kojima, stop being so crazy! It’s been over four years since Metal Gear Solid 4 and we’re all aching for more news in anything Metal Gear, but this isn’t what we Metal Gear fans had in mind. First, we were teased with an incredibly impressive Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes trailer. All good here. It was brief and made me hungry but the plot thickened soon thereafter.

Everyone’s favorite show to hate, the VGAs, debuted a trailer that was quickly picked apart by the Internet with signs indicating that it was a Metal Gear sequel. Dubbed Phantom Pain (or QWOP 2 by some), it added a whole other layer of mystery. Is that Volgin? Was that Psycho Mantis? Why is there a hook hand? Why in Boss’ name is there a flying whale on fire? I don’t know if this is a new game or the same game as Ground Zeroes, but the intrigue of whatever the hell this is is sure keep fans like me guessing and eager with anticipation.

Dropping the Ball
RE6 ng3
Team Ninja has released the first two Ninja Gaiden games over and over for two good reasons: they love money and these are timeless action games refined to their very core elements of reflexes and combat. Someone must have thrown those ideas in the tall grass because none of that holds true to Ninja Gaiden 3, the company’s latest outing in the franchise.

Staying stagnant is one thing, but making titanic leaps backwards is a whole other issue bigger than the game itself. Combat was sluggish (which pains me as a Ninja Gaiden fan), the bosses were terrible, and the story was literally the worst thing in a game this year. Telling an atrocious story is one thing, but shoving it in my face at every turn made me feel even more disgusted than playing this wretched mess.

They’ve re-released it for the Wii U with some changes, and while it fared better, the low scores clearly indicate that this is a heavily troubled game at its very core, something no re-release can completely shake. Itagaki would be appalled.

Speaking of former designers being appalled, I bet Shinji Mikami wouldn’t be too pleased with Resident Evil 6 being critically panned. We all know how it goes. Resident Evil 4 is a classic and Resident Evil 5 is a sloppy, directionless sequel that some people still enjoyed. RE6 forgot all of that and decided to make an extremely bloated game filled with sloppy decisions in order to pander to everyone.

Four long campaigns? You’ve got it! Horror? Yes! Action! Yes! Something relating Wesker? Of course! It’s like they had a checklist of what made their games enjoyable and picked everything without questioning why or what made it special. As a result, RE6 lost its relationship with most fans because it lacked any sort of focus. Some people enjoyed the game, but to put it into perspective, there are still Nazi sympathizers.

The critical failure of both Resident Evil 6 and Ninja Gaiden 3 is unsettling but there is a bigger problem here: they’re both Japanese games. I know not all western games are great and that Japan hits its mark every so often, but both of these titles showcase how pathetic Japan can be as it looks like it is flailing and struggling to stay relevant. It’s truly sad and I hope this negative trend ceases to be a problem.

Other news stuck out, like the doom and gloom around the Wii U and Vita, but these were the ones that I felt made the year what it was. It’s probably also the last full year of the current consoles, meaning next year’s reflection could be a lot more exciting for reasons we might not even be anticipating.

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