Last year, 2011, was a tough act to follow. Not only did we have oddball new IPs like Catherine, but we were also graced by titles like the bloody brilliant reboot of Mortal Kombat and the nigh-perfect Batman: Arkham City. It was a year that kept me regularly pleased with its quick releases. Such success almost damned 2012 to feeling inferior by comparison. To an extent, it sort of was, but the unpredictability of my favorite games was the true standout. If someone had traveled through time and showed me my top list of 2012, I’d probably laugh and call them a liar. Well, at least in my head because I’m not a dick. Little did I know that 2012 would have some fantastic surprises.
What the Mayans were to the apocalypse is what the average, pessimistic gamer is the Vita. However, when people prematurely point to the Vita as a failure, this one game can be the definitive rebuttal. Sound Shapes is a game the Vita needed and subsequently defines the system. The colorful mix of platforming and music was a collaborative system so creative that it carried the game far past other platformers. The aesthetic put together by the visuals and music created an atmosphere that I always wanted to inhabit and since it has a healthy stream of user-generated levels online, I always have a reason to go back. Platforming struck a steady balance between challenge and accessibility, which resulted in a great game to play. Except for the Death Mode levels but we can just forget about those scars for now.
This year’s Catherine, Lollipop Chainsaw was the dose of wacky I needed this year and something gaming needs more of. Although Asura’s Wrath more or less succeeded with same ideas, Lollipop Chainsaw stuck out more because of the willingness I had to go back to it. Not only did it have one of the best soundtracks ever, but going back and topping scores and listening to Nick and Juliet’s banter made each run through a complete joy. Suda 51 might need to see a mental health professional, but his games benefit from such insanity, so let’s not snitch him out.
Those who lacked the inability to look past Crash Bandicoot’s omission sure missed out on an enjoyable fighting game. Even though the orange marsupial would have been a great addition, the cast in Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale hits the obscure and classic marks quite well, rounding out the roster with familiar icons. Each is faithfully represented through the dynamic environments and move lists, but the real all star is the addictive fighting system and multiplayer brawls. The super move system allows for a deep fighting game rife with strategy, but strikes a healthy balance with also being very accessible. Good fighting games have accessibility and depth in mind but great fighting games are built around those two ideals.
Personally vouching for Tekken got a little old. Tekken Tag Tournament 2‘s quality doesn’t just need me to stand up for it; it speaks for itself. Being a beautifully designed, friendly game (thanks Combot!) with a deep tag/solo based fighting system, Tekken‘s classic mechanics have been brought to their natural limit and highest quality, containing a roster that could shame any other in pure quantity. Even though this is the seventh entry in this long running franchise, it is a great time to jump in at or jump back in at if you’ve since wandered.
I literally could not ignore The Walking Dead for any longer. Maybe it was because of the tantalizing episodic model, but this game kept coming up so frequently and positively, that I just needed to experience it myself. The collective positive attitude was accurate, resulting in a carefully constructed narrative that made such a conscious decision to characterize every damned soul you come across, bettering the story as a whole. Every person creates a bond with not only Lee, but you as a person, so when they become zombie chow, you feel it. Speaking of Lee, his relationship, and subsequently your relationship, with Clementine is one of the strongest in gaming. And for that, The Walking Dead will be brought up in the future as a landmark title in storytelling. You just need to experience it.
Agent 47 carries himself differently from the other assassins and his game, Hitman: Absolution, was yet another one of beauty and espionage. However, it struck a different, yet familiar chord. You know that feeling where you outsmart a game and walk away with that undeniable feeling of being a complete badass? Absolution boiled that feeling down to a science and made a difficult game, but one that rewarded the hard work with that endorphin-laced feeling that makes games so exciting. The Contracts mode and the wide array of options within the campaign will make Absolution one I’ll go back to often and enjoy myself every time.
I know the popular thing to say is, “I don’t usually play stealth games, but Dishonored got me hooked.” That saying doesn’t work for me because I play and love stealth games. However, Dishonored still tickled me like few others this year. Despite hitting at the eve of a new generation, Dishonored felt so fresh in its lore and new ideas. The streamlined and incredibly open take on stealth was backed up by depth and some of the best game design in years. Finding a unique way to play and honing in on that was something Dishonored allowed and actively encouraged, giving it a hearty reason to be placed highly on this list.
I was ready to hate Spec Ops: The Line. I had my clip of nasty insults and pejoratives loaded into my wordplay pistol but playing the game forced me to eject the clip and feast on a Thanksgiving-sized helping of crow. Having an “emotional” story within a game so heavily based upon shooting seemed impossible but Yager pulled it off and pulled it off fantastically. Shooting was surprisingly fun and satisfying, but the psychological aspect and deeper meaning of everything made for a more intimate story with interesting characters, one I can’t stop thinking about. I still reminisce about what happened, why it happened, and how it happened, which is why it is so high on this list. Spec Ops: The Line shot storytelling up not only within shooters, but gaming as a whole and deserves to played no matter your tastes.
The Internet tells me I hate should hate this game, but when has the collective negative hivemind of the web been trustworthy? Mass Effect 3‘s journey was one that went through an emotional rollercoaster of highs and lows. I may have had my moments of teary eyes a few times this year and most of them came in Mass Effect 3 as my actions in prior titles paid off, for better or worse. Such persistence makes Mass Effect feel like one of the most fleshed out trilogies in gaming history and allowed every encounter to craft an emotional bond between the player and the inhabitants of the large, well-crafted universe BioWare has made. The deep and refined combat was a highlight as well (which led to one of the best multiplayer experiences around), making it a game that is fun to watch, interact with, and play. Few games hit all three pillars.
I was ready to throw in the towel after Revelations. I just didn’t want another Assassin’s Creed so soon, especially after I was soured and burnt out on the prior annual title. The new time period and assassin mixed in with the fresh, revitalized approach to combat and the controls made Assassin’s Creed III a great game that was not only a gigantic step up, but also being a title that saved a franchise on the brink of stagnation. Whether it was fighting, hunting, sailing on the ship, or collecting Ben Franklin’s pages, I just loved being in Colonial America and I was finding an excuse to do everything I possibly could to extend my playtime. Connor was a unique assassin worthy of being mentioned right next to Ezio and his story was one that stands up there with the titanic heights of Assassin’s Creed II. Given how much I adore Assassin’s Creed II, that is an extremely high compliment and thus why it is my favorite game of 2012.
Minor technical issues couldn’t mar this title enough in dying franchise and bastardized genre. Silent Hill: Downpour genuinely terrified me and had a strong run time to make it one of my favorite games of the year.
My initial killer app for the Vita, Uncharted: Golden Abyss was surprisingly a full-fledged Uncharted game. It leaned more heavily towards the original Uncharted, but the gorgeous visuals, classic gameplay, and fluid storytelling made it one of the few console experiences the Vita benefited from.
You probably didn’t play it, but The Darkness II was the best and most story-driven first-person shooter this year. Channeling the Darkness and wreaking havoc created such a satisfying combat dynamic in this cel-shaded beauty, which is hopefully enough to make you play it.
You might have played The Darkness II, but I know you didn’t play Binary Domain. It was a competent shooter, but the surprisingly heavy storytelling and interesting dynamic plot made it stand out from the rest of the lookalikes. Spec Ops: The Line may have taken first for the most talked about surprising shooter, but Binary Domain is a close second that deserves to be played.
If you said “Blah blah blah same ol’ Lumines blah blah blah,” then I have lost a little respect for you as a human being. Lumines Electronic Symphony is a timeless formula and game, making any time the right time for some block dropping puzzles. A definitive portable game.
2012’s 2011 Game of the Year
We all are late on a few titles, but only a handful make us retroactively kick ourselves. That title for me in 2012 was Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I started it right at the beginning of 2012 and obsessed about it for the remainder of my winter break. Similarly to Dishonored, the graceful blend of stealth, choice, story, and lore all synthesized beautifully with each facet influencing and affecting each other. Human Revolution has so many systems going that is surprising that it isn’t train wreck. It’s anything but and one of those titles I really need to go back to one of these days.
If there are any comments, be sure to let me know what they are. Thanks, and I look forward to doing this next year.