Like anyone else who loves them some games, I’ve always enjoyed reflecting on the year and framing it with some of my favorites from the year; especially with 2012 which felt like one of the most prolific years in gaming. There were so many new experiences from developers large and small; and for the first time, I feel like I just can’t keep up with all the remarkable content that I’m seeing and hearing about. But from the games that I did play this year, here are the ones that I enjoyed the most.
Taking place in a wonderfully detailed and completely new world in games, and then double downing on the originality of the concept by giving the player an addictive blend of deadly stealth powers, and you’ve got the main reasons why I enjoyed Dishonored so much. From a gameplay and fiction perspective, everything about it just felt new and fresh. With its invitations to play the game in a style all your own (so compelling, I played through it twice), to the fantastic level design that speaks perfectly to main protagonist Corvo’s traversal powers; I thought Dishonored was a welcome breath of fresh air in the action-adventure category and completely out-‘assassin’d’ Assassin’s Creed. Although, personally, I wished the game was named “The Outsider” to give a bit more runway to tell more unique stories about the most interesting character in the game in possible future entries into the series; I still look forward to seeing what these guys do next.
Persona 4 Golden
I don’t know why I like Persona 4 Golden so much. Surrounded by corny, yet believable characters and ridiculously repetitive but amazingly appropriate music; Persona 4 presented me with a brand new way to enjoy JRPGs. As these things go, the moment to moment gameplay mechanics are fairly traditional. But when you start digging down into all the countless options you have to build the most bad-ass Personas, which are based on your character’s social standings with your friends in the serene Yasagami High School, which are themselves accessible through building up your own character’s stats, there ends up being an incredible amount of depth. When you throw in a campy murder mystery and a super snappy interface, it ends up being one of the most addicting games you could hope to play. And that music…did I mention the music??? So bad…but so damn GOOD.
The Walking Dead
I think The Walking Dead isn’t a completely great game, but it’s an important one. For all its quirks and jarring action sequences, it broke the mold on how to tell a story in video games. Visually speaking, its art style goes a long way towards portraying some of the most memorable characters I can remember in a game; but that’s of course, the first layer. I’m not talking good characters as in, ‘wow that guy is such a badass’ or ‘say, that voice acting is pretty good’. I’m talking about characters as believable as the best episode in the TV series of the same name. For a video game, that’s saying quite a bit. I think games have come a long way as an art form; but it’s usually either hyper-real, or wonderfully abstract. The Walking Dead showed everyone that while the presentation wasn’t perfect, it will (hopefully) pave the way for more games to provide accessible entertainment that offer the same respect for the player’s attention to the fiction; but with a more memorable, immersive score and more compelling gameplay mechanics (aside from the wonderfully implemented dialogue choice system, which is essentially the most compelling ‘gameplay’. It kept me hooked, and I can’t wait to see what they do next with this series.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Now here’s an itch that I haven’t had scratched in quite a long time. Not since Final Fantasy Tactics have I been so hooked on a Strategy game. Civilization was good; but this… THIS SHIT. When I boot up XCOM, I need to get mentally prepped because you just can not fuck around. And that’s what makes it great. Your dudes will die on the battlefield if you don’t take every single precaution, cover every angle, and utilize all your abilities and develop your characters, base, and equipment to keep pace with some crazy ass aliens. The base building / research aspect of the game is a fun hook that provides you with a ton of options to go about defending the earth. Dropping in on the battlefield however, there’s always a sense of tension in the air that’s present not only when you’re scouring for encounters, but every move of a heated engagement as well. It’s a tough game, with just the right peaks and valleys as it pertains to the difficulty and great graphical touches and a srs bsns soundtrack that always puts you right in the action, every time. Before, I thought Firaxis were those cool guys that made Civ. Now, it’s pretty clear that when they make a game, they friggin’ MAKE a game. Respect up for that studio, and I’ll be looking forward to what they do next; be it more XCOM, Civilization, or whatever else.
I’m fairly biased towards Journey since I’ve been a fan of thatgamecompany’s work since they released flOw and Flower a few years back, not to mention I drove the online marketing strategy for this title and had the awesome experience of presenting that plan to Jenova Chen and Kellee Santiago down in Santa Monica. But I’d like to think that my reaction to the game wasn’t due to any existing preconditions on my end. Journey provides a beautiful and stirring experience; as much so as the most moving Pixar movie, but it does so with its own original gameplay fingerprint that almost doubles as a unique experiment in psychology. At the end of it all, Journey uses an incredibly well-presented ‘it is what you make of it’ story to frame one of the best aspects of being human: companionship. Short, sweet, simple, but grand; Journey was the most memorable and meaningful game for me in 2013. It’s my game of the year.
That pretty much sums up what I thought were the best games of 2012. Other notable titles that I played, and enjoyed a lot, but didn’t quite make the impact that the above did are Assassin’s Creed 3, Mass Effect 3, Gravity Rush, Halo 4, Darksiders 2, Sound Shapes, Dyad, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, The Unfinished Swan, and Lumines: Electronic Symphony.
On the platforms I don’t play too much, the most fun I had on iOS was with Super Hexagon, Hundreds, and Puzzle Quest. The most fun I had on a PC game last year was Dustforce.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to make the time to play the following fine games: Far Cry 3, Papo & Yo, Sleeping Dogs, Hitman: Absolution, Mark of the Ninja, and Black Ops II; all of which I’m sure I’d enjoy, but not sure if I’ll be able to get to them before the next wave of games with DmC, BioShock Infinite, and Metal Gear Rising. Something tells me having a back catalog is something I’m going to have to get used to. 2013 is looking to be an incredibly busy year with finalizing my PMP credentials, planning a trip to Europe in May, moving in with Melanie, and of course work here at SCEA offering up more challenges and opportunities that are keeping me super engaged.