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Greg Kasavin's Top 10 Games of 2012

We get Supergiant's Greg Kasavin to spill his Soviet secrets concerning his favorite games of 2012.

Greg Kasavin is a writer/designer at Supergiant Games, the small independent studio that created Bastion. Prior to joining Supergiant, Greg worked at 2K Games, Electronic Arts, and GameSpot. He's @kasavin on Twitter.

My list surely would have been different had I spent more time playing some of this year's big AAA titles (especially Max Payne 3, Dishonored, Halo 4, and Far Cry 3), as well as a couple of Japanese RPGs I've been meaning to get to (namely Xenoblade Chronicles and Persona 4: Golden). But then, the games on this list--especially my #1--pulled me away from most everything else. Here are my favorites from this year:

10. Spec Ops: The Line

I debated whether to include this on my list since I worked on it for a year of my life. But it was a much bigger project than just my one year, and it spent long enough in the works after I left that I felt a detachment from it when I finally sat down to play the finished version. What I found in it was the only shooter of 2012 that compelled me to play all the way through from start to finish. I respect the narrative ambitions of this game, and the story turns at the conclusion were memorable and poignant.

9. Dust: An Elysian Tail

Dust quickly won me over with its good-natured humor, beautiful animation, well-crafted controls, and heartfelt storytelling. It felt like an homage to classic side-scrolling action games, without being nostalgic for the sake of it. That the game was built almost entirely by just one person still boggles my mind. This was easily my favorite of this year's Summer of Arcade lineup, and was the only game this year that my daughter (who was six at the time) enjoyed almost as much as I did.

8. FTL: Faster Than Light

Legendary game designer Sid Meier said that a good game is a series of interesting choices. FTL: Faster Than Light is an excellent example of this. The premise of managing the small crew of a doomed starship voyage is already good. But the way this game is structured, as a series of unpredictable, exciting, dangerous hyperspace jumps, is flat-out brilliant. FTL strikes an excellent balance between having a crafted tone with tantalizing bits of narrative along with a randomized structure that ensures no two sessions ever play out the same way. For good measure, the soundtrack is fantastic. Very inspiring stuff.

7. Hotline: Miami

The violence in Hotline: Miami is at times shocking and at times numbing, at times exciting and at times sobering. This is a game that uses violence fully, not just for thrills. It knows what the violence is there for, and every gory detail seems deliberate. And the feel of the whole thing is just so fast and brutal, like a cross between Super Meat Boy and Smash TV. Then there's the soundtrack, a pitch-perfect score for all the depravity, probably my favorite game soundtrack of the year. This game was made by just a couple of people. Maybe it shows, considering it's quite simple, but unlike most games released this year, I won't soon forget this one. Hotline: Miami and its dizzying nihilism reminded me of Killer7, one of the most memorable games I've played in the last decade.

6. Fez

I loved exploring the deceptively lighthearted, serene, and mysterious world of this game, and felt its central mechanic of perspective-shifting was ingenious and interesting all throughout. I really admire that Fez manages to be so enthralling and challenging despite being completely devoid of enemies or combat. The entire presentation is beautiful in a way that's very true to games. While many games aspire to standards of beauty from other media, Fez has the confidence to be a game through and through, and every aspect of it is gamelike in the best sort of way.

5. Journey

I had high hopes for the next game from the creators of Flower, and Journey lived up to all my expectations. This is a game whose themes are communicated with complete fluency yet without depending on any traditional methods of storytelling. The brevity of the experience felt wholly appropriate given the subject matter, and even so, Journey gave me numerous moments of stunning beauty. Few games manage to create a sublime feeling, especially without resorting to intense action, but Journey did this for me.

4. XCOM: Enemy Unknown

I'm old enough to remember the original classic that XCOM: Enemy Unknown is based on, and couldn't have been more impressed by how well this remake captured the tension-filled emotional roller-coaster experience that made the original so memorable. Not only is the new game's presentation outstanding, but the distinctive X-COM feel is there. You wouldn't expect for a turn-based game to be this scary or suspenseful but XCOM really delivers those feelings as well as a genuine sense of triumph when, once in a while, good tactics combine with a little luck.

3. Hero Academy

This asynchronous turn-based tactics game for iPhone and iPad is the first free-to-play game that earned my time as well as my money. I played this game for months and months, each day looking forward to my opponents' next set of moves so I could try to outsmart them once more. It's both deterministic and random in all the right ways, resulting in matches that always feel different. The design is simple and brilliant--you can experiment as much as you want, trying different tactics before committing your turn. The cartoony look is welcoming and the different armies and units are surprisingly different and interesting. This is an elegant game, very well designed and executed. It's very fun.

2. The Walking Dead

At first I was reluctant to start playing this series, because I feel like I know how these types of stories are going to end. I'm not really a fan of the comic or the TV show, or at least, I wasn't before I played through these games. Going in, I figured I wasn't going to let myself get emotionally invested in a bunch of no-doubt-disposable characters. But I did get invested, thanks to lots of great writing and a cast that couldn't be more unconventional for a game. This is powerful stuff. I rarely get emotional when I play games, but at several points in The Walking Dead, I came close. As far as I'm concerned, The Walking Dead picks up the baton from last year's The Witcher 2 for having the best, most meaningful character interactions of any game, in a plot that keeps hurtling forward. I loved the conclusion of this series, which made me look back on the whole experience in the best sort of way.

1. Dota 2

Nothing else comes close. Not this year. For the first time in as long as I can remember, there's really no contest when I think back on what was my favorite game of the past 12 months. I first tried Dota 2 back in January, on the recommendation of one of my colleagues who's been a fan ever since the Defense of the Ancients mod started gaining popularity in the Warcraft III days. Valve's take on that game looked intriguing, but then, I knew it was immensely complicated and I figured my days of sinking countless hours into competitive multiplayer games, from fighting games to real-time strategy games, were behind me. Well... I was wrong. Dota 2 hit me very, very hard. I've logged hundreds of hours with the game this year, and often played it long into the night, losing track of time. Here is a game that combines my love of fighting games with my love of strategy games, along with that special touch that Valve games tend to have. I think the thing I most love about Dota 2 is that it's so complex that it takes up seemingly 100% of my mental capacity just to play it. Though the experience is very intense, at the same time it's just completely engrossing. I love almost everything about this game – the design quirks, the cast of characters, the distinct feel of different abilities, the pace of a given match. It's an intimidating game to learn, but it's the best, most rewarding game I've played in a long time.

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Posted by Ryan

Greg Kasavin is a writer/designer at Supergiant Games, the small independent studio that created Bastion. Prior to joining Supergiant, Greg worked at 2K Games, Electronic Arts, and GameSpot. He's @kasavin on Twitter.

My list surely would have been different had I spent more time playing some of this year's big AAA titles (especially Max Payne 3, Dishonored, Halo 4, and Far Cry 3), as well as a couple of Japanese RPGs I've been meaning to get to (namely Xenoblade Chronicles and Persona 4: Golden). But then, the games on this list--especially my #1--pulled me away from most everything else. Here are my favorites from this year:

10. Spec Ops: The Line

I debated whether to include this on my list since I worked on it for a year of my life. But it was a much bigger project than just my one year, and it spent long enough in the works after I left that I felt a detachment from it when I finally sat down to play the finished version. What I found in it was the only shooter of 2012 that compelled me to play all the way through from start to finish. I respect the narrative ambitions of this game, and the story turns at the conclusion were memorable and poignant.

9. Dust: An Elysian Tail

Dust quickly won me over with its good-natured humor, beautiful animation, well-crafted controls, and heartfelt storytelling. It felt like an homage to classic side-scrolling action games, without being nostalgic for the sake of it. That the game was built almost entirely by just one person still boggles my mind. This was easily my favorite of this year's Summer of Arcade lineup, and was the only game this year that my daughter (who was six at the time) enjoyed almost as much as I did.

8. FTL: Faster Than Light

Legendary game designer Sid Meier said that a good game is a series of interesting choices. FTL: Faster Than Light is an excellent example of this. The premise of managing the small crew of a doomed starship voyage is already good. But the way this game is structured, as a series of unpredictable, exciting, dangerous hyperspace jumps, is flat-out brilliant. FTL strikes an excellent balance between having a crafted tone with tantalizing bits of narrative along with a randomized structure that ensures no two sessions ever play out the same way. For good measure, the soundtrack is fantastic. Very inspiring stuff.

7. Hotline: Miami

The violence in Hotline: Miami is at times shocking and at times numbing, at times exciting and at times sobering. This is a game that uses violence fully, not just for thrills. It knows what the violence is there for, and every gory detail seems deliberate. And the feel of the whole thing is just so fast and brutal, like a cross between Super Meat Boy and Smash TV. Then there's the soundtrack, a pitch-perfect score for all the depravity, probably my favorite game soundtrack of the year. This game was made by just a couple of people. Maybe it shows, considering it's quite simple, but unlike most games released this year, I won't soon forget this one. Hotline: Miami and its dizzying nihilism reminded me of Killer7, one of the most memorable games I've played in the last decade.

6. Fez

I loved exploring the deceptively lighthearted, serene, and mysterious world of this game, and felt its central mechanic of perspective-shifting was ingenious and interesting all throughout. I really admire that Fez manages to be so enthralling and challenging despite being completely devoid of enemies or combat. The entire presentation is beautiful in a way that's very true to games. While many games aspire to standards of beauty from other media, Fez has the confidence to be a game through and through, and every aspect of it is gamelike in the best sort of way.

5. Journey

I had high hopes for the next game from the creators of Flower, and Journey lived up to all my expectations. This is a game whose themes are communicated with complete fluency yet without depending on any traditional methods of storytelling. The brevity of the experience felt wholly appropriate given the subject matter, and even so, Journey gave me numerous moments of stunning beauty. Few games manage to create a sublime feeling, especially without resorting to intense action, but Journey did this for me.

4. XCOM: Enemy Unknown

I'm old enough to remember the original classic that XCOM: Enemy Unknown is based on, and couldn't have been more impressed by how well this remake captured the tension-filled emotional roller-coaster experience that made the original so memorable. Not only is the new game's presentation outstanding, but the distinctive X-COM feel is there. You wouldn't expect for a turn-based game to be this scary or suspenseful but XCOM really delivers those feelings as well as a genuine sense of triumph when, once in a while, good tactics combine with a little luck.

3. Hero Academy

This asynchronous turn-based tactics game for iPhone and iPad is the first free-to-play game that earned my time as well as my money. I played this game for months and months, each day looking forward to my opponents' next set of moves so I could try to outsmart them once more. It's both deterministic and random in all the right ways, resulting in matches that always feel different. The design is simple and brilliant--you can experiment as much as you want, trying different tactics before committing your turn. The cartoony look is welcoming and the different armies and units are surprisingly different and interesting. This is an elegant game, very well designed and executed. It's very fun.

2. The Walking Dead

At first I was reluctant to start playing this series, because I feel like I know how these types of stories are going to end. I'm not really a fan of the comic or the TV show, or at least, I wasn't before I played through these games. Going in, I figured I wasn't going to let myself get emotionally invested in a bunch of no-doubt-disposable characters. But I did get invested, thanks to lots of great writing and a cast that couldn't be more unconventional for a game. This is powerful stuff. I rarely get emotional when I play games, but at several points in The Walking Dead, I came close. As far as I'm concerned, The Walking Dead picks up the baton from last year's The Witcher 2 for having the best, most meaningful character interactions of any game, in a plot that keeps hurtling forward. I loved the conclusion of this series, which made me look back on the whole experience in the best sort of way.

1. Dota 2

Nothing else comes close. Not this year. For the first time in as long as I can remember, there's really no contest when I think back on what was my favorite game of the past 12 months. I first tried Dota 2 back in January, on the recommendation of one of my colleagues who's been a fan ever since the Defense of the Ancients mod started gaining popularity in the Warcraft III days. Valve's take on that game looked intriguing, but then, I knew it was immensely complicated and I figured my days of sinking countless hours into competitive multiplayer games, from fighting games to real-time strategy games, were behind me. Well... I was wrong. Dota 2 hit me very, very hard. I've logged hundreds of hours with the game this year, and often played it long into the night, losing track of time. Here is a game that combines my love of fighting games with my love of strategy games, along with that special touch that Valve games tend to have. I think the thing I most love about Dota 2 is that it's so complex that it takes up seemingly 100% of my mental capacity just to play it. Though the experience is very intense, at the same time it's just completely engrossing. I love almost everything about this game – the design quirks, the cast of characters, the distinct feel of different abilities, the pace of a given match. It's an intimidating game to learn, but it's the best, most rewarding game I've played in a long time.

Edited by Denrod

cool seeing Dota 2 as a GOTY!

Posted by NeoCalypso

Dota 2 are you serious? That game isn't actually out yet.

Posted by Nurve

Yes! Dota 2 is probably my GOTY as well.

Posted by Phatmac

Heck yeah, DOTA 2!

Posted by MormonWarrior

Greg has a seven-year-old daughter? Cute!

Posted by JoeyRavn

I tried playing a couple of 3v3 matches of Dota 2 with a friend, agaisnt bots on Easy. We were completely obliterated in less than fifteen minutes.

That game is definitely not for me.

Posted by mrfluke

deal with it

Online
Posted by mcmax3000

Great list, and yet another one that includes XCOM. I'm thinking I made the right decision picking that up on sale a few days ago.

Is DOTA 2 even a thing you can just freely download yet? I've never heard of it getting an actual full blown release.

Edited by Vorbis

It must be pretty strange to be such a fan of dota 2 then start playing with the Bastion announcer pack.

Posted by xMEGADETHxSLY
Sad no more bombcast
Posted by kerse

@UKSamwise said:

Seeing Spec Ops: The Line on many people's lists makes me intrigued to play it at some point.

Yeah same here, although I got it spoiled by the podcasts so I wonder if it will be as good still.

Posted by Jeffsekai

DOTA2 YEA

Edited by Bistromath

Dota 2 will make you a man. A man familiar with putting up with the bullshit of Russians, Peruvians, and Brazilians.

Posted by MoonlightMoth

Very happy to see Dust get a mention, it's such a wonderful game.

Posted by LiQuid3600

Kasavin is my Greg of the Year

Posted by Rayeth

Hell yeah. Dota 2 GOTY means this man is the most representative of my year. So many great games got skipped because I needed more sweet sweet Dota action.

Posted by Ravelle

I need to dig in to DOTA 2, I come from LOL and was a bit overwhelmed and had no idea how everything worked, especially the shops are something I wasn't prepared for.

Posted by SoundChaser

Awesome. Another Dota 2 mention. If I was to make a list like that, it would definitely be on top of it. I played it so much last year and I actually made a few new friends by playing it. You just never stop learning in that game and the emotional swings can be huge. A bad loss can ruin the rest of the day while a win can make your day (and sometimes the next).

It's a little funny to me that people are all like "Oh God, I'll never be able to play Dota 2, it's just so complex and huge!" (which is true if you compare it to most games) because when I started playing DotA (still a WC3 mod back then) a lot of the WC3 players actually looked down on DotA as a competitive game because you just had to move one unit around and use its 4 abilities. Of course, those people were also wrong because the complexity comes from having to know each heroes' abilities and all the little quirks.

Edited by phrosnite

See Brad? Get on with it!

P.S. - <3 Lina and Pudge.

Posted by granderojo

I tried getting into DotA 2 but like D3 I left it really underwhelmed.

Posted by jorbear

@Jeffsekai said:

DOTA2 YEA

Posted by Patman99

Greg, you are and always will be my favourite person in the world.

Posted by Redhorn

Fuck yeah Dota 2. Anyone who didn't pick Dota 2 as their GOTY was WEAK.

Posted by Cold_Wolven

I really need to play Spec Ops: The Line at some point next year.

Posted by Jeffsekai

@jorbear said:

@Jeffsekai said:

DOTA2 YEA

Edited by Brackynews

This is my favourite day on the Gregorian Kasavendar.

@kerse: @UKSamwise said:

Seeing Spec Ops: The Line on many people's lists makes me intrigued to play it at some point.

I will simply say, try to do execution moves for as long as you can. It changes (you).

Posted by Little_Socrates

As someone who's played Hero Academy with Greg, I can vouch for him and say that he's definitely good enough to kick my ass. Repeatedly.

Really need to try to find my entry point into the strategy and MOBA genres.

Posted by Xeirus

@kerse said:

@UKSamwise said:

Seeing Spec Ops: The Line on many people's lists makes me intrigued to play it at some point.

Yeah same here, although I got it spoiled by the podcasts so I wonder if it will be as good still.

It's still worth playing, there's things in it they didn't mention. Though they are smaller touches, it's still very cool.

Get it cheap, play it on easy, and enjoy it.

Posted by CptMorganCA

Been spending a lot time going through The Hotspot archives when Greg and the GB crew were at Gamespot. Interesting to hear them talking about Xbox 360 and Wii before they were out. Very cool.

Edited by Nanne

Yup, Dota2. Kasavin still knows his shit. The Bastion announcer is also awesome.

Posted by Jazzycola

@NeoCalypso said:

Dota 2 are you serious? That game isn't actually out yet.

They are charging for passes for access to the beta. Not to mention the costumes, keys, and several other things to monetize the game. It's out. They may say "Oh it's still in beta", but they're just skirting around any criticism of the game. Once you start charging for the game or charging for stuff within the game, your game is out and deserves to be criticized or applauded in this case.

Posted by artofwar420

Awesome list Greg.

Posted by Minlow

Dota 2 is one hell of a game. One of the best I've ever played. Nice list, and great work on the Bastion Announcer pack, Greg. GAF loves it.

Posted by darkdragonmage99

Still don't get this obsession with the walking dead I have never understood those kind of "games " I have no interest in zombies adventure games are barely games and honestly my lack of empathy ruins any emotional revelation in all this.

Posted by Gilsham

eh Dota isn't that great of a game, or very complex, or very watchable. I don't know why people are so into it now as opposed to the WC3 days when you couldn't move but to trip over a hero defense map, I still play a few games every now and then and just stomp everyone I play and that is a bit of fun but SC2 is where the action is at in terms of e-sports

Posted by Crunchman

I think where newbies fail to see the fun in Dota 2 is when they pick a hard character to play, or just a character they don't agree with, since they can be so weird. They then get whooped and declare the game is not for them. Since it's the first and probably most meaningful choice, for a new player especially, you should look up some guides. My first character was Faceless Void, no idea what I was doing, had a bad time. Came back to it a few months later, read a couple of guides, and am still playing most nights. Good list, Kasavin. Great to see downloadable games just being games.

Posted by B_Heart

WOO DOTA 2! My game of the year as well. Nothing else has come close in terms of enjoyment and hours put into. Bastion announcer pack is perfect as well

Posted by Itwastuesday

@Gilsham said:

eh Dota isn't that great of a game, or very complex, or very watchable. I don't know why people are so into it now as opposed to the WC3 days when you couldn't move but to trip over a hero defense map, I still play a few games every now and then and just stomp everyone I play and that is a bit of fun but SC2 is where the action is at in terms of e-sports

let me get a slice of that e-sports action pie!!!!!

Posted by RadixNegative2

The only list that matters!

Posted by NDN_Shadow

Great list. And Dota 2 isn't exactly free-to-play yet, but it's out. It doesn't have all of the heroes, or all of the features, but the game isn't really a beta. Valve doesn't consider it as beta, and I'm not play Dota 2 Beta on my Steam Library, I'm playing Dota 2.

Posted by smokyexe

@Gilsham said:

eh Dota isn't that great of a game, or very complex, or very watchable. I don't know why people are so into it now as opposed to the WC3 days when you couldn't move but to trip over a hero defense map, I still play a few games every now and then and just stomp everyone I play and that is a bit of fun but SC2 is where the action is at in terms of e-sports

eh SC2 isn't that great of a game, or very complex, or very watchable. I still play a few games every now and then and just stomp everyone I play and that is a bit of fun but Dota 2 is where the action is at in terms of e-sports

Posted by KiLlerBLT

Happy to see Hero Academy on someone's list. That game is amazing!

Posted by JustinAquarius

Any list that includes Hotline Miami is A+ with me

Posted by jorbear

@Jeffsekai said:

@jorbear said:

@Jeffsekai said:

DOTA2 YEA

Posted by BD_Mr_Bubbles

@artofwar420 said:

Awesome list Greg.

Posted by Midjet
@jorbear said:

@Jeffsekai said:

@jorbear said:

@Jeffsekai said:

DOTA2 YEA

Posted by Dan_CiTi

Man I wish I could find any MOBA even remotely fun, interesting, etc. Just that and games that play like the Diablo series have never been at all fun to me. Closest thing to it I love is World in Conflict. Goddamn such an incredible game.

Edited by Roger778

I miss you Greg Kasavin, and all those great reviews you did on Gamespot.

Since I now know that he was one of the guys who worked on Spec Ops: The Line, I feel compelled to play it. Not to mention, it's also been on some other top ten list.

Anyway, that was a very well-written and insightful list.

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