And now, the moment you've all been waiting for, the most momentous... Okay, let me be serious for a little bit. This was an interesting year for video games. While there were certainly plenty of really great games this year, there weren't many that didn't have any sort of horrible flaws. Between bad endings/stories, strange bugs, and general jankiness, a lot of really good games this year were also really messed up. And I also didn't play a bunch of really big releases this year, whether it was because of a lack of interest (XCOM, Journey), or because I just didn't have the money or the time (Binary Domain, Sleeping Dogs). Okay, maybe Binary Domain wasn't a really big release, but you know what I mean. The point I'm trying to make is that this top ten list of my ten favorite games this year has several games on it that probably wouldn't be there if I had played more games. But whatever, these are my ten favorite games I played this year (that were released in 2012, at least), even if I didn't really play that many more games than the ten games on this list of my favorite ten games of 2012.
Also, Roman Numerals.
And one more thing. How about some background music to enjoy whilst perusing this?
I'm still very conflicted about Dishonored. On the one hand, I do think it is a very well made game, and there are a lot of really imaginative powers and abilities in the game. The openness of the level design and structure of the game is fantastic. Every level (outside of the tutorial level) is littered with alternate paths and different ways to get through. And most of the time there are different ways to complete the end goal of the level, and those methods are often substantially different, and involve going to different parts of the level and doing completely different things. All of that is fantastic, and I really love that part of the game.
It's just that the rest of the game is kinda lackluster in comparison. Sure, there are a lot of abilities, especially if you like killing enemies. Conversely, there are two ways to knock out enemies in the game. You either get them in a choke hold (which you can only do if the enemy doesn't detect you), or you shoot them with a tranquilizer dart (and you can only carry ten of those). Now, I fully admit that I may have just missed something, but I couldn't find any other way to knock enemies out in the game. I think it's unfortunate that a game that encourages you not to kill every step of the way only has two ways to defeat enemies non-lethally. Sure, there are ways to get away quickly, or stun them (I think level 1 of the wind spell would be good for knocking them over), but the fact that you can't even do something simple like sheath the sword and fist fight is a massive oversight. Or maybe it was intentional, I have no way of knowing. Either way, I didn't like it. I mean, even Snake can CQC guys to the ground after he gets seen in something like MGS4.
And I have the same issues with a lot of the world, and the story in Dishonored. I love a lot of the ideas of the city of Dunwall, and things like super whale oil that can power electricity. But a lot of it just feels half-baked. "How do we explain the main character having magic? How about we make this magic guy who just gives it to him?" That's really dumb. I'm not saying that all games have to have really good stories, but the story stuff in Dishonored is not good. It's bad. And when a game has as much story as Dishonored does, it should be good. I would rather there be no story than bad story, and the story stuff in Dishonored really does lessen the experience. For me it did, at least.
But at the end of the day, Dishonored is a pretty good stealth game that gets bogged down by its limp attempts at story. I still enjoyed playing it a lot, and I am definitely very intrigued at the eventual sequel to Dishonored (or whatever it is that the people who made the game make next).
X. Darksiders II
Darksiders II is another game that I really liked playing it, but didn't care for a lot of other things in it. Unlike Dishonored I did at least think (for a while) that the early plot events in Darksiders II could have culminated in something interesting later on in the game, and I do still think Death was a well written and voiced character. But the story just falls apart later on in the game, as do the dungeons (which has led me to theorize that they did not have the time to make the game they wanted to, but I have no idea if that was really the case or not). And while I do not count myself among the people who really loved the ending of Darksiders I (I still think it's just another cliff hanger "See you next time" ending), the ending of Darksiders II was really lame in comparison.
Don't get me wrong, I really liked the part of Darksiders II where I was playing it. If Darksiders I was a good Zelda clone, then Darksiders II is a good Prince of Persia clone. The game still followed a similar dungeon structure as the first, but the puzzles relied more heavily on environment traversal, like a Prince of Persia game. And while the dungeons ultimately aren't as good or well designed as the ones in Darksiders I, I still had a lot of fun jumping and climbing my way through most of them, and I had even more fun fighting in the game. The camera may have had a tendency to be too close to the action, but the combat was still varied and deep enough to be fun. And it was really fast paced too, and I like my melee combat fast.
I also loved the MAG-like possessed weapons in the game. "Feeding" weapons and gear to other weapons to pass traits and stats onto the other weapon is a great idea, and I think the game handled it really well (aside from my not finding many possessed weapons, and a bug straight that up prevented me from buying them from Vulgrim, which my friend claims is possible, but I could never do it). Either way, I wish more loot based games would do creative things like this with their loot. Crafting is all fine and dandy, but I think there's something weirdly compelling about feeding things to other weapons to make them more powerful.
So what's my final thought on Darksiders II? I was really excited for this game. Excited enough that I pre-ordered it through THQ to get the DLC free (and so that all my money would go to THQ, because THQ needs money). I believe it's the third game that I've ever pre-ordered, and the first one in about five or six years. But then the DLC turned out to be lousy, short, and bug-ridden. A scripting bug prevented me from seeing most of the second dungeon in the second DLC, and then the game crashed on me four times in a row in the same exact spot in the third DLC, so I just stopped trying. On the fourth try I was literally not touching any buttons or control sticks, but the game still crashed the same time after a cut-scene played, just like the previous three tries.
I was let down in a lot of ways, but I still enjoyed most of my experience. The combat was great, and I liked a lot of the puzzles. It's just that the story was lousy, and now we might never see what happens after the events of Darksiders I. And that sucks. But who knows.
IX. Assassin's Creed III
Talk about games I was excited for! I didn't pre-order this one, but everything about this game had me dying to play it. The setting (I live in New England, and there aren't many games set in this zone), the changes to the game play, and the idea of playing through the Revolutionary War had me pumped! It's just that they completely botched most of the story, and almost all of the missions in the game. I've already said all I have to say about the game's awful ending(s), but the story leading up to it was a real downer too. So much potential that was just thrown right out the window! It's a game set in the middle of one of the most important and interesting periods in American history, and they completely ruined it by skipping over most of it, and focusing on the wrong things.
My favorite mission in the game, and the one time where I think they got it right, was the Battle of Bunker Hill. That was a thrilling and exciting mission that had a lot of variety, and got the historical hooks right. You hear the famous, "Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes" line, and it's delivered with the exact right amount of gusto and energy needed by a cigar chomping general. That moment literally could not have been done any better, and the rest of the mission after that is fantastic! There's a great use of a large scale battle, with Connor slipping behind enemy lines, and then there's some stealth where Connor attempts to take out his target. All of that is great, and I haven't even mentioned the (mostly scripted) part with all the buildings blowing up. It's easily the high point of the game (not counting the Haytham twist), and definitely one of my favorite levels/missions of the year.
But aside from that one mission, most of the fun I had playing Assassin's Creed III was either the naval combat (which is good enough that I think they could make an amazing $10 (because screw $15 being the normal price) downloadable game out of it) or just exploring the world. I think the combat was fantastic (best of the year), and the tree climbing was better than I could have dreamed! Sure, most of it was just pushing forward on the stick and holding a button, but hey, that's video games. But even when I was exploring the world and having fun with that, the game's frame rate had to jump in and try to ruin the fun. It never got game breakingly bad (though, this is from someone who suffered through one hundred hours of Skyrim on PS3), but the frame rate was almost always chugging, at least a little, especially in the cities.
So, like the other two games I've written about thus far, I liked a lot of the game in Assassin's Creed III, but the rest was pretty disappointing. And here's a spoiler, that trend doesn't end here.
VIII. Far Cry 3
In a lot of ways, Far Cry 3 is like professional wrestling. There are only about three likable characters, most of which are villains (Vaas and Hoyt), and the rest are villainous in appearance (Sam). It's chock full of great ideas, and has some great moments, even in the story. But any time something truly interesting or has any potential happens, it gets quickly squandered or ruined before anything special can happen. And when it's all over, you just feel dirty for having sat through all that. So dirty that you start to wonder about what it was that you enjoyed about it in the first place.
No, before you ask, I didn't get the bad ending when I played the game. I got the good one, but I still felt dirty, and only felt exponentially more dirty after I looked up the other ending on YouTube. I had no idea that ending would be what it was, but man, WHAT WERE THEY THINKING WHEN THEY MADE THAT ENDING?! Really, what were they thinking when they did anything related to the story in that game? I want to say that it's all shoddily made, and that they threw it together at the last minute, but the facial animation is so good that I really doubt that was the case. I mean, it's not LA Noire good, or Uncharted 3 good, but it's still pretty good facial animation.
The story was so bad that in the immediate aftermath of beating the game, I kinda forgot about all the things that I loved about the game. If you asked me what I thought of that game after playing through the first few hours, I would have said that it was easily the best game of the year. In fact, I did say that to my cousin when he asked me (though I believe I did say that I was early on, and that I couldn't speak for the game as a whole). Now though? I still think the core game play is great. The shooting is great, and the stealthing is great. I know Dishonored tried its best to make combat in a stealth game great, but Far Cry 3 is the true victor when it comes to mixing great action with great stealth. It's just that, even with decent weapon variety, taking over enemy outposts gets old after a while. Running out into the woods to hunt gets old after a while when there isn't really that much variety to animal AI.
What I'm trying to say is that Far Cry 3 is a one trick pony. That one trick is pretty amazing, but after twenty nine hours, that trick got old. Sure, a lot of the story missions are actually pretty good, maybe good enough that I might replay a couple of them for fun if the game had the ability to replay missions (I don't think it does). But it's still just the same couple of things over and over again, and it just got old and repetitive. And even the late game appearance Sam (the German) and the increased amount of Hoyt couldn't save the game from itself.
A quick side note, when I made the nominations for this year's Moosies, I hadn't actually beaten Far Cry 3, and I had yet to make it to Sam. If I had, he definitely would have been nominated for Best New Supporting Character, because I do think he is a really great character. His play on the stereotype of Germans as villains is great. But I also really wish they had done more with him. Like I wish they had done more with Vaas, and more with Hoyt.
So what's the moral of the story? Far Cry 3 is another game that has a lot of really great game play, but a lot of the other parts of it are just not done well enough. And maybe that's more a comment on how games have advanced in the last few years. When games like Uncharted 3 and Batman Arkham City come out in years past and combine fantastic story with fantastic game play, it becomes easy to expect that in big budget games. But sometimes you just have to settle for something like Far Cry 3 that has fantastic game play that doesn't quite hold up for its run time, and has a pretty lousy story.
Now, luckily, I'm getting to the games that I don't feel bummed out about issues with the game. Which isn't to say that Fez doesn't have issues, because this is yet another game that can have a chugging frame rate (and when it was patched, it corrupted the save files for some people). Fez was a fun time, and not one that was ruined by the frame rate, or a lousy story. Unlike the other games, that tried to have stories, Fez didn't even bother. Well, there's plenty of things that can be learned about the world of Fez by examining the environments, and there are NPCs to talk to, but that's not the point of Fez. The point of Fez is the experience of the adventure.
And while there are a lot of people out there who like to say that the real Fez doesn't start until after you beat it the first time, I still really enjoyed my first time through. I think Fez is a really fun platformer with a nifty hook (the world twisting thing). No, it's not hard, or that tricky, but exploring the world was still fun, and I think it still invokes the olden days of my youth when I could get lost exploring a game's world, and just exploring the world. No quests to take, no dungeons to raid, just areas to explore. Okay, maybe there weren't really many games like that when I was a kid, but you understand what I mean.
But then I beat Fez, and I transitioned into detective mode. That was when I broke out the pen and notebook. And yes, I have a notebook with pages of insane scribblings and notes, just like many other Fez players. That was when I tried my best at deciphering the language of Fez, and the other mysteries of the game. The only problem was that I didn't get it. I wasn't able to crack the code. I thought I had figured out a few letters of the Fez alphabet, but when I went online to check, I quickly realized that I had it all wrong, so I just went and looked up the whole alphabet, and the way in which you're supposed to crack the code. Of course, after seeing what that was, I felt like a complete idiot for not noticing it as I quickly jumped through the lazy room in question. And that just led me down a horrible road to looking up the solutions to the truly crazy puzzles in the game. But I never would have figured out some of that stuff, like the telescope one that involved some sort of weird binary or something, I don't remember.
Either way, I really love Fez. So much that I almost wish I could wipe everything I know about Fez from my mind so that I could replay it again, but without knowing anything about it. So I could re-experience things like the rumble puzzles. Remember those? Those were neat, and a really great use of the rumble in the controller. I had never realized that the 360 controller had two discrete rumble things in it that could be operated like how they are in the game. And the whole game is filled with really neat and fun things like that. Go play Fez. It's a fun time.
VI. The Walking Dead
If Fez is a fun time, then The Walking Dead is... Well, it's also a game you should play, but for completely different reasons. This game made me feel terrible, several times. But terrible in absolutely the best way possible. Some of the things that this game makes you do are nuts. It's crazy! I almost can't believe that the people at Telltale Games thought it was a good idea to make people do some of these things in this game. This game is dark. DARK. Almost soul crushingly dark.
The game does a great job of making the characters believable, and if not likable, then it at least makes you realize that you need to work with them in order to survive. Take Kenny, for example. Kenny is both really great, and also kind of terrible. In retrospect, Kenny is another character that probably deserved a nomination for Best New Supporting Character. Conversely, he was messing up and doing the wrong thing as often as he was doing the right thing, so maybe not. But I like that. A lot of people are like that in real life. They do the right thing a lot, but screw everything else up.
That's what The Walking Dead is about. People screwing up. This is not a game to be played to succeed, or to triumph. This is a game that is played to watch people suffer through horrible events. To see people who are, for the most part, good people try to survive through truly awful tragedies, time and time again. And when I think about it that way, I start to feel real dirty again. It makes me question why people enjoy things like that. Why did I enjoy playing this horrible game that made me do all these horrible things? Did I enjoy it, or am I merely recognizing that it's a well made game that is different than any other game I've played?
I dunno. But clearly it left an impression on me, because I got through several paragraphs without mentioning all the game's problems, like the bad action sequences, the lack of tension caused by my knowing that Lee would never die from a random zombie attack, so I never felt worried about his well being (until the final episode, but hey, I won't spoil anything (or have I already said too much?)), and the general bugginess of the game (like the time the camera fell through the world and I had to reload the game because it wouldn't come back up).
Also, I hate zombies. This is the only serious zombie thing that I like, everything else is either a comedy that happens to have zombies in it (Shaun of the Dead) or a parody (Planet Terror). I think that my liking The Walking Dead as much as I do is an accomplishment. I mean, I am surrounded by people who like The Walking Dead TV show and comics (my dad and my cousins, for example), and yet I have literally zero interest in any of that. Even if at the end of the game the choices didn't really matter that much, Telltale made it feel like my choices mattered, and that's really what mattered.
Now I just need to get my dad to play the game, and see how he reacts to it.
V. Asura's Wrath
I'm still baffled by this game. One part beat 'em up, one part Panzer Dragoon, one part Quick Time Event, one part Dragon Ball Z, and about twenty parts INSANE is how I would describe Asura's Wrath. Even that still doesn't really fully explain this game. But if you're reading my thing on Giant Bomb, then you already know enough about Asura's Wrath that I don't need to describe it, especially when I'm really supposed to be discussing what I thought about it. But I guess I am, given that I'm still kinda confused.
Let me start with the things I don't like. The hot springs level was awful, and totally unnecessary. The melee combat isn't quite deep enough, and feels a little clunky (though after I got the hang of the charge attacks, I got pretty good at it (good enough that I got mostly S-Ranks in the game)). And there are way too many times in the game when a flashback appears out of nowhere, and is just Asura fighting Gohma. These parts add literally nothing to the story. All they do is mess up the pacing by making you fight a bunch of uninteresting enemies, and pad out the length of the game.
That's another thing that's been irking me. Any time anyone ever speaks about this game, they make it sound like the game is 90% QTEs, and while I don't know what the exact percentages are, there's definitely a lot more direct control than that in the game, especially if you count both the on foot combat, and the shooting sequences. But that's irrelevant. What is relevant is that this game is totally bananas. It's crazy, it's ridiculous! And up until the true ending of the game, I absolutely love it.
But that ending. While I think it's awful that they made the game's true ending DLC that they charged money for, I also think Asura's Wrath is a better game without the true ending. It has a bad plot twist that trivializes everything done up until that point in the game, most of it is padded with unnecessary fights, and the final boss isn't that fun to fight. There is a neat moment when the boss's button prompts begin to appear during the final QTE section (his have weird symbols on them that aren't on any controllers), and as the fight drags on, he begins missing them, and does worse as a result. That's actually one of my favorite moments in the game, but the rest of the DLC was lousy.
So lousy that it actually made me put this game at number five on this list, instead of number four. I was very conflicted for a long time about the specific ordering of this game and number four, and I kept switching them on my numbered list before I wrote any of this. But my end decision rested on the fact that I didn't really have any serious complaints with number four, and I think Asura's Wrath suffers from the True Ending.
Either way, I still really enjoyed Asura's Wrath, both when my friend and I played through to the on disc ending, and when I replayed it on my own and got through the True Ending (which ends with "To be continued" anyway). And honestly, I'll probably replay it again at some point next year. Something about the game's enthusiastic insanity and madness is very compelling to me. Also...
IV. Call of Duty: Black Ops II
I know that over the years it's because quite popular to poke fun at the Call of duty franchise for the games being what they are (running forward and shooting hundreds of guys), but hey, I still like them. And honestly, Black Ops II is easily my favorite in the series yet. Not because of the Zombies mode (which I have to say, I'm quite disappointed that they took out the Smash TV style mode from Black Ops I, which was easily the best part of the Zombies mode in that game), and not because of the non-zombie based online modes.
It's because of the campaign. While Black Ops I combined the traditional Call of Duty style campaign with a pretty good story, Black Ops II went the extra mile with both the story and the game play. When I heard that Treyarch was claiming that Black Ops II was going to have more open level design, and have a branching story, I was incredulous. I thought that they were probably lying about the first thing, and greatly exaggerating the second. But lo and behold, they actually did it. And more importantly, not only did they do it well, they did it so well that it's my favorite game of the bunch, and I really love some of the Call of Duty games.
The horse riding mission (I don't remember the name, and I don't feel like looking it up) early in the game is a perfect example of both the improved level design, and the great way that the story stuff is handled. By Call of Duty standards, that level is huge. It's a big wide open area where Mason and Woods are riding horses from one area to the next where they have to get off and do some shooting. But by the end of the level, all hell has broken loose, and you're riding around this big area shooting rockets at helicopters and tanks. It's thrilling, it's exciting, it's fun, and it's different. Different from the usual Call of Duty fair, at least.
But after the shooting is done, there's a story bit at the end with a, let's say "non-traditional" way of making a story choice. I'm not going to spoil what happens, but in order to make the "good" choice, you have to literally struggle against "something" (by mashing a button) in order to make that choice. Of course, in the heat of the moment it just comes off as another Quick Time Event, but if you don't mash that button, things can go differently. Not differently enough to change the entire course of the story, but enough.
And that is one of the best parts of the game's story, it doesn't always telegraph all of the choices in an extremely clear manner. Sometimes it does, of course, when you see two button prompts on screen, but it often doesn't. In fact, I ended up getting the "middle of the road" ending because I didn't figure out a better way to accomplish something during one of the game's big choice moments. In fact, I didn't even realize that I had a choice in that moment. Though, I do kinda wish that had been shown more clearly, but I can't both praise the game for not showing everything and then complain about it in the next breath. That'd be crazy talk.
Also, the story in Black Ops II is pretty good. I almost gave this game my award for best story this year. The game's two stories (past and future) are interwoven extremely well, with Raul Menendez's convoluted (yet brilliant) schemes serving as the connecting force. He deserves a shout-out as well. While everyone else is out there ranting about Vaas, Menendez has been left out in the cold, despite being a much better fleshed out, and honestly, more interesting villain than Vaas. But that's because Vaas was a mostly blank slate, while Menendez is given a lot of time to have all of his motivations developed and explained. This is a minor spoiler, but you even play as him a couple times through the game, though very briefly. And one of those is a really fantastic moment that I don't want to spoil for those who haven't played the game.
And yes, I should be clear, Black Ops II has a good story, but it's still an "action movie story," and it doesn't even have a crazy twist like the Reznov twist in Black Ops I. But I'm a big fan of that type of story, and Black Ops II does it extremely well, and it does it well with all the different ways that the story can play out. Though, the best ending (and I'm guessing what will probably be the "true" ending for when they make Black Ops III) is kinda crazy, and I wonder how on Earth they would explain what happens there.
So, yeah. Black Ops II is a rad game. I don't play a ton of first person shooters, and maybe if I did I'd be sick enough of them to not be so impressed with Black Ops II, but as it stands, it's one of my favorite games of 2012. I should play some more of the online. I liked running around with just a knife. I wasn't very good playing that way, but I had fun.
III. Xenoblade Chronicles
When I bought Xenoblade Chronicles, it was mostly out of a feeling of obligation. I wanted to buy this game because I wanted to show support for it after all the trouble it took to get Nintendo to release it in the US, and I wanted one last hurrah for my Wii before I rushed out to buy a Wii U (or at least that's what I thought this spring, I still have yet to buy a Wii U). The fact that the game was critically acclaimed and seemed cool from a setting/world standpoint was nice too.
But I didn't expect to get pulled into the game as much as I did. I can be fairly finicky about the RPG combat systems that I do and don't like. I've played a lot of traditional turn based JRPGs, but I hated games like Knights of the Old Republic when I tried to play them. Usually anything that wasn't strictly turn based or strictly real time wasn't anything that I wanted to have anything to do with. But to my surprise, I ended up loving the combat in Xenoblade. I think part of it is that leading man Shulk has a lot of skills based around attacking from the back, or the side, like rogues in many RPGs. And somehow that was also the first time I ever played a non-stealth game where that was a core thing for the character I was using.
Not that the game forces you to use Shulk. You can go into battle directly controlling any of the characters in the party, but Shulk is clearly the main character, and it's always wise to at least have him in the active combat group. Anyway, the combat in the game is cool. A lot of my strategy revolved around using Shulk to knock enemies off balance, and then Reyn would knock them down, at which point I'd try to use a (and at this point, I start to forget the actual names of the mechanics) tag-team move. That's when the game would switch from real time to completely turn based, with control switching from one character to the next until the chain gets broken (I think they're called chain attacks, now that I think about it). I'm doing a poor job of explaining it, but when you do it right, it leads to this crazy chain of one attack right after another, and the characters are absolutely pummeling the enemies into submission. It's truly satisfying, especially when it ends up being the final blows dealt after a long and grueling boss fight.
And that leads me to what is probably my biggest complaint with the game. It involves just a bit too much grinding. I do appreciate that it is always possible to just level yourself to a point where you can defeat whatever stands in your way more easily, but it's just a bit too grindy. Near the end of the game I got to one boss where I literally had to go and grind for eight hours before I could beat it. Now, I fully admit that I was probably missing something in that fight, and that if I went in with different characters, or a different strategy I might not have needed to do that grinding. But instead I ground my way to victory.
And the reason why I didn't just stop playing the game out of frustration was because I was so invested in the characters and the story of the game. Yes, the story is a JRPG story, and there is a very JRPG-ish plot twist late in the game. But unlike another game this year that had a twist like that, this game at least hints at it beforehand, so it didn't feel totally out of nowhere. That twist also led to some of the most insane and ridiculous stuff in this game, so I'm not complaining too much. But like I said, it's the characters that drew me into the story. None of them are super original, or really anything you wouldn't see in any other JRPG (or anime, for that matter), but the voice acting in the game is great, and makes everyone in the central cast (you know, the combat party) likable and believable. It'd be easy to think that a super Japanese game with a budget British voice cast would be half-baked, or not well done, but it's actually quite great.
And please don't take that as an anti-British comment, I love the British voice acting in the game, and I have nothing but respect for British actors. I just mean that it's a miracle that the game got not only translated for Japanese, it also got an English voice over, and a very good one at that. If anything, my only complaint with the voice acting is that there isn't enough of it. All the cut-scenes are voiced, and there's plenty of banter during combat (which is less annoying when you're playing than it seems when you watch videos online, trust me). But there's a lot of dialog in side quests that is just text. I'm fine with that, but there are lots of areas around the world where you have have characters S-Link with each other (or have "heart to hearts," as the game calls them), but those also aren't voiced. And that's unfortunate, because they turn what could be touching moments into throwaway things because those do feel half-baked without voice acting.
But those are minor issues. Xenoblade is a fantastic game, and I think it's a shame that more people won't play this game. I know that even if conditions were ideal (better marketing, not on the Wii) it still wouldn't be a huge hit, but it has more than enough appeal to sell a lot better than it did in the US at least. But that's a discussion for another day. For now, I'll just say that if you have a Wii and you like RPGs, play this game. It's my third favorite game of the year, and my third favorite game on the Wii (second favorite, if you discount Twilight Princess, as that was technically multi-platform).
And man, the music is AMAZING.
II. Dust: An Elysian Tail
In a lot of ways, Dust is probably actually the best game I played this year. Or at least the most consistently good game. I don't have any faults with this game. There's no part of this game that makes me think, "Well, I wish this was better." Okay, I kinda wish the map was more Metroidvania-ish, but that's such a minor issue that I feel like I'm nitpicking for even mentioning.
But you know why I wish the map was more Metroidvania-ish? Because I love this game as much as I do. Because I felt compelled to scour every last inch of the game for any and every item that I could find. And I did. I got to whatever the weird percentage it was that was the max for the game, because of course it wasn't 100%. The game was such a joy to play that I couldn't stop playing it. After I beat it and found everything in the game, I started playing it again, but on hard (to get an Achievement). And then I made my way through the game on hard and got that Achievement.
I suppose a more substantive "complaint" with the game is that it's too easy on normal, and that the combat in the game could have been deeper. But if the alternative was deeper combat that wasn't as fluid, smooth, and perfect feeling as it was, then I would have stuck with the existing combat (not that deeper combat would have made any of that happen, of course). I'm sorry that I don't have a clearer way of explaining what it is about the feel of the game that works, but it just works. And it feels perfect. Everything about the way Dust moves, jumps, and attacks just feels right. You have to play it to understand, and I understood it within seconds of starting the game. By which I mean within seconds of starting the demo, because before I even finished that demo, I knew that I had to play the game from start to finish.
The thing I loved most about the combat in the game was the dynamic between Dust's spin attack and Fidget's magic. I fully admit that the lightning spell in the game is over-powered, but that didn't stop me from spiraling through the air sending out giant bolts of electricity to defeat my foes. Again, it's the kind of thing that you have to play in order to appreciate, especially because you don't start the game with that power. You have to work your way up to get that, and once you figure out how to use it right, it's magical (literally and figuratively).
Unlike a lot of other games on this list, I didn't finish this game feeling bummed out, because this game has a really rad story. Well, rad probably isn't the best word, given how serious the story is (GENOCIDE), but it's a great story. Even if the story wasn't great, the characters are, and it would have been worth seeing through to the end just to see more interactions between Dust, Fidget, and the Blade of Arah. I can't stress enough how perfect this trio is together, and they really are the glue that keeps the whole thing together.
But the most impressive and truly insane thing about the game is the origin of how it was made. And though I know Dean Dodrill isn't actually reading this, I just want to take this moment to congratulate and thank him for making this truly fantastic and unforgettable game. It's mind blowing that one man could have done all this (not counting music and voice acting), and I think that alone is worthy of praise.
Mr. Dodrill created a world that feels alive, and he did it all on his own (again, not counting the audio end). Yes, it took him years to do it, but you can't argue with results. Even though that's exactly what a lot of people do when they look at the game. And, to be honest, when I first saw the game I even thought it looked just a tad too bright and colorful. But it didn't really take too long for me to change my tune and come to appreciate the game's art for being as great as it is. Also, I have to say that a lot of the game is pretty dark and grim looking, which I appreciate, because those parts are dark and grim for a reason.
But I think the thing that speaks most to how much I love this game is that as I sit here typing this, I'm getting the urge to start it up again, and play through it once more. I know I replay games more than most people do, but it takes a lot for me to want to play a game more than twice in one year. But there's only one game this year that made me do that...
I. Mass Effect 3
Yup. Mass Effect 3. I played through this game three times this year. I almost want to say I played through it four times, actually, but some much stuff happened this year that I can't remember, and I'm not going through the trouble to load up the game and figure that out. And this isn't a short game that I was speed running through, this is a thirty hour game. It takes a lot of time and effort to get through Mass Effect 3, especially when one of those playthroughs is on Insanity, again, to get an Achievement. But what could drive me to play through a game that many times?
It's my love of Mass Effect. It's my love of that style of space opera-y science fiction. When I was young, I was obsessed with Star Wars. When I was in middle school, it was Star Trek. When it was early high school, it was Stargate SG-1 (and for the record, SG-1 is better than most people give it credit for, even if it's not up to the high caliber of something like Star Trek TNG). But once Mass Effect came out? I can't even begin to describe how my first playthrough of the first Mass Effect was. It was like when I was six and a half years old and went to see those "digitally remastered" versions of the Star Wars movies in the theater in 1997. It was magical. Yes, the game had tons of technical issues, but that didn't stop me from obsessing over the universe that BioWare had carefully crafted.
Then I played Mass Effect 2 in 2010, and was blown away all over again. They had worked out the bugs in the game end, and upped the ante with a bigger and better cast, better production values, and just better everything. Well, not the story, but everything else was done so astoundingly well that I could easily look over the fact that Mass Effect 2's main story is little more than The Illusive Man sending Shepard off to fight some bug people. It was another fantastic experience that only drew me further into the universe than the first one did (though I should say, I never actually went as far as reading any of the books).
So as you can imagine, I was very excited for Mass Effect 3. Due to college, I wasn't able to jump in and start playing right on the day it was released. It was only a week or two, but it was enough. The internet was filled with people talking about the game, and the ending. While I managed to avoid any spoilers about the specifics of the ending, one thing was clear: people weren't happy about it. So I went into the game wondering how I would feel about it. Would I hate the ending? Would I hate the side content? Would I be disappointed?
And, up until the last hour of the game, I could not have been happier with it on my first playthrough. No, it wasn't as good overall as Mass Effect 2, and the story wasn't as good as Mass Effect 1's, but the game still drew me in. I was still fully engrossed with every decision that Shepard had to make, still fully committed to saving the galaxy from the Reapers. And as I kept going, I kept loving the game more and more. Sure, it's a big coincidence that you end up having to team up with Mordin again to deal with the genophage, but conversely, the climatic moment in that subplot is one of the best moments in that entire series. If you've played the game, then I think you know what I mean.
And the same goes for the climax of the Geth/Quarian subplot in the game. Yes, I admit that it is perhaps too convenient that it is possible for Shepard to solve the situation as neatly as he can if you do it right. But I wasn't thinking that after I did it. I was full of joy at being able to bring about a satisfying resolution to that conflict. I had triumphed in a situation that seemed impossible, and it felt great, even if it wasn't all happy (again, fellow Mass Effect 3 players know what I mean).
But then I got to the end of the game. And even right before the end turns sour, there's a fantastic scene between Shepard, Anderson, and The Illusive Man. Say what you will about the specifics of what actually happens there, and why it happens, but that's a great moment. The moment after that is great too, but again, spoilers, so I won't go into specifics. What I will say is that after three games, it was a very emotional moment, and again, one of the best in the series.
The problem is that what happens after that was the ending, which was complete and utter garbage. But I won't bore you with that, we all have our opinions, and this isn't what this is about. This is about why Mass Effect 3 is my favorite game of the year. And why is that? Because even after I got totally bummed out about that ending, I still went back and played it again on Insanity. And then I played it a third time, but with a different imported save from Mass Effect 2 (I had accidentally picked the wrong one when I started Mass Effect 3, but didn't realize it until pretty far into the game). I wanted to see how things played out differently, so I played it that third time.
Then some time passed. Eventually, BioWare put out the retconned ending. So I went and replayed the final parts of the game, and YouTubed the other endings (because I refuse to go with any ending other than red (aside from the first time when I got the secret fourth ending by "accidentally" shooting the other thing)). And while I still wouldn't say the ending is great, they definitely improved it a lot. Enough that I'm at peace with the ending of the game, even if it isn't how I would have ended it.
But even that wasn't the end of my Mass Effect 3 playing for the year. Then they put out the Leviathan DLC, which I played. And it was really great. I wish that had been part of the main game, just like how Javik should have been there for everyone (like he was for me), and how the ending shouldn't have been as atrocious as it originally was. But that's all in the past.
But what's the point of all this babbling? The point is that no other game took up as much of my time this year as Mass Effect 3 did. And I mean both in terms of actually playing, and discussing online. I was in those forums talking about what I thought would be in the retconned ending. I was discussing the Indoctrination Theory with people. And while that Theory does sound like chem-trail-esque madness now, anything seemed possible back then. And, honestly, I still think that could have been a cool twist, but now it's obviously just forum-created insanity.
So what I'm saying is that while Mass Effect 3 isn't the best game I played this year, it's definitely my game of the year. It's the game I'll remember the most, and it's the game I'll think about the most in the coming years. And I know I'll end up replaying it again, and again, just like I have for Mass Effect 1 and 2. Like I said, I absolutely love the Mass Effect games, and even though Mass Effect 3 is weaker in some ways, it's still an amazing experience, and I'm glad that I was around for the ride. I'm definitely hesitant about the future of Mass Effect, but so long as whatever comes next isn't complete garbage, I'll probably be there, ready and willing as ever.
It's been a good ride indeed.
I'm sure that after reading that rambling mess the last thing you want to do is read more of my stuff, so I'll try and be quick. I just want to say that 2012 was an interesting year, for my life outside of games (college, working on that novel), for the video game industry as a whole (Wii U, other consoles being pushed off too long), and for Giant Bomb (CBS?!). And I feel like 2013 is going to be even more interesting. New consoles are on the horizon, and I'm sure that'll be fun and exciting. I'll be graduating from college, and I'm sure that'll be terrifying and horrifying.
But however weird and crazy 2013 gets, I'm looking forward to experiencing it with the fine folks here at Giant Bomb. Thank you all for continuing to read my blogs, and I hope you continue next year. I just finished Retro City Rampage, and I've played through most of Metro 2033, so I should be doing a write up for those in the near future. Once I've recovered from writing this mess, at least.