2012 was a strange year to me for games. I'd been struggling to come up with some unifying trait or theme to describe my feelings about the titles released this year that impacted me the most, but then I heard this.
What I have to say about Jeff's song is precisely how I feel about a large chunk of 2012's games.
I saw this posted on the beta site and clicked it with cautious curiosity I'd known from the Bombcasts that Jeff had been in a band/thing, but never gone as far as to look for any of their songs. So I figured this would be a good opportunity to hear how Jeff's writing skills and creativity could translate to rap lyrics. I was expecting it to fall somewhere between "kind of disappointing" and "that's actually kind of neat." No offense meant towards Jeff by any means, but I was not prepared for it to be fucking awesome.
And that's how I felt the best games of 2012 came into my life. It was always the same steps:
- Initial reaction: "Oh, they're making one of those games? I wouldn't get my hopes up for this one."
- Reviews start coming in: "Hold on a second, people are saying that this game isn't awful? That not only is it not terrible, but that it's actually GOOD?"
- Pleasantly surprised when playing: "This game is fucking awesome! I can't figure out how it turned out as good as it did, but GODDAMN"
Maybe it was just a wake-up call that I'd become too cynical when it comes to video games. But I had a lot of reasons to be skeptical about some of these games.
I'd been less than thrilled with earlier games in the series/by the developer
- I've played Mondo Medicals and Mondo Agency by Cactus Software. They were interesting little novelty art pieces, but nothing about the mechanics stood out, and the stories/presentations were more "interesting... I think?" than anything else. But fucking Hotline Miami, man... That fucking game...
- Spec Ops: Stealth Patrol for the PS1 was the game that shook my faith in the scores from reviewers at PSM (Playstation Magazine). I naively took their word (that this game was a 4/5 title) as law and picked this up for $10 at launch. I immediately wanted my money back, and never trusted PSM scores the same since then. What I expected from Spec Ops: The Line was the cover-based-shooter - ass - cover-based-shooter that was the beginning of that game, not the batshit crazy places the game went later on.
- I've been a long-time fan of Telltale Games. I was totally on board with the Sam & Max , Homestar Runner , Wallace & Gromit , and Tales of Monkey Island games. I somewhat enjoyed the Puzzle Agent games. I... well, I played Hector: Badge of Carnage. I got about 2 and a half episodes into Back to the Future before losing interest. And given Telltale's apparent trajectory (and JP's reviews), I didn't even both with Jurassic Park. Were it not for the constant barrage of praise from the GB crew and community, I would have tragically passed on The Walking Dead entirely. Luckily, I didn't.
I had never had any desire to play the developer's games before (assuming I'd even heard of them)
- The Far Cry series has never really done anything for me. I was tempted to look into Far Cry 2 after hearing a little something about its fire simulation thing, but then I'm the sort of person who would love a game that was JUST a sweet physics simulation. Okay, so I might want a little bit more than an advanced fire system (I'm looking at you, Little Inferno). But for all I'd heard about the systems and structure of the Far Cry games, it wasn't until Far Cry 3 that I really started to hear anything talk about it being particularly fun. In full disclosure, I haven't played Far Cry 3 yet, but it's something I plan to get by the end of the year.
- I feel that adventure game fans and horror movie fans are kindred spirits. In my opinion, what makes a true fan of either genre is the willingness to wade through the absolute trash that both have to offer. Playing Grim Fandango or watching The Exorcist are great, but the test is whether you can pick something up from a dollar-bin and not get completely soured on the medium. The reason I mention all this is to explain why I wasn't expecting much from The Book of Unwritten Tales. I've jumped into plenty of adventure games sight unseen, and most of them have turned out to be hot garbage (the exception that surprised me the most so far as been Toonstruck, check that out if you can). So when I saw TBoUT on Steam, I was looking at a self-described comedy/fantasy adventure game from some German developer I'd never heard of. The ability to play different characters was interesting, but the characters in the screenshots looked like they could easily end up being 1 dimensional fantasy stereotypes that do nothing but "joke" about their surroundings by needlessly breaking the 4th wall constantly. For whatever reason, I picked the game up anyways, and I honestly think it deserves to be up there with games like Day of the Tentacle as an all-time adventure game great. The puzzles are unique and compelling, the writing is clever and genuinely funny, the game is satisfyingly paced, and the voice acting is astonishingly well done. In other words, it has become my go-to recommendation for anything that wants an adventure-ass-adventure game.
A troubled origin for a sequel to a so-so franchise
I played the first 2 True Crime games. They were fun. They weren't amazing, but they were decently entertaining. I wouldn't necessarily be against trying another True Crime game, but I also wasn't particularly devastated or surprised to hear that it was getting canned. What confused me was why Square Enix was bothering to pick up the assets and finish what I had assumed to be a doomed game.
Somehow Sleeping Dogs turned out not only to be a competent open world crime game, but one that somehow got each element so perfectly right that it made me excited about the prospect of playing another open world crime game. And that's why I don't make the decisions, I suppose.
The combination of game mechanics and a business model that almost completely represented everything that was wrong with the industry at the time
The pitch: So we took God of War, took out the upgrades and weapons and abilities, chopped the game's length down to about 5 hours, expanded to QTEs to fill about 4 1/2 of those hours, and we're going to charge an extra $15 for DLC on top of the $60 game price if the player wants to see any semblance of resolution to the story.
It feels dirty, but if loving Asura's Wrath is wrong, I'm not so sure I want to be right. I just hope other developers don't take that as a signal to try this a second time.
So 2012 was either the year of pleasant surprises, or the year that my judgment went completely to shit and I lost the ability to recognize a good game on the horizon. We'll see how 2013 goes.
*edit: Added new section for The Book of Unwritten Tales, and moved Far Cry 3 into it as well