By aurahack 29 Comments
The actual awards! Yay! No categories, only raw numbers. The way I like ‘em.
I didn’t get to play as many games this year as I’d have ultimately liked. Being unbelievably busy with school and running into a few monetary issues certainly helped in draining my gaming time. What I did get to play, though, made up for one of the strongest years in games that I’ve had. The omissions are worth praising alone. Hotline Miami, FTL, Black Ops II, SSX, Phantasy Star Online 2-- a lot of really great stuff got cut and I think it speaks volumes to the overall quality this year. Regardless of taste, opinions, or preferences, 2012 was a fucking kick-ass year for videogames.
Hold onto your reading glasses and reading hats, people, because this might get a little long.
Forza Horizon is a terrific racing game. I love it for both what it is and the promise it shows, because its quality means we can expect great things from Playground in the future. The driving mechanics are rock solid, the car list is varied and great, the events are dealt out and organized in an intelligent manner, and the features you’d expect out of a Forza game are present and as good as ever.
I wasn’t sure how well an open-world Forza game would work out but I’m really happy it works as well as it does. Playground found a way to cleverly balance the arcadey nature of their pedigree with Forza’s smart accessibility mechanics and car tuning. There’s depth to the actual driving in the game and there’s a lot to do in the world with it. Events and challenges are everywhere and they are, for the most part, a lot of fun to do. It also helps that Forza Horizon is absolutely beautiful to look at. The world of Colorado that they’ve rendered is a picturesque one, for sure.
I haven’t completed everything in it, far from it, but it’s something I see myself returning to every now and again. It’s a terrific game to go back to and just drive around for some fun.
Achieving anything in Super Hexagon dwarfs any other feelings of achievement I’ve had in games this year. The lightning-fast pace at which the game plays is addictive and very quickly starts to be one of those “Just one more.” games. The grind of repeatedly smashing into a wall, the process of learning the few randomised patterns, and the eventual mastery of successfully chaining multiple patterns together at the end of those 60 seconds is the best of feelings.
Super Hexagon also deserves credit for breaking the laws of physics, as it redefined the amount of time it takes for 60 seconds to wind down. Changing it from “60 individual seconds” to “FUCKING FOREVER” is a feat worthy of praise.
Borderlands 2 is, more or less, the perfect sequel. The soundtrack is better, the story is better, the characters are better, the skill trees are better, the guns are better, the gunplay is better, the side-missions are better, the main story quests are better, the world is better, the art direction is better … and so on. It also helps that the game having a central bad-guy gave a lot more direction to its plot. I appreciated the tone Handsome Jack brings to the story and the world. He sells that universe really well.
While that’s all well and good, though, the co-op is really what got me this time. I played through the entirety of Borderlands 2 (and all of both DLC packs so far) with a friend and have had an absolute blast because of it. Grinding out weapons, experimenting with weapons and equipment, fighting raid bosses... It’s the best co-op experience I’ve had this year, for sure. Though truthfully, I feel like Borderlands 2 is hampered by its “more of the same” nature. Everything about it is better than its predecessor, but it could have used something new. If anything, it makes me excited to see what comes next for that franchise.
Fuck me if Rockstar isn’t just the best at making gritty-ass games about really depressing premises. Take a guy who loses his wife and kid, give him a crippling addiction to pills and booze, make him take a private security job in a shithole country to shithole people, and out comes one of the most fun-to-play third-person shooters with a presentation to die for.
The plot twists are what they are and I think, ultimately, the story probably isn’t as well-rounded as I’d like to think it is. But the characters they develop and the places the story takes you, that shit’s pure Rockstar. They managed to make me feel empathy for Max, and I’m far from anywhere near as bad of a shit point in life as he is. From the narrative to the soundtrack, Max Payne 3 has a fantastic neo-noir tone that I couldn’t get enough of and by the time it was over, I was in absolute love with it.
Fez completely took over an entire weekend of my life. The Saturday and Sunday I powered through it existed only for me to play the game. Eating, sleeping, working-- all secondary priorities.
Why? Because I needed to crack that fucking code.
Its beautiful art and wonderful soundtrack aside, Fez is the ultimate throwback to games of old merely by design, where its many secrets and revelations only come to life through trial and error, pure luck, clever deduction, or repeated discussion with friends. Regardless of how I solved each of the puzzles, they all had me going crazy in my chair, furiously taking notes and talking to friends about what I saw and what I missed.
Yet the even crazier part about all this is where Fez is just supposed to be this silly little platformer. It’s deceptive appearance only fades away once you “beat” it for the first time, and the discovery of what game Fez was all along is one of the best moments I had this year. Discovering your new abilities, cracking the code, solving the most hidden of puzzles, getting the highest completion percentage... it was addicting and I’m thrilled I played through it all in two sittings. It consumed me for an entire weekend and when it was all over, I felt like I had just taken a trip through childhood again. I wish more games did that.
Well, here’s a game I had no idea I was going to like this much. What looked to be a poor-man’s GTA actually turned out to be the best open-world game I’ve played since GTA: San Andreas. With an awesome amount of Hong Kong action film nonsense to boot, Sleeping Dogs was like a direct injection of fun into the pleasure centre of my brain. It captivated me and I wouldn’t let it go until I beat it to absolute completion.
There’s a ton worth praising in Sleeping Dogs, like the fighting mechanics. The brawling combat is a ton of fun. I’d dare to say I even like it more than Batman: Arkham Asylum’s combat, which is what it obviously inspires from. The environmental attacks and the minor upgrades you get always made every encounter unique and fun to experiment with. In an even more impressive feat of balancing multiple mechanics, the guns were fun to use as well. The driving, too, is a lot of fun. So fun, even, that I had no problem completing all of the optional race missions. Despite my love of Midnight Club, I fucking hate open-world checkpoint races and I still managed to like them in Sleeping Dogs. The driving is slippery and snappy, and made exploring the city in cars a lot of fun to do.
But what I liked the most about Sleeping Dogs is its story and tone. It’s a pure Hong Kong action flick. The plot points are as cookie-cutter as they come. Cop who has childhood connections to Triad goes undercover. Cop gains trust of Triad. Cop struggles with priorities. Cop wonders who he should be fighting for. So on and so on. It’s all there and sticks to the formula right up until the end, but it does it in a really intelligent way. The game is a little blockbuster in nature but has no problem playing it serious. Its ability to walk the line between the two made experiencing the game’s story so much more enjoyable. It was a consistent reminder of why I didn’t like GTA IV’s story so much. Whereas GTA IV was taking itself seriously in a world that did not, Sleeping Dogs just... kind of does both in a world that does both, too. It would have been really easy for the game to come off as cheesy when it was trying to be serious, but it didn’t. It’s enjoyable and likeable cast of characters did a whole lot to aid this, as well.
Its tone and incredibly well-refined mechanics kept me hooked. I didn’t want to stop playing and purposely beat it to 100% completion because I wanted to stay in that world for as long as I could. My time with Sleeping Dogs was some of the most memorable I’ve had with an open-world game, even if it was an incredibly short 35 hours.
It’s really interesting to see the experiences of others who either played all the episodes in one shot or played them alone, weeks apart. My experience with The Walking Dead was a shared one, where my friends and I gathered on the release of each episode at one of our houses to sit down and play together. It was a social activity... one that was usually comprised of complete silence. Rarely did someone speak, usually only to suggest a decision when one would arise. It was an experience we shared together and I feel like the biggest moments in that game had a significant impact on all of us because of it. It felt like we were a group along for the ride. Partners to the group featured throughout Telltale’s incredible narrative.
There’s little I can say about The Walking Dead that hasn’t already been said by the dozens upon dozens of sites, blogs, and users who have picked it as their favorite game this year. The characters are some of the most well-realised to have ever been introduced into the medium, the story has some of the finest examples of suspense and character development, and the presentation and delivery of the episodic content is the new standard for games of that format.
There’s an intensity to the game’s story that I don’t think I’ll be able to find in another game to come for a long, long time. I cried, I got scared, I jumped out of my seat in absolute horror, and I clenched at more controller handles and couch cushions than I ever have before. The Walking Dead is an absolutely fantastic adventure game. I really hope it inspires Telltale to expand and explore the ideas it brought to the table with this series, because they really did accomplish a lot.
It fucking breaks my heart to even have to write anything about Analogue: A Hate Story. Like Digital: A Love Story, I’m sitting here just thinking about what I read through and can’t process the amount of shit it’s making me feel. My heart sank when I looked up a screenshot to put into the banner, of all things.
Analogue’s story about a once-prosperous, now-deserted ship in space is a haunting one, and the AI that accompanies and elaborates on the lore is an infectious personality I grew to love. *Hyun-ae is funny, a bit scary, adorable, and intriguing, offering a unique insight into the game’s central plot of “uncover why the hell this entire ship is now desolate”. It has multiple plot twists and revelations, some of which are so heartwrenching that I had to double take or would end up speaking out loud to myself in shock. It’s not a long game, it took me close to an hour and 45 minutes to finish, but the story it tells is a fascinating one. There are themes and concepts explored throughout Analogue that you don’t really get to see in games. The feminine perspective on the events it presents are every bit as interesting as they are haunting. They are definitely worth experiencing for yourself.
The visual novel’s writing is, like in Digital, fantastic. Christine Love has a way with casual conversation that I admire and wish I could duplicate for myself. The dialogue feels natural and is easy to read, without sacrificing the complexity of what’s being presented. The interface to read the narrative with is also much improved. I appreciate Digital’s throwback look, but it made reading for an extended amount of time a little strenuous. Analogue’s interface is clean, concise, and easy to navigate when unlocking multiple text ‘blocks’.
The music in Analogue is terrific, too. The originally composed soundtrack compliments the inviting nature of the interface and its AI incredibly well. It knows when to set a mood, and it knows when to be nothing other than minimalist background music to let you concentrate on the reading in front of you. I suppose my only gripe with the game overall is the art. Though this is largely my own nitpicking, I think the lines on Raide’s character work is a little unrefined. The character design and the coloring is great, but the final linework lacks polish that I feel it could really use. The expressions and overall look of the characters end up being a little flatter than I’d like because of it. Though again, this is merely my own nitpicking. As someone who does almost nothing other than draw characters in his spare time, it’s something I couldn’t avoid seeing and pointing out.
That little bit aside, I adore everything about Analogue. It’s a terrific follow-up to Digital and it makes me realise that I have an appreciation for these types of games I did not know I had. Christine Love’s untraditional approach to visual novels are great, and Analogue is a prime example why. It’s story is gripping, it’s characters are loveable, and the way it presented is unique and fun. As if it wasn’t enough that the narrative is absolutely excellent, the act of having to dig and discover it is a rewarding and interesting experience. Analogue: A Hate Story is well worth your time and it stands in a respectable company of games that really affected me.
More importantly, though, is its placement on my list. I fucking love Analogue. It did not hit as hard as Digital: A Love Story did, (mostly because I related to the latter, whereas I have yet to live in Space Korea like Analogue portrays) but I fucking adore it none-the-less. Both are easily some of my favorite games of all time, yet I cannot place it higher because I did, ultimately, enjoy the following games more. Like Digital back in 2010, I have to add this weird addendum where I’ll say that, realistically, Analogue might be a game to stick in my head enough to merit being at a spot like #3, but I know in my heart that I had more fun with the games above it. But save for the top two, no game this year made me think like Analogue did. I just... see, it’s becoming this weird thing again like the end of my Best of 2010 list. God dammit, Christine Love. Why do you do this to me.
Well, there. My list is re-organised to reflect how I truly feel about the game.
Fuck man, now I just can’t stop thinking about what happened on the Mugunghwa ship. Argh. This is fucking me up so bad. I’m gonna go … eat... or something. Fuck.
You got to see the end of the Genophage.
A conclusion was brought to the Quarian/Geth conflict.
A Thresher Queen headbutted a Reaper to death.
Shepard got to revisit and re-explore relationships and events from the entire series, as well as some from additional lore like the books.
Mass Effect 3 is every bit as meaningful a game as it is a closure to the trilogy. Regardless to what you think of the ending, the journey to complete Mass Effect 3 is one of the most satisfying and personal experiences I’ve ever had in videogames. The always-incredible narrative and dialogue is there to form an engaging and awesome story, and the refined gameplay is there to make the combat the best it’s ever been in the series. The characters and the interactions you have with them, the scenarios you get to see during the invasion of the Reapers, and the way it finally all comes to a close makes Mass Effect 3 one of my absolute favorites this year.
It’s worth mentioning that it also features some of the most fun multiplayer I’ve had in 2012. Who knew that wave-based, class-driven multiplayer could be so much fun? In Mass Effect, of all games! The improvements that Bioware has made to the shooting mechanics shine bright in the multiplayer and it makes it something I continually want to revisit.
Instead of writing why I picked Journey merely on what I think of it is as a game, I’d rather explain the experience I had whilst playing it. I could talk about the beautiful soundtrack, the absolutely breathtaking art direction, or the simplicity of its design, but I won’t. Instead, I want to talk about one of my playthroughs.
My first playthrough of Journey was fantastic. I got to share my time with a bunch of different users and it made for a magical experience that I completely fell in love with.
My second playthrough, however, was the one. I paired up with another player in the usual area (the one where you need to connect the three pillars with the cloth bridges) and we promptly chirped at each other and continued on our adventure together. As the game progressed, however, we began to develop a means of communicating. If one of us found a symbol, we’d quickly chirp at each other. The other would then chirp twice to say thank you. The same applied for any other secrets like the flOw creature or glyphs. If we wanted to call each other, we’d chirp three times. If we were walking along, we’d occasionally count. One chirp, the next would do two, then three, and so on. I made a friend, and we developed our own way of communicating.
We stuck close to each other to make sure we always found the same secrets, and stuck by even closer when trying to avoid the floating creature underground. We endured the harsh winds of the mountain climb together and we both fell near the peak of the mountain. A tragic moment, as he fell to his knees seconds before I did. When the end sequence began, the two of us weren’t near each other. I couldn’t find my friend. This was it. The end. He had to be there! We have to finish this together! I couldn’t find him, where did he go? I tried to impede my progress in the level for as much as I could, afraid I might have overshot my partner.
Suddenly, out of the blue, he appeared. He bursted out of the ground, leaping into the sky above me and chirped at me incessantly. He was trying to find me, too! I leaped towards him and got as close as I could, as we both repeatedly chirped at each other, the skies filling with the endless symbols we were casting into it. We climbed, flew, and jumped together towards the end, where the light grew and the credits sequence started to roll.
I sat there, conflicted and full of emotion. I was in tears. I was so happy that I had found this friend. This one person, whom I’ve never met, felt as close to me as any of my closest, longest-lasting friends. We had seen everything together. We had been through everything together. He was everything I had just put myself though. We both depended on each other. We were there for each other, and now it’s over. He’s gone, forever. I’ll never see him again. I couldn’t bear the thought. I just cried instead, happy and sad at what I just realised.
At the end of the credits, the list of usernames appeared. Expecting two or three names, I was shocked to only find one. The other player, who I knew could be multiple people, really was just a single person. I created a PSN message and wrote a thank you note to the player. I thanked them for being the most amazing partner. I was so grateful they had made my experience what it was.
A few minutes later, the player replied. What was in his reply was some of the most broken, poorly put together English I have ever seen. And then it hit me: this person clearly didn’t speak English. Their sentence wasn’t hard to read because their English was full of slang or internet shorthand. No, it was because they just didn’t speak it. This person with which I formed an actual connection, with which I had developed a means of communication, and with which I had shared an experience I felt was deep and meaningful, most likely doesn’t speak the same language I do. If we met in the street, we wouldn’t even be able to say anything to each other. Yet through Journey, we got to experience what we did.
For that playthrough, I pick Journey as my Game of the Year. Nothing else has ever come close to giving me that kind of experience, and I am not sure anything else ever will. Journey is something unfathomably special and the videogame medium is incredibly fortunate to have it, as are we.
And that's it! Thanks for reading, and have a great end of holiday! :'D