My Top 10 Games of 2013

This was a really great year for games. I liked it a lot more than last year, mostly because the top 5 games of my list could each be a game of the year winner and two of the games were some of my favorite this generation. Anyway, onto the list.

10. The Swapper

I don't play too many puzzle games, as I often find them to be tedious or that the puzzles aren't good enough for me to want to press forward when the story is lacking (or non-existent). The Swapper however, had such striking visuals and interesting gameplay mechanics that I had to give it a try. Thankfully, The Swapper is a tremendously engaging game at all levels, with easy to learn but difficult to master gameplay and a very interesting story laired over it. While all of the puzzles were quite creative, I found myself most impressed by how well the game teaches you everything you need to know about the mechanics in order to solve the puzzles without beating you over the head with instructions and without leaving you in the dark about what to do or how to do it. I also really appreciated the ability to do the puzzles in the order that I wanted, because I often got stuck and wanted to take a break from the puzzle that was giving me trouble without entirely quitting the game.

Beyond the puzzle solving, the game is absolutely gorgeous to look at. A lot of the visuals and the colored lighting reminded me a lot of Dead Space 2 (which is a really good thing) and the isolation I felt while running around the space station was brought on by the wonderful sound and somewhat creepy story. The story itself is often told through text logs, but what character interaction you do get in the game is excellent. The story leaves plenty of room for interpretation, and the ending was very well executed. Although it was frustrating at times, I felt a great sense of accomplishment with every puzzle I completed, something no other game gave me this year.

9. Fire Emblem: Awakening

Fire Emblem Awakening was my first foray into the Fire Emblem series and I found it to be highly addictive. Just like last year's XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Awakening forces you to be patient and to pay attention to the positioning of all your characters. The enemies are ruthless and quickly taught me to not rush forward into combat. I had a few incidents early on of sending my flying units or my weak healers to close to the enemy and they would immediately target them down. Just like in XCOM, I didn't restart the game unless my entire party wiped and being so cautious really allowed for some rewarding gameplay. Unlike XCOM however, Fire Emblem gives each character in the game a personality and a storyline, especially if you are building relationships with them. Instead of being nameless characters they were all part of the story and if they get downed in combat you miss out on future conversations with that character. I lost somewhere between 10-15 of the characters when I played including the one Dancer class the very second I got her. It was frustrating to lose people, but I always knew it was my fault.

The leveling system in the game was much different from other tactics games I have played and required a lot of thinking as to which characters I wanted to pair up and get married and what classes I wanted to evolve my characters into. It was a really interesting system that required a bit more thought and decision making than a lot of similar games do. The story was fun, but fairly generic JRPG stuff. Where it shined was in the characters and the writing which was always at least interesting and often times extremely funny. While it wasn't my favorite tactics game ever, I really enjoyed my time with Fire Emblem.

8. DmC Devil May Cry

As a huge fan of the first Devil May Cry game I was fairly interested in the new reboot of the franchise. While character action games have never been my favorite, I've enjoyed my fair share of God of War games and after hearing Brad talk so highly of the game I decided to grab it on a sale earlier in the year. The first thing I loved about it was how smooth it ran on my pc, as it always kept itself around 60 fps. Furthermore the environments were all really awesome and creative. The Raptor news boss fight and the dance club level really stand out as fun level design from a gameplay and visual perspective. While the story would often get out of hand or just be completely stupid, I still appreciated that the game didn't take itself too seriously. I also didn't mind the new Dante, as I thought his cocky attitude fit the role very well.

Of course the combat is obviously where this game shined the most. The system Ninja Theory created really fits the idea of simple to learn, difficult to master. Most of the combos were the basic combos you see throughout character action games and nothing was incredible difficult to time right or to memorize. Where the game really brought everything together was in its smooth transition between weapons that allows the player to create their own combos. The ability to switch between different weapon types right in the middle of combos really gave the combat a lot of depth and the enemy design often encouraged players to be creative in order to defeat them efficiently. I also really appreciated the fact that Ninja Theory made the game have tons of replay value by using new weapons and abilities to unlock secrets Metroidvania style, the arena mode, and gameplay remixes of all the enemies on new game plus playthroughs. This was one of those games I never expected to play this year and was happily surprised by how much I liked it.

7. Gone Home

Gone Home was one of the more interesting game experiences I've ever had and one of the few games I feel is worth having a lengthy conversation about in terms of game design and story expectations. I think the thing Gone Home does best, especially early on, is atmosphere. The game gets you to feel alone and to also feel a little worried about where your family is and what happened to everyone. As you get deeper into the sister's story you really feel like something horrible must have happened, yet since you don't have a car and the phone is out, you are just trapped in this spooky house trying to piece together whatever you can about where your sister could be. The way the game built up all these emotions, along with the fact that I am so used to games having big plot twists or huge emotional moments, I got to the end of the game and was extremely disappointed. All I could think was, this is it? After all that this is how it ends? What was the point?

I had my girlfriend play the game to see how she felt about it and since she never plays games I wanted to hear her opinion on the ending. While she was playing, we discovered a bunch of things I didn't on my first playthrough and I put things together that I did not understand my first time through. When we got to the end, I liked the game much more and my girlfriend was disappointed. Interestingly enough though, we talked about the game for a few days after she had finished it and the more we talked about it, the more we liked it. We decided that our feelings of disappointment were not the fault of Gone Home's, it was more that we just constantly expect big plot twists and dramatic endings from other forms of media. Gone Home stripped away a lot of the craziness that comes with most stories and gave us a story that for once could have actually been a part of real life. The game is about a lot of serious issues and handles them all well and if you pay enough attention, you can piece together some very interesting stories about the family. I really have to give credit to a game that can make me like it more days after I've finished playing it, and Gone Home really was a fine example of how games can portray real life issues.

6. Rayman Legends

Rayman Legends is just pure fun. I hadn't played a pure platformer in a very long time, and Legends is one of the best I've come across. The game looks amazing and the level design is phenomenal. I really enjoyed how they kept adding in new gameplay, rather than just having you jump from platform to platform level after level. I got addicted to trying to grab all the teensies, and since I hadn't played Origins, it was amazing to have all that game's content right in Legends. I even took part in the daily and weekly challenges for a fairly long while.

Of course, my favorite part of the game was the music levels. They were just awesome to play, and each time put a smile on my face. The game just has so much charm and so many great ideas that even when they didn't come together perfectly (touch screen bits weren't that elegant with a controller) I still loved the challenge everything presented. It was also really nice to play a game that reminded me of old school gaming. It was fun and relaxing, and is a must play for anyone who loves great platforming.

5. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

I could only come up with four games that were better than Brothers this year. This game surprised me many times, gave me lots of emotions and had some really interesting game play mechanics. Going into the game I was not expecting such brutal violence. I found myself being somewhat shocked multiple times by some of the things the brothers encounter during their quest. It led to a lot of unexpected moments for me and I was always eager for and a bit fearful of what was going to come next. The art design really captured the essence of what I imagine a fairy tale world to be, and the way the environments seamlessly transitioned was really impressive.

In terms of controls, I found them to be somewhat frustrating but also very interesting. I have used video game controllers for years, but controlling two characters independently at once was quite the challenge and was a good exercise for my brain. In the end though, Brothers is this high on my list because of its story. While the overall plot is pretty predictable, it didn't stop me from feeling emotional multiple times throughout the game. It did an excellent job of demonstrating the importance of family relationships and the lengths people will go to save and protect the ones they love. It also is a great example of how games can tell stories in ways other mediums can't, by making the controls fully intertwined with what happens with the brothers. This is a game well worth anyone's time.

4. Grand Theft Auto V

GTA V brought me back to the good old days of Grand Theft Auto. Doing things like driving around and memorizing the city, spending multiple hours diving in the ocean to collect items that are completely unrelated to the rest of the game, and doing rampage missions reminded me why I loved the old PS2 games. Honestly, it is absurd that this game lets you dive under the ocean and explore. Rockstar put so much work into the fine details of the world that it's very hard not to be impressed. Even when so many aspects of the game seem entirely pointless, I can't help but partake in the various activities and craziness because it's just amazing to me that Rockstar went to such lengths to bring the world to life. From being able to take people to a cult for money, to having a pretend facebook where various characters from the game regularly update their status, to an entire economy system based around a stock market, the game is just filled with so much stuff it was overwhelming trying to see it all.

While the gameplay is still classic GTA for the most part, the characters really create a story that is hilarious and entertaining. The writing is top notch, and I really enjoy having three protagonists, each with extremely different personalities and motives to keep everything feeling fresh. Franklin, Michael, and Trevor each have their own feelings and opinions on everything that happens and that made the game even more interesting. While a lot of the game seems a bit old at this point, Rockstar still proves they are one of the best in the industry at world building. I mean, I role-play the characters by what vehicles I have them drive, the clothes I have them wear, and the music they listen to. I know it's a bit crazy, but it is also impressive that GTA V gets me to play it in that way.

3. Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag

What an amazing surprise. I've always been a huge fan of the AC series but after how much of a slog 3 was (although I did enjoy some of it) I was sure Black Flag was going to suck. Fortunately, Ubisoft actually took this series in the right direction. The new protagonist, Edward Kenway, is such a fun character and really gives lets the series move away from all the serious Assassins vs Templars nonsense. What really made the story great is that it was actually about Edward as a character and how he changes over the course of the game. I'm all up for the usual craziness of AC plots, but I really appreciated the direction the story took with Black Flag. Outside of the animus was also really awesome. The fact that you are creating the game you are playing and are able to rate the missions you play is a really cool and hilarious idea. The game also doesn't force too much of that stuff on you, so the moments when you have to be out of the animus are completely worth it.

As far as gameplay goes, no other series gets me to play a game like Vinny more than Assassin's Creed. Black Flag has tons of collectibles on various islands and in underwater shipwrecks and caverns. I explored and found almost everything, leaving my synchronization at close to eighty percent. The world was just so well made that I found it fun to just run around collecting items. The boat combat is was also tons of fun and the sea shanties are one of my favorite things in any game ever. When it comes down to it, Black Flag is just a really fun game to play and it succeeded all my expectations. Once again, I am excited about Assassin's Creed.

2. Bioshock Infinite

Bioshock Infinite is a masterpiece of storytelling. There are very few games ever that have gotten me to scramble throughout forums, desperately searching for answers to things. I was excited to learn the truth about the story and to understand it especially while I was playing it. Playing Infinite was like reading one of the best books ever, as I kept pushing forward to beat it just so I could know what was going to happen. The most masterful part about the game is that the answers were right there with you the whole time the game just hid them so well and had such good foreshadowing that I never saw any of it coming.

Such an amazing story wouldn't be anything special if the world and the characters weren't amazing as well and Bioshock has some of the best of both. Infinite is the reason why I didn't say Rockstar is the best at world building with GTA V, because Irrational games created such an original world with Columbia. I found myself exploring (at least what I thought to be) every nook and cranny just to see everything the world had to offer. The music bits were also incredible and I had to stop and look up songs multiple times wondering if they were actually old songs.

Even though the actual gameplay itself was lackluster at times, and the audio logs were disappointing because they held such important story moments that I missed, Bioshock Infinite is one of those games that I will remember for a very long time. I wish people would stop trying to pick apart the story now that it is months later, and just remember how exciting the game was at the time and how fun it was to discover what the world of Columbia had in store. While I wouldn't be sad if this was the last Bioshock game because it ends so well, I would really enjoy to see where the series went next.

1. The Last of Us

The argument that movies and books can always tell stories better than games can be proven wrong with The Last of Us. This game could have been a book or a movie and it would have been amazing, but as a game it does so much more than those other mediums can. Similar to The Walking Dead, The Last of Us is a zombie apocalypse story that isn't about the zombies, but about the people. The world is filled with realistic characters who have realistic personalities and emotions, brought brilliantly to life by an amazing cast of voice actors and incredible character animation. The story itself is very generic, but the way it tells that generic apocalypse story and the way the characters interact and make the decisions they make just makes it unlike any other zombie game or movie I have ever seen. The main protagonists, Joel and Ellie, have such an interesting relationship that changes over and over again throughout the story, and they each have their own personal qualities that make them stand out much more than any other survival story characters.

Joel at first seems to be a classic antihero, yet as the game progresses and you see more of the type of person he is and why he does what he does, you begin to wonder if his somewhat villainous ways aren't completely justified and necessary. Ellie is there to counter him in a lot of ways and together they really create the best character duo I've ever experienced in a game. The game is filled with such moral ambiguity that I always found myself wondering what I would do if I was in Joel and Ellie's position. It also made me question a lot of things about survival and if at a certain point, if enough things went wrong and you lost everyone you loved, if it's just not worth living anymore. The game is quite depressing in that way and in a lot of other ways too. This game doesn't have too many happy moments, but when it does they are incredible.

In terms of gameplay, I loved it. I can completely understand why someone wouldn't like it as it is slow and requires a decent amount of trial and error, but the game keeps its promise in letting you decide to handle each situation how you want to. You can sneak by without killing people, or stealthily kill, or run in guns blazing (which is often times a big mistake). Rather than playing it like I play most stealth games and restarting as soon as I got caught, I played out every sequence no matter what happened. I felt playing it that way fit the story better and allowed me to enjoy all the different ways combat can play out. I enjoyed the crafting and feeling low on resources, and I felt like the game did an excellent job of making you feel like a scavenger hunting for supplies rather than just placing them right in front of you.

The multiplayer was also amazingly fun. It's difficult and the metagame of keeping your group of survivors alive made every single match more difficult and more intense. If you want to unlock stuff in the multiplayer you have to play well which is something I really appreciated. The game also requires a great amount of patience and good team work, which is something I feel is lacking from most multiplayer shooters these days. Every kill is rewarding as in a game like counter strike because the stakes are high and winning or losing is meaningful. I really want to get back into playing it, but I'm afraid I will be so terrible that I will cause my whole survivor group to die.

The Last of Us is a great achievement for video games. It proves that games can tell stories that are equal to or better than great books and movies and it creates a world that is filled with real characters and real emotions. The beginning and ending scenes are the most powerful parts of any game I have ever experienced and should not be missed.

Honarable Mentions: Saints Row IV, Tomb Raider, Batman Arkham Origins

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The "BackBlog" Special Edition Game #2: 9 Hours 9 Persons 9 Doors

This is an early extra entry into my BlackBlog posts because I did not originally list 999 as one of my backlog games but I have been meaning to play it ever since my friend played it 2 years ago and talked about how amazing it was.

I am happy to say that he was right, 999 is a wonderfully amazing game. There are only a handful of times when a game has gotten me to truly care about its characters, story, and fiction to the point where after the game is complete I just want there to be more. I wanted to see what happens to the characters after the game said The End, I wanted to know more about the world, I just wanted more of anything. 999 was like reading a great book. When I finished it I was completely amazed at how genius the plot was and how great all the characters were that I just wanted it to keep going. I wanted their to be more revelations, more puzzles, more conversations, and more fiction. Even though the game is played on a fairly small DS screen I was completely absorbed within the world of 999 like I was watching a movie. And while some of the puzzles weren't that clever and the way the game forces you to replay them is a bit annoying, the story is so good that it was totally worth it to me. I felt so compelled to see how everything was going to turn out that I didn't even really mind any of the game's faults.

And the game's faults are totally worth putting up with if you want to experience one of the most well written stories of all time (in my opinion). I love plot twists, especially the Assassin's Creed II ending, but Patrick has often made criticisms about it the twist not being "fair" because the game doesn't earn it's twist. There was no opportunity for the player to see the twist coming because it wasn't relevant to the game until it happened. Now I understand what Patrick was saying and I agree. 999 earns its plot twists. At the end of the game when everything is revealed there are multiple "holy shit!" moments because the twists were sitting right there the entire time and were so well written and so clever that even though some of them are right in front of you there is no way you could have guessed them. There were even twists within the twists and there is so much that happens that it is just overwhelming in the best possible way. After reading through the Q & A with the game's writer found here I could not believe how perfectly the plot fits together. All of the parts where I thought there were plot holes that didn't make sense make perfect sense. In such a complex story, that is truly the work of a genius. I want to just keep writing about it and describing how amazing each one of the plot twists and story connections were, but there is no way I would ever spoil anything about this game for anyone because it must be experienced! I can not say enough good things about this game. If you love great stories, characters, and plot twists then this game is a must play. Even if you don't like touch screens or adventure puzzles, it is still worth it. The experience of 999 is something that is truly a masterpiece and I am very excited to play VLR.

Side note: If you have played the game and are confused at all I highly recommend reading the Q & A I linked with the writer Kotaro Uchikoshi. He cleared up any confusion I had and also explained things that made me feel even more amazed by how well written the game is.

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The "BackBlog" Game #1: Limbo

I finished the first game of my back log, Limbo. Here is my original post about challenging myself to finish my back logged games.

Limbo was an amazing game that turned into a disappointment. The game opens up with no text, no tutorial, no music, no voice acting and it continues this way through the entire game. The developers use good game design to allow you to figure out the puzzles on your own and how the game works so you don't have to take 15 minutes to be explained every single mechanic. The lack of voice acting or any text at all to explain the story was also done really well because I started piecing everything together myself from what was actually happening in the game. This all works perfectly in the opening of the game. You are alone in this quiet seemingly empty forest that is definitely not empty. Being afraid of spiders, this game may have had the creepiest spider I have ever seen in a game. Not to mention, the game is horrifyingly brutal. You are playing as a young boy and to see some of the stuff that happens to him when you die is shocking and also adds to the creepiness of the game. The environment and the puzzles work perfectly with what is happening around you and everything fits together so well I could not wait to see the conclusion to the game.

Then the second half of the game disappoints big time. The environment completely changes from a forest to a factory and all the brutal images and enemies of the forest go away and you are left with a puzzle game in a factory that is much less creepy. It felt like the game went from this really interesting, creepy story experience that had puzzles just to add to that experience, into a game where the puzzles were the only thing that mattered and the atmosphere and story were no longer important. The game did throw a lot of interesting mechanics together in a really good way and the puzzles do start to get difficult near the end but I was still left totally underwhelmed. The final puzzle isn't even some big special reveal or some puzzle that ties all the mechanics together, it just seems like it's another part of the game and then the game just ends. I was happy with the ending and the way I interpreted it from what I saw made sense to me, but I can't help but feel really disappointed by the second half of the game. The forest and what you encounter there was so perfect that I didn't understand why they felt the need to get rid of all those enemies and level design for something that was much less interesting. Overall though, I am happy I played it.

Now onto my next game, finishing Sleeping Dogs!

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The "BackBlog" Introduction

So now that 2012 is over and I have finished a lot of the games I wanted to for game of the year stuff, I now have the entire month of January with nothing but old games to play or finish. Also, with my money running short and since I will be finishing up my last semester of college, I don't think I will be able to buy any new releases like I have been for the past 2 years. So I figure I should start playing through all the games I never finished or have never even started. Some of the games will be really tough but I am going to try to beat all of them. I want to play all these games and at least make my purchases worth it, so I am going to try to defeat my backlog!

Here is the list of games, how much I have played them, and how difficult I think it will be to finish them.

-Alan Wake's American Nightmare: Never played it, Easy to finish. I really liked Alan Wake and this game is short

-Assassin's Creed III: about 75% done, easy to finish. I'm almost done so it won't take long

-Beyond Good and Evil: Played the first hour, hard to finish. I played the first hour and it seemed a bit boring, need to get farther I guess

-The Binding of Isaac: Never played it, very hard to finish. Not sure this one is actually beatable for me, but I want to spend some time playing it at least

-Cave Story: Never played it, hard to beat. I really don't know much about this game so I don't know what I'm getting into!

-Darksiders II: Over half way through, medium to beat. I enjoyed the game but was disappointed, the biggest hurdle will be to start playing it again

-Dark Souls: Have 3 bosses left (I think) hard to beat. I played this when it came out and then got into Arkham City and Skyrim and never finished, biggest regret

-The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: 100 hours played, medium to "beat". Basically I want to finish the main story, dawnguard, and the dark brotherhood.

-Fallout 3: played the first 6 hours about 3 times Very Hard to beat. I played the beginning of this game way to much, I don't think I will ever be able to finish it

-Fallout New Vegas: played the first 4 hours, Very Hard to beat. I would finish 3 before this and the chances of me beating both Fallout games? Slim

-Just Cause 2: Played the first 20 minutes, easy to beat. Once I get into this game I know I will love it

-Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning: 20 hours in, very hard to beat. I enjoyed this game but it came out too soon after Skyrim, and theres so many side quests

-Limbo: Never played it, easy to beat. I actually just finished it last night and it will be my first blog about this tomorrow

-Lone Survivor: Played the first 5 minutes, easy to beat. Sounds like a fun game I will get into

-Mark of the Ninja: 5 missions in, easy to beat. Good game I'm gonna take my time with

-Max Payne 2: played the first hour, medium to beat. I will have to be in the right mood to get through this one

-Metro 2033: played the first 30 minutes, easy to beat. I've been meaning to play this, and it's short

-RAGE: Played 4 hours, hard to beat. I'm not sure I can get back into it, too much vehicle driving but the shooting was great

-Sleeping Dogs: 6 hours in, easy to beat. Currently playing it and loving it, really fun game

-Stalker Call of Pripyat: never played, Very hard to beat. I never finished the first one either but this one is newer so I'll give this one a go, don't think I will beat it

-Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II The Sith Lords: played the first 2 hours, hard to beat. Kotor is my favorite single player game ever but I never got into 2

-Super Meat Boy: chapter 4, hard to beat. This game is getting pretty hard, I will keep trying

-Sword and Sorcery: 20 minutes, easy to beat. The soundtrack is amazing so this one should be fun

-Warhammer 40K Space Marine: first hour, easy to beat. I think it will be a fun mindless game whenever I choose to go through it

So that is the list. Every time I beat a game, I will blog my thoughts about it. I am going to try to make it through all these games and I think I have a good shot at beating most of them now that I am short on money and won't be distracted by new releases. I would appreciate any suggestions from you all about what games I should prioritize playing over others. I already beat Limbo so it will be my first post, and now I'm working through Sleeping Dogs and I'm thinking about Metro 2033 next. Any suggestions will be helpful though!

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My Top 10 Games of The Year

This was a very interesting year for games. Half of my list I never even expected to play, and a few games I thought I would love didn't make the cut. While I didn't enjoy everything as much as I did last year, it was still another great year for games.

10. Hotline Miami

Hotline Miami is just complete madness and that is what is so great about it. When you first start playing the game you feel like you want to handle it like a puzzle where you analyze each room and develop a whole strategy to figure out how to win. Then after dying a bunch of times anyway you finally say fuck it and go all out, running in between rooms like a mad man wildly swinging your weapon. The gameplay style is more like Supermeat Boy in that, rather than taking your time, you want to just go all out every time and try over and over until you succeed. Now I will definitely not go as far as to say the controls are as good as Supermeat Boy because they are not. The controller is terrible to use, and while the mouse and keyboard is fine, sometimes I feel like it doesn't handle as well as I would like.

But besides the controls Hotline Miami does everything else extraordinarily well. The movement speed is super fast and smooth, chaining combos is as satisfying as in any game and the music is amazing. Hotline Miami would still be a good game without its soundtrack, but the amazing music fits the vibe of the game so well I found myself even more addicted to retrying just so I could hear the songs repeat themselves over and over. Its so unfortunate that I keep randomly getting an error that makes the music stop working, because without the music, the game just isn't the same. Oh, and I love the 80's style Miami theme because it reminds me so much of GTA Vice City. Anyway, Hotline Miami is an addictive, challenging game with an amazing soundtrack that I will be returning to in 2013.

9. Assassin's Creed III

Assassin's Creed II is one of my favorite games of all time. I also loved Brotherhood and even AC 1. So when I saw the release date of Assassin's Creed III, with its American Revolution setting, new protagonist, and a potential amazing ending to the story arch I thought it was easily going to be my 2012 game of the year. Instead it is probably the game I am most disappointed in this year. I haven't finished the game yet (I have 2 sequences left I believe) but so far the story has been boring, which is a huge surprise for an AC game (and from what I've heard it only gets worse). But the biggest problem with the game is the main missions. Besides the Battle of Bunker Hill, all the missions have been poorly designed. No, I do not want to "listen in" on "secret" conversations that people are having in the middle of the street and no I do not want to have a stupid chase sequence. It all feels poorly put together, especially when they had such great historical moments to use for missions.

Thankfully, the core of what I think makes the Assassin's Creed games amazing is just as good as ever. The combat is as fluid and fun as it's ever been and although it is extremely ridiculous and easy, I can not help but love the animations they gave Connor. He has a different style with each weapon and every kill move is fun to watch. The climbing system is still the best there is and I loved running through the trees. The open world is still a ton of fun to explore, jumping out of trees to stab dudes in the throat is still awesome and I still got hooked on running around collecting everything. The peg leg missions reminded me of the Uncharted series (in a really good way) and the naval combat may be the best looking thing I've ever seen on a console. Also the naval missions are surprisingly tons of fun. It is really unfortunate that half of Assassin's Creed III is so poorly designed, because the other half of the game is so much fun. I wish Ubisoft would stop running this great series into the ground.

8. Torchlight 2

I think Torchlight 2 deserves way more attention than it's getting. The core gameplay is solid, the loot is varied and really fun to get, the dungeons are plentiful and fun, and the end game is smartly designed. I have played for roughly 40 hours and my character is only level 75 (cap is 100). The skill trees are great, there is offline play, a server browser, new game plus, I could go on and on. The best part is the game is only $20. With the amount of cotent and quality of this game it could easily be a $50 product but Runic stuck to their guns and made a fun game at an easily affordable price.

While the feel of the combat is not nearly as good as Diablo III, the end game is exactly what I wanted out of this type of game. Mapworks, where you buy randomly generated dungeons that have bonuses like 10% more magic find, or monsters do 25% more damage but you get 20% more gold, and you can infinitely do dungeon runs without having to see the same enemies and bosses in the same spots by continuously playing new game plus. Every dungeon has a random boss at the end that drops good loot, making every run exciting. My only regret with this game is that I didn't play it more, mostly because none of my friends bought it, so I feel like I haven't even experienced how fun it can actually be. Also, they still haven't added the mods to the Steam Work shop, and I wish you could respec your character. But, those are minor complaints about a really awesome game.

7. Spec Ops: The Line

The biggest and best surprise for me this year by far, Spec Ops: The Line is a great game. The story telling really surprised me multiple times, not only because of plot twists, but because of how brutal the game gets and how far it goes to show you the horrors of war. Even the loading screens taunt you. It is sort of cheesy, but I really think Yager deserves praise for taking it as far as they did. Not only that, but the game lets you make choices that are extremely difficult. Everything is a battle of morals and the game literally tries to get you to cross "the line" constantly. The ending is also filled with choices that actually have a dramatic difference on how the story plays out and all of them are really well done.

As far as gameplay goes it's mostly your standard cover based shooter. Nothing really new or fancy, although I liked using sand to kill enemies. I don't think they utilized that mechanic enough or the sandstorm mechanic. But, because I never really play military shooters, I found the gameplay to be quite fun. The graphics and lighting were really gorgeous and they added in plenty of variety to the indoor environments to make the level design constantly feel varied. I wish they could have made the game a bit longer and that they could have found a way to make the gameplay standout more, but in the end I came away from the game really happy with what the game accomplishes is. I certainly wasn't expecting it to be this good.

6. Diablo III

Diablo III feels great to play. The core combat is awesome, the monsters are fun to fight, and I love the art design. My first playthrough of the game was one the most fun gaming experiences I had this year. The I got to Inferno where the difficulty was ridiculous, which is fine, except in 30 hours of grinding I never got a single piece of loot my character could use. I had to grind gold and buy thing off the auction house to move on through the game which felt stupid and took away all the fun. I think the real money auction house is a terrible thing as well and I am still completely shocked that people have bought item on there for hundreds of dollars. It really upset me when Inferno was as bad as it was. Also, the fact that PvP is STILL not patche dinto the game is completely inexcusable and totally ridiculous. Blizzard really fucked this game up a number of ways.

But all my whining aside, Diablo III is still a great game to have fun with your friends. It was the one game this year that all my friends bought and we all played together all the time. So insteaf of being miserable in inferno by myself I was at least dying with my friends and we could complain together. In all seriousness, I really love the co-op and now that they have patched the game I want to play again. Monster power is a cool idea they should have had in the first place. I also think it's great Blizzard tried to get away from skill trees and design a new skill selection system. It is a really cool idea, that could have been better if the game's balance had made all the skills viable (like Blizzard said they would be). Although I have bitched and complained about the game plenty of times, it is still one of the best co-op experiences of the year and the game I spent the most time playing this year. Add that to the fact that I still think about playing it, then I think it deserves more credit than I have been willing to give it.

5. Dishonored

I love Dishonored. Yes, like a bunch of games this year it totally disappoints in more ways than one, but I still love it. Sure, Hitman lets you change disguises and have cool accident kills and Mark of the Ninja is mechanically far superior, but I love the freedom Dishonored offers. The giant open level design was so much fun to explore and it really allowed me to truly handle situations in any way I wanted to. The first 6 missions of the game were well designed and I love how there is constantly so many options for the player to complete the task at hand. Also, I think blink is one of the most fun powers in any game ever because it allows any part of a level in Dishonored to be used for hiding, exploration, or assassination spots. Sure, you are pretty overpowered, but the powers really allow you to be creative and the options are endless.

I also really appreciated Dishonored placed its upgrades within the environment rather than handing out experience for completing objectives or killing guys. It gave me more reasons to explore and let me find things I otherwise wouldn't have went looking for. I also love the art design, the look of Dunwall is amazing and I really like how there are notes scattered about that give you insight into the world if you want to learn more. Everything about the gameplay is so well put together, that it is truly a shame that the story is pretty lame. Also, The Outsider was probably the most annoying character this year. My only other complaint is that the final three missions were too small. I wished they made them larger or had added more missions to the game. I'm excited for the next DLC because I want to see what other crazy assassinations I can do. If this game didn't fall off in the end, it would have been even higher on my list.

4. The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead is a brutal game, and I loved it. Tell Tale really showed no mercy through each episode, letting the must heart-breaking and at times disturbing things happen to characters I had grown to like. Out of everything though, the relationship between Lee and Clementine was one of the most real relationships I've ever seen in a game. All of the characters fit together really well and even when some of them upset me, I understood why they did what they did. The game does an amazing job of putting the pressure on you doing the intense arguments. The voice acting was so spot on and well rounded, and the character design was also top notch.

It's really unfortunate that the gameplay was so boring. It was good at pacing the game, but never have a I wanted to rush through a game to see what was going to happen next more than in The Walking Dead. Also, I got the save file bug, which, luckily I found a fix for, but I think it is pretty bad that Tell Tale never put out a patch for it. Overall, though I applaud Tell Tale for ignorning the happy "you win" generic formula of most games. Just like with Spec Ops: The Line, The Walking Dead really drives home the point that players shouldn't always be able to win just by playing as "the good guy" or picking the correct color choice. Life is much more gray than that, and sometimes no matter what you do things still turn out badly. The Walking Dead shows this perfectly and I can't wait for Season 2.

3. Far Cry 3

I'm going to get this out of the way first and say the story is bad. It has great potential, tons of moments to save itself, and it just gets worse. Vaas is the most underused character of all time and it is a shame he didn't have a larger role in the game. Now, with that done I can say far Cry 3 is awesome. It's a mash of Assassin's Creed and Red Dead Redemption and it works great. Climbing towers to unlock the map, hunting lions and sharks, taking over outposts, jumping off cliffs and flying with a wing suit are all just so much fun. The shooting is solid and the way you can handle every situation, sniping, grenade launchers, lighting building son fire, or complete stealth, is totally up to you and each way is fun.

Even more importantly is the amazing open world madness that occurs within the game. Lions chasing a pack of humans, isalnders crashing their vehicle sinto each other, and best of all, a man standing by the river only to get eaten by a crocodile. Not to mention, the game looks amazing on PC, and it runs so well. The design of the island is also great, as they made searching for relics more fun than it should have been because of good exploration design. I also have this fear of water in games, and swimming to the bottom of the ocean to collect chests and relics in shark infested waters was this really fun/scary thrill ride. The game just has so much to do and when you get tired of it, you can just go around and make your own fun. It's a shame the game's story is so bad, because the rest of the game is phenomenal.

2. Journey

Journey is a beautiful game. There is nothing more memorable in a game for me than sliding down the sand dunes. The art was amazing, and somehow the world felt like a place filled with adventure and stories, even though you only spend a few short hours there. And to be totally honest, I do not care that Journey isn't a "game" because floating through the air and sliding around is just so much fun. Some of the moments actually made me smile while I was playing and the game had a ton of really good surprises. And even though there isn't a single word said throughout the entire game, I felt like I was telling my own story of my Journey through the world.

Also, the co-op is brilliant I have never been more concerned about someone else in a game with me, especially someone I didn't know. Losing track of my partner was heart breaking and the playthrough where I made it all the way with one person made me so happy. There has never been a feeling in a game quite like when I thought I lost the person who was with me, only to hear a chirping noise in the distance and then see them sliding down a hill toward me. There is just something special about the experience of Journey that made me want to play it three times and makes me still want to play it even more. Everything from the look, to the controls, to the soundtrack fit together so perfectly. If you haven't played Journey yet I highly recommend it. It really is something to experience.

1. XCOM: Enemy Unknown

I love strategy games. They always suck me in and get me addicted, whether it be Civilization, Disgaea, or Starcraft, and XCOM's turn based strategy combined with its base building meta game is some of the best I have played. Firaxis was able to create a game with solid turn based mechanics, good strategy, and still include that addicting "one more turn" civilization style. I literally could not sit down to play XCOM unless I knew I had at least 5 hours free. The game just constantly kept me entertained and focused.

I got so into my campaign that I even named all my soldiers which made it so each one of them created their own personal stories. Avenging my fallen soldiers was always fun, and I often check the memorial wall to go back and remember all the ones that died (there were a lot). When you add in all the different abilities, levels, and upgrades you can equip your soldiers with, everything felt like a huge investment. There is tons of risk reward and every decision you make in XCOM is a difficult one. When your decisions pay off you feel like a genius and when they don't you have to face the consequences. Every mission is stressful because a soldier can die at any moment, and every victory screen is more satisfying than the last.

To top it off, I experienced no bugs during my playthrough which was pretty awesome considering the stories I have heard. The game was just tons of fun and really really well made strategy. I'm already getting prepared to start an Ironman Classic playthrough just to see how long I can survive. I hope they release some huge DLC for the game as well because I need any excuse to continue playing this game. Even if you aren't a fan of turn based strategy you should give XCOM a try because there is nothing out there like it today. It was the best game I played this year.

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My Game of the Year Awards: The Winners

Here are the winners of my 2012 Game of the Year Awards

"The Moosey Retro" Award for best Non-2012 Game

Winner: To The Moon

I am a sucker for really heartfelt, emotional story lines and To The Moon fits that perfectly. Although it isn't an actual game, the writing and characters of To The Moon make it well worth experiencing. The plot isn't even that original but I felt so invested in what was happening that even when I saw some of the twists coming, I couldn't help but feel shocked and most of the time, totally heart broken. A lot of games are really poor at talking about love, or making love have real meaning, but To The Moon really gives you, in my opinion, one of the best love stories you can find. It is the only game that has ever made tears come out of my eyes and I am not embarrassed to admit it. To top it off, the game's soundtrack is beautiful, and the comedic moments fit in perfectly with my childhood (animorphs and power rangers references). To The Moon is another example of how good video game stories can be and how I hope for a future where stories like To The Moon can be combined with some great gameplay. If I had played this game last year it definitely would have made my top 10 of 2011.

Runner Up: Amnesia: The Dark Descent

"Time Should Freeze While Gaming" Award for Game I Didn't Get To Play in 2012

Winner: FTL: Faster Than Light

After watching a few videos of FTL it is really hard to understand why everyone loves it so much, but since so many people, including the GB crew, have talked about how great it is, I can't help but want to play it. The more I looked into the game the more excited I became about it and it definitely sounds like it will be a gaming experience I have not had before. I just recently purchased it for $5 during the Steam sale, so I will begin playing it very soon.

Runner Up: Dust: An Elysian Tale

"Parents Think It's Real" Award for Best Looking Game

Winner: Journey

While other games this year were better technically, Journey was by far the best game to look at. The side view sliding part was probably the best looking thing I have ever seen in a game. The game also has a good change in environments and each time it adds something new and breathtaking to look at. In all honesty, half my love of this game comes from just how amazing it looks so much so that I kept replaying parts just to SEE it again. You may not enjoy playing Journey, but I don't think there is any argument that it isn't an amazing looking game.

Runner Up: Far Cry 3

"Details, Details!" Award for Best Art Design

Winner: Dishonored

There is something about the way the city of Dunwall , its characters, and the weapons are designed that just makes me think the world is really unique and interesting. The steampunk-ish vibe works really well and I love how they fit together this kind of crazy new technology within an 1800's style world. Of all the games this year, Dishonored's art really gave the most life to its world and made the city of a place I want to revisit in the future.

Runner Up: Journey

"Prime Real Estate" Award for Best Setting

Winner: American Revolution (Assassin's Creed III)

I have always loved the historical settings of the Assassin's Creed series and the American Revolution is quite awesome. They didn't use it as well as they did with in Assassin's Creed 2, but the frontier was a beautiful place to explore, while the cities of and are both represented fairly well. After spending so much time learning about this period of history in school, it was fun to see a virtual re-creation of it. They did a good job of reminding me of the old museums around where I live which gave me fond memories of my childhood. Lots of games have used sci-fi universes and tropical islands, so the American revolution really stands out.

Runner Up: Rook Island (Far Cry 3)

"Actual Acting" Award for Best Voice Acting Performance

Winner: Michael Mando as Vaas

Michael Mando's performance as Vaas was truly one of the most memorable moments in games this year. A lot of video game characters have generic, flat personalities, and their actors often give a generic performance. Michael mando sounds like he is putting his heart and soul into acting like Vaas every time Vaas speaks in the game and it really brings the character to life. He jumps around from calm quiet talking, to loud yelling and spastic behavior. I believed that he was insane not because the codex in the game said he was or because he was the bad guy, but because Michael Mando made me believe it with an amazing performance.

Runner Up: Nolan North as Captain Martin Walker

"Take A Bow" Award for Best Overall Voice Acting

Winner: The Walking Dead

Of all the games this year, The Walking Dead had by far the most diverse and well acted cast. Every character sounded believable and no one gave a boring performance. While the moment to moment conversations were solid, it was the amazing acting during the moments of intense arguments that really shows the great voice work in The Walking Dead. The acting really brought out the stress, anger, and desperation in the characters and made it even harder for me to make split second decisions. From what I've seen of the TV show, the acting in the game is much better because it is less dramatic and more real.

Runner Up: Mass Effect 3

"The Theme" Award for Best Song

Winner: Nascence (Journey)

Every time I listen to this song it just brings back all my wonderful memories of playing Journey. Although it's a short song it captures the spirit of the entire game and gives you the feeling of a very emotional adventure. In a lot of ways it reminds me of Lord of the Rings music, which I love, but I mostly chose this song because it fits perfectly with the amazing game of Journey (and it's really relaxing to listen to). Here is the song

Runner Up: Hydrogen (Hotline Miami)

"It's Gonna Be Epic!" Award for Best Soundtrack

Winner: Hotline Miami

The music of Hotline Miami fits the game perfectly, fast, crazy, and out of control. I'm not a big fan of electronica-type music (not exactly sure how to classify it) but every track in Hotline Miami practically gets me moving in my chair as I run around bashing fools head's in with a steel pipe. Unfortunately I keep getting the Error where the music in the game will not play and playing Hotline Miami without the music is just wrong. Believe me, I tried it. I just can't be as crazy and reckless without Hydrogen blaring. Here is the entire soundtrack as well

Runner Up: Journey

"Uh Uh Uh Uh" Award for Best Melee Combat

Winner: Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs is the best Arkham Asylum impersonation so far and although it isn't as fluid or fast as it is in the Arkham games, Sleeping dogs found a way to take that basic formula and make it it's own. The game reacts well to your button presses, it has good timings, and the animations are brutal in the best way possible. The counters look like real martial arts moves, and they are some of the most fun counters in any melee game ever. The real stand out however, is the use of the environment. Nothing is more fun than throwing a guy in a dumpster, or tossing him over a railing, or smashing his face into a fan...

Runner Up: Assassin's Creed III

"Pew Pew Pew Pew" Award for Best Shooting

Winner: Far Cry 3

Far Cry 3 has some of the most diverse shooting in any game I have ever played. From snipers, flamethrowers, grenade launchers, flare guns, to a bow, you can carry around an assortment of weapons that are not often grouped together in games like Far Cry 3. It's really not about the types of weapons themselves though, but more about how you are able to use them. Do you want to put a silencer on your sniper and kill from a distance, get in close with the bow, take down hordes of enemies with a machine gun, or light an entire camp on fire and watch the madness unfold? Far Cry 3 lets the player be creative with their guns which is what made the game so damn fun.

Runner Up: Spec Ops: The Line

"It's 2012 You Can't Join My Game!?" Award for Best Co-op Multiplayer

Winner: Journey

Journey's multiplayer was incredible because it allowed me to interact with people on the internet in a overwhelmingly positive way. By taking away mics and regular gameplay actions, Journey encouraged players to help each other find secrets, use each other to survive harsh conditions, and even wait for each other, hoping that their partner was not lost. During my first playthrough I lost the person I was playing with and my heart was completely broken. I sat at the end of the game and waited for what must have been ten minutes before finally giving up and sadly finishing the game alone. There was nothing this year quite like the chirping sound of another in game player to let you know "Hey don't worry friend, I'm over here!" It really is something special.

Runner Up: Diablo III

"Going Pro" Award for Best Competitive Multiplayer

Winner: Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

I didn't even buy Global Offensive yet because I got so obsessed with it during the Beta I played for way longer than I should have and burnt myself out. I didn't play too much new competitive games this year and from what I have played, CS:GO continues to prove to be the hardest and most competitive shooter out there. Getting a 15 kill streak in Call of Duty is great, but nothing feels better than hitting just one perfect head shot in CS. CS:Go maintains the greatness of CS while giving it a nice and much needed update. If I can ever learn to control my "just one more round" syndrome I will be back to playing this again and loving it.

Runner Up: Natural Selection 2

"Creativity" Award for Most Creative

Winner: Dear Esther

Dear Esther was a really interesting experience because it felt more like a visual novel than any other game I have played before. It's so creative though because the developers did a wonderful job of combining the writing and visuals and in most cases, relying on the visuals (which were stunning) to move the player forward. Also, the story and the writing of Dear Esther is totally unlike anything I have experienced in a game before. It's thoughtful, dense, and is the farthest thing from straight forward that you can get. But the fact that it got me to enjoy such an open ended and mysterious experience without any gameplay mechanics besides "walking" really says something about what video games can do in the future and thaat there is more to games than violence.

Runner Up: Journey

"They Wrote on the Walls in Blood!" Award for Best Use of Gore

Winner: The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead has some of the most shocking "gore" moments in any game I have ever played. When it requires the player to partake, or even be the cause of some of these moments, it really stunned me in a lot of ways. The game becomes extremely brutal a lot of the time, which just added to the tension. Jump scares have their place in movies and games, but The Walking Dead excels at scaring you with the horrible things you have to see happen because they are out of your control. Even when you are in control, you are hardly ever going to get a nice outcome, and with crazy humans and hordes of zombies around, you know plenty of blood will be shed.

Runner Up: Spec Ops The Line

"Vents Are Your Best Friend" Award for Best Stealth

Winner: Dishonored

Although Mark of the Ninja is far superior mechanically, it's the total freedom of the player that makes me love stealthing around in Dishonored. Blink is one of the most fun abilities I have ever used in a game and it solves so many problems I had with stealthing in game like Hitman and Deus Ex. Sure, the first-person view is not the best to see your environment, but Dishonored gives you plenty of tools to sneak around and be an expert assassin. I really enjoyed the ability to instantly teleport into windows or on roof tops to avoid guards. The game allows you to go almost anywhere you can see and how you choose to stealth around is totally up to you.

Runner Up: Mark of the Ninja

"Broken Controller" Award for Hardest Game

Winner: XCOM: Enemy Unknown

XCOM is hard because soldiers can die in one shot, you can miss shots that have high percentages, totally ruining your whole plan of attack, or you can be careless for one turn and get caught in the fire of a sectopod. But what really makes XCOM difficult and fun is the tough choices you constantly have to make. Should I overwatch or should I go for the run and gun? Should I buy more air jets or buy new rifles? Do I want to save Nigeria or Japan? Should I test my best soldier for psi powers and lose them for ten days? The game is constantly filled with ridiculously hard choices and even when it seems like the game is being unfair, its probably your own fault because of some poor choice you made before.

Runner Up: Hotline Miami

"Purposely Blind Yourself" Award for Best Sunlight

Winner: Journey

The sunlight in Journey is the best I have seen in any game before. Although it isn't present throughout the entire game, the moments it is there are absolutely stunning. Seriously, this game is worth playing just to experience the picture on the left.

Runner Up: Far Cry 3

"Cryo Sleep Does Not Work on Robots (Uhehehehehe)" Award for Funniest Game

Winner: Hitman Absolution

I didn't actually play any real comedic games this year, but Hitman Absolution got me to laugh more than once. Some of the costumes you can wear in certain scenarios are really entertaining, but where the game really got me to laugh was when listening to some of the npc conversations. The "bro" talk in the game, whether intentional or not (I hope it's intentional) was down right hilarious and Hitman does one of the best jobs of any game of throwing in well timed comedic relief.

Runner Up: Gotham City Imposters

"Cool Guys Don't Look At Explosions" Award for Best Action

Winner: Far Cry 3

One minute you are shooting a bear with a shotgun, then you are overtaking an outpost by shooting a tiger out of its cage so it starts to maul everyone while you shoot explosive barrels, then you are lighting the jungle on fire with a flame thrower, escaping the flames by jumping off the mountain and flying away with a wing suit, grabbing a jet ski and jumping off a water fall, tossing C4 and blowing up a shark, and then sniping guys in the head from a mile away. And none of this is necessary to beating the game, you do it because it's fun.

Runner Up: Spec Ops: The Line

"The Final Stage" Award for Best Boss Fights

Winner: Asura's Wrath

By far the best part of the game, the boss fights in Asura's Wrath even got me to love it's insanity. I will never forget rapidly smashing buttons while Asura, as the size of a man, punches a finger of a God that is bigger than the entire planet, preventing it from crushing him. It is completely stupid, fun, ridiculous, and awesome all at the same time.

Runner Up: Torchlight 2

"Hit 'M' Once Every 30 Seconds" Award for Best Open World

Winner: Far Cry 3

Rook Island is a blast to explore. There are tons of cool places to see, the environment is beautiful to look at, and you never know what kind of craziness you are going to witness during your explorations. Like two island inhabitants crashing into each other at full speed and blowing their cars up, or a leopard chasing a pig and a human, or a man standing next to an open grave with shovels and blood all around, crying. It's a great sandbox world, and I really appreciate its size. It wasn't so big that the game took 100 hours to complete and felt overwhelming and it wasn't too small that I had seen everything too soon. And there's sharks.

Runner Up: Assassin's Creed III

"The Addiction" Award for Best Gameplay

Winner: XCOM: Enemy Unknown

I love strategy games and XCOM is some of the most strategic turn based play I have ever played. The games constant demand of the player to make tough choices, while managing a base, research, your soldiers and praying to god that your sniper one shots that damn muton before it throws a grenade is so much fun. The hilarious nicknames and the memorial of your fallen soldiers are just little touches to the game that make the core mechanics so great. Like when "Snake Eyes" blasts a Sectopod with a head shot crit and then what's that? Double tap? Another critical shot? Hell yeah "Snake Eyes"! Nothing was more satisfying than blasting aliens in the face.

Runner Up: Dishonored

"Steal the Spotlight" Award for Best Supporting Character

Winner: Clementine

I don't care if some people see her just as a plot device to keep the players morals in check, Clementine is probably one of the best kid characters in video games ever. She is not annoying, and I never felt like getting rid of her. I wanted to protect her and make sure she was safe. The horrors this girl has to go through by the time episode 5 was complete I could not believe. She is a really likable character, who has some great lines that made me laugh, and some other great lines that made me sad. She was one of the main reasons why I found The Walking Dead to be such a good game.

Runner Up: Yasha

"Heroes of Our Time" Award for Best Main Character

Winner: Lee

Lee is a great character because even though the player is in control of most of his actions he still keeps his own personality. He is also a character who is able to do the hard thing when he has to, and is willing to help others instead of hiding. His relationship with Clementine is one of the best in any video game I've seen. You never get the feeling that Lee is a bad guy, just a man forced into bad situations. And just like Clementine I never had any reason to be annoyed by him. Even though I was controlling Lee, I felt like I was making the decisions to help Lee rather than to help myself as the player. The fact that his personality stood out more than my own goals within the game shows what a great character he is.

Runner Up: Captain Martin Walker

"The Power of the Dark Side" Award for Best Villain

Winner: Vaas

Easily the most underused character of all time (in my opinion). Vaas facial expressions, his actions, his lines, the acting of Michael Mando, are all so amazing it is a terrible shame that he appears only in roughly 5-6 scenes in the whole game. I would be totally fine if they announced Far Cry 4 starring Vaas, because I loved his character. As a villain hes pretty damn ruthless and his insanity is believable.

Runner Up: Haytham Kenway

"Bring Your Whole Crew" Award for Best Cast of Characters

Winner: The Walking Dead

With so many new, original, and well developed characters The Walking Dead was an easy choice. The attachment you get to each character is something special and it is amazing how Tell Tale was able to take a 12 hour game and flesh out so many characters. Each one of them brought something new to the story and it was always exciting to meet a new character and see how they would fit in with everyone else.

Runner Up: Asura's Wrath

"It's 2012 WTF!" Award for Biggest Disappointment/Annoyance

Winner: Inferno (Diablo III)

Of all the disappointments this year (there were some big ones) Inferno in Diablo III was the biggest let down for me. I loved my first playthrough of Diablo III. The game feels good to play and the loot was exciting and fun. Then I got to infenro and was ready to grind and have a blast, but then got stuck on Act 2's insane difficulty. And after playing in Infenro for roughly 30 hours I hadn't even got one piece of loot I used on my character, I had to buy everything on the auction house. Then the real money auction house went live and the drop rates stayed terrible. My friends quit playing and sadly I did too. I have played a bit since they fixed it and I think the changes they have made are really good, but damn did they fuck this game up when it came out.

Runner Up: Mass Effect 3's Lack of Meaningful Choices

"The People's Champ" Award for Best Developer

Winner: Runic games

Torhclight II has as much content as Diablo III (and a better end game) and less bugs than most of the big budget releases this year, and yet Runic kept it at a $20 price. That is pretty awesome in my opinion. Torchlight II is a great game with solid design, tons of replay value, offline play, server browsers, no micro transactions, no real money auction house, no crazy save file losses, and is at such an amazingly low price. Props to Runic for sticking to their core and being loyal to their fan base, and for making a really fun game in Torchlight II.

Runner Up: thatgamecompany

"Tears of Joy" Award for Best Story

Winner: Spec Ops: The Line

While the Walking Dead has the best characters and character interaction, the actual plot of Spec Ops: The Line was the most surprising and entertaining for me this year. Nothing that I thought was going to happen, happened and the choices you can make during the ending actual are meaningful and have dramatic changes. At times it did seem like the developers were trying to be a bit too "dark" but everything caught me off guard and I liked the idea that sometimes the player can't always be the hero and make everything come out like a perfect action movie. War is a serious thing, and while Spec Ops is not even close to the best representation of it, I was happy to see it take the horrors of war more seriously.

Runner Up: The Walking Dead

"Standing Ovation" Award for Best Ending

Winner: The Walking Dead

Although I saw the ending coming from a mile away, never did I think it would be as horribly brutal as it was. Tell Tale really deserves serious respect for avoiding the generic happy perfect ending formula. The relationship between Clementine and Lee made for great story telling and the ending summed up everything that was great about the game.

Runner Up: Spec Ops: The Line

"It Came Outta Nowhere" Award for Best Surprise

Winner: Spec Ops: The Line

I never ever expected to play this game or expected it to be any good. Then I started hearing what Jeff was saying about the story and that other people on the internet were really liking it. I saw an Amazon summer sale drop the price to $25 and I am glad I bought it. The story was great, and since I am someone who doesn't ever play military shooters besides an occasional Call of Duty campaign, I thought the gameplay was pretty good. It moved fast and I liked the sandstorm ideas they had. Overall, truly the biggest surprise of the year for me.

Runner Up: The Walking Dead

That's all the awards, thanks for reading! I'll (hopefully) post my top 10 tomorrow.

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Game of the Year Awards: The Nominees

Here of the nominees for my game of the year awards from 2012:

"The Moosey Retro" Award for Best Non-2012 Game

Alan Wake

Amnesia: The Dark Descent

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

Saints Row The Third

To the Moon

"Time Should Freeze When Gaming" Award for Game I Didn't Get To Play in 2012

Halo 4

Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward

FTL: Faster Than Light

Dust: An Elysian Tale

Call of Duty: Black Ops II

"My Parents Think It's Real" Award for Best Looking Game

Sleeping Dogs

Hitman: Absolution

Journey

Dear Esther

Far Cry 3

"Details, Details!" Award for Best Art Design

Dishonored

Diablo III

Torchlight 2

Journey

Guild Wars 2

"Prime Real Estate" Award for Best Setting

Rook Island (Far Cry 3)

Dunwall (Dishonored)

1989 Miami (Hotline Miami)

Hong Kong (Sleeping Dogs)

American Revolution (Assassin's Creed III)

"Actual Acting" Award for Best Voice Acting Performance

Nolan North as Captain Martin Walker

Melissa Hutchinson as Clementine

Dave Fennoy as Lee Everett

Michael Mando as Vaas

Michael Wincott as Death

"Take a Bow" Award for Best Overall Voice Acting

Assassin's Creed III

Far Cry 3

Mass Effect 3

The Walking Dead

Spec Ops: The Line

"The Theme" Award for Best Song

Hydrogen (Hotline Miami)

Alive Inside (The Walking Dead)

And the Heavens Shall Tremble (Diablo III)

Far Cry 3 Main Theme

Nascence (Journey)

"It's Gonna Be Epic!" Award for Best Soundtrack

Journey

Mass Effect 3

Hotline Miami

Diablo III

Far Cry 3

"Uh Uh Uh Uh" Award for Best Melee Combat

Hotline Miami

Darksiders 2

Assassin's Creed III

Sleeping Dogs

Diablo III

"Pew-Pew-Pew-Pew" Award for best Shooting

Spec Ops: The Line

Far Cry 3

Mass Effect 3

Shoot Many Robots

Sleeping Dogs

"Its 2012 You Can't Join My Game!?" Award for Best Co-op Multiplayer

Diablo III

Torchlight 2

Far Cry 3

Mass Effect 3

Journey

"Going Pro" Award for Best Competitive Multiplayer

Gotham City Imposters

Natural Selection 2

Counter Strike: Global Offensive

Far Cry 3

Assassin's Creed III

"Creativity" Award for Most Creative

Journey

Asura's Wrath

Hotline Miami

Gotham City Imposters

Dear Esther

"They Wrote on the Walls in Blood" Award for Best Use of Gore

Spec Ops: The Line

Hotline Miami

The Walking Dead

Dishonored

Diablo III

"Vents are Your Best Friend" Award for Best Stealth

Mark of the Ninja

Dishonored

Assassin's Creed III

Far Cry 3

Hitman: Absolution

"Broken Controller" Award for Hardest Game

Hotline Miami

Hitman: Absolution

Xcom: Enemy Unknown

Diablo III

Natural Selection 2

"Purposely Blind Yourself" Award for Best Sunlight

Assassin's Creed III

Far Cry 3

Hitman: Absolution

Spec Ops: The Line

Journey

"Cryo Sleep Does not Work on Robots (uhhehehehehe)" Award for Funniest Game

Sleeping Dogs

Hitman: Absolution

Gotham City Imposters

Shoot Many Robots

"Cool Guys Don't Look at Explosions" Award for Best Action

Spec Ops: The Line

Far Cry 3

Assassin's Creed III

Sleeping Dogs

Mass Effect 3

"The Final Stage" Award for Best Boss Fights

Torchlight 2

Diablo III

Asura's Wrath

Darksiders 2

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

"Hit M Once Every 30 Seconds" Award for Best Open World

Assassin's Creed III

Darksiders 2

Sleeping Dogs

Far Cry 3

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

"The Addiction" Award for Best Gameplay

Hotline Miami

Dishonored

Far Cry 3

Xcom: Enemy Unknown

Diablo III

"Heroes of Our Time" Award for Best Main Character

Asura

Captain Martin Walker

Lee Everett

Agent 47

Death

"Steal the Spotlight" Award for Best Supporting Character

Clementine

Haytham Kenway

Sam (Far Cry 3)

Yasha

Kenny

"The Power of the Dark Side" Award for Best Villain

Blake Dexter

Vaas

Deus

Haytham Kenway

Hoyt

"Bring Your Whole Crew" Award for Best Cast of Characters

Mass Effect 3

The Walking Dead

Asura's Wrath

Assassin's Creed III

Far Cry 3

"It's 2012 WTF!" Award for Biggest Disappointment/Annoyance

Checkpoint system (Hitman)

Inferno (Diablo 3)

Lack of Choice (Mass Effect 3)

Save File Bug (The Walking Dead)

Story Missions (Assassin's Creed III)

"The People's Champ" Award for Best Developer

Yager

Tell Tale

thatgamecompany

Runic

Firaxis

"Tears of Joy" Award for Best Story

Spec Ops: The Line

The Walking Dead

Mass Effect 3

Dear Esther

Asura's Wrath

"Standing Ovation!" Award for Best Ending

Journey

Dear Esther

The Walking Dead

Hitman: Absolution

Spec Ops: The Line

"It Came Outta Nowhere" Award for Best Surprise

Far Cry 3

Asura's Wrath

Journey

Spec Ops: The Line

The Walking Dead

2 Comments

Video Games as Interactive Stories

When deciding to purchase a game, I often find myself thinking about the length of the game and the actual "play time" and if it meets the price of the game. Is a 6 hour campaign worth $60? Is a 2 hour game worth $15? How much of my time will be spent playing compared to watching cut scenes? Sometimes I really feel like I over think all these things when instead I should just be focusing on whether I will enjoy the entire experience of the game itself. Lately I have been playing a lot of games where the gameplay itself is lacking or close to none existent, but the characters, atmosphere, and story are all amazing. I know a lot of people can be opposed to games such as Journey because "its not really a game so its not worth $15" but I have been finding myself having some of my best gaming experiences in recent memory with games that have the gameplay take a backseat. Rather than being games they are more like interactive stories.

First is Alan Wake, a game filled with great characters, writing, and atmosphere. Walking through the environments and seeing the attention to detail really gives you a good feeling of the world of Bright Falls and the characters that inhabit it. The times walking through the trails or visiting areas of the town was extremely enjoyable. Piecing together the story of Alan through his own manuscript was a very engaging and memorable experience. Finding Night Springs TV show episodes throughout the various areas was entertaining but also added to the thrill of the game and this idea of alternate realities where evil happens. The story, though at times confusing, was creative and written in such a way that I at times felt like this game would have made for an excellent novel. The gameplay of Alan Wake was just a way to break up the parts of exploration, and were really just secondary to the rest of the game. I actually wished there was less shooting in Alan Wake and more exploration.

To The Moon I believe is the finest example of recent "interactive storytelling" in games (and is what inspired me to write this blog post). There really isn't any gameplay in To The Moon and I still loved every second of it. The story was written so well, the dialogue brought you from laughter to sadness withing minutes and the old time RPG look and feel surprisingly allowed the game to tell its story in a very unique way. While the plot could be seen as cheesy (and maybe not that original) it was so much fun to sit down and just have an emotional story where I could just interact with the environment and not have to worry about dying, solving really hard puzzles, or beating high scores. While I may have had more fun playing other games, most of them are pretty forgettable compared to To The Moon.

Other games I have recently played where the story trumps the gameplay are Spec Ops: The Line and Journey. I already ranted about how amazing Journey is here and although Spec Ops: The Line isn't really in an "interactive story" category I personally felt like that games characters, dialogue, environments all were what made that game a great experience for me, so much so that I didn't even mind the generic shooter formula. Other games in the past such as Indigo prophecy and Hevay Rain also fit the "less gameplay more story" format. All of these games I thoroughly enjoyed and they each stand out in my mind.

My question is, does anyone think that in the future we will see even more games like Journey and To The Moon, or games Like Alan Wake and Spec Ops where the core of the experience isn't in the actual "game" part? Would it be cool to have an "interactive story" genre for games in the future, where you spend most of the game just walking around, talking to characters or just interacting with the world?

Also, I'm looking for more games like this to play. I have Limbo and Lone Survivor and I should definitely play Dear Esther as well. Any other recommendations?

24 Comments

My Disappointment with Blizzard and Diablo III

With the new patch now being out for a few days I feel like I really need to address my issues with what Blizzard has done with Diablo III. I still will always love my first play through of the game and I feel like the combat is very fun and satisfying, but overall I think Diablo III has been my biggest gaming disappointment in a very long time.

Forget all the issues with the launch and the server problems, I understand launching a game of this size is very difficult and things never go as planned. My problem with the game is that Blizzard seems to have lost sight of what making a game like Diablo is all about and instead has been focused on creating a game that revolves around the buying and selling of items. Yes, Diablo is all about trading gold and items to get the best weapons and armor you can get for your character, but Blizzard seems to be pushing it so that is the ONLY way to get those items.

Drop rates for items are extremely low and the difficulty of the game is still pretty high. Now that they have increased the gold repair to a ridiculously high amount, it feels even scarier to try and progress in inferno because dying means a huge chunk of gold lost which eventually leads to you only grinding gold on lower level characters just to meet your repair costs. Since the likelihood of you actually getting a drop that is something your character needs and is actually quite good, the risk reward of dying while fighting elites for the drops is always risky and barely ever rewarding. Blizzards solution to all these problems is for you to go to the auction house and use real money to buy items and/or gold to progress. This seems extremely unfair, particularly because this game is first and foremost a single player game. I feel like in a single player game, a player should be able to progress by themselves without such extreme difficulties and then have the solution of "hey you are having trouble?" toss down $50 and you can have some awesome gear right away without any work!" being the answer to it. It makes it feel like I am playing a "pay-to-win" or free-to-play business model game that I also paid $60 for already.

Now maybe a lot of people will read this and think I'm just whining and want the game to be easy, which is not true. I enjoy a good challenge, but I also want to do other things in my life as well as play other games while still being able to enjoy Diablo. I do not find it fun that all Diablo is is a grind for gold, on top of running into highly difficult elite mobs where the only way to win is by kiting them around for 10 minutes, or resetting your game because the elites ability combination is too difficult. Everything about this game just makes me feel like Blizzard is trying to get their 15% for every item sold, and they want to make the game as difficult and grindy as possible to force people like me who don't have all the time in the world to farm to buy items.

Another problem I have is with all the "nerfing" of the stats, abilities and gear. Yes, it is important to make sure everything works properly and nothing is game breaking, but this game is not an esports game. The pvp isn't even out yet. Why can't some stats be a bit overpowered? The game is just about having fun and evaporating hordes of monsters, I'm not competing for some MLG Diablo best player tournament or something. Just let the game be the game, once again, its a single player game! This also leads me to question why it took them 5 (4?) weeks to patch in a buff icon for magic weapon. That should be a standard thing in the game when it launched!

Personally I would love it if the difficulty was lowered even more and I could beat inferno as long as I have reasonably good gear. To me this would make the game more fun because all the abilities and different combinations would actually be viable (which is what Blizzard promised) and I would get to go around beating the shit out of everything and have fun watching my gear and gold pile up, while swapping in all my abilities for fun. This would actually make me play the game more, but maybe (probably) I am the minority in that view point. I was just expecting more to this game than there is, and after playing Torchlight again, I realize nearly all the concepts and game mechanics in Diablo III are very unoriginal in the first place. Now instead of spending my summer having a blast with Diablo, I just find myself waiting for Torchlight II to come out. It will be nice to be able to play offline, have mod support, and not have a real money auction house dictating the "balance" of the entire game.

Honestly, I am just ranting because I am disappointed in what Diablo III is. The real money auction house is hurting the game in my opinion because it is basically adapting a free-to-play game model onto a $60 game. After my love of World of Warcraft and Starcraft 2, maybe I just let my expectations of what this game was going to be get too high.

26 Comments

My Thoughts on Mass Effect 3's ending and EA published games

So I finished Mass Effect 3 two days ago and while I was hoping I would be one of the few who would like the ending, sadly I hated it and sat staring at my screen for 5 minutes after the game was over just baffled at how many holes there are in the plot. Overall I still enjoyed the game and the series, but this was not Bioware's crowning achievement by any means ( ME 2 and kotor are much better games). Besides the ending, the side missions just felt rushed and poorly done. N7 missions are literally single player multiplayer missions (the same maps bioware really!?) and the "Citadel missions" are just stupid in my opinion and seem to only to be there to add to the games "there is this many hours of content" stat. The writing also seemed really corny and poorly executed in some spots, unlike in ME 2. Overall, this game just felt like it was rushed out the door 6 months before it was ready. After finishing it I just get the feeling that Bioware didn't have enough time to make this game as good as it could have been. 
 
This got me to thinking of 2 other games I have been playing this year, The Old Republic, and Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. While playing both of these games I got the same feeling as when I played Mass Effect 3. All I could think was "this is pretty good, but it could have been waaaay better". Reckoning has a ton of awesome ideas, cool art design, and a really neat world to explore. Unfortunately it gets hurt by the overload of mmo side quests that, similarly to Mass Effect 3's citadel missions, only seem to serve as a this game is THIS long stat. The graphics are pretty poor as well, which is a shame because I do enjoy the world and the art design a lot. The worst thing of all though is the combat which is really fun and has a lot of cool ideas, but it seems to fall short of its potential. I feel like this game could have added a much deeper combo system, but for whatever reason the developer stopped at an easy set of commands that usually result in parrying and button smashing. I feel if they had taken more time to work on the game the combat could be vastly improved and they could have added more meaningful side quests.
 
The Old Republic is also a very solid game with a lot of good ideas such as the story, voice acting, and crafting. But it falls short in a lot of areas, resulting in it becoming just another lesser WoW. The game is way to easy, all end game consists of is sitting on the main fleet, the raids take no skill, and the pvp is pretty bad. Also, the fact that they didn't launch with the legacy system was a mistake in my opinion, seeing as so many players reached max level in about 1-2 weeks. 
 
All three of these games had such amazing potential, but they all feel like they were rushed out before they could become amazing games, resulting in a lot of poorly made content that seems tacked on. I can't help but get the feeling that this is really all EA's doing. They really seem to be getting even worse than before with pushing games out before they may be completely finished and it is making potentialy amazing games fall short. It really is a shame that the industry is becoming such a develop cycle based rushed. Thats way I appreciate Valve and Blizzard more than ever now. They don't put a game out unless they are confident that it is the best that it can be. I wish EA would loosen up a bit and let the developers have more time to create a more solid experience. Its a shame playing a game and knowing that it will never be as good as it could have been.

5 Comments
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