By CJduke 7 Comments
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.
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.
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.