John Westendorf's Top Ten of 2012

John Westendorf's Top Ten of 2012

Hi everyone! First of all, this list is taken from the games that I played for the first time in 2012 (and a little past), so some of them (only 1 I think) is actually from 2011. Like everyone else I didn’t play every game, but in the course of creating this list I did write down what games I played. That full set is listed at the end of my top ten if you’re interested in what was included in the comparison.

Full disclosure, I worked on some of the games I played this year. That obviously colors some of my experiences, but it cuts both ways. You miss out on some of the surprise, wonderment, and surprises on a game you’ve been involved in for a long period of development.

I feel like this year was the year that small downloadable games really came into their own. There have been amazing, breakout XBLA & PSN titles the whole generation but never as many as this year. Half of my top ten are smaller games, and many more almost made the cut. I’m also finding that these shorter, more compact experiences are a great fit for my increasing interest in new game experiences that aren’t overly drawn out.

Unfortunately I couldn't find a way to reverse the order on a Giant Bomb list, so if you want to start at the special mention and work to #1 page to the bottom.

1. XCOM: Enemy Unknown

I have been jonesing for a new HD tactics game for a while, and XCOM makes me hopeful that there will be more. While I’ve played plenty of other tactics games, this was my first X-COM, and the way it merges the strategic base gameplay between missions and the tense, difficult battles against alien invaders really blew previous genre games out of the water. Every action during a level has you tense, wondering whether you’ll uncover another squad of aliens, whether you’ll miss a likely shot, will that berserker kill your scout in one shot, or will your assault lose her nerve and shoot your support in the head? Building your base is a welcome reprieve between missions, and fooling yourself into a false sense of security when upgrading your troops’ equipment. But you never have enough resources to do everything you want to, which makes all the decisions you make meaningful and difficult. I wish the multiplayer had been better balanced and more fleshed out, but it’s still a fun diversion with friends and chance to play as the aliens. This is a game I’ll probably come back to every few years, and my favorite game of 2012.

2. Mass Effect 3

ME3 is the culmination of what will probably be my favorite series of this generation. Like any game this large in scope, and like the previous 2 games, it has its share of nitpicky problems, but the story beats for the characters that I’ve grown to love were amazing. In particular, some of the love interest writing and consequences from the previous games in particular really hit high notes with me. The combat was improved and writing remained a strong point. I actually liked the ending as well, and have not seen the updated one. Now all of that I came to expect from Mass Effect 2, but the multiplayer came out of nowhere and was the multiplayer I spent the most time with this year. It’s a totally fun horde-like mode, with persistent upgrades, Mass Effect classes & races, and interesting weapons. And they just keep putting out free updates for it! If you’ve ever wanted to play as a Volus adept, a Vorcha with a flamethrower, or want to play Mass Effect with friends, this will make you happy. [Wistful] Now I just want playable Hanar & Elcor.

3. FTL: Faster Than Light

Even more than Spelunky, I played this game over and over and over again. I played in pursuit of unlocking new ships & ship configurations, trying new strategies, looking for secrets, and just for the sheer fun & new stories created every playthrough. You lose a lot, but it’s fun even when you lose and there’s usually a story in that. The game is part spaceship sim, part text adventure, part turn-based strategy, and all awesome. It can play on any computer with its 8-bit graphics, and you can save & quit at any time, so its perfect for short bursts. It may seem intimidating at first, but remember that winning is not the goal, and you won’t look back.

4. Rayman: Origins

I think this is the only 2011 game on my list proper. I’ve never played any of the old Rayman games, but man does this one knock it out of the park! Somehow this platformer has no suits, no upgrades, no powerups, and no gimmicks, but nails the fundamentals so hard that it’s an undeniably fantastic game. The art, music, and controls all stand-out as nearly flawless. There’s just a joy that you feel as you play the game. Co-op brings the same to the table for your friends & family while also allowing you to slap eachother silly. This is the feel-good Prozac game of the generation.

5. Mark of the Ninja

This game makes you feel like a badass ninja the whole way through, with a combination of flawless controls, on screen information, and visuals dripping with style. The levels are open enough, and there are enough different ways to play with the costumes, upgrades, and awesome ninja gadgets that I played through levels multiple times to get every achievement.

6. Need for Speed: Most Wanted

I enjoyed Hot Pursuit, but it just wasn’t Burnout-y enough for me. This year’s NFS Most Wanted is the most fun I’ve had in a driving game since the last Burnout, and the most fun I’ve had in a NFS game ever. The single-player was strong, but the real draw is the multiplayer. Open world, semi-randomized events that seamlessly meld into one-another with varying goals and types are genius. Add to that the persistent unlocks, and the constant speedlists that show friends-only leaderboards and their faces, and you have one of the best multiplayer experiences this generation. Oh, and did I mention that you’re constantly crashing and taking down the competition?

7. Spelunky

Strong platforming, interesting twists in each playthrough, secrets to find, and tunnels to unlock to scratch that progression itch. This game made me want to throw my controller at the TV more than any other game this year, but I still loved it. The game is fair, and when you fail it’s (mostly) your fault. Except for dark levels, those are fucking bullshit and should be patched out of the game!

8. Sleeping Dogs

A semi-realistic open world game with a strong story, amazing graphics, acting, shooting, and driving all better than both GTA IV & Red Dead Redemption. On top of that, I loved the melee fighting as well, and think it’s an improvement over the recent Batman games. My only real complaint about this game is that I wanted the story to last longer.

9. Fez

A charming platformer with nice stylized graphics, and an appropriate soundtrack is what I was expecting coming into Fez. And that’s what I got... on the first playthrough. What really puts this game on my list are the puzzles and secrets of the world you unravel past that first playthrough. These puzzles require actual critical thinking, not just exploring, and had me taking physical notes for the first time since the NES. Because the puzzles actually make you use your brain, they are all the more gratifying to figure out and validate. If you play this game, make yourself not look up spoilers or hints, you’ll ruin it for yourself.

10. The Walking Dead

Great characters and story which were both enhanced by the interactivity and control the player had on it. Maybe not the best playing, and I encountered my share of bugs, but I cried at the end.

11. Dark Souls

Special Mention (would have been #1 if I had started it this year): I actually started playing Dark Souls in 2011, and finished the second half in 2012. But I would be remiss to not mention what is one of my favorite games of the generation. I didn’t play the original Demon’s Souls, so I can’t speak to what Dark Souls added over it, but Dark Souls was an amazing experience unlike anything I’ve ever played. The combat is something you need to learn, with progress coming from player growth, not from grinding and button-mashing. Weapons behave differently, and there are consequences for attacking in the wrong way or at the wrong time. It makes you feel like you are taking part in an actual battle. The consequences of death make you care about your progress and enhance the feeling of exploration and supremely tense atmosphere. The multiplayer concepts are novel and inventive as well, and the hints of a story make you want to know more about the world. Sure it has some performance issues, and the graphics aren’t great, but all that is overshadowed by its other facets. I could go on and on about this game. Suffice it to say, if you haven’t tried it yet, you owe it to yourself to play through the first 3 bosses or so to see what all the fuss is about.

Other games I played in 2012:

SSX (X360)

Terraria (PC)

Awesomenauts (PC)

Diablo 3 (PC)

Guild Wars 2 (PC)

Halo 4 (X360)

Condemned 2: Bloodshot (X360)

Dust: An Elysian Tail (X360)

The Witcher 2 (X360)

KoA: Reckoning (X360)

Saints Row: The Third (X360)

Magic 2013 (X360)

Syndicate (X360)

The Binding of Isaac (PC)

Gratuitous Space Battles (PC)

Jamestown (PC)

Wizorb (PC)

Closure (PC)

Frog Fractions (Browser)

Clash of Clans (iPhone)

Jetpack Joyride (iPhone)

PunchQuest (iPhone)

Plague Inc. (iPhone)

Spaceteam (iPhone)

Super Crate Box (iPhone)

NFS: Most Wanted (iPhone)

Burnout Crash (iPhone)

Letterpress (iPhone)

10000000 (iPhone)

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Dogies Pictures from April

Here are some pictures of the machine as it looked two months ago with my first post. The paint was peeling over the entire box, so we had to scrape it off and put on a primer and then white paint. We also started cleaning the playfield and sanding some rust off of various metal pieces.

 
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