Prepare to Die Edition, PC. Maybe this is unfair. Dark Souls technically came out in 2011 for PS3 and 360, however this version did not come out until this year and to be honest I did not have a proper Dark Souls experience until I played this version. Back on 360 I logged close to 30 hours in this game and never really fully grasped it. I was able to get to Anor Londo and pretty much burnt out. When I played this on PC earlier this year I managed to get to Anor Londo in a little over a quarter of the time. From there I managed to defeat every boss in the game and master a lot of the game systems. I explored all the areas, forged a number of high power weapons, dabbled in PvP and had more fun during this time than any other game this year. Dark Souls is the epitome of gameplay over everything else. The pure mechanics and systems make this game rich with depth and you can spend hours perfecting various techniques and exploring the nooks and crannies of the various areas. I feel this game is the most satisfying and frustrating games of this generations and this PC version is worthy of GOTY 2012.
PC - TWD was almost my GOTY. Almost. It would have been had it not screwed me over with a terrible save bug that forced me to replay the entire game after Episode 5 came out. I finally managed to do just that. I'm not happy I had to do it and I feel it only subtracted from the overall experience. It says a lot that even with such a terrible progress breaking bug, TWD is still the second best game experience of the year. I can say it's the best story told in a game this year. I can say it has the best cast of characters in a game this year. I can see it affected me emotionally more than any game this year. TWD did all of these things because of it's excellent writing, and pacing. You can see real effort put into emotional scenes between characters that would have fallen completely flat in the hands of most other developers. Choice is another element here. The illusion of choice is something other games this year have completely failed at creating however TWD manages it in strides. How characters react to the player is a key element of choice here. The game often gives you a choice that will be completely fucked regardless of the outcome. Situations like this make the experience unlike anything else this year. It's unfortunate that TWD suffered from technical problems that detracted from the experience. It's a testament to the game's quality that it is able to rise above that.
PS3 - Journey is an experience unlike anything this year. It's a very simple and basic game at it's core, but everything surrounding that core is fantastic. It just looks so amazing with an art style that's second to none this year. From the massive sand dunes to the steep slope of sand glittering in the sun (that level is goddamned jaw-dropping) to the peak of a mountain amidst a blizzard, it's all surreal in how they managed to make it look. I think part of the reason this game is a success on so many levels is it's co-op nature. When I played this game I remember being with a single co-op partner for the first half and another for most of the second. The experience of moving around a desolate location with a person you can barely communicate with is very strange. Even stranger is how you're able to get into sync with the other person with simple chirps and movements. I have to say that there's a moment at the end that is so triumphant that it requires to be played to really understand. Journey is an art game that is both fun and meaningful in setting, atmosphere, gameplay, and overall experience.
PC - Borderlands 2 is an odd game in some ways to me. It's almost the most cynical entry as it literally is just the same game as the previous entry except more of it. However I guess that goes to how good the base elements are that this can be so high on the list. The gun-loot is far better. The shooting feels better. The missions are far more varied with must more interesting locations. There's actually a playable character instead of "Soldier" that's worth playing. There's also a genuine story twist that I didn't expect. If Borderlands 3 is just a better Borderlands 2 I may not be as forgiving, however Borderlands 2 seems to me the game Gearbox wanted to make from the start. And it's damned good.
360 - I didn't expect this was going to be my Racing GOTY... The most obvious answer to that question was Most Wanted. Most Wanted ended up being a disappointment in gameplay and structure but Forza Horizon takes up the slack. I loved the way the cars felt when racing. Turning off enough assists added just enough difficulty yet still allowed the cars to be approachable. The games structure was dense with tons of events to tackle and thanks to an intelligently designed open-world, the races themselves had a good variety between point-to-point, circuit, and open-street circuit. This game just does racing very well and better than anything else this year. My only complaint here is that it would have been nice to play on PC with a higher framerate.
PC - Alan Wake is a game I grew to love long after it came out and long after I ended up finishing it. Remedy has been able to create a pretty awesome world here and one of the coolest video game villains in recent memory, in Mr. Scratch. Those FMV segments are truly amazing sell that character as a charismatic psychopath that you love to watch. American Nightmare takes the base gameplay concepts from the original AW and makes them much more fluid and enjoyable. Moving between shooting with your gun and shinning your flashlight is snappy and tons of fun for me. I loved the way the game padded itself out and managed to justify it in the context of the story. I really hope Remedy continues this franchise and I really hope we see more of Mr. Scratch.
PC - Probably the biggest shock of the year. This is a mostly routine 3rd person shooter that manages to rise above it's own basic adequacies on the shoulders of it's story. Yes, most of what I remember about this game are the cinematic moments and not the actual gameplay. Yes, the shooting is pretty average. It's a strange then that this manages to rank so highly for me on the merits of it's story alone. Maybe it says a lot about how I've changed as a gamer over the last few years? I dunno. I do know that Spec Ops: The Line manages to tell a story about as well as anything I've played this year and since the gameplay is serviceable, that manages to keep it afloat and in my top 10.
PC - Darksiders 2 is an improvement over the previous entry in a lot of clear ways. The main character is more interesting, it has better looking and varied environments, the gameplay is faster and more fun, it's a meatier game with more things to do and see. It's like running down a checkbox of things that needed improvement and that's why DS2 is one of the best games of the year.
PC - One of the best FPS of the year and a genuine surprise. At no point did I feel the game was dragging thanks to the excellent pacing. Whenever something was going on for too long the game would change up and put me in a new scenario. The shooting had a good momentum and all the hacking and cyber-punk elements added enough variety to make it more than just a generic shooter. I don't think Syndicate is a revelation to the shooter genre but it's an entry that does that it very good.
PC - Max Payne 3 is a double edged sword. It's a weird amalgamation of the tropes of Rockstar and Remedy (leaning closer to Rockstar). I felt the characterization of Max as a druggie loser after everything he's been through was mostly successful but I didn't enjoy the direction the story itself went, for the most part. Gameplay wise, I felt MP3 did a pretty good job of bringing the bullet time carnage to a newer, fresher feeling game. However it reliance on 3rd person cover mechanics dampened it some. Overall Max Payne 3 is a mostly successful entry in the series but I am hesitant to see where this goes next. If it ever does.
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