Best of 2012
Rankings finalized 1/12/13.
Rankings finalized 1/12/13.
The ending of a trilogy that has hooked me from the very beginning. While I absolutely hated the original ending, I feel like the extended cut and subsequent DLC have led to a game deserving of the top spot on my list. Additionally, the multiplayer is great (who would have thought?). Is ME3 objectively the best game of 2012? Probably not. But for me, I just can't place it anywhere else.
This game surprised the heck out of me in the best possible way. While the learning curve is pretty steep, once you get into this medieval dynastic simulator, it is both incredibly rewarding and tremendously entertaining. The stories that come out of this game are fantastic. It honestly feels as though you're creating your own version of history; a unique experience that I really enjoyed this year.
Sleeping Dogs is a game that stands out in its awesome attention to detail. From its beautifully rendered setting to its interesting story and characters, the game's presentation is phenomenal. Add to that some really solid fighting mechanics and you have a game that will get into my top 10.
So why is it number 3? Well, let me provide a brief anecdote:
As is the case with most open world games in modern settings, commandeering cars is vital in Sleeping Dogs. In this particular instance, I had taken control of a Hong Kong taxi and was driving it to the start of a quest. As I was plugging along (on the left side of the road - simple, authentic, different, great!), I got an email in the real world. I pulled over in virtual Hong Kong. As I was reading the email, I heard something happening on the screen. I looked up and saw a man get into the back of my taxi. Huh? The man then proceeded to shout a destination, to which Wei (the main character) responded "do I look like a taxi driver to you?" The terrified man jumped out of the cab and ran away. What a fantastic little moment that I got to experience completely on accident! The game is full of these brief, cool moments.
Overall, just a joy to play.
To me, this is a pretty much perfect Halo game. The pacing is fantastic, the visuals are great, the characters and story are actually interesting (a first for me in a numbered Halo game), and the combat mechanics remain tight and clean. And there's no Flood (Hallelujah!). After playing 4, this is the first time I've actually been excited about the overall direction of the Halo franchise. I enjoyed almost every second of this game from start to finish. It's a truly high quality experience. Kudos to 343!
First things first; Firaxis is my favorite development studio on the planet. The number of hours I have sunk into Civilization, Alpha Centauri, Sid Meier's Pirates, and SimGolf over the years is staggering. As such, there was never a doubt in my mind that XCOM would be a good game. But it's even better than that. It's brilliant! The way Firaxis managed to make really deep mechanics this accessible and intuitive is pretty stunning. Granted, the game has its quirks (hence why it's not higher on this list), and I would've preferred a few more customization options; but overall this is a fantastic game that I will likely be playing for years to come.
Far Cry 3 is...uh...different. I'm not sure I was prepared for just how weird this game would be when I popped it in the tray for the first time. I suppose that bizarre e3 demo should have cued me in, but in any event I was quickly educated.
This game is on this list for 2 reasons:
1) It's an enormous and enjoyable open world FPS of which there are very few.
2) Emergent gameplay. There are some super cool, super crazy things that happen in this game, most of which involve wildlife of some sort. At times, you just have sit back and smile as sheer madness unfolds on the screen in front of you.
The game also benefits from what I call the 'Elder Scrolls Effect.' That is, even when the game breaks in front of you, the bug is generally either so amusing or so utterly bizarre that it actually adds to the experience.
Couple of downsides: I HATE most of the characters. Yes, Vaas is cool and Sam is the man, but the Americans? Ugh. Even the main character is awful. I can't stand playing as the guy. He's a dickish frat guy who speaks like Crispin Glover and seems to consider himself a modern-day William Wallace despite being on this island for only a few days. At some level, I actually wanted Vaas to win. That's how annoying I found Jason.
As a preface, I should say this: I hate zombies. In general, I find them to be uninteresting, overused, and the concept to be just plain dumb. That said, The Walking Dead worked for me because it wasn't really about zombies. You're not trying to fly in and save the day from a mutating virus while everything around you plays for gross shock value. Instead, you're just trying to survive. You're a real person in (kinda sorta) real situations with real drama. I guess what I'm trying to say is that the zombie apocalypse is just the backdrop that the game uses to place the characters in interesting situations. In this endeavour, I think it succeeded brilliantly.
Where I don't think the game was as great was in some of the "gameplay." I played the 360 version (on-disc) and the whole thing felt a bit clunky. Some of the more adventure-gamey aspects of the first episode were frustrating (for example, everything surrounding the "find/install the batteries in the radio" bit felt really tedious and unnecessary), and some of the other actions just didn't feel quite right. Basically, the more traditional "video game elements" of The Walking Dead just didn't do it for me. The dialogue, story, and atmosphere though definitely did.
I found this game terribly disappointing in a multitude of ways. My main issue with it though is that it is too unfocused. There are a million game mechanics in here, but many of them just aren't fun. Ubisoft could take a lesson from the Sid Meier school of game design: put it in, mess around with it, but if it isn't fun, take it out!
Case in point: the sewer fast travel system. Who in their right mind thought this was a good idea? Going through a damned maze for 2 hours to unlock points that will probably save an average of 2 minutes time per trip. The concept is terrible, the execution is abysmal, and its inclusion in the game is entirely unnecessary, yet because it's in there, it detracted from my overall experience and impression of the game.
Other points of contention: the main character is painfully naive and amazingly boring; the cities all feel basically the same; the platforming bits are more irritating following the elimination of the A-button from the free-running system; the chase scenes *were (seem to have been patched) frustrating as hell; and there are tons of small annoyances (running extremely slowly in snow may be accurate but that doesn't make it fun). Oh, and the ending feels like it was stuck on there merely out of necessity at slight expense at the last minute.
All that said, I did derive enough enjoyment out of this game for it to merit inclusion on my list. Almost all of that enjoyment comes from the Templars. It's difficult to elaborate on this without spoiling anything, suffice to say, I love Haytham. Indeed, a lot of the characters are really great (Ben Franklin, Achilles, and Israel Putnam were particular standouts for me). Unfortunately, this doesn't mean all that much in the end as Connor is just so stinking flat. I think I could find a pet rock with more of a personality.
Anyway, overall: mixed feelings but still good enough for the list.
I really wanted to put Forza Horizon higher on this list. The game starts out brilliantly. From the very beginning, it establishes a great aesthetic, introduces some cool characters, and sets out some trappings of an actual story. The sense of potential that the first hour of the game establishes is immense. Unfortunately, after that it just kind of settles in to a typical open world racer. The characters are reduced to one-liners at the start of each race that repeat after only about 3 events (really, guys?), the animation for getting each wristband is identical (again, really?), the events themselves start to feel repetitive (racing a plane is cool the first time, but the novelty wears off), and eventually it all just wears a bit thin.
Sure the driving mechanics are great, the graphics are fantastic, and the soundtrack is terrific; but there are plenty of other racing games that look and feel good. Heck, if I want that I can just put in Forza 4. What I wanted from Horizon was what it seemed like I would get from the initial part of the game. What I got was a very good racing game that lost sight of its uniqueness somewhere around the halfway point and never quite regained it.
Borderlands 2 does what it does very well. Unfortunately, I just don't really enjoy what it does all that much. Playing multiplayer (pretty much a necessity in this type of game) resulted in other players skipping of much of the dialogue (really unfortunate given the quality of a lot of that stuff), and I really have no desire at all to go through it again in singleplayer. Fetch quests and grindy kill quests with additional levels as the only incentive aren't really my cup of tea. That said, quality-wise this game is just too well put-together not to be here.
I loved Hitman: Blood Money. Heck, I still do. Unfortunately, I just cannot get behind some of the changes they made for Absolution. The disguise system in particular kind of kills all the fun in the experience for me. It's similar to my feelings on AC3 in that I understand why it is the way it is (it's more realistic), but just because it's more believable does not make it more fun. And when the heck did the Hitman games start putting a premium on believability? Cue John Cleese voice: "Ooh, it makes me mad." Ah well. Positives include some really hilarious NPC banter, some interesting locales, and an innovative asynchronous multiplayer "contracts" system that does some cool things.
It is still Hitman, but it's on the borderline.
I bought Minecraft for the PC quite a while ago but never got into it. I'm not sure exactly why not. Perhaps it was because everyone else on the PC seemed to be more interested in "epic builds" and gaming the system to create wheat factories or what-have-you. It wasn't until the Xbox version that I truly started to appreciate this game. It's just incredibly chill. I can sit here and build stuff with blocks. There's something really basic and cathartic about that. I suppose that's why it's eaten up so much of my gaming time this year.
One night while home in Texas, my mom (not a gamer beyond a mild Peggle obsession) walked in on me playing this game online with a few friends. We were trying to beat an extreme level and were failing both dreadfully and hilariously in this endeavour. My mother watched the screen for a few seconds and immediately (I think in spite of herself) became emotionally invested in what we were trying to do. She sat down next to me and watched for the next 20 minutes, cheering and laughing with the rest of us. Even my mom grasps the appeal of this game. It is just sheer, concentrated fun.
For me, this game is similar to Hitman in that it suffers in comparison to its predecessor. Hot Pursuit is one of my favorite games period. I had more fun online with my friends in that game than probably any other game since Battlefield 2. As such, my expectations for Most Wanted were sky high. Unfortunately, I don't think it delivered. The single player is simply bad and the multiplayer, though great for some, just doesn't have the same sort of appeal for me. I prefer the short bursts of craziness that you get with Hot Pursuit, to to the longer sessions of Most Wanted.
What's wrong with singleplayer? Well, for a start there's the fact that it's quite short. Beating all the Most Wanted racers can easily be accomplished in a night. In addition, the AI rubber-banding is horrendous and the implementation of the cops is bafflingly bad leading to copious amounts of frustration.
There's an argument (admittedly still poorly formed) that I've put to a friend of mine regarding this game and its attempt to combine speedwalls (autolog - trying to beat friends times) with rubber-band AI. I don't think that the two mix. I should either be trying to beat my friends, or beat the AI. The fact that I can finish 12 seconds ahead of a friend's winning time yet finish 3rd in my race kind of defeats the purpose to me. If I run a perfect race, I should be beating the AI handily. The fact that this isn't the case is very frustrating and caused me to bump Most Wanted well down my list.
I played through this game once, reached the end, started a new character and haven't touched it since. There's nothing that I found really bad about it. There's just nothing that I found particularly compelling either. Just kind of there...bit disappointing really.
Oh, Spelunky how I both hate and love you. There is nothing I can say about this game that can illustrate just how absolutely infuriating yet strangely endearing it really is. You should really just play it. Or, to maintain sanity, watch a video of someone else playing it. The Breaking Brad episode does a damned good job.
Man, this game is fun. The concept is so simple that I'm stunned nobody thought of it sooner. I'm certainly glad it exists now. Release the hounds!
I don't really remember much about this game, having saved my commentary for the end of the year. I basically recall it being very short but also well put-together. That said, it didn't make much of an impression on me (I think I remember the first game better than this one despite not having played that for years now). As such, it's down here rather than closer to the top.
I think Soulcalibur V is a great game. Unfortunately, for one reason or another my friends and I just lost interest in it about halfway through the year. I think it's probably due to the fact that none of us were very good at first. Once some of us started getting better though, the winners of the matches became less variable...and losing at SoulCalibur isn't fun. So now it just sits there on my TV stand...
As one of the few people that still plays Rock Band 3, I picked this up mainly for the songs. Surprisingly enough, the game itself is pretty dang good. That said, once I got gold stars on most of the songs (a couple still elude me), I kind of lost interest. The fact that only one of my friends bought the game, thereby limiting the spirit of competition didn't help either.
This is certainly the best LEGO game out there and I actually had a blast with it. Two words: dwarf throwing.
I thought this game was alright. Stylistically it's very impressive and the voice-acting is very good. Eventually, however, it just felt like too much. At one point, Max says something to the effect of "I was racking up quite the body-count, yet where was it getting me?" That's how I felt through most of the game. The number of enemies that you gun down in this game is utterly absurd, yet it never feels like you're making any real progress. It's a shame really, because the actual story of the game I recall being pretty decent. Oh well...
There are no words. Just play this game.
Another year, another good NCAA game. Our online dynasty is still going.
We come now to the shooter section of my list. I'm a bit sick of these games, yet I felt compelled by their popularity to play them and give my opinion on each. First up, Medal of Honor: Warfighter. I really think that this game has been treated unfairly by most reviewers. Is it great? Certainly not. But it's not bad either. I think that on the whole, it's alright. It actually has a driving section that I enjoyed immensely. Sure the female characters look like creepy derivations of Madame Tussauds dummies, the story is terribly difficult to follow, and the characters are all kinda one-dimensional. It still felt more grounded than either of the next two games on this list.
Oh, where to begin. The story is both incredibly convoluted and insanely stupid, though neither kept the game from taking itself way too seriously. That is, until the complete inanity of the post-credits scene (What the...Treyarch, I have no idea what you were thinking). The inclusion of actual political figures is jarring and just draws more attention to the sheer absurdity of the plot, the twists in which can be seen coming from a mile away by anyone but the main character who remains frustratingly oblivious. The choices/outcome system is interesting but seems arbitrary in parts. The strategic command missions just feel broken with friendly AI being about as useful as the nameless henchmen in a typical James Bond film. And then there's the game's disturbing obsession with showing people burning alive. And the crazy Admiral whose vocabulary when describing individuals he doesn't like seems limited to the word "c**ksucker." Good lord, I hated this game. But I'd be remiss if I didn't mention some positive aspects. First, Menendez is an awesome villain and just a great character. It's a pity the surrounding story wasn't worthy of him. Second, the futuristic setting is pretty cool in parts. Lastly, well no I can't think of a third thing I liked.
If you're wondering why I haven't mentioned multiplayer, it's because it is now 2 months post-release and I still can't connect to the servers (ISP problem, though this is the only game I've played that encounters issues). Ugh.
This game is ranked last on my list entirely out of personal disgust at its content. I recognize that other people love it and find it deeply compelling, emotionally engrossing, thought-provoking, etc. I don't. I'm not saying that anybody that feels that way is wrong, I'm just saying that I found this game highly offensive and infuriating. There are two main reasons why I feel this way: 1) The game takes itself entirely seriously, treating itself as a thoughtful commentary on the horrors of war, despite the absolute stupidity of its main premise; and 2) It forces the player to do awful things that you would not have done otherwise and then scolds you for it. I could go into much greater detail about both of these complaints, but that's a subject for another time/place. Suffice to say, I thought that this game was well-enough put together to warrant inclusion on this list, but too disgusting to be placed anywhere above the very bottom.
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