Jeff's Top 10 of 2012
My top 10 for 2012!
My top 10 for 2012!
I... never saw this coming. I mean, I thought Far Cry was kind of a mess. And Crysis never did it for me, either. Far Cry 2 looked like, well, the definition of clunky insanity. So if you had told me that I'd be standing here at the end of the year, saving Far Cry 3 for last, I'd have called you crazy. But here we are.
Far Cry 3 reigns in some of the wild weirdness from the previous game and is probably a little less ambitious as a result. But it makes up for that by honing all of its systems and options in a way that makes everything work and work well together. It's the little things, like being able to tag enemies with the scopes and sights on your regular weapons instead of always having to pull up a tagging-specific view. It's the hunting system, which lets you craft the ability to hold more guns or more money or more grenades by killing and skinning specific animals. And it's characters like Vaas, who delivers threats in a credible way that we just don't see in video games very often. I hope we'll see more of that in games from here on out.
Its story? Yeah, it has plenty of holes. But even after I finished the game, I found myself drawn back in to take over every outpost, hunt every animal, and climb every radio tower. The lush island world looks amazing on the PC and by the end, you've specced your character out in ways that allow him to murder in a lot of interesting ways, from taking human shields to just sniping through heavy armor from 150 yards away. The gameplay--the time I actually spent playing Far Cry 3 is best time I've had playing games all year. You can pick that statement apart and try to decide if that means it's a bad year for big games or a great year for independent games or whatever. But the statement stands no matter which way you look at it. Far Cry 3 is my game of 2012.
OK, before we get to number one, let's talk for a second. Let's talk about what my "real" game of the year is. Because it's a game that I didn't really play this year. So while I'm not going to name it my number one... it's the game I really think you need to play. That game is Persona 4: Golden for the Vita. Look. If you've been visiting this site for any length of time you probably already know my feelings on the original PS2 game. It's terrific. It's got charm, the character interactions are awkward in all the right ways, and it's probably one of the best times I've had with video games, whether I was playing by myself or watching someone else play it. Golden takes that baseline game, streamlines some of the fusion process and adds a bunch of little interesting things to it. There are parts of it that I'm absolutely dying to see. But I just can't. I can't devote another 100 hours to that story, even if there are new wrinkles to it. So, since I haven't played it, I can't really recommend it to you. But here, allow me to recommend it to you anyway. You should play Persona 4. It's a good game.
If the first reaction to Syndicate is that slightly sinking feeling that the games you used to like as a kid are never going to come back in style, then XCOM: Enemy Unknown should be a pretty encouraging step that all is not lost... yet. The team at Firaxis managed to create a kinder, friendlier XCOM that doesn't stray that far from its turn-based strategy roots. There's plenty of base management and research and engineering and walking into a room only to realize that it's completely packed full of enemies and your entire team is as good as dead. And it's got that big budget look and feel that further separates it from the quirky little strategy games that comprise most of the genre these days. Yeah, it had its share of bugs, and it's sad in some ways that games with a lot of little issues are still the best games of the year, but those issues didn't prevent me from having an outstanding time from start to finish.
Once you get past that sinking, slightly cynical feeling that comes whenever a strategy game gets rebooted as a first-person shooter, Syndicate stands on its own. It stands out from other first-person shooters by giving you an interesting set of powers to play with as you hack terminals, guns, and even guards themselves. And it lets you sort of play around with those powers and use them a lot, rather than sectioning them off and forcing you to save them up, just in case something crazy happens. I found the campaign to be interesting, but the four-player co-op is where I got really excited. Running the missions with different crews on different difficulties and leveling up all of the powers and guns and chip upgrades... we talk a lot about power fantasies when we talk about modern games. Syndicate is the same type of power fantasy... but those powers are just a lot cooler to play around with when compared to what you get out of most shooters. It's a fast-moving, fast-thinking adventure that really stood out to me... and only me, if the sales numbers are to be believed.
It's sort of a shame that you can't rewind the Internet and play Fez when everyone else is playing Fez. Because watching people come together to puzzle out what the hell is really going on in Fez was a big part of what made it all so cool. These days, most games with big secrets ship alongside giant, official strategy guides that ruin most of the fun. And Fez just put that stuff so, so deep... it felt like two games. First you had the stylish, charming platforming puzzle game. It wasn't very difficult, but it was enough to keep you going. Then you'd start realizing that all these little things in the background weren't just there for show. The game was trying to tell you something. It was trying to show you more. Were you able to figure it out? Well, even if you ended up looking to that excited community of players for some of the tougher solutions, Fez was a game full of exciting revelations. It's also the only game soundtrack that I obsessively listened to outside of the game this year. Amazing stuff, across the board.
I was surprised by Forza Horizon, but maybe I shouldn't have been. Forza Motorsport has been expertly splitting the difference between rigid automobile simulation and accessibility for the past few years now. So taking those concepts and setting in an open world that's more about fun driving adventures than setting the best lap times is perhaps an obvious, great idea from the get go. But when you hand the keys to your driving franchise over to an all-new studio, maybe there's still a bit of risk there. Either way, I had a great time with Forza Horizon's main challenges as well as most of its side-stuff. It looks fantastic, offers a good, varied soundtrack, and continues to Forza tradition of really caring about how all those real cars are used and displayed. It's a cool mix of different styles that really came together.
I will never complete FTL. I will get up to that last, gigantic ship and bang my head against it over and over again. At best, I will manage a stalemate with the final ship, but that's only if I'm lucky enough to find and buy the right gear over the course of my journey. Initially that was frustrating, but I've made my peace with FTL. I've come to enjoy the journey, and making my way across the various sectors while attempting to deal with the host of calamities that the game throws your way is the truly wonderful part of playing the game. On top of that, I really love the music. Just... awesome.
The Rhythm Heaven series has traditionally been a portable game, and I was pretty worried that they'd mung it up on the Wii by tossing in a bunch of imprecise motion control. It's a rhythm game! Precision is everything! And this game has plenty of it. The rhythmic minigames are extremely charming and, overall, the whole thing has a lot of variety to it. This series is right up there with WarioWare and Animal Crossing as my favorite Nintendo franchises.
Fighting game stories are typically insipid nonsense, but then most fighting games don't have a wealth of RPG story lines to draw from and update. Half of this game is a visual novel, but getting official Persona 4 crossed with Persona 3 stories was enough to get me to read through every last word. And it sure doesn't hurt that the fighting side of things is quite a lot of fun. Sorry, Europe!
Farsight's pinball platform is available almost anywhere, but I found it to fit best on the iPad. The screen orientation is, you know, proper, and the developers have been able to keep up a steady flow of strong, classic tables there, whereas some of the other platforms have run into release issues. The physics feel tight and realistic, and with pinball machines getting harder to find and maintain, this virtual museum manages to get that sense of nostalgia across without forcing me to invest in playfield wax and yet another new set of rubbers. For the pinball machines, I mean.
As much as it feels like this type of game is just continuing to go out of style, Black Ops II made enough exciting changes to its campaign structure to really stand out. The branches that cause missions and story beats to insert or remove themselves from the overall narrative are less obvious than they are in many of the other big "player choice" games, which led to me always wondering if I was doing all right or not. And though it's getting pretty long in the tooth these days, this is the best that Call of Duty multiplayer has been since Call of Duty 4.
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