StarvingGamer's Games Worth Starving For (or Otherwise) in 2012

2012 has been nothing if not a controversial year. Both the journalist and enthusiast communities helped prove the law of mob intelligence (lowest IQ among mob members ÷ total number of mob members = mob IQ) and a disturbingly large number of game developers have been either imploding or exploding. Despite all this, there has been such an embarrassment of content to experience that I have barely scratched the surface on many of my most anticipated games.

So without further ado, here is my 2012 in a nutshell.

2012's 2011 Game of the Year Presented By Steam Sales

Saints Row: the Third

This, more or less

I don't like open-world games. I never have. And I've tried, putting at least a dozen hours into the most lauded entries in the genre including Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption, but have never been able to fight my way through the middling mechanics and, in the case of GTAIV, the mental disconnect between the tough and gritty storyline and the manic insanity of what is presumably "fun" about the series.

Then Saints Row: the Third happened and GiantBomb went nuts. I wanted to jump in again, just to see what all the fuss was about, but I couldn't in good conscience pay full-price for the game. It was trapped between a rock (my overwhelmingly negative past experiences with the genre) and a hard place (the impossibly high expectations set by Giantbomb's staff and community). So I waited and waited and waited for the Steam Summer Sale and the $12.49 price tag it brought.

Needless to say, I was blown away. It may have something to do with the fact that I'm a mouse & keyboard snob, but for the first time the gameplay of an open-world game felt tight. The driving and shooting were actually a ton of fun to do. No more slogging through action sequences just to get to the next story beat, I actually went around looking for trouble. And the snappy writing and cartoonish violence set the proper tone for gleeful mischief which is where open-world games shine. Now I'm a believer, and am actually looking forward to Grand Theft Auto V with something approaching actual excitement.

Runners-up: Pushmo, The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings

Best Surprise

Tie: Binary Domain / Sleeping Dogs

"Welcome to Japan, brother"

These are games that, by all rights, should not have been any good and were so far off my radar that I barely knew they existed outside of their name sardonically stated on the occasional podcast. Then they came out. Then the buzz started, but almost nobody bought them anyways. Then they started showing up on PC at extremely discounted prices. So I bought them, and wow.

Binary Domain is the wrong sort of game from the wrong developer in the wrong genre, so how is it so fun to play? The tactical options afforded by the location-based destruction of enemies make every encounter and interesting puzzle to solve. And while the upgrade paths are extremely shallow, they offer just enough customization to instill a sense of ownership over the characters. Sure, the wildly twisting plot is standard fare for anyone who regularly partakes in Japanese fiction, but the story meshes with the understated western designs of the cast in unexpectedly wonderful ways.

Sleeping Dogs, on the other hand, was caught in a development hell that most games would never have made it out of. The people at United Front Games are nothing short of miracle workers for managing to resurrect the game from its own ashes and elevate the entire genre in the process. The shooting is solid and the melee combat is sublime. And with numerous small touches they created a world that encourages players to drive within the lines and maintain that immersive sense of place.

Runner-up: Asura's Wrath

Geico Insurance's Best Game to Play While Driving

Magic: the Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013

Elemental on Archaeomancer Violence

...or pushing a stroller, or walking, or cooking, or giving my daughter a bath, or...

Hi. My name is StarvingGamer, and I am addicted to multitasking.

I have a restless mind that I need to keep occupied. As a kid, this meant lugging around a heavy, cumbersome book everywhere I went. Then the Game Boy Advance SP came out and I was diving a lot and there was this game called Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising and, well, that was that. Since then I have never left the house without a dedicated handheld device in tow, be it 3DS, Vita or, as it was for a majority of this year, iPad with Magic: the Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013.

MTG is a thinking man's game. A glance is all you need to get enough information to plan your entire turn, making it easy to play while on the go. And while DotP will never be fully-featured enough to fully satisfy my card-lust, the deck variety and system of unlocks are enough to keep me happy while my 15,000+ collection is in mothballs.

Runners-up: Penny-Arcade The Game: Gamers vs. Evil, Persona 4: Golden, SolForge Demo

Biggest Disappointment

Resident Evil 6

I've already spoken of the myriad failings of Resident Evil 6 at length here so I'll just say this: Resident Evil 5 was an incredible symphony mechanics, balance, and design. RE6 is a cacophony of dissonant ideas from developers completely tone-deaf to the successes of RE5.

Runner-up: Darksiders II

The Amazon.com Game to Pay Full-Price For and Not Play of the Year

Zone of the Enders HD Collection

As a person with a history of giving up food in favor of games, I have become more and more aware of my ever-growing pile of shame. In recent years, I have managed to crack down on my erroneous purchases for the most part, but every once in a while a few games slip through the cracks in my psyche despite the fact that I KNOW I will either not play them until they hit the bargain bins or not at all. This year, that game was Zone of the Enders HD Collection.

But what sets ZoEHD apart from the rest of the pack is my amazing ability to rationalize my poor life-choice. You see, Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner is one of my favorite games of all time and still the best example of high-speed, anime mech combat in a game to date. So where is Zone of the Enders 3? WHERE KOJIMA!? You keep teasing me but all you make is Metal Gear games! I want my Jehuty! I want my Anubis! I want my ADA!

So while I may never actually crack open the case and insert disc, hopefully my expenditure is the one push Konami needs to greenlight the next game in the series.

Runner-up: Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask

Game of the Year

The Walking Dead

This game has been talked to death, so I'll just say this. In all my time playing video games, I have never experienced a story so effectively affecting. The Walking Dead sets a new standard for interactive storytelling and player-choice that is going to be incredibly tough for anyone to top. I know I can't wait for the rest of the games industry to try.

Goodbye Clem, and good luck. I'm going to miss you.

Runners-up: 2. Persona 4: Golden, 3. Diablo III, 4. Mass Effect 3, 5. Borderlands 2, 6. Asura's Wrath, 7. Persona 4 Arena, 8. Binary Domain, 9. XCOM: Enemy Unknown, 10. Sleeping Dogs

7 Comments
7 Comments
Posted by StarvingGamer

2012 has been nothing if not a controversial year. Both the journalist and enthusiast communities helped prove the law of mob intelligence (lowest IQ among mob members ÷ total number of mob members = mob IQ) and a disturbingly large number of game developers have been either imploding or exploding. Despite all this, there has been such an embarrassment of content to experience that I have barely scratched the surface on many of my most anticipated games.

So without further ado, here is my 2012 in a nutshell.

2012's 2011 Game of the Year Presented By Steam Sales

Saints Row: the Third

This, more or less

I don't like open-world games. I never have. And I've tried, putting at least a dozen hours into the most lauded entries in the genre including Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption, but have never been able to fight my way through the middling mechanics and, in the case of GTAIV, the mental disconnect between the tough and gritty storyline and the manic insanity of what is presumably "fun" about the series.

Then Saints Row: the Third happened and GiantBomb went nuts. I wanted to jump in again, just to see what all the fuss was about, but I couldn't in good conscience pay full-price for the game. It was trapped between a rock (my overwhelmingly negative past experiences with the genre) and a hard place (the impossibly high expectations set by Giantbomb's staff and community). So I waited and waited and waited for the Steam Summer Sale and the $12.49 price tag it brought.

Needless to say, I was blown away. It may have something to do with the fact that I'm a mouse & keyboard snob, but for the first time the gameplay of an open-world game felt tight. The driving and shooting were actually a ton of fun to do. No more slogging through action sequences just to get to the next story beat, I actually went around looking for trouble. And the snappy writing and cartoonish violence set the proper tone for gleeful mischief which is where open-world games shine. Now I'm a believer, and am actually looking forward to Grand Theft Auto V with something approaching actual excitement.

Runners-up: Pushmo, The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings

Best Surprise

Tie: Binary Domain / Sleeping Dogs

"Welcome to Japan, brother"

These are games that, by all rights, should not have been any good and were so far off my radar that I barely knew they existed outside of their name sardonically stated on the occasional podcast. Then they came out. Then the buzz started, but almost nobody bought them anyways. Then they started showing up on PC at extremely discounted prices. So I bought them, and wow.

Binary Domain is the wrong sort of game from the wrong developer in the wrong genre, so how is it so fun to play? The tactical options afforded by the location-based destruction of enemies make every encounter and interesting puzzle to solve. And while the upgrade paths are extremely shallow, they offer just enough customization to instill a sense of ownership over the characters. Sure, the wildly twisting plot is standard fare for anyone who regularly partakes in Japanese fiction, but the story meshes with the understated western designs of the cast in unexpectedly wonderful ways.

Sleeping Dogs, on the other hand, was caught in a development hell that most games would never have made it out of. The people at United Front Games are nothing short of miracle workers for managing to resurrect the game from its own ashes and elevate the entire genre in the process. The shooting is solid and the melee combat is sublime. And with numerous small touches they created a world that encourages players to drive within the lines and maintain that immersive sense of place.

Runner-up: Asura's Wrath

Geico Insurance's Best Game to Play While Driving

Magic: the Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013

Elemental on Archaeomancer Violence

...or pushing a stroller, or walking, or cooking, or giving my daughter a bath, or...

Hi. My name is StarvingGamer, and I am addicted to multitasking.

I have a restless mind that I need to keep occupied. As a kid, this meant lugging around a heavy, cumbersome book everywhere I went. Then the Game Boy Advance SP came out and I was diving a lot and there was this game called Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising and, well, that was that. Since then I have never left the house without a dedicated handheld device in tow, be it 3DS, Vita or, as it was for a majority of this year, iPad with Magic: the Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013.

MTG is a thinking man's game. A glance is all you need to get enough information to plan your entire turn, making it easy to play while on the go. And while DotP will never be fully-featured enough to fully satisfy my card-lust, the deck variety and system of unlocks are enough to keep me happy while my 15,000+ collection is in mothballs.

Runners-up: Penny-Arcade The Game: Gamers vs. Evil, Persona 4: Golden, SolForge Demo

Biggest Disappointment

Resident Evil 6

I've already spoken of the myriad failings of Resident Evil 6 at length here so I'll just say this: Resident Evil 5 was an incredible symphony mechanics, balance, and design. RE6 is a cacophony of dissonant ideas from developers completely tone-deaf to the successes of RE5.

Runner-up: Darksiders II

The Amazon.com Game to Pay Full-Price For and Not Play of the Year

Zone of the Enders HD Collection

As a person with a history of giving up food in favor of games, I have become more and more aware of my ever-growing pile of shame. In recent years, I have managed to crack down on my erroneous purchases for the most part, but every once in a while a few games slip through the cracks in my psyche despite the fact that I KNOW I will either not play them until they hit the bargain bins or not at all. This year, that game was Zone of the Enders HD Collection.

But what sets ZoEHD apart from the rest of the pack is my amazing ability to rationalize my poor life-choice. You see, Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner is one of my favorite games of all time and still the best example of high-speed, anime mech combat in a game to date. So where is Zone of the Enders 3? WHERE KOJIMA!? You keep teasing me but all you make is Metal Gear games! I want my Jehuty! I want my Anubis! I want my ADA!

So while I may never actually crack open the case and insert disc, hopefully my expenditure is the one push Konami needs to greenlight the next game in the series.

Runner-up: Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask

Game of the Year

The Walking Dead

This game has been talked to death, so I'll just say this. In all my time playing video games, I have never experienced a story so effectively affecting. The Walking Dead sets a new standard for interactive storytelling and player-choice that is going to be incredibly tough for anyone to top. I know I can't wait for the rest of the games industry to try.

Goodbye Clem, and good luck. I'm going to miss you.

Runners-up: 2. Persona 4: Golden, 3. Diablo III, 4. Mass Effect 3, 5. Borderlands 2, 6. Asura's Wrath, 7. Persona 4 Arena, 8. Binary Domain, 9. XCOM: Enemy Unknown, 10. Sleeping Dogs

Posted by Rave

I loved walking dead and thought it was an amazing experience but I really feel its on the top of to many game of the year lists. It is only barely a game it is more of an interactive story.

Posted by StarvingGamer

@Rave: In order for your argument to hold weight, you would have to also agree that the entire classic adventure game genre is made up of "barely games." Tales of Monkey Island is barely a game. Maniac Mansion is barely a game. Dreamfall is barely a game. Heavy Rain is barely a game. The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is barely a game. Deponia is barely a game. Primordia is barely a game. King's Quest is barely a game.

So if you can honestly say that you believe every game I just mentioned and every other game like them is "barely a game" then we'll just say that we have different definitions of what defines a "game." If not, then you may want to rethink your position.

Posted by Rave
@StarvingGamer I have never been a big fan or even played alot of the adventure games you mentioned. As far as I know though they were almost like a pixel hunt looking for hidden items and then finding the right combitnation of items to progress. That to me is still a very loose sense of a game but atleast it has hard fail states or places you may not be able to figure out to continue the story.

Walking dead doesn't seem to have any fail states, I mean sure you can die in the game and restart but after a few times failing that it just asks you if you would like to just continue the story I believe.

I don't want to argue that it's not a game or deserving of a lot of praise. I loved my time with it and in no way regretted my purchase. My problem is the amount of praise its been getting when I don't feel it as a game is very good. It's a great story and character driven game (And even at that its not some masterfully crafted story) that is more interactive fiction then game.
Posted by StarvingGamer

@Rave: You walk around, look at stuff, talk to people, and fight things by moving the cursor to the target area and clicking. That doesn't sound like a game to you? Because I was just describing Mass Effect, and ME1 had abysmal action, really shitty driving sequences, but great story and characters.

It just seems like such an arbitrary distinction. On the most basic level, ME and The Walking Dead are the same game, only one is slightly more focused on dialogue and environmental puzzles and the other is slightly more focused on action. So where are you drawing the line? Is it because ME is 50% action and TWD is only 30% action? Or is it simply because the style of action in TWD is not to your liking? And if you're going to argue that the QTE-based action of TWD is the problem, then I'd love to hear what you have to say about Asura's Wrath.

To be clear, because you felt the need to reiterate it, I understand that you aren't accusing TWD of being bad. The only point of contention I have with you is the idea that TWD is "barely a game."

Posted by Rave
@StarvingGamer I guess for me, maybe it comes down to challenge and fail states maybe? I'm not trying to write a definition for "what is a game?" I just feel walkin dead is more akin to a choose your own adventure then mass effect.

Asuras Wrath to me wasn't anything amazing but I do feel it was more of a game then TWD. It has those segments crappy god of war type of combat and then the on rail shooter stuff.

I just felt like I was experiencing TWD and not really playing it, the story choices even didn't play a huge impact on major events to make the strategy of picking choices gamey.

On the most basic level all games are kind of the same, but they all have a win/lose condition. I guess I don't feel like TWD doesn't have that on the most basic level. It had a story it tells that I move through. I can be completely invested in that story and I will end up with a very similar story to someone who skips all dialog randomly picks choices and fails out of very QuickTime event 5 times to get the move on prompt.

Hope that makes some sense, I admit the distinction may only be something I feel, it just didn't feel like a game to me. Again I don't play alot of adventure games so maybe I feel this way about all adventure games.
Posted by believer258

@Rave said:

@StarvingGamer I have never been a big fan or even played alot of the adventure games you mentioned. As far as I know though they were almost like a pixel hunt looking for hidden items and then finding the right combitnation of items to progress. That to me is still a very loose sense of a game but atleast it has hard fail states or places you may not be able to figure out to continue the story. Walking dead doesn't seem to have any fail states, I mean sure you can die in the game and restart but after a few times failing that it just asks you if you would like to just continue the story I believe. I don't want to argue that it's not a game or deserving of a lot of praise. I loved my time with it and in no way regretted my purchase. My problem is the amount of praise its been getting when I don't feel it as a game is very good. It's a great story and character driven game (And even at that its not some masterfully crafted story) that is more interactive fiction then game.

Just pointing out that Journey doesn't seem to have a hard fail state either.

Anyway, The Walking Dead is an accomplishment and deserves recognition because it's a good story in a video game. Oh, sure, games have had good stories before, but having a game that really pushes games to have better stories is a good thing as far as I'm concerned. Now, if only we could get a game that had both incredible gameplay and an incredible story... I don't think such a thing exists yet.