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Chris Tilton's Top 10 Games of 2012

Composer for TV, film, and games Chris Tilton orchestrates a list of his favorite games of 2012.

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Chris Tilton is a composer with a long history of liking Giant Bomb a whole lot. When he’s not watching Quick Looks, he’s writing the music to the TV show Fringe, which is currently in its final season. In previous years, he worked as an assistant and orchestrator for composer Michael Giacchino. Chris has also written a few video game scores like Black, Mercenaries 2, and the upcoming SimCity.

Time for one of those "I didn't have time to play everything" disclaimers. I've dabbled with both Mark of the Ninja and XCOM, which are both excellent, but haven't played enough to fairly include them in this list. I have not played Black Ops II, Darksiders II, Borderlands 2 (lots of 2's here), and Papo & Yo (which seems like it might be up my alley). So, still a few to catch up on in 2013.

2012 was an interesting year for games, and myself as a gamer. As I get older, I found myself being much more conscious of the time I put into playing games, and therefore less tolerant of games I feel are wasting it. A lot of AAA titles left me empty this year, but many smaller and indie games really shined, more so than ever before. All I ask is that they give me something to care about, and that is not an easy thing to do.

10. Dear Esther

Although it ended up being a bit more linear than it lead me to believe at the outset, I enjoyed this visual poem read by a soothing Englishman. It's one of those games where I often didn't fully understand the subtext of what the narrator was talking about, but I sure did want to see and hear what happened next. I really enjoyed soaking in the beautiful visuals as you wind your way ever closer to an ominous lighthouse, and what awaits there, over the course of the game. It stuck with me.

9. Trials Evolution

Trials HD was enjoyable, but it quickly grew too difficult for me. RedLynx’s follow up, Trials Evolution, fixed all that. With the ability to create and download user-made tracks, there seemed to be no end to getting a quick Trials fix. The ridiculous challenge for those that want it seems to still be there, but there’s tons more for folks like me who just want to drive a dirtbike down a bunch of silly, ridiculous tracks that are moderately challenging to complete. More Rube Goldberg-style tracks please!

8. Metal Gear Solid HD Collection

I know this is an odd one to include, but I have a newfound appreciation for these games that Kojima put his heart and soul into. Sure, the writing itself was often ludicrous and silly, but these games cover some interesting themes. MGS2 kind of foresaw the information/social networking age we now find ourselves in, and explored the lines of how much we control it, and how much it controls who we are. MGS3 further expanded on the notion of what we see being fact or fiction, something we’re always trying to decipher in our daily lives. Playing these years later made me realize how certain aspects of these games are really ahead of their time. We’re just now begging for games to be about something other shooting dudes or Lara Croft getting hurt more than Kenny in South Park, but the MGS series has had something to say for quite some time, even if it often told it in an unintentionally goofy way.

7. Dishonored

There's something about empowering the player with a set of tools to solve a problem in a variety of ways that gets me, and all the better when it's combined with an engaging world I care to be in. Dishonored's Renaissance/steampunkish premise pulled me in, and even though it fell apart for me a bit in the last act, it made an impression. There's something innately satisfying about taking out a single target in a world of people who want you dead without them ever knowing you were there.

6. The Walking Dead

I think zombies are boring. Let's just get that out of the way right now. I've never read any of the comics this is based on, and I fell asleep watching the pilot for the show. That said, I knew that the zombies were mostly just a backdrop to create human drama. As someone who's worked in the TV industry the last few years, I tend to get pretty critical when something lives or dies by its story, characters, and writing. The Walking Dead is one of those things. There's not much traditional gameplay to speak of aside from moving your character while looking for a few interactive objects from time to time. But that is really just to lend some pacing to the real meat of the game: conversations. No game has made me feel this much tension from people just talking. Tensions between characters can escalate at a moment’s notice, and you will be forced to say something, anything, whether you want to or not, and those choices are almost always from a pool of crappy choices. That is by design, and it works great. The through-line of Lee and Clementine worked for me, but not so much for the supporting cast. Some would live, some would die, but I found myself not really caring one way or the other, and the final episode was a real disappointment. However, I stuck with Lee, and found his personal denouement very moving. It's on my list because I want to see more games like this. More games that focus on bringing us characters to care about. In a medium full of shooters, this was a breathe of fresh air. Looking forward to season two!

5. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - Dragonborn

I played Morrowind back in 2002 when it came out, so it was a nice treat to revisit some of the architecture and mood that the game conveyed. The Dragonborn DLC takes place on Solstheim, a small island north of Vvardenfell (The main area of Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind). There’s a little bit of fan service here, where characters inexplicably know all about what’s happened with Morrowind since you inhabited the Dunmer hero 200 years ago, but it’s still a lot of fun. What I enjoyed most about Dragonborn was the focus on the details. Characters have a lot more opinions about the world they live in, and how actions you take have a direct effect on it. Because the people you are around care about their world, so in turn, did I. The main story fizzled out for me a little in the end, but there’s some great visuals in the “Black Books,” throughout and I can’t wait to go back and explore.

4. Far Cry 3

Despite containing the most miserable, uninteresting, and loathsome characters who inhabit the goofy plot, this game still manages to be so damn FUN. Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to get lost in the world and just pretend you’re there doing something worth caring about. One of the things I love most about Far Cry 3, is how the game really lets you feel like you're physically inhabiting the main character. I love the feeling of walking up to a vehicle, getting in and wandering the uneven dirt roads while searching for a new tower to activate. Then, I see the smoke of an enemy encampment nearby. After I run like hell from a couple of bears, I slide down a steep incline. Whoops, the drop was a little farther than I thought, and my avatar quickly puts his hands on the ground to avoid a full on tumble. After I recover, I dash and slide into some foliage (like a boss) to avoid being detected by the encampment. Before they even knew what hit them, I've sniped the alarms and an animal cage which unleashes an angry tiger. I finish off whatever the tiger missed, skin a few animals caught in the collateral damage, and craft a new wallet, because why not have crafting! That is Far Cry 3.

3. Mass Effect 3

I liked the ending. The execution was flawed (as is the series as a whole), but I liked the sentiment. It left me pondering, and was open to interpretation. Then the Extended Cut came out, and put to bed any abstract interpretations I may have had, which made me dislike it. It just wrapped up too neat. Then the Leviathan DLC was released, and it put into context the end (and the series as a whole) a lot more, and I warmed up to it again. A big chunk of the game consisted of a lot of bland combat (or at least it became bland because there was just so much of it), but the story highs still hit me, even just thinking about them. Having been invested since the first Mass Effect, I cared, and I wanted to see it through. When all was said and done, I came away with mixed feelings, but there's no doubt that, despite its flaws, this series is something special to me. I struggled where to put this on my list (and will probably want to shuffle it up and down again after this is published), but I kept coming back to it, and I kept thinking about it. There's a lot room for improvement, but it laid some groundwork for us as an industry to move forward with these types of epic stories.

2. Fez

In the late 90s, there was a game that showed me a mysterious world I got lost in. One with devious puzzles that counted on me learning a five-base number system, the calls of various ocean life, and deciphering a strange globe co-ordinate system. I had nothing but my brain, a neighbor down the hall, and my trusty notepad to uncover its mysteries. That game was Riven, and it is one my all-time favorite experiences. No one has really gone down that path since then, until Fez came along. Disguised as a retro 2D platformer with a neat perspective-shifting mechanic, Fez is about exploring a world, and, like Riven, uncovering its mysteries with nothing but your imagination and a notepad. It's the kind of game where I don't want to say anything if you haven't played it. It's an experience with a world to discover on your own.

1. Journey

Journey made me cry. It's this thing that happens with me. When I'm watching a movie, playing a game, reading a book, or listening to a piece of music, there can be that "moment." That moment when everything just clicks. The writing, the composition, the visuals, the music. It all just comes together to form a whole greater than the sum of its parts. And so far, this is one of the only games that really does that. By the end, I knew I was playing something special. Along with one of the best modern video-game scores thus far, it's clear that the creatives and their vision behind this game just KNEW. They knew what they wanted, and how to get it, and completely succeeded. Journey made me care more than any other game this year.