Games of the Year 2012
This is a ninja simulator, this is 2D Tenchu. Not only is this the best stealth game of this generation and also the most accessible since loads of my friends who hate stealth have loved it, but it's also a gorgeous game with Klei's trademark cartoon style.
Near flawless design where it can cater to players new to stealth with the visual information readable in the game rather than stuck to HUD bars but also cater to hardcore stealth users who want to ghost. Yes, that's right. "Ghosting" (not touching a single enemy), a principle usually reserved for crazy stealth fanatics, in this game is actually fun with the path of silence outfit or the mark of serendipity, which is rare for many stealth games. Thanks to New Game+ and the different outfits, there is loads of replayability.
A real game-changer for the modern military experience and for violent games in examining player agency, the hero complex, PTSD, and many other themes. A military shooter with an actual art direction! This is the strongest case for in-game storytelling yet where everything down to even the loading screens and melee executions change, instead of just dumping cutscenes as intros and outros to levels. Did you notice in nearly every level, you're always going down? There are reasons why it's still being talked about months later and made someone write a book about it. I've come back to this game so many times to discover all the clues and interpretations. It avoids the narrative dissonance and shows you what would happen to a typical videogame protagonist who kills hundreds of enemies in the course of such a game, and what figurative hell he ends up in. It's the first time I've seen a protagonist go to become the antagonist in a game. Nolan North gives his best performance ever.
Thanks to the "adaptive dialogue" innovation, Captain Walker's demeanor changes from clean melee beatdowns to brutal drawn out executions, and his voice goes from robotic military jargon like "kill confirmed" to a growling animalistic "kill FUCKING confirmed!". There's also the progressive damage system that you've seen in Batman games or Wolverine, but here it has the most meaning when tied to the character's physical and mental states. You haven't lived until you've heard Nolan North scream "RELOADING!" and give you chills to the bones.
It's also the most quotable videogame I've come across, as you'll notice in any Youtube video for it.
Even with the limited gameplay options of a typical adventure game, it overcomes all that with some of the best developed cast of characters and emotional resonance I've experienced in a game. You are tied to making life-changing decisions in timed dialogue choices that made me sweat as much as any twitch action game. This is why it's connected with not just the core gaming audience but also the casual people who I've made suffer. Sorry, mom.
The game's format is actually my dream adaptation of the comics where it relied on character interactions more than the played out format of shooting loads of zombies. It deals with all the things you'd have to go through in a post-apocalyptic world. The ending had me legitimately crying and I can't wait for Season 2.
You can punch sharks. While the story was incredibly disappointing, this is the most fun I've had in an open world since GTA Vice City. I actually don't want to fast travel here thanks to the wingsuit or reckless driving or random moments that'll happen. The emergent animals and enemies bring the most random and endearing moments where I've let tigers take down whole outposts or witness civilians suicide themselves to crocodiles. The animals are used more effectively here than in RDR where there's incentive to hunt them, and they're a breath of fresh air to an open world game. Hearing a Komodo dragon's hiss or getting ambushed on a boat by a croc is some of the scariest moments you'll find in a non-horror game.
As someone who loves the minutia of FPS like full body awareness and movement options of Mirror's Edge or cover systems of Chronicles of Riddick, I reveled in the stealth playthrough. Chaining melee takedowns and death from above takedowns (one of my favorite things since Tenchu) are so satisfying, that I never really used any automatic weapons. Best use of a bow in a game.
I shy away from co-op or multiplayer usually, but with all communication pared down to a tone, this is the best use of co-op in a while. Surfing through the desert sands for the first time is a magical moment, as is surfing with the sun shining, flying up and up with nothing stopping you, and when you finally traverse the snowy end-goal mountain with your buddy to the inevitable tear-rendering conclusion. It also gets props by doing the hero's journey with no dialogue, and reversing "The Return" where you become the mentor with your longer scarf to a future buddy in subsequent playthroughs. It goes to show the power of video games have when they go for minimalism and what no other medium could ever achieve.
This is a love story coupled with darkness powers, Mike Patton, and demon tentacles. Just like The Walking Dead, I haven't connected to a cast of characters as much this year. Fat Tony spits some mad truth on pizza, Enzo is the most subtle and funniest gay character in a video game so far, Adolf who thinks he's Hitler, and many more where you'll just stand around for minutes hearing them babble about nothing and everything. These are probably the most colorful and fun mafia goons under your leadership you'll find, and my connection was tested when I had to make a choice of who to sacrifice for the greater good, which is commented upon later. You get to meet them in two different worlds as different personalities. This is as equally powerful as the first game's saddest moment where here you get to visit Jackie's love again and like an actual relationship, pulled my heartstrings when there was even more development of their relationship.
Oh and the quad wielding gameplay of shooting through car doors as shields and then throwing them to decapitate enemies while pulling the spine out of another unfortunate soul is fun too.
While it's just one year after Deus Ex: Human Revolution, this game is able to fulfill that promise of the stealth route being as viable as the action route. Being able to get into locations in five to six ways, and with all the weapons or magic powers makes for a lot of replayability and experimentation. This all combined with a striking Victorian almost steampunk look with Victor Antonov's architecture makes Dunwall a fascinating world to explore, and now that it's a franchise, I want more of it.
First Person Swordfighting done justice. Not since Jedi Knights have I felt so much depth and visceral pleasure from decapitating or dismembering another fellow online player.
I TOLD YOU I AM A PSYCHO! I just wanted more Alan Wake, and was surprised with the desert setting and pulp grindhouse feel. Mr Scratch is one of the most lovable videogame villains thanks to the live-action actor, Ikka Villi, totally selling him. The Groundhog Day setup was also quite cool, getting to meet the same female characters again for a bit of burgeoning relationship in this dream world of a Night Springs episode is kinda what Wake needed after being stuck here for so long. The combat and enemy variety has improved down to even including animals like spiders were appreciated. But I'm still waiting for Taken Bears!
Where the kitchen-sink approach of throwing down your favorite game influences actually works. I've never played a game where someone mixed the blocking/parrying of Ninja Gaiden with the juggling/insane combo counts of Devil May Cry as one cohesive combat style. There's even the Izuna Drop (X,Y,X,X,X,Y) as an actual move in the game! Great story too, which is not something I expect from a 2D metroidvania type game that's so focused on mechanics. This has to be the best use of cameos in a game ever, where the effort is worth it to witness a house party of indie favorites.
A devious puzzle game with a unique art style, where the innovation is totally mindblowing. You move light and shadow around to create/destroy platforms. I've had to rework all my thinking on platformers. It also has a great industrial soundtrack.
The breathtaking walking simulator that got the first time developer thechineseroom, thanks to this game's success, to make the next Amnesia game. I was moved and perplexed by this Edgar Allen Poe ghost story where you have to figure out why you're on this island, what happened in your past, and who exactly are you. Random narrative elements bring some replayability and the environments by Robert Briscoe (who did the environments for Mirror's Edge) are stunning especially the caves.
If I'm walking at a snail's pace, I might as well enjoy a gorgeous view. Beautiful and haunting soundtrack too by Jessica Curry that is right up there with Journey in soothing and award-worthy music. In fact, this a great accompaniment with Journey. If you play one, play the other too.
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