damodar

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GOTY 2012

This year has been an unusual one for me in terms of just how much I spent it playing games from years past. I made work on my steam backlog, busted out my old consoles and continued to pour hours in to several fighting games. As such, the list of actual proper 2012 GOTY candidates I have to draw on is pretty small. I didn't play Mass Effect 3 or Dishonored (although it totally looks like something I'd be way in to) or Assassin's Creed 3 or X-COM or The Walking Dead or FTL or Journey or Black Ops 2 or Max Payne 3 or Hotline Miami or Sleeping Dogs. I'm sure I will play most of those (not you, Mass Effect 3 and Black Ops 2), I just didn't get around to it this year. I didn't get Darksiders 2 yet despite being a huge fan of the first (Hey there, Steam Christmas sales...) I barely played Halo 4 and Far Cry 3 (not to say I didn't think they were great, I just haven't had much time at all with them). My PS3 is busted, so I haven't had the chance to dive in to Tekken Tag Tournament 2 yet and Persona 4 Arena isn't even out here until next year. Even though I absolutely adored the first game and I bought the second basically as soon as I could, I've spent next to no time with Torchlight 2 just because I've been knee-deep in other stuff. Non 2012 stuff.

So because of this, my list is a bit messed up. Sorry about that.

List items

  • I spent most of the year playing older stuff, like Saints Row: The Third and Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition ver. 2012 *breath* so I can't really comment on the bulk of games from 2012. Mark Of The Ninja really surprised me with how much it grabbed me though. I thought the gist of stripping a stealth game down to a 2D view, where you would never be caught out by a guard you didn't see etc, sounded incredibly promising when combined with the amount of information that the game actually surfaces in clever visual ways. What was a really pleasant surprise was how much freedom the game actually gives you to play it however you want. You can be super stealthy, never be seen and leave the guards unscathed or you can be a monster, killing everything and stringing up the bodies for all to see, a demonic apparition to all unlucky enough to cross your path. And you can also do it a bunch of ways in between. Or you can do it every way, like I did, finishing each level between 3-5 times with a totally different approach every time.

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    As a result of Mark Of The Ninja, I actually did a lot of thinking about what I appreciate in games and even how design trends in games pertain to what it actually means to "play" at it's most basic level, which lead to several interesting discussions with friends who value different things and have different viewpoints. The reason why MOTN is such a perfect game for me is that it allows so much freedom to be creative, to create your own cool moments, rather than trying to deliver tightly scripted moments the way a Call Of Duty campaign might. The tightness of the controls are such that I never felt restricted and I always felt comfortable and confident in trying new approaches to situations and, if I got in a pickle, improvising solutions in a very spur of the moment fashion. I tend to lean towards games where playing the game is the reward itself. I find it hard to put in to words and it will sound ultra pretentious, but I enjoy it most of all when I can play a game the way children play, using whatever toys are on hand and enhancing that with their imaginations, or the way a band might play when they're just jamming, people throwing musical ideas out there because that creative process is the fun and rewarding part when something sticks. Rather than just going through the motions of point A to B, completing whatever objective via the path of least resistance, I love when a game inspires me to be creative and I start setting myself completely unnecessary goals with no reward other than the satisfaction of actually puzzling out and executing a solution. The more outside the box the solution, the better. I was doing this constantly with Mark Of The Ninja and I was replaying levels several times even after completing every single goal for those stages.

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    This is getting long-winded, so I'll wrap it up. I'll just say that I find it amazing that in this day and age of games that have literal decades of combined man-hours spent crafting campaign sequences designed to be as intense as possible, a bunch of my favourite moments in gaming this year were ones that I constructed myself using the tools and freedom provided by Mark Of The Ninja. And since I don't think it necessarily comes across in what I've written as strongly as I'd like it to, I'll just say it straight out: I absolutely love Mark Of The Ninja.

  • This game didn't even come out this year, but CHINA DON'T CARE. That's not keeping it off this list. In fact, it's the only thing keeping it from being #1. This game is a fantastic and fascinating piece of game design. It's perhaps easy to look at it and laugh at how silly it all is, but don't think for a second that just because the game is silly that it wasn't made by a group of god damn geniuses. Geniuses... Genii?.. Whatever.

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    Too often when playing a game, you come across things that are just in there because another popular game did it that way. With Saints Row, the design absolutely oozes this sense of the question that drove everything being "Is this fun?". They try to elevate the bits that are fun, while dealing with problems that open world games of a similar type usually have. And they take whatever the problem is and replace it with FUN.

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    A perfect example is the way you can dive through the windows or even windscreen of all the ground based vehicles that actually have them, Dukes Of Hazzard style. It serves several purposes. First off, it makes it way easier to quickly get in a car. It doesn't break the flow of the game and you're far less likely to have the only vehicle within a hundred miles drive off while you try to get to the door. Secondly, it solves a lot of pathfinding problems. I'm sure we've all been there in GTA, watching the character run around the vehicle trying to find the door, be it because access to the door is blocked off or the character just seems to be having an aneurysm. Can't find a path to the door? Try flying through the window! So it fixes that. Thirdly, IT'S FUN. It's amusing the first time you do it and I can confirm that it's still amusing over 100 hours later.

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    I could list a bunch of other areas of the game where it's extremely obvious that things are the way they are because it's fun (like the handbrake being replaced with a button that basically just eliminates any traction from the wheels driving the car instead) but that would take a while and I think I've made my point. There are a few other things that I would like to mention though.

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    Firstly, it's ironic, but because everything in the game is so silly and over the top, including all the characters and the writing, there is such a cohesion between that and my actions in the world at large that it actually creates a strong immersion and I feel emotionally attached to all the characters, most of all the actual Saints boss. While I appreciated GTAIV in a number of ways and thought Niko was a great character, the disconnect between Niko's story and the sort of things I got up to while bored in Liberty City more or less prevented that same connection with it all. And this connection drove a lot of my decisions. First time through, I chose Killbane's mask out of loyalty to Angel. I chose to go rescue Shaundi. I wasn't about to let her die; We've been tight since way back when she was Eliza Dushku. The Daedalus mission was awesome, but Shaundi is part of my runnin' crew! So although GTA and Saints Row have basically gone to the extremes in their respective directions, the writing and characters through out Saints Row have been the ones that I've really fallen in love with. Miss you, Gat. :(

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    Next, I have to make mention of Laura Bailey's performance as Number 1 Female Saints Boss. In the lead up to release, I was initially disappointed that the actress who did that role for Saints Row 2 wasn't reprising it, but Laura knocked it out of the gosh darn park. Saints Row allows such ridiculous character customisation whenever you want, but I create a character seriously initially, then tend to get attached and only change outfits, hairstyles, tattoos, makeup etc with maybe very, very slight tweaks to the facial structure etc along the way to get it to match what I have in mind for the look of the character. The voice acting and the way it so brilliantly conveys the personality of the boss is a huge part of why I get attached and that's a credit to the cast. I'm sure all the voices are great, but I've only played with Laura's voice and it's hard to imagine doing otherwise. She basically is that character to me now and I hope she sticks around for future games.

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    Lastly, to actually tie it in to 2013, I'll say that it is a shame the DLC packs weren't a little more substantial. I did actually enjoy them, perhaps not as much as the base game, but the biggest complaint I would level at them is that they just didn't have as much content as I'd hoped.

  • This is a game that I feel odd about putting on here. I certainly don't expect it to show up on too many lists. Fighting games ARE my favourite genre and Street Fighter is my favourite franchise, but Street Fighter X Tekken is a flawed game in a lot of ways.

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    I'm not talking about the kerfuffle kicked up over the DLC characters being on the disc and all that. I'm not even bothered by that, as I don't think those 12 characters would have been made at all if the plan hadn't been to charge for them later. Having them be DLC was surely just reactionary to people scoffing at Marvel vs Capcom 3 having an updated disc based release in the same year in Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3. Having them be on the disc was perhaps an unfortunate decision, but I think a reasonable one. I think it's better than the alternative of making people with no intentions of purchasing that DLC download a 500mb patch so they actually have the models etc of those characters incase they run in to them online. I'm not denying Capcom do gross things (like better SFxT gems that cost money. Spew.), but I don't think this one is indefensible. But just to reiterate, I'm not talking about that. So just ignore the part where I talked about it for a paragraph.

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    The problems I have with Street Fighter X Tekken might seem petty to those that were enraged by the DLC debacle, but they're important if you're trying to take a fighting game seriously. They're just issues with the occasional move having silly amounts of block stun or silly juggle properties or some characters being a little too lacking in certain important tools. I'm actually not sure about the issue of the timer/timeouts. I do think it is interesting to view the timer as an important resource in that game and that timer scamming with lame play is a totally legitimate thing to do. It just doesn't make it terribly exciting to watch. Some have suggested making the timer last longer, but I don't think that's the solution. I think I would make some tweaks to damage scaling or something though. Maybe metered tags reduce scaling a bit, something like that. I dunno, this isn't really the place for such musings.

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    To say SFxT has been divisive wouldn't really be accurate, because the amount of people that just straight out hate appears disproportionate to those that don't, although it could just be a loud minority, but I doubt it. Seems more like a loud majority. I do think some of the complaints are totally justified, but I also think the whole thing was really overblown and people were too quick to get on the hate bandwagon.

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    The reason this game is here though (and the reason it slowly snaked its way up my list to third place after a bunch of edits, a surprise even to me) is because I think there's actually a really good game at the core of it and I've had a lot of fun for the same reasons I have fun in other fighting games. One thing that I particularly enjoy are the different effects that different normals can have as counter hits etc. Counter hit anti airs putting opponents in to juggle states, moves designed to blow up lows that have a unique stagger state when counterhitting a crouching opponent, providing enough frame advantage for unique combos off those situations, all that good stuff. Street Fighter IV has elements of counter hits changing juggle properties etc, but the scope is much more expansive here. I'm a big fan of that. I could say a lot more about this game, but I'll just leave it with saying that the patch notes for the free 2013 update sound like a definite step in the right direction. Still perhaps a few decisions that I don't understand, but that's not at all to say they're wrong. There are far more balance tweaks that I definitely do agree with, both small and fairly large, sweeping changes, like the overall changes to boost combo recovery etc.

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    So I will say that I do really like this game despite some kind of glaring issues, but I think this is also a vote of confidence for the future of the game. Hopefully people are willing to be more open minded about it. Who knows, maybe this will even be my 2013 2012 GOTY. I guess such a vote is maybe not in the spirit of GOTY awards, but thanks to Saints Row: The Third and Street Fighter 4, I didn't play enough 2012 games to not have a few odd votes.

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    Oh and Capcom, stop shafting people playing the PC version. We're people too, you know. People with feelings. :(

  • Too many of these votes have caveats, but whatever! This is a game that I didn't get to really play as much as I would have liked, since my PS3 done borked for good not too long after this came out, but I'm putting it here just as a recognition of the achievement. It's so unique; an indie fighting game with proper competitive pedigree and a bunch of creative solutions to common fighting game issues.

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    It's a great shame that the game didn't really take off. It's a problem inherent to the genre that the commitment required for playing the games at a high level is such that most people only want to have one or two games to which they dedicate themselves. It can be really hard for titles to find traction and that's what I think happened with Skullgirls. Launching close to EVO didn't help, as that's when everyone really locks in on focusing on their main games. Outside of the competitive scene, I think people were disappointed by the roster only having eight characters. Perhaps justifiable as a knee-jerk reaction in comparison to games like Tekken Tag 2 and Street Fighter X Tekken, with rosters of 50+ characters. In context though, the dev team is tiny, had to outsource a lot of things and the characters have a ridiculous amount of gorgeous animation. In the range of around 3500 unique frames of animation per character is the figure I've heard. Nuts. NUTS. Plus the characters are all very unique, rather than having a bunch that fit in to similar archetypes as is common in other fighting games. It would have definitely been really interesting to watch the model for this game if it had hit it big too, as they'd probably have grown the roster over the game's lifespan with one at a time DLC characters.

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    So here's another game with which I'm naively allowing myself to be optimistic, hoping it sees some resurgence in 2013, with a huge balance patch and PC port. I'll be playing it, at least. So here's to REAL SOVIET DAMAGE!

  • Despite having said all that about Mark Of The Ninja, I don't think linear, tightly scripted games are the devil, as I do enjoy them. They're just not my favourite. A bit like Jan Brady. Spec Ops is a strange beast though. I again feel a bit odd for including it here as I've grown so weary of military shooters that I actually enjoyed Duke Nukem Forever basically just because it wasn't one. Yeah. Spec Ops isn't even a good military shooter either; It's pretty mediocre to play (although I think a percentage of that is by design). On the surface of it, the story is also just Heart Of Darkness in a different setting, a fact that they fully acknowledge by naming the antagonist "Konrad". But it's when you get in to the guts of Spec Ops that you start to see why it's special. And I definitely do think it is special, as it seems like the sort of game you can only really make once. It comes across as a very reactionary game to the popularity of modern military shooters and it twists some video game conventions in ways that would lose their impact if you replicated them. The way it manipulates our blas√© attitudes to violence and glorification of war in video games is key and that in and of itself is kind of bizarre. This is a game that exists and works the way it does because we all played Modern Warfare. The storytelling of Spec Ops: The Line is better because we all played Modern Warfare. I find that terribly fascinating!

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    Special mention to Nolan North's performance, a huge part of giving the game the actual weight that it manages to carry. Props also to creating a game where the character actually goes through an arc that is obvious at all times. The way that Walker changes throughout the course of the game, reflected in his animation and lines of dialogue, from precise military kills with verbal confirmation of kill to completely savage executions with manic, profane screaming and ranting, you experience in full the unravelling of his mind. It's incredibly effective (and affecting) but bizarre how singular it actually is as a method of showing character growth (or deterioration!). I found myself constantly questioning why it wasn't something that I'd encountered before, at least not that I could call to mind. It had the interesting effect right near the end of me beginning to not necessarily make decisions myself, but rather make them as I think Walker would have. The way things ended were awful and felt totally fitting for where that character was at by that stage.

  • Yet another that I feel a bit odd about having on my GOTY list (that'd be three in a row if it weren't for Skullgirls! Three in a row... something something subliminal messages saints row the third something something...). I do consider this to be a pretty great game, although I stopped playing after a bit over 20 hours. I'm not sure why. I don't think it was the game's fault. It's very much more Borderlands, but I liked Borderlands plenty. I think it's just a case of severe ennui with shooters in general on my part. I'm sure I'll go back at some stage. Ringing endorsement, that.

  • This one was just a ton of fun and so unique. Good value as a downloadable title. A lot of fun to play by yourself, but there's a great time to be had playing co-op. Definitely a good game to just have a laugh while playing with a friend. There's not much else to say really, it's just a fun game.

  • I tried to figure out if this should be here, since it is currently Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition ver. 2012, but it doesn't really work for several reasons. While the balance is different enough that I consider it a unique version of the game, like Vanilla, Super and the original AE, each of those had standalone versions released and ver. 2012 was just a patch. Which came out in December of 2011 anyway, except for the PC update, which was this year. And that was 1.06 instead of 1.07. Remember that part about PC players being people too, Capcom?

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    But then, I have Saints Row: The Third on this list, so *insert fart noises here*. And this is here for the same reason as Saint's Row: The Third. Regardless of when it came out, it was one of my favourite games of the year and one of the games I played the most. Same as it was last year and the year before that and the year before that. Basically, what I'm getting at is that I like Street Fighter IV.