My Top Five Games of 2012... Sort Of

For a long while I was thinking that I couldn’t do one of these Game of the Year dealies for 2012. Being a Broke-Ass Student™ I usually end up playing most AAA games a year or so after they are originally released, meaning that I haven’t actually played many of the biggest games of 2012. Then I remembered this is a masturbatory exercise entirely based around my personal experiences of games over the year, and that as this isn’t going to be directly comparable to anyone else’s experience of games over the past 12 months, I didn’t have to let a trivial thing like when the games came out define my 2012 picks for games of the year.

The following are my top five picks for games that I have played in 2012, but didn’t necessarily come out in 2012. For a game to have been eligible for my list, I must have played it for a significant amount of time, and must have first played it since the start of this year. I’ve listed my picks in vague order of quality from which I least enjoyed to which I most enjoyed, but it’s not strictly ranked. You can find all my nominees in the tag below:

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, Bastion, Battlefield 3, Bulletstorm, Castle Crashers, Critical Mass, Dante’s Inferno, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Ezmuze+ 2.0, Faerie Solitaire, Fez, FTL: Faster Than Light, Halo 4, Jamestown, Lone Survivor, Mass Effect 3, Midnight Club II, Minecraft, Nation Red, Penny Arcade Adventures: On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness- Episode One, Post Apocalyptic Mayhem, Prototype, Q.U.B.E, Rage, Rayman Origins, Red Faction Armageddon, Rock Band Blitz, Rock of Ages, Saint’s Row: The Third, Shadows of the Damned, Sid Meier’s Civilization V, Super Monday Night Combat, Terraria, The Binding of Isaac, Toki Tori, Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, Waves, Wizorb

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Adam Jensen, emotionless aug at the helm of Human Revolution.
Adam Jensen, emotionless aug at the helm of Human Revolution.

A lot of developers talk a big game about how much choice there is to be found in their title, and how in it the same job can be done with a variety of tools, and challenges can be tackled with a range of approaches, but very few games live up to that promise to the extent Deus Ex: Human Revolution does. In all honesty I’m not the biggest fan of stealth combat, and I felt taking down the enemies of Human Revolution was too often a boring experience, involving a lot camping in one spot until guards came off of alert or energy recharged, but despite this, there was always the sense that the way you approached the hurdles the game set in your way was your decision. Hacking, stealth, non-lethal takedown, lethal takedown, and social skills were all potential means of solving the problems of Human Revolution.

Perhaps what resonated even more with me though was the world the game presented. The sleek visual design and subdued sounds of Human Revolution helped build an environment which felt soulless but enthralling, and it was refreshing to see a cyberpunk backdrop for the world, and a story with one foot in real-world issues. Human Revolution’s narrative dealt with subjects both interesting and important to us as a species; what bioaugmentation could mean for us, how it could be exploited, how the media can control public perception, issues of wealth disparity, and more. In its best moments Deus Ex: Human Revolution was unique, liberating, and thought-provoking.

Mass Effect 3

Mass Effect 3 is a truly affecting story about the final days of our galaxy.
Mass Effect 3 is a truly affecting story about the final days of our galaxy.

While its ending was probably one of the most crushingly disappointing things I’ve experienced in a video game, it’s a shame that it came to define the game, because, ending aside, Mass Effect 3 was a great RPG. It’s easy to get fixated on the bad things we didn’t expect, and take for granted the quality components that we’ve come to expect of the games, but standing back and analysing it, there are still no other games out there that have handled player choice like Mass Effect has, and so few games with narratives as compelling and rich as those of this Bioware RPG franchise. This stayed true right up to the end.

Throughout the series, the experience I had with the games felt unique to me, and it was hard not to become engrossed in the world and develop a sincere attachment to the characters. The way I and my friends can play this same game and have a completely different journey with it, or the way decisions I made in another game five years ago can affect the fate of a universe in this game today are just two examples of where Mass Effect 3 blows me away. The ending may have been abysmal, and the multiplayer might not have stood up, but Mass Effect 3 is a largely fitting conclusion to a ground-breaking trilogy that has a lot to teach anyone aiming to create truly emotional experiences in video games.

Sid Meier’s Civilization V

Civilization V stands among the best strategy games ever.
Civilization V stands among the best strategy games ever.

Many games, films, or books take place on a grand scale, but the Civilization series goes above almost every other in this regard. The events that you witness, control, and influence in the games don’t just happen on a global scale, but across all of human history, making your path through a single game of Civ feel truly epic.

Other games may let you take on the role of a spaceship captain in an intergalactic conflict, or commander of an army in a world war, but nothing is quite the same as the Civilization experience of taking a group of people from being a small tribe of barbarians in 4,000 B.C. through to being a sprawling and advanced society in the 21 century. Along the way, everything you encounter, from the world leaders, to the various technologies, to the world wonders, make Civilisation feel like one big love letter to human history.

Civ V manages to once again deliver all of this alongside the series’ notorious addictiveness. It’s remarkable how all the disparate mechanics of the game manage to come together to keep giving you small goals to strive towards, and small rewards for your work, in such perfect quantities, with such perfect timing. The major changes that the game makes to systems like culture, unit placement, and the UI, are also all welcome additions. A game of Civilization V is always enjoyable, and as much as it gets said, it really does keep you playing long into the night with that “One more turn” mentality.

Halo 4

The stoic protagonist of this brilliantly fulfilling FPS.
The stoic protagonist of this brilliantly fulfilling FPS.

I was pretty confident going into Halo 4 that 343 had produced at least a competent recreation of the previous Halo games, but quite how far they managed to go in creating a gripping new Halo game was very impressive. I wish they had distanced themselves a little further from other popular FPSs when thinking about new mechanics, and there is a special pocket of disappointment in my heart for Spartan Ops, but not only does Halo 4 get what the series is about, down to the precise feel and timing of the weapons, but it’s obvious from the moment that you pick it up that the series has benefitted from having a new set of hands on it.

At its core the Halo formula remains as satisfying as ever, and on top of that, 343 managed to drastically improve the progression system, make the multiplayer fairer, give the guns more of a kick, make the gameplay more action-packed, and go to a place with the story more ambitious than anywhere Bungie went. The game also manages to disprove the claim that has been by a number of industry higher-ups recently, that this generation of consoles has reached its technical limitations; both the art design and the technical quality of the game’s graphics are up to a very high standard, presenting some beautiful landscapes and gorgeous environments.

Halo 4 is a fantastic continuation of an excellent series, that is not content to rest on the franchise’s laurels, and instead feels like the product of some serious talent and effort. Hopefully this is just the tip of the iceberg for this new generation for Halo.

Saint’s Row: The Third

Saint's Row: The Third is a game about mayhem.
Saint's Row: The Third is a game about mayhem.

Over its first two instalments the Saint’s Row series was one that I found consistently underwhelming. It’s not that they were poorly put together, but they came across to me as a series that aped the successful formula of Grand Theft Auto, but could neither do anything particularly original with it, nor ever quite execute on it with the level of quality that Rockstar did. Saint’s Row: The Third changed that, presenting us with not only a game that was very well-crafted, but that benefited incredibly from having its own distinctive sense of self-identity.

Saint’s Row: The Third is beautifully insane and full of character. From fighting soldiers in a tank as you’re falling through the air thousands of feet above the city, to getting plastic surgery to sneak onto an aircraft carrier, it’s the creativity with which the game is able to produce its brilliant nonsense that makes it so special.

The characters occupying these scenarios (particularly the protagonist) only server to enhance them, acting as a conduit for the player’s attitude by acknowledging that what’s happening is batshit crazy, but jumping in and having fun with it none the less. The game is very confident in what it does and feels greatly empowering in the way it lets you give a huge “Fuck you” to not just the enemies of the game world, but the laws of reality and the notions of subtlety and sensibleness. Saint’s Row: The Third is over-the-top, exciting, stylish, and my biggest criticism of it is simply that there wasn’t more of what made that main story so great.

Duder, It’s Over

And I guess that’s me done for this year. If you have read through all or part of my self-indulgent rambling, I thank you very much, and I hope you’ve all had as enjoyable a year with games as I have. Here’s hoping to a great 2013.