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Ghostiet's GOTY 2014 Blog Post No One Will Care About


Haven't seen any proper GOTY blog posts, might as well do one right now.

2014 was another year where big releases went completely over my head. Partially because I decided to wait on making the next-gen jump, partially because I didn’t give a fuck about most big releases, partially because my backlog and newfound obsession with Counter-Strike and other multiplayer bullshit stopped me from taking on more games. So for me, 2014 was a year of indie games, and not even big indie games every one was pumped about, but weird, smaller releases that I bought on impulse because they were pretty. It’s also been a year of exploration – I learned new things about myself not only as someone who plays games, but also as a person, even if it was through games.

So yeah, let’s get this show on the road.

10. Alien: Isolation

After the heap of shit that was Gearbox’s blatant money grab titled Aliens: Colonial Marines, one would be wary of another game based on the Alien license. However, Isolation nails it. Instead of Colonial Marines' dumb fan pandering, Creative Assembly’s horror is a heartfelt love letter to Ridley Scott’s film. The plot is goddamn Alien, but it’s not a slight, since it creates a perfect backdrop for revisiting the film’s design, art and memorable moments. And there’s the star: the xenomorph. Isolation makes the “defenceless horror” formula popularized by Amnesia more exciting by giving you an overarching enemy hanging over your head and actually giving you some ways of protecting yourself and whisking out of tough situations. And finally, the game nails the weird relationship between Ripley and the alien, to the point where you’ll develop somewhat of a symbiotic relationship with it once you start abusing its AI patterns. The game would benefit from being maybe two hours shorter, but it doesn’t change that it’s one of the best licensed games out there and one of the best horror and stealth games.

9. Wolfenstein: The New Order

The return of Wolfenstein happened to be one of this year’s biggest surprises. Not only is it really fun, with great gunplay and some completely stupid set pieces, it’s also a pretty touching story! There are some legit characters with legit, believable development, a lot of well served pathos, a touching love story, hell, the game even managed to handle a labour camp sequence with taste. The attention to detail is also beyond what AAA shooters do – like being fully multilingual, even with letters in proper Polish grammar. Seriously, I almost cried when I saw them finally address Blazkowicz’s Polish ancestry and had Brian Bloom speak some of my language. I want more Wolfenstein in the future if this is the sign of things to come, because this was fucking awesome.

8. Road Not Taken

It’s loosely based on the Robert Frost poem of the same name, but don’t let that scare you away if you expect walls of text. Road Not Taken is a balls-hard roguelike with a “match 3” puzzle mechanic and it uses exactly that to illustrate the themes of Frost’s text. And precisely through that gameplay it manages to be a really dark game – tying your choices and morality directly to your ability, or the lack of it, to suck up some really punishing puzzles makes for some really uncomfortable moments. And it’s fun. I haven’t seen a puzzle game like Road Not Taken and I have to say that it’s the most exciting twist on the block/match genre since Puzzle Quest.

7. Abyss Odyssey

I always look forward to ACE Team’s shit – those Chileans know how to make unorthodox gameplay and they have the best, craziest artists in the biz. Abyss Odyssey is by far the most conventional, but also the most enjoyable time I’ve had with their games. It’s a roguelike with a deep, but accessible combat system inspired by fighting games, with cancels, juggles, frames, sprinkled with co-op, loot, multiple characters, a cool system of taking over enemies (including bosses) and content patches tied to overall player base progression. It’s great. And it’s really pretty, too – the Alphonse Mucha-inspired art manages to look awesome both on 2D stills and in the game’s Unreal Engine 3.5 powered 3D models and environments.

6. Diablo III: Reaper of Souls

In a twist, I *liked* Diablo III when it came out. I didn’t play as much of it due to two reasons: lack of time and the exercise in skull-fucking boredom called Normal difficulty. Over the two years since launch, Blizzard did a lot of things to rectify those problems, until they hit the jackpot with Reaper of Souls and the months leading up to it, with the most important of the bunch: Loot 2.0, an absolute revamp of items and loot drops which finally gave people access to legendary items on a more regular basis, further improved the freeform skill system and made higher difficulties manageable. Further changes, like the addition of Adventure mode, Seasons and a revamp of the way the game handles difficulty levels also helped in turning Diablo III into a more accessible, simply more fun and much more rewarding game. The fact that Act V is a fun, diverse and long romp with a trio of the game’s most fun bosses doesn’t hurt.

5. Shadowrun: Dragonfall - Director's Cut

2014 was a good year for old-schoolish PC cRPGs, with the release of your Divinities and Wastelands, but for me the real deal remains in Dragonfall. The standalone expansion for last year’s Shadowrun Returns improves upon its mother game in virtually every way. The combat and UI are slicker and more pleasant, it’s much more open without being aimless, the writing’s fantastic, with fun characters, twists and dialogue choices that actually require from the player to read, and even the narration itself gets deliciously Avellone-y at points. It’s also really pretty and atmospheric – Returns’ Seattle was a nondescript, boring place, but Dragonfall’s Berlin is a beautiful, varied city that feels truly like a separate character in the game, helped handsomely by the environment art. Returns was a promise – this is a great 20 hours of fun.

4. Dungeon of the Endless

I just realized that I’ll have five roguelike-inspired titles including the one coming up in a sec. It’s a good thing that they all put very interesting spins on the formula and make the challenge lie not only in one’s faith in RNG, but also mastering the mechanics. And Dungeon of the Endless seems like the king, though, being a super weird mix of turn based strategy, RTS, 4X and tower defence. And somehow, it all works. The game is hard as shit and has a tough learning curve, with a billion floors to clear before you even get your first actual “win” of the game, but manages to be fair – it requires enough strategy and quick thinking that even when you get fucked over on the coin toss, you can still squeeze out a win. And obviously it’s fun to the point of putting the “one-more-turn” syndrome into full gear. Outside of pure gameplay, it hits the nail on the head on every front: the writing is clever and cheeky and seems like a well enough introduction to Amplitude Studios' Endless series while allowing for interesting stories to develop between its characters, the OST is very atmospheric and has the elusive quality of being very, very listenable outside of the game and it features some of the most gorgeous pixel art I’ve ever seen, all of which contributes to the game’s odd atmosphere.


PAYDAY 2 is a 2013 release, but a) it’s my list and b) the bulk of its most interesting content came out this year. And boy, what content it was. The folks still waiting for GTA Online to introduce heists after more than a year since launch are missing the fucking point – PAYDAY 2 is the real deal. It’s co-op at its finest, with great gunplay, intriguing stealth mechanics, great stress generation and a lot of personality. It’s also being flooded with content. Overkill Software has proven that they have cracked the code in terms of supporting a game, whether it’s through weapon packs, bug fixes and rebalances, cool new heists or through its insane anniversary event, the Crimefest, which culminated in the ultimate crowd pleaser with Hoxton Breakout. And the best part? We’ve only just finished one third of the game’s three year cycle. This alone makes me insanely excited for what’s to come.

2. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth

The Binding of Isaac – a game which Edmund McMillen kinda farted out as a side thing with frequent collaborator Florian Himsl – was my 2011’s game of the year. It just clicked as a fast-paced roguelike with a lot of depth and one of gaming’s most interesting, or at least most interestingly presented narratives. The Wrath of Lamb gave a sequel’s worth of content to an already packed game which I gobbled up happily, even if I wasn’t fully on board with some of the imbalances it brought into the mix. So as a fan, let me say something: Nicalis’ Rebirth is a million times better than that game. It fixes those balance issues, manages to run on a calculator unlike the original’s Flash disaster, introduces a metric fuckton of new content, puts a pretty retro-spin on McMillen’s signature art style, costs fifteen bucks, revamps old bosses and AI, introduces proper goddamn interactions and synergies and it probably gives oral sex, fixes your car and makes a mean mojito. And these crazy sons of bitches promise more content incoming.


1. Gods Will Be Watching

Gods Will Be Watching is not perfect.

It’s super frustrating, I believe you have to finish it to get everything it’s trying to do and it’s clear that the game’s idea of tying moral choices directly to percentages and RNG did not resonate with others as hard as it did with me. But for me, it’s the most important game of the year.

Deconstructeam crafted a title which for the first time ever actually had me question what the fuck I’m doing. It was the first one to force my hand into making a choice that I did not agree with at all, but I knew was necessary. It was the first to put me in a situation and not give me a perfect way out. And it did all of it without resorting to sob stories, making me bond with kids and asking me to choose between burning orphanages and rape-murdering plush bunnies. It just gave me some tough fucking situations to handle and gave me one goal: handle it, or you won’t progress. And I handled it, for better or worse.

Once again, Gods Will Be Watching is not perfect and won’t – or didn’t, really – work for everyone. But it taught me something new about what games can do and something new about myself.

And this is why it’s my game of the year.

Honorable mentions:

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

I don’t like Adrian Chmielarz, but I loved Painkiller and Bulletstorm and I have fond childhood memories of his old Metropolis Software stuff like Książę i tchórz and Reflux. Still, I just can’t over his pompous, arrogant persona, so I approach all of his new stuff with caution. And fuck him if he didn’t nail it again. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is, at first glance, a walking simulator, but it’s actually one of the most clever narratives and adventure games to come out in the last few years. It’s motherfucking gorgeous, the plot is evocative of a more personal In the Mouth of Madness, it has some great storytelling, has some engaging, fun puzzles and remembers to throw in some curveballs to keep things fresh. Fuck Adrian Chmielarz, him and the rest of The Astronauts did good.

Echo of the Wilds

Take some Don’t Starve roguelike survival, add the writing style of Superbrothers, sprinkle some pretty pixel art and mix it with a healthy dose of mysticism and you’ll get Echo of the Wilds – a very weird survival adventure game which begins with your character of choice having a weed conversation with a spirit in a forest. I’m not sure what this fucking game is, but I had this sense of discovery and strangeness that games rarely manage to get out of me anymore.

South Park: The Stick of Truth

I like South Park. I don’t watch it as much as I did, but this season has been really, really good. The game is better. It’s South Park at its funniest and most consistent – I can’t remember a moment in The Stick of Truth that I’d consider disappointing or less funny. It was way too easy, but I’ve had the most laughs with it this year, whether it was thanks to references to the show’s timeline or just plain funny, stupid jokes, like Kenny’s princess phase. It’s also Obsidian’s first not broken game, which is even funnier considering how backwards it was made.

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes

Kojima delivered a tantalizing glimpse into The Phantom Pain by focusing on the aspect of Metal Gear which many overlook – perfecting your runs. Ground Zeroes is mechanically pure like no other game in the series outside of Peace Walker and made me even more excited for the follow up. It’s supposed to be bigger, better, badder and with Kojima’s crazy storytelling and deconstructions in full force, and considering how much I enjoyed this small prologue, I cannot wait.

The Last of Us: Left Behind

It’s a tale with a foregone conclusion, but Left Behind shines in the way it uses gameplay mechanics and set pieces from the main game to tell a story of love and friendship that resonates and adds a new, exciting context to the vanilla plot – I consider the arcade scene to be this year’s best single moment. The winter sequences that give you the ability to use the Infected to screw with them Hunters made me want to play more of 2013’s best game, too. It’s not substantial enough to be on the list, but it was just so fucking good that I had to give it a proper nod.


Ghostiet's GOTY 2013 Blog Post No One Will Care About

Let the GOTY blog post bullshit begin!

2013 was a real fucker of a year on pretty much all fronts but one: video games. For vidya, 2013 has been fucking stellar. If every year capping of a generation of hardware and games is this good, then man, I can't wait until we say goodbye to the Xbox One and Playstation 4. 2013 in gaming brought me titles that I can easily call one of my favorite ones of the entire generation and at least one that I can now call one of my most favorite games ever. And thanks to the beauty/asshattery of Steam, I can't even say I played all the worthwile games of 2013.

Alright, let's do this.

10. Gunpoint

One of the most cleverly written and designed games I’ve played this year. Gunpoint is funny and smart, with its hilarious achievements and possible conversation options, also having solid ground to stand on gameplay-wise. The way it subtly encourages you to do different stuff and favor unorthodox approach to missions makes it a unique experience to me – most of the time, I’m one pragmatic motherfucker in video games, to the point where my second playthrough is always the same. Here, I wanted to see what happens if I do something differently. And when the game rewarded me with an achievement when I accidentally smacked myself with a door, it marked the first time I ever gave a shit about Steam achievements.

9. Shadow Warrior

When playing Shadow Warrior, I kept thinking about Duke Nukem Forever. Because Flying Wild Hog’s remake is what that game was supposed to be. It mocks how utterly ridiculous and out of touch the archetypical ‘90s action hero is in this day and age, but also celebrates him, by making Lo Wang a nerdy Jack Burton of “Big Trouble in Little China”. It’s an homage that never feels pathetic or pandering, showing that this sort of character can still be done well. Oh, and the game is a fucking blast, too. Mowing down hordes of enemies with your sword is fun, while the few guns the game has manage to feel fresh, since they pack a solid punch, but never distract you from the meat of the gameplay – slashing demons with a katana.

8. BIT.TRIP Presents… Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien

Runner2 is one of the most positive, fun games I’ve played this entire year. It’s tough as nails, but in a way that isn’t sickening – I never felt like the game is tearing away bits and pieces of my soul, even during the most wall-banging moments. It’s also full of charm, with its warm graphics, great music and Charles Martinet’s awesomely alliterative narrations. I mean, it has a fucking dance button. It’s no hug button, but still pretty damn good.

7. Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen

I’m cheating on this one a bit, but since the re-release came out in 2013, I’m fine with that.

Dragon’s Dogma is a deeply fucked game. Some things (the affinity system, checkpoints, sidequests) are so baffling that it seems like the game was made by aliens trying to imitate human thought processes. But on the other hand, it has a fascinating universe, great combat and a sense of wonder and exploration that few games have. And absolutely the best boss battles this year. Fucking A. Climbing on top of a chimera and stabbing the shit out of it was fun the first time and the tenth time I’ve done it. Once 2014 comes, I’m rerolling into PS+ just to spend more time in this weird, weird game, since I didn't even touch the Dark Arisen content.

6. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

The funniest game that came out this year. Blood Dragon had me at “hello”, that is, when it introduced Spider and his amazing way of saying “motherfuckers”. And it didn’t stop there. The game rolled out a sidequest referencing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, an out of the blue speech on the video game violence craze, the world’s greatest sex scene, the announcer from Mortal Kombat and much, much more. It’s just fucking bananas in the greatest ways and I never felt like the self-referential humor/homage overstayed its welcome. It also refines the gameplay of Far Cry 3 by being simply better paced – the original game dragged for a bit too long, while Blood Dragon ends right where it should.

5. Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine

Best co-operative experience I’ve had this entire generation, hell, probably in games, period. Monaco is a superbly designed and made game, period. From its interesting premise and easy to get into mechanics, through the challenging gameplay, to the great story, it’s been an immensely fun ride. Even when playing through it a second time, playing with people was an amazing thrill. Something always goes to shit, so you scramble around, trying to save your friends, or trying to utilize the commotion to your advantage. And when things go right, there is a true sense of fulfillment.

4. Grand Theft Auto V

GTA V is probably one of the most ambitious games I’ve seen. It has an enormous, rich and lively world, a lot of shit to do and a story that is too epic in scale for its own good. As someone who didn’t care for GTA IV in any way, GTA V is a return to form by Rockstar North. However, despite all of its great parts, V seems more like a proof of concept. But that’s also why it seems so great – there’s a big promise to everything. So even though I don’t want to return to Los Santos right now, once GTA Online gets more content and some single player DLC pops out, I’ll be back in for more. Because I want more of this game.

3. Saints Row IV

You shouldn’t spoil Saints Row IV for yourself. The amount of balls-out stuff that happens should be experienced fresh. It’s a dumb, dumb game, in the best ways possible. Instead of reining it in and trying to make it a more focused experience, Volition took the plunge into crazy. Every mission is a set piece, everything is tailored for you to get the biggest mileage out of your stupid, overpowered abilities. It’s nuts. And it’s really, really funny. Fuck Warren Spector. This is what I want. This is what we all should want.

2. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Normally, a sufficient justification for this game being so high should just be “it’s fucking pirates”, but for the sake of this argument, let’s pretend that you don’t have a soul and the very thought of a well-made, epic pirate game isn’t enough to wet your willy. Assassin’s Creed IV is, in many ways, the same sort of improvement to the series that II was. Ubisoft removed all the shitty things that III was boggled by, on top of making everything bigger and better. The Assassin’s Creed formula is expanded even more, but a completely new and big system based around sailing on the high seas transforms it into its own thing. Add to that a bleak, intriguing story with one of gaming’s best protagonists – the deeply flawed, human Edward Kenway, who finally manages to strike the morally ambiguous promise of the series’ overarching plot.

Hell, it made me hate Assassin’s Creed III for not being this game.

1. The Last of Us

Some things are just tailored for a specific person. Everything works out in your favor – your favorite director is doing it, it has your favorite setting, it’s an adaptation of your favorite book, it’s your beloved band releasing an album after 10 years of silence.

I’ve been waiting on The Last of Us since that VGA reveal trailer. I knew I will like it. There was no fucking way that game could be bad, because it would break my heart.

And it delivered. It gave me a dark, well-crafted and justified post-apocalyptic world. It gave me a set of well-written and acted characters, including Joel, one of gaming’s best, darkest characters. It gave me engaging stealth/action gameplay. It gave me thrills and stressed the shit out of me. It gave me an atmospheric, touching road-movie story. It ended perfectly. And I felt fulfilled. A lot of games don’t end, there always has to be a hint of something else coming, but The Last of Us felt like a complete whole. It didn’t feel too short, it didn’t feel too long, it never dragged for me, always moving at a steady pace. It just had everything I wanted out of it. And when I played it again after a couple of months, I still liked what it was doing.

It was simply made for me. And this is why it’s my game of the year.

Honorable mentions:

Gone Home

When I heard about the basic premise of Gone Home, I became wary of the game. I’m liberal, but I also hate it when someone expects everyone to immediately fall in line and immediately agree with every minority, shoving its glurgy messages up your ass. Gone Home’s most impressive feat is that it doesn’t do that. Fullbright managed to craft a story that’s smart, touches a sensitive subject and provides plenty of valid interpretations of the characters and their motivations, without ever giving the player a definitive answer or telling him what he should think. It also does something that few games really do with their narrative and gameplay. Stories need conflict, but in video games, that conflict has been usually a higher pressure, higher caliber one, outside of few outliners that served more as metacommentaries. Gone Home is not a revolution, but it’s so far the best example of how to do this kind of stuff.

BioShock Infinite

BioShock Infinite had the impossible task of trying to be as culturally significant to the medium as the original BioShock was in front of itself. Fortunately, Levine & Co. ignored that. Infinite stands on its own legs, without the legacy of its predecessor dragging it down. While gameplay-wise it didn’t really excite me, since none of it stuff lived up to all those trailers, the story is something else. It’s an impressive feat to write a cohesive, coherent tale of obsession, love, sacrifice with alternate realities and parallel universes mixed into all of that, with a little sprinkle of some metacommentary on the process of creating art without the whole thing falling apart. Not many books and movies managed that, let alone video games, but Infinite pulls it off with gusto.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

During the first 20 minutes of Metal Gear Rising, I’ve heard Raiden wax poetical about samurais, I’ve seen a burly Texan dude kill an African leader quipping “give war a chance!”, I grabbed a Metal Gear by its blade and played with it like a ragdoll, a Russian named Boris yelled at me through my CODED and I got my arm chopped off by a Mexican ronin. Considering that the game marries the respective brands of crazy of Kojima and Platinum, that this game is going to be really fucking stupid in the best way possible was pretty much a given. Platinum crafted an exciting, ridiculous and fun action game that starts at 10 and then slowly goes to 11. Even though you can tell that the last two “proper” levels of the game were done in a hurry, it doesn’t really matter. MGR is a fun, dumb game.

Toki Tori 2+

I wish I discovered this game earlier, because it would have a secured spot in the top 10. Everyone with even a vague interest in game design should play Toki Tori 2+, since the way the game teaches you its mechanics without ever explaining them outright is just magical. I’m not too deep in the game yet, but what I’ve played was so impactful that I had to put it in here.


Divekick is a perfect party game. It’s really easy to pick up and play, literally everyone can be good at it and it’s emotional and exciting every time you play it. And since in some magical, satanic way the developers managed to give the mechanics actual depth, despite being controlled with two buttons, you’ll want to play it again and again. What was supposed to be a five minute distraction ended up being a fucking great way to spend time with friends.

Papers, Please

Papers, Please, alongside Gone Home, showed everyone this year that you can make a video game about anything and still make it interesting, if not exciting. The story of an Eastern Bloc border checkpoint officer should have been a painstakingly dull affair on all fronts, but it wasn’t. In fact, it managed to be one of the most human narratives in video games, while having barely any direct narrative. It was also one suspenseful game to play. Anyone whose hand was shaking scrambling for the gun locker key will know what I’m talking about.


Ghostiet's "Best Games of 2012" Blog Post No One Will Care About

2012 was a weird fucking year. A boatload of great games, but most of them had enough problems to rob me off some ultimate satisfaction.

By the way, fuck that. 2012 is no Year of the Bow. It's the Year of Drug Trips, because a lot of this year's titles were either reality-defying drug hazes or at least had such sequence. It's a trend I would really like to be continued.

Anyway, let's get on with it.

10. Katawa Shoujo

Yeah, I know. After playing a few more games towards the end of this year, I had to drop two titles - Borderlands 2 and Sleeping Dogs - from the list to fit others in. Ultimately, I couldn't bring myself to drop this damn visual novel. Katawa Shoujo affected me deeply. It was a much better, much deeper experience I ever anticipated, since it turned out to be a pretty well written, tasteful and deeply endearing game. Rin and Hanako's stories hit me very much and had me recalling some points of it throughout the year. I'm not going to fight for it or anything, but I couldn't ignore the fact that I've been touched by this game, therefore I had to honor it with a spot in my Top 10.

9. Spec Ops: The Line

I enjoy games which play with the medium, which is why I'll always defend MGS2. Spec Ops is a remarkable damn title. It's a mediocre game from which I have derived little pleasure when actually playing it, since purely mechanically it's just a boring, plain experience lacking any cool ideas. But I didn't give a shit. The game's story and tone overshadow its flaws. From the moment I saw the game's main menu - with the ragged American flag and a horribly distorted version of The Star Spangled Banner playing from a radio, I knew I'll be playing something special. While it didn't invest me so much as other games this year, it was a damn memorable experience. And ultra-props to Nolan North for probably his greatest performance ever.

8. Mark of the Ninja

I never could fully enjoy Shank and Shank 2. I really wanted to. I loved the atmosphere, the art style, the controls, but there was always a deeply frustrating factor to those games and some little flaws that always prevented me from biting in, so when Klei's new game came out, I was super skeptical. But Mark of the Ninja turned out to be a very well made game and a love letter to virtually every stealth game that ever came out. And probably the most enjoyable I played in a long, long while. While not very challenging, I never found myself bored with the gameplay, like I did with Dishonored. NG+ is waiting for me and I'm pretty sure I'll enjoy myself again.

7. Diablo III

The deeper we got into this year, I found Diablo III sinking lower and lower into the list. Less due to some unmet expectations or anything and more due to me picking up the game in a shitty time. I enjoyed the game a lot and I'm still enjoying it, but I bought it just two months after launch and got annoyed by some small stuff that bugged me - mostly the lack of any challenge on normal, which prevented me from trying out new characters. Then bam, around the time I start my education at university and games begin to come out, Blizzard decided to roll out fixes and patches to most of that shit. Only without me having the time to play it. It was tempting to leave it out of the list, but ultimately I sank a lot of time and I got a lot of fun from the game and I'll be having more in 2013. Especially once my girlfriend picks up a copy.

6. Far Cry 3

I had absolutely no expectations when FC3 came out. Far Cry 2 was a glorious mess I desperately tried to love, but in the end I just couldn't give a fuck for the sake of my sanity and keeping some actual fond memories from playing that game. The E3 gameplay, which showed exhilarating sequences in a burning building where you shoot valves to quench the fires didn't help its case. Then, seeing the actual game in action, getting myself spoiled and seeing the excited reaction got me to play this game. It's one of this year's best games. I ate this crazy drug-induced haze of a game up, until the southern part of the island. Too bad the pacing falls apart in the last third, because this should be a lot higher, but I ultimately found myself forcing myself through these last bits. But it doesn't change the fact that it's an extremely memorable experience with this year's best villain - such a shame Vaas gets so underdeveloped.

5. Assassin's Creed III

AC2 is one of my favorite games, just shy of the top 5. It wasn't a particularly challenging experience or anything, but it's rare to find such a focused title. Hating AC1, I found myself loving the sequel much more than anything else that came out in 2009. I ate up AC2 and even though some call Brotherhood a better game, it just didn't do it for me as much as 2 did. So III had a tough act to beat, and ultimately it didn't fully deliver, but I still had a lot of fun. It's a more ambitious game which feels kinda unfinished at points, but it didn't stop me from enjoying it greatly. I might be the one of the few people who dug Connor as a protagonist and character, especially in contrast with Ezio. Too bad everything about Desmond is so fucking bad - starting with these weird damn faces, through clunky gameplay and finishing with a badly delivered ending. Not that it was bad story-wise, but it's such a flaccid conclusion I just sighed. Not that I care about the myth arc of the series, but II, Brotherhood and Revelations managed to end with jaw-dropping bangers and I expected another "oh shit" moment. Still, great fucking game.

4. XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Motherfuck chrysalids. Seriously.

3. The Walking Dead

I didn't buy into the hoopla after the enthusiastic reviews of Episode 1, since I played Jurassic Park and someone told me this was like Jurassic Park, only done well. I just couldn't think of a worse case of damning by faint praise. I spoiled myself up until Episode 4, where I finally relented and decided to play that fucker after seeing some insane crap going on. And I loved it. It's a tense experience with some of the best characters of this year and a great example of using the medium to deliver a punch to the gut. I wouldn't give half the fucks about what happens if this was a film or book. Even though I think the game peaked emotionally and atmospherically at the end of Episode 2 and then recovered at the very end of 5.

2. Max Payne 3

I'm no Max Payne purist. I really liked 1 & 2, but I always felt a lot of the game's fanbase has a case of rose-tinted, nostalgia-made contact lenses, so I came in to MP3 without being suspicious from the start. MP3 didn't disappoint me. I like where Rockstar took the character, I'm a sucker for this type of Michael Mann-influenced aesthetic and I absolutely adore the gameplay. It's been a long time since shooting someone in the face was so much fun, thanks to the punch the guns pack, to the brutality of the game and good ragdolls. It was a super-fun ride and that's why it's just shy of first place. The plot goes kinda too quickly, but I prefer it to being padded out with pointless sequences. I had fun and I'll remember this game for a long time - for the gunplay, for the story, for the atmosphere, for the soundtrack, for James McCaffrey's brilliant performance. And that magical ending.

1. Hotline Miami

I like focused experiences and nothing about Hotline Miami feels extraneous. The devs made a game they wanted to make and it just fucking oozes from the screen. It plays fast and brutal, it's easy to pick up, tough to master and manages to not frustrate too much despite its difficulty. I fully dig the coke-addled stylistic and I think it's one of this year's best narratives. Hotline Miami manages to have its cake and eat it - it's a fun game and also a smart study of video game violence which uses the medium in some really clever ways. Everything plays its role - the gameplay, the style, the soundtrack, the system, the plot, the meta stuff - to achieve something truly memorable and remarkable. All the pieces matter and all the pieces fit. And that's why Hotline Miami is my favorite title of 2012 - because none of the games I've played this year managed that to this extent.