GOTY 2012

A few points about lists and this year's games in general:

1) A kind of "top etc" lists are useless without some kind of context, that is, just listing stuff out without any kind of explanation. This seems like an obvious point, but it took me a while to accept. I loved Rock Paper Shotgun's advent calendar style list of best games of the year, a good example of doing it right.

2) Should games be judged by how well they actually work as well the merits of the game itself? This came up this year with X-Com, which I loved but the PS3 version is buggy as shit. There isn't really a comparison to make with other mediums. You don't go to a movie theater and the movie keeps freezing up and needs to be restarted (and if it does, it's probably not the directors fault). In the individual case of X-Com, I've decided to judge it on the game as a whole and not the technical issues.

3) A lot of 2012 games I haven't played yet. and that's just ten of them...

List items

  • I'd compare the original X-Com as a phenomenon to something like William Gibson's sci book Neuromancer. Beloved classic that has often been contemplated for some kind of adaptation, but no one pulled the trigger. Firaxis did the impossible and not only made a great modern X-Com game, but probably improved on the original by many degrees.

  • Ever since I played Harvest Moon for the first time on a snes emulator I always dreamed Natsume or whoever inherited the franchise would finally get it right. This is as close to that perfect Harvest Moon game I've had in my head as I've ever played. Amount of detail in this game is staggering, especially for a franchise known for it's half baked entries. If you've got any interest in this crazy farming RPG and a 3DS, give it a try.

  • This game came out of nowhere for me and I just couldn't stop playing it. You play various animals trying to survive in post apocalyptic Tokyo. Controls and game mechanics are surprisingly good. Utterly insane story told in that typical Japanese "this is crazy but we are taking it deadly serious" kind of way.

  • So glad I played this. Not a huge Telltale fan, but gave it a shot due to word of mouth. Incredibly impressed by the Telltale writing staff. I've been reading the comics for years, and this game completely captures the essence of Kirkman's writing, much more so than the T.V. show. More a virtual novel than a game, most of the "adventure" parts even feel superfluous. On one hand, I felt a bit emotionally manipulated, on the other, a video game was able to invoke a real sense of empathy for the characters and really draw me into the story.

  • Improved almost everything about the already kick ass Borderlands. Thing that struck me the most was the design, rendering, and feel of the guns is SO much better...which in a game mostly about collecting and shooting guns, is no minor thing.

  • A game about micro-managing the crew of a spaceship where every step forward is randomly generated and can (and probably will) lead to your death. Is significant in that it's first game since the Kickstarter boom to be Kickstarted, deliver the game on schedule, in stable working condition, and actually be a great game to boot.

  • What to say about Journey...it's probably one the most talked about games of 2012, so it's hard to add anything new. You are wandering alone in a vast sparkling desert. Eventually another robed character might approach you, musical notes fluttering around their heads. Fantastic sound and environment design, and a novel approach to multiplayer which felt like an experiment in human virtual interaction. Glad I was able to take part in the first few weeks of release when the virtual deserts were full.

  • It's weird that I consider this to be one of the better (and strangely significant) games of 2012 but wouldn't recommend it to people. It's a Visual Novel about a boy who discovers he has a heart defect and has to go to a school for disabled kids. Very sexually explicit, to the point where the sex parts seem grafted on to the story. But I was OK with it. Maybe I've made a kind of tense peace with my inner creep after all these years of internet and 4chan.

    The stories in Katawa Shoujo (especially Rin's, which as my favorite) are actually quite sincere. The team behind this has taken a jokey-meme idea and made a real, honest to god thing here, no in jokes, no poking at the audience or self awareness.

    The story behind the creation of this game is also very interesting, google Katawa Shoujo sometime for a link to their blog where they lay it out. It was a collaborative effort, and an extremely long, tiresome journey, but seems like it was worth it in the end.

  • Not sure how I felt about the ending. Some parts I definitely didn't like. But Bioware took their monstrous whale of a space opera and gave what a I consider to be a worthy conclusion. I'll say one thing, I never want to play anything Mass Effect related again. I'm spent. Multiplayer is surprisingly good, and this is coming from someone indifferent to multiplayer modes in games. The pay aspect is sleazy, but using it or not doesn't really effect your game unless you are way into collecting all the collectibles. And even then if you are unlucky, you can buy all the packs you want and are still fucked.

  • Another surprise for me this year was how much I enjoyed playing Yakuza: Dead Souls. It's an utterly ridiculous and somewhat unpolished game set in the Yakuza universe. Where zombies and man made mutations shamelessly ripped off from other games roam the streets of Tokyo. Unfortunately, I don't want to spoil the highlights of the story because its best if it they just come out of left field.

    The game is split between roaming around non zombie infested bits of Tokyo and third person shooting in the urban wasteland. Typical of the Yakuza series, the amount of sub-quests and minigames are absurd and I still haven't scratched the surface. I'd have to teach myself how to play mahjong and shoji for starters.

    Is the third person shooting awkward? Yes.

    Do you have to know all the Yakuza series lore to enjoy this game? No, but you need a general idea of who the characters are. I believe all the Yakuza games come with videos that sum up the plots of previous games.

    Does the ridiculousness and insanity of this game make up for it's shortcomings? YES