Best of 2012

Moonshadow101: Best of 2012

Trying to remember why I didn't put one of these together last year, and I think it's actually pretty simple: my list would have been "Skyrim" ten times. That's not to say I played nothing else, of course, just mostly older games. I honestly would have struggled to even find room for an honorable mention of anything else that actually released in 2011. For a game that released in November of that year, that's saying something. Honestly, I enjoyed a hell of a lot of Skyrim this year too, but we must have some standards for this, otherwise I'd be able to throw Majora's Mask on here or something crazy like that.

List items

  • I never played the original XCOM, it having been released quite early in my life. What I found in this XCOM is a game that meshes almost perfectly with how I play games. The patient, step-by-step approach that many games try to discourage with arbitrary time limits is presented here as the only real way to play. Beyond that, though, what they have here is a gameplay model that works: the actual combat systems are almost perfectly tuned, creating a game where the basically repetitive nature of the missions doesn't become a drawback. On the contrary, every new mission is a new opportunity to jump into the combat and try to make some headway in the metagame besides.

  • I didn't follow The Walking Dead episode-by-episode. I jumped in just recently, with the full package all coming at once. It carves out an odd niche halfway between an adventure game and a visual novel. A few minor spoilers here and there took the edge off of some of the big shocks, but nothing can adequately prepare a human being for Episode 5.

    This game had an emotional impact beyond what I expect of any media, let alone video games. Jerry Holkins over at Penny Arcade once wrote this: "If Bioshock is not art, then art is poorer for it." This is a game that very clearly deserves the same honor.

  • Perhaps it's odd to put an expansion pack here, since the content of the expansion cannot be rationally separated by the content of the original game. Perhaps it's unfair that Civilization V gets to come back and take another spot long after its original release. Luckily for me, I'm not a games journalist, so screw all of that. I played a lot of Civ 5 this year. The expansion made some key tweaks to the gameplay and introduced a few new elements that made the game fresh enough to dive back into without reservations.

  • It's probably not fair to put Spelunky on this list. After all, the version that I actually played wasn't the recent 360 release, it was the PC release which is about three years old. Still, I feel okay about lumping them together.

    If the hours spent : megabytes ratio meant something, Spelunky would be #1 on this list for the year. It's another example of a simply excellent gameplay model, finely crafted an infinitely replayable by virtue of its sheer mechanical perfection.

  • FTL is the other half of the puzzle for me. I've come to the realization that my ideal video game, the one thing I could play forever and be perfectly happy doing so, is a chimeric fusion of FTL and Dwarf Fortress. The broad concepts of FTL: You're on a ship, jumping from place to place in space, customizing your ship and managing your crew... all of that handled with the head-crushing depth of Dwarf Fortress. That's a game I could be stranded on an island with and die perfectly happy.

    Aside from being a key component of my imaginary game, FTL itself is also pretty damn good. It couples a fun aesthetic with a sense of desperation, forces you to make low-key but ultimately pivotal decisions, and when you do die, throws you back into things with that roguelike immediacy we've all come to know.

    Yes, yes, I'm sure that the word roguelike has been technically misused there. Don't care. This is what it means now.

  • World of Warcraft Expansions are a complex thing. They're Blizzard's attempt to feed an insatiable beast, shoveling more and more content into the maw of a playerbase that expects things to keep going forever.

    Moreso perhaps than any previous expansion, however, Mists of Pandaria feels like Blizzard is making headway in terms of shaking off the past and moving forward. WoW2 is a difficult concept to grasp, a game that many players can imagine in some sense but logically won't ever exist, but MoP feels more like WoW1.5 than any previous effort. The new class has integrated far more seamlessly into the game structure than the Death Knight, their storytelling style is evolving quickly and they've begun to really focus on character development in a way that WoW hasn't seen before. Also, they've basically put Pokemon into the game, which is preeetty great.

  • While I consider "Skyrim with Guns" to be somewhat insulting (to both games(but mostly to Skyrim,)) FC3's open world had a tendency to be pretty engrossing. The main story is a very mixed beast, and people have been carefully trying to separate the great from the terrible with a scalpel since the game's release. So here's my short version:

    Great -

    The acting. Vaas, definitely, but not just Vaas. Pretty much everyone, even your annoying friends and annoying girlfriend, were well-acted in that way we hoped all game characters would be after Uncharted 2 came out.

    Terrible -

    The classic "Dances with Wolves"/"Avatar"/So many you can't name them all plot concept. It's deeply sad that people are still pulling this stuff. Racist undertones aside, it's a shitty story!

  • The only console game on this list is also literally the only console game I played this year. Aside from ODST, which I replayed and quite enjoyed. I feel bad about missing Fez, but I think that'll turn up on PC eventually.

    Halo 4 wasn't a revelation, not by anyone's accounting, but it served as a very solid kick-off to a new series. They're pushing John and Cortana's characters further than ever before and they're making solid updates to the multiplayer.

    Yeah, I have some reservations. They missed an opportunity to leave a real mark on the gameplay with new weapons and they've nearly stripped away the original trilogy's hard work in developing the Covenant races by reducing them once again the faceless goons with no clear motivation. But I personally don't share the "All-story" concern: I took the Librarian's comments to refer more to humanity and their AIs as a broader whole, rather than John and Cortana being the "chosen ones" in any real sense.

  • Yeah, the ending. Every time I think about it, I find something else to hate. How could an energy wave distinguish between sentient and non-sentient computers on the fly, and only destroy the sentient ones? That's stupid! And that's not even the stupidest ending! Mass Effect's fiction was always a bit harder (in the Sci-fi sense) than some other universes, and it was disappointing to see them throw all of that away with an ending consisting of three ominous death-closets, all filled with complete technobabble sci-fi nonsense.

    Still, while the ending casts a long shadow, the fact remains that I played a lot of this game. And I enjoyed most of it, aside from those stupid dream sequences with the kid. Mordin's elevator ride was pretty much worth the price of admission here, and seeing this story to the end has a great deal of value, even if that end feels empty. So even if it's in nearly the last slot, it's here.

  • The first time I played this game, I played it for ten seconds, and instantly became bored of seeing this frog scoop up flies while nonsensical numbers fly around. The second time I played it for a minute or so, and became similarly bored. The third time, I became President of Mars.

    Frog Fractions makes me worry. It's a flash game, right? Like those other twelve million out there? Frog Fractions got onto people's radars and became a big thing, but what if there's something else out there we're all missing? Who among us has the fortitude to sift through everything to find the next Frog Fractions? Not me.