GOTY 2012

Aaaand here we are again, for another year of quirky reasons for the games I liked and disliked. Look for my companion list of NON-GOTYs as well. Oh, the list is written bottom to top, too, so I recommend reading in that order :)

List items

  • So yeah, I gave TWD a bit of a cold shoulder down there, but my GOTY is not any more original this year. XCOM isn't quite as refreshing as many people made it out to be (go check any tactical JRPG, especially Valkyria Chronicles or Fire Emblem and you'll see many of the same concepts), but that doesn't make it any less good. Perfect balance in difficulty as well as in emotional investment on soldiers versus encouragement to accept their deaths plus a short and sweet campaign and fun multiplayer. This game was the best of its better-populated-than-you-think class. Also, Iron Man mode is the only way to play it. Go check it out.

  • I liked the ending of Mass Effect 3. Just to address the elephant in the room. It felt earned, it felt appropriately sci-fi and, together with everything that happens before it, it paid off on all the questions, conflicts and events from the first two games. It just so happens that Mass Effect 3 was also a great game, from its surprisingly fun multiplayer mode to the high stakes, submarine movie-like setup the only thing holding ME3 back is how much of a masterpiece ME2 was. It's still high up there with the best games released on this rather slow 2012.

  • Ah, Legend of Grimrock. Alongside XCOM my favourite old school revival of the year. There's little reason to go deep into this one. It's what we now call a Dungeon Crawler and in the 90s would have been a triple A RPG. It channels that tense but manageable balance from old timey crawlers and its small scope makes it just as fun but more manageable than, say, Etrian Odyssey. Well worth the inclusion on the list.

  • When Hotline Miami came out I didn't know if I loved it or hated it. Much like Far Cry, HLM only works if it's self aware. As a deep critique of violence in gaming, it is one of the best put together interactive arguments I've seen. Had it been just a stealth-action murder simulator, though, it would have been one of the most unpleasant, callous things to be published all year. As it is, the final product is still unpleasant and callous, but in a way that exposes some of the hypocrisy in mainstream game design. That, I can get behind. As a side note, it was a bit of a shame to see the Bomb Squad take to its gore so gleefully and with none of the intended irony. That creeped me out a bit.

  • But if the Vita is still not a viable purchase just to play Gravity Rush, then here's Motorstorm to save the day. RC is deep in the tradition of Super Off Road with all the asynchronous multiplayer bells and whistles of modern racing games. Cross compatibility between PS3 and Vita doesn't hurt, either. This is perhaps the one entry on this list that isn't here for reviving a genre or doing something interesting with its story and mechanics. MSRC is here because it's fun. Period.

  • If GW2 almost fixed MMOs, Gravity Rush fixed flying in games. Set a direction to "fall" there and retain full camera control while you're moving. It feels exhilarating, fun and spectacular. The game also features one of my favourite female characters in a Japanese game. Kat is girly but not submissive (in a way that has more than a hint of Buffy The Vampire Slayer to it), she finds it incredibly cool to have superpowers and she even gets the rare distinction in games of being allowed to show interest for male characters who don't return the favour. The rest of the game's mechanics aren't as tight as the core concept, but this is an open world superhero game that comes close to making a Vita worth owning by itself.

  • Guild Wars 2 almost fixed MMOs. The way it handles questing is brilliant, as is most of what it presents as extracurricular activities and its fantastically permissive approach to level scaling. The result is a feeling of cooperation without ever needing to "LFG". It's a pity its combat system feels a bit archaic, its design a bit bland and its pace so... well, MMO-ish, because pushing these concepts further would have made for an all time great. As it is, it's a very good MMO that is totally worth playing for the price of entry and marks the way for how the genre can be redefined in the future.

  • Before you complain that I put this too low, know that I was this close to not including it at all. I loved the first three episodes, but as the game ramps up to the finale, the amount of violence against and by children seemed a bit cheap, until I just snapped during the final scene, got kicked right out of my suspension of disbelief and lost all emotional connection to the characters. For any other game that´s a little stumble, for one this focused on storytelling, it's a pretty major issue. Still, the writing elsewhere is great and it supports my old prediction that Heavy Rain would become the omen of great things in the hands of better writers, so here it is.

  • When is a F2P game out? Hawken comes into open beta in a few days at the time of writing this, and it's been on a barely restricted closed beta for months (with no NDA, too, which is why I get to write this). It won't be "out" until next year, but I'd say that open beta run totally counts. It's a good thing, too, because the closed beta is worryingly empty, despite Hawken being one of the best multiplayer shooters of the year, bar none. Hawken channels the fun of sidestep dodging missiles in Unreal Tournament and the heft of Mechwarrior. It feels deliberate and fast paced all at once, and its free for all deathmatch has resulted in some of my favourite grudge matches this year. Its F2P model is also pretty reasonable, with a very LoL-inspired setup. Give it a try once it's widely available and, meanwhile, here it is as a GOTY for 2012.

  • I know, I know. Just hear me out, alright? BLOPS 2 is a surprisingly brave game that mixes up its formula without much hesitation. From the branching story to the persistent consequences of in-game actions to side quests with different gameplay styles... It's not the most ambitious game ever, but it's the most ambitious CoD in a long, long time. It's a shame that the gaming industry, not to mention the community, is often so slow to consider games on their own, often relying on franchise preconceptions to judge things even before they're out. BLOPS is absolutely worth a playthrough, even if you viscerally disliked all previous entries of the series.