Best of 2012

It's been a weird year for games. For me, there were a lot of good games, but few that I'll still think about or want to play in a few years' time. It's been a great year for download-only games, though. I've considered them as viable as AAA for a few years now, but this is the first time where I've really felt like they deserved to be on my personal GOTY list. Interestingly, some of the games on this list are on here in spite of their gameplay elements, rather than because of them - a testament to how far gaming has come as a storytelling medium. Without further ado, here are my favorite games of 2012.

List items

  • Walking Dead won't win any prizes for gameplay, and I'm really not interested in the discussion "what is game." What matters to me is that Walking Dead had the most emotionally resonant story of any game I've ever played, thanks to some incredibly solid writing and gut-wrenching, believable story twists. Moreover, Telltale managed to balance player choice and an authored narrative in a credible way without short-changing the player. A high-water mark for videogame storytelling.

  • It was a very hard choice between Spec Ops and The Walking Dead, and I'm still not sure about it. Spec Ops isn't an amazing shooter, it's merely passable. But amazingly, somehow it manages to make that feel deliberate. It tells an amazing story on the surface level, and if you look a little deeper it's a brilliant and vicious deconstruction of the military shooter genre that asks some pretty serious questions of the player. I couldn't get it out of my head for days, and it changed the way I look at shooters and man-on-man violence in games in general.

  • I have no fond memories of the original, but this remake got its claws in me deep. In spite of some annoying bugs and interface issues, this is up there with the best of the year thanks to the most nail-biting gameplay of the year. The interplay between combat missions and the metagame reinforces both aspects of it.

  • Yup, it's basically a glorified QTE-game with some middling combat mechanics. What's it doing up here? The amazing presentation, the absolute FULL commitment to its insanity in every facet of its execution and its strangely resonant story secure it a place. It needs the True Ending DLC to really deserve its place here, which is more than a little unfortunate - but it's a testament to how much I liked it that it's still up here regardless.

  • I really, really loved Starbreeze's The Darkness. It told a mature story with great confidence, though the WW1 flashback sections were really, really awful. Still, it speaks volumes that The Darkness 2 did more than live up to my hopes, outpacing the original in both storytelling and gameplay. It's short, but perfectly paced for its story, which to me is more important than a 20 hour campaign that lacks narrative focus (see Far Cry 3).

  • Parts Thief, Deus Ex and Bioshock, Dishonored feels like a love letter to PC gaming of the late '90s-early '00s. The story was a bit of a letdown, and later levels lose the great exploration focus of the early game, which is a shame. But it's just really empowering and fun to play.

  • Yes, the soundtrack is amazing. It's one of those games that's a perfect combination of visuals, audio, gameplay and difficulty. It joins Spec Ops in commenting on video game violence this year, while being incredibly violent at the same time. However, in this case, it's on this list mainly thanks to its mechanics. Super tight, responsive and satisfying, to the point where the constant deaths don't even bother me.

  • Resonance is the best traditional point-n-click game I've played in years, with good characters, (mostly) great puzzles and a good story. Really it's the puzzles that make it stand out, as it feels really modern in this aspect despite its retro aesthetic. Puzzles often have multiple solutions, and what's more they tend to be very logical.

  • I'm a huge Max Payne 2 fan. I think Max Payne 3 is incredibly flawed. It has terrible pacing, with cut scenes constantly taking away control for events that could easily have been in-game, and the story isn't that great. Yet I was compelled to play through it in a single day regardless. The gunplay is still pretty fantastic, the visuals are amazing and the soundtrack is great.

  • Sigh. I feel... conflicted about Diablo 3. I played it way more than I should have, despite not even really liking the endgame. Itemization is pretty bad, and the endgame is pure grind, all the way. However, that doesn't invalidate the great time I had with it up to that point. I had a similar experience with Borderlands 2, but that game's awful writing really turned me off after a while.