The year of our lord (Our Lord?) two-thousand and twelve was an insane year for gaming.
Yes I know just about every year people say “this year was an insane year for gaming” but seriously, there were so many awesome games that came out last year that I couldn’t limit myself to the top five that Jack and I originally agreed to.
2012 was also a year in which a number of games managed to provoke significant emotional responses in me, something that games have struggled with in the past. I was surprised to find so many games where I actually cared about the fates of the characters I interacted with. Hopefully this is a sign that the industry is maturing and videogame storytelling is starting to evolve into something more complex.
Or maybe I’m just overly emotional. You be the judge!
Also I haven’t even had time to finish some of the bigger releases from last year so if there are any glaring omissions, I dunno…suck it up?
HERE IS MY TOP TENS!
After the sandstorm things went south pretty quickly.
It’s an average third-person cover-based shooter at the best of times but what really elevates this game is its story. Borrowing heavily, and explicitly, from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Spec Ops explores what happens to soldiers when civilisation breaks down and there is no clear chain of command and no real accountability.
Spec Ops: The Line gives players choices without any indication of which one is the “good” choice and which is the “bad”. The fact is, in the situation you find yourself in, there are no good choices and everything you do has serious consequences.
There were moments in that game where I couldn’t keep my mouth shut, where I knew what I was doing was wrong but convinced myself, just like Walker did, that it was all for the greater good. Spec Ops succeeds because, unlike most military shooters out there, it doesn’t present the protagonist as an infallible hero. It forces you to witness the consequences of your actions and, through Walker’s descent into madness, drives home how war can makes villains of us all.
This is pretty much how the game always looks. You can move your crewmen around to different areas of the ship for added bonuses.
Part roguelike, part space sim, all fun. In FTL: Faster Than Light you take control of a ship and a small crew charged with delivering information vital to the federation. You jump from system to system desperately trying to upgrade your ship, take on more crew members, avoid the rebels and mostly just survive.
In all the time I’ve spent in FTL I have never once made it to the end. I don’t know what the apparently horrible and deadly end boss looks like. I don’t even know if there is a way to “win” FTL. All I know is that the time I have spent with the game has produced some of the most enjoyable gaming stories from last year.
Like the time I encountered a colony that was under attack and when I sent my crew to investigate they brought the only survivor back to my ship. Everything was going great until the survivor went space crazy and started attacking my crew. I had to hide everyone in the cockpit of my little ship while I vented the oxygen from the rest of the ship, sucking the crazy little guy out the airlock.
Or the time I was attacked by alien pirates who tried to teleport some of their crew onto my ship to sabotage my engines. It would have worked too if they hadn’t beamed their guys into a room currently occupied by my giant Rock crewman. They were smooshed under his rocky boot.
Also the soundtrack is amazing.
It’s so good.
Stealth games can be really hit-or-miss. You often spend a lot of your time wondering if you’re visible to enemies or if you’re moving slowly enough to avoid detection or if you can move just fast enough to make it to that next bit of cov- oh damn you’re dead.
Mark of the Ninja avoids all of that. You know exactly how visible you are at all times through clever use of light cues.
The game gives you all of the information you need to know. When you run, a ring forms around you showing you exactly how far the sound of your footsteps travel, all light sources cover a very specific area of the the level and you can even see the vision cones on your enemies.
Can you spot the Ninja? Thankfully those vision comes make it easy to plan the perfect time to strike.
This might sound like a bit too much but really all it does is make it easy for you to actually act like a ninja. You can sprint at an enemy only to jump at the last second to avoid alerting him to your footfalls, when you land behind him you can execute a quick stealth kill and then hide his body behind a convenient vent so that none of his buddies are alerted to your presence. Or you could hang down from a perch, Spider-Man style, and string a guard up by his neck as a warning to all his friends that they could be the next ones to go.
While the game makes it easy for you to instantly feel like a badass, it is far from a cakewalk. Each level presents more and more difficult challenges and you will have to carefully plan out how you will proceed to the next objective if you want any hope for survival.
I loved every second of my time with Mark of the Ninja. Play this damn game!
The hand-to-hand combat in Sleeping Dogs is very brutal. Do you get my point?! Hur hur hur.
Sleeping Dogs is one of the first open world games to really do hand-to-hand combat right. It borrows heavily from Rocksteady’s Batman games and allows you to string together brutal, bone-crunching combos that will make you feel like the meanest member of Hong Kong’s Triad.
The story itself is fairly standard undercover cop/triad gangster affair that was just interesting enough to hold my attention. If I ever return to Sleeping Dogs it will be because I will never, ever get tired of punching gang members in the face as I climb the ranks from lowly foot soldier to respected Red Pole.
You collect different masks throughout the game that give you different special skills.
Indie games are repping hard on this list, and rightfully so. While a game like Spec Ops showed me a character’s descent into insanity, Hotline Miami made me feel like I was the one slowly going insane.
As I moved through each room, brutally murdering Russian mobsters, my top down view of the world would tilt, distort and flash. The music – which is excellent throughout – would shift and change as both myself and the main character were forced to kill more and more people for no apparent reason.
I don’t know if it is a good thing to be good at Hotline Miami. You get bonus points for stringing together kills, swapping out weapons and killing people in imaginative ways. A high score is more a testament to the players depravity than anything else.
At the end of each level you have to walk back out to your car, forcing you to wade through the piles of bodies and rivers of blood you have left in your wake.
I felt disturbed playing this game, almost sick, and that feeling stayed with me for a while after finishing the game.
For that, I think Hotline Miami should be applauded.
People hated the ending of Mass Effect 3 and I totally understand why. I was angry too. I didn’t get to make the choices I wanted to make, I didn’t get the ending I wanted. I felt duped, tricked into thinking my decisions had any sort of weight.
But you know what, in that moment of anger and frustration all I could think was this is probably exactly what Shepherd would be thinking and feeling. We had worked so hard throughout the game to activate this super weapon that would save us all and it was all a waste of time.
I played the game as a paragon but ultimate chose the renegade ending: destroy the Reapers. In that moment of frustration I chose to stick to my original mission, flip the universe the bird and kill the sons-of-Bs that forced me to make this decision in the first place.
I think any game that can get that sort of an emotional reaction from their players has earned a spot on this list.
This game would have been much higher on my list if it weren’t for some glaring technical problems with the PC version and the fact that the gameplay itself is fairly average.
The Walking Dead is yet another game that succeeds because of its excellent storytelling and use of player choice.
Throughout the game’s five episodes I developed a strong connection to a number of characters, most notably Clementine, the little girl you promised to protect.
I don’t want to talk too much about the game for fear of spoilers but it delights in tugging on your heartstrings and I was near tears by the end of the final episode. Again, any game that can get that sort of an emotional reaction from a player has to be doing something right.
Taking cover is vital if you want your soldiers to survive more than a few missions. PICTURE: Firaxis Games
I love turn based strategy games. I ESPECIALLY love turn based strategy games where you fight aliens and get to name the soldiers in your squad after your real life friends.
XCOM is another game that produces great stories. Each level is a map filled with creatures just waiting to rip your squad to shreds. They’ll succeed sometimes too, not everybody makes it back to the base alive.
Maybe you’ll use a medic to save a soldier from death only to find that soldier’s willpower is so low that he panics every single time he is fired upon, almost as if he had PTSD that’s triggered every time you put him in the field.
Maybe you’ll think you’ve got a mission in the bag, it’s all smooth sailing, you’ll get cocky and start running your guys up the map only to find them surrounded by aliens with no way of defending themselves until the next round.
You have to make tough choices in XCOM, there will always be too much to do and not enough time to do it in and you will always be letting somebody down.
It can be stressful and frustrating and incredible fun all at the same time.
I really enjoyed the art design in Borderlands 2. It’s not the nicest looking game but it sure has its moments.
Borderlands 2 is dumb fun. I mean that in the best possible way. It’s funny and stupid and there’s a mission where you go into the sewers with some pizza to lure out these teenage ninjas that are almost-but-not-quite the Ninja Turtles. I mean, c’mon!
The shooting is fun and the RPG mechanics are handled well but really, the thing that kept me coming back to Borderlands 2 for over 40 hours was the great sense of humour and fun that permeates every part of the game.
Also it’s an amazing multiplayer game and really best played with a couple of friends so you can all experience the wonderful stupidity together.
Flaming arrows. The only way to clear an outpost.
Far Cry’s story goes off the gangplank in the final third of the game and the weird “white guy takes on traditions of natives in order to save them” narrative is a little creepy but god damn if this game wasn’t the most fun I’ve had playing a game in a long time.
The moment-to-moment gameplay of Far Cry 3 is what kept me coming back again and again and again. Exploring the jungle, hunting wild animals and liberating outposts are made incredibly fun because of all the open-world craziness that can occur on your little island.
I remember flying over an enemy outpost on a hang glider only to look down and see chaos as several tigers were laying waste to some pirates. I landed my glider (badly) and hid on a hill watching through my camera’s telescopic lens as two pirates fell, then a tiger and another pirate until only one tiger and pirate remained. The final pirate managed to kill the tiger but as soon as he was alone I launched a flaming arrow into the grassy area he was standing in. He lit like a torch and I strolled in and secured the outpost.
These are the sorts of things that just happen in Far Cry 3. It wasn’t part of a story mission, it wasn’t a pre-planned sequence. I was just flying around, enjoying the view and this crazy thing just occurred.
Far Cry 3 is also one of the few games to come out in recent years where I have just stood and watch the sun rise. I played it on PC with most of the settings at maximum and it looked gorgeous. So gorgeous I think I’ll post another picture right…here.
Despite its story troubles, Far Cry 3 delivered a gameplay that was deeply satisfying, it also produced Vaas, the most memorable villain from last year.
PLAY THIS GAME!