Games We Liked 2012

Tokyo Jungle

It’s A Dog-Eat-Hippo-Eat-Hyena World

But games like Tokyo Jungle, Dishonored, and many others nonetheless found their way into our hearts this year.

By Cory Casciato, Steve Heisler, Joe Keiser, Derrick Sanskrit, and Ryan Smith • December 11, 2012

Hey folks, it’s your editor, John Teti. We here at Gameological enjoy a good year-end retrospective as much as the next. It’s a pleasure to sit back as December winds down and ponder the year that was (probably as we drink egg nog and put useless crap on our Amazon wish lists). So throughout the week, we’ll be presenting Games We Liked—Gameological contributors’ short reflections on some of their favorite games of the year.

The brief here was simple: We chose a bunch of games that left a mark on us in one way or another. In each entry on the list, one of the Gameological critics will share a game they liked, and a reason why they liked it. Each one is a personal opinion of the writer—not a unanimous call. Believe me. I mean, I think a couple of Drew Toal’s choices are bonkers, but who is going to argue with a smart, debonair fellow like him? Not me. So everyone gets their say. (As long as they are smart and debonair, which we all are, obviously. The Gameological moms told us so.)

I’ve never been much for the assigning of points and tabulating of spreadsheets to create thundering institutional “Best Of The Year” proclamations, so these selections aren’t ranked or anything. But there will still be plenty of pith and fun and argument-starters. At least, I hope there will be, because I got a website to run here.

We invite you to write your own “Games We Liked” mini-retrospectives in the comments. We’ll pick our favorites and collect them at the end of the week in a feature we’ll call—this is going to sound crazy—Games You Liked. It’s okay if some of your choices overlap with some of ours. People can like the same thing for different reasons, after all. So enlighten us. Enlighten the bejesus out of us.

First up this week are Cory Casciato, Steve Heisler, Joe Keiser, Derrick Sanskrit, and Ryan Smith.

CORY CASCIATO
Duels Of The Planeswalkers 2013
Magic: The Gathering - Duels Of The Planeswalkers 2013

I liked Duels Of The Planeswalkers 2013 because it’s a quick game of Magic. There are always too many great games to play, and not enough time to play them. That makes it especially difficult to justify the kind of time investment it requires to play the collectible card game Magic: The Gathering, even at a casual level. There’s no arguing that Magic is a great game—you don’t thrive for 20 years with such a niche enterprise without being a great game—but it is an almost unparalleled time suck, in both its paper and digital versions. Buying cards, sorting cards, and building decks can take hours before you even get to play a game. A single “quick” online draft can easily take three hours to complete. Trying to fit that into a grown-up life, with a wife, a baby, and a job—not to mention all the other games I’d like to play—is, to put it mildly, a challenge.

Enter Duels Of The Planeswalkers, a slimmed down, introductory version of the game that has you playing in minutes. You can get in a quick game against the computer in less time that it might take to shuffle your deck thoroughly in real life. Sure, it lacks the complexity and vast card selection of the “real” game, but that can be a blessing when the baby’s only going to nap for 20 minutes anyway. And while the computer opponents aren’t nearly as savvy a real player of even mediocre skill, Planeswalkers 2013 still does a fine job of teaching newcomers the game, scratches that Magic itch, and helps keep my skills sharp for the day when it’s time to make the plunge into full-blown “cardboard crack” addiction once more.

STEVE HEISLER
Borderlands 2
Borderlands 2

I liked Borderlands 2 because it didn’t take itself seriously at all. Meaning is subjective. I might come across a crumpled poem on the sidewalk and see it as a sign from the universe that I need to write more. You might stumble upon the same paper and shove it down your pants to use as “insulation.” (What? You might.) A typical day can be broken down into a series of tasks, and each of those tasks could be considered the application of meaning, because how else would things get done if there weren’t some implicit purpose—some cosmic reward—for checking it off your to-do list?

Borderlands 2 knows that players often expect to feel accomplished when they get something done in a game—and that therefore, those things have meaning. Yet this game uses that knowledge to turn the entire concept on its head. When you’re asked to track down a lost porn magazine, or give the cyclopean robot Claptrap a high five, the reward is just as lavish as when you wipe out an entire nest of the Bullymongs—those ubiquitous abominable-snowman things. That ludicrous reward system is Borderlands 2 making fun of itself, and also making fun of all games that require you to save the world—or else!

There is a lot of humor to be found in Borderlands 2’s refreshing self-awareness. There are so many guns it’s impossible to keep track, and to expand your never-ending arsenal further, you dig up weapons from vile public toilets. When your assassin saves the life of another party member, he speaks in haiku about how important he is to the mission’s success. But mostly, it’s hilarious how the mere fact that somebody asked you to kill a super powerful beast sends you off to your doom, knowing full well the mission is literally called, “You. Will. Die. (Seriously.)” And the meaning behind these actions is entirely your own.

Dishonored
Dishonored

I liked Dishonored because it allowed me to watch the results of my inaction. I did this a lot while playing Dishonored. I would rush into a group of soldiers who were looking for me because I, the former bodyguard of the queen, had been wrongfully accused of her murder. They’d spot me, obviously, because I wasn’t being too careful. But rather than dish out the hurt with my spring-loaded knife, I’d use my magic powers (you have magic powers) to dash away and hide. When you play Dishonored, you’re going to have moments like this where you leave the mere mortals in confusion—after all, it’s not every day that somebody vanishes into thin air—and watch them deal with it. The soldiers would look around, they’d grumble, they’d chatter about what they’d do with me. Eventually, they’d give up and walk away. Meanwhile, I’d watch with sick fascination from a perch high above, nearly invisible.

In Dishonored, you’re given the rare chance to watch what happens when you disrupt the world just a little bit and then do nothing. You ruffle a few feathers and then disappear to watch those feathers get smoothed down again. It’s like being a ghost who haunts an apartment by flickering the lights and jiggling the refrigerator door at odd intervals. Less haunting, per se, than straight-up messing with people. It’s an effective way to unsettle your opposition, but ultimately it’s less about strategy and more about the delight of being an omnipotent voyeur. Dishonored is imbued with that playful spirit, and it gives you the tools you need to invoke it again and again.

Spelunky
Spelunky

I liked Spelunky because its music reminded me how little progress I’d made. Music in video games is meant to be heard more than once. It’s a background track that abhors dead air, looping to ensure that even when you’re standing still, you have something to listen to. In Spelunky, you hear a lot of the same music over and over. But you’re never still: You’re digging deeper into a cave full of perils like deadly spiders and killer arrows. With perseverance, you might even escape the mines and descend to the jungle—or beyond—and hear an entirely different musical score.

But probably not for long. Spelunky is unforgiving. Your character is pitifully human. Your whip is wimpy. If you’re not careful, the bombs you use to take a chunk out of the wall might take a chunk out of you instead. Fall from too great a height, and you instantly die. Back to the beginning. There’s a lot of dying.

Which brings me back to the music of Spelunky. There are about four tunes in the mines, the first section of the game. The layout of each room is randomized, forming a new mine each time you play, but the musical accompaniment hews to this same handful of tracks. Its genial, upbeat easy-listening groove is a constant reminder that even as the landscape changes, you’re still in much the same place as you were before. It’s a lack-of-progress indicator, and each time you find yourself anticipating the next note, that’s a sign you’ve lingered far too long, and you should really get a move on. If only you could stop dying so much.

JOE KEISER
Xenoblade Chronicles
Xenoblade

I liked Xenoblade Chronicles because its voice acting was uniquely accented—and its characters happy to chew the scenery. Voice acting is a tiny industry in the United States, with the same old pros playing the same big roles year after year. That’s not necessarily a bad thing—it can keep the work at a consistently high quality, and (Nolan North notwithstanding) most of the time it’s almost impossible to notice the straight-faced sameness of it all. Until you get something like Xenoblade Chronicles, Nintendo’s excellent Japanese role-playing game that was seemingly never intended for American shores. When Nintendo Of Europe wanted an English version of the game, it couldn’t simply get a dub the States as per the usual arrangement. Instead, it had to produce the voice work itself.

The result was…eclectic, with a varied team of British voice actors, soap opera stars, and game show announcers brought in to fill the roles. It was also delightful. The ham-fisted, heavily accented voice acting sounded like nothing else in games. In America (where Xenoblade Chronicles earned a limited release, probably thanks to a vocal minority) the Euro-centric performances and occasionally foreign sentence construction were strange on the ear, enhancing the game’s sense of otherworldliness. It made other voice work seem beige and lifeless by comparison. It’s so refreshing and different that it almost makes some of the one-liners you’ll hear a thousand times before the end—”Man! What a bunch of jokers”—almost forgivable. Almost.

Spec Ops: The Line
Spec Ops: The Line

I liked Spec Ops: The Line because it dared to simulate PTSD at all. The most ambitious and intellectually challenging military shooter of the year, Spec Ops: The Line nevertheless failed more often than it succeeded. Its successes were so soaring and brave, though, that the game deserves respect for trying, and its most complete success was in its depiction of the emotional trauma that war inflicts on soldiers.

Playing as Captain Martin Walker, the game looks and sounds like any other game made to ape the success of the blockbuster Call Of Duty series. But as The Line continues, your atrocities mount, and the mission—a search and rescue in the sandstorm-beaten city of Dubai—becomes too complex to resolve in a just, moral way. The stress this puts on Walker makes his narration increasingly unreliable, and since you are seeing the game from behind his eyes, the experience is warped by his encroaching disorder. Sights and sounds become untrustworthy, and the decisions you make based on that information are wrong, so when the game reveals that some or all of the last hours are hallucinations, it hits Walker—and you—like a bullet between the eyes.

The impossibility of making reasonable life-or-death decisions while being crushed by the weight of conscience, and the resulting shattering of the mind, are so difficult to render in a compelling fashion. That Spec Ops: The Line even attempted to do this makes it one of the more interesting games in recent memory.

DERRICK SANSKRIT
Double Fine Happy Action Theater
Double Fine Happy Action Theater

I liked Double Fine Happy Action Theater because it was a theater for acting like an idiot. So many of the heroes we play are little more than silent mountains of sweating, stubbly badassery—the likes of which men should aspire to be, supposedly. The type of man that straight women should fawn over because his grunts are poetry. How and why did this caveman commando become the perfect icon of humanity so worthy of our unwavering respect and admiration?

More than any other game-related innovation in recent history, Microsoft’s Kinect—a three-dimensional motion-sensing camera—seemed the most predisposed to put an end to this sense of posturing-by-avatar. Kinect games have been, more often than not, about getting physically active and stepping outside players’ comfort zones. You thought people looked silly the first time they waved a Wii Remote around pretending it was a tennis racket? They look even sillier when you take that remote away. Microsoft knew this, and they even designed their gizmo to snap quasi-Orwellian pictures as players frolicked, so they could laugh at themselves after the game was over.

Double Fine Happy Action Theater goes one step further, by constantly showing players how silly they look and layering more wackiness on top. Instead of a space marine chopping zombies in half, you see a live video feed of yourself spreading glitter over the forest with your fairy wings, or dancing uncontrollably at a disco. Your on-screen counterpart might put yourself in a headlock—and your bully self might end up on the receiving end of a wet willy administered by yet another yourself. It’s a grade school version of that scene in Being John Malkovich where Malkovich enters Malkovich. Even if you try to look tough and cool, you just wind up as a glowing silhouette with rainbows shooting out from your back. Double Fine Happy Action Theater sweeps away the often joyless self-images we construct for ourselves, melting our icy hearts and allowing us to stop caring about how we look. We know how we look. We look awesome.

Lollipop Chainsaw
Lollipop Chainsaw

I liked Lollipop Chainsaw because it advanced an image of feminine security. Juliet Starling is a perky blonde cheerleader who slays zombies while practically drowning in sexual innuendo. It was easy to write off Lollipop Chainsaw as misogynistic snuff. Nobody expected the pigtailed Juliet to be one of the most well-considered and modern takes in femininity since Laura Holt on Remington Steele. But she was.

A lesser game would drag us through the hero’s origin via flashback movies or long speeches. Instead, we learn who Juliet really is by meeting her support system: first her boyfriend Nick, then her two sisters, father, and mother. Their personalities and interactions inform the audience more than a direct account ever could, and the game forms an image of Juliet’s upbringing. She had two parents who clearly just wanted their daughters to be happy and discover who they were on their own. Parents who trained them to ignore anyone who tells them otherwise and utterly destroy anybody who stands in their way. In Lollipop Chainsaw, Juliet doesn’t provoke the attention. She’s simply comfortable in her skin, regardless of the comments from her classmates (and from the occasional demigod). Juliet knows where she came from and who she is, and nobody can take that away from her, no matter what words they use, even when those words open a portal to hell to unleash armies of the undead. Heck, that just reinforces her self-inscribed identity.

In the year that Bronies became a mainstream phenomenon, traditional boundaries of masculine and feminine stereotypes seemed to be crumbling. Men can wear pink and like ponies, women can be cute and kill zombies. We all get to decide who we are and what we like. Haters gonna hate, but they can only take away our sense of self if we let them, and ain’t nobody taking anything away from a girl with a chainsaw.

Kid Icarus: Uprising
Kid Icarus: Uprising

I liked Kid Icarus: Uprising because it connected me with strangers every day. Mobile computing is a double-edged concept. Theoretically, we’re out and about, seeing other people, hanging out in parks, chatting with strangers, and bonding over shared interests. In actuality, we’ve got our headphones on and are intensely focused on the tiny screen in our hands, ignoring the dozens of people within conversation range, oblivious to nature and the world around us.

Nintendo tried to bridge this divide on its 3DS portable with a feature called “StreetPass”—a sort of “always on” wireless connection that swapped information with other 3DS owners within your vicinity. That girl at the supermarket would drop into your game of Mario Kart. Your Nintendog would have a playdate with your local bartender’s virtual kitten. It was a neat idea, but I never felt like my game benefited from the connections, nor did I especially look forward to these encounters. Until Kid Icarus: Uprising, that is.

A huge part of Uprising was taken up with collecting and crafting newer, more powerful weapons, and with StreetPass, players could gift their favorite weapons to anyone they passed throughout the day. In densely populated areas like Brooklyn, players would collect a dozen or more unique tools from complete strangers during a 20-minute commute every day, all while their 3DS was asleep in their bags, awaiting the wonders to be discovered during a lunch break. I was so inspired by the kindness of these strangers that I put more effort into crafting my own super weapons so that I could gift them right back, and there were others who wanted to “pass it on,” too. And so the cycle continued. We began to recognize each other based on our Miis and nod in silent recognition. For a few brief months, the L train was no longer a hotbed of hipster gossip and vomit-stained vagrants. It was the secret clubhouse for a brotherhood of arms. Gaming had never before felt quite so “social.”

The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead

I liked The Walking Dead because it allowed players to judge and be judged. We spend so much time in video games shooting aliens and saving princesses that we can become desensitized to the decisions we’re making—we can begin to lose track of our morals as genuine human beings. Who cares whether that Goomba has a wife and kids? He’s worth a hundred points when you stomp on his head!

The Walking Dead surprised a lot of people. Based on the immensely popular comic book and TV series about a zombie apocalypse, the game could have been yet another zombie shooter and gotten by just fine. Instead, Telltale Games delivered an experience about the decisions that make us who we are. Would you take the supplies from someone else’s car? Would you let a dying woman borrow your gun? While these choices made players instantly gauge their own personal moral compass, the truly interesting part happened weeks later, when Telltale posted the global results of those decisions online. Suddenly, our private shameful moments were part of a collective, and we each knew where we stood in the grand scheme of humanity (of people who played this game). We were no longer in a vacuum; our actions were on display for the whole world to see.

Where other games ranked us by our scores, this post-game meta-game judged us by our decisions. We knew how the average person would have acted in the exact same horrible scenario, we knew how our own choices compared, and we knew these results were honest because judgment day arrived too late to influence our decisions.

Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward
Zero Escape

I liked Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward because it was a choose-your-own-adventure novel you couldn’t cheat. The game embraced the unique experience of playing a game to tell a wholly different story, one more akin to the Choose Your Own Adventure novels of my youth. Every choice the player made in Last Reward opened a new branching path in the story. The fatal flaw with the choose-your-own-adventure books, of course, was the ease of cheating—of simply paging through the variety of timelines in order to find a happy ending. Last Reward made failure an essential part of the experience, though, mandating that players gather information from at least 10 “bad” scenarios in order to save the day.

When things eventually went wrong, players could travel backward through their decisions and try another route. The other characters were unaware of what had happened, but the player, of course, retained memories from their self-inflicted deus ex machina. You, the person outside of the game, playing it, had experienced the impossible—seen possible futures and used them to inform the past. Where 2010’s Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors used the concept of multiple playthroughs as a metaphor for the collective unconscious, this follow-up title carried the idea in a much deeper direction. Two titles in, the Zero Escape games have proven to be as much a commentary on the philosophy of the save file as they are an exploration into chaos theory. It’s an inspirational concept in the craft of storytelling, and one that would be near impossible in any medium except for games.

RYAN SMITH
Tokyo Jungle
Tokyo Jungle

I liked Tokyo Jungle because it was totally batshit crazy. They say it’s a dog-eat-dog world, but in Tokyo Jungle, it’s a dog-eat-hippo-eat-hyena-eat-crocodile-world. Humankind has been wiped from the face of Tokyo, leaving the animal kingdom free to fight over the scraps of the city (and each other). As a plant-munching Sika deer or a toy dog Pomeranian gone feral, you spend your days hunting for food, a mate, and a place to lay your furry head so you can start making babies.

It’s a strange concept for a game, even on paper, but the experience of playing this post-apocalyptic ecology sim is even more bizarre than it sounds. According to the game’s incomprehensible logic, consuming as many calories as possible makes you more attractive to the opposite sex, and settling for a sex partner classified as “desperate” will always give you the fleas. (Where’s the dog version of OKCupid when you need it?)

Tokyo Jungle partially paints an unromantic portrait of the animal kingdom by focusing on the brutal nature of the circle of life—it’s essentially all killing, eating, and screwing—which is perhaps why Steve Heisler interpreted it as secret libertarian propaganda. In that way, it’s a refreshing break from the usual portrayal of wildlife in video games as talking, walking anthropomorphic heroes or obstacles to be farmed for money.

But that raw National Geographic-meets-the-apocalypse aesthetic is countered by the cheesy techno music chirping in the background—not to mention the baseball hats, bikinis and other items of clothing you can drape on your otherwise fearsome carnivores so that they resemble characters from a Disney movie. And why the hell are dinosaurs running around town? Tokyo Jungle makes absolutely no sense, yet months after its release, I can’t stop thinking about it.

The Unfinished Swan
The Unfinished Swan

I liked The Unfinished Swan because it instilled a childlike sense of wonder. Both The Unfinished Swan and Sony’s vaunted “augmented reality” storybook, Wonderbook: Book Of Spells, dip their toes into the realm of children’s stories. But despite the name, the only wonder of the Wonderbook comes from the technology that enables the illusion of Harry Potter’s world coming alive in your living room. Once you get past the wizardry of camera tricks, it’s like being strapped into a mild ride at Wizarding World.

In contrast, the opening moments of The Unfinished Swan toss you headlong into a children’s book alone with your own imagination to guide you. After a brief cinematic that sets up the story of young orphan Monroe’s quest, you emerge onto a blank white space with no hint as to what you should do or where you should go. It’s a disorienting experience—I wondered at first if my PlayStation 3 had accidentally frozen—but eventually, I pressed a button that launched a small glob of paint into the vast nothingness. It splattered with a “plop” on something solid. It then seemed logical for me to spin in circles and launch a series of black paint balls at my invisible canvas, like a manic version of Jackson Pollock. I moved Monroe through this surreal world, but each step down the blotchy corridor took blind bravery—I expected to hit a dead end or fall into endless oblivion at any moment. As I continued my crude paint-tossing, the world began to take on a semblance of shape until it struck me that I was in a leafy park.

The best children’s literature—like the works of Maurice Sendak and Dr. Suess—don’t simply tell a story; they spark imagination and let your mind run wild with the possibilities. Somehow, The Unfinished Swan accomplishes just that, by starting you off with a canvas of pure white.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown
XCOM: Enemy Unknown

I liked XCOM: Enemy Unknown because it gave death back its sting. Enemy Unknown is essentially an exercise in resource and risk management. Success on this futuristic battlefield—where you play a master tactician—depends largely on knowing which technology or weapon upgrade to invest in and how best to choreograph a small army of specialists in battle. What sets XCOM: Enemy Unknown apart from other strategy games is the way you inevitably end up caring about your fragile human resources. I don’t think twice about sending out units of Terran Marines to face almost certain death against Zerglings in StarCraft, but in XCOM, I suddenly get this desperate Saving Private Ryan “no man left behind” mentality with my gun-wielding gang of alien fighters.

Part of the source of those feelings are utilitarian—you end up devoting lots of money and time on each individual soldier—and death means wasting both of those scarce commodities. (That’s even more true in the game’s “Ironman” mode, which prevents you from reloading saved games.) But the developer, Firaxis, also encourages a personal connection with your avatars by including limited customization options with which you can change your soldiers’ appearance, voice, and country of origin so that they more resemble you or your friends (or in my case, favorite political figures and TV characters).

Sure, you can recruit new squadmates to replace dead ones—there’s a promising rookie named Stringer “String” Bell on my squad who’s handy with heavy weapons, for example—but reading the names of slain men and women etched on the memorial wall in my XCOM base reopens old emotional wounds for me.

—Maj. Michelle “Eat Veggies” Obama, K.I.A., June 4, 2015. Struck by a beam of alien energy during Operation Demon King.

—Capt. Jesse “Yo Bitch” Pinkman, K.I.A., July 28, 2015. Hit by shrapnel from an exploding car during the aptly named Operation Bleeding Sentinel.

Rest in peace, soldiers.

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  • rvb1023

    In no particular order:

    Xenoblade
    Lollipop Chainsaw
    Dishonored
    Journey
    Legend of Grimrock
    Persona 4: Arena
    Hawken?

    Excluding Sleeping Dogs, Gravity Rush, Borderlands 2 (All of which I have yet to play), and various indie games I haven’t gotten around to because they will be cheaper on Steam later, this wasn’t the best year of games for me, mostly because 2013 is front-loaded with games I like. 

    Next year is going to be a good, expensive year.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia

      You’re talking about Bioshock Infinite, right?  Yeah.  You totally are.

      • rvb1023

        Among many other games, but its definitely near the top.  Speaking of which, could somebody freeze me for 4 months?

    • GaryX

      (sorry)

      AV CLUB AWARDS

      Hey, you! If you haven’t voted for your favorite game amongst some other stuff with over 1,000 other people, then go vote NOW at http://www.avclubawards.com!

      OT: What 2013 games are you talking about? I can only think of The Last of Us, Bioshock Infinite, and GTA V off the top of my head. Are their more I’m not thinking of?

      I still think I’m going to take most of next year off from new releases in an effort to make a deep dig through the back catalog of games I missed using Hardcore Gaming 101.

    • AHyperkineticLagomorph

      I have a difficult time remembering what games came out this year, as I’ve noticed the whole linearity of time lends itself to making it difficult to place exact moments in time. If an entire year could be compressed into a sort of singularity, wherein every game released would be released at the same point, while you also played it, beat it, discarded it, and forgot about it simultaneously, it’d be a lot easier. That said, this is my list of games I’m-pretty-certain-these-were-good-games-that-were-released-in-2012-but-don’t-quote-me-on-that:

      Atelier Meruru
      Persona 4 Golden/Arena
      Mass Effect 3 (or at least the first 9/10 of it)
      Spec Ops: The Line
      The Walking Dead (or at least the parts I’ve built up the nerve to play)
      Journey
      Okami HD
      Dishonored

  • Fluka

    It’s late, and I’m tired, and I haven’t played Lollipop Chainsaw and hence can’t speak to the intricacies of the character of Juliet and the misogyny or lack thereof.  In a year that’s been rife with women-in-gaming talk, I’ll just say that the issue is not that women are not allowed to both be cute and kill zombies at the same time.  The issue is that women are not allowed to NOT be cute and to kill zombies at the same time.

    Wanna talk about my Mass Effect 3 Feelings later in the week, when I am better rested and prepared to re-hash horrible arguments.  For now, I wanna talk about a game I played earlier TODAY: Thirty Flights of Loving.  Good god that was a memorable quarter hour of gaming.  It really is the New Wave cinema to AAA gaming’s summer Hollywood blockbusters.  Both in the literal sense, with the style and the music and the pulp plot and the jump cuts (Jump cuts!  In a game!  And they work!).  But also in the sense that it’s borrowing from and riffing on elements from mainstream games (picking up ammo and oranges, “escaping” from guards) to create something wholly new.  I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since I finished it.  It’s not really a “game” in any traditional sense of there being enemies to kill or problems to solve.  But it’s hard to imagine the story being told in any other format.  It really feels like something new.  Plus, as a busy person, it is only fifteen minutes, and that is *awesome*.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=26724802 Steve Franz

       It’s beyond cuteness. She’s hypersexualized to a remarkable extent. Her tits are gigantic. She has pigtails. She’s blonde. Her tits are gigantic. Her tits are gigantic. Backstory be damned, there’s supposed to be something erotic if not outwardly pornographic about the way she looks and the game is not being marketed to women.

      • Fluka

        I think that’s really my problem.  The Digest here made a good counter-case for it being parody (with a decently written main character in Juliet, and with a sweet teenage love story).  But a parody of hypersexualization is still just that, hypersexualization.  Similar to how I’ve heard feminist defenses of Bayonetta, but you know…meh.  It’s just more of the same, but with a wink, and it drives home the fact that the makers probably never even considered that the game player might not be a straight dude.

        Though I still feel bad criticizing it by saying “It makes me never want to buy this game!” because frankly, that’s more because it’s not on PC and the genre doesn’t interest me.

        • Effigy_Power

           -winds up for another discussion about that dumb game, takes breath, leaves it be-

          I think at this point we’ve probably all said our peace about this. All I can repeat is that self-awareness of sexism doesn’t mean that the sexism is any less offensive, or in this case, headshakingly stupid.

        • Fluka

          @Effigy_Power:disqus Conversations from 2012 I am forever tired of having:
          A) Sexism in Lollipop Chainsaw, Tomb Raider’s PR, and Hitman Absolution’s trailer
          B) The Mass Effect 3 ending
          C) Are games art?

          Who am I kidding?  I’ll still go to the mat for all three of these.

        • AHyperkineticLagomorph

          @Fluka:disqus We can mix it up. How about discussing if the hypersexualization of Mass Effect 3 is art?

        • Fluka

          @AHyperkineticLagomorph:disqus I just furrowed my brow too deeply and hurt myself.

        • HobbesMkii

          @AHyperkineticLagomorph:disqus I’m not sure that’s even up for discussion. Do you know how many man hours must have gone into crafting the butt cleft of Shepard’s suit? That’s a dedication to art to rival the masters of the Italian Renaissance.

        • Simon Jones

           Suda51 pretty much just makes games for Suda51 and Suda51 pretty much finds ironic hypersexualisation hilarious.

          Which you’re free to criticise, of course, but probably doesn’t fall under the usual ‘Let’s assume white straight males are our target market’ parameters.

        • Fluka

          @HobbesMkii:disqus 

          Commander Sexy Shepard concedes the point!

        • alguien_comenta

          I would say that at least I was less embarrassed of playing Lollipop Chainsaw than Bayonetta, mostly because it was more tongue-in-cheek and because the story was straightforward. Bayonetta is a better game overall though, one that I played despite the packaging.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      Yeah, there’s an inherent asymmetry in the sentence “Men can wear pink and like ponies, women can be cute and kill zombies.” Men can do [two traditionally feminine things], but women can only get away with [one traditionally feminine thing and one traditionally masculine thing], apparently.

      • valondar

         Reminds me of that Onion News Network video about women in television. Sexy AND tough, sexy AND smart, sexy AND professional.

      • Effigy_Power

        Probably why Brienne of Tarth is so popular with a lot of female fantasy readers, since she’s neither a sprightly elf nor a dark, dusky maiden…
        Oh, and that female dwarf constable in Discworld.
        Yeah. More of those please.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia

          And she’s fucking awesome.  Don’t forget that part.  

        • Fluka

          Dragon Age 2.  Avaaaaliiiiiiiine!

        • HobbesMkii

          Cheery. Her name is Cheery. Cheery Littlebottom.

        • Effigy_Power

          I got stuck on the beginning of “The Fifth Elephant”, I really gotta catch up.

    • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

      I’ve played through Gravity Bone [Thirty Flight's amazing prequel] and am seriously excited for whenever I finally get around to picking up 30 flights.

      They’ve done work with the Humble Bundle before, releasing their classic Atom Zombie Smasher through a bundle, so I think I’m holding out to see if it is released in the next Indie Bundle.

      • Fluka

        Yeah, the Steam package also came with Gravity Bone, so I played through half of that before getting myself killed when jumping, following which the Quake 2 engine decided that it wanted to crash every time I loaded a save.  From that comparison, though, I’ll say that TFoL contains even *less* game elements than Gravity Bone does.  And that I love both.

      • Cloks

        It’s worth five bucks.

  • Fluka

    Also, my list of Game I Didn’t Have Time to Play This Year But Totally Am Going to Play in 2013 Guys!:
    - Dishonored
    - Mark of the Ninja
    - XCOM
    - The Walking Dead
    - Spec Ops: The Line

    What are everyone else’s Best Game They Didn’t Play?

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      The best games I haven’t yet played:
      - Currently owned: Max Payne 3; Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning; Tiny and Big: Grandpa’s Leftovers; Black Mesa.
      - Not yet owned: XCOM: Enemy Unknown; The Walking Dead; Borderlands 2; Thirty Flights of Loving.

      • ricin_beans

        Kingdoms of Amulur was a huge disappointment for me.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          The general opinion of it around teh interwebz is “great combat, generic story.” I don’t know how far that will carry me through the game, but since I got it for just over six bucks, I won’t feel too bad if the game disappoints me.

        • ricin_beans

          Depends on what you mean by “great combat”.  There are a lot of options, but even on the highest difficultly level, you can win most battles by button mashing.  It gets old really quick.  Just my opinion, though.  It’s probably worth 6 bucks at least because it is fun for a couple of hours.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      The only thing more annoying than Level-5 refusing to localize Inazuma/Lighting 11 games is their insistence on release them at the end-end-end of the year.  For the Strikers spinoff, sure, but who releases a potential game of the year on December 13th?!

      I NEED TO MAKE LISTS AND THIS IS STRESSING ME OUT.  RELEASE LIGHTNING 11 5: CHRONO STONE OR I WILL NO LONGER OVERPAY TO IMPORT POKEMON SOCCER BLITZBALL.

      • Destroy Him My Robots

        What about Sega suing Level-5 over alleged patent infringement in Inazuma 11 and trying to halt all sales? Where does that rank on your annoyance list?

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          *laughs*  When I popped open SiliconEra this morning…

          Frankly, I’m okay with a minor out-of-court settlement and a delay to the series.  1 game a year is exhausting when each has basically a small Pokemon collection quest and a sports simulation in it.

    • caspiancomic

       My list of games I didn’t have time to play in 2012 but totally will in 2013 is basically just yours verbatim, minus Mark of the Ninja (No Xbox) and XCOM (not really my jam). This is my last week of class, and I plan on digging into The Walking Dead over the break (as soon as I’ve gotten around to finally beating Persona 3)

      • Fluka

        Pssss!  Mark of the Ninja’s on Steam now!

        • caspiancomic

           Oh rad!

          Oh wait, now I’m going to get even less done in 2013. =(

          Still, video games!

      • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

        Listen to Fluka and get Mark of the Ninja.  If game of the year was the Olympics, Mark of the Ninja would get a Bronze in 2012 from me.  When people say masterpiece of design, they mean Mark of the Ninja.

    • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

      Best Games I didn’t play is too long to list but I’ll paraphrase by doing games I rented or started and never finished.

      Dishonored: or as I like to call it, Bio-thief-shock.
      Sleeping Dogs: There wasn’t a single dog in this game…
      Ghost Recon: or “Oh my god did I really spend 2 bucks renting this?”
      Stacking: I love you Double Fine but I’m just busy.
      Sword & Sworcery: Wow, this really wasn’t meant for a mouse and keyboard was it?
      Need for Speed Most Wanted: I’m waiting to buy a game pad for my pc.

      I lied about the other list being too long. Here it is:
      X-Com
      Walking Dead
      Catherine
      30 Flights of Loving
      Dust: An Elysian Tale
      Resonance [Made by an Omaha dev! Wooo!]
      Pid
      Retro City Rampage
      To the Moon
      Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams
      All the stupid Skyrim DLC
      Far Cry 3

      and god knows how many games I’m forgetting…

    • Cheese

      Best games (probably) I haven’t played: Dishonored, Spec Ops: The Line, Mark of the Ninja, The Walking Dead, pretty much anything from an indie developer.

      And I got Catherine and the Shadow of the Colossus/Ico pack for Christmas last year and still haven’t played them. And yet I wasted all those hours with D3…sigh.

    • Jackbert322

      Quite literally every single critically acclaimed video game of the year excluding a rushed playthrough of Dishonored for a newspaper review. I also got MLB The Show, which – although not critically acclaimed – is great, but I haven’t gotten around to starting a RTTS and feel terribly guilty for that. I did play Uncharted 3, Infamous 2, Bastion, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Little Big Planet 2, Batman Arkham City, and Portal 2 this year however. 2012 was terribly lacking in non-Mature rated critically acclaimed games on the PS3, excluding Journey.

    • http://www.backloggery.com/colliewest Colliewest

      All I really played that came out this year were Journey (awesome) and Tokyo Jungle (cool, but gets repetitive).

      I loved Journey because it was short but felt so rich – here’s an article suggestion: Games that aren’t full of gd padding.
      This is what I’m going to try really hard to play in ’13.Borderlands 2
      XCOM: Enemy Unknown
      DishonoredFez
      Datura
      The Unfinished SwanFTL
      Hotline Miami
      Lone Survivor
      Dear EstherThirty Flights of Loving

      Those last six are my nomination for “Humble Bundle I most want to see.”

  • Spacemonkey Mafia

    Now being an exemplar of Paul Krugman’s Nobel winning economic model; You’ve-Got-A-Kid-In-Daycare-So-Your-Games-Are-All At-Least-A-Year-Old, there’s not a whole bunch from 2012 I can really expound on.
       I did somewhat impulsively indulge in a Vita, but am grateful for that at least as I do believe Gravity Rush is one of the most interesting games from this year.
       The combat can be a bit wan and repetitive, but the art direction, setting, music, tone and endlessly enjoyable flying mechanic are all so arresting.
       It’s one of the most unique new IP’s to emerge this year and does a wonderful job of almost single-handedly rebuffing any claims to the turgid state of Japanese game making.
       It has elements of Miyazaki, Moebius and Winsor McCay, and successfully pulls them together into a cohesive world.
       Plus the protagonist wears some some sort of scant, yet baggy one-piece jumper that makes her look like a cross between Goldfrapp and a “Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific” shampoo commercial.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anthony-John-Agnello/1362601810 Anthony John Agnello

      Hell yes, Spacemonkey. As I was looking back over the year, nothing stood out like Gravity Rush. I don’t even know what you call it. Is it an action game? An open world game? Who the hell cares about genre identifiers when you’re in a place as beguiling as Hekseville?

      Two other things I love about Gravity Rush: 

      1) The music. So good. Totally enhances the Miyazaki flavors.

      2) The mystery. There’s this delicate balance you need to strike with fantasy. You need to lead the audience know that there are rules and an internal logic to a place, but you can’t tell them every little detail. Gravity Rush is so good at telling a small story in a big place. It’s the exact opposite of, say, Dishonored which tries to tell a big story in a place that is completely incoherent and ends up not really about anything as a result.

      And man, you ain’t joking: Her hair is spectacular. I bet she uses Herbal Essences.

      Are Herbal Essences still a thing?

      • HobbesMkii

        Was that the line of shampoo that featured commercials where people were being put on trial for making orgasmy noises while using the shampoo, or am I thinking of the shampoo with the puppet kangaroo mascot?

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anthony-John-Agnello/1362601810 Anthony John Agnello

          That was indeed that line, sir. Sony should make a Vita game about making orgasm noises in court rooms. That’s one way to get people interested in the system.

          Actually, wait, that might be a feature in Ace Attorney 5…

        • HobbesMkii

          @facebook-1362601810:disqus I would bet they’re gone now, probably due to sales collapsing from disappointment.

      • Cheese

        All those things are great, but I love the comic book style most of all, especially the way that panel perspective changes based on how you hold the Vita. It’s just a really stylish game.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia

          I feel a little silly liking that element as much as I do, given it’s a simple gimmick.  But it might be the best use I’ve seen yet for the Vita’s wholly unnecessary gyroscope. 

      • Spacemonkey Mafia

        They are as much as a shampoo named after a creepy overture.

    • Cheese

      I feel sorry for my Vita. The only Vita games I own are Gravity Rush and P4G, and while they’re both excellent, there’s nothing else I’m particularly interested in buying. The Vita is a great piece of hardware, but I’m just using it to play ps1/ps2/psp games.

    • http://www.backloggery.com/colliewest Colliewest

      My brother’s the UK branch of the Vita club. I stuck a one month PS+ voucher in his Christmas present just so I can steal it and play Gravity Rush for a bit when he falls asleep in front of the Bond movie on Christmas day.

  • Staggering Stew Bum

    Mass Effect 3 is hands down the game I liked of the year with daylight second. Even taking in to account the relative disappointments of the extended cut ending (it didn’t need it) and the Omega DLC, whatever, still an amazing game.
    When Shepard leaves Earth at the start of the game and the Mass Effect 3 title screen comes up over that shot of Earth from space, I get chills down my spine every time. The cutscene after that just before the Normandy heads to Mars, that’s my gaming moment of the year right there.

    And Shepard was fighting indoctrination throughout, I don’t give a shit what anyone says, I will not be changing my mind on this.

    • IntotheNightSky

      It’s sad, because I know that if they had only taken a little more care in crafting the story, Mass Effect 3 probably would have been my game of the year too.

    • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

      I would say that they did need an extended cut, but the one they released didn’t really do anything.  I’m not going to go hugely into it, but that original ending…

      Mass Effect 3 is still a great game and honestly up until the [SPOILER EVERYBODY] Star child, I loved it.  It definitely doesn’t deserve even a fraction of the hate it gets but sadly, the ending has already been stamped as the defining feature of that game in most gaming circles.

      I even once had a job interview where Mass Effect 3′s crappy ending came up…

      • Fluka

        Wait, it came up during an interview?  I wanna hear this story!

        • HobbesMkii

          Right? He ellipsis’d the best part!

        • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

          I’m a little wary about getting too specific as I use my real name here but, whatevs. I was being interviewed for an SEO position so it was a relatively young guy interviewing me.

          We got to the generic, “What are you hobbies” type questions and I brought up gaming.  He said he had just marathoned through Mass Effect 3  which led the interview to get way off topic on the terrible ending to ME3 and the crazy fan reactions.

          It’s worth noting that there was a marketing manager in his 40s in the interview who had no clue what we were talking about.

        • HobbesMkii

            Honestly, that was not as exciting as I was hoping it would be. Did you get the job?

        • Fluka

          @twitter-88752419:disqus  Awww.  Thanks anyway!

      • AHyperkineticLagomorph

        Can I harp on something about ME3 that’s only partially related to the ending? I swear, this dead horse is slightly LESS dead. [SPOILERS, DUH?]

        The kid. The child. Whatever the hell he was. Indoctrination induced hallucination. I don’t care. And that’s the problem. I did not care about that kid at all. I get what it was supposed to represent. The kid showed there were going to be casualties. A lot of them. Innocent people. But every time that kid showed up in a dream sequence or something I felt like the game was holding up a giant sign that read “FEEL EMOTIONS NOW” rather than actually trying to evoke an emotion.

        Basically, the opposite of Clementine from The Walking Dead, who is a child character I actually do care about.

        • Fluka

          I find I like the sad child a lot more if I make the same interpretation that the first four sketches make here.  Mmm, tasty.

        • Simon Jones

          Oh jesus fuck yes.

          This.

          I mean the Mass Effect series has some pretty okay writing but that kid was a seriously embarassing blunt instrument. All they needed was a charred teddy bear somewhere and it probably could have won some sort of award for hamhandedness.

    • Moonside_Malcontent

      This isn’t the time or place to debate authorial intent and the indoctrination theory, so let me just agree when I say ME3 was my game of the year as well.  I for one was not unsatisfied with the ending I got (with Extended Cut), and I think the flak the series has gotten because of it is a serious subculture case of not seeing the forest for the trees.  I can’t think of a series I’ve played in recent memory, maybe ever, that had a more moving storyline and a more engaging and universe.  Here’s to you, Theophilus Shepard, and your personal philosophy of interplanetary liberalism and universalist defense.

      • Fluka

        I cried. Three goddamn times.

        Like @twitter-88752419:disqus   says above, I think one of the saddest things of the whole controversy is that the ending debate has now completely obscured all other discussion of both the third game and the rest of the series.  Even if you dislike the ending (I don’t, but I can see that there are very good arguments for doing so), I think it’s a shame to talk about that to the exclusion of all the other interesting and meaningful things going on in the game.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          Two games about the hidden aspects of war came out this year. Only one of them gets discussed in that context, and it’s not Mass Effect 3.

  • Andrew_Ryans_Caddy

    I thought Spec Ops not only attempted to be meaningful and disturbing, it was hugely successful. It’s seriously an amazing and unforgettable game. 

    Then again, I also really liked Assassin’s Creed 3, despite its undeniable flaws, so me and the writers here probably already have to sit on the opposite sides of the lunch room. 

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      I don’t know if Spec Ops succeeded in everything it set out to do, but damn if the last 10 minutes or so weren’t the most moving, shocking, thought-provoking 10 minutes of any video game I’ve ever played.

      • Effigy_Power

        I cried my eyes out during the last part of “Dear Esther”, beginning with the paper boats made from love letters… -takes breath-
        I challenge anyone to beat the emotional impact of that.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          Hmmm…. I was considering finally playing Dear Esther to pass the long bus ride home for the holidays. Maaaaybe it’s not the best work to experience in a public place like that.

          Guess I’ll stick to plan B: watching downloaded episodes of Game of Thrones and cautiously cupping my hand over the screen when there are boobs all over the place.

      • Andrew_Ryans_Caddy

        Oh yeah, I’m not saying it’s flawless. There’s a lot of parts where the hallucination thing doesn’t quite add up, for one thing. But overall the experience is incomparable. 

  • Chryso42

    Hotline Miami is the best game I’ve had time and means to play this year, which is admittedly a pretty narrow category. I also have a huge boner for Drive, so there’s that grain of salt. Nevertheless, it is, at minimum, pretty damn great.
    The gameplay is, minus the a bit off iffy hit tracking early on, extremely tight, and backed by a great soundtrack, both of which contribute generously to the game’s incredible sense of flow. That, and the ever-taunting RESET key. Graphically I haven’t been totally on board with Cactus’ work in the past, but in this case artist and subject have found a match made in a very dark basement after an extended and increasingly toxic binge of very hard drugs, and Nintendo.
    There is, admittedly, basically no plot, but, he does supply great big gobs of atmosphere. It all works together, the cheerfully hideous color palette, the ogreish, floating faces; the jittery, bad tv-tube haze; and the blood, oh, all the blood. This game has it. All of it.

    To sum up David Lynch gets Nicolas Refn knocked up on a demonic Ferris-wheel and leaves the spawn to be raised by Super Meat Boy and GTA classic. I liked it very much.

    • Matthew Hendrickson

      Hotline Miami
      Stylized, functional, quick, efficient, surreal, violent.

      Each session of Hotline Miami was totally engrossing, despite (because of?) it’s minimalism. 

      Each session of Hotline Miami left me feeling queasy.

      The most excellent game the I crave to play, but I avoid due to the inevitable unsettling feelings it evokes. 

    • Precarious_Loaf

      Hotline Miami
      Stylized, functional, quick, efficient, surreal, violent.

      Each session of Hotline Miami was totally engrossing, despite (because of?) it’s minimalism. 

      Each session of Hotline Miami left me feeling queasy.

      The most excellent game the I crave to play, but I avoid due to the inevitable unsettling feelings it evokes. 

      • Chryso42

        I definitely a bit of a chill got on the first run through. Pacing and sheer variety of gore have a lot to do with it, I think. In particular, the sort of comedown phase in between rampages. The cutscenes are oddballs enough, but what drives it home is when the en of the level finally hits. The music change makes the downshift stick hard, on top of having to wander back through the corpse-enriched halls at the end of each level.

    • GaryX

      I love Hotline Miami unabashedly, and I think it’s the most pure fun I’ve had in a game this year. Just the rapid succession of fuck-ups/fuck yeahs! were a blast. It felt Super Meat Boyish in a great way like that. 

      Plus, dat soundtrack

    • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

      I think it’s no coincidence that Drive, Bath Salts and Hotline Miami all rose to prominence in the same year.

      Anybody else been getting weird messages on their answering machines?

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        I was, but I found the guys who were leaving them and smashed their skulls over against a sewer grate.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      Yup yup yup. Hotline Miami is definitely the best game I’ve played this year. It felt fresh, somehow. It’s crazy fun, and with an interesting storyline and presentation. Something for the “games as art” crowd and something for the “holy shit I just smashed that dudes head in with my foot” crowd. 

      Everything comes together perfectly. Fantastic game. 

      Although I gotta say I don’t really get the comparisons to old GTA. Is it because it’s top down and violent? Because Smash TV is top down an violent and seems much more comparable. 

      • Chryso42

        Smash TV definitely has some similarities as well, but I think GTA gets cited so much mostly because the way the game is structured around missions encourages a similar sort of iterative problem solving through violence, even if it’s not nearly as simple and sweet as Hotline. The existence of Vice City also probably factors in there somewhere.

    • fieldafar

      I definitely need to buy this one, thanks to all the praise here.

  • caspiancomic

    Oh God, so many entries I could only read the first sentence of for fear of spoilers. I’m going to play most of these games eventually, I swear!

    Anyway, I wanna play too. I also wanna plagiarize the writing style adopted for this piece, since I am incapable of creativity. I’m going to do mine over a couple of posts, since they’re pretty wordy.

    I liked Journey because it catered to my gaming wants and needs perfectly. When I first started learning that it was possible to treat games as seriously as literature or film, I started noticing a lot of respectable people lamenting that games didn’t respect their audience’s time. A film is over and done with in two hours, and you can read most books over a weekend if you put your mind to it, but a lot of resoundingly popular games take dozens of hours to complete even without sidequests. That sort of thing never used to bother me, because I used to be a kid who never did his homework, so I had essentially infinite free time. This year, though, I went back to school after taking a couple of years off, and I’ve struggled to find time to game again. I’m sure you’ve all politely smiled and checked your watches these last few weeks as I’ve detailed my attempt to play Persona 3 without letting my schoolwork suffer, and I still haven’t managed to beat it even now (soon though, Jack n’ Poet! I promise!) Journey’s two hour adventure demonstrated to me that it’s totally possible to have a complex, emotionally satisfying interactive experience without having to clear your schedule.

    I also loved its focus on what I consider to be a vitally important but criminally malnourished element of gaming: exploration. Exploration- that is to say, totally unprompted and unguided examination of one’s surroundings- is one of my favourite activities in gaming, and it’s an experience that can’t really be delivered in other mediums. Journey’s world was beautiful and complex, but the developers had the courage to hide some of this away from the players, and to not give them any real indication that they had hidden anything. Sonic Unleashed rightly got a critical brickbatting for its sluggish Werehog sections, and in interviews Sonic Team has mentioned that they included those sections because they were upset that they put so much detail and design into these areas that were rocketing past the player too fast to be noticed. So, to satisfy their vanity, they forced the player to appreciate the scenery- and suffered for it. thatgamecompany knew that being coy about it would make players want to see and experience the world all the more, and Journey left a much bigger impression on me for that reason.

    • Andrew_Ryans_Caddy

      One great thing about Journey is that it proves that players *can* have a deeply emotional connection to and affection for one another, as long as you make it so we can’t talk. 

  • caspiancomic

    Entry the second! This was a good year for independent games, apparently. Does Journey count as independent?

    I liked Thomas Was Alone because it made me care about rectangles. Thomas Was Alone is, from the look of it, a shockingly spartan puzzle platformer with almost no graphics. Play it on mute, and it has no story. You could play the entire thing and have a pretty okay time figuring out the admittedly simple puzzles, and put it away forever, and never think of it again. But the game goes a different route. Through the power of soothing voice-over narration (see also: Bastion), the game assigns personalities, motivations, wants, needs, dreams, and passions to the various rectilinear characters you must navigate towards corresponding finish lines. Over the course of only a few hours, I learned to empathize with and care about these almost completely non-visual entities, as they opened up to one another, fell in love, argued, silently resented each other, got jealous, and learned to help and rely on each other. That the whole story is never a distraction from the gameplay means it is able to enrich it without ever becoming the centre of attention. We talk a lot about the ideal marriage of gameplay and story, and I believe that while the narrative here is not in the strictest sense delivered through the gameplay, Thomas Was Alone represents an interesting and novel method of having the story and gameplay support one another without one ever stealing the show from the other (see also a second time: Bastion. How did it take games this long to figure out that omniscient third person voiceover is like, perfect for game narratives?)

  • caspiancomic

    And finally, the odd duck. Between this, Journey, and Thomas Was Alone, I got my favourite gaming experiences of the year for less than the price of one boxed title. Score.

    I
    liked Katawa Shoujo because it was a thousand times
    better than it had any right or reason to be.
    For those who
    haven’t heard, Katawa Shoujo is a visual novel/dating sim developed by
    4chan based Four Leaf Studios, in which the main character attends a special school for disabled children can get romantic
    with one of five disabled girls. When I first heard the premise, I
    almost fell out of my chair with disbelief. Surely this would be the most revolting thing 4chan had ever done. When the game actually
    managed to get released, I downloaded it out of pure perverse curiosity-
    it sounded grotesquely cruel even by 4chan’s normal standards. So
    imagine my surprise when what I got was a sincere, sympathetic,
    shamelessly honest portrayal of five surprisingly normal girls and their relationship
    with a character struggling to understand his new relationship with his peers and his body.

    The writing in this game is actually really stellar- as it would have to be, as a visual novel type game- which surprised me a lot considering the source. Most surprising of all though was the tenderness with which the subject matter was handled. That isn’t to say the game puts its kid gloves on and coddles the player with the moral that everyone is special and different and everything is okay. The characters in the game struggle to understand and adapt to their unusual circumstances- some make light of them, some don’t seem to notice them at all, some act aloof but are actually deeply affected, others are paralyzed with fear, others are for all intents and purposes completely normal. The conversations often veer towards the characters’ various disabilities, and the ensuing discussions always feel natural and real. It is, I think, the ultimate (and possibly only) way to respectfully handle such a bizarre subject matter.

    The game struck a chord with the internet at large in a major way, who were all as shocked as I was at the high quality of the writing and the sincerity with which the subject was handled. I’ve got a chronic health condition myself, and I found myself a little humbled when a dating sim made by 4chan helped me unpack my own relationship with my health, and helped me cope with the fact that realistically speaking, I’ll never really be “healthy” again- a fact I’d often tried to ignore in my day to day life. That’s a lot of value- economically, culturally, and personally speaking- to get out of a freeware experimental dating sim cooked up by the internet.

    • caspiancomic

       Also, now I suddenly feel as though I’ve made myself a giant fluorsecent target for Gameological Society Commenter.

      • Gameological Society Commenter

        That’s twice in a week that I’ve felt my simulacra-sense tingle.

    • IntotheNightSky

      To put my experiences with it simply, Katawa Shoujo was one of the very few games that made me cry this year.  Any story that can make me feel that connected to the characters deserves high praise.

      • PugsMalone

        Which route(s) made you cry? I cried at the end of Hanako’s.

    • PugsMalone

      Come on, we know that you really liked it because you get to do anal with a girl with no legs.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anthony-John-Agnello/1362601810 Anthony John Agnello

        Truth, PugsMalone. Truth.

      • caspiancomic

         You see straight through me, Pugs.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        I’ve only played through the Emi storyline. Let me just say that I was definitely not expecting that scene.

        • PugsMalone

          I heard an interviewer with the author of Emi’s route where he said that they were all going to do one cliched H-game scene in each path, “and well, you could say that I drew the short straw there.”

    • valondar

      I pretty much never – as a rule – play Visual Novels, and yet I must reluctantly admit that Analogue: A Hate Story was one of the most surprisingly well written games I’ve played this year.

      It’s a simple science fiction premise: A generational colony ship is sent out into space, Something Goes Wrong, and pretty soon the society has devolved into an aggressively feudal and deeply misogynist society which (for some reason) is based on a Korean dynasty.

      But that was long ago. You’re a lone contractor sent to get the ship’s records, and learn why it never arrived at its colony. The major ‘events’ are all in the past, and what’s important for you is to basically slowly unravel them with the help of rather opinionated AIs – and, in the end, to judge them.

      And yes it’s also still a game with a character who just may be a cosplaying teenager because at the end we’re still talking about a visual novel here.

      • Simon Jones

         Analogue was a game which I was prepared to really dislike, mostly because I think we’re far too kind to the writing on indie games when we feel they’re trying to be arty when all too often it ends up being pretentious in a way we would mock in any other media.

        But I was actually really impressed with how well put together it was.

      • caspiancomic

         I had always thought of myself as averse to visual novels as well, but the more I think on it the more I realize I’ve played games that incorporate elements of visual novels. The Professor Layton games, for example, are basically visual novels in which the story is punctuated by logic puzzles. And The World Ends With You owes a debt to visual novels as well, it’s a really chatty game. I think I’ll try Analogue out in the near future, I’ve heard some really great things about it.

      • valondar

        @caspiancomic:disqus I like the idea of visual novels – and interactive stories in general – more than I actually like the most popular, representative examples of the VN genre. My distrust is mostly borne from brushes with games that can be charitably called ‘emotional porn’, with a variety of characters designed to fit different fetish types. Mostly thinking Key (Air, Kanon, Clannad), but it’s a popular form.

        But whatever you want to call it, damn it, I bloody well cared about Analogue: A Hate Story and the characters in it. And how you view them – good or ill – is really thrown back at you down the line. Not many games even try to challenge me like that, so again… kudos.

        I’ve heard Katawa Shoujo is good, but I had suspicions with it being a VN game by way of 4chan, but eh… you only live once, eh? I’ll try it.

  • dimsmellofmoose

    Fez.

    Fez Fez Fez.

    Fez Fez Fez Fez.  Fez?  Fez.

    • The_Misanthrope

      I did enjoy Fez while I played it, but I really had no desire to go back and crack the remaining puzzles once I had the minimum amount to finish the game.  Also, I was not a fan of the few stretches that required precision, split-second
      platforming since Gomez is no Luigi after all.  I can’t count how many times he got crushed because he takes too damn long to get his fat-ass up on the platform.

    • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

      Man, I never even finished Fez.  Fez to me, is like Wine.  I can appreciate that other people like it, and I totally understand why, it’s deep and has great complexity.

      But it just doesn’t suit my tastes.  I’m more of a hardcore Indian Pale Ale platformer fan (by this I mean Spelunky [Game of the Year 2012])

    • fieldafar

      Yay! No-one ever includes Fez on one of these end-of-year lists. Shame, it was a fine game.

  • The_Misanthrope

    I’ve had a pretty busy year so I haven’t really played too many games.  Apart from playing co-op Minecraft with my friend’s 6-yr-old daughter (she is OBSESSED with that game), there have only been two games that really ruled my year:

    Dark Souls:  There seems to be two opinions regarding this game:  either you love the game and can’t hear enough about it or you hate the game and you think the first group is out of their gourd.  I was probably in the latter camp until I pushed past those first few hours and it won me over.  The easy-to-learn-but-hard-to-master combat, the scope of the world, the inventive design of the enemies–it all keeps drawing me back in despite the punishing difficulty.  [Full disclosure: I have yet to finish the game, so I suppose it's possible that the game might pull an ME3.]

    The Binding of Isaac:  It’s just your average naked-boy-runs-through-a-haunted-basement-to-avoid-his-homicidal-mother story, but there is quite a lot of depth and replay in this simple roguelike.  And since I just broke down and bought the Wrath of the Lamb DLC, I will likely being playing it well into the New Year.

    Future Favorite Games:  X-Com, Skyrim, Deus Ex: HR, Dishonored, and Hotline Miami

    • Mercenary_Security_number_4

       naked-boy-runs-through-a-haunted-basement-to-avoid-his-homicidal-mother

      So its based on the works of Maurice Sendak?

    • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

      I don’t know if this qualifies as an Anti-Spoiler, but fret not, Dark Souls has a very fitting ending. I also came late to that game and enjoyed it immensely, my video game free time essentially turning into “Dark Souls time” for months and my never ending praise caused my brother to become curious so I lent him my copy.

      I’ve been missing my Havel-wearing, Black Knight Halbred wielding avatar ever since…

  • Aaron Riccio

    So much still to play!
    This Year’s Favorites (in no order):
    Final Fantasy XIII-2
    Walking Dead
    Journey
    Max Payne 3
    Sleeping Dogs
    Witcher 2
    Mass Effect 3
    P4: Arena
    A Virus Named Tom
    Splice
    Waveform
    Far Cry 3
    Darksiders 2
    They Bleed Pixels
    Potential Favorites (unplayed, ordered by interest)
    Xenoblade
    Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward
    Fez
    Dishonored
    Mark of the Ninja
    Deadlight
    Deponia
    Hotline Miami
    Unfinished Swan
    The Book of Unwritten Tales
    XCOM: Enemy Unknown
    Next year (in order of interest):
    Ni No Kuni
    Bioshock: Infinite
    Dead Space 3
    Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time
    Tomb Raider (Far Cry 3 comparisons, go!)
    Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

    • http://gameological.com/author/derricksanskrit/ Derrick Sanskrit

      I will reiterate the opinions of so many others when I say that Virtue’s Last Reward is a pretty good game on its own, but if you’ve played Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors it suddenly evolves into an awesome game. The storyline between these two is genuinely thrilling.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

        So after I heard about 999 I tried it out. What is good about this game? Is it the storyline? Because the writing is just awful. I only put maybe an hour into it. I can sometimes do this kind of game, I liked Hotel Dusk enough. But the characters are ridiculous so far and the writing… I didn’t like what I’ve played so far. Is it actually worth it?

    • Citric

      I keep forgetting FFXIII-2 was this year.

      • rvb1023

        Same here, that and how much a marked improvement it was over the previous entry. Still not the greatest game of the year, but I’m hard-pressed to find a more enjoyable FF since X.

        • Citric

          FFXIII-2 was fantastic until the very end when it got frustrating. Still, it’s good to see that the gameplay side learned lessons from FFXIII and were able to do make something fantastic, even if the writing side dropped the ball.

          Plus you get to see Hope die! That made me inordinately happy.

        • rvb1023

          @Citric:disqus As long as Toriyama sits in the writers/directors chair, these games are doomed as far as writing goes.

          And yes, Hope should die in every game he is in.

  • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

    I quite liked Hotline Miami and The Walking Dead, for almost complementary reasons – the former for its visual and tonal richness/idiosyncrazy* and super-rewarding tight gameplay, the latter for its daring narrative choices (including those it let you make).

    A game I absolutely did not like at all was The Last Story. Judging by the mentions of Xenoblade here and in the comments, I opted for the wrong long-delayed Euro-released RPG for the Wii…*that was a typo, but kind of an accidental perfect description of HLM, so I’ll keep it in…

  • Mercenary_Security_number_4

     Besides puzzle games, the only game from this current year that I’m playing is AC3, and that’s because I got it on cheap enough sale that I can justify just treating it as a colonial-era version of Google Street-View.  Franklin can go find his own almanac pages, I’m busy making sure all the graveyards are historically accurate.

  • Elizabeth Penrose

    Gentlemen, gentlemen! Do not be critics only, but be mindful that we must pay for these games. How much does each one cost?

    • IntotheNightSky

      I’m certain our Lord and Protector Google, enlightened be it’s results, can provide you with the information you seek.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      Verily, when we’re discussing the great games culture has on offer this year, cost is no object?

  • IntotheNightSky

    FTL: Faster Than Light, while not the most engaging story I’ve ever experienced, was definitely one of the better games I played this year.  

    It really shined by giving the player a chance to do their own problem solving.  Should I disable the enemy ship by beaming my crew on board and defeating the enemy in hand to hand combat or by shutting down their oxygen systems with my shield piercing missiles?  Should I put out the fires in my ship’s medical bay by opening the airlocks and draining all the air out of the three closest compartments, or should I send in my repair drone and hope it can extinguish the fire before the facilities are destroyed?  I really enjoyed being able to play the game on my own terms.

    The aesthetics also really managed to give the game it’s own life, at least for the first ten hours or so.  The sense that you’re exploring the very frontiers of space begins to evaporate after you’ve saved 10 different space stations from eerily similar problems. 

    But most importantly, it let me live out my life’s dream of being the captain on an interstellar spaceship.  And you can’t really beat that.

    • HobbesMkii

      You nailed it on the last part. I’m always on the verge of actually voicing commands there. “Mr. Spock to the medical bay for treatment! All hands beat to quarters! Prepare to repel boarders! Scotty, I need more power!”

    • valondar

       FTL is clearly the greatest thing ever.

      Or a great game. One of those two.

    • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

      My wife likes to have tv on in the background while she studies and I usually play pc games in the same room with her so I put an earbud in one ear and ignore netflix, but this year we ended up in perfect sync.

      She got really into Star Trek at the same time FTL came out.  If you haven’t played the game with Kirk shouting about raising shields while playing FTL you’re missing out.

      • valondar

        Given that context you may be interested in this:
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ekl1clyd_s

        Also I got more fun out of naming my ship and crew then I really should.

        • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

          I need to get that mod.  I’m a bit mod averse though seeing as I couldn’t even mod Minecraft but for that ship I can make an exception.  I also heard there is a mod that does away with the fleet chasing you which would help a lot.

    • Fluka

      Mr. Worf, reroute power to comments!  FIRE!

      FTL was the bestest.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      FTL looks pretty awesome, but I haven’t played it yet. It looks somewhat similar to BADASS BOARDGAME Space Alert.

      All a yall FTL likin’ types should definitely look into Space Alert. It’s absolutely crazy. It’s a coop game where you and your friends have to man a space ship and fight off space monsters and stuff while making sure your ship doesn’t explode. You play in real time along with an MP3 track of the ship’s computer calling out threats for you to deal with. It is super frantic. PLAY IT. Seriously fucking fun. PLAY IT.

      FOR REAL. CHECK IT OUT.

    • fieldafar

      FTL is fantastic. So glad my name is in the credits.

  • Simon Jones

    I liked Spec Ops the line until I thought about it a bit.

    Then I realised it was kind of subtle as a boot to the face.

    Hideo Kojima unsubtle.  Only more so.

    And maybe people were getting just a bit into it because it reinforced their prejudices about a genre they didn’t like  and had made themselves a strawman of.

    It’s not that it was bad but it was more than a little bit on the nose.

    • SaoirseRonanTheAccuser

      Spec Ops isn’t subtle and has some pretty hefty storytelling flaws, but I don’t think it’s really unfair to the ‘realistic military shooter’ genre at all.  Why do you believe it made a strawman out of the genre?

      • Simon Jones

         Because in many respects, the genre itself at least tries to address some of the issues that Spec Ops raises. It’s a touch more subtle about it and it doesn’t lump it all together but really, all spec ops has on them in terms of message is overt moral finger wagging.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      I don’t think Spec Ops: The Line is critical of the standard military shooter as much as it is critical of the people who play standard military shooters and take them seriously.

  • Destroy Him My Robots

    I think it’s fantastic that you’re gonna spread this out over a couple of days so we the people commenters have some time to prepare ourselves instead of just blurting out a bunch of names as fast as possible so our picks won’t get buried.
    Here’s my pick #1, not sure when I get to post the rest:

    Animal Crossing: New Leaf

    It’s an evolution in all the right ways. It’s more varied than its predecessors, but still emphasizes perseverance over easy gratification. It’s more customizable, but still lets you get things done without getting dragged down by minutiae. It’s more social, but without feeling incomplete when you play it by yourself.  There’s more traditionally game-y content, but it’s still all about deceleration.  In game design terms, Animal Crossing is farming and fetch quests – busywork.  But it doesn’t demand them now, and it doesn’t demand them in order to keep playing. And it doesn’t ask you to perform menial tasks for strangers you will never meet again. You do them for yourself and for your friends and neighbors. The only insistence at work here is that you care, which is easy enough thanks to its effortless charm. Perhaps most important, however, is its refusal to simulate. Where other games push forward and end up knee-deep in an uncanny valley of simulated life, Animal Crossing lets the player’s mind fill in the blanks. I don’t pay my loans right away because of interest rates; I do so because I decided for myself that I want a fiscally conservative village that refrains from spending money it doesn’t have. I don’t throw most of my time and income at public works because it grants me bonuses; I do so because I believe it’s noble to use private wealth for the betterment of the community. Silence can be an important part of musical composition. Animal Crossing: New Leaf knows that the absence of mechanics – as in ma, not mu – can be just as important to game design.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000590707081 Chris Ingersoll

      The wait for the US version of this is agonizing.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      Ah, well said.  I like some of those changes and dislike some of them, but you’re spot on.  (I’m still working on mine!)  That they made leadership a focus while still keeping the pace slow is 1 of the great design achievements of the year.

      • Destroy Him My Robots

        So you’ve got it now? Well, what are we waiting for, then? I mean, I can’t promise we’ll ever actually manage to make time to play together, but here goes:

        Friend code: 2234-8493-9642
        Dream address: 2100-0141-0874

        Obviously there’s still a lot of stuff that needs to be done, but everything’s starting to take shape. And I know for certain you’ll love my town melody and some of my designs.

  • ChicaneryTheYounger

    I only got two new games this year, mostly because I buy pre-owned or wait until the January sales, so I’ve only two new games I’ve played this year.

    1) Sleeping Dogs – Great all the way through, with a fantastic game world. Only problem is the lack of side missions, but I loved it while it lasted.

    2) Dishonored. Good enough. Certainly not bad, but I felt that my actions didn’t really have consequence. It was over really quickly as well, even with doing most of the sidequests. Fun, but not worth £40.

  • SaoirseRonanTheAccuser

    My Best Games, In Very, Very Specific Order

    1. X-Com: Enemy Unknown – Very few games have had me as hooked as this one, made me as frustrated, challenged me as much, and given me as much fun.  This is the Dark Souls of 2012: A game more challenging, thrilling, and ultimately fulfilling than any other I played that year, and my Game of the Year in the face of more polished competition.

    2. Mass Effect 3 – It’s opening sequence and ending sequence were relatively problematic; the 40 hours in between those two were almost nonstop excitement.  It doesn’t live up to Mass Effect 2, but few games do.

    3. Spec Ops: The Line – Ambitious, unsentimental, and a scathing commentary on the jingoistic, disgusting trend of ‘realistic military shooters’, Spec Ops has plenty of flaws, but it remains fun throughout, and has more than one scene that will haunt you for days afterwards.

  • valondar

    I only finally played Telltale’s Walking Dead last week.

    I mean, come on. I enjoy the TV series as much as the next person who watches TV, but it can be (usually is) pretty stupid and while I rarely get franchise games, I never get them for franchises I just don’t care greatly about. It took solid months of ‘shut up with your bitching about how games don’t give you meaningful story-driven choices like Obsidian Entertainment RPGs can go play this Walking Dead game already’ before I finally buckled and gave it a shot.

    It was good. I was actually emotionally invested in a Walking Dead title – riveted by that elusive thing known as good writing! This is not something I foresaw happening.

    I regretted many choices. I tried to be fair, I tried to be moral, but I also tried to be pragmatic, and often I stumbled around agreeing with everyone in sight and hoping it’d make sense later. I atoned for my mistakes, I mended relationships I torched and I freaked at the slightest sign that anything bad could happen to Clementine.

    …that was some intense shit.

    • http://profiles.google.com/josephfinn Joseph Finn

      Lord knows what they did to make you care so much about that kid, but being only through episode 1 I can’t imagine making a choice that would threaten her.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      Yeah, I quit the TV series a few episodes in, but picked up the game on Steam sale due to some good reviews of the first ep and the Telltale pedigree (whatever that’s worth), and it’s just so much better. Apparently it’s based a bit more on the comics tonally, though it’s its own thing.

  • double_hawk

    Due to time and financial limitation I did not get to play many games this year and it’s only now the I realize that I didn’t play a single game that came out this year. This is rare for me.  I did however finally get around to Play Batman Arkham Asylum and City and this past summer and am still playing City.  Damn that’s such a great game!

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      Not even cheap indies like Hotline Miami or Botanicula? GET ON THAT SHIT, SON.

      • double_hawk

        I can only so so much when the playstation isn’t mine (my roommates) and my computer is on deaths door!

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          I have no Playstation and my computer is a piece of shit, too (or it was, until it finally gave up the ghost last week). HOTLINE MIAMI. BOTANICULA. GET ON IT, SON!!!

          • double_hawk

            are they steam games?

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          You can get either on Steam, or on GOG.com, if you’re averse to DRM.

  • Drew Toal

    If loving Transformers is bonkers, then call me bonkers.

    • GaryX

      Ya bonkers

    • Effigy_Power

       Massively bonkers.
      Hand your mustache to Sheila on your way out.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000590707081 Chris Ingersoll

    In mentioning Xenoblade‘s excellent British voice work I’m a little surprised there was no discussion of the similarly-excellent British voices from The Last Story. The background arc between Lowell and Syrenne was amazing and their actors really sold it.

    Aside from thsoe two, my favorites of the year include both Pokémon offerings (Conquest and Black2/White 2), Virtue’s Last Reward, Little Inferno (since I didn’t get to play Journey, this is my “non-game” of the year), Theatrhythm Final Fantasy (which I just picked up this past weekend), and the ~30% or so of Assassin’s Creed 3 that I’ve managed to play so far. I’d round out my top 10 with some combination of Trine 2: Director’s Cut, NintendoLand, Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask, and  Rhythm Heaven Fever.

    • Asinus

      I haven’t played Last Story yet, but I’m cautiously looking forward to it. I shelved Xenoblade because, I think, I hit a mid-story lul where I was just running for reasons I’d forgotten. While I was very impressed with the voice acting in the cut scenes I turned it to Japanese. Not because I have feelings about it being “pure,” but because the overly-repeated lines (“What a bunch of jokers!”) and the in-fight chatter is so goddamned distracting to me. But, over all, I have never enjoyed English voice acting so much in a long time. Factor in that MMO-inspired combat system and it’s a real winner and a lot of fun to play. I’ll probably have to read a synopsis to catch back up with what’s going on in the story so far before i can get into it again. 

      Bummer, though, my WiiKey can’t cope with the disc for some reason (I ripped SSB, though, so it’s not a dual layer issue), so I’m waiting for a drive that can read Wii discs so I can rip it and play it in HD using Dolphin. The stupid thing is that’s the real reason I wanted to try Dolphin out but it’s the only game I can’t rip! This is the whitest problem I’m having right now!

  • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

    For me, this was the year of Perma-death and Insta-Respawn.

    Perma-death: @IntotheNightSky:disqus already did an amazing job talking about the joys of the interstellar rogue like FTL, so I’d suggest reading his comment.  I sunk hours into the game without ever making it more than 5 systems in and I’ve only unlocked 3 ships but I still found it to be one of my favorite games this year.

    And then there is Spelunky.  I had picked it up on Mac before the XBLA version was released so I already knew that I would enjoy it, and at first I was a little underwhelmed by how similar it was and how little progress I was making.  Then I got serious. I stopped playing for speed runs and started playing smart.  Not wasting bombs every time I saw a buried crate or pugbro.  I’ve even watched some “Let’s Plays” which normally I consdier to be so boring that I’d prefer a prostate check over watching one, but I needed to see how the pros did it (also there’s one out there with Derek Yu the game’s creator and it’s very illuminating to see how he plays).  Long story short, I just unlocked the short cut to the Temple.  Kind of a big deal.  I haven’t beat ulmec yet, or hit the city of gold, or found the necronomicon to reach the secret Hell level, but goddammit I will.  So help me Spelunky, I will.

    Insta-Respawn: Hotline Miami, what is their to say that hasn’t been said? A soundtrack that surpasses everything else out their, unparalleled aesthetic vision, a grotesque story and gameplay that just clicks.  This is the kind of video game I would hope people were making in the year 2012, smart, addictive, fun and not afraid to take risks.

    Insta-Respawn 2: Halo 4. There was no way 343i could make this game without ruffling a few fan’s feathers, and for the most part, I think they did a fantastic job.  They added pathos to the story of the relationship between a human tank and his buck-naked AI, which is truly an amazing feat.  But they Call of Dutied the multiplayer.  They put in care packages and Instant Respawns! Instant Respawns in Halo?  What travesty, what sacrilege, I will burn their Bellevue, WA headquarters to the ground and rend their bodies limb from…

    It doesn’t actually bother me that much but it highlighted the trend of instant fix gaming that I love perma-death for contrasting.  In insta-respawn, you don’t wait. Make a mistake, just hit R or X and boom!, you’re right back where you were clubbing russians or shooting spartans.  But with Perma-death, you’re actions have consequence, if I don’t watch out for that Tiki trap, I could lose all my hard work and end up back at the Mines or if I don’t get my weapon systems back online, I could be back at the first quadrant.

    They are both amazing game styles and I feel as though I’ll look back on 2012 as one of my favorite gaming years because of them (also Dark Souls, I’ll look back really well on Dark Souls).

  • http://twitter.com/robowieland Robert Wieland

    I think the success of XCOM lies in people sitting around a forum, telling stories about their battles.

  • Citric

    I just realized the only games from this year I’ve actually played are Tokyo Jungle and FFXIII-2. I kind of got burned out on Tokyo Jungle, since it’s a lot of the same stuff over and over again, but mostly because I got stuck on that story mission where a hyena has to be stealthy around dogs.  FFXIII-2 I really liked until the final boss, which I found overly long and never had enough time to make more attempts at, so I watched the ending online and got angry.

    Ah well, next year looks like it’ll have some great stuff for less money.

    • caspiancomic

       Yeah, I had the same reaction to Tokyo Jungle: I loved it right out of the gate, but my affections began to curdle because it just took too long to unlock anything really cool. Like yeah, playing as a deer is pretty cool, but there are like six varieties of borderline indistinguishable deer to unlock, and they all have to be played if you want to unlock every animal. Once I realized that I had unlocked something like two dozen animals and was still in dog/deer territory with nary a jungle cat nor dinosaur in sight, I decided it was probably time to move on.

      • http://www.backloggery.com/colliewest Colliewest

        When it was taking too long I caved and bought the sabre toothed tiger and office worker. I played them for a bit and realized that being a Pomeranian was more fun, and that was the end of the game for me.

  • Swadian Knight

    With the caveat that I haven’t played most of the big releases of 2012 – I’ve played two of the games above, and only for a few minutes each – my favorite this year so far is Legend of Grimrock.

    Grimrock seems, at first, to be a simple retread of old-school pillars of the dungeon-crawling genre given a new coat of paint: it adheres religiously to certain old tenets of game design that have been pretty much abandoned by the gaming industry as it grew. However, where those games used these systems more out of technological necessity than anything else, Grimrock elects to do so as a stylistic choice, and rewards the player who gets better at using them with an impressive level of control that most modern RPGs lack.

    As you advance, your control over your group’s grid-based movement becomes elegant and certain, and the once complex spellcasting system starts to reward your dexterity. It all comes together to form one of the most stimulating games I’ve ever played: whether you’re fighting monsters, solving puzzles, or seeking secrets, the game’s difficulty never quite lets up, and your focus and attention feel far more powerful than any magical equipment you can find hidden away.

    P.S.: in unrelated news, THQ is giving away free Steam-activated copies of Metro 2033 on their Facebook page. All it requires is a ‘Like’. Metro is a very atmospheric game, and I encourage those of you who’ve never played it to give it a try.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      I picked up Grimrock in the Steam Autumn sale and I am liking it way more than I thought I would.  I had a pretty crazy time on like the second floor, all my party had died in this room with three of those shield/spear knights and only my mage dude was left. I was pretty sure I was dead, but I manage to kill one of them and then shuffle around the other two, throwing rocks and then running over to pick up the rock. It took like 20 minutes but I managed to make it out alive, and i ended up backtracking all the way across the map. It felt like I was abusing the combat system, but it also felt like I had WON. Fucking awesome. Looking forward to getting through it.

      Also, they have the steam workshop thing enabled, so you can download custom dungeons. I saw some people porting over that old D&D game Eye of the Beholder. I don’t know what mods are worth checking out, but it has me pretty excited.

      • Swadian Knight

        Some of the lower levels are downright impossible if you don’t move around a lot during combat, and ranged weapons are a blessing. I think the devs must have intended the combat system to use your movement like that because it forces you to think on your feet – you can’t just stand around and mow down your enemies like in most RPGs, and you have to keep track of your surroundings all the time. I honestly love it.

        I haven’t checked out any mods yet (I’ve yet to finish the game, in fact!), but I’ve also heard that there’s some pretty good stuff up on their Nexus site that you can use to give your own dungeons a little more character.

  • Effigy_Power

    For me personally this wasn’t the greatest year in gaming.
    While ME3 was certainly the high point, it would easily have lost to other contenders in 2011 or 2010. Hitman Revelations was a distant second and beyond that… maybe Guild Wars 2, since I blame myself more for losing interest in it than the game.
    What I will mostly take from this year is that even my most beloved franchises, even the ones I defend against criticism, are fair game for hacks and marketing-bags.

    Hitman was turned from one of the freest and most creative games out there into Hitman: Black Ops… tiny levels, limited ways to go about your business, BDSM nuns… the company really realized who their target audience was and then dropped them like a frozen turd for the kiddies with the money and the bros who like tits. Bloodmoney’s infamous title screen (Hitman holding what appears to be a nude woman in a chokehold) was an indicator and the new one just cashed in on it. Sad.
    AssCreed (I am not prone to call it that myself) made an even worse choice, by focusing on all the things everyone hated, simplifying the already childishly simple combat (has anyone died from fighting guards ever?) and getting away from the whole murder thing, replacing the amazing cityscapes of yesteryear with the dreary Puritan dream of yesterday and finding a protagonist even less appealing than Altair, who was after all essentially a prototype suicide killer, who just never got caught. I never minded the boneheaded story with the Templars and the apple, I actually somehow enjoyed it the way I’d enjoy some MST3K, but the titanic infusion of tedium… nah, screw that. I end my AC story with Altair and Ezio and let Connor climb some trees or run after Franklin’s grocery list.

    Personally, I thought 2012 was quite weak, but then I think that about the music and movies of 2012 as well, so maybe I am just getting bitter and hard to please in my autumn years.

    • GaryX

      You can say games of 2012 were weak, but you’re being straight cray cray if you think this was a weak year for film.

      • HobbesMkii

        I dunno, on average I think it suffers a bit. Except for Coriolanus, it takes until late March for the first decent movie to come out:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_in_film

        Edit: I changed the time table to reflect that I’d overlooked the release of The Raid: Redemption initially.

        • GaryX

          Well, January/February are always dumping grounds for movies, so I feel like that’s kind of a moot point (though Once Upon a Time in Anatolia was great).

          And on that list I’d say
          Amour
          The Secret World of Arriety
          Jiro Dreams of Sushi
          21 Jump Street
          The Raid: Redemption
          The Cabin in the Woods
          The Avengers
          Where Do We Go Now?
          Moonrise Kingdom
          Safety Not Guaranteed
          Brave
          Beasts of the Southern Wild
          Magic Mike
          Shut Up and Play the Hits
          The Dark Knight Rises
          The Queen of Versailles 
          ParaNorman
          Cosmopolis
          Premium Rush
          The Master
          Dredd
          Looper
          Argo
          Seven Psychopaths
          Holy Motors
          Cloud Atlas
          Skyfall
          Flight
          Wreck-it Ralph
          Lincoln

          were all, at the very least, good if not great–and most pretty interesting. At least from the ones I’ve seen. As a whole, it felt much stronger than last year.

           

        • Effigy_Power

          Clearly you and I shouldn’t buy a couple’s year-ticket for the cinema, @GaryX:disqus. ^_^

          Cabin in the Woods was just fine. That Batman movie was also just fine. I have not seen Skyfall or Argo yet, but the rest of that list… I can take or leave it and most just leave. Avengers especially was intensely boring and pointless to me, but then that’s why they call opinions subjective. I am certainly not shocked that most people enjoy movies more than I do.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

        I am so behind on movies this year it ain’t even funny. I still haven’t seen goddamn Batman. I did manage to catch Moonrise Kingdom with my girlfriend when it hit theaters and we loved it. Perfectly adorable date movie.

        I also never got to see Beasts of the Southern Wild or Holy Motors, because they either didn’t play here or were here very very briefly. But those two look real good. 

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      XCOM and Dishonored (and maybe Spec Ops) were the only big budget games that looked at all interesting to me this year. And Crusader Kings 2, if that counts.

      I do like that there’s been a bit of a push towards making gaming communities less utterly reprehensible, but I fucking hate that there are people that are pushing back. I honestly can’t understand these people. How are they so fucking shitty? Ugh. 

      So yeah I like that it’s being discussed, but I don’t see why it needs to be a discussion. Don’t be an asshole. How is this difficult? why do you need to be convinced? I’m really tired of seeing the same stupid arguments about it.

      Whoa, got sort of off topic there. 

      @Effigy_Power:disqus have you played Hotline Miami yet? It’s my favorite of the year, easily.

      • Effigy_Power

        I played 10 minutes of it and recoiled in neon-colored “don’t care”ness, but I am afraid saying that here is a bit like spitting on Community over at the AV Club, so I kept that for myself. :P
        Not really. I didn’t care for it though. Even in the least. But I don’t really have to add yet another game I am at best ambivalent about to my vocal repertoire.

  • hastapura

    Dishonored completely lost me after a couple hours. It felt a little overstuffed – I wanted to explore this world and not deal with the silly supernatural stuff and the frankly lackluster story.

    The Walking Dead crushed me. I’m not to the point in my life where I can adequately deal with death and some of those dialogue choices toward the end of the game were so raw and bleak. I think the game speaks to a lot of primal fears and emotional truths, and complaining that choosing between Carly and Doug didn’t yield a whole new game misses the point. It was your story to a point, but Lee and Clem’s story to the end. Telltale had a lot of stuff to work through with their story and I’d rather have legitimate authorship and thematic weight than pandering to “player choice” and ego.

    On a similar level, I think Spec Ops is the sort of game that does itself no favors. It’s like looking at reflexive themes in horror films; yes, they’re recognizing issues and engaging in them at some level, but it’s still a slasher with the boobs and the gore and the old tactics. I didn’t want to actually play the game, and in an interactive medium there’s no more damning criticism. Still, I guess it’s a step that needed to be taken.

    Hotline Miami. HOTLINE FUCKING MIAMI. There’s no way to talk about this game without caps and profanity. It’s gotten almost instant cult status, and completely deserves it. Cactus forged an addictive, gratifying gameplay loop and ladled atmosphere, surrealism, and sweet sweet splatter over the top. And, unlike Spec Ops, it engages its material not only through dialogue and story but through mechanics and play. It doesn’t spell anything out and I’m still thinking it through. The ultimate explanation the game gives seems to be a Haneke-esque middle finger to the audience, if not a simple dodge. So good. So neon.

    I’ve been caught in a rapidly freefalling kitchen for the past nine months so I haven’t been so up on the video games. Let’s see…props to Lone Survivor, which I sadly have yet to complete. Same goes for Mark of the Ninja, FTL, and They Bleed Pixels.

    • Destroy Him My Robots

      I really hope you’re right about the Hotline Miami/Haneke thing, because I would get to be incredibly smug about it. I played a couple of levels with a friend and got to a cutscene where the masked guys sat around and asked me if I enjoy killing.

      I shrugged, thought “Actually, not really” to myself, and stopped playing. Now where’s my achievement for that? …looks like I’m smug about it already. Sorry.

    • Simon Jones

       See, here’s a thing.

      Every time a game tries to pull the ‘Look at all this violence you did! Aren’t you the worst for enjoying it?!’ I kinda go ‘No. Because it’s a fucking game and you gave me a bunch of special violence doing buttons and I was entertained by pressing them.’

      I am in fact having a horrible premonition this is the year that game criticism is going to try and make us feel bad about violence in games.

      • hastapura

        I see what you’re saying. That’s the point I was making about Spec Ops – that the actual mechanics of the game are nothing but cover/shoot, and the themes don’t jibe with such lazy conventions. 

        Hotline Miami, however, doesn’t hinge on chastising the audience for playing the damn game. I think the janitors at the end are poking fun at anyone looking for straightforward exposition, and the secret ending certainly bears that out. 

        • Simon Jones

          Hotline Miami was one of my favourite games of the year but it was pretty much Drive the Game.

          And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that at all.

      • Asinus

        Yeah, it’s such an unoriginal thing to do by now that it just seems like a lazy way to side-step criticisms about the violence in the game should any be levied and a way to pretend that the game has a deep theme. That could only work if the player had a way to be non-violent in the game (even if that’s not obvious), so at some point the game (through a character, of course), could say, “No one made you do this,” and actually mean it. When every button activates a weapon and the only way to go from point A to point B is to litter the hall or the parking lot or the office or wherever with the bloodied corpses of your enemies, a message like that is laughably disingenuous. 

        Of course, a game that allowed such varied gameplay to reach your goal would have been such a labor to build that throwing a single-line-deliverable message would be insulting to the designers.

  • Brian Stewart

    I liked Dragon’s Dogma because it didn’t really care that it was a thief and a phony because all it wanted to do was show me a good time. I mean, climbing monsters in Shadows of the Colossus was high art but in Dragon’s Dogma you can do that to a cyclops and stab him in the eye (as long as he’s not helmeted.) And it’s just one of a dozen ways you can take him down. That’s boss. Running in the forest at night, and being terrified of the dark was one of my favorite gaming moments of ’12.

    • Simon Jones

       I loved the fuck out of Dragon’s Dogma.

      That’s pretty much all I have to say there.

  • http://www.facebook.com/JamesMauriceAlexander James Alexander

    Not in any real order.

    Mass Effect 3 (I’ve blocked out the ending)
    The Walking Dead
    Dishonored
    Spec Ops:The Line
    Assasins Creed 3

  • duwease

    You know, I can’t really think of a lot of 2012 games.  I don’t know if it’s a reflection of 2012 or the fact that I just haven’t gotten to the games yet (for instance, I’m pretty sure I’m gonna love XCOM and Hitman).

    One that I haven’t seen mentioned (probably for good reason) is Okami HD.  Sure, it’s an old game.. but DAMN is it fantastic and DAMN does it look good in HD!!  Arguably better than the modern games.. more developers should take note and go for an art style instead of photo-realism.

    Other than that, if you’re going to go by hours played, then Binding of Isaac and Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 stomp the opposition.  Just looked at the latter in Steam.. 296 hours played.  Oy.

    The discussion of Zero Escape is making my trigger finger itch about buying a Vita (or 3DS, I guess).. because I *love love loved* 9-9-9. But I don’t travel like I use to or use mass transit anymore, so the justification is weak.  I wish they’d release it on ANY of the home platforms..

  • Cloks

    As a purely social experience, my favorite game of the year was Frog Fractions. It’s hard to convince someone to play this game without spoiling it for anybody – “No, it’s just some old educational game but you have to play it!” – but it’s worth it to see their reactions when the game really starts going bonkers. 

    In a year where a lot of the major games were rehashes and rote iterations – Mass Ending 3, 8 Hour Tutorial 3, Infinite Guns and Stale Humor 2, Shoot Gunner: Foreigner Destroyer some of my other favorite games were original PC titles such as Thirty Flights of Loving and Hotline: Miami. I enjoyed figuring out how to shoot glitchy, pixelated baddies while wearing a mask almost as much as trying to figure out exactly what happened in that airport, plane and highway and who the mysterious woman I kept running into was.

    Some games that weren’t the most original but rather stellar executions of formula are Telltale’s The Walking Dead and XCOM: Frustration Abounds. One of the major weaknesses in the Walking Dead comics and television series is that the story has no defined ending and meanders meaninglessly while throwing in scenes for pure shock value. Telltale was able to circumvent this by making a game with a pre-defined length and emotionally involving players in their decisions to take care of Clementine and help the survivors encountered. XCOM was a major coup for both fans of strategy RPGs and the original games; it managed to stay faithful to the older entries while creating an engaging game for the thousands of newcomers to the franchise.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=16831741 Eric J. Baker

    Yeah, Derrick Sanskrit, Lollipop Chainsaw totally let woman know that it’s okay to be sexy. They should be secure in their sexy good looks and don’t let anyone else tell them they’re superficial for it!

    What a freaking joke. I can’t believe you wrote that blurb about Lollipop Chainsaw, then read it again and thought, yes, everything I said here makes sense and is not complete BS. Maybe next time.

  • wzzzzd

    I liked CS:GO because basically I like CS.

  • orborborb

    Missing the four best games of the year:

    Sine Mora
    Nintendoland
    Legend of Grimrock
    Hotline Miami

    Crashmo and Trials Evolution also deserve mention for outstanding gameplay despite their annoying aesthetics.

    And I’ll take Halo 4, Final Fantasy XIII-2, and Journey over Borderlands 2, Xenoblade, or Lollipop Chainsaw every day of the week.

    Nice to see Spelunky, Magic: the Gathering, and Kid Icarus: Uprising mentioned though.

  • orborborb

    double post

  • Xyvir

    Surrealism can be hard to pull off. Too much sur- will result in an incomprehensible absurdest mess. Too much -realism will result in something that resembles a bad documentary. But when the balance is just right, there is a certain ineffable harmony between the two disparate perspectives, like the succulent taste of sweet-and-spicy barbecue sauce.
    The Real Texas is a game  that finds that balance. The Real Texas is barbecue sauce.

    “The Real Texas is an action adventure game that plays like a mashup of Zelda: Link to the Past and Ultima VI,” is how the creator of The Real Texas humbly describes his game. Having played exactly half of those games, I can neither confirm nor deny that statement. However, I can say that it does not do justice in describing the game. The graphics are a sort of an avant-garde kind-of-thrown-together-on-purpose feel, but done with charm and not too much cheese. The music is other-worldy, and sets the tone for the bizarre Animal Crossing-like errands you will embark on. All-in-all the atmosphere reminds me of Earthbound quite a lot; it’s a stylized, quirky slice of small-town Texas, much like Eagleland is a fun little slice of America. 

    Also similar to Earthbound, the bizarre and unexpected nature of the game keeps the excitement running about what odd locale or thing you will encounter next. If “The Real Texas” were a book, it would be a page-turner. (I would like to be able to use the term button-masher, but that has an entirely different connotation.) You might run into a wizard-turned-monkey, a child perpetually haunted by a ghost, a mechanic, an alien, an up-and-coming rapper, or a sentient compost pile. Who knows?

    Even the inventory system is tied to this type of mystery about the world. You can interact with even the most bland minutia of the world in a variety of ways. There is even a built-in text parser, which creates a whole slew of elusive and exotic ways to open and search a chest. Or a chair. Or a bed. It has an aspect of what John le Carré calls ‘pins and paperclips’ in the “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.” This pamphlet full of nonsense you find early on might just contain a secret password. This blanket might just warm a cold ghost, who opens up your path. These boom-box might just help a young rapper get his start. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s just a regular ol’  worthless pamphlet. You don’t know yet. And inventory space is limited, so part of the game becomes trying to decide beforehand what is important and what is not. Thankfully there is a clever lost-and-found fail-safe for anyone who might haphazardly drop a critical, but unprepossessing, McGuffin. I wish they would install such a universal and perfectly vigilant lost-and-found in our real-life version of Texas.

    I’ve traveled to a few places in Texas, USA, and the place itself just has a sense of adventure about it. Maybe it’s because of the history. Maybe it’s because of the big personalities and the barren landscapes. Maybe it’s because every Texan dresses like a cowboy. Maybe it’s because you disagree with me and you hate Texas, but I’m entitled to my own opinion thank you very much. And for better or worse, since I’ve played the Real Texas I will always associate the two. (For better.) Both the real Texas and The Real Texas advertise themselves as lands of adventure. If either one can deliver, then the other has that capacity, too. That’s why the name The Real Texas is a such a perfect name for this game. It evokes the imagery of place that is already a caricature of itself.

  • http://www.facebook.com/andy.tuttle.79 Andy Tuttle

    I got Mass Effect 3, Hotline Miami and Rock Band Blitz this year. I did not play a lot of new video games. I bought some stuff form the last couple of years like Gran Turismo 5 which I LOVE and Dead Island which is just complete garbage. Out of the three new games I bought this year Mass Efffect 3 was by far the best. I have been a huge fan of the series since the first game came out and the final chapter in the story of Commander Shepard did not disappoint. I remember when all the naysayers were complaining about the ending but I stood by it and respected the way Bioware closed the book on that trilogy. It was a fitting end to Commander Shepard and truly felt like something he (or she) would do. As I sat there and watched the final minutes of the game I realized that everything I had done was leading up to this one final act of sacrifice. It was naive to think that Shepard would get through the entire series alive. I was sad to see him go, but I knew that his actions would preserve the lives of both organic and synthetic life throughout the galaxy. I’m currently replaying all three games again and just recently completed part 1. I am excited to live this adventure all over again.

  • Jason Danklefsen

    I’m just excited to know that I’m not the only one to use character names from The Wire.