Games We Liked 2012

Mass Effect 3

All’s Well That Ends Well

Diablo III entertains, Frog Fractions befuddles, and the Mass Effect 3 conclusion delights at least one of our writers in today’s year-end staff picks.

By Anthony John Agnello, Matt Kodner, Samantha Nelson, Jason Reich, and Drew Toal • December 12, 2012

Hey folks, it’s your editor, John Teti. We here at Gameological enjoy a good year-end retrospective as much as the next. 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.

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.)

Today we’ve got staff picks from Anthony John Agnello, Matt Kodner, Samantha Nelson, Jason Reich, and Drew Toal.

ANTHONY JOHN AGNELLO
Asura’s Wrath
Asura's Wrath

I liked Asura’s Wrath because it didn’t give a damn what anyone thought. This is a game where you control a Buddhist god whose fight with another god starts in a hot tub and ends with the destruction of a continent. And in between, one of them gets impaled on a sword stretching from the moon to earth.

Over the course of six hours, you only control the god Asura for about five minutes out of every half hour—the rest is cinematic sequences—and that’s being generous. When you do get to play, it doesn’t always work so great. Fighting a rival deity in outer space doesn’t feel as nice as it does in, say, the classic space shooter Panzer Dragoon, and the Zoroastrian fisticuffs are a little sloppy. None of that matters, because for all of the excess in Asura’s Wrath, it has an uncompromised emotional core. It may star a screaming six-armed warrior god, but his losses and pain feel real, maybe even more so because of how bombastically weird and obscure the whole game is. It never dips into epic cutscene mugging to hit high notes like God Of War might; it just does what it does, and sometimes that involves about 45 seconds straight of a man screaming.

It’s impossible to evaluate a game in a vacuum, devoid of industrial concerns. After all, it takes a ridiculous amount of money and effort to make a video game for the major consoles. So it’s hard not to think: Is a game the way it is just because it needs to sell a lot of copies? Pandering is hardly a rare phenomenon in mainstream media. Asura’s Wrath doesn’t pander. It’s possibly one of the least commercial games ever made. No one made this to make money, and if they did, they are crazy. It’s borne of a tangible passion that shines through as you play it.

Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational
Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational

I liked Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational because it evoked severe emotional highs and lows—with golf. The freak obsession that golf inspires can seem baffling on the outside, but even having played the game just once as an adult, I get it. It isn’t the culture of wealth and privilege, the wacky clothes, and glittering gear that hooks people. Golf’s secret treasure is emotional extremity. Landing a perfect chip onto the green from 60 yards away offers a hell of a rush. But the fairway grass cuts both ways. Watching your ball grace the lip of the hole and spin away just a quarter-inch can make you feel like your high school sweetheart just called you up to dump you all over again. World Invitational puts that frightening seesaw of the heart right in your pocket and builds an impressionist cartoon world to mirror the experience.

This PlayStation Vita version of Hot Shots Golf isn’t outwardly different from previous entries. You choose a giant-headed cartoon golfer and hit a variety of tourist-destination themed links: castles, deserts, seaside links. Since you can do all sorts of super moves, like setting your ball on fire to give it some extra distance, you’d think the golfing wouldn’t feel so much like the real thing, but first impressions are deceptive. All of golf right there in the machine, in exacting detail. The fury after watching the wind push your ball into the drink. The melting rapture of a perfect putt.

World Invitational is a fantasy, though. No real person would ever play golf in the middle of the savannah, surrounded by lions, or design a course around a harbor where a sailboat blocks your path to the hole. The whole game is wrought in colorful extremes, with a mix of soft rolling hills and stormy cliffs. It’s agony, ecstasy, and a 9-iron, all in the palm of your hand.

Need For Speed: Most Wanted
Need For Speed: Most Wanted

I liked Need For Speed: Most Wanted because it harnessed my hatred of car commercials. Car commercials are the worst. Their cloying, patronizing falseness makes me seethe, especially this time of year—no one gives cars as presents for Christmas, Lexus! Need For Speed: Most Wanted takes you inside the universe of car ads and invites you to wreck the place.

The Need For Speed series has historically presented itself as an ugly commercialized car fantasy, and Most Wanted is no different. It opens with slick shots of real autos driving through a city at night, all muted colors and lens flare, while a breathy woman talks about trying to get the most wanted cars with put-on orgasmic yearning. It’s hard to resist the urge to change the channel.

But Most Wanted’s developer, Criterion, is nothing if not puckish. Most Wanted looks and sounds like previous Need For Speed games, but this is really the successor to Criterion’s 2008 wonderland of chaos, Burnout Paradise. That game was a goofy fantasy that let you drive fake cars really fast and then, if the mood struck you, cause a hundred-car pile up for points.

Most Wanted is never that unpretentious, but it does have that anarchic fire in its belly. All of its cars are based on real vehicles, from heavy Ford trucks to Lexuses (Lexi?), and once you hop into them, your goal is to go fast regardless of what’s in your path. Trees, lampposts, mailboxes, and most importantly, other cars: Smash them all. The game indulges the destruction fantasy further by having ineffectual cops chase you, giving the illusion that the peaceful quiet of Car Commercial Land is in danger. The fantasy is ultimately just as hollow as it is in actual TV ads, since the world always goes right back to its unblemished state after the race, but the transience of its havoc doesn’t take away from Most Wanted’s fast, dirty pleasures.

MATT KODNER
Draw Something
Draw Something

I liked Draw Something because of its open-ended privacy. On any given day, I’ll interact with friends, acquaintances, family members, or strangers on a variety of online platforms. I’ll share a funny YouTube video on a friend’s Facebook wall, or tweet a virtual thumbs-up to a novelty Twitter account. These interactions are thoroughly public, and I kind of like it that way. It’s my generation’s way of getting to know people, and for others to better know me. At its peak, Draw Something was my favorite way to communicate online, precisely because it made every interaction private in a game with no “correct” method to play it.

While often likened to a game of catch, in my own experience, I found it more akin to playing a game of chess by mail—one where neither player grasps the finer intricacies of chess, but both enjoy corresponding and talking trash more than playing the game itself. You draw a picture and then send it to someone else, and they guess what you drew. Then vice versa, and so on. Trouble is, for my part, I can’t draw, and was born with stubby fingers fitted to hands the size of a cherub’s. My pictures rarely came out as intended, but I never had to let anyone other than my playing partner see how bad they were. However, it was just as much fun to infuriate my friends with obtuse representations of “backflip” as I imagine it would be to wow them with great art.

Gameological contributor Derrick Sanskrit recently showed me his own approach to the game–making Pikachus a requisite part of each drawing. Beyond the awesome artwork in his blog, it struck me as inspiring that he was able to throw each sketch online for the world to see. As much as I enjoyed Draw Something for its sense of privacy, it’s really only as shut-off as each player wants it to be.

Frog Fractions
Frog Fractions

I liked Frog Fractions because of its deadpan surprises. Going in blind, it is more than possible to miss the vast majority of Frog Fractions, a wide-ranging Edu-tainment parody. Before you start genre-hopping, Fractions positions itself as a low-rent take on teaching the importance of fractions, by way of a simple game in the style of Missile Command. As a frog sitting in a pond on a lilypad, you have to lap up pesky flies and collect precious fruit, used for upgrades between rounds. Business as usual. Ostensibly, a player could go through wave after wave endlessly, without realizing there is an entirely other game waiting for the player. To get there, you have to do something completely unexpected—explore.

After a few upgrades, you’ll likely hitch a saddle to a dragon, a mount that allows your rather slow frog a little more freedom of movement. From there, with a little adventurous thinking, you’ll find yourself breaking the bounds of the pond and exploring strange new dimensions. Fractions takes on the guise of a space-shooter. It turns into a text adventure. It parodies Dance Dance Revolution . There are surprises at every turn—it just takes some poking and prodding for the game to give them up.

SAMANTHA NELSON
Diablo III
Diablo III

I liked Diablo III because the dialogue embraced the art of the one-liner. I appreciate a good dramatic monologue, but it’s the one-liners from films and TV shows that I often find myself quoting while trying to replicate the actor’s delivery. Less can be more when it comes to memorable dialogue. That’s definitely the case in Diablo III. Sure, there are some intense and emotional cut scenes, but for me it’s really all about the one-liners.

Considering that your characters are only capable of saying a few things, Blizzard could have just given everybody the same basic sound and distinguished them with some vague accents. Instead the developer hired a stable of established voice actors. The wizards seem to have gotten the pick of the litter. The male wizard is voiced by Crispin Freeman, who brings the same sinister creepiness he showed playing Alucard in the English dubbing of the Hellsing anime series. The female wizard is even better, with Grey DeLisle just barely tweaking the voice she used for Avatar: The Last Airbender’s villainous Princess Azula. The fact that both characters can shoot lightning at their enemies makes it easy to pretend that, after the Avatar finale, Azula moved on to fight the agents of Hell in Diablo. I could easily see her telling someone, “Your mother shouldn’t have spawned you,” perhaps after defeating them in some volleyball. It’s worth experimenting with the other classes in Diablo, but the wizard’s voice made her a keeper.

The Secret World
The Secret World

I liked The Secret World because its internet-based puzzles created the feeling of unraveling a real conspiracy. In the dark world of H.P. Lovecraft, knowledge is a curse, more likely to drive you mad than actually help you stop evil. Luckily, in most of Lovecraft’s stories, that knowledge is relegated to hidden tomes in dusty libraries and occult shops. Not so in the online game The Secret World, which has you battling demons in a sleepy New England town—in the modern age.

That change of time period could have hurt the Lovecraftian theme, but developer Funcom embraces the media of the 21st century to enhance the mood. With the touch of a key, you can open up an in-game web browser, which you can use to look for advice on World or just to check your Gmail. Its main purpose, though, is to solve the game’s many clever puzzles. Cracking someone’s password to progress in a quest could involve a trip to a dummy site operated by the game developer or just a trip to Wikipedia for more details on an in-game reference. Sure, you already have a browser—unless you’re reading this on your hypertext teletype machine—but not having to jump out to a separate program means you stay immersed in the game. And it acknowledges that the paranormal investigators of World would have the same instant access to information on their modern-day smartphones as you do. (One downside: The ease of access also makes other players surly if you start asking them for help solving puzzles. “Just Google it” is a common refrain.)

While there are clues in the game’s environment, I love that many of the puzzle components are displayed publicly on the web. The overlap between fiction and reality provides new meaning to seemingly mundane sites and facts, unveiling a secret world hidden in plain sight.

JASON REICH
Max Payne 3
Max Payne 3

I liked Max Payne 3 because the multiplayer was fun for people who suck at multiplayer. I am one of those people. And frankly, I have better things to do than suffer undignified sniper deaths while some teenager thousands of miles away makes untoward suggestions about my mother over a headset.

So I was shocked by how many hours I put into Max Payne 3. The Gang Wars mode, which throws players into a competitive five-act mini-campaign, spices up the usual bang-you’re-dead routine by turning the traditional deathmatch into a story where events have real consequences. Successfully blow up a bridge in Act 1, for example, and it stays blown up, forcing you and your opponents to adjust your strategy accordingly, on the fly. “Vendettas” add an extra thrill to the proceedings by rewarding you when you take down a player who has killed you several (or in my case, several dozen) times in a row. And Rockstar’s crew system is a treat. Players join crews, and when members of the same crew are online at the same time, they’re automatically designated as teammates. If two crews clash frequently, they trigger a large-scale feud involving all the members of both teams. (Take note, readers: Crews will be part of the upcoming Grand Theft Auto 5, and the Gameological gang—codename GLOG—could use your help. Join us, and I promise we’ll waive the brutal initiation.)

These simple ideas elevate the online experience, turning multiplayer into something alive and unpredictable. Of course, none of this makes me a better player. But Max Payne 3’s multiplayer offers so many fun extras, the online experience becomes fresh instead of frustrating.

DREW TOAL
Dragon’s Dogma
Dragon's Dogma

I liked Dragon’s Dogma because it let you share your companions. These non-playable “pawns,” as they’re called, are sidekicks created by players for use in their own quest to vanquish, and then Dogma makes them available for recruitment into anyone else’s game. It’s like in that movie Another Earth, where a new planet appears in the firmament and it turns to be identical to our own Earth, but slightly different. There’s a second version of you, your parents, your insufferable boss, that pile of dishes in your sink that you hope will go away if you avoid eye contact long enough. Everything. In Dragon’s Dogma, your main pawn might be walking by your side helping you look for chimera pelts, but in someone else’s game, that same doppelgänger battles a dyspeptic Cyclops. (Imagine the possibilities!)

It’s as close as I want to get to directly interacting with other players in Dogma, and it gives the world a transient, ghostly quality. I often found myself wondering where a pawn came from—it would have been fun if there were some kind of regional marker identifying the creator’s origin. While the dialogue you conduct with these companions could have been more varied (and less incessant), I loved that no two game experiences were completely identical—just nearly so. In a way, Dragon’s Dogma is Capcom’s paean to quantum mechanics and the resultant “many worlds” theory. It’s heady stuff that’s brought down to earth, so to speak, only when you do something like recruiting a pawn named Poophands to your party. Which I did. Because it’s hilarious.

Mark Of The Ninja
Mark Of The Ninja

I liked Mark Of The Ninja because at any given time, I could barely see what was happening on the screen. This game is really dark, and not in the clichéd “dark and gritty” sense. It’s physically lacking illumination, a deliberate design choice that heightens the sense of mystique. As a ninja, you’re required to hide in the shadows (obviously) and use the absence of light to your advantage. Maybe you’re crouching in a conveniently located shrub and waiting for a guard to blithely walk past. Or maybe you’re taking a more ruthless approach, extinguishing an overhead lamp with a dart, lowering yourself from the rafters, and wrapping a wire around the same guard’s neck, dangling his body as a warning to others. Whatever the case, visible light is the enemy’s most fearsome weapon. (Unless it’s used to reveal your dangling corpse trophy. In that case, light the joint up like a Christmas tree.)

The persistent gloom is essential, as ninjas don’t last too long in open combat. If you do your job right, the mercenaries will never know what hit them. One minute they’ll be lingering by the door, enjoying a cigarette, keeping watch, and wondering if maybe they should go back to school to get that teaching degree—you know, really make a difference. An instant later, a disembodied hand will reach up out of the floor, kill them (more quickly than the smoking would have, at least), and dispose of the body in a nearby dumpster. All thanks to the darkness.

Mass Effect 3
Mass Effect 3

I liked Mass Effect 3 because its controversial ending acknowledged the limits of mortality. (Warning: specific plot details ahead.) Reaction to the finale of BioWare’s choose-your-own-space-adventure trilogy was so visceral and immediate that the developer quickly issued “extended” endings with mostly cosmetic additions to avert some kind of armed internet uprising. At issue was the fact that BioWare pitched the game as an experience where your in-game decisions matter—and lived up to that principle for the majority of the trilogy. But then the final moments of Commander Shepard’s fight against the existential threat of genocidal space squids rendered those decisions moot.

No matter what you decided to do as you rallied the universe’s other races (or not) to your human-led fight, most everyone dies, and your Commander Shepard’s superhuman efforts result in what can only be considered a pyrrhic victory. I’m not really commenting here either way on the wisdom of that creative decision, but what I did like about it—the thing BioWare undoubtedly got right—was the decision to kill Shepard no matter what. She/he was already on borrowed time—Shepard was effectively resurrected in the beginning of the second game by a shadowy human supremacist organization—and nothing less than the hero’s death would be enough to stop the galaxy-wide organ harvesting. Really, the extended endings—hastily made up to quell the outrage—were unnecessary. How did anyone think this thing was going to end?

There’s a tendency in pop culture to keep marketable characters on life support long after they should have been retired, ideally in spectacular and bloody fashion. Human agency is great and all, but given a long-enough timeline, none of us can move the cosmic needle that much. Shepard goes out on his/her own terms, which is the best any of us can hope for.

Transformers: Fall Of Cybertron
Transformers: Fall Of Cybertron

I liked Transformers: Fall Of Cybertron because it fulfilled the promise of gargantuan robots in video games. Ever since the urban renewal nightmare known as Rampage—granted, that featured giant monsters and not robots—I’ve keenly felt the potential for video games to put you in control of a giant mechanized beast and just let ’er rip. Not just big, but big. Whether that means battling an eight-story-tall mecha Robert Moses, or just playing as a foul-tempered, fire-breathing space T-Rex, I leave those details to the developers.

In this regard, Fall Of Cybertron had the potential for scale-tipping greatness, and the game not only sees my space T-Rex, it raises me a freaking Bruticus. Comparatively, other Transformers resemble nothing so much as shiny little ants next to this Voltron-like behemoth. Bruticus’ levels are something of a sideshow, since the minuscule Autobot swarm has about the same chance of taking him down as a hamster wearing an adorable little army helmet does against a Sherman tank. Prepare for extermination!

The Lilliputian mayhem is its own reward, and the only thing Bruticus is missing is a giant magnifying glass to set the tiny Autobots ablaze. But then, I guess, he has a giant flamethrower instead. And he’s not even the biggest dude in the game! As Optimus Prime (who’s puny but has a lot of heart), you issue orders to the city-sized Metroplex, who—as the most monstrously huge thing on the planet—reliably lays waste to all Prime’s real estate. My inner 10-year-old hasn’t been this geeked since Crossfire.

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  • Staggering Stew Bum

    ME3 SPOILERS

     I’m not really commenting here either way on the wisdom of that creative decision, but what I did like about it—the thing BioWare undoubtedly got right—was the decision to kill Shepard no matter what.

    But there is that Shepard breath scene at the end when you’ve got a decent sized galactic fleet and pick the Destroy option. I’d be interested on what you think that was all about, Drew. Everyone here knows what I think, but why would Bioware throw that little cutscene in at the very end under very specific circumstances? Also, I think we would all like to know if Drew Shepard had a particularly bitchin’ moustache.

    • frogandbanjo

      I was going to make this comment, and I think it serves as evidence that Bioware had no truly unified vision for the end of their game, much less a vision that united the rest of the game with the ending(s). The “breath scene” is in keeping with the game’s pulp-space-opera roots, which were in evidence throughout the entire trilogy. The rest of the ending was not.

      The only difference between a pulp space opera and a Lovecraftian space horror is that the good guys win in the former and lose in the latter. Bioware got caught up trying to carve out a third path very late in the game, and it was a train wreck. Lovecraftian horrors can monologue – and Sovereign had some of the best horror monologues in recent sci-fi/fantasy history in ME1 – but they can’t actually explain their plans and motivations… well, unless of course you have a team of writers that can walk the tightrope between too-insane and too-reasonable. The ME team did not succeed.

      Shepard should’ve been able to Paragon/Renegade/Lawyerball the Star-Holo-Architect-Baby into the next galaxy with how ass-tarded his bullshit was.

      • Ktotwf

        Frankly don’t buy your analysis.

        The supposed bleakness of the ending wasn’t meant to be some gesture towards Lovecraftian nihilism (although anyone who has actually read Lovecraft realizes that in a decent percentage of his stories the protagonists do just fine).

        In my opinion the game gave us, in retrospect, a whole spectrum of experience along the Pulpish vs. Hopeless line.

        We have Shepard basically curbstomping a Reaper and pulling off a Bond one liner on Palaven, we have Shepard using a giant uberbeastie to kill a Reaper destroyer (which gladdened my heart.)

        What really pleases me about Mass Effect 3′s ending to this day, as someone who has an inordinate love for cool villains, is that they did not undersell the power and badassery of the Reapers. Even having gathered every warship in the galaxy, you can do nothing but stall the Reaper’s inevitable victory.

        That went a LONG way towards justifying the epic scope of the threat that had been built up in the first game (i.e. that the Reapers had been running the show for at least a billion years, undefeated)

        “Shepard should’ve been able to Paragon/Renegade/Lawyerball the
        Star-Holo-Architect-Baby into the next
         galaxy with how ass-tarded his
        bullshit was.”

        I’m surprised so many took issue with the Reaper purpose. It was pretty damn close to what I suspected all along. People who believed that the Reapies were all about mindless malevolence simply were not studied enough in sci-fi history or perceptive enough of the little hints along the way.

        Even the original ending, which was abandoned, featured the Reapers attempting to harness the human species to combat galactic destruction via dark matter.

        • frogandbanjo

          All of your examples are of a pulp hero kicking ass and taking names. It’s only at the very end that the pulp is subverted, and even then, there’s the “breath scene” to address.

          Unknowable horror does not collapse into mindless malevolence unless the writers fail to sell the former, or, as they did in ME3, they attempt to explain the inexplicable and fail miserably. Shepard’s actions re: the Quarians and Geth serve as evidence that the Star Child’s logic is flawed or that its ultimate purpose is obsolete. Its willingness to risk entire collected civilizations in order to harvest additional unwilling ones is nonsensical. Its refusal to communicate with organics and its unwillingness to simply delete all synthetic life are never adequately explained. The discarded Dark Energy plotline, as disappointing as it still might have been given that it still attempted to explain the inexplicable, at least gave the Reapers a solid reason to harvest unwilling civilizations even at the cost already-harvested civilizations, and a small shred of a reason to not bother trying to communicate with them as peers (though not a particularly good one.)

          As a player, I was offended that my Shepard, who had heroically defied the odds and spit in the face of everything this idiot hologram was spouting, had to just stand there and listen to its garbage. Not since Lords of Shadow had I been so completely underwhelmed by an ending while I was experiencing it.

          To experience it at the end of a trilogy that had been sold upon the premise that player decisions would matter was monumentally disappointing, though not incredibly surprising given how ramshackle much of ME3′s main plotline had already been. The first time my Shepard got railroaded into being shaken up by a slo-mo dream sequence, I knew I was in for a bad trip.

        • Ktotwf

          “All of your examples are of a pulp hero kicking ass and taking names.”

          You are aggravating one of my pet peeves, which is overusing the term “pulp”. But…nevertheless…

          “It’s only at the very end that the pulp is subverted, and even then,
          there’s the “breath scene” to address.”

          The “pulp” isn’t subverted…the situation just gets increasingly more desperate. That is pulpish as all get out. In short, I don’t agree with the narrative that the Mass Effect ending was meant to be some excursion into Cosmic Horror, it was just meant to bring the scale down to something that could be meaningfully decided by one lone hero.

          The breath scene almost certainly exists simply to reward players.

          “Shepard’s actions re: the Quarians and Geth serve as evidence that the
          Star Child’s logic is
          flawed or that its ultimate purpose is obsolete.”

          The Star Child made it pretty clear that he was talking about the inevitability of conflict between AI and organic life on vast, probably cosmic time scales.

          In that sense, confusing peace between the Geth and Quarians as evidence that the Star Child was wrong is confusing winning a battle for winning the war. Players may not LIKE it per se, but the Star Child is supposed to be a being who has lived through cycles of organic development for thousands of millions of years. If he is saying that AI will always turn on its creators, you really just have to accept that based on his vast experience. If he cares about preventing such a problem, as he obviously does, he isn’t going to discount the evidence of his unimaginably long vigil over a fragile peace that was made 5 minutes ago. THAT would have been stupid.

          “Its willingness to risk entire collected civilizations in order to harvest additional unwilling ones is nonsensical.”

          Not really, if his purpose is to prevent AIrmageddon. I never got the impression that his “collection” of civilizations was really his first and foremost responsibility. He was not preserving those civilizations for their benefit, per se, it was just a nice side effect that he got to keep them around.

          Organic civilizations are clearly a renewable resource, and the Reaper plan had been so effective up to that point in time that their collective risk had been minimal, given their combination of technological dominance, surprise, strategic mobility, etc.

          “Its refusal to communicate with organics”

          Why would it? The organics’ response would be “No, don’t kill us!” and the Reapers’ response would have to be “Nope, sorry.” It would be like a pest controller chatting with roaches before gassing them…Why would that be seen as a good thing?

          The civilizations have nothing that the Reapers want that can be gained by anything other than their extinction.

          “Unknowable horror does not collapse into
           mindless malevolence unless the writers fail to sell the former”

          There almost certainly would have been an equal backlash if they had never tried to explain the Reapers. This is a supremely subjective point, as, even on the AVClub the Reapers were already being referred to in reviews as “generic galactic threats”

    • Fluka

      *Looks around at the comment board exploding in Mass Effect 3 ending discussions around around her.*

      Oh god, it’s all happening over again!  We need to end the cycle once and for all…

      *Pulls herself out of the wreckage.  Slowly trudges forward, before breaking into a sprint.  Throws herself into a beam of pure white light.*

      *Disintegrates as she is broken down, and the Internet DNA of the Pro-Ending and Anti-Ending Gameological commenters is merged into one.*

      *Ushers in a bold new era of NO MORE MASS EFFECT ENDING ARGUMENTS*

      • Mr_OCD

        *Cue: images of happy, agreeable commenters holding hands and wearing broad smiles, accompanied by a comforting voice-over about how the Internet has been saved.

        • Electric Dragon

          That depends on your Gameologic Readiness Score. Post more comments, drop into the Steam chat, get more likes and Comment Cat citations to improve your score!

          Have a low score and you’ll be faced by images of websites on fire, routers exploding and commenters lying dead on the page.

      • Effigy_Power

        I am with you on that one, even to the point where I wrote out a reply to someone above and then deleted it. I have rarely been so sick and tired of a singular topic in gaming.
        From now on all my ME3 arguments are going to state that Shepard awoke in a fantasy world with a red scar over her/his nose and took the name Hawke.
        Deal with it.

        • Fluka

          I like the way you think!

          Though I won’t be swayed from my belief that the game ended this way, with love and friendship and puppies!

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

          @Fluka:disqus: Nooooo! It’s all wrong! Garrus marries Tali! Shepard is lesbian! Ashley is alive! Kaidan is dead! And James marries his muscles!

        • Halloween_Jack

          @Merve: From now on my headcanon has Vega laying on top of the shuttle, crooning “You Are My Special Angel” to his bicep, while Steve Gomez retches in a wastebasket.

        • Ktotwf

          I don’t like the endless debates either, but as someone who thoroughly enjoyed the entire series, I feel it is my duty to speak up against the seemingly overwhelming E-Hordes who acted like the ending was worse than AIDS and raped their childhood.

          A huge part of that is that the Bioware fanbase is unbearable though.

        • Fluka

          @Ktotwf:disqus I feel the same way (and I’m pretty sure the BioWare Social Network needs to be nuked from orbit – it’s the only way to be sure!).  But at this point it feels like the ME3 ending has passed into the same category as arguing about religion or abortion on the internet.  The urge to step in and say your side’s piece is *overwhelming*, but no one’s gonna sway anyone else’s opinion at this point.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia

        We will remember you in the best way we know how. By erecting a statue of your cat.

        • Fluka

          That seems about right.

    • Captain Internet

      My personal take on that scene is that Shepard lies there and starves to death, staring ruefully at some heavy lifting equipment that has been shut down by the Reapers because it features voice control. Oh, the irony!

      I didn’t like the ending. It felt like the moment when you leave a flat and the landlord tells you he’s going to keep half your deposit for completely made-up reasons, even though you’ve spent two days washing the walls and you’ve always paid your rent on time. 

      But what I eventually hated most about the ending was the ugly discussion of it. 
      “The ending is a deus ex machina”
      “You’re just entitled”

      People were bludgeoning each other with these phrases over and over again until they stopped meaning anything. Or rather, people in less refined areas of the Internet were. It was mostly fine here.

      Anyway, I second the demand for moustache disclosure.

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

      Walking Dead aside, it’s b***s**** to kill a player character “no matter what” in a game that is supposed to be able player agency. Death should be the result of failure. Like Heavy Rain or … Mass Effect 2.

      The breathe scene in Mass Effect 3 doesn’t count. As we barely get to see the product of our effort anyway. In Heavy Rain, if you fail to save Sean and the cops catch you then you die in prison, and the killer gets away. This is effective only because if you had a legit chance to get some variation on a happy ending.

      It’s like Bane said “There can be no despair without hope.” Shepard’s fate is meaningless when all that effort you put into raising an army gets you … essentially the same result each time. Why even bother?  Bane’s prison only worked because it was possible to escape, just REALLY hard.

    • Ralphie_in_Vegas

      SPOILERS

      Um, yeah, and not everyone died in the end of mine.  I had the control ending, and Shepard didn’t strictly die in that one, though he wasn’t human anymore.  Evenryone else survived, including most biological life in the universe.  It was as happy an ending as I could have imagined.  (I just couldn’t do the “synthesis” thing, even though it was an option, as it seemed dickish to me to aribtrarily rearrange and combine all life in the universe without getting consent.  But that seemed like a possible “happy” ending as well.)

    • GaryX

      For more Mass Effect nonsense, the Bombcast this week has a loooong discussion of ME3, its weird relationship with story-important DLC, and the ending because Brad finally fucking finished it. It’s pretty good. Minus Jeff shit talking MGS1 in favor of MGS2.

    • Halloween_Jack

      Having finally played through to the end, I suspect that even if Shepard is still alive in the Destroy ending, he/she won’t be for long; the Star Child noted that, being part cyborg (thanks to Project Lazarus), Shepard will die in the Destroy ending as well as EDI and all the geth. The last gasp seems to be a sop thrown to people who pick Destroy so that they don’t feel bad about EDI or their new-found robot allies.

  • Ktotwf

     God, it is a real breath of fresh air to see someone defend the Mass Effect 3 ending. The childish internet backlash has subsided mostly, and I think we can begin to acknowledge how special that series really was.

    • Juan_Carlo

      I loved the ending.  The original one, pre-DLC.  I see it as one of the best and most memeorable video game endings ever.

      Especially (spoilers) for the moment when you storm the teleporter.  Using ME2 logic, I figured that whatever teammates came with me would survive, so I picked my two favorite cast members, stormed the the teleporter……then BOOM everyone’s dead and you are left limping on your own with a pistol.  That was such a great, emotional, gut punch moment that video games rarely ever do well.

      Plus, I thought the original synthesis ending made sense precisely because they explained so little of it, which allowed it to work quite elegantly on a more thematic/symbolic level.  With the DLC they completely ruined it, though, with all the added exposition (to the point where it’s just silly).  It’d be like if people got pissed at the ending of “2001″ and Kubrick responded by filming Arthur C Clarke’s original script which provided really mundane explanations for the baby and the light show, etc, etc.  Not saying ME3 is as good as “2001,” just saying that sometimes some things are best left a bit open to interpretation–especially with SCI-FI where exposition can get incredibly silly really quickly.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/KDAH337DI42PLCMPSXDKF47HOY Thomas OLeary

        The fundamental and unilateral violation of every sentient being in the universe through heretofore nonexistent space magic worked for you on a thematic/symbolic level?

        • Fluka

          I don’t think anyone would deny that Synthesis has sinister overtones with respect to choice and free-will – the game freely admits that (I forget if the original version has Shepard saying some thing like “that’s a big decision”…).  All three/four endings have massive caveats attached.  I think the thematic element here which “works” for many people (including myself), however, is the breaking of a cycle of violence, with Shepard’s death and genetic material giving birth to a fresh start and new hope and possibility.  And hey, the game lets you *not choose it!*

      • Dwigt

        Your favorite cast members are already shown as being alive in the original endings, which negated some or most of the gut punch.

        The reveal that the most important conflict in the history of the universe was organics vs synthetics, hours after you could settle for good the Quarians vs Geth war, felt out of place and clumsy. Besides, it’s totally illogical for the Star Child to have one single dying man making a choice that involves the definitive destiny of the whole universe by hearing a one minute sum-up of three alternatives.

        The whole ending is a missed opportunity. You can love the concept but the execution is just poorly thought out, and no amount of additional scenes can save it. It’s not as if the rest of the game was spotless. The writers gave us of instance Kai Leng, which was a boring character and an obnoxious writing device.

        • GaryX

          Agreed. For the 11th hour twist to have worked, elements of it would have actually had to be in the background the entire series. It wasn’t. At best you had the Geth/Quarian which was never more than a subplot and, as you stated, gets righted on its own only for the magic child to go “Oh no, that doesn’t count.”

      • Fluka

        Might I recommend the super-smashy words of Film Crit Hulk as an agreement with your comment?

        Re the extended cut, I was actually glad for a little resolution regarding how my crew got from point A to point B in the finale, and that no one starved to death. However, I never needed pictures of green-eyed Krogan babies, or an assurance that “everything is totally okay in the galaxy now, yo!”

        I think what bothers me most about the whole Retake movement is not the intense criticism of the ending – that’s fine, people argue about art all the time.  It’s the refusal to let art *fail*.  The whole thing had the tenor of people arguing about the functions on a blender.  ”This function on the blender does not work properly!  I paid for a product with an advertised function, now you need to issue me a new one!”  Mass Effect is not a goddamn blender.  Books, films, games, TV, etc all need to be able to try new things, go unexpected routes, and royally screw up sometimes, or things are going to stay safe and boring.

        • Mr_OCD

          Thumps up for a great post. Risk-taking needs to be rewarded, not vehemently criticized.

        • Effigy_Power

          The emphasis being that while risk-taking shouldn’t be criticized, a shoddy end-result of that risk-taking should.
          Otherwise every half-baked game is from now on going to end on insane notes like “The bad guys in Dishonored 2 are cats made out of toast who need the rat-plague to feed their kittens”, only to state that “we took a risk and are thereby immune to criticism, unless you want us to go back to the usual stuff”.
          Taking risks is fine, but so is living with the consequences.
          Also, Shepard awoke in a fantasy world with a scar over her/his nose and now goes by the name Hawke.

    • IntotheNightSky

      I don’t think Mass Effect 3 would have been so heavily criticized if people didn’t already consider Mass Effect to be an exceptional series.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/KDAH337DI42PLCMPSXDKF47HOY Thomas OLeary

      a God came Out of a Machine.

      Do I really have to say anything more to damn the quality of the ending’s writing?

      • Mr_OCD

        And in the ending of Kubrick’s 2001, a star child is born.

        What’s your point?

        • Captain Internet

          Yeah, exactly. And there’s that bit at the end where a midget dressed as a wizard pops out from behind the monolith and says to Dave “Now you’ve evolved, you can join us for space tennis! We were short of a fourth player”

          Great film.

        • Mr_OCD

          @Captain_Internet:disqus lol.

          Yeah, I don’t think zero exposition would have made the game any more palatable to the detractors. A completely visual ending wouldn’t have gelled at all with the rest of the games’ more dialogue-y nature. I could be wrong, of course. You never know with these creative geniuses…

          In any case,  I’d cater that the “midget’s” role here was hardly as obnoxiously on-the-nose and pointless as the one characterized in your post. But, of course, that was meant to be an exaggerated interpretation so I may just be nit-picking.

        • http://profile.yahoo.com/KDAH337DI42PLCMPSXDKF47HOY Thomas OLeary

           It was a literal case of Deus ex Machina.

          …apparently that needed explaining nowadays.

    • frogandbanjo

      The series collapsed under its own weight in the third game. If anything, the ME trilogy serves as a cautionary tale for anyone who wants to make a grand, sweeping epic of a video game where player choices really matter. At the end of the day it’s still all a bunch of IF/THENs spiraling out beyond the borders of any conceivable budget. ME3′s audio, video, branching, storytelling, and ending all suffered because there was just no way to do both a big enough and a good enough job simultaneously.

      If ME3 had been nothing but Palavin and Tuchanaka, it might have been good enough, but it wouldn’t have been big enough. Taken as a whole, it was neither.

      • Ktotwf

         This is a much more legitimate criticism. Mass Effect was not a wholly successful attempt at building a truly branching story, I give you that. And more money and time could have been spent making the final battle seem bigger.

      • Dwigt

        This.
        I didn’t have issues with Shepard dying, as (s)he was on borrowed time since the beginning of ME2, as other people reported.
        I have issues with the pacing of the whole finale, mostly the same that ME 3 writer Patrick Weekes posted:

        http://www.gamefront.com/did-a-mass-effect-3-writer-slam-the-ending/

        The whole London-Citadel episode was the child of Casey Hudson and Mac Walters, with very limited allowed input from the rest of the writers. It was the only section of the game that didn’t get peer reviews.

        BTW, Weekes isn’t a disgruntled former employee. He worked on all three episodes and he’s still a Bioware employee who just revealed a little too much before deleting his own post.

        As Weekes noticed, the last part of the ending, the one with the Catalyst puts all emphasis on only one of the major themes in the three episodes, Organics vs Synthetics, and it wasn’t even the most important. It does so with a clumsily introduced new character, the notorious Star Child, who carries zero emotional resonance with what happened before. The writing is poor, we get lots of exposition about stuff we never heard before and will never hear again, and Shepard is asked to die by choosing something or something else that was never properly prepared by the rest of the game (compare this to DX:HR, where at least most of the choices had spokespersons before). I haven’t played the extended cut (I didn’t feel the urge, at least before the original ME was released on PS3 and I could play the three games one after the other) but the drama in the original version was just poor.
        Not to mention the post-credits message after the voice-over by Buzz Aldrin and the somewhat tasteless promise about DLC…

        I’d even call the polemics about the ending and the whole “Retake Mass Effect” movement the most positive thing for gaming in 2012. Sure, there were a few idiots who wanted Shepard to live. But most of them felt, rightfully, that the ending was a sloppy job that cheapened the whole experience, posted theories and videos, created the “Marauder Shields” pseudo-explanation, stuff that was more creative and fulfilling than the actual ending.
        Between that and the legitimate criticism addressed at Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (another first rate creative effort hindered by poor writing), the Web has been more and more the place for community constructive (and dialectic) criticism, as opposed to plain rejection and flame wars.

        • Mr_OCD

          It was certainly a very ambitious ending. There’s no doubt about that and that’s something, I hope, we can all agree on. I’m definitely one of those who loved the ending. The way it subverted audience expectations by conjuring an abstract spirit in the shape of the boy from Shepard’s recurring nightmares and providing the player with three completely unexpected choices was a bold, brave artistic decision that I believe Bioware and the writing team deserve to be commended for. It was ambiguous, it was unpredictable,  and it wasn’t your typical cookie-cutter ending to a series which had pretty much been faithful to its rules up to that point. 

          I realize this is an unpopular opinion, yes. And I won’t lie: I was initially left a little unfulfilled by the ending like so many others. I suppose I wanted one of those feel-good victories, one in which I could see all of my galactic alliances join hands together and take down those damned formidable Reapers in a very LOTR fashion. The idea of a fourth choice (that of silence to, and rejection of, the boy’s three alternatives) was an exciting, compelling one, and one I had wished the writers would have included. I didn’t want no silly, fancy options that I didn’t quite understand anyway. I wanted something more explicitly creatively aligned with what had come before (and well, more aligned with the ending I had hoped for since I got a handle on what the heck was happening in that first game). Plus the plot-holes and logical errors were really frustrating.

          But that doesn’t make any sense, of course. And with time, the ending has really grown on me. The “my choices didn’t have any effect on the final decision, guys!” complaint doesn’t really matter to me anymore. I think there’s something poetic about how the individual efforts of some man (while having immediate implications) suddenly take a different shape and meaning when viewed from a cosmic perspective. That whole sequence with the boy was haunting and disorienting especially because things looked so much different from where we had been standing during the three previous games.

          Some have called it solely an “intellectual” ending and one which lacks emotional resonance, which is funny to me because I thought there was certainly something emotional about having to be up there with Shepard having to take such vast universal decisions that he knows will have implications for his friends and loved ones. You could hear the strain in his voice.

          I also don’t agree about how the ending only focuses on the Organics vs Synthetics theme since the ending doesn’t only consist of the Catalyst scene. The scenes that come prior to and the scenes that follow the Catalyst scene very explicitly deal with these other important themes and they are certainly part of the “ending”. Having said that, some of the major themes of the game were about sacrifice, about the grey questions for which there are no clear and easy answers, about the pursuit of the greater good, about the preservation and importance of existence and life, etc. and I do believe that the Catalyst/three choices scene very clearly incorporated all of these elements.

          I’m also glad that the backlash occurred since it caused the release of that free ending DLC, which took care of some of the continuity stuff that bothered on that first viewing (yes, despite those cheap slides… but I’ll gladly take any exposition regarding the consequences of my decision).

          To conclude this damned post, the game isn’t exactly perfect (Kai Leng, sigh) but it’s definitely somewhere close to perfection for me. It’s definitely given me one of the most, if not ‘the’ most, transcendent experiences I’ve ever had.

        • Dwigt

          @Mr_OCD:disqus If you read the Weekes comments I gave a link to, you will see that the sequence that takes place in the London bunker, where you can have a conversation with your teammates and the main NPCs of the three games were a suggestion by the other writers, one of the few ones that was taken into consideration. Weekes was also the guy who admitted that the ending was a little too cold and intellectual, rather than really emotional.
          I could agree that the change of perspective in the final scenes was meant to be jarring, but I do feel that the game does a poor job to show the contrast. That was Directing 101. If the game had opposed the different scopes more strongly during the sequence (microcosm vs macrocosm, instant vs eternity), it would have been much more effective.
          Some people here mention 2001. But Kubrick paved the way with the long psychedelic trip and the overall weirdness of the final sequence. He doesn’t get back to Dave Bowman trying to outwit a computer in the 18th Century furniture. And I could argue that the whole movie is basically about mankind perpetually trying to get what’s in sight and out of reach for them, and the reflection that finally brings some self-awareness of our nature. From my point of view, the ending is perfectly in line with the rest of the movie. Not the one for ME3.

          I never wanted the ending to take into consideration every choice that I had made. For one thing, I think that the game does a wonderful job in wrapping most of the main story lines. But I never felt that it really worked. Walters and Hudson tried to find a middle ground between free choice and forced resolution and didn’t get a good compromise. If the choices had shown more clearly that Shepard had no idea of the whole picture, it would have been better. If the game had hinted that Shepard had tried desperately to have other choices and had been forced to relent to the three he was given, it would have been better. If the game had even more radically decided to remove the illusion of choice in the endings, whatever Shepard originally had in mind, it would have been better.

          But my main point is that I think that Drew makes a mistake by celebrating ME3 basically for having the guts to kill the main character at the end. It’s like celebrating a movie because it doesn’t stick to some points of the Hollywood template. There are many, too many film critics who praise otherwise average indie flix because of that.

        • Mr_OCD

          Well, no doubt that the comparisons with 2001 are a bit… premature, to say the least (and yes, I’m guilty for mentioning it). For starters, the ME series ain’t nearly as perfect as 2001… but then, the comparison isn’t very fair either because we’re essentially comparing 120 hours with 2. In other words, the former product is bound to be relatively imperfect. And you’re again quite right about how the ending of the movie was pitch-perfect (in that it was perfectly aligned with what came before) in a way in which ME’s ending might not be. But I don’t want to chalk that off as a vice just yet. The fact that the Catalyst scene was so ambiguous – and the themes weren’t spelled out – is what made it strangely more affecting. IMO, might I hastily add. 

          Would it have been better “if the choices had shown more clearly that Shepard didn’t know the whole picture”? Possibly. But I don’t know how they could have made this more “clearer”. Excessive wordiness could have hurt and if they took out the exposition that was already there, then ‘that’ wouldn’t have aligned well with what came before. Would it have been better if Shepard tried to fight for a fourth alternative and reluctantly chosen one of the three he was given? Maybe… but I certainly thought there was something strangely poignant about his behavior in that scene. He sounded exhausted and defeated, and at the same time, as though he was operating on a higher plane of consciousness (as if everything was ‘clearer’ now). And I suppose, in a way, I’m not surprised about the backlash because, while everything is ‘clearer’ to Shepard, it ain’t much ‘clearer’ to all those people who wanted the Catalyst to wipe out the Reapers in a neat good-conquers-all resolution. In a way, the Catalyst ending was the creative team’s (well, those guys that came up with it, anyway) vision of the future, i.e. the merging of synthetics and organics to create another type of being. Sure, there were other choices but those weren’t exactly the “happy” endings.

          And yeah, I wholeheartedly agree with your ‘main’ point. I mean, I cared about whether Shepard died or not but not to the point where I thought there was one “right” answer. It all depended on the execution. And, as you can see, I’m fine with how it all turned out (mostly).

      • GaryX

        In this regard, I think The Walking Dead (though I still need to finish it, so mark spoilers please) handles choice much better. Yes, it’s still moving along one story line with its own deviations, but while your impact may not be hugely felt plot wise, it absolutely affects the tone of the game. Particularly, I think of Episode 2 which can run the gamut of a bloody revenge story to the story of one man fighting to save his soul in a soulless world. After the success of it, I hope game designers start using choice as a means to engage players with the story rather than using it to try to sell them that its their own story. At least until the technology makes the latter possible. 

    • http://twitter.com/NickPetrilli Nick Petrilli

      The game had a literal deus ex machina. How can anyone support an ending with a LITERAL DEUS EX MACHINA?

      • http://www.facebook.com/travis.stewart.9406417 Travis Stewart

        Fairly easily, actually. See: The first Ghost in the Shell movie.

        • Fluka

          Let’s go back even further.  Euripides loved that shit!

        • Mr_OCD

          Terrific film.

      • NichaelBluth

        I don’t know. I kind of feel like the deserved backlash of the ME3 ending is forming its own backlash. The ending was a poorly written, rush job, which clashed with the rest of the themes of the series.

      • http://twitter.com/djbeema Reuben

         It happened in all the Deus Ex games. Do those not count because it was acknowledged in the game titles?

        • Effigy_Power

          I’d say that people hadn’t invested as much emotion into the characters, the plots and the setting. The outrage over ME3 reflects the deep connection players had to it, whereas DX, both just fine gamewise, weren’t as emotionally charged and really aren’t quite in the same league when it comes to the decisions.

    • SaoirseRonanTheAccuser

      Film Crit Hulk – one of my all-time favorite film-writers, weird as that sounds – actually wrote a lengthy and spirited defense of the ending.  While he makes a lot of good points, I do think that he looks at the ending from the viewpoint of a film-critic, rather than from a gamer, so while his insights are interesting, I think there’s room for the defense that, while the ending was thematically satisfying, it didn’t feel like an ending to the 100 hours of gameplay that preceded it.

      http://filmcrithulk.wordpress.com/2012/08/06/a-few-words-on-the-ending-of-mass-effect-3/

      http://filmcrithulk.wordpress.com/2012/08/20/a-few-more-words-on-the-column-about-the-ending-of-mass-effect-3/

      • Mr_OCD

        Yeah, I don’t necessarily disagree with that.

        This also reminds me why I kinda like Hulk (despite the gimmick, yes).

        • http://twitter.com/djbeema Reuben

           I like what he writes but the fact that he writes it in all caps makes me very unlikely to finish reading his generally lengthy posts. I can usually get through the first two paragraphs before I want to rip out my eyes. Is there something where I can paste in all caps and have it auto changed to normal capitalization?

        • Mr_OCD

          @twitter-259492037:disqus 
          You took the words right out of my mouth. I can’t get past the first few paragraphs of his elaborate posts. And what I read, I normally always agree with.

          And no, I don’t know of this mythical device that converts Hulk talk into normal language but I’m too lazy to do the relevant google searches right now.

        • GaryX

          @twitter-259492037:disqus @Mr_OCD:disqus He’s such a good writer. I can’t understand why he still does the gimmick. It’s annoying and mostly half-baked. At times it feels like he throws in a little Hulk speech because he suddenly remembered that’s who he’s supposed to be.
          Once, I sent an article he wrote to a friend who was just like “What is this? Why is a guy pretending to write like Hulk? He’s not Hulk” and found myself trying to explain it, stopped, and realized it was all very weird.

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

          @twitter-259492037:disqus: You might be looking for something like this: http://www.convertcase.net/

        • http://twitter.com/djbeema Reuben

          @Merve2:disqus You just saved Christmas

    • indy2003

      Count me in as another person who’s glad to see Mass Effect 3 finally getting some love. If forced to choose, I’d single out Mass Effect 2 as the best installment, but I still think it’s a series which adds up to more than the sum of its parts. That series as a whole was an immensely rich, emotional experience which affected me on a level most games are completely incapable of reaching. I’ve never felt as much fondness for a game character as I do for my paragon version of Madeline Shepard – a great leader and a fundamentally good person. I found myself striving to have the character act in a way which felt consistent with my notion of who she was, which isn’t something I’ve felt in many RPGs (my character in Oblivion would transform from a noble man of the people to a cold-blooded assassin in a heartbeat – I was more interested in experiencing the variety the game offered than creating a well-defined character arc). Part of me wants to go back and do a renegade playthrough at some point just to see what it’s like, but at the same time I’m not crazy about the idea of revisiting that story without the specific version of Shepard I got to know so well over the course of that trilogy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=548430615 Sinjun Balabanoff

    To praise any part of Diablo 3′s writing is complete lunacy. 

    • frogandbanjo

      The single-player sidekicks’ patter was occasionally good. The five-hundredth time maybe not so much, but the Scoundrel’s lines actually had some staying power before I wanted to string him up next to “JON-DAAAAH” and “Hidden fewtprints!”

      Everything about the main storyline was trash though. The developers basically said that they had the main villains constantly yell their plans step-by-step to the player so that nobody would ever be confused about why they were going to the next area or killing the next 500 enemies.

      So let’s see… that’s utter contempt for the audience, terrible storytelling, terrible writing, and a tacit admission of the game’s capacity to send its players hurtling into a bottomless pit of existential despair.

      I’m not sure why they were worried about that final issue, however; after all, the Real Money Auction House was there to let everybody know what the real point of the game was. If somebody falls into existential despair even when they can spend and earn Real Money, well then, that’s really not Blizzard’s fault now is it?

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      Yeah, I thought that was kinda weird too. There are little quips that the characters in Dota say, and while occasionally funny, they mostly don’t annoy me simply because there are so many different characters. If I was playing one character the whole time I’d definitely shut off their talking. Similarly, LoL had characters say quippy things but I had to disable that because the majority of the voice acting was super oobnoxious.

  • http://wpham.com/ wpham

    Earlier this year, I finally got a new desktop after three years of abusing a laptop not quite meant for gaming.

    One of the most thrilling uses of that horsepower was loading up Planetside 2.  I’d never played the original, and had close to nothing in the way of expectations.  I created a character and picked an area for “Instant Deployment.”  As my pod fell through the atmosphere, I tried to recall what little FPS fundamentals I had from playing the original Unreal Tournament.  30 seconds later, I was dead with a huge grin on my face.  That first session lasted six hours, frantically trying to get my bearings, killing and dying (mostly dying) in a 3-faction meatgrinder at a fortified location.

    Planetside 2 manages to capture a sense of scale missing from just about every other online game.  The game can be brutally unforgiving, suitably lonely, and not fun at all if you don’t have a group of friends or an organized outfit with which to play, but if you do have either or both of those, the experience is unmatched.  And when I’m holding a position against seemingly insurmountable odds or capturing tactical points with fluency, there’s a small part of my brain that remembers a dream I had after watching that original MacWorld trailer for Halo over a decade ago.

    • eggbuerto

       Right there with you. It is quickly becoming my favorite game of the year for all the reasons you mentioned. I’ll always find the time for MMOs that are brave enough to step back and let all the action be player-driven; even if it means the game will not be accessible to everyone.

    • GaryX

      Fuuuuu I need to build a computer. What kind of desktop did you get?

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

        I built one last spring – my first time doing so – and Newegg has some nice bundles which are a good entry-point. The components are chosen to go together, so you’re less likely to run into weird unforeseen compatibility issues (which was good for me as a novice), and you can sometimes find pretty good deals.

        • GaryX

          Ah this is awesome. Thanks. I’ve been reading up on it, and it seems a bit daunting but not that bad.

        • Effigy_Power

          Also, for barebones which are a great starting point:
          http://www.tigerdirect.com

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

        The Ars Technica system guide was also invaluable to me, though it may not be super up-to-date now. They did a comprehensive one a year ago, covering a variety of different types of systems you may want to build, and more recently did an updated one specifically about building a decent “bargain box,” getting the most bang for your buck.

        • GaryX

          Oh cool. I didn’t know they did one. I know of a Lifehacker one that’s pretty great and a Tested one that’s good as well. So I’ll add that to my study list. Will hopefully get to build it in the next few months. 

          I get the added excuse of it not being just for games but for design work too so that’s nice.

      • GaryX

        Oh cool. I didn’t know they did one. I know of a Lifehacker one that’s pretty great and a Tested one that’s good as well. So I’ll add that to my study list. Will hopefully get to build it in the next few months. 

        I get the added excuse of it not being just for games but for design work too so that’s nice.

  • Nudeviking

    Draw Something is way more fun with people you know.  The amount of random personal jokes and call backs to earlier real life adventures that pop up while drawing a mammoth or vampire is way more fun than trying to guess what some random lady’s stick figures are suppose to be conveying.

    • TheKingandIRobot

       My favorite Draw Something story: 
      I accepted a random new player’s drawing and started trying to guess it when I realized he was just spelling out the world “Pirate” on screen.  This is a major disappointment of an opening bid and I don’t want to be part of someone’s slow-growth coin gathering enterprise.  I write down pirate, select “Drapes” for my own assignment, and draw grapes.

      An hour later, it’s my turn again.  I watch with glee as the guy tries again and again to spell grapes.  Fortune has provided him with a random decoy G, and he is furious.  He thinks he might be spelling it wrong!  He even tries out “greaps.”  He uses a bomb.  It is glorious.  Eventually he gives up and sees drapes, probably assuming I just make a mistake.  He then sends over the written word “CarlyRae.”  I fail it because that’s more fun, and send over a drawing again.  I don’t remember what my word was, but I drew grapes.

      This continued for two more turns, all over the course of a day.  He writes out a word with no attempt to draw it, I fail miserably, only pausing long enough to try and spell dirty words with the tiles, then I draw grapes.  Eventually, it’s my turn again.  His little note after my last drawing of grapes is “FU, stop drawing grapes.”  I respond with a drawing of grapes and the message “Grapes is all I can draw.”  He is quick to respond with “well just write out the word then thx.” 

      So I write out the word “Grapes.”

      This seems to take him aback somewhat.  The game is quiet, for at least 24 hours.  I don’t hear from him.  Then eventually a new drawing is ready.  His note is “DO NOT DRAW OR WRITE GRAPES”.  His turn begins.  It’s him writing out “fuck you” over and over again and then resetting the page.  Then he spells out whatever word the actual challenge was.  I sent back a blank screen.  It had been previously established that grapes was all I could draw. 

    • Effigy_Power

      I had amazing fun with it and then lost all interest just as soon as all of my friends did. The fact that the game updated pretty much daily, downloading itself anew and anew without actually adding anything, didn’t endear it to anyone with a limited data-plan.
      The makers weren’t ready for the success of the game and that killed it.

  • http://twitter.com/TheBryanJZX90 TheBryanJZX90

    Dragon’s Dogma was easily my game of 2012. As a new IP it introduces several new ideas ripe for further refinement and expansion in a sequel or two (along with plenty of issues to address). More importantly than that, those new ideas have been added onto a core game that is just more fun to play than any of its competitors in the genre because of it’s engaging combat. It’s really a shame that the industry standard, Skyrim, avoids any attempt at creating a dynamic combat system, since such a large unavoidable portion of your interaction with these open-world RPGs is fighting things.

    Dragon’s Dogma gives you an ever-increasing repertoire of flashy tricks like massive sword uppercuts and lunges straight out of Devil May Cry, explosive booby traps, magic-infused counter attacks, or even a hail of meteors. The real reason the combat system works, though, is by limiting you to a small subset of those moves at any given time, and then giving you free access to those moves at any time, without ever having to interrupt the action to open any kind of menu or “action wheel.”

    Thus as an assassin you’re able to seamlessly pull out your bow to knock a flying enemy out of the air, switch to your sword and lunge at them on the ground, juggle them with an upward slash, and finish it off with a combo. Or as a mystic knight find a chokepoint like a bridge, lay down a sigil that launches into the air any enemy that steps onto it, then back up and lay down another magic cannon sigil that fires homing bolts of energy from your warhammer with every swing. Oh you can also layer that with a fire enchantment. And using fighter techniques like that uppercut with the magic cannon adds extra damage.

    I’d like Dragon’s Dogma even more if it had as many beautiful vistas and hidden discoveries as Skyrim, but I’d much rather play a game with interesting combat and so-so exploration than the other way around.

    • http://twitter.com/pocoGRANDES poco GRANDES

      Loved that game… It got so many little things right, like the way your character’s stride slows down as you’re about to run out of stamina. Or the way missed arrows can go bouncing off the landscape. Or how your character’s clothes show moisture when you touch water… It was definitely one of my favorites this year. Deserved better recognition than it got.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/KDAH337DI42PLCMPSXDKF47HOY Thomas OLeary

    No argument from me that Shepard needed to die.  That much was obvious.  I would have been thrilled if it had ended with Shepard and Anderson dying as they looked out at Earth.

    But then they tacked on several minutes of really, really bad writing that retroactively ruined the series for me.  I never finished my Renegade playthrough and I never even started my Paragade FemShep playthrough, because I knew that, no matter what I did, my Shepard would have to fundamentally violate his/her core beliefs to serve the whims of the only literal case of Deus ex Machina I have seen outside of Latin class.

    • Ktotwf

       It is neither a literal or figurative case of Deus Ex Machina.

      The machine that actually destroyed the Reapers (or whatever you chose to do) was a huge focus of the game. The characters talked about the Crucible ad nauseum.

      Also, Star Child was an AI collective representation of the Reapers. He was not a God and did not act as a Deus Ex Machina.

      • http://twitter.com/NickPetrilli Nick Petrilli

        You’re dumb. Just saying.

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

          What a reasoned and articulate rebuttal! Winning over hearts and minds with powerful heart-felt rhetoric, over here.

        • Fluka

          Dude.  We don’t do this kind of thing on this site.

        • Effigy_Power

          It’s the hoodie. It turns people into e-thugs.
          That and mustache-envy.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/DPREO4LMFDAFQTNXZLHSTERQIM Obie

        The Star Child does not need to be a literal God/god to be a deus ex machina.  Most people are referring to the literary device (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deus_ex_machina), where some new thing is introduced in the final act to either undo previous events or completely change the ending based on some previously unmentioned magic/technology/macguffin.  

        In the case of mass effect, the Star Child is introduced in the final act and gives Shepard 3 choices.  One of these, the synthesis which seems that the writers felt was the best/happy option, was only introduced in this last sequence and utilizes a technology or magic or something that has never been mentioned previously.  All this certainly seems like a Deus Ex Machina to me.

        • M_as_in_Mancy

          To be fair, the Synthesis option could be argued to be a possible goal of Saren’s from all the way back in the first game. Though obviously not a fully-formed idea at that point.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/KDAH337DI42PLCMPSXDKF47HOY Thomas OLeary

        He was an omnipotent AI with the power to rewrite DNA with space magic.  He was a God. And he came out of a machine.  So, in Latin, ibi fuit Deus ex Machina.

  • fieldafar

    I started playing Mark of the Ninja but had to stop because it did not like my TV. It was always too dark, even after turning up the brightness, turn on “Game Mode” and so on. I will get back to playing it though, definitely.

  • Destroy Him My Robots

    Dammit, I missed out on all the Mass Effect 3 talk when it came out and now I’m missing out again because I just couldn’t finish it in time for this. Can we have all of these discussions again in a week or two, please? …probably not.

    Well, here’s my pick #2 because I want to win this thing. That’s what this is about right?

    Kid Icarus: Uprising

    Kid Icarus: Uprising, like many good games, is a lot of things, many of them seemingly contradictory: Exuberant but carefully considered, cheeky but reverent, unpretentious but surprisingly invested in the three-dimensionality of its characters. It boasts an incredible soundtrack and some of the most accomplished visuals on its platform. Admittedly, it takes time to get used to, but it uses the stylus expertly – in the long run, this would have been a much slower and more imprecise experience with dual sticks. But the reason why it’s so endearing is because it not only cares about gaming, but playing. I’m a fan of gimmicks, and I don’t get how “Gimmick!” has become a battle cry for so many at all. I imagine them refusing to join their family for a session of The Game of Life because it has a wheel instead of dice and wheels aren’t pure enough or something. Kid Icarus: Uprising had me when I noticed you could move the tiles in the menu around. Not permanently, mind you. It’s not a feature to customize the menu to suit your needs. It’s just something to play with when you’re idling around, similar to how you might twirl poker chips in your hand or stack removed Jenga blocks on the side. It’s entirely unnecessary, but it demonstrates the game’s unfailing commitment to play.

    • Fluka

      The ME3 ending discussions will never end.  *Wraps arms around legs in a fetal position and rocks slowly back and forth.*  On the plus side, it managed to finally end all of the discussions of the Battlestar Galactica ending!

      • Effigy_Power

        It’s okay. Shep is now Hawke, having awoken in a fantasy world. Read the chantry bible.

        • Fluka

          Just remember!  You have only one year to prepare for the Dragon Age 3 Internet Argument Ragnarok.  Storm’s a’comin…

        • HobbesMkii

          Jeez. Spoiler tags, please.

  • Stuart_Bliss

    *ME3 SPOILERS*

    “My choices didn’t matter!” is one complaint I simply don’t understand about this ending. Personally, I loved it, but I could see how it might not be enough for some people. No argument that there were a lot of gaps. But saying it renders all your other choices moot? It certainly didn’t for me.

    I wasn’t playing as renegade or paragon, I was just running on instinct and trying to always put earth first. I was unable to create peace between Geth and Quarian. Not only did the Geth seem more beneficial to my army, but in my humble opinion, the Quarians were acting like jackasses so I sacrificed them. Fast forward to the end of the game and my “ABC” options. I chose blue. Goodbye, Geth.

    Maybe what people mean is, “I played the way I thought I was supposed to and the ending didn’t line up with that story.” Maybe people became too reliant on letting the game justify their actions and choices with little symbols. Maybe people finally just realized that it’s all a game, and it can only “matter” as much as you’re willing to believe it does.

    Because if I had chosen to save the Quarians, I would have ended up with new allies, instead of being singlehandedly responsible for the genocide of at least two races. At least to me, those are two very, very different results that both fall under the ‘blue’ ending and is only one of many choices that affected it, and painfully so.

    It should also be noted: I did a bad job at building the crucible, apparently, and accidentally vaporized Earth. My Shepard had one goal: Save humanity and our planet. Reapers opposed me, and I superhumanly took them down throughout each game, eventually finishing them off. But with my dying breath, I ultimately failed in the most spectacular way possible at my one objective. And I loved every minute of watching it unfold, and every minute it took to sink in.

    • GaryX

      I think it’s that you could get that “blue” ending regardless of what ever your other actions were. Nothing added to it. Most of the criticism of “choices don’t matter!” came out of reaction to what lead designers were saying about the game before release.

      See also: http://bit.ly/U7p9ny

    • Effigy_Power

      I think when people talk about choices not mattering, we may all be focusing a bit too much on the ending.
      What bugged me infinitely more was that complex decisions in the series, some of which were hailed as “integral to the end” (the Thorian, the Rachni Queen, the Reaper base…) ended up being quantified into a numerical value that didn’t make any distinction on how you got to a certain number.
      300 points for sparing the Rachni Queen? 300 points for destroying the Thorian? No difference in the end. And if you didn’t decide, you can always play multiplayer.
      All these critical-seeming decisions went the way of the House Cup in the Harry Potter series. While 50 points for Gryffindor seemed the ultimate goal in the first, towards the end the whole thing was just sort of abandoned.
      It felt a bit to me like I was carrying around a savegame with some very unique decisions that I thought would make a world of difference, only to realize that they didn’t and could easily have been replaced with other decisions.
      Of course my own expectations of what the ending “should” have been like had an influence on that, but then I guess I am fairly entitled to feel let down by that. I won’t go and threaten Bioware employees with violence, but the fact that a resounding cheer turned into a sad fart is probably my prerogative.
      Shed dying? Just fine by me. After all, my Shep awoke in a fantasy world with a scar over her nose and took the name Hawke, thus letting me hold off ultimate disappointment until someone bungles the end of that particular trilogy.

  • Mercenary_Security_number_4

    ***Mark of the Ninja UPDATE***
    When I first heard of this game, I mentioned that I would give it a try but that sooner or late I’d probably just end up blasting the gamma to 11.
    THE GAMMA IS MAXED.
    I like the game a lot, but after a while the darkness itself seems like a gimmick.

  • Andrew_Ryans_Caddy

    Asura’s Wrath is such wonderful, utter batshit. All you need to know is that one point one of the more calm and rational characters says, “If you won’t listen to reason, I’ll convince you with my fists!”

    And then it works. 

    • GaryX

      Is it worth 18 bucks on Amazon? I really want to play it and Spec Ops, but neither really seem worth it at full price.

      • SaoirseRonanTheAccuser

        Spec Ops, at least, is definitely worth it at 20$ or less.

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

        I paid $25 for it and I don’t regret it. But Gamefly had it for $7.50 a while back, I think. If you wait for holiday sales, you might be able to get it for super-cheap.

      • Andrew_Ryans_Caddy

        I think Spec Ops is around $20 on Amazon. I picked it up even though I’d already played it through as a rental, just because I want to play it again, and I almost never do that. 

        You’ll probably find Asura’s Wrath cheaper sooner or later.

  • Fluka

    Agree 100% with Drew Toal up above.  I am completely burnt out on nine months of in-depth discussions of the quality of the ME3 ending, however, so I want to ignore that for now and talk about the *other* parts.

    My game of the year was definitely Mass Effect 3, because the damn game made me *feel*things.  It really seems personal in a way that few other games do.  The overall arc of the game never changes – you always leave Earth, you always do missions on the same planets and moons, and you always end up on that platform at the end.  But both the big and small variations in that path feel significant, and damn it, it *did* feel like my choices mattered!  (Gonna be some spoilers here.)  Wrex being dead, but Eve being alive to lead the Krogan.  My relief when I was able to save both the Quarian and Geth fleets.  Garrus being by my Shepard’s side through all of it.  Running into all of the crew I had bonded with and saved in the previous games.  Telling Liara how I wanted to be remembered.  Putting off drinking with Doctor Chakwas until after victory (and later regretting it), or even just being kind to my flustered new ensign.  I know it’s an illusion of choice, but the final game really drove home the fact that games can provide a sense of personal involvement in narrative unlike any other medium.  That sense of narrative ownership is probably why a certain controversy really blew up as much as it did.

    I’ll also be eternally grateful to the series for letting me run around as a female Commander Shepard.  I know on a certain level she’s just a re-voiced, re-skinned version of male Shep (albeit with completely fantastic voice acting).  But it feels wonderful to be the charismatic space marine at the center of the story who *also just happens to be a woman*.  This is a small thing, but it’s an important thing.  It’s what piqued my interest in the series in the first place, and when I played the earlier games, what helped convince me that “yes, maybe I could really get into this gaming thing.”  ME3 and the rest of the series aren’t perfect (including wrt gender), but that feeling of inclusiveness makes me overlook a lot its faults.

    • The_Misanthrope

       I can’t overstate enough how much Jennifer Hale does to really make FemShep work.  She imbues the role with a Kathleen Turner level of gravitas.

    • Moonside_Malcontent

       Hear, hear.  Its occasional missteps notwithstanding, Bioware remains in the vanguard of inclusive and progressive gaming anywhere in the world.  Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the Mass Effect series, their finest product and magnum opus, in my opinion.

    • jayydee92

      Well said, well said. The series is a landmark for immersion into a game universe, and the characters are wonderfully written and realised. Some of the tragic outcomes during the third really gut-punched me, *SPOILERS* especially when I realised, in my case, I couldn’t save both of the Geth and Quarian fleets. Tali’s suicide dive off the cliff still haunts me. Shepard and Liara’s little moment near the end is also one of the most beautiful moments I’ve experienced in gaming, when they silently marvelled at the beauty of space, knowing they might not live to see it again. The ending wasn’t perfect by any means, but the general themes of the series were held intact. I find it silly to still be attacking it with rage, but it’s also a sign of how far video game narratives have come when people can debate a story so passionately. 

    • Effigy_Power

      Agreed on everything, though for me ME3 also benefited from a year that, for me anyways, was pretty bland game-wise and didn’t really feature any story-driven competitors.
      The ride was a wild one regardless of the end, but then hours of wild, amazing sex will seem kind of ruined if my mom barges in the room and asks me to choose between 3 kinds of pumpkin pie I don’t like and never asked for.
      At least Shepard woke up in a fantasy world and is now Hawke. Thank the maker for that.

  • hastapura

    Forgot to give Silent Hill Downpour its due. Not a perfect game by any stretch, but it does interesting things, manages legitimate tension, and is nicely freeform. The combat was somehow less functional than in the past (really needed a dodge button) and the ending was…well…low-key but neither of those things got in the way of me having fun with a Silent Hill game again. Loved the exploration and the weather mechanics, which emphasized the ‘survival’ in survival horror.

    • Citric

      Glad to hear, I just bought it on impulse on a day of buying things on impulse (I also got a breadmaker) and haven’t gotten around to actually stating it yet.

  • Precarious_Loaf

    FTL – for the exact same reasons people on the previous article liked it.

    I also like it for the same reason I like some comments on Gameological. The ever under appreciated value of brevity.

  • http://twitter.com/pocoGRANDES ryland ianelli

    I liked Thomas Was Alone because it made me care about colored shapes more than most games’ fully-rendered characters. It respected a fundamental rule of all narrative, as immortally spoken by Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction: “Personality goes a long way.” Their color; their shape and size; the arc of their jump; the jump’s sound effect; these relatively simple elements combined with the excellent narration to create a complete picture, and a compelling one. The trials of these geometric adventurers were far more real and affecting than watching Generic McWhiteGuy shoot through his millionth wave of enemies. Unlike most games, which are built on mechanics of violence (even innocent Mario has the nasty habits of crushing his enemies’ skulls or burning them alive), this one is built on cooperation and friendship. Thomas Was Alone speaks to our empathy, not only making us care about simple pixels, but also convincing us that those pixels care about each other. It was a marvelous trick, and one of the very few games I’d recommend to my 14 year-old cousin or my Art History professor with equal enthusiasm.

    also, sidebar, i think this was a really great year for platformers… all the ones i’ve played this year have been excellent: TWA, obviously; Mutant Blobs Attack was phenomenal, and is currently free with PS+; Sound Shapes was excellent both in concept and execution, though a bit light on official content (user generated content seems to be going strong, though); and LittleBigPlanet Vita turned out to be my favorite of the entire series, bringing new mechanics to the franchise that made perfect sense in the context of the handheld… as for platformers i’d like to play, but haven’t yet: Dustforce and Mark of the Ninja both have piqued my interest.

  • http://twitter.com/jm_keating Jennifer Keating

    I know it’s only Day Two of this roundup, but I do hope someone will make mention of thatgamecompany’s Journey. With every release, they change the definition of gaming, and this installment redefined (for me, at least) the multiplayer experience.

  • HobbesMkii

    Is there a third day of this? I was gonna post my favorite games of the year today as I arrived late to the party yesterday, but then someone (*cough*@Staggering_Stew_Bum:disqus *cough) kicked the hornets’ nest and now there’s a lot of sound and fury brewing about Mass Effect 3.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia

      My understanding is that everyone was unequivocally pleased with how the trilogy resolved.  Am I missing something?

      • HobbesMkii

        I think the disagreement is in which parts of the ending were the best and most satisfying.

    • Fluka

      *Reaper voice* THE CYCLE CONTINUES.

      • Effigy_Power

        Screw you, Reapers! Morrigan’s Monsterbaby will eat your faces!

        • Moonside_Malcontent

           Man, Witch Hunt was a gyp.

    • Captain Internet

      A strange game. The only winning move is to not play.

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

      What is a “mass effect” and where can I get one?

  • grizzledyoungman

    The fact that Diablo 3 made this list blows my mind.  That is a game that set a new low in terms of exploitative payment practices (with terrible difficulty implementation issues and an itemization system clearly designed to push players towards the Auction Houses), online DRM and outright deceiving players about features (PvP was on the box, but not, as it turns out, in the box).  Yet none of these issues are mentioned in any of your coverage of the game.

    For a website with such a high opinion of your own critical thought, that strikes me as a glaring omission.

    But to praise Diablo 3 for its writing? My jaw fell completely off my face. Synecdoche, indeed.

    • HobbesMkii

      Two things:

      One, I have always felt that any publication is the whole of the sum of its parts, so the “failings” of any particular writer are mostly a reflection on them, and less that of the publication in general. I find a number of The Atlantic‘s writers to be somewhat insipid and narrow minded, but overall I think they have a wonderful, thoughtful batch, for example. I’ve less particular distaste for any of the Gameological writers, but your mileage may vary.

      Two, I have noticed that when it comes to someone offering their opinion of what made a game enjoyable for them, it is (by dint of it being an opinion) high subjective, and may often include excusing or overlooking flaws that were inexcusable for others. In fact, those opinions may fly in the direct face of the general consensus. As unfortunate as others may find them to be, it fails to make those opinions less valid that anyone else’s.

      • grizzledyoungman

        I disagree with both of your points – not strongly or harshly, but in some important ways.

        Regarding the failings of one writer versus the entire publication, yes, that’s generally true.  In this case, however, I would argue that my complaint applies to the entirety of Diablo 3 coverage on this site, which has been superficial to the point of childish irrelevancy. 

        This is a publication/site/whatever that clearly prides itself on having on an elevated thought process and better values with regards to gaming.  They missed a major opportunity to exercise those values with Diablo 3.  Diablo 3 is one of those rare examples of a game that really needs to be discussed, because the thing it represents – games as designer drugs, not creative expression – is very dark.  This cynical, manipulative approach to game design that Diablo 3 represents threatens the legitimacy of gaming far more than poor treatment of gender or any number of other valid complaints.

        Instead of even attempting to grapple with this issue and all of the game design features in Diablo 3 that contribute to the argument that D3 is less a game and more of an electronic drug, this site (and to be fair, others like it) basically reviewed Diablo 3 as being pretty and fun.  I’d call that lacking.

        Second, I take issue with the entire notion that critiquing something is equivalent to offering an opinion, and thus is highly subjective.  The whole purpose of critical thought is that you use argument to buttress opinion, so that it feels less subjective and so that the author’s reasoning and conclusions are more evident to the reader.

        I realize this idea that ‘reviews=opinions=subjective, so who cares’ is often bandied about online, most especially by those who work in the faux-think-piece mode.  It’s a natural defense against the fact that most of what passes for ‘thought’ on the internet is often very weak.  I don’t buy it.

        As a gamer who cares about shit being good, I’m pretty fucking desperate for games to get better.  That requires a good critical community as much as anything else.  I’d love to see that start here.

        • HobbesMkii

          I do draw a line between critique and opinion. I think the trouble here is that I don’t find this feature to constitute a review in any way of any of the games listed here. This is just a list of Staff Picks. I assume John Teti asked each staffer to list a few of their favorite games from 2012 and write about why they liked it, and Samantha Nelson reflected on it, chose Diablo 3 and did just this. I think this feature is more like if a friend had watched a movie you plan on seeing and you asked them if they liked it. It’s separate from serious critique. So it’s completely sensible for Ms. Nelson to not comment on any flaws that may exist in the game, because those aren’t relevant to why she liked it, though they may be relevant to why someone else (you, in this case) didn’t like it.

        • grizzledyoungman

           @HobbesMkii:disqus Thanks for admitting that I might have a point.  I’m being sincere – that’s the sort of courtesy that is all too rare online.

          In that spirit, you have a point about not making mountains out of molehills, but I hasten to add that I consider Diablo 3 a very special case because of that ‘electronic drug’ property it has.

          For example, I also disagreed with the praise of ME3 in this article, but didn’t think much of it because, as you say, it was something of a throwaway opinion.  Brief, subjective, not worth getting upset over.

          But D3 really is something else, at least in my mind, that has to be treated with care.  I have had some difficult experiences with addiction in my life, and playing D3 really reminded me of that.  It was, in fact, only by applying techniques I learned to avoid using that I was able to break the spell that game had over me.

          In short, seeing D3 praised in such a shallow way felt like someone recommending meth because the crystals are pretty.  Even though I agree that Grey DeLisle, Azula and most things ATLA-related are pretty fucking kick ass.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/gorfious,4040/ Gorfious

          The auction house actually makes Diablo 3 much less of a designer drug than Diablo 2 was.  Addictiveness in games is all about balancing uneven rewards. Too much reward and you max out early, and the thrill of finding a great item is diminished. Not enough reward makes the grind seem pointless, and frustration sets in.  Diablo 2 had this balance down perfectly.  Diablo 3 not so much.

          The ease of trading on the AH made Blizzard have to have the drop rates on good items much much lower than in Diablo 2.  As such Diablo 3 has a weird mixture of both too little reward and too much.  If you ignore the auction house, you can grind for days without seeing one item worth a damn.  The too little reward makes frustration set in, diminishing the addictiveness.  On the otherhand, go on the AH and plenty of good items can be had for quite cheap.  The easy reward makes the further grind even more pointless.

          But while I think your criticism is ultimately wrong, at least it’s the right criticism.  Most of the complaints about the game I’ve seen are that it’s not as potent a drug as Diablo 2.

        • HobbesMkii

          At the risk of assuming some pseudo-superheroic “No need to thank me, it’s all in a day’s work, citizen!” false modesty, I think conceding that one’s own knowledge is limited and may be fallible is part of how reasoned discussion plays out. I think that reasoned discussion is what draws a bunch of us commenters (certainly those of us who have posted here 500+ times) to Gameological. Indeed, I took issue initially because it felt like you were taking aim at Samantha Nelson merely for liking a game she likes, which to me seemed unreasonable. I understand now that you had a very strong reaction to Diablo III. I also think it would be great to hear more about it. You should consider maybe doing some research and pitching Teti an article about it. You seem like you’re lettered enough for it.

        • grizzledyoungman

           @HobbesMkii:disqus Thanks for the suggestion, and for the vote of confidence.  I didn’t realize Teti accepted reader submissions.  If so, bravo.  That’s cool (and probably brave in more than a few ways, haha).

          Honestly, I’d love to speak publicly about my thoughts on D3.  But I’m hesitant to tie my name to an account of my own history with substances.  That’s all deep in the past and I’d hate for that to be something that shows up on a google search.  Especially if it’s, you know, a potential employer doing the searching.

  • Lawrence Allen

    I think that the discussion’s of Mass Effect’s ending are played out (as is, ironically, claiming that the discussion is played out). I would like to make the argument from “The True Adventures of Huck Finn” that you ought to consider what the ending people thought they wanted would really look like and do to the game, but frankly, even this point has been made hundreds of times before. It really does overshadow what a phenomenal job BioWare did on the trilogy as a whole. The character arcing between games is more akin to an epic novel series than something you’d expect out of a video game. You actually get to watch characters like Liara and Garrus and Tali grow up and change in a way I don’t think has ever been achieved over a game series before. Also, up until the death of the Illusive Man, pretty much everything in the game is perfect (you can argue that BioWare tried for pathos a little too hard, but I think they’ve been earning things like the child’s death since the first game). Mordin going to his death singing, finally free of the guilt he’s been living with for decades is such a powerful image that it overcomes any amount of ambivalence I might have towards the ending as a whole.

    • Halloween_Jack

      See, that’s the thing that gets me about people who complain that the ending ruined the whole thing. What ever happened to “it’s the journey, not the destination”? Did the people who are raging over the ending not actually enjoy playing the game? Because just getting to shoot pop cans with Garrus on a ledge in the Citadel should have mitigated any disappointment there. But, no. What do you mean, the Wizard is really just a medicine-show charlatan from Kansas? RARRRRRRRR RESHOOT THE ENDING OR I’LL SAY RUDE THINGS ABOUT YOU ON THE TELEGRAPH SYSTEM

      • Mr_OCD

        It’s like LOST all over again…

  • Captain Internet

    If I hear the phrase “Deus ex Machina” one more time I am going to murder somebody

    • HobbesMkii

      Deus Ex: Machina, the follow-up to the award winning Human Revolution.

      • Citric

        Deus Ex: Machina II: Friends and Enemies of Modern Music.

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

          I would sell my soul for a game where Adam Jensen sings “Let Me Give the World to You” while sneaking through future Detroit. Thank you giving me that dream, Citric.

      • Captain Internet

        Fucking Internet.

        • HobbesMkii

          You should’ve known, Cap’n.

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

          Hey, you’re the Captain of the entire thing. You should be able to get it under control. :P

        • Captain Internet

          @HobbesMkii:disqus  @Merve2:disqus Captain Planet warned me this would happen. He’s awaiting trial on terrorism charges.

        • Effigy_Power

          At the very least, you will go down with it, Cap.

    • Halloween_Jack

      Deus ex Vagina: God’s Mom Would Like A Word With You, Young Man

  • http://twitter.com/djbeema Reuben

    It must suck to be slotted for the 2nd part of Games We Liked since all the actual good games were already picked in the first part.

  • Goon Diapers

    I’m not sure Shephard dying had anything to do with most people not liking the ending.

  • Citric

    Now I feel sort of glad I bailed on Mass Effect after the first one.

    • Halloween_Jack

      Jeez, no, dude. Even if you don’t want to play the third game, the second one is the best of the bunch IMO. (There’s a boring planet-mining minigame that you have to do at least a little bit of in order to get resources for your weapon upgrades and stuff, but it’s the kind of thing that’s so mindless that you can do it while you’re talking to someone on the phone.) 

  • http://twitter.com/DerekDock Derek Dockendorf

    Miranda+Dat Ass = The best game of the year. 

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      Surely you can do better than that?

  • Goon Diapers

    My real problem with the ending was the actual ending, after all gameplay is done. Suddenly Joker is in the ship flying away towards some random planet? How did he get all the crew on the ship off the planet so quickly? And you get a different color energy thing throughout the galaxy based on what you chose? All the endings were basically the same. Felt slapped on, like the ran out of time. And the grandfather/grandson thing wasn’t great. After three games of making choices and seeing different results based on that, you basically get a 5 minute cookie cutter ending that doesn’t make much sense.

    • Mr_OCD

      You can blame the ending for being a lot of unsatisfying things but “cookie-cutter” is definitely not one of them.

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

    Oh cool Max Payne 3 finally and deservedly made somebody’s end of the year list. I really liked that game and it takes some hard knocks from a lot of fans who didn’t like the changes. Let’s check the comments to see what other people had to say about it.

    *Scrolls through 100 ME3-ending debates*

    Aw jeez guys really?

    • HobbesMkii

      Are there GLOG people on the PC Max Payne 3? I assume there isn’t cross-platform play.

      • http://gameological.com/author/jasonreich/ Jason Reich

        Not as far as simultaneous play. But my understanding is that the crews themselves are cross-platform, meaning your kills add to our cumulative total as a gang, even though we never actually play together.

        If you’re planning to play GTA5 — and I certainly am — sign up now and spread the word. It would be fun to come out strong when the game drops.

        • HobbesMkii

          Will do. I was planning on getting that one for my Xbox as there’s something about GTA that makes me like it more on console. Also, my purchase of Max Payne 3 was an impulse buy from the Steam Thanksgiving sale (it was under $15! I was helpless!). 

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

    Time for some mini-retrospectives:

    I liked Dishonored because it set me down in a fully-realized world and told me to go nuts. Say what you will about the game’s plot, but Dishonored has some of the most interesting, fleshed-out lore of any recent IP. There’s nothing else quite like the game’s quasi-Victorian setting and whale-based economy out there. But it wasn’t just the game world that grabbed me; the game gave me an array of powers and abilities and placed me in open-ended levels that encouraged me to explore. In that way, they were very reminiscent of 3D platformers of the 90s, such as Super Mario 64, games that felt like they were as much about exploration and discovery as they were about reaching the next objective.

    I liked Sleeping Dogs because it took everything I loved about other open world games, refined it, and wrapped it in a fascinating tale of duty versus honour. Someone else described the game as “GTA with an editor.” It’s an apt description; almost everything about the game contributes in some way to its Hong Kong action movie sensibility. I beat up thugs in back alleys. I shot out motorcycle tires while my Triad buddy drove the getaway car. I leaped off tall buildings in slow-motion. I action-hijacked vans on the highway, leaving my abandoned vehicle to spiral out of control and cause a mini pile-up. Later, when things slowed down, I roamed the city’s streets, listening to the shouts of Cantonese that punctuated the constant honking of horns and whirring of car tires. I walked past an open-air market and could practically smell the fish dumplings. Oh, did I mention that the game is gorgeous? If you can, stand at the edge of a dock or harbour and watch the sun set over the sea. As U2 would say, it’s even better than the real thing.

    I liked Spec Ops: The Line and Mass Effect 3 for having the courage to confront the hidden sides of war. There are many games out there that purport to put you on the front lines of combat. Some even claim to take you behind enemy lines, romanticizing the notion of covert operations. I have no quarrel with them those types of games, but their relative popularity makes games that try to show a different aspect of war a rarity. By [SPOILERS] putting the player in the shoes of a soldier suffering from PTSD, Spec Ops: The Line demonstrated the dangers of taking creative works that glorify war or gloss over its ethical ramifications seriously and applying their logic to real-world situations. I know that Nolan North is ubiquitous, but his fantastic performance as the player character, Martin Walker, makes his unraveling both agonizing and frightening to experience. Mass Effect 3, on the other hand, took a broader view of war and focused on its political and social consequences. War is never as simple as “us vs. them.” There are innumerable backroom deals and negotiations, masked by a façade of cooperation, as supposed allies claim to be working together to defeat the enemy, while in actuality they’re figuring out how to hoard resources for their own citizens in case everything goes down the crapper. Meanwhile, refugees leave war-torn areas by the thousands, hoping to find a better life, only to discover that refugee camps lack the basic necessities of life – food, water, and medical supplies. That a video game – a sci-fi space opera, no less – managed to capture all these nuances and more is truly laudable.

    (I also played Quantum Conundrum and Katawa Shoujo this year, and while I liked them well enough, I don’t know if I liked them well enough to write mini-retrospectives about them.)

    • grizzledyoungman

      Really enjoying Sleeping Dogs at the moment, for very similar reasons!

      Also, I paid -$2 for it after trading in my very lightly used copy of Halo 4.  Which is usually a nice thing, but I felt guilty in this case.

      I actually sort of wish there was a way I could give those guys more money.  Or maybe make 343 Studios (ugh, even the name is pretentious and unoriginal) send them my chunk of their profits.

  • Adam Goldstein

    I regret getting back into this, even as I do it anyway, but the ME3 extended cut DLC was totally necessary. Whether you liked or disliked where the story went (and I admit I didn’t), the plotting of the original ending was flawed. In other words, the developers failed to satisfactorily convey the story they had chosen to tell via the codified grammar of film and literature. It was structurally messy, overly vague, and left key narrative, thematic, and emotional beats on the editing room floor (so to speak). So, while on the one hand, the extended cut is merely cosmetic in that it doesn’t change the story, on the other, it makes all the difference. I’ll take a disappointing story well (or at least adequately) told over a disappointing story ineptly told any day. They should never have gotten it wrong in the first place – that was some amateurish, rush-job shit, not on par with the competence, and occasional excellence, displayed throughout the rest of the game – but at least they had the professional integrity to give it the polish it should have had all along, if not the humility to admit that the problems really did go a little deeper than they were willing to address.

    • Mr_OCD

      Agreed. And this is exactly what I said in one of my earlier posts. There were some pretty silly errors and discrepancies in the “original” ending. I do wish Bioware had taken care of those little problems on the first go but I’ll forever be glad that they took note of the backlash and fixed the continuity errors and confusing plot points that had somehow escaped their initial review (while, of course, remaining completely true to their ending). Yeah, I was even alright with those slides.

  • AmaltheaElanor

    I’m tempted to wade into the ME3 ending discussions, but I’m afraid it’ll eat me alive.  And as I’ve already spent way too much of my time on that particular subject…

    I really want to try Dragon’s Dogma, as someone who is a big fan of create-your-own-protagonist RPGs, but I tried to the demo and it didn’t really catch my interest.  I’ve read reviews that said they thought the combat was amazing, but compared to something like Kingdoms of Amalur, I found it pretty eh.  Can anyone testify as to whether or not it gets better/is worth the cost?

    • http://twitter.com/TheBryanJZX90 TheBryanJZX90

      Dragon’s Dogma was my favorite game of the year, but the demo didn’t give me a great first impression either. I’d recommend giving it another shot, the combat takes a little bit to click. To help with that, as soon as you start the demo pick up your big burly pawn character and toss him off of the cliff directly behind you. Then don’t get any of the extra pawns either. The demo boss fight with the chimera goes by way too fast with a full party, but if you’re fighting it alone it should be easier to get a grasp on the combat.

      Strangely I didn’t have a great reaction to the combat in Amalur after going through that demo a couple times either. Maybe I need to give it another chance?

      • AmaltheaElanor

        I clicked a lot easier with the combat in KoA, but I found it a lot faster and more varied.  Like, for instance, right in the beginning section (the part showed in the demo) it let you try almost all the different weapon types – sword, stealth up with daggers, bow and arrow, staff, etc.  Plus, I feel like it always just moved a lot faster with a lot more obvious and satisfying results – and the fact that it lets you essentially build your own class (I could be a magic-wielding warrior type that switches between some pretty awesome abilities both with my sword and chakrams, for instance).  Dragon’s Dogma I only tried the warrior class, but with just the two different button types, it just felt like button mashing that moved kind of stiltedly without a whole lot of satisfaction.

        I would recommend giving KoA another try.  And thanks for the recommend about Dragon’s Dogma.  I realize demos can oftentimes be a poor base on which to judge an entire game.  And I’m not a fan of relying on AI in my companions (unless it’s AI I can preset in something like Dragon Age) so I’ll have to remember that, with getting rid of the pawns.

  • http://twitter.com/mattsinopoli garfieldhatesmondays

    I’m glad to hear someone actually writing positive things about the ME3 ending. I loved it for the exact same reason.

  • Mike Mariano

    Nelson, I heard that Diablo III was just as bad as Starcraft II when it came to dumb cutscene plot twists.  That didn’t distract you from the one-liners?

    I had the opposite distraction in Mass Effect 2—embarrassing ham-fisted combat barks that made me take the dialogue less seriously.

  • Mike Mariano

    I liked Waking Mars because it made me respect touchscreen controls. Tiger Style’s previous game Spider had a unique, satisfying control scheme that kept you snapped to surfaces in the game until it was time to leap around and form webs.

    Waking Mars began with a more basic touchscreen “push part of the screen and the man moves there” control scheme, added some Angry Birds-esque flinging, and never made it seem frustrating. (shepherding ungrabbable air seeds came close).

    Tiger Style convinced me I didn’t need a D-pad for this kind of thing.  I liked that.

  • Haymz_Jetfield

    I found ME3 to be so dour and joyless that I wasn’t at all surprised at the nonsensical cop out ending. I mean, honestly – in that mission where you have to back up the Turian military, they’re telling you to go disable the anti-air defenses thirty seconds after stepping off the transport. Couldn’t they have thought of another, less generic FPS task?

  • DrKumAndGo

    Wow – Frog Fractions is great. I completely missed it the first time around.

    It definitely deserves to be on this list, too. The mash-up thing has been done to death, but the way that you almost accidentally tumble from one part to the next is kind of genius. I’m not sure if there’s a fourth wall in videogaming, but they’ve definitely broken down the more omnipresent invisible walls.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      Fourth wall breaking games are definitely a thing. Most of the examples I can think of right now are quirky RPGs. 

      This would be a good topic for a Gameological inventory or Q&A or whatever.

    • http://gameological.com/author/mattkodner/ Matt Kodner

      Accidentally tumbling through the genres is such a good way of putting it. Glad you liked it!

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