Well, it got weird. In 2011, we talked about how strange it was that we still didn’t have any news regarding a new Xbox or PlayStation, that this console generation was starting to outstay its welcome. Sure, 2012 gave us the Wii U and the PlayStation Vita, but neither of them scratched the new console itch. Then many of the big games of 2012 got delayed to 2013 (Bioshock Infinite, where art thou). So what became of the year? Well, PC definitely became my platform of choice, as it probably always should be anyway. And I ended up playing lots of games in genres I usually don’t care too much about – and being pretty impressed.
Mark of the Ninja
Rock Band Blitz
I still believe Saints Row: The Third is the definitive open world crime game of this generation. But for Sleeping Dogs, just being a game that you can buy is an accomplishment. Big budget games like this don’t just come back from being cancelled. It’s a pretty fun game too. The Hong Kong setting is really different and cool. The game is gorgeous. The story is campy but fun and full of great performances. And don’t forget the hand-to-hand combat, which isn’t better than the Arkham games, but is so much better than any other game like this.
Despite really wanting to, I didn’t get that into Far Cry 2. Thus, I was not extremely enthusiastic about the third game in the series going into it. I was wrong – this is a game that is on a lot of people’s top 10 lists, usually higher than it is on mine. The story of a lame California rich white kid getting totally drugged out and fighting a war against pirates on a tropical island is fun to watch, at least the first half of it. The game has some of the best performances of the year. But it’s not the story that made the game remarkable, but the game’s ability to rework the Assassin’s Creed formula into a FPS. Capturing outposts, killing wildlife, discovering radio towers, that’s what made this game great.
I get why so many people felt burned by Mass Effect 3. I just don’t care. My priority in these games was never the overarching plot, it was the relationships my Shepard had with her crew and the tensions between the alien races. What we got, for better of for worse, was the climax to all of that – and most of it was awesome, featuring some of the best moments of the franchise. On top of that, the multiplayer was actually fun – I played more of it than anything else in 2012.
As much as I’d like to get all critical and say Borderlands 2 didn’t do enough to differentiate itself, that it improved rather than evolved, I don’t really care. This game hit me just as hard as the original. All the glaring issues have been fixed, and its still really fun to look for new guns and gear. I even have been playing the DLC and really enjoying it, both packs so far have been significantly better designed than any of the DLC for the first game. I’m a sucker.
I didn’t really appreciate how good Guild Wars 2 is until I started my free trial of World of Warcraft: Kung Fu Panda. Going back to that game, which I had put so many hours into over the years, and finding it extremely hard to get into, is a testament to how much Guild Wars raised the bar. And there’s no monthly fee! Yes!
First of all, Journey sure is beautiful. It’s a distinctly visually pretty game, and its score is Grammy-nominated, but I’m not really talking about either of those. I’m talking about its wordless story which manages to be a bit of an emotional roller coaster. Second of all, this game made playing coop with a stranger on the Internet fun. That is mind-boggling.
Let’s face it, both these games are really good. As much as its fun to bash one and love the other, I liked them both. Which was weird, since I don’t think I ever really liked an action RPG like these before. Even the first Torchlight didn’t do much for me. Sure, I wish Diablo III wasn’t all about the auction house and I wish Torchlight II gave players more freedom to experiment, but both are really great and ate up way more hours than I would have expected.
Here is a game that I think is uniquely representative of 2012. First, it is a Kickstarter success story, and 2012 was certainly the year of Kickstarter. Second, it is a game I never thought I would like, except it’s executed so well I couldn’t help but love it. Taking command of a straship and trying to survive all the dangers of the universe is something that I never thought would work as a game, and yet here we are. Way to go, like one guy who made this.
Here’s what I knew about the XCOM franchise before this game: it’s really hard and I probably wouldn’t like it. Enemy Unknown is not a simple game, but it does an amazing job teaching mechanics and surfacing important information as needed. Building a base, researching gear, assembling a team and battling alien invaders is really fun – and something I was not only able to actually wrap my head around, but something I could pick up again when I returned to the game months later. Sure, XCOM: Enemy Unknown has its problems, but it’s so damn fun I can’t resist it.
How awesome is this? The second season of The Walking Dead show was a disappointment, but this game, man. It’s not even that good as a game, but as an exercise in video game storytelling, it’s extraordinary. Here is a story that is so heartbreaking I’m sure I’ll never forget it. So many games have tried to make choice a mechanic, but in no game was I doubting myself so much. Seriously, if you haven’t played these episodes, do it. They’re out on every console.