Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Top 10 Games of 2012

2012 featured some significant leaps for gaming, for better or worse.  The release of the Wii U and the Vita had some huge leaps forward, while also raising major questions and not delivering on games.  Storytelling in games took a major step toward increasing the argument of whether or not games are art.  And we got the standard run of sequels and company closures.  Here’s my favorite games of 2012.

(Note: As always, there’s plenty of major releases this year I haven’t played.  This list is simply the best of what I have played.)

10. Kinect Party: The main reason this is at the bottom of the list is that I only spent one (rather lengthy) session with the game, so maybe it’s not the best to judge.  The reason this is on the list at all is because that session was pure fun, taking another person and I on a journey from jungles to a bathtub as we got dressed up in funny costumes, cloned ourselves, and danced in a dubstep video.  You never know what’s coming next, but it’s always equal parts weird and hilarious.

9. Gotham City Impostors: I’m generally not one for multiplayer games, but GCI’s nice take off of Team Fortress 2 provided plenty of fun.  It’s a battle between Batman and Joker impostors, who gun each other down and use homemade gadgets, all of which is extensively customizable by the player.  There’s also the game’s emphasis on vertical movement gave it plenty of life, as people fly around and use spring shoes, bringing a new dimension that makes the game awesome.

8. Max Payne 3: The sequel to Max Payne’s adventures was so long delayed that, for the longest time, most people assumed it was quietly cancelled.  It wasn’t, and while this sequel took Max to a new location and shaved his head, it still kept the exciting gunplay, interesting story, and Max’s deadpan detective monologues that made the original two so great.  While not quite at the level of the originals, Max Payne 3 is a worthy successor, and enough fun to justify its place here.

7. Rock Band Blitz: Blitz is not Rock Band 4.  Instead, Blitz is purely addictive, a throwback to Harmonix’s own Amplitude and Frequency that takes your entire Rock Band library and gives it a new light.  The emphasis on social gaming, including Facebook connectivity, also works well here, boldly sacrificing direct multiplayer in favor of the everlasting quest to beat your friends’ scores.  Coincidentally, it’s also on sale this week (1/15-1/21), so whether you have a sizable library or you haven’t played a rhythm game in your life, it’s a great time to get it.

6. Angry Birds Star Wars: Angry Birds’ first crossover, Rio, didn’t really add much to the game, and I expected much the same out of Star Wars.  But Rovio didn’t just dress the birds up and let them fly again, they gave them new powers like blasters and Force push that actually change how you play the game.  Once again, it’s one of the most addictive mobile games out there, all for the low price of $1.

5. Assassin’s Creed III: Consider this an unfortunate tradition of putting a game I haven’t yet finished on my top games list.  Unfortunate, but necessary, for after Revelations made me think that AC was just digging into a hole, III reminds me why I fell in love with the franchise.  Plenty of things to do that don’t break out of the traditional gameplay, while still adding in new features like ship combat, and new environments.  While I was wary of the Frontier, it’s a great change of pace that shows the franchise will still be around for a while yet.

4. Borderlands 2: Half the reason Borderlands 2 is here is because of its improvement on all of its gameplay.  A good deal tougher, with more variety in environments and more objectives rather than just killing things, as you continue to loot-and-shoot your way through Pandora.  The other half is the writing.  Where the first game couldn’t decide whether it was a comedy or a serious plot, 2 is full-on black comedy, with classic moments like Claptrap’s birthday party and the mission “Shoot This Guy in the Face”.  Where somebody asks you to shoot him in the face.  And you get an achievement for it.  Comedic writing in games doesn’t get much better than this.

3. Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes: The Lego games have just been chugging along for a while, not seeing much reason to change formula.  DC Super Heroes shows how one change can bring new life to the franchise.  The full open world of Gotham is unpolished, but that doesn’t stop it from being awesome.  Take the Batmobile for a spin.  Turn into your favorite villain and cause havoc.  Change into Superman, at the best he’s ever been in a game, and take off as the John Williams theme backs you up.  Add in the standard fun gameplay, and it’s a great experience.

2. Journey: Journey is only technically a game.  You do pick up a controller and you do play it, but there’s not really a way to lose, it lasts around an hour, and very little, if any, actual skill is required.  Journey is an experience.  Playing as a mysterious robed figure with only a loose destination, you traverse through beautiful deserts and snowy mountains on your way to your goal, with a story told through no dialogue.  If you’re connected to the internet, you’ll find another person in the game, but there’s no way to communicate with them and you can freely leave them behind if you wish.  And yet it is that other person that enhances the experience, makes you really feel like you’re sharing a connection with someone you know nothing about.  And across the mere hour of play comes an incredible story that affects your emotions and makes you want to take another journey (which the game actually encourages).

1. The Walking Dead: I’ve loved almost all of Telltale’s games.  And while I’ve felt for the main characters in their games before, never have I gotten as attached to a character as I have with Lee and Clementine.  Lee is the reflection of the player.  Clementine is the game reacting to the player.  You quickly realize that you want to please Clementine, that every decision you’re making is what’s best for her.  You realize that there’s only so much you can do, that some things are uncontrollable.  That the members of your team of survivors are likely to drop dead in a few seconds, that every decision is delaying the inevitable.  The Walking Dead is a pinnacle is storytelling, one that gives the player a hard decision with no right answer and the mere seconds you have to figure out what you want to do are never enough to justify whichever choice you make. 

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