2012 has been an interesting year for me when it comes to gaming. There were months where I hardly had time to play (getting married takes a lot of your extra time) and there were months where it seems like all I did was play. I don’t consume games at the rate that Justin L. does when he BUYS ALL THE GAMES, but I got my hands on a wide variety of games throughout 2012 that ran the gamut. Gamuts. (I don’t know if that was a word, but if it wasn’t it is now.) I got some strategy in, some action, some platforming and I even played some PC games. I played some games that were overrated, some games that were underrated and some games I wish I had avoided in their entirety.
According to my Raptr account, I played 31 games in 2012. Still, I feel a little odd saying “Here are the 10 Best Games of 2012!” I know the ones I liked the best, the ones I played the most and there are a couple that I think you need to play if you’re a gamer (and then there’s one that you can safely bust out with non-gamers and everyone has fun). Still, of the 31 games I played, are there ten of them that really stand out, that I can say were the best of 2012? Not really, particularly since I haven’t played 4 of the “biggest” releases of 2012: Halo 4, Assassins’ Creed 3, Uncharted 3 and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2…although, from what I’ve heard, I don’t think Assassins’ Creed III would make my list, anyway.
However, I did play 8 games that are definitely worth playing (and two, Batman: Arkham City and Saints Row: The Third have a repeat performance on my list from 2011 into 2012). Some other noteworthy games that didn’t knock me out of my socks (which is impossible) are going to get mentioned in what I guess you could call that my “Naughty and Nice” list. At any rate, let’s get moving with the list (There are a handful of games that weren’t new in 2012 except to me. Feel free to judge the hell out of me in the comments.)
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
There is one grenade I will throw into the fray: XCOM: Enemy Unknown is the best game of 2012. Period. Hands down. And if you have a different opinion, that’s fine. But you’re wrong. I wasn’t even expecting to buy this game, let alone love it in the way that I do. I knew it was coming out, but I habitually ignore pre-release hype. However, it’s just so well done (and not a sequel in any normal sense of the word) that it knocked some gigantic heavy hitters down the list. (It’s also a legit 2012 release). There’s a lot to love here, but first and foremost is the way the game’s difficulty looks you square in the eye and says, “Hell yes, I’m ridiculously hard. You’re not going to quit, are you, crybaby?”
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a turn-based strategy game with controls that work flawlessly on a console. It looks great and plays smoothly. Despite having a so-so storyline, I grew incredibly attached to some of my characters that stuck around for the entire game. It’s hard. I’ll admit that I’ve only beaten it on Normal. I haven’t gotten through an entire playthrough on Classic mode. I’m a crybaby and I am having a hell of a time with the 40-point swing in offense/defense that occurs between Normal and Classic modes. I wish I had a better explanation for you; there’s just something special about a game whose enemies “cheat” on higher difficulties that engenders a reaction from me to “play better” rather than scream at the TV in frustration. This is my game of the year, hands down.
Mass Effect 3
I know you were probably expecting me to fan-boi this one and give Mass Effect 3 my GotY nod…and that’s a fair expectation. The reason it didn’t, though, isn’t because they tacked on a multi-player element (which I like a lot). It’s not because they killed Mordin (oh, yeah, spoiler alert. I’d apologize, but that bit made me cry a little). It’s not because I didn’t realize how awesome telling that uppity tramp Ashley to stay home was until my third playthrough. It’s not even because they broke up the band for the Omega and added on the Leviathan missions without changing the end-game in any meaningful way…
It’s because of the much-maligned ending. It was dumb. Even with the indoctrination theory. It was lazy, and I’m a guy who reads and watches a lot of science fiction. Shoe horn an explanation that required some effort and I’ll buy it, but don’t, under any circumstances, force me to take my code hero (or anti-hero) who’s gone through Odyssean trials, and then kill him in one last selfless/ selfish act. Shepard’s already died for the galaxy, it’s not like doing it again is going to make me mess my boxers. It put a sour taste in my mouth that I’m just not going to get over. After the first two acts, I expected more and I didn’t get it. If it weren’t for XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Mass Effect 1 & 2, this would be one of my favorite games ever, but when you’re working on the follow-up to two of my favorite games of all time, you’ve got high expectations to meet, which includes the ending, which was flat-out bogus.
The rest of 2012
I didn’t see The Darkness II coming. It was way off on the edge of my radar when I decided to pick it up, and now I just want to see more stuff from developer Digital Extremes. The Darkness II, sequel to the 2007 game of the same name, is hilariously funny, violent, fun, gory and well put together. The story is an entertaining mix of The Godfather and Faust, the controls are super-smooth, controlling the darkness feels natural, there’s rarely a shortage of things to blow up, throw and maim and the multiplayer, a combination of Horde mode and mission based co-op wasn’t too shabby, either. Unfortunately, the way the story ended makes it unlikely I’m going to get a chance to play The Darkness III.
Dust: An Elysian Tale is a slightly Metroid-vania type game with RPG progression built-in that made 2011’s Outland look jerky. Other than a game actually called “Fluid,” I don’t think I’ve played a sidescroller with controls and combat this fluid. Disney actually practices self-love when it looks at the cell-shaded graphics and the voiceover work does a fantastic job of conveying just the right amount of “wink-wink, nudge-nudge” at all of the shoutouts and call-backs to other games that are hidden within. I enjoyed the storyline as well, although probably for a different reason than some, who praised it outright for its depth. I thought it was kind of adorably JRPG-esque in its fable-like setting and obvious “twists,” but I can be a cynical ass at times. Did I mention the several-hundred-hit combos that are simple to pull off but never get old? And the backtracking and weapon-crafting systems? Or that one guy made this game? Pick this one up; it was 2012’s Summer of Arcade’s best offering.
Borderlands 2 – Guns. Guns never change. (They’re awesome, especially when there are 70 bazillion of them) Fortunately, Borderlands 2 doesn’t change much from Borderlands. As Brandon, Aaron and I talked about in our Borderlands 2 checkpoint, it’s less of a sequel and, like Arkham City, a “More.” There are some good improvements, like an easier time doing sidequests, an even more fun co-op, and some great new weapons manufacturers. Instead of being weighed down by an elaborate plot, Borderlands 2 wisely doesn’t take itself seriously and presents a hilariously stupid storyline, replete with mounds of Claptrap being his insane, egotistical self and some side conversations and enemy dialog that is drop-the-controller funny.
Still counts for me
Rage - Look, if you want to know my real reactions to Rage, go check out my Recoil Review. I know it caught a lot of early flak from some of the PC gaming community due to launch-day issues (that weren’t really the fault of id), but man, this was a great FPS that looked incredible, had smart enemies, was challenging, had some massively fun guns and only faltered in its very-end-game delivery. Although it was more of a callback to classic FPS games in terms of its play, it’s still one of the best I’ve played. id pioneered the FPS genre and Rage makes a hell of an argument that id hasn’t lost a step in making a great shooter-romp. I played it on a console, so the PC purists will scoff at my praise for how damned good the game looked on the Xbox, but I’ll take the console version. There’s just something about playing with the mouse/keyboard setup that ruins the immersive experience for me in comparison to using a controller/console setup despite the decreased accuracy. If you love this genre and you haven’t played Rage, you’re missing out.
Batman: Arkham City – A rhythm game?! No, seriously, that’s what Rocksteady Studios first prototyped the game as…and it shows. Although I think they crammed too many gadgets into Arkham City, unnecessarily dragging the game out, this may be the best combat system I’ve ever encountered. It’s almost flawless and once you get experienced in timing your attacks, dodges, gadgets and counters, it’s not too difficult to see how Rocksteady kept the winning elements of their original concept in the finished product. It was a blast being the Bat again – not even the God of War series quite nailed the character-as-action aspect as well as these two entries. The challenge levels continued to shine and the voicework of Kevin Conroy (Batman), Mark Hamill (the Joker), & Nolan North (an unbelievable Penguin) is stellar as is the ambient/effects sound design. It was also great to see an independently penned plot from long-time Batman writer Paul Dini. But…just like a couple of other entries here, this was less of a sequel, which I think of as an independent game with significant differences (e.g., Super Mario Bros. vs Super Mario Bros. 3) and more of a “more,” and sometimes “more” isn’t always better. The Riddler and some other puzzles made a reappearance and were too numerous and some seemed broken, which led to me getting tired/frustrated with some of the side-quest progression. Still, at the end of the day, you’ve got a great storyline, sweet graphics and the best combat system of anything. Ever.
Saints Row: The Third – My awareness of the Saints Row series was nonexistent before The Third came out…which may have been a good thing because what THQ and Volition Inc. pulled off with this third entry into the series is so wonko funny, so crassly wrong and so full of “Holy shit, did that just happen?” that it might have lost some of its impact if I had been aware of its predecessors. It’s like playing a game made by Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and John Woo with executive producer credits to Johnny Knoxville. No GTA is ever going to be as satisfying as Saints Row: The Third was. Kill-or-be-killed gameshows? Transformer-planes? Dildo Bats? You’re damn right.
Dead Space 2 – This wasn’t a 2012 game, but I don’t really care because I played it in 2012 and that’s what matters here. Although there were some comments about this game being more shooter than survival/horror, I tend to disagree. Whereas Dead Space took place in the entirely Gothic setting of the Ishimura, the space-station setting of Dead Space 2 was much more disturbing, with “real” lives being torn apart by the necromorphs, which were smarter and more vicious this time around. What really sealed the deal for me, an old hand from Descent, though, were the zero-g sequences: excellently cool. Also: baby necromorphs.
Sequence – The final entry on the list was another “What the hell?!” People kept talking about Sequence. I had no clue what I was missing out on until I decided to download this clever indie title. Mixing Rock-Band jewel-dropping music with spell casting and some other RPG elements, Sequence mixed things I never thought I’d see together and kept me occupied for hours. It wasn’t the deepest game in the world, but it kept my attention with its unique gameplay and some intermittent humor with its boss-dialog.
Games of the Year 2012 Lists from the Horrible Night Writers