As 2012 comes to a close, I reflect upon most of the games I’ve played this year. Some games were an easy shoe-in for the list, while others were a little more tricky to decide whether they were worthy of inclusion. In any case, this is it – and if you’ve yet to play anything on here, why haven’t you yet? PS. This list isn’t in any particular order.
Need for Speed Most Wanted
I don’t care much for fast, expensive or luxurious cars in real life. They are nice to look at, but I don’t know enough about them to care or want to drive ‘em. But if there’s a game that makes you lust after so much shiny car porn, Criterion’s Need for Speed Most Wanted does a fine job. I never thought they’d be able to top the already amazing Hot Pursuit but they did. It helps that the graphics are positively dripping with shiny goodness. And what about that breath-taking view when you pull out of a tunnel into the vast expanse of a sprawling city in your exotic concept car that you’ll never be able to afford in your lifetime? Well that’s pure escapism right there.
I’ve talked at length with Perr about both the good and the bad about this game here. The coop mechanics have been vastly improved over the first outing, there is more to shoot, more to see, more to do. The colors are popping, and the monster loot be dropping. But I don’t know, maybe I just prefer my bad guys to drop once I’ve shot them once or twice in the head and not have my accuracy or damage clocked down to some number crunching. I think I have decided that I don’t want to thatch on a RPG-like system to my shooting unless its Fallout 3 which is clearly more RPG than shooting. Nevertheless, Borderlands 2 is really a lot more complete an adventure package than the first game and definitely more fun with three other mates.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2
Yeah, this also surprised me. I didn’t think I’d like a Call of Duty game ever again. And yet, there you have it. This is Treyarch’s first outing which does not suck hard. It’s still brainless as ever, the plot is still overtly bombastic, but at the very least, there are futuristic weapons and toys to play with as you shoot your way through linear corridors. And Michael Rooker is always cool, even if it’s just his sweet gravelly redneck voice we’re hearing. I still hate Sam Worthington though. And I miss Gary Oldman.
I’m Asian. So any triple-A Western title that is Asia-centric will have my attention. And then I will inevitably gripe about the overt whiffs of Orientalism present – I just can’t seem to have it all my way. But surprisingly, Sleeping Dogs is more Asian than a lot of other games’ representation of Asia in recent times. The streets of Hong Kong are positively alive and bustling and Hong Kong-ey (if that’s a word). And there’s even dialect, although the English-speaking locals still sound horribly not like how us Asians really speak – I wonder where they get these voice actors from? Do they actively seek out people with bad accents? But Sleeping Dogs as a game is fun. Open world goodness, kung fu, and a Triad-plot with all its back-stabbings and inner politicking. We’ve seen plenty of the Italian mafia and Japanese Yakuza in games, it’s time to show some love for Chinese gangsters. It never reaches GTA 4 levels of masterpiecedom, but it’s a good time.
It’s been awhile since I played a game that is so unabashed and smug in its lo-fi design, and so encouraging in its pursuit of violence that it tapped that lizard part of my brain so hard and so fast. The design is seriously tight and trippy, and man, what about that killer soundtrack? What can I say? This game is drugs. And for such a low-price – insta-buy.
This is the way backstabbing people and skulking around past guards is done. Not that shitty game called Assassin’s Creed. The amazing multitude of ways that you can go about completing each level’s objectives isn’t the best part of the game though, it’s the world that Arkane Studios have realized, so original, full and yet so lean. There’s no over-bloating of features or narrative, just an intelligently fun action game. We’ll never get a stealth game as good as Thief, but this is the next best thing for the new generation.
Zombies. Perr and I can’t get enough of them. In fact, I love them so much I want them to be real. But of course, I don’t want to be eaten! I want to survive! I want to live in a world overrun by zombies, but I don’t want to at the same time. And there’s no better game than DayZ to fill that really strange contradictory desire of mine. Now when people tell me they are good at Left 4 Dead for killing zombies, I tell them, you haven’t survived yet if you haven’t played DayZ. The ultimate zombie survival simulator. So clunky, so intimidating, so bleak, so many cans of baked beans. I can’t wait to jump right back in when the standalone version comes out.
Walking Dead Season 1
Perr and mine’s favourite TV show ever about zombies, now turned into a video game. What more could I want for in this life? I actually think the video game is better than the TV show, and even better than the graphic novel from which both originally sprang to life from. We have come very far in terms of interactive storytelling, and Walking Dead Season 1 is proof of that. Well-written characters, emotionally riveting narrative, nail-biting scenarios to ponder over, with long lasting consequences to make you tear your hair out. And that last episode – no game has actually made me feel that depressed before.
Mass Effect 3
If I wanted an all-immersive, narrative-driven, epic adventure, that game would be the Mass Effect trilogy. Even though Walking Dead wins my interactive storytelling award (and not surprisingly, VGA’s Game of the Year), we must pay homage to Bioware who got there first with games like Baldur’s Gate, Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, and Mass Effect. That your choices and actions in the first game carried over to the second and third, and how deeply you could develop your relationships over time; Bioware has to be given immense credit for implementing such an entertaining game mechanic. Plus, Mass Effect 3 was the grand finale to a space opera of epic proportions, and boy, what a closing it was. The ending was controversial as it should be, but Bioware proved that as with any game, it’s the long and wonderful journey that matters the most.
Far Cry 3
You’re dropped on an island with enough mystery, danger, and pirates to keep you busy for a long time. There’s just so much to do and see, you’re bound to get distracted by a bandit camp in need of raiding/a temple ruins to sightsee/a beautiful tiger to hunt/a poker game to play/a handglider to fly. The game is just beautiful to bits, every single second is just goddamn screenshot worthy, but man, the best thing about this is the “authenticity” of it all. It’s not that the game is a realistic simulator, far from it – but shooting a bow and arrow, clambering into jeeps, skinning animals, living in a jungle feels sticky and friction-y. The construct of the narrative and meaning is definitely more blockbuster than Far Cry 2 – like a first-person Uncharted, but it never quite reaches the profound significance of death and amorality as its African-based predecessor. Still, it’s the best open world game of 2012.
This here be the list of games that didn’t quite make the top 10 but are worth checking out and definitely mentioning.
Gravity Bone and Thirty Flights of Loving
These two games (to be played back to back) are well-loved by critics and gamers alike, especially for the way it employs lean storytelling and cuts out on unnecessary exposition – which is still the number one method of getting information across in most mainstream games today. Hopefully, a lot of game devs will look to these titles as an example for the way narrative can be employed for future games – it’s that big of a deal in the industry. Funnily enough, I couldn’t quite “get it” in the way everyone else seems to have. But still, the game design, art direction and kooky music makes it a fun time to check out. Plus Gravity Bone, the first part, is free.
Max Payne 3
Love it or hate it, Max Payne is one of video games’ coolest protagonists of all time. Whether it’s Max’s constipated flat face in the first game, to his rag-doll slo-mo trenchcoat-wearing dives in the second game, to finally his bald, bearded and pot-bellied third game – our grizzled noir hero has gone through hard-boiled hell more than once and we really feel sorry for him.
In fact, Max Payne 3 may have had a place on my top ten list instead of Black Ops 2, but the only thing stopping it from getting on there is that once you figure out that all you have to do to avoid enemies even on the hardest difficulty is to slo-mo dive everywhere, the game stops being a challenge. Plus the story doesn’t really grip the heart as the second one did. They shouldn’t have gotten rid of the comic book-styled cutscenes either.
Although this isn’t really a brand-spanking new title, it is amazing. The sheer amount of work that went into recreating every single texture and asset in Half-Life so that it brought one of the greatest games of all time into the modern era is nothing short of mind-blowing. Best part is that for those young-uns who are too turned off by the shitty graphics of vanilla Half-Life need only play this to enjoy what is still one of the best designed games ever. Lots of love for the people who put the work into this and even making it free.
This is a late-comer, having only dropped into my gaming consciousness a week ago. But in a short span of time, I’ve had such a ball with it despite it being clearly what looks like a “game for kids”. But don’t let that fool you, it’s a pretty deep game – type any word and have the object or thing appear before you. You can even type Cthulhu and watch it terrorize all the other characters in the scene. And there’s a whopping ton of content to play through even if you aren’t fooling around with its word-creation system.
THE WORST GAMES OF 2012
And now we get to the games that just plain sucked.
Medal of Honor: Warfighter
When EA saw how amazingly well Activision was doing with their Call of Duty series a few years back, they thought they’d want to try to get in on that. So they rebooted a beloved (and the original) war shooter franchise for the modern era. But what they failed to do was learn from the shittiness that people were griping about on Call of Duty – rigid linear gameplay, taking controls away from the player in cutscenes, and bombasity. Well, I guess someone didn’t get the memo at EA when they were designing MoH: Warfighter, because it is everything that we hate about the new Call of Duty, and not even a sliver of the latter’s fun. Also saying your game is “authentic” because it is inspired by real life events doesn’t make it any less a shitty game. This is a huge step back for EA, and I certainly hope Battlefield 4 doesn’t go this way.
Hitman: Absolution is different from its predecessor, Blood Money, and I can see why a lot of hardcore fans might abhor that. Personally, I’m okay with the actual gameplay – although the lack of creativity in how you can go about killing, and having the controls taken away from you at the moment of assassination is mind-blowingly stupid a design. But the real problem I have with the game is its narrative. This is exploitative, misogynistic, and sickeningly depraved a story as it gets. Villains are just grossly exaggerated, and those scantily clad assassin nuns are just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a guy near death who says he’s got an erection because you’ve killed him, and another who is being peed on gleefully. Not to mention there’s a naked chick who gets shot while in the shower. Why??! There’s not a single redeeming quality about the game’s story, and our grim-faced Agent 47 doesn’t offer a reprieve as he is too busy getting on with killing people.
In conclusion, this year is all about player. Hotline Miami, Sleeping Dogs, Dishonored, DayZ, Far Cry 3, Scribblenauts Unlimited – all about deciding how you’d want to approach things to achieving each game’s end. We’ve also certainly reached a point where we can be assured that most triple-A titles have seriously slick graphics. And that co-operative experiences have been a lot more polished than before. This is also the year for some really amazing movers and shakers in the indie scene – FTL, Hotline Miami, Gravity Bones, Home, the PC release of Sword and Sworcery, etc. And some games I’ve still yet to try before the year ends: LEGO Lord of the Rings, Natural Selection 2, Torchlight 2, and Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition.
But next year is going to be another big year – Crysis 3, Bioshock Infinite, Colonial Marines, GTA V, Metal Gear Reveangance, The Last of Us. I hope Square Enix fires the writers of Hitman: Absolution, and that Ubisoft Montreal pat themselves on the back for Far Cry 3, and then slap themselves in the face straight after for Assassin’s Creed 3. Also good job Telltale Games for a well-deserved GOTY award win for Walking Dead. Though their past licensed titles like Back to the Future and Jurassic Park were dog turds, they’ve finally struck gold with Walking Dead – so let’s hope they can do well again with Season 2.
Have a good rest of the year guys (if the Mayans aren’t right), it has been a good one for games.