Disclaimer: This is my 2012 game of the year list. While I blog 90% about games I’m not a gaming blog, a gaming news site or even a gaming journalist. I haven’t played all the games that have come out in 2012. So if a game came out on a system that isn’t PC or Xbox 360 then I haven’t played it. I also haven’t played a few big releases, namely Far Cry 3, Borderlands 2, Medal of Honour: Warfighter and probably your own personal favourite game of the year. So with that disclaimer out of the way here’s the second half of my list.
5 – Spec Ops: The Line (X360, PS3, PC)
This game, man. It sticks with you long after the final credits have rolled, long after you’ve switched off the games machine, hell long after you’ve started playing other games. The themes of the game, the events, burn themselves into your brain and linger for a very long time. What starts out as a very standard military 3rd person shooter quickly subverts itself and becomes gaming’s very own Heart of Darkness (the book that it takes heavy inspiration from). It gets in your head, makes you begin to hate yourself for enjoying the kinds of games where you kill hundreds or thousands of faceless, computer generated characters. It asks you if you feel like a hero as you travel through hell with a machine gun and nothing but bad, morally repugnant choices before you. It’s also a fantastic experience, and the perfect antidote to the mindless explosions of Call of Duty or Battlefield. The gameplay is very standard but the presentation, story, sound design and voice acting all have to commended, applauded even. It’s not very often that a smart military shooter is released, and judging by the sales figures it may be a long time coming for another one, but this game demands to be played and easily deserves to be recognised as one of the best video gaming experiences of the year.
4 – Mark of the Ninja (X360, PC)
Stealth games are one of my Achilles heels in gaming. I’m just not very good at not getting caught. My usual enjoyment of stealth games extends through a brief tutorial and then a couple of levels until the game hits a slight difficulty curve, at which point it becomes impossible for me to divine what the fuck I’m supposed to do to stay out of sight and usually get murdered and butt fucked by whatever enemies I’m facing. It’s why I never got far in Dishonored or Hitman: Absolution this year. But with Mark of the Ninja I think I figured out why I suck at stealth games; they just don’t give me the information I need to stay stealthy. In Mark of the Ninja (or Mark: The Ninja) you’re given on-screen indications of everything you need to be aware of to stay hidden. This serves to make the game incredibly fun rather than insufferably frustrating. If I get spotted and murdered in Mark of the Ninja I have all of the information I need to know exactly what I did wrong. And this is not to say the game is easy, hell no, this game is a challenge from start to finish, especially when objectives, enemies and environments start to become more and more complex. But it’s a fantastic game that anyone, even me, can have an enormous amount of fun with.
3 – The Walking Dead (X360, PS3, PC, iOS)
This is it. This is what happens when the videogame industry finally embraces the things that make it mighty and uses its strengths to craft one of the best, most unforgettable stories in its entire history. You’ll find no attempt at being “cinematic” and no attempt at trying to be an interactive movie with The Walking Dead. You’ll also find very basic gameplay, which keeps this from being at the top of the list, but that doesn’t stop The Walking Dead from being the gaming experience of 2012 and one of the gaming experiences of all time. The journey that you embark on as Lee Everett, a man on his way to prison when the dead start walking, is gripping right from the very first episode. But the strength of the story rests with the smallest of its characters, eight-year old Clementine. A little girl who you find hidden in a tree house after her babysitter attempts to eat your face. The nature of the relationship that you form (not the games character, but you the player) is one of the triumphs of gaming. The Walking Dead is an important release in videogame history, showing what can be accomplished and what the future of storytelling in videogames might bring.
2 – Max Payne 3 (X360, PS3, PC)
It has been a long time coming for a new Max Payne game. Poor Max has been MIA since the excellent Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne all the way back in 2003. To be honest I wasn’t sure how a Max Payne game would hold up nine years later as gaming has moved on quite a bit in the intervening time. I needn’t have worried given that this sequel was being overseen by Rockstar, a company that churns out GOTY contenders without breaking a sweat (have you seriously not played Red Dead Redemption yet?). There’s nothing to not like about this game from it’s overwrought noir-inspired dialogue to it’s fantastic soundtrack and voice acting. But what cements it as one of the best games of 2012 is the gameplay. The shoot-dodging mechanic, which returns from the previous games in the series, is one of the most fun and satisfying ways to play a shooter. Possibly ever. Combined with the brand new cover mechanic you’ll be bullet timing your way through the game with a huge grin on your face. Seriously, diving out of cover across a room in bullet time and blasting away at enemies in slow motion never gets old. Ever. And it has to be said that we need more games set in Brazil, this setting was one of my favourite in a game this year.
1 – XCOM: Enemy Unknown (X360, PS3, PC)
I’m extremely grateful that someone had the common sense to release a new XCOM game that was a strategy. This was the game I was most looking forward to playing this year. It’s fair to say that the original XCOM is probably one of my favourite games of all time. So naturally I was both excited and more than a little anxious when I heard about Enemy Unknown. Luckily for me and fans everywhere this game is every bit as good as its predecessor and is simply one of the most engrossing, fun and exciting games to have come out in 2012. For once “streamlining” isn’t a euphemism for “we made it dumb and really, really bad” as almost all the changes made to the original’s gameplay have actually, somehow, managed to improve the gameplay. Time units are replaced and micromanagement is a lot less involved. It’s a difficult, dirty game that can and will test your strategic skills. And unlike a lot of games that promised far reaching choices and failed to deliver, XCOM delivers this in spades.
For example, you have to choose whether to research better body armour or more powerful weaponry, and at some point whichever choice you make will come back to bite you in the ass. This is especially true when played in Ironman mode, which is the way the game should be played. Lost your favourite soldier to a stray alien grenade? Too bad, he’s dead. What I wanted badly to say about this game before playing it was that it took the original XCOM and presented it in the way it looked in my head back in the 90’s. But if I was to say that it would sell the game monumentally short. XCOM: Enemy Unknown is somehow an improvement on the original. It’s the most fun and time consuming game of the year, and it easily earns its place as my favourite game of 2012.