Posted on December 23, 2012 AT 08:00am
Twenty-twelve was a pretty righteous year in video games. Weirdly enough, the majority of my favorite games this year belong to genres I typically shy away from—which I really dig. Instead of a list that predictably represents the sort of games I’m drawn to, this year’s is a reminder of just how rewarding it can be to put aside preconceptions and try something new. I very much recommend it—the results may surprise you.
Honestly, I hate ranking things. I hate toplists. If I had it my way, all the below games would be number one. Each offers me something unique that the others do not. But that wouldn’t leave anything for y’all to disagree with me about. So here you go—have at me.
Chris’ Top 5 Games for 2012
#5: The Walking Dead
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Platforms: OSX, iOS, Windows, PS3, Xbox 360
I love strong writing in video games, which is why I love Telltale’s Walking Dead game. The decisions you make press more emotional buttons than any other game I’ve played. More importantly, those decisions matter—they influence the game significantly. Which is really what the television series is all about—the morally gray areas we cross into while trying to survive. The last thing we need is another game that celebrates zombie-killing mayhem like Dead Rising—we have enough of those. At least as an adventure game The Walking Dead stands apart from the crowd.
#4: Darksiders II
Developer: Vigil Games
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U, Windows
Darksiders II, like its predecessor, is every bit the spiritual successor to Legend of Zelda. In many ways, it’s the Zelda game we all keep clamoring for but somehow never seem satisfied to get—perhaps because on some unconscious level gamers realize that all those games are the same as the last. Meanwhile, Darksiders II takes the core essence of the Zelda Experience and delivers it in a distinctive package that, despite borrowing liberally from Zelda and several other games, still manages to feel fresh.
#3: Dust: An Elysian Tail
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: Humble Hearts
Platforms: Xbox Live Arcade
Dust: An Elysian Tail is precisely what I want developers to make more of on XBLA, PSN, and Steam. Sure, realistic graphics can be gorgeous, but they’re also expected. Anything less is unacceptable—unless they’re stylized in such a way that makes them aesthetically unique. This, in part, is what makes Dust so special. Dust is vibrant, distinctive, and timeless. But more than anything, Dust is pure fun. It’s an animated film come to life and made interactive, with a healthy amount of exploration, combat complexity, and RPG elements to make it feel like the non-gothic cousin of Symphony of the Night.
#2: Sleeping Dogs
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: United Front Games / Square Enix London Studios
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, Windows
Normally, open world games aren’t my bag. I find the wealth of freedom paralyzing. But something about Sleeping Dogs just sunk its teeth in me and never let go. If I had to guess, it probably has more to do with being a game set in China that boasts a racially appropriate protagonist, as opposed to say, a pair of white dudes who have no business mucking about in another culture’s affairs. Beyond that, though, Sleeping Dogs, like Dust, while never doing any one thing greatly, does a whole lot of things really well.
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Arkane Studios
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, Windows
Dishonored is the first game in which I actively tried to avoid combat. Normally, I’m a blunt instrument. Rarely do I ever employ strategy or look for creative solutions to problems—I usually just shoot my way out. Not with Dishonored. Something indefinable about this game’s design compelled me to stick to the shadows, to avoid full on combat whenever possible. Being stealthy in Dishonored made me feel empowered—not restricted—and that hooked me. When a game has the power to influence your preferred play style, you know it’s done something right.
Chris’ Off-Topic Awards for 2012
|The Prometheus Award for Excellence in Convoluted Storytelling
Assassin’s Creed 3
|Full disclosure here: I didn’t even finish Assassin’s Creed 3. And I’m not ashamed to admit that. I got as far as Sequence 06 before my indifference toward Desmond and the science fiction elements of the story kicked in and compelled me to quit playing. Instead, I decided to “spoil” the rest of the plot via wiki. Glad I did, too—that noise is a mess. Enough is enough—no more Prometheus-level attempts at exploring the very origins of the human race. Tell me a down-to-earth story about characters I actually care about.|
|The “What’s That?” Award in Narrative Cohesion
|Narratively, Halo 4 was a mess. For starters, I couldn’t care less about the Master Chief or Cortana. They are woefully underdeveloped characters totally devoid of personality. And at no point did I have any idea what was going on in that game. The argument that I “don’t get Halo” because I need to read the literature is bullshit—name me one other thing that I need to do homework to get. Films, television series, books, and every other video game—these all tell self-contained stories. Why do we continue to allow Halo to be the exception to this rule?|
|The It’s Time to Let Go of the Past Award
Kid Icarus: Uprising
|My problem with Kid Icarus: Uprising is less with the game itself and more with what it represents—the eyebrow-raising way that adult gamers clamor so enthusiastically for new versions of games they played when they were five, then complain about when they fail to live up to expectations. This is essentially why people hate G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. What did anyone expect? That as adults they would actually relate to a movie based on childhood toys? Let’s stop dragging old games kicking and screaming into the present day and start making more original games.|
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