2012 has been a really interesting year for video games, with numerous controversies about content as well as game marketing and culture. There were a lot of great games, and it was really hard for me to choose which ones would make the cut. These are the ones that made my top five.
5. Far Cry 3
Coming into 2012, I was feeling severe shooter fatigue, just as so many other gamers were. Still, Far Cry 3 stood out at E3 this year with its amazing visuals, psychotic characters, and explosive gameplay. When I finally got my hands on it, my patience was well rewarded. The game plays amazingly well, managing to fit into the slot normally occupied by Assassin’s Creed or a GTA. I spent hours running around the world of Far Cry 3, liberating outposts, climbing towers and hunting sharks. The shooting is solid and satisfying, and you unlock new weapons and abilities at a solid pace. The game looks great, especially on PC, though it looks fine on consoles as well and maintains a reasonable framerate. There are some great characters in the world as well, like the unstable pirate Vass, the pompous treasure hunter Buck, and the overly patriotic Willis. It’s unfortunate that the story doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the game’s characters, and this, combined with its racist and occasionally misogynistic tones, really drags the game down. Still, at the end of the day, I really enjoyed my time with Far Cry 3, and it certainly earned its spot on my list.
4. The Walking Dead
I was a huge fan of the Walking Dead comics and TV show, but around the time that the Walking Dead game launched, I was feeling pretty negative towards the series and the ideas of zombies as a whole. Fortunately the game surpassed my very low expectations. Wisely choosing to distance themselves from the existing universe, the Telltale team set out to make their own unique story in the terrifying world of the zombie apocalypse. With some of the best writing, voice acting, and characters (especially Clementine) in a video game this year, the Walking Dead succeeds in creating a terrifying world where good people are forced to do horrible things in order to survive. It’s a fantastic and emotional journey that leaves a lasting impression upon the player. The Walking Dead is marred by severe technical issues, but these are worth pushing past in order to see the fantastic story at the center of the game.
3. Persona 4 Arena
Frequent readers of Darkstation may notice that I write a lot of things about fighting games and the Shin Megami Tensei: Persona franchise. So, when I heard that Atlus would be realizing a canonical sequel to Persona 3 and 4, two of my favorite games of all time, I was excited. When they said it would be a fighting game, I was confused….and then excited. I was certain that this game couldn’t live up to my expectations, but I was pleasantly surprised. While it lacks the technical experise that made Skullgirls such a stellar game, was it one of the most satisfying fighting games I’ve played in a long time and it contains a solid Persona story. I’ve continued to play this game, much in the same way I used to play CoD, Battlefield, or Trackmania, and it’s still a ton of fun. From a story perspective, it was great to see my favorite characters again, and the new character, Labrys, has an amazing and emotional story of her own. I’m hardly the most impartial person when it comes to this game, but I really feel like it was one of the best games I’ve played this year.
2. Hotline Miami
These last two games were probably the most difficult for me to place. Hotline Miami is particularly puzzling. At first glance, it’s just a highly satisfying, if deeply challenging, top-down-action game with precise controls and clever level design. It maintains this for the entire game, but it soon becomes something more. Hotline Miami generated some controversy for its brutal and seemingly senseless violence, but as the game goes on, it becomes clear that nothing in the game is unintentional. Hotline Miami makes you admit that you enjoy the killing and violence and are willing participant in it. Then it makes you look at yourself as a gamer and realize just what it is that you are doing. It’s a fairly simple idea, but the execution is brilliant. It’s difficult to explain, and is best experienced, but the effects are powerful, and it’s for this reason that Hotline Miami makes it this high onto my list.
I haven’t played many games like Journey. In an industry that makes huge amounts of money on depressing stories and grim worlds, Journey stands out as one of the few products with a hopeful, yet still serious, message for the player. Journey is a wonderful experience. The world is beautiful, with a stunning art style and amazing graphics. Journey plays well, too. Though the gameplay challenge is light, the controls are perfect and the platforming feels precise. Perhaps the most significant interaction you have is with your new found partner who you can only communicate with through chirps. You will form a tight bond as you travel towards the ends of the world. What makes Journey so special is the feeling you get as your travel through a lovingly crafted land with a total stranger striving to reach a point of light on the horizon.
Honorable Mentions: Darkness II, Halo 4, X-COM: Enemy Unknown, Kid Icarus: Uprising, Dishonored