This year has been ah-mazing for people who love games and even people who have never played a game before. There were so many fantastic releases throughout the year: story-focused games, purely mechanics-focused games, games which defied expectations, and games which made us cry. Between moving across the country and starting grad school, I haven’t had as much gaming time as I would have liked. Hence, this list consists of incredible games which managed to capture my time even when I had other duties to attend to.
I like Journey because it’s one of the few games I wouldn’t be embarrassed of showing to someone who doesn’t play video games. I like Journey because, similar to Albert Camus’ The Stranger, it has a thesis and then delivers it in the succinct way. It’s totally secure with its length (which is so rare for a video game) because every moment in Journey is meaningful and wonderful. The visual direction (and subsequently technical execution) and the score blend into one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had playing a video game.
4. Persona 4: Golden (P4G)
I’m charging my Vita right now, so I have some time to write a paragraph or two about the game that has eaten my life for the past two weeks. Although if you follow me and a few other DarkStation editors/contributors on twitter you might have noticed that already. Also I’m sorry. Also this game is pretty good.
Look, my relationship with Persona 4 (P4) is really weird. I borrowed a PlayStation 2 from a friend about two or three years ago and decided to give P4 a try. After about 6 or 7 hours I said, “Fuck this,” and returned the disc to GameFly. Then I watched Giant Bomb’s 100 hour Endurance Run of the game. Then a few months ago I watched P4 The Anime (just the first half, though, since the second half will be released in January). I bought a Vita during Amazon’s Black Friday sale along with P4G and…uh…haven’t played anything else since.
I’ve come to really like the combat in P4G. It’s turn-based (YAY!), tactical, fair, and way more fun after I actually understood what to do from watching the Endurance Run. However, the real draw of the game is its story and characters. This and The Walking Dead are the only two games I can think of with believable characters. This game deals with sexuality, gender roles, repressed thoughts and feelings, and high school life. That’s incredible and cannot be said of any Western game.
SSX was the biggest shock for me. I’ve never played a snowboarding game before that and my only exposure to extreme sports games was the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series. I would be hard pressed to name a single game which I have dedicated more hours of my life to than SSX. I’ve written about it at length in Adam’s Underratedest feature, so I’ll spare you the gory details of why it’s so awesome.
I’ve moved on to Need for Speed: Most Wanted since it came out (just like how I switched from NFS: Hot Pursuit to SSX) but I come back to this brilliant snowboarding game every now and then to show myself that I still got it. It’s the asynchronous multiplayer/leaderboard thing that really resonated with me and my irregular schedule. More of that, developers. Please.
2. The Walking Dead
Because I was on TWO of the THREE EPISODES of the DarkCast in which we talked exclusively about The Walking Dead. Because we had a whole feature on it. Because we have another feature coming up about it. Because it changed how I think about capital punishment. Because in a sea of games with bald/balding white male protagonists (which, as a balding white male, I slightly appreciate but still largely despise), it was so fucking refreshing to play as a black man in a game centered around a little black girl.
1. XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Frozen Synapse, a turn-based tactical game with soldiers in it, was my #4 game of 2011. So NATURALLY this game would make my #1 when Firaxis (makers of Civilization) took gameplay I really loved and added aliens, a kick-ass campaign, awesome weapons, and a strategical big-picture meta-game. It’s like chess with guns (not really). Y’know, Nick recorded a video or two of this game.
I don’t think I actually want to distill down into written word why this game is at the top of my list, and I don’t want to be eloquent about it either. It’s just…it’s just really cool, okay? I like how the soldiers navigate the levels. I like how I got super attached to my squad of alien-killing-machines who I named after my friends. I like that every battle followed the following arc: “hell yeah I’m gonna own this,” “OH NO NO NO I AM SO SCREWED,” “I can’t believe [so-and-so] pulled through and made that unlikely shot and won the fight.” I like everything about this game except the bugs, but even then those can be hilarious.
Yo, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is my favorite game of 2012…but F the sectopods.
Honorable Mentions: The Darkness II, The Room (iOS), Botanicula, Dear Esther, Mark of the Ninja, Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Mass Effect 3