Tag Archives: GOTY

Why I Couldn’t Make A Game Of The Year List This Year (It’s Really Just Zelda)

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The simple truth is, I finished way too few games that came out in 2017.

As of writing this I just finished Resident Evil 7 and never even touched YakuzaNierGravity RushNiohCuphead, and probably a lot else I can’t think of right now. I played a few hours of Persona 5 and Horizon: Zero Dawn, and might get started on Evil Within 2 right after I finish typing.

I did play through some good games in 2017. Overall I think this year was another good one to follow up 2015 and 2016. Games — particularly big-budget games and console games, are in the middle of a stride right now after what I saw as a sort of slump between 2012 and 2014. Very notable has been the comeback of Japanese third party console games — the ones I just said I hadn’t played, after people had been wondering where they’d gone since around 2005. That many of these games are only for PlayStation 4 or PlayStation 4 and PC, has also brought upon nostalgia for the era when people bought the original PlayStation and the PlayStation 2 for all their Japanese exclusives.

Nintendo’s first party output for the Switch in 2017 was a whirlwind. Putting such strong first party support into the Wii U which few people even bought allowed it to pump the Switch’s first year with ports from the Wii U which to most people were effectively new games. Really though, despite how great the games I played this year were (which I’ll get to further down), nothing came close to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for me.

I didn’t want to bother with ranking everything I played this year because when I thought about my favorite games of 2017, I asked myself “What 2017 game would I play right now, ignoring everything else like my backlog?” Zelda is pretty much the only answer I have. Continue reading

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My Top Games I Couldn’t Get To In 2016

A sign of how good 2016 was for video games is the fact that I’m devoting a post to games I really wanted to get to this year but couldn’t play in any significant quantity before it came time to recount the year’s games. This is why award shows like BAFTA, the DICE Summit, the GDC awards, and the Oscars are held in spring, but almost everybody in video games seems to love doing Game Of The Year Awards in December or even November, and I’ve already established a pattern of making it my last post of the year. Partly I just don’t like dwelling on the previous year while the next one is fresh and new. This time around it’s also because quarter-one video game releases for 2017 look like they’re hitting the ground running.

The following are just games I was very interested in playing which came out this year, but which I haven’t had the time to. I’m just making this post so when I do put down my ultimate 2016 list on Friday no one gets mad about omissions. This isn’t even every game I thought was “great” in 2016, just what I was most interested in playing.

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Obligatory GOTY Post, 2015 Edition

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Every year I seem to count a different number of “top” games I played. I don’t like having to struggle to figure out a top 10 or top five or whatever. Do the academy awards have a set number of nominees they have to have every year? I just go over whichever games in a year actually stood out in terms of quality as well as how continually drawn I am to them, no matter what number they come up to. In 2014 that number was pretty much zero (maybe one), this year it’s three, listed in order below.

As I said last time, I like to think of 2015 as the year when AAA video games became interesting again. Not since 2011 had I been truly hyped about any new major game coming out. I’d also like to say that 2015 seems like a year when we got some unusually good writing in video games. Some other people say it’s also been a great year for adventure games. I don’t know if that’s true or if I just hadn’t been playing enough adventure games or games with good writing in previous years. In any case, both of those trends seem to be set to continue into next year if nothing get’s delayed. Continue reading

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2015 Recap/Interesting Games of 2015

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Most years when I do Game of the Year recaps I start off with a section, usually a separate blog post, of my favorite games in each genre for that year. I didn’t do it last year because 2014 was actually a pretty uninteresting year for me gaming-wise. I’m not doing it this year because genres didn’t really stand out enough for me among what I played, but I still think 2015 overall has been the best year of gaming since 2011.

If you look at my GOTY posts for 2012, 2013, and 2014, in all of them I lamented that I was sort of losing interest in AAA games while indie games kept getting better. 2011 had been the last year in which you had a lot of releases that were simultaneously filled with production value, hype, and interesting content like Deus Ex: Human RevolutionThe Witcher 2Portal 2The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and the original Dark Souls. Since that year I’ve learned to completely ignore the regularly occurring franchise games to the point where they’re just background noise for me, and was was left that really grabbed me was almost all indie.

In a lot of previous posts I said I thought 2015 was going to flip things around, and it did. The indie space has remained amazing, but games with big-budgets and content that feels new also showed up again this year. What’s even better is that this trend seems to be continuing into 2016. Continue reading

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My Top Games Of The Last Console Generation

I think now is the best time to do a final look at the era of the PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii. Sure all their successors launched one and two years ago, but do you really feel like the new generation of games started in 2013, or even this past year?

Almost everything significant this past year has still been, on some level, designed with the old consoles in mind. 2014 was a far cry from the PS2’s amazing first year on the market when it quickly received probably near a dozen excellent games to justify the platform. The PS4 and Xbox One feel very early in their game libraries, neither one having received a real killer app yet. The Wii U is the only console that truly seems essential between the three despite its almost total lack of third party games.

Looking forward however, 2015 looks like the year for both the PS4 and Xbox One. That first wave of true high-quality games made specifically for those systems that I’ve mentioned too many times on this blog looks to arrive in the first half of the year. The PS3 and 360 still got a huge number of significant games in 2014, but that number in 2015 looks to be dropping to near zero. I thought the end of 2013 was a bit too early to close the curtain on them, but now is about time as we start to get the final vapors from their tailpipes.

I should stress this is just my own personal list of favorite games of that generation. I’m not necessarily counting games I think might be the best. I’m not counting games because they were the most influential or most representative of that era of gaming. This really isn’t even a review of that console generation, I’m just saying what my favorite games from it are. There are a lot of games I enjoyed immensely that aren’t on this list because I needed to lock it down to my absolute top-tier favorites.

These are the games I will always look back to first when I think of the PS3 and 360. These are the games that will be the reason I ever plug in my PS3 again, the games that manage to keep pulling me back and stand the test of time going forward. It’s not about what the games of the moment were. It’s about what games I’ll still want to play in 10 years. I guess PC games count if they came out between 2005 and 2014, but I think every PC game on my list also had a console version. These games are listed in no particular order. Continue reading

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Why I Don’t Have A Game Of The Year For 2014.

To put it simply, I didn’t play enough major games that came out in 2014. Due to a combination of finances, my relative disinterest in the AAA games of the hour, and a few older games eating significant amounts of my time, I just don’t really feel like listing what my favorite games of 2014 were.

I could probably talk about the few 2014 releases I genuinely liked, but even out of that pack I never felt any major highlights. A handful are games I highly recommend, but I feel like I would be sort of giving them GOTY be default. I’m not quite sure yet how they’ll stand up in the plurality of this year’s releases when we look back on it all. 2014 is just a year of some games I played. However, most of the games I’m about to mention I feel are at least a little bit forgotten in the general GOTY conversation. Continue reading

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My Top 2013 Games Overall

I really don’t know how these people pick top 10 or top 20 lists for the year. It’s not that I don’t play a lot of new releases (though there was a lot I didn’t play this year). Maybe I’m just bad at ranking things in large groups in general. Last year I could barely come up with a top three, but I’d like to think it has a bit more to do with quality.

Maybe those people doing top 10s and 20s are rating the whole quality scale. When talking about GOTY lists I pretty much only even think about the games that I feel are legitimately excellent. I’m talking about the games that actually kept me coming back and were the hardest for me to put down. Those are the games I want to remember and the games I want to be remembered. Luckily this year I was able to scrape together a top five.

Major 2013 games I didn’t get to play yet, or play enough:
Super Mario 3D World
Battlefield 4
Call of Duty Ghosts
Assassin’s Creed IV
Splinter Cell Blacklist
The Wonderful 101
Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate
Shin Megami Tensei IV
Pokémon X and Y

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Number 5: Gunpoint

Last time, I talked about Gunpoint’s main gameplay hook and how well the game utilizes this. Good utilization of a unique gameplay hook always makes for a great game in my opinion. Here though I want to talk about just how well-rounded Gunpoint is overall. Considering it came from essentially one guy taking his first shot at game development, Gunpoint is a surprisingly complete package.

For starters, due to its mechanic letting you manipulate the security system of a whole structure at once, Gunpoint makes me feel like I’m truly toying with the environment and with enemies in a really fun way. Each level feels like a toy I can pull at while solving a complex puzzle. This is why I want more people to buy Gunpoint and become exposed to its level editor, which really needs to get on Steam Workshop. If it were up to me Gunpoint would get a custom map community as big as the one that grew around Duke Nukem 3D.

On top of that though, Gunpoint handles its storytelling with tact, both in terms of content and methods. The way dialogue plays out like an IM service is a really smart choice for an indie developer who can’t afford voice actors or the time to do cut scenes. That, plus the way the whole game’s menu interface plays out on the main character’s tablet, makes for a very complete experience. The story itself is a decent intrigue-laden mystery with a charming comedic slant. I really do think Gunpiont offers one of the best storylines of a game I played all year, and that’s with people talking about BioShock Infinite and The Last of Us.

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Number 4: Metal Gear Rising

I like Platinum Games. I really do. I think that studio is one of the last bastions of high-quality Japanese arcade game design: Good- honest level design, systems that feel good to interact with (Platinum’s designers have said exactly this in interviews which I love), and healthy amounts of content not locked behind microtransactions (okay MGR has DLC but it’s all free now). MGR has all this and really does feel like an upper-tier action game that can stand up to some of the classics. It’s one of the only recent Japanese console games that feels like the classics.

I talked about the combat system, enemy design, and Zandatsu last time, but here let me summarize that by talking about the bosses. Games these days don’t throw bosses at you who’ll kick your ass if you don’t actually try to learn their patterns and learn what counterattacks to use to beat them. Games these days don’t put you in a straight up battle of attrition after you’ve learned this and make you feel perpetually on the edge of defeat. The fights in MGR feel like real fights you have to man up to.

Oh, and then there’s the music which contributes to the whole “crazy Japanese action game,” feel. Yeah the rocked-out boss themes are cheesy but in the context of those fights they fit perfectly. The first time I heard the game shout “Rules of Nature!” while I was running up and down a Metal Gear, I knew what I was in for. When you’re in the thick of it and the guitar’s blaring away in the background, you know what this game feels like? It feels like Mega Man X. MGR to me is basically the modern Mega Man X.

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Number 3: The Legend of Zelda A Link Between Worlds

Yeah yeah the new Zelda get’s in, but man, it’s still a legitimately great example of game design. Once again Nintendo nails all the fundamentals: a great sense of tactile feedback at the game’s foundation, plenty of things to do with those mechanics that feel so good to use. What ALBW adds is a sense of openness that makes Zelda’s exploration more intriguing, and a sense of mystery I haven’t felt in a Zelda game at least since Wind Waker.

For starters, knowing I can explore the dungeons and find this game’s gear in any order means I can basically carve out my own adventure and discover things at my own pace. This feature alone turns Hyrule and Lorule into malleable places. Instead of linear paths through open lands with extra stuff thrown about, the whole quest of ALBW is your own exploration of the land. Now combine this with traditionally good Nintendo game design.

And I don’t know precisely why, but ALBW has been able to keep its secrets from me better than any Zelda game in a decade. In recent entries like Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword all the secrets and paths in the story are pretty apparent to anyone who pays even a little attention. Most console games these days throw them in your face. ALBW is a game where I actually had to ask about things on MiiVerse like how I used to discuss Ocarina of Time’s secrets with friends at school. Through reading MiiVerse I even found out about items and things in ALBW I had no idea were there. I really miss games that make you ask questions about where things are or what’s hidden over there.

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Number 2: Rogue Legacy

Rogue Legacy has legitimately shocked me for how well-rounded a game it is and the depth to which it nails its design. It simultaneously forces you think about your character loadout and honing your twitch gaming skill. That, for me, is what sets it apart from all the other randomly-generated roguelike games.

There are a lot of those out now: Rogue Legacy, Risk of Rain, Spelunky, Eldritch, Delver, FTL, and those are just the well-known ones. It seems like almost every game is doing that randomly-generated permadeath thing (let mention Chasm again too). I get the appeal of the gametype. Not only is it refreshingly hardcore, but randomly generating the next level each time you restart the game ensures the game refreshes itself possibly infinitely. In that way it will never get old, which instantly multiples its replay value. In that style though, a few games have managed to stand out amid the saturation of this subgenere, and in 2013 my choice was Rogue Legacy.

A lot of indie games I play these days feel very accommodating, very welcoming in contrast to AAA games that feel like it and the player have to be a certain way. If they are challenging, many of them feel like they’re hard just to be hard. I guess Rogue Legacy is accommodating at the outset too, but it at least asks you to have some freaking skill. Learning enemy patterns here feels as deep as learning patterns in Castlevania or Metroid, and you could probably spend many hours just speccing your character. Rogue Legacy is probably the 2013 that makes me feel the most like I could keep playing throughout 2014.

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Number 1: Grand Theft Auto V

Man I really hope you aren’t just looking at the titles of the games I chose and assuming why I’m choosing each game. I might do that when I skim IGN’s or GameSpot’s GOTY awards because those are usually about the standard critic line about each game. I say this here because I have a very unique reason for liking Grand Theft Auto V as much as I do.

Oh I agree with everyone else that this game feels like next level of sandbox gaming. The level to which Rockstar polished San Andreas in GTA V goes beyond any sandbox game I’ve played until now. The feel of walking into building interiors that finally feel like the interiors of non-sandbox games, and then looking out at a city where everything just “works” makes it all feel like one massive world. It feels like the world of any linear game, just with the size of a GTA game.

It gives me a feeling similar to the first time I played Ocarina of Time — like video game worlds had just become more alive with this achievement. It’s really the sense of scale, both outward and inward, that puts GTA V on the next level. It’s on this list because in the midst of a console transition, GTA V is the only game I played this year I felt actually pushed game making forward a little bit. I feel like every sandbox game that’s made here on out is living in a post-GTA V world.

But the unique reason I immensely enjoy GTA V is because it’s the first GTA game I can actually play. It’s the first one where the controls don’t feel like an unplayable mess to me. The mountain of small annoyances that made GTA IV incredibly frustrating and the PS2 games intolerable for me are almost all gone. I can actually drive. I can actually survive a gun fight. I don’t have to go through a lot of reload and resupply crap every time I die. In my experience V is the first GTA game that “just works.” That by itself opens me to the enjoyment of everything else people have praised about GTA games up until now, but it’s like I’m enjoying those things for the first time. Really, this is like my first GTA game.

 

Looking back, like 2012 I think 2013 was kind of a slow year for big-budget retail console games, seeing as only two retail console games even made my list. A lot of people probably disagree because of BioShock Infinite and Last of Us. I won’t go deep into why those games aren’t up there since that would probably a whole post of its own. Let me just say that while I feel both games are solid in their own ways, they didn’t keep me coming back and didn’t feel impossible to put down. Their gameplay didn’t grip me the way the above games did.

All five of the above are games I definitely intend to keep playing throughout 2014. They are almost the only 2013 games I feel could remain staples of my library forever.

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Favorite Games of 2013: Genre Categories

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This is only the second time I’ve done this kind of thing on this particular blog, but back at 1up at the end of every year I did basically a “categories” section when listing my personal favorite games of the past year. I do it because I feel like it’s the only way I can properly recognize some games I really enjoyed but wouldn’t put on my “ultimate” list.

Maybe I also like analyzing genres and such. I don’t know, they’ve become so malleable I change them every year. It also depends on how many games of a certain genre were even released in a year. Last year was probably the only time I was able to list a favorite stealth game because more than two were actually released in 2012. IGN and GameSpot probably already did stuff like “best Xbox 360 game” and “best indie game.” I’ve stopped doing that for my favorites lists because I stopped differentiating between platforms and release circumstances. In all these sections in my case there really seem to only be two permanent staples. If I played more sports, strategy, or racing games those would probably be up here too.

Well, whatever.

Favorite Action Game: Metal Gear Rising
Runner Up: Rogue Legacy

“Action game” for me is an umbrella term that includes the shooters I talked about a year ago, though I’m not talking about any shooters this year because none of them, in my opinion, really stood out for their action gameplay. I only actually played a couple of those anyway. Maybe what I’m really giving a shout-out to here is my favorite examples of action game design from this past year.

Metal Gear Rising not only employs a novel mechanic in the zandatsu system, it gives you lots of dynamic uses for it and does a very good job of gradually teaching you how it works throughout the game. MGR also offers classic good arcade action from Platinum.

In contrast to the shooters I played this year, MGR’s enemies felt varied, each one with its own patterns to be learned and exploited. The level design keeps putting you up against new combinations of those enemies to complicate things like a classic action game should. It’s also one of the only action games that tried to achieve 60 frames per second on current-generation consoles even if it didn’t always succeed.

MGR is also almost the only example of really great boss battle design in a 3D action game I’ve seen in the last few years. The later fights in this game felt like real battles of attrition. Learning how to parry and get around their patterns and then successfully executing that was challenging on a level I just don’t see from AAA shooters anymore.

Rogue Legacy is surprisingly demanding of the player’s 2D twitch action skill, even amongst this year’s 2D indie games. The selling point of the game is its roguelike structure and randomly-generated levels, but its enemies and challenges show real craft, and are what you end up spending the majority of your time dealing with.

Again, Rogue Legacy’s enemies are varied and each one mandates its own routines to be learned the hard way. The random level design ensures you always end up facing new challenges which means you can never rote-memorize the game — it will always keep you guessing. Simply put, Rogue Legacy is the first time in years I’ve had to employ the full extent of my 16-bit skills in a brand new game.

Favorite Role-Playing Game: Ni No Kuni
Runner Up: Fire Emblem Awakening

When you think back 2013 was a year when Japanese releases took over the RPG space. Though, most of those were actually games that came out last year (or earlier) in Japan. I wasn’t even able to play the vast majority of them.

Ni No Kuni I think is the only RPG I devoted 60 hours to completing 100 percent this year, and the first JRPG for which I’ve done that in some time. Its exploration gameplay absorbed me like no console JRPG since probably Final Fantasy VI. That nostalgia, mixed with today’s advances, is really why I love the game.

Ni No Kuni is essentially a Super NES RPG with today’s graphics and controls. It doesn’t try to entertain you with minutes-long uninteractive cut scenes or complex lore, but by simply putting you in a large, intriguing world and letting you walk about it. It’s the classic Dragon Quest or Chrono Trigger style of world exposition finally rendered in HD graphics. That’s really why I spent more than 60 hours trying to find every secret tucked away in the game.

Fire Emblem Awakening is the most fun I’ve had with character building in some time. What initially drew me into it was how smooth and playable its interface feels, but I’ve stayed for its relationship system and class system which is almost as engrossing as that of Final Fantasy Tactics.

I think the real reason I like Awakening so much is because I’ve been yearning for a new handheld strategy RPG, particularly one on the 3DS. SRPGs were a staple of the original DS and especially the PSP. The fact that the Tactics port is the only substantial thing I’ve found on iOS frustrates me (unless I can get Skulls of the Shogun working correctly). I think a glut of serious ones on the 3DS has been too long coming, and why are there almost none on the Vita?

Favorite Game Nobody Played: Gunpoint

Indie games get a lot of attention now, but I feel like Gunpoint still got ignored a few weeks after its launch. Maybe it got attention depending on where you look, but this time of year nobody talks about it. It’s one of the most well-rounded games I’ve played all year, period.

But here though I’m just gonna talk about its main gameplay hook — letting players control the electrical infrastructure of an environment to navigate it and trick enemies. It makes for a uniquely fun game that I still have fun picking at months after finishing the main story. What helps it is Gunpoint’s excellent level design. The included level editor gives this game the potential to really be something one day if they can get Steam Workshop support up and running for it.

I feel like the action game category in my favorites this year is basically made up of games that remembered aspects of action gaming that all today’s shooters forgot in their pursuit of trying to be war movies. Maybe it’s just because I didn’t play any of this year’s new multiplayer shooters. Maybe I picked the action games I did because they stood out the most. But I think it’s because they remind me of fundamentals that seem to be getting left behind by the majority of the industry.

To put the RPG category simply, those were just the ones I ended up playing the most. I’m sure there are other 2013 RPGs that would’ve drawn me in just as much had I found the time for them. Maybe that just shows how much better my choices were at drawing me in. Anywya, 2014 looks to be a pretty big year for dark fantasy RPGs.

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What Is VGX Really For?

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When last year’s Spike TV Video Game Awards came around I didn’t watch them and just waited for the world premiere trailers to show up online. I was gonna do the same thing this year but after hearing GameTrailers’ pledge to make the new VGX something better I decided to check it out for the first time in I don’t even know how many years. I think the concept is going into some kind of existential crisis.

It’s trying to fill some apparent need for there to be a televised video game awards show. I guess it makes sense: movies, TV, and music each have several. G4 tried the same thing with… I don’t remember what it was called but it started out with a televised Jadakiss concert in 2003 and ended up as a segment on Xplay a few years later. I guess there’s not really an argument against the concept of televising a gaming awards show, but rather who’s doing it and how. Oh! It was called “G-Phoria.”

What I find strange about what the VGAs and VGX became is that eventually, in my experience the main appeal became the trailers and not the actual awards. It’s like they need the trailers to get people to even care enough to watch. When’s the last time the Golden Globe or Oscars had to do that? VGX this year was, effectively, a barrage of premiere game footage without the trade show to hold them up.

On the subject I’ll take a paragraph to say in the couple days since VGX I’ve watched that Witcher 3 trailer about 50 times, and No Man’s Sky looks like the most “next-gen” thing I’ve seen on today’s hardware despite coming from four guys. The latter has singlehandedly got me investigating past space simulation games (specifically the original Elite). This was also the first time I saw any footage of Dying Light which I think actually looks pretty good.

As for the awards, I think a fatal flaw might be that a single publication or show is trying to represent a large part of the industry in front of a public audience. Trying to throw in personalities and other things from outside the game industry is one thing, and everyone acknowledges that. The bigger issue though is that, when you look at movie awards for instance, they’re usually run by an academy or some other general body and not a single magazine or TV show. That’s why the Oscars are called the Academy Awards.

There is indeed an equivalent organization for video games — the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, which holds the DICE summit every February. Ironically, this summit seems to be on the low end in terms of awareness, so much so that only after several years did it claw its way up to being broadcast on IFC in 2009, and I don’t even know if they still do that. I feel like that and the Game Developers Conference awards are the only ones legitimately judged by people appreciating the artistry in video games from a fully informed position.

As for what Spike and GameTrailers should do, I think the underlying objective at this point is to create some kind of annual event to spike (no pun intended) viewership, and I’m not sure an awards show is the right thing for a single game publication to use to that end. It’s kind of smart when you think about it though. Covering E3 or GDC will get a viewership spike of course, but they’ve got to share that with IGN, Polygon, and everybody else who covers it. Creating its own event where a bunch of new trailers pop up gives GameTrailers that spike all to itself. I just think they should find something a little less shallow than an awards show, or something that won’t look so bad when it ends up being shallowly handled. I struggle to think of what that would be though.

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Favorite Games of 2012: Overall

Usually I like to try to figure out a top five list of my favorite games every year, but maybe people calling this year “disappointing” aren’t completely wrong. Whatever the reason, I’ve only come up with three games that really made it into my definition of top tier enjoyment. As with last year on 1up, I list them in no particular order.

A lot of excellently-made games came out this year, but my favorites have always been the ones that keep me coming back. I’m talking about the games that I’m thinking about whenever I’m not playing those games. That’s the primary criterion, next to that being games that truly impress me with their quality of design, which themselves are few.

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As I said on the last post, Hotline Miami is the only game in a while where I’ve had fun no matter what was going on, whether I was winning or losing. It’s one of those games that have me laughing out loud even as I die for the 50th time on the same level. It’s all because of how fun, simple, and immediate the basic gameplay loop is.

I think what’s ultimately at the bottom of why the gameplay feels so good are Hotline Miami’s high lethality and uniquely brazen depiction of violence. The way bodies get instantly sprawled all over the floor is reminiscent of the first time we messed around with ragdoll physics, just in a more bleak fashion. Having to sometimes manually finish off enemies went a ways in sealing the player’s involvement in the actions taking place on screen.

Finally and possibly most importantly, I think the simple interface and visuals actually lower the barrier between you and the fun. It’s like being able to quickly boot up Tetris as opposed to Mass Effect, except with Mortal Kombat levels of blood and gore. The way I see it, every blockbuster shooter is trying to make things more and more accessible to get closer to the lowest common denominator, and Hotline Miami is as far as anyone got this year, while still actually being a pretty tactical game. That balance might be its ultimate triumph.

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Dishonored is probably my favorite full-price retail game of 2012. It’s almost the only one that to me didn’t feel like a safe Hollywood-ized shooter forced into current design trends. To me it harkened back to something increasingly rare in that market space — a game that is fully secure in what it is, and doesn’t restrict how you play it for fear that you might get lost or frustrated.

Well, to be honest, I also think Dishonored is ironically typical of its design paradigm. The first person simulation RPG finally popularized itself on current generation consoles after a sort of golden era on the PC, and Dishonored comes after a whole host of very good ones. Designed by the people who made what could have been a third Ultima Underworld (the progenitor of this whole subgenre) along with a Deus Ex designer, Dishonored falls back hard on the standards of those games. Even its storyline and setting, excellent as the latter is, didn’t feel completely original. Outside of the supernatural stealth powers, Dishonored actually does very little that Deus Ex and BioShock don’t already do. I’ve heard people call Dishonored a straight rip off of Thief, but I still haven’t played that game.

That said, Dishonored still continually amazed me at the quality of its level design, and that’s mostly why it’s in this blog post. There were too many moments where I said to myself “man, this is a real game right here,” as I discovered more and more of the options it gave me. There were too many times when I wished more big budget games had gameplay this opened-ended yet still deliberately designed. Maybe this is just because it’s gotten rare these days — the game that skillfully balances player freedom with authored level design. Dishonored is what so many retail games used to be.

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Maybe this is because I’ve never played another space simulation game, but part of the appeal of FTL: Faster Than Light was definitely its uniqueness. The fact that I could finally make the decision to divert power from the shields to phazers wasn’t really it. It was just the general freshness of the feeling of managing a ship’s compartments and crew as I journeyed across the various places in the cosmos, never knowing what to expect.

As I’d heard in podcasts before buying it, FTL is one of those games that generates war stories from emergent gameplay — war stories about the kinds of things Picard had to do in episodes of Star Trek: the Next Generation. I imagine that randomness is a big part of why roguelike fans keep coming back after constantly losing their progress. FTL just manages to put that appeal under a fresh veneer.

Like Hotline Miami, I think FTL’s simple interface and relatively quick gameplay loop give it a certain accessibility that completes its addictiveness. The fact that I know how easy it is to reroll just after losing an hour-long game is what keeps me coming back to FTL.

 

I would say that ultimately, 2012 was a year in which most of the big games stayed safe because the developers have gotten so comfortable with seven-year-old console hardware while holding their breath for new hardware. Many of them were good or even great, but none of them blew minds like the games they iterated on. As Dishonored is the full-price retail game I probably enjoyed the most this year, it’s also one of the only big ones that isn’t a sequel.

Indie games, not having the shackles of big sale requirements, don’t have to be sequels or play to conventions. As that sector of the market strengthens in the number, quality, and complexity of its games, it was inevitable that at least a couple would reach top-tier status.

BULLETS:

  • The other two 2012 games that I still totally think you should buy are Punch Quest and Crashmo. Couldn’t figure out where to fit them in the main post.
  • This is what action games are supposed to be about people. http://pocket.co/sp5Zt 
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