The Top 10 Games of 2012: Extras

This post covers the details of my video, “ The Top 10 Games of 2012“. If you haven’t watched it yet go check it out!
WARNING: SPOILERS ABOUND. SORT OF.

INTRODUCTION
Last year, purely out of whim, I made a list of The Top 10 Games of 2011. You can read about the rationale for it here.

This year I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do the same (school, SOPA, blah blah blah). But long story short, I did. The process was about the same as last year, only this time I went into indie and mobile games as well. And for games that I didn’t own, I did my research — I don’t even own one of the games on this list, but the power of YouTube and websites across the Internet allowed me to make what I hope is a fair decision about it. Think what you will about this, but I myself am satisfied.

Just like last year, I enjoyed making this list a lot. I hope you enjoy it just as much as I have.

RANKING
In ranking the games, I didn’t use any points system or grading scale. Many game aggregator websites do this; for example, they assign games a score of 0-10 and then rank them based on the number, or use a normalized 0-100 grading system where 90-100 is equivalent to an “A” (just like in school). However, I think this is unfair, especially when you get to the 90+ percentile and it becomes difficult to quantify what makes a “good” game and, more importantly, what makes one game better than another.

Instead, I simply compared games in pairs. Suppose I had 3 games (A, B, and C) and I wanted to rank them. I would compare A and B and say, “Hey, B is better than A.” Then I would look at C and say, “Hey, C is better than A, but worse than B.” So the final ranking would be B, C, A.

CRITERIA
To be absolutely fair, I played each game for about the same length of time and noted the pros/cons of each. Some things I looked for were:

  1. (FUN) — Duh! Why else am I playing the game instead of studying?
  2. (INNOVATIVE) — Did this game do anything really original? If it’s a sequel, did it bring anything new to the table?
  3. (CREATIVE) — Did the game think outside of the box?
  4. (STORY) — For campaign-based games, was the story gripping? More generally, did I get into the “world” of the game; i.e. was it immersive?
  5. (FLUIDITY) — A big thing for me. How “easy to play/learn” is the game?

Once again, there was no set “scale” upon which these categories were evaluated. If I found a game extremely fun to play despite the lack of a story, I wouldn’t necessarily penalize the game for no story — rather, I would grade it based on how these factors worked together. You could call it the “holistic approach”, but then I’d say you’re spending too much time in school and not enough time playing video games.

(#10) XCOM: Enemy Unknown
I have a confession to make: I don’t own this game. I’ve never been one for turn-based strategy games, and although the trailer looks remarkable it wasn’t enough to get me to buy it. A few months later, looking at GameRankings and Metacritic and most importantly YouTube gameplay videos, I have to say that maybe I made a mistake. Still not the type of game that I’d truly enjoy, but I can’t deny the opinion of thousands (maybe millions?) of others across the world. One of the hardest things to do in the game industry is live up to a stellar original — in this case UFO: Enemy Unknown — but XCOM: Enemy Unknown looks like it has lived up to its legacy. Once I actually have enough money, I just might pick it up.

(#9) Super Hexagon
An indie AND mobile game in the top ten? No way! Super Hexagon can be traced back to what its creator Terry Cavanagh calls a “warm up” that “got a little bit out of hand”, and the original version can still be played here. This game is brilliantly and brutally simple: you are a little triangle about to get crushed by hexagonal walls that move and spin and change color and dance to the beat of excellent chiptune tracks. In your first minute of playing this game, you will likely hear “Game Over” more times than you’ve played video games all last month, but that’s okay! If you’re a glutton for punishment like I am, you’ll keep coming back, and that’s exactly why Super Hexagon captures #9 on my list.

(#8) Dishonored
When I first heard about Dishonored I thought it was going to be a tad bit too much like Assassin’s Creed. You’re an assassin, for one thing, and you’ve got a lightly sandboxed world to roam around in and complete missions. But Dishonored throws its own twists on the stealth genre, forcing the player to use special abilities to solve puzzles and think about the consequences of their actions. I especially love the RPG-like chaos system, where how much disaster you cause changes elements of the world around you. I also love the story, which seems both fresh and true to the dark, tense vision the game designers had for Dunwall. Unlike in Assassin’s Creed, where I usually feel like a badass, in Dishonored I truly felt like I needed to survive.

(#7) Assassin’s Creed 3
The Assassin’s Creed genre isn’t as groundbreaking as it used to be, but Assassin’s Creed 3 all but makes up for it by being BIG. As in Grand-Theft-Auto, whoa-there’s-so-much-I-can-do big. I’ve grown rather tired of Desmond and his Animus, but that’s okay because for the most part the story focuses on the plight of a Native American guy named Connor. This is the first of the series where the story really tries to make you feel for the protagonist (Connor that is, not Desmond), and we also get a faithful rendition of the birth of a nation. As far as gameplay goes, I feel that it has been both refined and broadened. Revolution-era weaponry is cool, and a welcome break from all the blasters and machine guns I’m used to toting around. Gotta love that bayonet.

(#6) Fez
I’m not sure if this game was trying to be cute, but let’s just roll with it. Cute bunny-looking characters and nostalgic pixel art aside, this game has been nominated for a whole heap of awards for one thing alone: its mechanics. I can’t describe them to you here if you’ve never heard of Fez, so I suggest you look up some gameplay videos. What Fez does is make you think in different ways about the world around you, and it does this beautifully. Then again, I’ve always been partial to games that do just this (Portal, Miegakure, etc.) because they’re bottomless pits of innovation. Think about it this way: after Portal was released, can we imagine any puzzle game without bringing it up again? Oh, and did I mention the music? Yeah, the Fez OST is pretty awesome too.

(#5) Mass Effect 3
The ending of this game actually made national news. How many games can say that? The thing about Mass Effect 3 is that it’s the sequel to Mass Effect 2 (well, duh), which is almost untoppable as far as video games are concerned. We shouldn’t be hating on BioWare just because they didn’t deliver a game that good, because as far as I’m concerned Mass Effect 3 was the only way to end the series…better than any ending I could have come up with anyway. Ending aside, this game was a bit more linear than its predecessor, both story-wise and gameplay-wise. Mechanics remained about the same, graphics were mildly better, and the whole GUI/menu/interface package was more streamlined.

(#4) Halo 4
Before I heap praise on Halo 4, let me say that I’ve never been a Halo fan. Sure the games were great, but they were standard space FPS fodder that peaked at Halo 2 and steadily declined afterwards. I have GameCube games with better graphics than Halo 3. Sorry Bungie. So, although 343 Industries had gigantic shoes to fill, it wasn’t as difficult as everyone seems to think. And 343 Industries came through with amazing graphics, faithfully rendered worlds and characters, and a story that made me cry manly tears. I’ll leave you with this little nugget: Cortana, a machine, is more human than Master Chief, a human. They would die for each other, and yet John doesn’t understand what they had as love. To him, he just did what he had to do. Now that is a gripping reflection on what it means to be human.

(#3) Borderlands 2
Borderlands 2 is unbridled fun, and doesn’t pretend to be otherwise. I’ve always loved how Borderlands laughs in the face of other FPS games (no epic trailer music in its trailers!), and here Gearbox seems to have taken it all the way. Claptrap was a great supporting character and even more compelling than any of the playable characters or their foes. The toony graphics style seems a bit more muted this time around in favor of more special effects, but I’m not complaining. Aside from that, the gameplay and customization systems were largely incremental improvements — not that they needed much reworking anyway. All in all, another polished piece from Gearbox that manages to put many other games to shame.

(#2) Far Cry 3
A big part of the reason why Far Cry 3 ranks #2 on my list is Vaas, my pick for best video game character of the year. Even without Vaas, though, Far Cry 3 is open world gaming at its best. I’ve always loved the realism of the Far Cry series, where you actually have to take care of your weapons, keep track of your map, and look after your own health (as in malaria pills, not HP). Far Cry 3 is the best in terms of making me feel vulnerable. I thought that starting the player off as an inexperienced tourist was a master stroke, and that the game could have been a lot better if Jason didn’t suddenly become a bloodthirsty “warrior” who manages to kill a majority of the island’s population. I also wanted Vaas to last longer…but hey, that’s just me.

(#1) Journey
Journey won’t appeal to everyone out there *cough*COD fanboys*cough*, but for me it’s an absolute masterpiece. The beauty of the open world, the ability to inspire and teach without a single word of dialogue, the emotions that this game draws out of you as you play along — all these things are exactly what made me get into video gaming in the first place. Journey shows us that video games are an artform, right up there with Van Gogh’s Starry Night and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. Journey also shows us that we humans are not all about spamming the trigger button and topping leaderboards. As I crossed the open desert, hopelessly alone, only to find a nameless, faceless companion to join me on my quest, I marveled at how such a simple encounter could feel so rewarding. This magic is what makes Journey game of the year.

HONORABLE MENTIONS
In no particular order:

  • (Darksiders 2) — Fun. I mean, how often do you get to play as Death in a video game? Not the best of stories, but a well-rounded package nonetheless.
  • (Diablo 3) — Don’t own this either, but I’ve heard enough about it to know that it’s about as bad for your school grades as League of Legends.
  • (Spec Ops: The Line) — This game makes the list because of the choices it forces you to make. It’s not afraid to let you confront your baser instincts.
  • (Unmechanical) — Another indie title of surprising charm and quality. A great piano piece also makes a cameo appearance. If you can, check it out!

LAST THOUGHTS
Whew! That was a lot of reading, wasn’t it? If you’re still here reading this, consider subscribing to my YouTube channel or this blog — both focus mainly on game development, but there are always interesting things floating around. Also, feel free to message me with suggestions on other video game-related projects you would like to see happen. I’m always open for some fun stuff to do!

Here’s to a great year in gaming, and I hope to see you all for another rockin’ year in 2013!

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