2012 has been a hell of a year for games. It’s the year where indie developers got a chance to destroy us with beautiful visuals and solid gameplay. It’s the year where triple-A high budget games got firmly put into the shade by intimate, lower-budget classics. It’s a year where the AAA games that shone through were paragons of freedom and player-choice. And it’s the year Kickstarter blasted itself into gaming, annihilating my wallet in the process.
2012 is the year where the best games showed you that every moral choice was wrong and every decision will be regretted.
Here are my highlights.
Most Likely To ‘Holy shit, did that just happen?’
Far Cry 3
Far Cry 3 snuck up on me, a bit like that time I was scouting out an enemy base and a tiger snuck up on me. Hearing a growl, I swore under my breath before turning around and pulling out the first gun I could to blast the stealthy tiger away. Before I could fire a shot, he was on me, snarling in my face, and I could only stab him in self-defense.
The commotion drew the guards over from the base, and before I knew it I was fighting off an army of guards and had incoming reinforcements to deal with, all while on the back foot. I took the only route out – a nearby hang-glider on a convenient cliff, diving off the cliff into the forest below, releasing my hold on the hang glider while still flying fifty metres in the air, dropping into a river below. That’s just one moment out of a thousand that I have from Far Cry 3.
It’s hard to describe what makes Far Cry 3 brilliant without turning to anecdotes, but that’s exactly what makes it amazing. Everything feels personal, every moment, every gunshot, every fire that spreads is a chain reaction to something you’re the cause of. Every animation feels perfect and just right, whether diving out of a high-speed car and onto the ground and quickly up again just in time to see it careen off a cliff, or diving into a cenote into the depths below, your momentum carrying you far into the water.
Every approach onto an enemy base is dripping with tension. As you scout out the enemies, marking them, perhaps taking a few out with your silenced sniper rifle, then you sneak in, stabbing a couple, dropping from heights onto others, and sneakily eliminate them all. Or maybe you accidentally release a caged bear and everything suddenly goes insane.
The main storyline isn’t that amazing, but it’s about the moments of quiet before the storm, the moments of standing on a cliff edge and just taking in the view. Or clambering up a radio mast and jumping on a zipline down. And just when you get bored, a truck full of enemies turns up and leaves you scrambling for cover.
It’s everything that made Far Cry 2 one of my favourite games but turned up to eleven. It’s everything that made Far Cry 2 rough but sanded down until it’s smooth. It’s everything that’s perfect about gaming.
Most Likely To Make Me Cry
The Walking Dead
I’ve been recommending The Walking Dead to everyone I can – gamers and non-gamers alike. Across the 5 episodes it weaves a more personal, gripping, haunting tale than the TV show ever does. In The Walking Dead, every step towards your destination means another sacrifice has to be taken. Every decision comes with horrifying results. The characters you grow attached to are snatched away in heartbreaking, harrowing scenes. Every episode makes you gasp with twist and turns and horrifying events.
I’ve been waiting for a game to offer me a heartbreaking, bittersweet ending (see Mass Effect 3 below) and The Walking Dead comes the closest. I can’t wait for season 2.
Most Likely To Make Me Shout at my PC
What is there to say about Hotline Miami that no one has said already? When I preordered Hotline Miami, I was already convinced it would be amazing. I didn’t know that it would be even better than I imagined. Even the soundtrack is one of the best I’ve ever heard.
Sun-drenched Miami in 1989 is a horrible place. It’s filled with murderers, psychos, angry russians with guns, bikers with deadly-accurate cleavers, dogs that tear your throat out, mysterious phonecalls, haunting dreams… and you. By the time I had finished the game I had the achievement for killing 1,989 enemies and I hadn’t even noticed.
Your rampage through seedy Miami doesn’t come easily. Hotline Miami is hard as nails. Every level takes 20, 30, 40+ attempts, each turn gripped with tension and knowing that the slightest mistake will get your brains splattered all over a motel carpet.
Hotline Miami is this scene from Drive but looped 50,000 times. It’s relentless. You’ll die, you’ll hit ‘R’, and you’ll try again. And again. And perfect your knife throwing and your crowbar swinging. Until you’ve got it nailed. And at every turn, the game will make you question your motives.
And the ending… Where to even start? I sat back at the ending, shocked at the brilliance of the game. And then it carried on. And on. And subverted everything I’d done. Brilliant, truly. And that soundtrack…
Most Likely To Make Me Feel Like I’m on Acid
So, Frog Fractions. A flash game. How could this be in my favourite games of the year? That’s a good question. Maybe you should go play it and find out. It’s free.
It is undoubtedly the best way to learn about fractions in 2012. If you find yourself getting stuck… just tweet me.
Most Likely to Horrify Me
Spec Ops: The Line
At the end of Spec Ops The Line, I felt broken. If 2012 is the year of making you commit horrible acts and feeling terrible about them, then Spec Ops The Line is King.
When you first enter the wasteland of Dubai, you’re anticipating a simple shooter. A simple mission in a gorgeous, destroyed landscape. This rapidly changes as you descend into horror and madness, questioning what’s right and what’s wrong. It pokes holes in modern shooters and their propensity for horror. It makes you feel terrible for the decisions you make, or believe you make. Every step is another step into horror.
It’s been the game I’ve read most about, too – I’ve spent just as long reading about it as I did playing it. Brendan Keogh‘s Killing is Harmless is the pinnacle of that, bringing in multiple articles into one mammoth 50,000 trek through the sand-worn world of Dubai.
Do I feel like a hero yet? I’m not sure.
Most Likely To Make Me Feel Like A Superhero
Dunwall is a world oozing with character. I loved every moment I spent in that world, stabbing and teleporting around. Every nook and cranny held a new secret, a new revelation, and every room was filled with beauty and corruption. Sprinting across tiled rooftops to dive off and onto an enemy below, before zipping across the street and into the shadows, every moment was filled with awesomeness and precariousness in equal amounts.
It’s a game that rewards the explorers, those that search every room they can. Those that use the morbid Heart to understand the people around them, to probe their desires and secrets. Those that look at every painting, every hand-drawn sketch, and every book. A second run-through of the game enlightened me to secrets that I would have seen earlier if only I’d opened my eyes.
The Blink spell is a phenomenal tool, letting you zip across areas in seconds, up onto balconies and onto trains. It’s one of those things that I wish was in every game – imagine Assassin’s Creed with blink. Just let that sink in.
Mass Effect 3
Amidst all the griping about the ending, people lost focus of what an achievement Mass Effect 3. The first game to properly carry over a character, and the first game to truly feel like your actions matter. All of your choices in the past two games have been leading up to some emotional and dramatic endings to the tales.
Mass Effect 3 is the end of one of the best series to date, and it grabbed me throughout and made me feel for every comrade I lost on the way.
Yeah, the ending sucked. But how else can you wrap up something like that? It didn’t give me the heartbreaking ending of loss that I so desired, but the rest made up for it.
Max Payne 3
I was worried that Max Payne 3 wasn’t going to be up to the standard set by its predecessors. I didn’t need to worry.
It’s the ultimate action game, and the ultimate badass game. Whether you’re diving over a table and blasting people in the face, or throwing down your rifle and pulling out both pistols in a moment straight out of an of action movie, every movement, every animation is a triumph.
It’s one of the few games I can enjoy others playing, too. Just seeing Euphoria being pushed to its limits is hilarious.
Max Payne is runner up in ‘Best Soundtrack of 2012′, after Hotline Miami. Spotify album here.
Best Simulation of Dying Horribly In Space
FTL: Faster Than Light
FTL sounds boring. It’s a game about managing your spaceship. Except it’s not boring. It’s one of the most tense games I’ve played all year. Constantly being chased by dreaded rebels, every FTL jump is filled with terror and venturing forth into the unknown. Of my 39 attempts, not a single one has ended in victory. Each attempt is full of moments to remember amidst moments of terror.
And that time I killed an enemy crew by disabling their life support and then setting fires in their rooms, sucking all the oxygen out? That was good.
Best Unexpected Karaoke
I only just started playing Sleeping Dogs last night, so I’m a bit late to this one. But so far, it’s superb. Hong Kong feels alive and dripping with atmosphere. The combat is superbly well done. The action hijacking is awesome. It’s a wonderful game.