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My Favorite Games of 2012

While the crop of AAA titles this year wasn't as strong as last, I enjoyed more non-retail titles this year than any other. Having all of these quality smaller games made me reconsider how I do my rankings. Is it fair to relegate smaller games to a separate category just because they don't have the budget of the larger releases, even when I enjoy the experience just as much? It's a question with no right answer, a matter of personal preference. Ultimately I decided on a compromise. I included indie games in my top 10 and added a couple of honorable mentions. After the Game of the Year and Runner Up the other 8 games are not ranked. They are presented in alphabetical order. I've also included the platform(s) that I played each game on.

First off, the games I wanted to play but just didn't have time for:

Guild Wars 2
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward
Binary Domain

Honorable Mentions:

Spec Ops: The Line (360) - It's surprising that a game like Spec Ops hadn't been done before. I won't give too much away, but its story, while it initially looks routine by modern shooter standards, turns out to be anything but. This was one of the most propulsive games I played all year and is worth a look for just about everyone.

Hero Academy (PC/iOS) - One of my most played games of 2012, Hero Academy is like if chess was combined with a turn based card game. Being able to play it anywhere, either on iOS or Steam, is a big bonus. The downside is that you're sure to be less productive no matter where you are. Once its got its teeth in you that notification can be a very difficult call to resist.

The Top 10:

Dishonored (PC) - Dishonored's quality comes in its abundance of options. Do you blink in stealthily through a window, or do you mind control a guard and have him shoot his friend before walking through the front door? There's room to be creative in ways that few games have. Add in a fresh and interesting new world and a passable story and you have one of the best games of the year.

Far Cry 3 (360) - Very rarely will I say that I love a game where the main story is the weakest component, but that's the case with Far Cry 3. The island is full of activities to do and places to explore. After all was said and done I even collected all of the collectible relics on the island (except the missable one) as I frantically looked for more excuses to continue my stay. If there's one thing I could change about the game it would be to make more of it.

Hotline Miami (PC) - Hotline Miami had been floating around and making waves at indie conventions for a couple years, so by the time it came out it was well on my radar. The comparisons to Drive have become commonplace, and they're not entirely inaccurate, but they don't fully capture the appeal of Hotline Miami. There is a stomach churning atmosphere to the whole thing that is perfectly summed up by the seasickness-inducing rock of the title screen.

Mark of the Ninja (PC) - Since Splinter Cell began its transition away from pure stealth the genre as a whole has had a bit of an identity crisis. There were some other good stealth titles in 2012, but Mark of the Ninja was the one that felt freshest.

Mass Effect 3 (360) - There's no "right" way to play a Mass Effect game, but I prefer the way that puts less emphasis on combat and more on exploration, conversation, and atmosphere-absorbing. I don't know definitely which of the three games had the greatest portion of the game filled with combat, but it certainly felt most prominent in this one. Fitting, as the Reapers finally arrived and the great battle to save the galaxy began. Well made, as most Bioware games are. It capped off Shepard's trilogy in one of the most influential RPG series of this generation.

Max Payne 3 (360) - Max Payne doesn't have the most varied or deep gameplay, so it's important that what is there is extremely polished and has a compelling, brutal story to back it up. Rockstar is simply the best at creating characters that I come to care about as they are put in near constant peril. They did a great job putting their own spin on a popular series while keeping its signature identity intact.

The Walking Dead (PC) - If you had told me 12 months ago that Telltale's Walking Dead game would even be in the running for Game of the Year at ANY of the major publications I would have laughed. Playing the game itself elicits quite a different response. It's a healthy companion to the comics, expanding the universe into a new format while hanging onto that character driven formula that has worked so well.

Ziggurat (iOS) - I've seen the gameplay in Ziggurat cited as "an extremely focused shallowness", but I don't think that's an apt description. I would say it's something like an iceberg: the surface level gameplay is simple and transparent, but the more you play the more you see just how meticulously the mechanics have been designed, and the true depth reveals itself. That all of this takes place in a $2 iOS game is truly remarkable. It's the best mobile game I've played, and is absolutely one of my favorite games this year.

Halo 4 (360) - With the benefit of hindsight, it's easy to look back and say that Halo 4 was a sure thing, but in reality there were some serious doubts. It was being made by a new developer, already billed as the beginning of a new trilogy, and the multiplayer was being CoD-ified in some pretty worrying ways. But 343 delivered. It plays and feels like a Halo game and the multiplayer works better than anyone (certainly I) expected it to. It took some bold moves to create Halo 4, but every single one of them paid off.

Game of the Year
Journey (PS3) - Journey is a game that begs to be talked about but is one that leaves me speechless. If you speak with someone else who has played it there isn't a whole lot to say. You can talk superficially-- the visuals are gorgeous, the soundtrack is excellent-- but those qualities are far from its most important. The experiences you have in it, that you either share with other players or soak in alone, won't mean anything to those who weren't there. It asks that you feel something without telling you to.

Looking Forward:

2013 looks like it will have a stronger first half than second, which is rare. The Spring will have an absurd amount of quality releases potentially capped off by GTAV in May. In addition to GTA, I'm most looking forward to The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite. The end of a console generation can be a weird times for games, but this 2013 doesn't seem to have any intention of slowing down. Keep 'em coming.

Top 10 of 2011

My Top 10 of 2011

10.Uncharted 3

It seems crazy to have an Uncharted game this low on the list, but that just goes to show how good this year has been. Uncharted 3 makes some incremental improvements to the series and features what may be my favorite story of the bunch, but it would be wrong to assume that there would be departures from the formula after Uncharted 2 was so successful. Naughty Dog has this down to a science.

9. Batman: Arkham City

Arkham City was exactly the follow up you'd expect after Arkham Asylum: a bigger world, some small gameplay tweaks, but generally more of the same. I enjoyed the side missions more than I did the main storyline, and they caused me to stick around long after I beat the game.

8. Dead Space 2

Dead Space 2, unfortunately, is a game destined to be forgotten. It was released at the beginning of a year packed with great games. It didn't do much of anything different than its predecessor, but with gameplay as refined and intense as Dead Space it hardly mattered.

7. Rage

As someone who really only likes playing shooters in a single player venue, Rage had my eye for awhile and I wasn't disappointed. A lengthy game that was polished (on Xbox) all across the board. Its greatness came from refinement, not innovation. My favorite shooter of the year.

6. L.A. Noire

L.A. Noire is a game that I really wanted to be something it wasn't but ended up kind of falling in love with anyway. The middle section of the story wasn't handled real well and consequently made the associated cases feel somewhast useless, but the final act of the game was exciting and memorable. The game as a whole managed to feel like it was a missed opportunity while I was loving (almost) every minute.

5. Dark Souls

Aside from providing a ton more content, Dark Souls doesn't really do anything better than its predecessor, making it less of a sequel and more of a worthy companion to Demon's Souls. Fortunately, Demon's Souls was an excellent game and Dark Souls is nothing less.

4. Deus Ex: Human Revolution

The versatile gameplay is undeniably fun, but the real disparity in enjoyment will be based on how much stock the player puts in story, atmosphere, and the present thematic elements. I happen to put quite a bit.

3. Skyrim

Skyrim is the most detailed and fully realized single player open world around. That'sreally the only reason you need to sink donzens and donzens of hours into it. Bethesda hasn't really changed much from their previous games, but this is a formula that clearly doesn't need tuning.

2. Portal 2

I liked, but never loved Portal. I enjoyed its quirkiness and puzzles and I could seewhy so many people adored it even if I didn't. Then Portal 2 came along and improved everything. Funny, smart, and technically superb, Portal 2 is fantastic on all fronts.

1. Witcher 2

The star of the show is the divergent story that took risks that no other developer had been willing to take. There were a few gameplay hiccups, but nothing to detract from the incredible experienceof the game as a whole. Almost as important as the game itself is that it proves that there are still small, talented studios working on fantastic and unique games while mega-publishers are busy cranking out annual editions of their most popular franchises. It's not as close to perfection as Portal 2 is, but all across the board The Witcher 2 exemplifies what I love about gaming in a way that no other title this year could match.

Indie Picks of the Year (in no order):

Binding of Isaac

To The Moon

Gemini Rue


Sword & Sworcery

2011 was yet another fantastic year for games. 2012 looks to have some big releases up its sleeve as well, but still has plenty of room for surprises. Have a great one.

My 2010 Games of The Year

My Top 10 for 2010

Note: These games may not be in the same order as I scored them. For example, a game I gave an 8.5 could be higher on the list than a game I gave a 9. This is because I try to be mostly objective when I give scores, but less so for this list.

10. Splinter Cell: Conviction

There were a lot of games I thought about giving the #10 slot, but this one deserves it most. When a game is delayed as much as Conviction I start to have serious doubts about the quality of the eventual finished product, but this is the exception to the rule. The game brought the series forward more than I could have hoped while still retaining the signature feel, but most importantly it was well polished and fun to play.

9. Vanquish

This one flew under the radar a bit. It combines the best parts of cover-based shooters and fast-paced action games to form something wholly unique. It deserves more credit than it's gotten and I'm glad I didn't pass it by.

8. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

I wasn't a fan of Heavenly Sword, but Ninja Theory has some talent. The gameplay was solid, but it was the atmosphere, story, and beautiful world that set it apart.

7. Heavy Rain

I'll be the first to admit that I had some unrealistically high expectations for this game. It wasn't quite what I was expecting, and it might not have fulfilled all of its potential, but Heavy Rain is really quite different than everything else out there, and I'm interested to see where Quantic Dream go next.

6. Mafia 2

This was a divisive game. I fell on the side of those who loved it. I love a good crime story and this delivered, though the first half was better than the second. I didn't mind the lack of action or the multitude of driving missions; those are what made the game so immersive to me.

5. Halo: Reach

Bungie's last Halo game was a great one to go out on, as it's probably their best. The put everything they'd learned with the others to deliver a complete package jammed with content.

4. Alan Wake

Finally. It seems like it's been an eternity since this game was first announced. It finally came out this year and delivered everything I could have asked for. The two DLCs continued the main story and really transformed it into a complete package. I just hope it's not another long wait for Remedy to finish the sequel.

3. Starcraft 2

Yet another superb Blizzard game. It got everything right and stayed true to its roots while still bringing the series into the 21st century. I really enjoyed the detailed Terran campaign and am eagerly awaiting the the two expansions to complete the story.

2. Red Dead Redemption

This was a very close runner-up. I enjoyed this story more than any other this year and the ending is my favorite in the last couple. The characters, especially John Marston, were well acted and realistic. I continue to doubt Rockstar, and they continue to humble me.

1. Mass Effect 2

I really enjoyed the game from the moment I first played it, but it didn't become a Game of the Year contender until Lair of the Shadow Broker came out. It typified everything I loved about the game and brought the story to a satisfying point leading into Mass Effect 3.

Bioware are a developer on top of their game and are currently operating at a peerless level. They have released my Game of the Year for the last two years and have three huge games coming out in 2011. Other developers take note: Bioware bleeds quality.

XBLA Game of the Year:

The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom

A lighthearted companion to Braid. It reminded me of the Clank puzzles (that I loved) from A Crack in Time.

Runner Up:


A creepy game with some unconventional puzzles. I especially liked the atmosphere and the hidden eggs.

(Big) Games I Didn't Play
Because I'm only one person.


Civilization 5

AC: Brotherhood

Looking Forward
My top 5 most anticipated for 2011

5. Diablo 3

4. Uncharted 3

3. Dragon Age 2

2. Mass Effect 3

1. Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Not a lot of information out of a couple of those titles, but they should all be shoe-ins based on developer talent alone.

It's been a great year, and as always, here's to hoping for the best in 2011.

Top 5 Most Anticipated for 2010

It's not even March and we've already had some great games come out. Here are the ones I'm most excited about for the rest of the year.

5. Heavy Rain

Playing the demo has reaffirmed my belief that this game is something special. My enjoyment of the game will hinge on how well constructed the plot is. If they can use what they learned writing the plot for Indigo Prophecy (which had some flaws) then they should be able to make it happen.

4. Mafia 2

I wasn't able to play the original Mafia until quite awhile after it's release. The fact that the story spans a large portion of the main characters life seems really interesting, and the more realistic portrayal of gangster life makes me think this will be a fine alternative to GTA.

3. Alan Wake

After all these years I'm hoping Remedy still has it. The light mechanics look unique and I'm hoping the plot comes together in a way that makes the whole package really memorable.

2. L.A. Noire

The only reason this isn't #1 is because even though Rockstar is helping out with the development of the game, this is developer Team Bondi's first title. This game is pushing motion capture technology forward in ways we've never seen, and the almost perfectly authentic recreation of 1940's Los Angeles has my attention in a big way.

1. Starcraft 2

There's not a lot that needs to be said about this game except to ask, "When's the last time Blizzard didn't deliver?". 10 years down the line when we're looking back on 2010, this will probably (hopefully) be the game that stands in the forefront of our minds.

Game of the Year 2009

These are my Game of the Year awards for 2009. I'm going to try and keep this fairly short; I'm not writing reviews, just a little justification and some of the things that stood out most. I'm also going to stay mostly on the positive side of things here (at least for the games that are here because I enjoyed them); after all, these are the best games of the year, and to speak about the negatives is nitpicking.

Most Disappointing Game

This wasn't a game I was all that excited for before it was released. It got good reviews and, against my better judgement, I decided to give it a shot.

Bad move. While the game wasn't poorly made, I just couldn't get into any of it. The story and characters felt distant, the combat wasn't that exciting, and the city felt drab. I forced myself to finish the game, then returned it.

Best Story

Narratively, this wasn't near the level of MGS4 or GTA4 that were released last year, or even some other titles that were released this year. What Infamous did well was merging two mediums, comics and video games, to create a story that did justice to both, as well as forging its own unique identity. You had the ****c comic book villains and hero origin story, but with an only-in-videogames twist which incorporated good-or-evil paths and branching subplots. While the paths weren't entirely different, it was still enough to warrant playing through the game twice.

It didn't have the deepest or most involved story, but it was told well, and while the twist at the end was a bit of a deus ex machina, it worked, and put the flourish on top of a fun story from top to bottom.

Game of 2008 of 2009
Left 4 Dead

The one game from 2008 I kept coming back to was Left 4 Dead. I initially rented the game the weekend it came out, played all of the campaigns, then returned it. Sometime in February I started to develop a craving for the game, and in March I caved and bought the game.

Co-op is my preferred type of multiplayer, and Left 4 Dead has some of the best around. I won't preach about the gameplay here since it's been out for awhile, but everything in that game is made for replayability, and I was popping it all year.

Best Multiplayer
Left 4 Dead 2

Left 4 Dead 2's multiplayer is great for the same reasons that its predecessor's was: tight co-op mechanics that translate perfectly into competitive game modes. There's a lot more content too, with more campaigns and gametypes than the original had. It's a more complete multiplayer package, and one that will be holding my attention for quite some time.

Game of the Year Runner-Up
Uncharted 2

Uncharted 2 is a game of the future. Great graphics, smooth gameplay, stunning production values, and great voice work. It combines all of these elements seamlessly to create a package where just about everything feels "right". People toss around the term "next generation" a lot these days, but Uncharted 2 is definitely the best example yet.

Game of the Year
Dragon Age: Origins

The most impressive part about this game to me was the way that the usual Bioware mechanics, that I'm not usually a fan of, were improved. I traditionally don't like how Bioware main characters have no personality but the one you give to them. I also traditionally don't like story-heavy games with multiple endings. Bioware crafted this game so that not only are these things tolerable, but are real focal points of the game.

The world of Thedas is one of Bioware's best. It's not an open world, but the detail and depth in the areas they've made makes you want to explore every inch, and makes you wonder what the other countries beyond Ferelden's borders are like.

Aside from the gameplay, it also contains some great moral choices that have no true right or wrong, and some had me sitting there for quite some time before finally making my pick.

This is the definitive RPG for the current generation, and if you were to only buy one game released in 2009, you should absolutely pick up Dragon Age.

There you have it. That puts a cap on 2009. A fantastic year for games. 2010 is looking to be pretty good too with multiple AAA titles coming out in the first quarter. If the second half of the year can keep up, and there are a fair amount of games coming out next winter that haven't been announced, it could be one of the greatest years in gaming history.

On Release Dates and Developers Missing them

What is it with developers announcing release dates, getting their fans excited, only to delay the game a few months later? There's been quite a bit of that this year, but none of it really bothered me until it happened to a game I was very highly anticipating: Starcraft 2.

Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but developers aren't forced into announcing a release date, or even a release window, at least that I've seen. So why do they announce a timeframe that they know they can't make?

I understand that there are setbacks, such as Starcraft 2 and having to make it work with the new (or so Blizzard says), but no one FORCED Blizzard into announcing a release window of 2009. I also get that developers may want to stake their claim in a slot to possibly ward of competition, but I don't see how it's worth it to do that if the developer is going to cut it that close and possibly compromise the quality of their product (I'm not talking about Starcraft 2 here, just generalizing).

When a developer delays a game, not only does it reflect poorly on the company, it also brings up questions about the quality of the game. Did something go wrong? What do they need that extra time for? Are they not happy with the product? Ultimately, because of the established history of delays,savvy consumers are less inclined to go out and buy the game Day 1. There may be exceptions to that with certain developers, but those developers aren't usually the ones making the delays in the first place. There is a distinct correlation between quality of the development team and the amount of delays their games have (as always, there are exceptions).

The bottom line: Don't announce anything about the release date, even a release window, until you are 100% sure you can make it.

The Game that Needs a Sequel Most

I'm not an advocate of making sequels just because the first game was good. If a game works perfectly and wraps everything up in a single entry, I'd prefer that it remain a standalone game (but that's not saying I won't play the sequel when it comes out). However, there are also those superb games that just don't get a chance to tell the whole story in one entry. There is no better example of this than Freedom Fighters.

Freedom Fighters was well received when it was released in the fall of 2003. The game is set in an alternate present time where the Cold War actually came about and the Soviet Union started conquering countries one by one. At the start of the game it's finally the United States' turn. The Soviets invade and the game chronicles the story of plumber-turned-soldier Chris Stone and his guerilla fight against the invaders.

Freedom Fighters 2 was actually scheduled to be made, but it was cancelled to make Kane and Lynch: Dead Men. Why Io made this decision I can't say, but it proved to be a pretty bad move, and the Freedom Fighters fans paid for it.

In all likelyhood, the game will never get a sequel, which is a real shame. The first game, despite being an unfinished tale, is a gem of its generation. If you've never played the original, it's still worth playing if you can get your hands on a copy.

Maybe in an alternate present time this would be a blog boasting Freedom Fighters 2 as one of the all-time greats.

Post-E3 Most Anticipated Games

I'm tempted to say that this was the best E3 I have seen. So many games, a lot of big announcements, and a return to the old (bigger) format. It's definitely made me reconsider what games I'm looking forward to most. This list is one of the hardest I've ever had to put together. Cutting this list down to my top 5 was extremely difficult, but here they are in ascending order:

5. Splinter Cell: Conviction

Any number of games could have gone in this slot, but I chose Splinter Cell because of the drastic changes that the team at Ubisoft have made to the Splinter Cell formula. You now are much more equipped to take enemies head on, but you can also do the stealth bit if you want to. A couple of slick new design choices, like displaying mission objectives right on the environment (like on the side of a building that you have to infiltrate, for example), seamless transitions from cutscenes, and the "last known position" feature (puts a silhouette where the enemy last saw you, which you can then use against them) make this extra appealing.

4. Left 4 Dead 2

I'm still playing the original (at least I was until my xbox red ringed last week) and it shows no sign of getting boring soon. This was one of the big shockers at E3 for me. I'm so happy it's getting a sequel so soon. The promise of melee weapons, more campaigns, more story, a new set of survivors, and Valve as the developer make this a guaranteed purchase for me.

3. Halo: Reach

This was a shock announcement from Bungie. I thought they would keep the focus on ODST that's releasing this fall, but they decided to tease a new Halo game. It's a prequel to the original Halo and seems to follow the plot of the Eric Nylund novel "The Fall of Reach". Can't wait to hear more about this.

2. Heavy Rain

This is one of the most unique games I got the chance to see at E3. It's much less a game and more of an interactive story, but that's what makes it even more appealing to me. You basically control four characters and, depending on how you go about doing things (the ultimate goal is to catch a serial killer that all four characters are somehow connected to), you will end up with a different story. You can even let characters die. If all four characters die, then that's just how the story ends. There's no game over screen. The only thing keeping this out of the number one spot is the plot itself. It seems to be a bit generic and none of the characters seem that interesting, but the prospect of being able to mold the story to how you see fit almost completely makes up for it.

1. Alan Wake

This was my #1 going into E3 and it, barely, still holds that spot after it. It's been a long time since anything new was shown, but a stage demo gave me confidence that this is going to be one amazing game. The plot seems compelling (a horror novel coming to life? Yes, please), the lead character is interesting, the mechanics are unique (using light to take the darkness off of things, including enemies, which makes them vulnerable to damage), and the setting is absolutely creepy. If all goes well this is going to be a future GOTY contender.

So there you have it, my most anticipated games. This E3 has shown just how strong the industry is. Hopefully it will only get better. I had a lot of fun watching the Gamespot live coverage and talking in the chatroom. Really looking forward to playing the games we've seen over the last few days. Until next time, keep your bank accounts full.

EDIT: I'm not sure how I managed to do this, but I unintentionally left Uncharted 2 off of the list. Since I've already got 5 on there I'm just going to turn this into a top 6. So the list would go like this:

1. Alan Wake

2. Uncharted 2

3. Heavy Rain

4. Halo: Reach

5. Left 4 Dead 2

6. Splinter Cell: Conviction.

E3: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Ah, E3. The time when we find out what, exactly, will be draining every last drop from out wallets over the next 12 months. It's been a pretty good year since last E3, but I think this E3 will herald in an even better one. Here are a couple things that I'm MOST looking for (in no particular order).

The mysterious Kojima announcement(s).
God of War 3 release date.
Sequel info: Mass Effect, Bioshock, Assassin's Creed, and Uncharted.
More details on Bethesda's "Brink".
Anything on Alan Wake (Please!)

I also hope there will be a couple big game announcements. I'm a bit less interested in new hardware. Either way, I'm sure it will be a great E3 with some good surprises.

First Quarter Update

Been awhile since my last update.

I've been going through the games pretty quickly, playing as much as I can with my busy schedule. Back in January I beat Fallout 3, which I loved. Since then I've downloaded the first downloadable content for it and plan on buying the second shortly. I went on a short hiatus from playing games after that, but then I picked up Killzone 2. I originally wasn't that interested, but the single player was action packed and the multiplayer had enough options to keep me locked in.

I then got Resident Evil 5, which I proceeded to play to death in coop. Despite having incredibly good coop play, it was slightly disappointing.I feel Capcom has kind of lost sight of what people like about Resident Evil and I think that the inevitable Resident Evil 6 needs to go back to the series roots: dark settings, creepy atmosphere, and actual zombies.

Not long after I finished Resident Evil I started playing through Chrono Trigger. I had never played it before, it was first releasedjust a tad before I started playing games, but had heard great things about it. I was addicted from the moment I turned it on and it continued to impress me all the way to its conclusion. The fact that it's nearly 15 years old is even more impressive. The story is unique, the cast of characters is great, the boss fights are awesome, and it doesn't resort to making you grind out levels in order to advance.Even the sprite graphicshave incredible coloring that makes them very appealing.The whole game is perfectly balanced. It is without a doubt one of the best games I have ever played.

I've just started Chinatown Wars and it has a lot of promise. Looking forward to completing it. I'm also anticipating Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena. In the meantime I'll probably rent Guitar Hero: Metallica and Halo Wars, which I played just a bit of before Resident Evil.