I pretty much stick to one blog a year at this point, but you can always count on it being a year-end roundup of my favorite games! This year's theme: downloadable games are awesome. That's not exactly news, but the sheer number of quality downloadable releases that stood side by side with bigger retail titles this year was certainly noteworthy. This list is a pretty good indication of that. Anyway, here are my 10 favorite games of 2012:
10 - Sleeping Dogs
It looked like Sleeping Dogs would never come out, let alone come out and end up on year-end lists like this one. And yet here we are with Sleeping Dogs occupying my #10 spot. Sure, games like Grand Theft Auto IV and Saints Row 3 do the open-world action game better, but that doesn't take away from the fun I had with Sleeping Dogs. The streets of Hong Kong were fun to explore and the visually striking melee combat helped differentiate it from the crowd. The takedowns in particular were just plain awesome.
9 - Spelunky
I died countless times in Spelunky's underground tunnels, whether it be because unforgiving traps or dangerous enemies. And after each death I'd load it right back up in the hopes of getting just a little bit further and maybe making it to the next set of levels. Yes, I'd see the same environments and enemies again and again, but the randomized nature of the game's design always kept things interesting. I became particularly concerned with jetpacks; trust me, jetpacks are awesome in Spelunky. One time I got a jetpack and a shotgun... that was a good day.
8 - Dishonored
I like games that give me awesome powers and then let me use them in any number of ways, so it should come as no surprise that Dishonored makes this list. Each level in the game is like its own little sandbox, and though stealth brings a certain usefulness, I had a blast purposely tearing my way through enemies like some kind of supernatural badass. It also supports the idea of player choice in its own way like the #3 and #4 games on this list, with players being given the freedom to approach each level in a myriad of ways. Want to transform into a rat and slip past some guards? Go ahead. Want to slow down time and pop off some incendiary arrow headshots? Even better! I also found myself impressed by the design of Dunwall and its inhabitants think City 17 meets steampunk.
7 - Fez
Fez is a madman's virtual paradise masquerading as a charming puzzle platformer. Upon completion of my initial playthrough I thought it was a decent downloadable game, but then I dug deeper into the wormhole and uncovered the ridiculously complex ciphers that lie hidden beneath Fez's mysterious exterior. I had to get out a pen and paper to decode an entire language don't the developers know I'm a 21st century man who sticks to computers? Even when I was completely stumped and in the need of a guide, I found joy in looking up solutions discovered by the code-cracking community and its own furious scribblings. Fez also has the special distinction of featuring music that feels integral to experience. The often unsettling and dissonant electronic soundtrack adds to the air of mystery that permeates Fez's unique world. All of these elements culminate to form a one-of-a-kind indie gem.
6 - Far Cry 3
It only took a bit of traversing Far Cry 3's lush tropical island setting for me to become hooked. This is open-world gaming at its finest, with interesting environments to explore and various activities to take part in. The emphasis on survival instincts surprised me, but it gives Far Cry 3 its own singular feel. Players will have to hunt animals and craft pouches to make it out alive, but these tasks never become tedious and using a bow and arrow to kill tigers is pretty cool. In fact, there a ton of fun weapons to use in the game my personal favorite is the flamethrower. I never got tired of setting entire buildings on fire. The sheer amount of stuff to do and the variety with which it is presented makes for a game that will keep players busy for numerous hours. I'll admit that the narrative squanders a fantastic villain and dips into lunacy far too often, but I didn't play Skyrim for the story and the same holds true for Far Cry 3.
5 - Mark of the Ninja
Mark of the Ninja might be the best stealth game I've ever played. Perhaps it's the benefit of working on a 2D plane, but developer Klei Entertainment has made a game in which every single design choice feels like an ingenious take on a familiar mechanic. On top of that there are plenty of cool gadgets to use, all of which provide noticeable benefits to the player's ninja repertoire. Most importantly, everything doesn't completely go to hell when the player gets discovered by guards. That's not to say Mark of the Ninja is a cakewalk, but the tools at the player's disposal heighten the emulation of the ninja way. I liken it to the experience I had with Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City I'm Batman, so of course I should effortlessly pound enemies into the ground. In Mark of the Ninja I'm a ninja, so of course I should slip past guards with ease.
4 - The Walking Dead
Part of me feels weird placing The Walking Dead so high on my year-end list. It has the most noticeable flaws of this entire bunch, from wonky shooting sections to technical issues. Plus, there really isn't a whole lot to do in the game from a purely mechanical perspective. But I just can't get the story and characters out of my mind. It's the reason why so many people have fallen in love with this game, and rightly so. Never before have I felt so emotionally attached to virtual characters, and the fact that my decisions dictate how the narrative plays out further instills that personal connection. It's also a damn-well written game, with plenty of jaw-dropping moments that actually warrant the use of the term jaw-dropping. The fact that The Walking Dead is an episodic experience only makes those achievements more impressive and ultimately argues for the usefulness of episodic gaming. To say I eagerly awaited the each new installment would be an understatement.
3 - XCOM: Enemy Unknown
The idea of player choice in video games often correlates with narrative, but the genius of XCOM: Enemy Unknown is how it takes that concept and applies it to the battlefield and research lab. Tough decisions have to be made in this game; soldiers will die and countries will pull out of the XCOM project. The challenge comes in the form of making decisions that lessen the impact of those inevitable blows, resulting in a tension-filled campaign in which the payoff is a sense of triumph after each victory on and off the battlefield. The cohesion between the two key gameplay systems the base operations and actual battles highlights the expertise on the part of developer Firaxis Games. Let's just say the folks at that company know what they're doing when it comes to turn-based strategy games. They also deserve an extra pat on the back for making a strategy game that works just as well on consoles... I had no problems playing this game on the 360.
2 - Journey
With Journey, thatgamecompany strikes the perfect balance between innovation and minimalism. The core gameplay involves little in the way of meaningful challenges and instead emphasizes unspoken bonds between players. It's an unprecedented approach to multiplayer that somehow manages to create even stronger connections without text or voice chat. The first time I played the game I lost my partner about halfway through and honestly felt saddened by the loss. The journey to the top of the mountain was a lonely one, but the triumph of having a buddy alongside me during a second playthrough still resonates with me. Simply by exchanging a series of mysterious symbols, a hard-to-describe bond was formed and I felt I could find meaning in seemingly incoherent communications between myself and my fellow companion. It's the kind of idea that easily welcomes outside detractors, but those who have shared the experience will surely understand. It also helps that Journey is an absolute wonder to look at there are scenes in this game unmatched by technical powerhouses and art-house fantasies alike.
1 - Persona 4 Golden
I became obsessed with Persona 4 Golden for a good two to three months. I spent 134 hours with the game, beat it three times, and got the platinum trophy over the course of those few months just let that sink in. I know there are those out there who spend hundreds of hours with certain games, but I'm usually not one of those people. It takes something truly special to hold my attention for that long, and Persona 4 Golden managed to do it. As someone who's been holding out on Persona 4 since 2008 in the hopes of some kind of updated re-release, the expectations for Persona 4 Golden on my end were high, and yet somehow it managed to exceed them. I came to love nearly every character in the game and had fun exploring dungeons without the tedium of repetitive dungeon design (I'm looking at you Persona 3). And to top it all off Golden features a baffling amount of new content, including additional (and often hilarious) scenes and smart mechanical changes that broaden the target audience without alienating the core fanbase. I never thought I'd say one game justifies my purchase of a system, but that's exactly how I feel regarding Persona 4 Golden and the Vita. If I hadn't bought Sony's handheld earlier this year, I likely wouldn't have experienced this new all-time favorite of mine.