My Top Ten Games of the Year 2012

This year I decided to put together a top ten list for my favorite games of 2012. Some tough cuts had to be made, but I was curious where I would have to draw that line. We've had a good year for games -- although 2012 wasn't really been too kind to the developers -- but how did I spend my free time? I decided to reflect on the past year and find out what I still remembered most fondly.

The results were actually surprising. A Kickstarter game for PC? Three XBLA games? I played games on a PC? My 2011 self would be baffled.

#1: XCOM: Enemy Unknown (Xbox 360)

I never played the original X-COM, but I have always been a fan of strategy games. I didn't realize just how starved I was for a good turn-based strategy game until this came along. I invested so much time into this game. I left it running while working just so I could walk by and play a turn or two during the day. I min/maxed my squad members, carefully planned out research assignments, and crafted clever (I thought) traps for my alien foes (and then watched as it all exploded in my face).

I had so much fun that I delayed the final mission for days, real days. I just scanned for UFOs and went on council missions. Finally, I had to finish it, but I rolled right into a new game on Classic difficulty mode. I tried my hand at Ironman mode (the memories still sting). It's a game I'll keep coming back to.

#2: Mark of the Ninja (Xbox 360 Arcade)

Klei made something just for me with Mark of the Ninja. The 2D stealth/combat, the art, and the crazy story all blend together so perfectly. I couldn't put it down. After I completed the game, I had to go right into New Game+. Even that didn't satisfy my need for more. I just had to go back through levels with different suits and equipment. This game was a joy to play and something I know I’ll probably play again some day soon. If there’s ever a Steam sale for the PC version, I’m sure I’ll buy it again and use that as an excuse to play it all over again from the start.

#3: The Walking Dead (Xbox 360 Arcade)

This game was a contender for the #1 slot. It may have dropped a few pegs, but don’t think for a second that means this game isn't something special. The numbering on this list was more of a small challenge for myself than a comment on a game's qualities. I took down to #3 because I just spent so much time this year with the above games. But TWD is very different from those games. It's more of an animated choose your own adventure book -- and that’s rad! Even the ill conceived action sequences can't ruin it.

I’m a reader/collector of The Walking Dead books and I watch the TV show as a sort of curiosity. When Tell Tale announced this game, I was skeptical. Following their shot at Jurassic Park, I assumed this would be a not-so-great cash-in on The Walking Dead’s recent explosion in popularity. For $5 I was ready to try the first episode, though -- and then all I wanted was episode 2.

The story these guys put together is excellent. The art takes its cues from books pencil sketch art style, but with color. The characters fit so well into the world that you’d assume Robert Kirkman had written them for the books (some of them are from the books, too). The bond I formed between myself and the characters was startling. I couldn't explain why I cared about these characters, but I did, a lot. Each new development, near miss, or death created one hell of an interactive experience. There were times I had to walk away and contemplate what had happened. You can't get much more invested into a game than that.

It’s a game I actively try to encourage people to play, but I admit it’s for selfish reasons. I want to watch other people play this game so I can see how all the different choices play out without cheapening my own experience by forcing myself to choose different options. I’m also really curious what people will think of it when they can play it all back-to-back. The month long waits were a keystone of the experience for me.

#4: Mass Effect 3 (Xbox 360)

Oh, Mass Effect. This game should have taken the #1 slot without any question, but as just about everyone now knows, the ending was brain scrambling, in a bad way. If you play the game with all of the DLC and the extended cut ending, I've heard the experience is quite different, but that's terrible for so many reasons I won't discuss here.

However, even with its problems, the journey to that ending was fantastic. I’m not referring to the other two games and DLC either (more on that later). That would almost be unfair to the other games up for consideration. Mass Effect 3 was just a good game. The best of the three? Hardly. But it was excellent. There are moments in this game that I’ll always remember. It just didn't stick the landing.

I can’t tell you how Mass Effect 3 stands on its own. That’s impossible for me. EA claimed this was a perfect jumping on point for new players, but I've always thought that was hogwash. The journey to the end of Mass Effect 3 was epic. I’m extremely invested in the universe at this point. I've played all three games, all of the DLC, read the comics, and I even have some of the books waiting for me on my shelf. I've heard the books are just above readable as far as quality goes and I'll still read them. I just want to take more trips to the Mass Effect universe. Ask me about Mass Effect 4 and I'll scoff and huff, but I'll pre-order that thing.

I know the love I have for this universe is blinding me, but I can almost forgive the way things have ended. How could Bioware have known Mass Effect would turn-out so well or gather such a following? They were almost setup to fail. They probably would have been better served by giving everyone the same ending while incorporating some of the player’s choices as small changes. But they tried for something bigger and failed. On the other hand, there are some signs that suggest there may have been some meddling on EA’s part. The series took some crazy turns shortly after EA bought Bioware and Mass Effect. That’s neither here nor there, though -- and certainly not something I can substantiate. This game was great and it’s my #4 pick.

#5: Persona 4: Golden (PS Vita)

I was going to break the rules and give this game the #11 slot because it’s really a PS2 game from 2008, but damn, it deserves to be in the proper top 10. This version is a 2012 release with some new features and it made my Vita purchase feel justified. I played it for over 60 hours on my first run through. I've already started my New Game+, but I am taking a break for a bit first.

I’m having a hard time coming up with words to write here that can express why I feel this game is so great. It’s a JRPG, so that will turn a lot of people away, but it’s more than that. If you really dig into the game and spend time with the characters developing social links and relationships, fighting Shadows and bosses actually becomes a very minor part of the game.

I spent only a fraction of my time in dungeons. Sure, I spent some time grinding for yen and EXP, but those hours were but a fraction of my total gameplay. The rest was spent spending time with my friends, attending school, and spending time with my uncle Dojima and little cousin Nanako. That’s the magic of Persona 4. I cared about these characters. As I increased their social links, I learned more about them and I really wanted to know their stories. It’s a game worth experiencing and I

#6: Dishonored (Xbox 360)

British Bioshock? It definitely evokes the right atmosphere. I loved every moment of this game. At first, I agonized over the stealth. I wanted to be a ghost, a spectre in the night. But that's not how Dishonored is meant to be played. Arkane Studios made a game where you can be "good" and play stealthy without feeling bad if you have to whack a few guards along the way. Once I realized that, everything clicked into place. I found myself telling my wife (or anyone who would listen) all about my crazy stunts and capers Corso and I were pulling-off.

I'll always remember my daring abduction of a mistress from her own soirée. Without raising a single eyebrow. I will recall how, in the middle of the dining hall, I froze time, choked her into unconsciousness, threw her over my shoulder, and teleported my way into her cellar. Blinking past her last few guards and house staff, I delivered her to an unsettling gentleman with a hairy mask who whisked her away in his boat to, I am told, a private island where she will be happy to the end of her days. 

#7: FTL (PC)

Like the Kobayashi Maru, but you can win -- or so I am told. I certainly can't win, but that hasn't stopped me from clicking the retry button dozens of times for "just one more game." Harried by the rebel fleet, you alone are left to deliver important documents that could turn the tide of the war. The music, the lovely 8-bit art, and the cold uncaring atmosphere of space come together to make this Rogue-like/spaceship sim a hell of  a lot of fun. No other game has made me want to retry so badly after experiencing crushing defeat.

#8: Fez (XBLA)

I almost cut Fez, but then I remembered my notebook. My madman's notebook full of tetrominos  and ciphers. I destroyed them after I finished with Fez. I did it out of fear that they could be used to get me committed.

Fez looks like a beautiful 8-bit platformer with a fun gimmick, the 2D world is really 3D, but it becomes much more. Changing perspectives is fun for a while and the world is gorgeous. The music is also wonderful and I still listen to it today.

Sadly, you eventually meet some of the game's bugs and oversights. Frame rate drops into single digits in some areas. The game crashes and forces you to re-solve some puzzles. That awful, terrible map. It can be infuriating.

But I stopped caring about the bugs after a while because I was spiraling into the abyss. I was caught inside my own conspiracy theory inside the game. Were the animals in the first world the key? Does that platform look like to tetromino to you? Where is the anti-cube here? What does it all mean!?

If I played Fez today, I might not find it as enjoyable. I played Fez when it was released. I got caught up in the zeitgeist and wanted to solve puzzles and discuss theories on the internet. Getting caught-up in the internet's craze to solve the same mysteries was a big part of Fez for me. It's a memorable experience and not many games can offer me that.

#9: Far Cry 3 (PC)

This one came out of nowhere for me. Ubisoft PR did everything they could to turn me off. Trailers with nothing but naked ladies? Giving people tattoos at PAX for free pre-orders? Ugh. They did this game a huge disservice, but eventually world of mouth about the graphics and gameplay hooked me. I saw a video of opening sequence with M.I.A.'s Paper Planes and Vaas and knew I had to try it. That opening sequence is easily one of the greatest and most memorable moments of the game. It may even be one of the best moments in video games in recent memory. However, it also reminds you the game never quite matches that same high throughout the rest of the game.

Still, for all its stumbling with the story (Why'd you have to do Vaas like that, Ubisoft?), Far Cry 3 is a very enjoyable game. The shooting felt great, hunting was a lot of fun, and I got to punch a shark and knife an crocodile (multiple times!). Yeah, we don't really know why Jason can do these things, but the power fantasy was compelling enough to make me stop caring about that. And the graphics -- wow. Even on my 5 year old PC with a Direct X 10 Radeon HD 4000 series card, I was impressed. It may have even lured me back to PC gaming. 60FPS and gorgeous scenery is compelling bait. There's a lot to appreciate in this game.

#10: Diablo 3 (PC)

This was a tough call. Diablo 3 was fun, but I didn't/don’t love it. However, I have to acknowledge the dozens of hours I sunk into it this year. All of my close friends bought Diablo 3 and we grouped together a lot. When we weren't grouping together, we were on Skype while we played. We traded equipment, we farmed together, and we all pushed through Inferno together. The experience as a whole was greater than the game itself.

That wasn't all, though. When I, as my mighty Barbarian, defeated Diablo on Inferno, solo & pre-nerf, I was on a high for the next 24 hours. I really, really wish I could have had this experience with Borderlands 1/2, but my group chose Diablo 3 and Planetside 2 for our cooperative experiences this year. While it may not be too close to my heart, it was a blast and I enjoyed it. But had I played it alone, I probably never would have replayed it so many times through different difficulties. Solo grinding gear for Inferno is not something I would recommend to someone looking for a fun time.


Hotline: Miami (PC)

With a soundtrack and bloody, visceral 8-bit art (as in 8-bit arterial spray) that makes you feel like you're on some bad drugs, this game delivers. What it delivers is strange and difficult to describe. So much death. Just put on your rubber mask, kill the men in the white suits, and steep yourself in the 80's. I must play more of this game.

Dust: An Elysian Tail (XBLA)

This game was beautiful, humorous, and a joy to play. The weird thing about this game is I both enjoy and dislike how this game looks. The hand animated art is just lovely and everything flows so smoothly. It's an achievement. But I don't really like the talking animals. The story is interesting and the combat was fun, but it all sort of feels cheapened by by the animals. I'm not counted among the crowd that lost their minds with "Furry hate"; I just didn't care much for it.

Still, the story tackles genocide in a very serious way and the story behind the game is also inspiring. It's worth a play and it's one of those games that blurs the old line between disc games and downloadables just a bit further.

Darksiders 2 (Xbox 360)

I fell in love with the first Darksiders long after it was released. It revitalized my desire for a Zelda-like game and the ending is perfect. Darksiders 2 was absolutely enjoyable and I respect it. I can't wait to see more games to come out of Vigil Games. However, I was very disappointed when I found out the game ran parallel to the story of the first game. I wanted to wage war with the Council alongside my horsemen brothers. The ending also felt flat compared to the inspired ending of Darksiders. I had to go watch that ending again after I finished Darksiders 2 to boost my mood.

Journey (PSN)

This tops a lot of GOTY lists this year. The game is very pretty, unique (incredibly so), and moving. However, it just didn't stick with me like it did fr some people. It's not something I'll easily forget, but it's also not a game I'm going to think back on again and again. It was still a fantastic, special experience that I cherish.


Don't' Starve (PC)

Klei's new experimental game. I'm having a lot of fun with it. It would have been a runner-up, maybe even a top 10 game, but it's still in beta. It will be released in March. On the other hand, I did pay $12 for it, so is it a beta? I could have played it for free as a game in my Chrome browser. Lets call it a 2013 game that gets an honorable mention for being awesome in 2012.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (Xbox 360)

Lets not discuss the fate of Big Huge Studios or this game. This game was great. I really liked their twist on the Jesus/lone savior destined to save the world routine with the player's "fateless" character. I think it's clever and it made for some really fun missions. The only reason it wasn't one of my top games of this year is the balancing issues. I really wanted to experience everything the game had to offer. Some of the side missions were awesome, so I did them all. This made my character way too powerful for the areas that followed and, eventually, I reached a point where I was overpowered for the entire game. It even made some achievements difficult to get. This really killed the combat for me, and thus, a big chunk of the gameplay.

Tokyo Jungle (PS3)

This game good fun. I didn't spend enough time playing it say it was one of the best of this year, but it brought me so much joy. My Pomeranian's short rule over Tokyo was grand, but the Pomeranian dynasty ended with the invasion of the crocodiles and tigers. It was inevitable and a highlight of 2012.

Crashmo (Nintendo 3DS)

I loved Pushmo. It's one of the greatest games you can download on a 3DS. Crashmo is more Pushmo, but things crash and there are colorful birds. That's it. I really like it.

MY 2012 GAMES FOR 2013

Spec Ops: The Line (PC)

A third-person cover-based shooter that mimics Call of Duty/Modern Warfare and tackles PTSD probably deserves my attention. I picked it up for $10 on Steam and I hear it can be had for about that price from Amazon for PC and consoles. I'll definitely be checking it out.

Legends of Grimrock (PC)

Everything I hear about this game makes me think it's my kind of game. it just so happens I basically got it for free from Humble Indie Bundle #7, so it's installed and ready to go.

Snapshot (PC)

I met the developers of this cute puzzler at PAX. The art is adorable and the camera mechanic is fun. I spent a few hours with it already on PC, but I'm excited for their Vita port.

Lone Survivor

I hear good things, so I picked it up for $5 on Steam. It's an apocalyptic/zombie mystery/adventure game. It sounds unique enough to piqué my interests.

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