The line between AAA games and ‘indie’ productions is becoming blurrier than ever. It’s not a new trend, but it certainly made major progress in 2012. Traditionally download-only titles are as sophisticated as their retail counterparts. Sizeable game companies are trying their luck using unorthodox channels, whether it be Kickstarter, Humble Bundles or otherwise. No more is this apparent than this year’s GOTY lists. Big blockbuster games are making way for smaller, more ambitious titles.
With that, I present my top five games of 2012.
[Watch New Game Plus’ Max Payne 3 review]
I had my issues with Rockstar Games’ Max Payne 3. The elements were all there — the bullet-time, the tormented protagonist and his somewhat florid voice-over — but it just didn’t feel like the Max Payne games of old. Combat was too cover-centric and Max felt more fragile than ever, despite still pulling off moves that would knock the wind out of someone half his age.
Yet I must acknowledge that Rockstar have done well with the Max Payne brand. Although I can’t get behind some of Rockstar’s changes– Max, for instance, feels almost cartoonishly clumsy — there are other things I do love. The film-noir tropes that pervaded the previous games are dropped in favour of an 80s thriller motif, and it works remarkably well. Not to mention the graphics look spectacular, especially on PC. Most of all, Rockstar have taken the Max Payne brand and put their trademark stamp on it, which is more often effective than not.
It could have been a better Max Payne game, but I am still a fan of Rockstar’s version of this character.
[Watch New Game Plus’ Mass Effect 3 review]
“It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” It’s a well-worn adage, yes, but when it comes to Mass Effect 3, nothing is more appropriate.
Let’s get this out of the way now: The ending could have been handled better. It wasn’t the utter betrayal that the more vocal Mass Effect ‘fans’ made it out to be, but it wasn’t perfect either — even Bioware admitted this by releasing an Extended Cut to the ending.
But even if the ending had just been Shepard turning to the camera and flipping everyone the double-bird, it would not have tainted what was otherwise a quality Mass Effect game. It brought a surprising amount of closure to the many story arcs that had been established throughout the trilogy. Aside from that, the combat was just as good as ever, which played into the surprisingly high-quality multiplayer; what could have been a forgettable bolt-on ended up being a mode that could hold its own.
As I’ve previously discussed, I play Mass Effect for the crew members, and the opportunity to once more explore the universe with these well-rounded characters more than outstrips any badwill the try-colour ending generated.
[Watch New Game Plus’ Journey review]
Journey is a thing of beauty. Every element seems like it was designed to elicit stunned awe, from the evocative design of your characters and the environment to Austin Wintory’s Grammy-nominated score; even the sand feels like it was hand-crafted. But it’s the journey itself that makes this game something special.
It is filled with transcendental moments: The first climb to reveal the title card and your destination, the long and winding slide down the sand dunes, not to mention the entirety of the third act. These emotional highs would not have been possible without Journey’s unique multiplayer mechanic, dropping in anonymous players to aid you in your quest. The connection you establish with this stranger is not dissimilar to that of war buddies, even if your cohort ends up being ‘xXBANGARANGOPZ420Xx’ or something.
Journey is a culmination of thatgamecompany’s ambitions, and is something that everyone should experience.
[Watch New Game Plus’ Asura’s Wrath review]
On the surface, Asura’s Wrath shouldn’t be on this list. The game was essentially a series of quick-time events, not to mention the inherent cynicism behind selling the game’s True Ending as DLC. And yet here it is, having succeeded in spite of these tall obstacles.
Indeed, it was this True Ending that pushed this game on to my list. It encapsulated everything that made Asura’s Wrath so memorable — the bombastic story, the relentless on-screen action, the swelling soundtrack, the clever and refreshing uses of QTEs (yes, you read that right) and the fantastic visuals — and amplified the already high standard of quality. The final boss fight, with its stark white environment and what has to be the most innovative use of QTEs, still resonates with me to this day.
On the surface, Asura’s Wrath’s behaviour should not be encouraged. But in this case, I am more than willing to make an exception.
After the credits rolled on The Walking Dead, after I quit to the desktop, I just sat there and stared into the distance for five minutes. I just needed to recover, to let the previous thirteen hours sink in.
Telltale Games have created one of the most harrowing games of recent times. To achieve this, they pulled off one of the greater deceptions of the year: They gave players the illusion that their choices had a grander impact; to wit, every episode began with “The story is tailored by how you play.” Apart from character interactions, this is essentially a lie — the story will end up the same way no matter your decisions. I was fully cognisant of this, and yet I still fretted and stressed over every choice.
All credit here goes to the excellent writing. Each of the characters are so well written that you can’t help but grow attached to them, even Larry the arsehole dad. Never have I been more cared more for a video game character than Clementine. It meant that when your ragtag crew met their fates, the emotional punch was devastating. And when that final hit landed square in my gut, I was winded — I had to sit there for five straight minutes.
This level of engagement could not have been done in any other medium. In cinema, literature or anywhere else, you’re just watching events take place before your eyes. Here, you’re mired in every life-threatening situation, every shitty decision. And with every move you make, you get deeper invested in the story, the characters, the world around you. You become one with Lee, one with the game. You can not achieve this in any other medium.
I don’t think those five minutes were enough; there are moments in this game, particularly in the last half hour, that will stick with me for years to come. No other game released this year came close to hitting the highs that this game did, which is why The Walking Dead is my number one game of 2012.
Come back tomorrow for more games of the year from the NG+ cast and crew