2012 was, by far, one of the best years in modern gaming history. I might even say this was the best year of any generation. Might say that. Might. It might seem a tad reductive to say that, but in all honesty, there were so many games that pushed above and beyond what they were striving for that its impossible to ignore the impact that many of the games on our lists here at CHUD have had on the gaming landscape. This was a big year for shooters, a big year for action/adventure and an even bigger year for open-worlds that push the boundaries of what one can expect moving forward.
Full disclosure: I did not play every single game that came out this year. Also, my top 5 list will not include any downloadable titles. These are simply console releases that I have deemed worthy of my top 5 Games of The Year, as well as the ever-popular Honorable Mentions.
Some of the games that almost made the cut for me this year include:
Medal Of Honor: Warfighter – I consider Warfighter to be a thinking-man’s FPS, with carefully-balanced gunfights that often require planning as opposed to charging in, a la CoD. The narrative is interesting, and the multiplayer solid, with incredible visuals (courtesy of the Frostbite 2 engine).
Resident Evil 6 – Far from my favorite game of the year, I still enjoyed Resident Evil 6 enough to consider it. I like the splintered narratives, though some are weaker than others, I do find the approach interesting and varied enough to warrant multiple playthroughs. I’d like to see Capcom hand the franchise off to a Western developer, but I fear that may never happen. Still, a valiant entry.
Prototype 2 – Another example of a great open-world game, albeit, nowhere near as perfect as the one presented in Sleeping Dogs, Prototype 2 delivers on the sheer carnage level. A fun romp through a heavily-infected New York City on a quest for revenge, the game does a good job of turning the tables on the previous game’s hero, Alex Mercer. Playing as recently-infected James Heller, you use your powers to avenge the death of your family. An absolute blast.
Halo 4 – The best multiplayer experience you’ll have all year is to be found on XBOX 360 in the form of Halo 4. Giving the player multiple loadouts and armor options is a blast, and provides for hours of fun, night after night. The narrative is the second-worst in the series (worst: Halo 3), but hopefully this new “Reclaimer Saga” will pick up with the next entry.
Mass Effect 3 – I almost didn’t put this on here. It was hard playing this game, knowing it was all coming to an end. I won’t recount what I wrote about the game’s endings, but my feelings haven’t changed much. I have no interest in DLC. No interest in multiplayer. Shepard’s story is over. I know what my other three Sheps would choose if I were to play the game through to completion three more times, as I did the previous two games, but I don’t know that I ever will, due to the finality and insignificance of it all, which, I think was BioWare’s metacommentary on life itself. Get deep, folks.
Dragon’s Dogma – I feel this game is going to be overlooked by just about everyone. While it may seem a tad repetitive, there are genuine moments of excitement, like when your four party members engage a gigantic creature in the wilds. Part Dragon Age, part-Shadow of the Colossus, Dragon’s Dogma deserves more love than its been given.
Sniper Elite V2 – Possibly the most intense multiplayer I’ve experienced all year, the somewhat weak campaign takes a back seat (much like Halo 4) to an outstanding online component. Playing as either Axis or Allies, the player and his teammates must eliminate the other team. Sounds easy, right? The hitch comes from the fact that most battles are lengthy sniper-affairs, with players camped out for sometimes ten or fifteen minutes before being able to take a glorious killshot. Stalking up to a spot and eliminating enemies has never been so precise or elegant.
Far Cry 3 – Offering up an incredibly nuanced and driving narrative that feels like the film adaptation of The Beach crossed with Heart of Darkness, Far Cry 3 is another open world game hampered by a lack of vision. The two endings to the game are wildly different, but both are incredibly final and don’t offer the player an opportunity to continue to explore. It’s a shame because the narrative lends itself to exploring the island quite a bit.
Featuring my third-favorite vocal performance of the year in the form of Michael Rosenbaum’s Nick (lead character Juliet Starling’s decapitated boyfriend), Justin and I are more or less in agreement on where we stand on this one. An absurdist take on teen-horror from the mind of Suda51 and James Gunn, Lollipop Chainsaw never let me down in terms of fun and silliness. Oddly enough, I hated Suda51’s Shadows Of The Damned, so I fully expected to hate Lollipop Chainsaw (or as we call it in my circle, Lollichop Painsaw), but this was certainly not the case.
With a soundtrack that varies from The Chordettes’ “Lollipop” to Atari Teenage Riot’s “Speed,” the game sports the best found-music soundtrack of the year. A personal favorite is “Cherry Bomb,” the track that greets you at the title screen. It’s impossible to not bob your head along with Juliet as you slice and dice your way through wave after wave of zombies.
The game is a hysterical and candy-colored trip into the mind and heart of a teenage girl brought up in the ways of monster-killin’. I wouldn’t hold my breath for a sequel, though were one to be announced, I’d welcome it with open arms. Good on you, Grasshopper Manufacture, Kadokawa Games and Warner Bros for having the guts to have some fun.
Contributing Factors: Juliet is more than just a pretty face, she shows genuine emotion and heart in a game that isn’t meant to have either of those things, frantic action, brilliant dialogue.
Moment To Savor: Atari Teenage Riot’s “Speed” blasting over the soundtrack as Juliet races towards the game’s explosive finale.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “I like cheerleaders. I like cheerleaders with chainsaws better.”
Taking its cue from flicks like Infernal Affairs and Election (pretty much cribbing from every Johnny To movie ever), Sleeping Dogs is an example of open-world gaming done right. Featuring a top-flight voice cast starring Will Yun lee, Tom Wilkinson, Edison Chen and Byron Mann (my favorite film villain of 2012, Silver Lion in Man With The Iron Fists), the game is about undercover detective Wei Shen, who has returned to Hong Kong after spending time with the San Francisco Police Department. Throughout the course of the narrative, themes of revenge, justice, friendship and loyalty play out in a more restrained and mature take on open-world gameplay. The game feels like a hard-boiled kung-fu narrative directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, it just works on every level.
Never dull and always eager to show off its lush and stunning visuals, Sleeping Dogs’ real treat is its hand-to-hand combat. The gunplay is stellar, as well, but unarmed brawls are always showstoppers. Utilizing a system similar to the recent Batman: Arkham series, Wei Shen is able to target and dismantle foes faster than Batman ever could, while also using the environment to his advantage. Feel like slamming that thug’s face into a building’s exhaust fan? You can do that. Feel like impaling some poor schmuck on a meat hook? Go for it. Wanna’ break a dude’s leg and follow that up with stuffing him in a trash can? It’s encouraged.
The open-world Hong Kong of Sleeping Dogs feels as alive as any Rockstar open-world. That’s a major factor for me when it comes to an open-world game, whether or not it feels like that world is genuinely lived-in. In Grand Theft Auto IV, for example, Liberty City felt like a real place, partly because I’m a New Yorker and have been to the places Niko’s been to, but also because Rockstar did a great job of making the city feel like a character itself. United Front does the same here in crafting Hong Kong. It’s a testament to Square Enix that they were able to bring this game to the light of day after it was cancelled as part of the True Crime series back in 2006.
Contributing Factors: Strong visuals, deep gameplay, an open world that never feels oppressive, outstanding voice acting all around.
Moment To Savor: Learning to break an enemy’s arm or leg and watching as surrounding baddies cringe at the sound of their friend’s bones breaking.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “If you ever wanted to live a Hong Kong action movie, now’s your chance, Casual.”
Yet again, Justin and I are on the same page this year. It’s good to know that even as the site’s resident gaming contrarian, I can find common ground with my co-writers. I’ve always been a fan of Max Payne. Since the beginning. I prize Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne as the benchmark of the franchise, however; this third entry comes awfully close to snatching the crown.
The third entry in Rockstar’s noir saga places Max in Brazil against crooked cops, shady government groups and regular ole’ Brazilian scum. Quixote-like in execution, the narrative of Max Payne 3 sees the aging hero engage in gunfights with men half his age but with nowhere near his experience level, lending believability to the battles, while also spiraling down the rabbit hole of corruption that Max had finally begun to believe he crawled out from in the first place. Leaving New York/New Jersey behind was a smart move for the third entry, as this year was full of gray-colored action/adventure titles. Uprooting Max and introducing gamers to Pasos, Max’ partner in this almost buddy-cop-esque adventure is an exciting way to treat the series.
All the tenets of Max Payne returned for this third entry: bullet-time, frantic, John woo-inspired gunplay, cheesy one-liners and plenty of painkillers/alcohol. With a killer soundtrack by HEALTH, Max Payne 3 was an easy choice for GOTY contention. It just does so much right, its impossible to ignore.
Contributing Factors: Kinetic gunplay, an honest hero, lush visuals, outstanding soundtrack.
Moment To Savor: Max on a beach with a duffel bag. ‘Nuff said.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Take equal parts Rockstar, throw in some Michael Mann and you’ve got a GOTY contender.”
We were supposed to get two XCOM games this year. One, a first-person shooter developed by the folks at 2K Marin with tactical elements, and this stealth-entry, courtesy of the geniuses at Firaxis. I’m a sucker for strategy games, especially ones made by Firaxis, so I was jazzed to learn about XCOM: Enemy Unknown early on. I had my doubts, especially after learning about the steep difficulty, but overall, I’m proud to say, I didn’t lose too many nations in my quest to fight the aliens and I only lost three soldiers across a near thirty-hour playthrough.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown sees the player tasked with unrolling the world’s first and only defense against the alien threat (known as XCOM). You are tasked with upgrading your facilities, training soldiers, providing armor and guns, researching weapon upgrades and developing new technology in your fight against the invaders (who range from simple “greys” to disc-shaped pains in the asses called Cyberdiscs and a few others I won’t spoil here). Every enemy has their own pattern of attack, some melee, some are long-range, some use psychic abilities, etc. All in all, how you outfit your ground troops and lead them in battle is what wins the day.
Naming all of my characters after famous movie badasses was the obvious route. My fireteam leaders (in my head) were Dwayne Hicks, “Doc” Roe and Johnny Rico. While “Doc” wouldn’t live to see the fight all the way to the end, he would be replaced by Hicks’ second-in-command, Toll Road, who would go on to become so important, my entire game hinged on his survival and bravery in the field. Literally.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is not a simple game. You will lose soldiers. I consider myself something of a strategy guy and still lost three soldiers. You may lose less, you may lose more, but this game forces the player to invest emotionally into his team. Mission to mission, your soldiers learn new skills, they fight better, they adapt to enemies better, and once outfitted properly, they can go toe to toe with the most badass of alien enemies. If you have even a passing interest in strategy gaming or a love of hard science fiction, you need to be playing XCOM: Enemy Unknown.
Contributing Factors: Missions that never play the same twice, deep character customization, branching missions and narrative.
Moment To Savor: Dropping an enemy with one shot from a sniper rifle. Delivered by my expert marksman, Ace Levy.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “Sci-fi action at its absolute best, folks.”
I championed this game. I told every single person I knew who had even a slight interest in gaming about how incredible this game is. The lack of love this game is getting doesn’t surprise me. Some people can’t get passed the game’s setting, others can’t deal with the combat. This is fine. For those of us who took the time to enjoy the game and get what Yager was trying to do, that only makes it more enjoyable. It’s like punk rock. Amazing and enjoyable until it goes mainstream.
At first glance, Spec Ops: The Line is just an average military shooter with a really interesting setting. The more you play, the more layers get peeled back on that foul-smelling onion and you have a game about redemption, madness, PTSD, genocide and horror on a level that few games have ever attempted to tackle before. We’re talking about the darkest side of war. The human element, the mayhem that lingers in a soldier’s mind long-after the bullets have stopped whizzing by. How does a soldier cope with that? What happens when a soldier refuses to cope nor accept and continues onward, chasing windmills?
Captain Martin Walker leads a three-man Delta Force into Dubai in order to assess the situation after a massive sandstorm has pretty much demolished the city. Along the way, in true Apocalypse Now/Heart Of Darkness fashion, Walker and his team find themselves embroiled in one of the most brutal and horrifying conflicts they’ve ever encountered. In my original review, I reference how incredible the voice cast is here, and I stand by that. Nolan North, Jake Busey, Bruce Boxleitner and others are all superb.
I’m not a Nolan North guy. I find his work typically pedestrian. But not here. Here, he’s unbelievable. Taking a character from one end of the spectrum to the other over the course of one game is a pretty amazing feat. Not many other actors could do it, so I guess that’s the reason he’s the top dog in voice acting these days.
I’ve killed millions of people online and through a game’s narrative. Never once did I feel bad. I didn’t hesitate to put a bullet in Lucien’s head in Fable 2. I didn’t stop and think of what it would mean to kill Saren in Mass Effect. In Spec Ops: The Line, I felt the weight of every single kill. They mattered. This wasn’t Call of Duty, folks, where enemies are avatars or respawning from thin-air Russians (or Mid-Easterners). This wasn’t faceless online play. This was war. This was Americans killing Americans. It felt ugly because it was.
I know a game is brilliant when I immediately pick it up and start playing through it again. I did that with Mass Effect 2. I did that with Saint’s Row The Third. My all-time favorite videogame, Earthbound, I’ve played through around a dozen times. I immediately started a second playthrough of Spec Ops: The Line. Then a third a few weeks later. I haven’t gotten this game out of my head since it came out. I hope I never do.
I leave you with my favorite trailer for Spec Ops: The Line, my pick for 2012 Game of the Year.
Contributing Factors: Brilliant storyline, fast-paced action, strategic use of soldiers’ abilities, dark subject matter.
Moment To Savor: Any time you shoot out a window, dropping a mountain of sand onto enemies.
CHUD.com Pull Quote: “The game is a beautiful nightmare that I don’t ever want to wake up from.”