BEST VOICE ACTING
Justin’s Pick: Jennifer Hale, Female Shepard, Mass Effect 3
Runners up: James McCaffrey, Max Payne, Max Payne 3; Jen Taylor, Cortana, Halo 4; Nolan North, Capt. Martin Walker, Spec Ops: The Line
Not even a contest here. Hale has been kicking this series’ ass since day one, and with ME3, she’s dealing with loss, regrets, romance, and ultimately, fatalism. The game puts Shepard through the wringer, and Hale hits every emotional note with perfection. This is a character and performance for the ages, and bless Mark Meer for doing solid work, but I don’t think I’d feel the exact same way going through the game as Broshep. Having said that, the three runners up here are veterans who all hit their peaks this year as well. McCaffrey got to take up the mantle of Max Payne in the way he should’ve been from day one, Taylor finally got to give Cortana the kind of performance and send off that, as I said in the GOTY article, would’ve had me more invested in this series a long ass time ago, and Nolan North, well, between Uncharted, Portal 2, that menacing Penguin performance from Arkham City, and now, Capt. Walker, every expectation we’ve built of the guy over the last half decade or so is being beaten into submission.
Rob’s Pick: Nolan North, Captain Martin Walker, Spec Ops: The Line
Runners up: James McCaffrey, Max Payne 3; Will Yun Lee, Sleeping Dogs; Michael Rosenbaum, Lollipop Chainsaw
Nobody this year has delivered the emotion or strength of performance that North injected into Captain Martin Walker. Without question, spanning all range of emotion and intensity for a character that goes through hell and back (depending on which ending you choose) is a testament to a powerful actor. Walker shows every side of psychological damage in Spec Ops: The Line. Walker is a character that one can relate to, while also be incredibly disgusted by, and this is all thanks to North’s performance. As a person who isn’t a fan of Nolan North to begin with, I have to say that he ups his game for Spec Ops: The Line.
Tim’s Pick: Michael Mando, Vaas, Far Cry 3
Runners Up: Jennifer Taylor, Cortana, Halo 4; Keith David, Admiral David Anderson, Mass Effect 3
It’s a credit to Michael Mando and the makers of Far Cry 3 that I’ve spent the last 48 hours in the jungle plotting how I’m going to get back his character back for killing my brother, but Vaas is that big of a bastard and Far Cry 3 is that damn good. Mando brings the right kind of bipolar to the role, transitioning between terrifying murderer and maniacal hyena at the drop of a hat. The developers also used his likeness and mo-cap work, making the performance all the more singular.
BEST HERO OF 2012
Justin’s Pick: Female Shepard, Mass Effect 3
Runner up: Juliet, Lollipop Chainsaw
See also above. By the end of Mass Effect 3, the course of evolution for life itself is left to this woman. The fact that I absolutely believed she should be the one making the decision is a testament to the character Bioware have built here, and the trials thrown at her over the course of this series. Another no brainer, though, some love’s gotta be thrown at Juliet from Lollipop Chainsaw, for somehow managing to turn what could’ve been a one-note fetish into one of the most endearingly big-hearted main characters gaming’s seen in a long time. While still being a fetish.
Rob’s Pick: Wei Shen, Sleeping Dogs
Runner Up: Max Payne, Max Payne 3
As much as I wanted to give this to Max Payne, I felt that overall, his narrative’s progression didn’t change his character much. That said, I’ve got to go with Wei Shen from Sleeping Dogs as my hero of the year. Not only is he able to dismantle thugs with amazing kung-fu ease that would make Batman blush, he also navigates the treacherous halls of organized crime and governmental authority by playing both sides as an undercover Triad. Under unbearable stress throughout most of Sleeping Dogs’ narrative, Shen’s inner monologue and dealings with his handler, as well as his best friend Jackie all paint the character in an honest and relatable light. Shen thrives in that scary gray-area of morality better than any hero this year.
Tim’s Pick: Agent 47, Hitman: Absolution
Runner Up: Master Chief, Halo 4
Going with a dark horse in this category, of which there are non darker than Agent 47, the serial killer hitman with a heart of gold. There’s so much so awesomely twisted about the man’s methods, and yet his morality is shared by some of film’s greatest anti-heroes. This Hitman has everything in common with the sort of morally questionable characters not uncommon in Tarantino or Rodriguez films. When he takes the bad guy’s son into the desert to execute him in the company of buzzards circling overhead, you can be sure he’s doing it for the right reasons. Wrong has never felt so right.
BEST VILLAIN OF 2012
Justin’s Pick: Konrad, Spec Ops: The Line
Runners Up: Handsome Jack, Borderlands 2; Haytham Kenway, Assassin’s Creed III
It’s kinda impossible to say why Konrad’s so damn special without getting into heavy spoilers for a game not nearly enough people have played, but not only does the game manage to effectively ape the magic trick Coppola pulled with Apocalypse Now, making us utterly terrified of a man we know only by reputation, but when we find out the truth about the man, the fact that the game manages to indict the player in his actions is diabolical brilliance. Assassin’s Creed tries and fails miserably at that same thing, but credit where credit is due: Haytham’s fucking awesome. It’s like playing a Colonial Bond film, then having a Colonial Bond villain. On the flipside of all this, though, Handsome Jack is just a brilliantly written asshole. You both love and hate when his voice comes over your headset. I mean, the name Buttstallion alone…..
Runner up: Vaas from Far Cry 3
Walker is a man carefully straddling the line between good and evil. He’s a monster who slaughters fellow American soldiers with ease, while also waxing poetic about the mission at hand to his subordinates, damning them all on a quest for militaristic glory.
Tim’s Pick: Vaas, Far Cry 3
Runner Up: Minnesota Vikings, Madden ’13
Michael Mando’s Vaas, a pirate ringleader on Far Cry 3’s absurdly large island hell-paradise, is the kind of villain we don’t get enough of in videogames. A vagabond, scoundrel, murderer, and certified nutter butter, he starts at despicable and works backwards. From his obnoxious mohawk to his terrifying, frenetic mannerisms (the character’s features belong to the actor), you never know where the character’s head is at as your character descends further and further into a world Vaas is all too comfortable with. He isn’t just one of the best videogame villains of 2012, he’s simply one of the best videogame villains ever. One you can’t wait to settle the score with.
BEST DOWNLOADABLE TITLE
Justin’s Pick: The Walking Dead
Runners Up: Journey, Papo y Yo, Jet Set Radio HD
The Walking Dead managed to penetrate through my complete fatigue with zombies in current media, every prejudice I’d built up about the property, and my general take-or-leave approach to Telltale’s adventure games. It’s just plain the best written interactive media this year, and any expectations one may have about it going in, I guarantee, they are 100% wrong. This coming on the heels of a year where Journey happened, a game more satisfying than games 20 times its length. You’re goddamn right I’m looking at you, Square Enix. Admittedly, JSR gets a vote for managing to resurrect one of the best underplayed titles of the last 15 years, but Papo Y Yo was a labor of love that came along at just the right time to provide the most beautiful counterbalance to Max Payne 3‘s portrayal of Brazil anyone could’ve asked for.
Rob’s Pick: The Walking Dead
Runners Up: Awesomenauts, Hybrid
The Walking Dead is an example of everything firing on the right cylinder all the time. Telltale, as usual, knocks the narrative out of the park, while also delivering genuinely terrifying moments alongside incredibly tense human to human interaction. I’ve hated The Walking Dead comic for a while, finding the story plodding and weak, but the show I absolutely love and the game is something everyone needs to play this year.
Tim’s Pick: The Walking Dead
Runners Up: Jet Set Radio HD
If Telltale represents a sort of niche gaming, it’s a fabulous niche, as some very notable properties seem to be running into their arms with increasing regularity. This game is downright stressful at times, the way a narrative like this should be, and it serves as perhaps the most affecting glimpse into Robert Kirkman’s mind we’ve yet to see. Entertaining and awful, it’s as painful to watch as it is delightful to play.
BEST INDIE TITLE
Justin’s Pick: Hotline Miami
Imagine David Lynch remade Drive. Now imagine Suda 51 made a video game adaptation of David Lynch’s Drive. Now imagine someone was fucknuts enough to make an 8-bit top-down shooter out of Suda 51’s adaptation of David Lynch’s Drive. Now imagine that only TWO GUYS were responsible for such a masterpiece of abstract ultraviolent batshittery, and these two guys are out there, walking the streets as we speak.
Rob’s Pick: Apple Jack 2
Runners Up: Slender, Botanicula
When I played Apple Jack 2 for my weekly indie roundup, it blew my mind. Months later, it still blows my mind. Taking all the best platforming elements of the classic Mario games and injecting some much-needed humor and beautiful visuals, Apple Jack 2 is a story about a person who thirsts for more out of life. Executing the narrative through incredibly addictive platform levels is an ingenious way to open up Apple Jack 2’s world to players. A lush and vibrant game full of charm and humor, skipping Apple Jack 2 would be a huge mistake, especially since it’s only a buck on XBLIG.
Tim’s Pick: Black Mesa
Runner Up: Hotline Miami
A group of code monkeys pooling their resources to bring Valve’s masterpiece the latest capabilities the Source engine has to offer, this incredible Half-Life port is the best we could hope for as we wait for the possibly-never-arriving Half-Life 2: Episode 3. With Valve’s blessing, these third-party developers brought an old classic back to life on modern PC, and I’m terribly glad they did.
Justin’s Pick: Journey
Runners Up: Halo 4
Any other year, Halo 4 would’ve gotten this hands down. I’ve been cultivating a quiet dislike of online multiplayer these past few years. It’s a rare thing someone manages to make a world these days I want to hang around in with no real purpose other than competition. Last one might’ve been Red Dead Redemption, really. Halo 4 managed to do the impossible with Spartan Ops mode: episodic, story-based, co-op content, rewards galore, and once again, Jennifer Hale kicking ass. It’s essentially like having a sequel to ODST built right in to what’s already a fantastic Halo sequel.
And then I think about Journey, about the adventures I’ve had in that world, with people whose names I will never know, and yet feel more connected to within seconds than I have in any co-op game ever, and the choice is obvious. This is the kind of experience we need so much more of.
Rob’s Pick: Halo 4
Runners Up: Medal of Honor: Warfighter, Spec Ops: The Line
Halo 4’s multiplayer did everything right this year. Adding loadouts and drastically different and vibrant maps to the mix, the multiplayer component of Master Chief’s adventure is a breath of fresh air. While I find the Spartan Ops mode boring (mostly because Jennifer Hale’s obnoxious performance as Spartan Sarah Palmer), the allure of multiplayer is incredibly strong. I’ve found myself finding little nooks and crannies on every level, posting up and waiting for a sucker to come in range of my sniper rifle, all the while my sentry turret monitors the area for immediate threats. I can’t get enough of Halo 4’s multiplayer.
Tim’s Pick: Halo 4
Runners Up: Battlefield 3: Close Quarters (see what I did there?)
I can’t conceivably give this honor to any other game. One, because I’ve been back on the Halo multiplayer bandwagon since Reach and two, because I simply don’t play enough multiplayer anymore to seriously give a shit about most other titles. Halo 4 eats other FPS budgets for brunch, and it shows in a slick interface and smooth presentation we’ve been accustomed to for years. And the new leveling-up system was a welcome upgrade.
Justin’s Pick: Dishonored
Runners Up: Max Payne 3, Assassins Creed III
Well, when your game world is designed by the amazing sonsofbitches who designed Half Life 2 and Bioshock, of course, it’s going to be more or less than prettiest damn thing ever. Well, I mean, yes, it’s also the grimiest thing ever, with piles of dead rats and bodies everywhere, and generally spending entire levels trudging around in sewers, but even that has a meticulous brilliance about it. Max Payne 3 deserves a nod of the hat for essentially being a playable, sun-bathed Tony Scott movie, and for all its faults as a game, Assassin’s Creed has never looked better.
Rob’s Pick: Medal Of Honor: Warfighter
Runners Up: Max Payne 3, Far Cry 3
Warfighter’s graphics are as close to photoreal as I’ve ever seen. I don’t go crazy for graphics (in fact, I could care less) but in a year where a shooter game is running on the Frostbite engine, nothing comes close. The characters are creepily real-looking, the firefights look like footage from CNN and the after-effects of warfare are something to behold. Surveying an area after a firefight is always a treat, as the game looks absolutely splendid. Particle physics, HUD, and crisp visuals put Warfighter above all others in terms of stellar visuals this year.
Tim’s Pick: Halo 4
Runner Up: Assassin’s Creed 3
Taking framerate into account, I give the edge to Halo 4 here. Richly colorful, beautifully detailed and technically superior to its peers even in this current-gen’s twilight, Halo 4 is a technological achievement. There’s a weird Tron vibe permeating throughout, but the pop of the visuals doesn’t come truly into focus until your first real time showdown with a Promethean.
Justin’s Pick: Spec Ops: The Line
Runners Up: Hotline Miami, Max Payne 3, Journey, Lollipop Chainsaw
Much as my heart pulls me to give it to Hotline Miami’s glorious Drive-meets-Vice City soundtrack, or Health turning in the best score to an 80s Michael Mann film never made in Max Payne 3, or the soothing ambience of Journey, or the bugfuck eclectic insanity of Lollipop Chainsaw, Spec Ops manages to show up every other licensed soundtrack this year. Every track played underlines every atrocity, sometimes by the very nature of it being calming and peaceful, sometimes by accentuating the horrors with pure ambient dissonance. Also, finally, a war game gets smart, and uses Alice In Chains’ Rooster. WHY HAS THIS NOT HAPPENED BEFORE?
Rob’s Pick: Max Payne 3
Runners Up: Lollipop Chainsaw, Spec Ops: The Line
I refuse to give a game “best soundtrack” that uses found music. That said, Health’s score for Max Payne 3 is just incredible. Max Payne 3 has the most identifiable soundtrack of any game this year, which isn’t surprising as Rockstar typically knocks their games’ soundtracks out of the park. Though they typically rely on found-music, Rockstar’s best soundtracks are the original ones for Bully, Red Dead Redemption and now, Max Payne 3. Listening to Health’s “Tears” while shooting up an airport is one of my favorite auditory pleasures had this year.
Tim’s Pick: Mass Effect 3
Runner Up: Hitman: Absolution
Clint Mansell’s Mass Effect 3 work is a truly powerful musical accompaniment befitting of this final chapter in the three-part saga. At times stirring while heart-wrenching throughout, this is the only 2012 game score I find myself revisiting with any sort of regularity on my Spotify queue. Even if the game couldn’t stick the landing, Mansell’s work did, and it’s one of Shepard’s finest allies.
BEST SCRIPTED MOMENT OF THE YEAR
Justin’s Pick: The White Phosphorous, Spec Ops: The Line
Runners Up: “Welcome Home John”, Halo 4; Charles Lee’s Last Call, Assassins Creed III; The Traveler Falls, Journey
Another no brainer. Equal parts the most horrific act ever perpetrated in a war game, while also the greatest fuck-you to the whole modern warfare genre in games period. The fact that the genre hasn’t come close to this moment prior is just sad (sidenote: I’m now thoroughly convinced the nuke aftermath stage in Modern Warfare was a fluke, and Infinity Ward/Treyarch have no fucking idea why it worked). The fact that no one’s figured out it’s kinda necessary if you’re gonna have us keep getting our jollies killing foreigners ad nauseum is sadder.
The other three are still pretty special, though. Halo 4‘s finale going for emotional rather than Yet Another Giant Thing Goes Boom is wholly unexpected but welcome, especially considering, as mentioned above, Jen Taylor just tears your heart out in that moment. Assassin’s Creed‘s final kill would’ve been better had it been playable, but Connor and Charles Lee downing their last shots before the wristshank comes out is the kind of subtle, patient work the game should’ve been doing the whole time. And of course, there’s Journey‘s finale, which manages to do more in 3 minutes without a single word of dialogue than some games do with hundreds of pages of it. Yes, I’m looking at you Square Enix. YES, AGAIN.
Rob’s Pick: The White Phosphorous, Spec Ops: The Line
Runners Up: Sleeping Dogs’ Wedding Mission, Far Cry 3’s Vaas Intro
Never before in a videogame have we entered a literal hell than before experiencing the nightmarish scenario posed by the maniacs at Yager. The sequence stands out as both beautiful and terrifying in that at the loss of so many innocent lives, a character’s humanity further begins to erode. Francis Bacon is a prime example of the beauty to be found in horror, and his works are clearly represented through Spec Ops’ most notorious sequence. In the end, The White Phosphorous moment might stand out as my favorite gaming moment of this entire generation, as it truly shows the ugliness and brutality of war, something other games seem to shy away from.
Tim’s Pick: “Desert Execution”, Hitman Absolution
Runners Up: “Welcome Home John”, Halo 4
A scripted moment you actually get to participate in, what a concept! The scene definitely heightens the stakes and furthers the cinematic aesthetic the game is reaching for. And even if you leave the guy by his lonesome in the desert, he’s gonna die. So IO is clearly staking the deck against your target as he begs for his life. Whether you grab one of your many guns in the trunk and give him a quick end or leave him to crawl away into an ocean of dry sand, the framing and tone the developers are able to pull off here is top notch, so much so that it’s something of a surprise the don’t replicate this moment for some of the bigger bads in the game. Scripted moments without cutscenes: please let this be the future.
Justin’s Pick: Assassin’s Creed III
Runners up: Ninja Gaiden III, Silent Hill Downpour
Assassin’s Creed has always been a flawed game. I expected more flaws when UbiSoft decided to finally get us out of Renaissance Italy. I didn’t expect them to put out an Assassin’s Creed game where I’m not assassinating shit. My protagonists are boring, the American Revolution isn’t nearly as interesting as it sounds on paper, and whereas I could spend hours finding ways across the rooftops of Jerusalem or Rome, and wanted to, I have zero interest in revisiting Colonial Boston. That’s just utterly fucking depressing. At least Ninja Gaiden and Silent Hill get to use the same excuse: Tomonobu Itagaki and Akira Yamaoka abandoning their children.
Rob’s Pick: Dishonored
I’ve never seen a game with such a rich and interesting universe, loaded with incredible lore fall so flat once executed. A visually-boring world, character models that look exactly the same and uninspired mission design left me incredibly cold. While I love an original IP and support it as much as possible, I just couldn’t find any love for Dishonored. I feel like Bethesda/Arkane missed a monumental opportunity by not allowing the player more freedom and a deeper mission design/actual universe.
Tim’s Pick: Mass Effect 3
Runner Up: The Amazing Spider-Man (I know, but seriously all it needed to do was make swinging through New York fun and not tedious)
Mass Effect 3 is a great game, no debate there. But time and perspective have been terribly unkind to that controversial ending, as in retrospect it makes even less sense now than it did back at release. If Shepard’s fate came as a surprise than you haven’t been paying attention. But Bioware’s ambitious attempt at a heady conclusion ultimately falls flat and robs players who’ve stuck with the series any sort of resonant emotional payoffs. Still, it’s biggest sin is just how god damn illogical the entire reveal is, building toward an ending that sees fit to undo most everything Shepard’s quest had accomplished. What should have been a bittersweet sendoff instead had all the gratitude of a hearty gut punch.
Justin’s Pick: Halo 4
December 2007 me would kick December 2012 me right in the taint if I went back and told him I’d hold the new Halo game in higher esteem than Assassin’s Creed, and yet here we are. Everything mean I’d ever said about space marine shooters as a genre, and all its military bullshit, and 343 managed to invalidate every single one of them and deliver a game with ideas, a beating heart, deep seated loss, dread, and existentialism. On top of letting me play with Predator weapons.
Rob’s Pick: Sleeping Dogs
I didn’t think Square Enix could deliver on such a great game. I figured their stepping in as publisher would surely erode whatever goodness United Front injected into Sleeping Dogs, however; I’m glad I was wrong. The game does everything right, delivers on an amazing action narrative, has an expansive and beautiful open world to explore, and plenty of characters worth investing in. Top-notch voicework helps the game, as well.
Tim’s Pick: Far Cry 3
Runner Up: Halo 4
Where did this amazing game come from? It’s almost as if this third entry touting Ubisoft’s FPS engine delivers on all the promises Far Cry 2 failed at. An immersive locale bursting to life with exotic fauna, lush jungle environments, and all manner of inhabitants wanting to maim you. This game lets you attack it however you like, hunting and gathering and shooting up the island whenever and however you see fit. I’ve become quite handy with the bow and arrow, furthering my assessment that Far Cry 3 lets you be Hipster Rambo. And, as the game lets you in on rather quickly, being Hipster Rambo is actually a great deal of fun. A quantum leap in quality from Ubi’s previous entry.