Saturday, July 13, 2013

Best of 2012 - Game of the Year.


It's best to wait until after the New Year - or beyond - before tallying up one's feelings on the previous year.  It allows distance from the fresh joy of major late-year releases, and time provides perspective - but even with that in mind, July 13th is... a bit late to the party.  Oh well.  At least it's the first (hopefully only) time I've tripped up so terribly.

I've no decent excuse, but this is about the time for a Best of 2013 So Far roundup - and it seems wrong to do so without first providing a final list of the best of 2012.

Naturally, what follows are my opinions, and my opinions only.  That said, if you disagree, your opinions are bad, and you should feel back about that.

So here we go.


acknowledgments



-review-

Sweet, supple combat that riffs on Devil May Cry.  A Diablo-style loot fest.  The structure of The Legend of Zelda.  The platforming of Prince of Persia.

Its pacing is crappy, it's got a few terrible bugs and the final act is pretty disappointing - but Darksiders II's fantastic playability and wealth of content makes it a personal favorite.

-review-

Lollipop Chainsaw's gameplay is a pleasant twist on classic brawling that shakes things up while using comparatively shallow mechanics - but that pleasant twist, combined with its energetic, inspired presentation and ultra-clever writing make it the B-quality Game of the Year.  Few games are as consistently fun, funny and entertaining as Lollipop Chainsaw - and James Gunn provided the most intelligent script a modern video game saw until The Last of Us happened. 

-review-

The sweet, sweet sensation of platforming your way through a fantastical city, plucking purses from belts and keys from guards.  Of observing from the shadows - of being patient - until backs are turned at the precise right moment and you unleash an explosion of supernatural adjustments to the laws of time and space.  Dishonored's remarkable pedigree - from the folks who made Thief and Deus Ex - shines brightly, even as its narrative fails to deliver the same uniform pleasure as its gameplay.

With creative powers, delightful melee combat and liquid-smooth platforming, Dishonored is the second-best first-person action game of the year.

-review-

Open-world third-person action games only succeed when they don't directly take on the Grand Theft Auto formula (Assassin's Creed, Yakuza, inFamous).  Sleeping Dogs is the only GTA-style game I've ever played that actually matches or exceeds Rockstar's gold standard in many areas - most crucially gameplay, with its sweet fisticuffs and capable on-foot locomotion.

Sleeping Dogs - in an insane fit of ambition - is a GTA-like that doesn't pale in comparison to GTA.  A big, gleeful video game riff on the Hong Kong crime epic/revenge flick that really delivers, it's definitely worth your time.



honorable mentions



-review-

Speaking of Rockstar Games, when they bring their weight to bear on any single title, the results are spectacular - and Max Payne 3 is no exception.  The franchise has long been about the crazy/beautiful dance of death Max weaves and how it's presented, and the John Woo Martial Arts Gunfight has never been more gorgeously realized than here as spinning lead slowly cuts through the air and environmental objects explode with abandon.

The game honors its past as it shuttles you through environments that directly recall the greatest moments of Max Payne and its sequel, but ups the ante in the gameplay department until you discover you're playing a gorgeous, hard-core, no-quarter-given action game that's polished to a mirror shine.


"With six or seven playthroughs under my belt, I still find myself welling up at the end, I still find myself exulting at the hugely imaginative locations, at the endearing cast, at the sheer size of the game. There's so much heart in it, so much loving attention, so much life. It captures everything I want in an adventure title, and offers touches I never would have thought to request. 
Video games can be regarded as a meditation on the subject matter. You are what you think, and more often than not, games require you to think on violence or evil or darkness for a few hours. Ōkami, in contrast, is unabashedly optimistic, and it's a welcome refreshment to sit down and think on goodness, for goodness' sake. 
It may not be perfect - no game is - but it comes as close as any great title has ever managed. Ōkami is a masterpiece."
-from the review


Over the past half-decade, Mass Effect has become the definitive exploration of science fiction in video games.  There are countless sci-fi games, of course, but Mass Effect - like Star Trek, like Star Wars - transcended its niche to gain acceptance from all comers, due in no small part to the game's capable action and savvy streamlining of conventional RPG traits.
"If it is an RPG, it's the best linear western RPG I've ever played, with profound emotional impact.  If it's a third-person shooter, it's a third person shooter with the grandest scope and best story I've ever played - but attempting to define it as one or the other does the game a disservice. 
Suitably, for science fiction, Mass Effect 3 posits a future where such genre lines are erased.  In the same way that the best horror movies are not strictly horror movies, and the best action movies are not merely about action, Mass Effect 3 allows the player to imagine a future where all the best in gaming come together to form a product of exemplary overall execution."
-from the review-


top three



I love all the above titles - I do - even as I acknowledge they're less perfect than they could be.  There are three games from 2012 that are gloriously close to perfect - and, to be honest, part of the reason I might have kinda' choked on this list six months ago is because of the game I felt the need to declare the best of the year.

I figured it... would come across as dishonest.  Or that my readership might feel it's somehow a betrayal of this site's spirit.

It's been six months, and I've come to terms with it.  What's true is true.  So here we go.



third best game of 2012



-review-

Max Payne and Sleeping Dogs and Call of Duty like to think of themselves as "gritty."  They've got flying bullets and explosions and blood splattering the camera - while XCOM: Enemy Unknown has little G.I. Joe action-figure-style characters running around a map, using a numbers calculator to determine whether or not your shots will hit.

Well, I'm sorry Max, Dogs and Duty.  In comparison, you're not gritty.  You're a Michael Bay movie. XCOM: Enemy Unknown - a turn-based strategy game - has true grit.
"The combat in XCOM is a fabulous, aggressive, tactical, thoughtful exercise in strategy.  This is a game that sees you firing a rocket across a supermarket to level twenty square yards of shelving and foodstuffs, clearing the line of sight for an assault to dash in a deliver a fatal blow to a lumbering Berzerker.  This is a game where every shot counts, and every choice walks along a razor's edge of risk and reward.   
It's terrifying in its own, wonderful way.  A strategy RPG that feels closer to survival horror than any survival horror game in recent memory."
-from the review-

In XCOM, every decision you make is life or death.  When you spend a few million dollars on a new satellite uplink facility, you know it will deny your desperate troops access to the best gear on their next mission - and if your best operative, the one who's carried your team since day one, dies?

Well, they're dead.  Time for a rookie to step up, and save the world.

It's an incredibly involving, detailed little game, with mechanics and stats and research and building options that dovetail beautifully into each other to create a billowing fabric of inter-connectivity, where every choice both broadens and narrows your future options.  Every victory is by your hand alone, every failure is laid directly at your feet.

It is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, one of the greatest things to come out of 2012.



second best game of 2012



-review-

All other titles on this list come with caveats.  Far Cry 3 is the one game that I have and would put into anyone's hands and smile confidently, and say "you're gonna' love this."  'Cause they always do - and you will.

An open-world first-person shooter with light RPG elements, the Far Cry name has long been synonymous with ambition that outstrips playability, but with Far Cry 3 Ubisoft offer up a title whose joy in play matches its ambition.  A game as broad and grand in fun as it is in scope - and this game is so much fun.

"Far too regularly, open-world games force the player into regular and repeated gameplay bottlenecks that force one to engage in activities they would sooner ignore.  Gameplay - little tidbits - added on top of a title's core mechanics which don't do the game that surrounds them justice, bores or frustrates the player, and leads to us walking away from a console in search of something fun to do.  
Like inFamous 2Far Cry 3 does not suffer this.  Upon booting the game and opening your map, the player is greeted with an overflowing cornucopia of possible activities - races and shooting contests to win, enemy bases to attack, assassination contracts to carry out, wild beasts to hunt or just simple exploration - and not once in my thirty-plus hours with the title did I ever consider an objective only to decide against it.  
No matter what activity you would select - take a globe and spin it - wherever your finger lands, it will be fun.  It will be an activity you look forward to.  And, staggeringly, it maintains this quality for your entire time with the title."
-from the review-  

Far Cry 3 is - narrative aside, I suppose (but at least they were trying) - the very definition of triple-A.  Totally gorgeous, technically solid, mechanics like butter and design that moves the bar for an open-world FPS far beyond anything I could have anticipated.

Finally...


* * *

This is a PS3-centric blog, there's no doubt about that.  And never, in the four years I've been doing GotY roundups, have I pointed you towards a download-only title.  One of those little games you can only get off PSN.

This is a PS3-centric blog, but the best game of 2012 - or at least the game I consider such - is currently exclusive to the Xbox 360 and PC, and it would simply be dishonest to suggest otherwise.  Like XCOM, it is functionally dense and brilliant in design.  Like Far Cry 3, it is a supremely fun, exciting game.

It's a da Vinci-esque work of such artistic and mechanical merit that one can only look upon it and weep at the joy of having come so close to the very face of God.

Not to oversell it.

* * *



2012

Game of the Year


-review-

Maybe it's just 'cause I love stealth.  Maybe it's because it's 2D, and I love 2D.  Maybe it's because it's a slick, zippy, gorgeously animated platformer, and I love platformers.  Maybe it's because it was free, but oh my God have you tried Mark of the Ninja?


"Holy-shit good."

It's a definitive entry in its genre.  A landmark game, sharing such stature with titles like Demon's Souls, Devil May Cry, Deus Ex and DOOM - that demonstrate to an entire industry how a genre should be.  How refined and tight and tense and gloriously playable stealth can be, in the the correct hands.  And other folks tried in 2012.

Some big folks made stealth games in 2012.  Big, glorious stealth games like Dishonored and Hitman: Absolution, with budgets equaling the GNP of small countries.  And, y'know, they were pretty damned good.

If I made this list one game longer, Hitman (or Shank 2) would probably be the game I put on it, but I love stealth.

But as good - as great as they were... In terms of how it plays.  In terms of consistently - as in, every single second of gameplay - delivering the fastest, tensest, tightest, funnest stealth...

Well, Mark of the Ninja takes them to school.

"By the end of the game, you are dashing straight towards an enemy, timing a leap at that perfect moment when you're far away enough that he can't hear your footsteps, but close enough that you can soar overhead and slip through a grate, undetected.  You're zipping through air ducts like a flowing scrap of lightning-fast, liquid shadow.  You're springing from trapdoors, leaping into the air to freeze time, aiming a dart into a light, a trap onto the ground and your grapnel into a perch point.  A light shatters, a guard impales himself on your trap, and his friend staggers backwards, flailing his arms and blind-firing in terror as you lower yourself on a chain towards him... 
The first time you combine the game's arsenal into such a sequence, it seems almost unbelievable that you did it - no other stealth game I've ever played has allowed for such speed - such clear, crisp control on the part of the player.  Such slick translation of a player's intention to onscreen action - but here we are. 
You begin testing the game's limits - seeing just how firm its bedrock is, just how sharp its controls really are - and it never disappoints.  You can pull off ridiculously cool stuff, and it's all in strict keeping with the title's very reasonable rules of your tool set and your enemies' abilities."
-from the review-

It's got the je ne sais quoi.  The feeling a game like inFamous or Gravity Rush or Prototype or Ratchet & Clank (or, come to think of it, Far Cry 3) allows, where the player can drift off for hours, delighted in tumbling through a virtual playground and playing and playing and playing - because play!

That is a valuable asset.  That sweater-comfy, indescribable sensation of a game that's deeply pleasurable to just faff about in as you dash up walls, soar over the heads of your prey and flash into air vents in one-thousandth of a second less time than it takes the nearby guard to turn his head.

Ooh, just missed me.

For a game to have that, alone, is cause for celebration.  It's all too rare, and too many modern games seem to posit that merely checking all the boxes of design and presentation is enough to achieve that sensation.

Psst - Assassin's Creed III?  It's not.

And even as I tip my hat towards Gravity Rush - it may be wonderful to achieve that wholesome, warming sensation in one aspect of play - it's quite another to establish it across every facet of your game.

A game where every moment is pure gold. And it's one thing to have that je ne sais quoi, it's quite another to be a game of such razor-sharp, glittering design that it stands alongside titles like XCOM and Dark Souls.  A game that pushes the boundaries of its genre towards something new.  Something better.

Keeping in mind, XCOM and Dark Souls don't actually have the je ne sais quoi.  You don't hop in to those games and just splash around - you can't, 'cause they'll kill you.

Which makes Mark of the Ninja... supernatural.


Nothing else appeared in 2012 that can match Mark of the Ninja for originality and the combination of perfected design, execution and playability.  It's a small game, but it's also a game that brings an entire genre into sharp and stark focus, throwing away years of stealth gameplay philosophies in favor of something rawer, more pure - more effective.

Like Far Cry 3, it's a game that's constantly and consistently fun, and always beautiful.  Like XCOM: Enemy Unknown, it is a treatise on the craft of game design.  Like nothing else in 2012, it re-wrote the book of its genre.

It is a masterwork.  A humble game.  A slender one - but a title without peer.  There's never been anything like it.

Mark of the Ninja is the game of the year.

4 comments:

  1. I knew from the the moment I saw the words "Best of 2012" what your game of the year was—no need to apologize!

    It just makes me wish I had a 360 again.

    ReplyDelete
  2. It's on Steam too (says the guy without a gaming-capable PC).

    ReplyDelete
  3. I sincerely doubt you wouldn't be able to run MotN on it Chance. Honestly, if you can run a stable web browser in this day and age, I bet you can play the lower end indies.

    In fact, if you poke me on Steam I'll even throw you my gift copy of Don't Starve I got rotting in my inventory to prove it.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I... will do that. Send me an email explaining how? I have the free copy of PAA: OTRSPOD Episode 4 on Steam, and that's it - no idea how to work that thing.

    But honestly, I'm holding out hope for MotN on Vita. Shahid keeps teasin' me with it, but I know we won't know 'till mid-September at the earliest (exclusivity agreements tend to last a year).

    ReplyDelete