It’s that time of year again. Okay, maybe it’s a little late for most people to be looking back on the best games of 2012, but better late than never, right? 2012 was a year full of games that truly surprised me; both games I would have listed as the odds on favorites to win my Game of the Year were actually beat out by one I had almost forgotten was being made. So how do I rank my Top 5? Well, let’s start with a few honorable mentions.
Honorable Mention #1: Call of Duty: Black Ops 2
I was not sure I wanted to get Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 at first. I was not overly impressed with the first one, so I was not sure I would like its sequel. I am glad I picked the game up, however, as I have had a blast playing it with friends. The innovations Treyarch added to the leveling system alone make it fun to play, and the various unlocks, weapons, score streaks and modes of play have kept me coming back for more. Had it not been for a rather lackluster campaign, Black Ops 2 would probably have made my Top 5.
Honorable Mention #2: Torchlight 2
Honestly, Torchlight 2 may have made my Top 5 if I had spent more time playing it. Even the limited time I did spend with it was enough to show Runic improved on the Torchlight formula in just about every way. The missions feel more substantial; you can now send your pet to buy items for you as well as sell your stuff, and let’s not forget the addition of coop gameplay, something sorely missing from the first game. If you have it and are looking to play, let me know: I need to get back into this game.
Honorable Mention #3: Mark of the Ninja
I had no interest in Mark of the Ninja when I first heard about it. I am not generally a fan of stealth games, and Klei Entertainment had not exactly wowed me with its previous offerings. I managed to get a deal on the game I could not pass up, however, and after hearing the guys from Just Press Start talk about it so much, I decided I needed to give it a try. I am glad I did. Mark of the Ninja is a 2D sidescrolling stealth game that is truly not to be missed.
That does it for my honorable mentions; time for my Top 5. As I did last year, I will mention the moment or moments which made these games memorable.
#5: Kingdoms of Amalur: The Reckoning
From the moment I heard Curt Schilling was starting his own game studio, I was excited to see what would come of it. The man is a major gaming fan, and I figured he would make sure any game he released was fantastic. I was not disappointed.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is one of the better action RPGs I have ever played. Rich graphics, a fantastic story penned by fantasy writer R. A. Salvatore and incredibly fluid combat make this game one every true RPG fan should experience. Add to that a rich crafting system and the ability to create alchemical potions, and you have a game that is truly a blast to play.
Kingdoms of Amalur has been described by many as a single player MMO, and I would agree wholeheartedly with that description. It is truly a shame that 38 Studios closed down. I wanted to see what Schilling and company were going to do next.
The Moment: While the combat drew me in from the beginning, it was not until I started the House of Ballads quest line that I really started to get hooked on Kingdoms of Amalur. Salvatore spent a lot of time on the backstory to the game, and these quests showed just how detailed that story truly was.
#4: The Walking Dead
Anyone who listens to the podcast knows I am not exactly a fan of games involving zombies. That being said, what Telltale did with The Walking Dead is remarkable; they made a zombie game that was not about the zombies. The game is about the characters, the relationships you build with them throughout the game and the hard choices you have to make at a moment’s notice that will affect both. Despite some frustrations with the controls, The Walking Dead has managed to hook me in a way few games of its type can. I have yet to finish the game, but I have enjoyed what I have played so far.
The Moment: Early on, you are trapped in a house with a zombie attacking you. A little girl who has been talking to you over a walkie-talkie opens the glass door behind you and hands you a hammer so you can finish it off. This encounter is your first introduction to Clementine, and the relationship between her and Lee, the character you control, reeled me in.
#3: Borderlands 2
It’s no secret that I loved the first Borderlands. It stood out as one of the best cooperative experiences I have ever played, and I could not wait to play the sequel. Gearbox Software did not disappoint; Borderlands 2 is everything its predecessor was and so much more. Amazing graphics, varied environments, side quests that actually seem to have some real content to them and the presence of an actual story make this game so much more than just a great sequel. This game feels like what Borderlands should have been, right down to sharing ammo among the team when you pick it up and actually creating skill trees that encourage you to re-spec to face different trials. On top of all of that, Borderlands 2 is much more fun to play alone than the original game ever was.
The Moment: Gearbox had said you were going to interact with the Vault Hunters from the first game. I did not realize how important they were going to be until I finally met one of them face to face. The way you meet Lilith helped prove just how much of a commitment was made to actually having a story this time.
#2: Mass Effect 3
Going into 2012, there was one game at the top of my must play list: Mass Effect 3. Bioware had already managed to make the series just about my favorite of all time, and I was looking forward to seeing just how they were going to end it. Then multiplayer was announced, and unlike many people, I was excited to jump into coop battles in the Mass Effect universe.
To say Bioware did not disappoint would be a major understatement. Mass Effect 3 was everything I could have hoped for when it came to a conclusion for one of the best science fiction storylines in recent memory, video game or otherwise. Seeing how decisions I made all the way back in the first game affected the universe I was now trying to save just left me speechless, though you would not know that from the over three hour spoiler-cast we did on the game. Add to that a multiplayer experience that has not only proven to be better than anyone expected but has also been supported even up to a year past the release of the game with free DLC, and you have a true Game of the Year contender. The game is amazing.
The Moment: I cannot limit ME3 to one moment. What drew me to this game was seeing how my actions changed the people I came to know as my friends. Whether it was meeting back up with Jack, taking target practice with Garrus, helping Wrex with the Krogan or seeing the amazing resolution between Legion and Tali, it was these moments that made the game.
You may be wondering, if I loved Mass Effect 3 so much, why did it not make my #1 Game of 2012. There are two distinct reasons. The first is that in order to really enjoy Mass Effect 3, you have to have played at least the second game if not all three. Trust me; I tried to play through the game with a non-imported character, and it just felt empty.
The other reason is I treat Game of the Year much as I think Movie of the Year or any “..of the Year” category should be treated. To be Game of the Year, the game has to really make people take notice. While Mass Effect 3 certainly did in my opinion, one other game did it just a little bit better.
Game of the Year: Spec Ops: The Line
Anyone who even pays just partial attention to the podcasts or my Twitter feed knows I have been championing Spec Ops: The Line. This game had caught my eye when it was revealed, but it had fallen off my radar with all the delays. As it turns out, the delays were more than likely a good thing. Yager needed to take the time to get this game right.
Spec Ops: The Line is not a fantastic game if looked at from a purely mechanical level. The gameplay is solid but not exactly revolutionary. There are several “gamey” moments where you find yourself fighting against increasingly and ridiculously overwhelming odds. Sure, the level design is amazing, with great contrasts between the dust storm-torn sections of Dubai and the opulence for which many areas of the city is known, but that alone would not carry a game.
Fortunately, it does not have to. Spec Ops is carried by a fantastic storyline, including quite possibly the best voice acting Nolan North has ever done. Watching Captain Walker’s transformation from someone who is just trying to help to someone who has lost all sense of what his orders were and is just lashing out is truly amazing. I found myself hanging on every word as he argued with his squad-mates, exchanged barbs with Konrad and generally lost all sense of who he and the mission were all about. I have not played a game with this remarkable a storyline since Alan Wake, and after playing it a second time through, I have come to understand the solid but uninteresting gameplay was actually intentional on Yager’s part. It helps add to the overall experience.
Just how good is Spec Ops? After talking with several people who had either just started or just finished playing it, I found myself firing it up and running through it a second time. I could even see myself going back to play it again. As one who rarely replays games, that is saying something.
Spec Ops: The Line was not the game with which I had the most fun this year. It is the one I cannot get our of my mind, however, and that is a big part of why I am awarding it my game of the year.
The Moment: There is a moment about halfway through the game where you make a decision against your better judgment. The results of this decision are catastrophic, and that single event changes the course of the entire game. Yager handles the event perfectly, and it was this moment that made me realize just how much of a cut above your modern military shooters Spec Ops is.
There you have it. These games top my list for 2012. It was a bit of an odd year for gamers, and it will be interesting to see what 2013 holds with new consoles and new avenues for game funding like Kickstarter in the mix. No matter what is to come, I think there is one thing on which we can all agree; it’s a great time to be a gamer.