If you’re like me, you forgot all about my year-end bonus awards from 2011, until just now. I feel like 2012 has produced fewer awesome games, but then I’m always slow to catch up so I’ll probably feel differently at the end of summer 2013.
Anyway, here’s my special dozen for 2012.
Best Tiny Moment: Duck Helps, The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead has plenty of excellent moments, but the small ones are overpowered by the huge momentous incidents. But one of those little things has stayed with me, involving the second-coolest kid in the story. As mentioned in our spoilercast, even Duck’s father acknowledges that he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer. He’s loud, he’s annoying, and he’s just odd. (Reminds me of me when I was kid.)
That’s why it’s so satisfying when, in Episode 3, he insists on helping Lee with the investigation about the missing supplies. It’s not that he proves useful (though he does); it’s the way he says it: “You’re the greatest detective, and I can be Dick Grayson — your ward.” The voice acting on that last bit, along with the cute little hand flourish, makes this a really superb moment.
Biggest Letdown: Dear Esther
I’ll take the blame on this one, because I didn’t know what I was in for and I let myself be deluded. Once I realized it would work on my computer, I dove into Dear Esther headfirst, eager to find the next MYST. It started off well — there’s a drawing in the sand of the golden ratio! How cool!
Unfortunately, that’s one of only two moments in the whole 90-minute
game experience that provokes any kind of thought at all. The rest is a sloppy hodgepodge of vague musings, shallow reflections, and unemotional wanderings that accompany some interesting graphics but serve no real purpose. I like the idea of outside-the-box indie games with an emphasis on storytelling, but Dear Esther really falls short. (Play To The Moon instead.)
Most Mixed Bag: Kingdoms of Amalur
This game should have been my GOTY: An open-world RPG with a story by famed fantasy author RA Salvatore. Is it any wonder I got this on Day One? I was hooked by the excellent demo, and enjoyed many hours of smashing through enemies, casting spells, even gathering herbs. The combat is rewarding, the world is vast, the quests are varied, and the mechanics are all solid.
Alas, for some reason it just doesn’t work as well as it should. The game moves from location to location with a ruthless speed, and none of the characters gets enough time to develop into anything memorable. I got about halfway through and my interest trailed off. I’ll probably finish it someday, but not today.
Deepest Buyer’s Remorse: Guild Wars 2
Please don’t misunderstand: GW2 is an excellent game. The graphics are astounding, as you can see from this screenshot I took. The combat works well, and the inventory and crafting systems are sound. The story and world design suffer from the same problems listed above for Kingdoms of Amalur, but they don’t break the game.
The reason I regret buying it is because I am not an MMO person. I’m usually a solitary gamer, and I’m annoyed when a game requires that I work with other people. This was my final attempt to test the MMO waters, and they simply are not for me. Time to learn from the mistake and move on.
Biggest “How Did This Get Made?” Moment: Amy and F1 Race Stars (tie)
Let’s see, what does the world need more of? Zombie games! Also: Cutesy arcade racing games! Amy does almost nothing well: The graphics are hideous (and not a good hideous, like you hope to find in a zombie game — bad hideous, like they were designed by people who haven’t ever seen human beings up close). The controls are baffling. The story is a cookie-cutter carbon copy.
But at least Amy had the good sense to be relatively cheap! The geniuses who decided to take all the high-speed intensity of F1 racing and strip it of its speed and intensity also decided that their Mario Kart ripoff deserved half the price of a AAA title. And for what? Maybe people who are really into F1 racing would get excited to play a bobblehead version of their automotive heroes, but I doubt it.
Biggest Unplayed Regret: Syndicate
I’m slow to play new games for a reason. I usually avoid wasting money on overhyped titles, I can savor the aftertaste of classic adventures, and I just don’t like feeling pressured to play stuff as soon as it comes out.
But there are drawbacks. I miss the chance to talk with online buddies about current games, and by the time I get around to playing them, I’m lucky if my chums even remember playing them at all. Syndicate is one of those titles — made more annoying by the fact that (apparently) it’s best when played in co-op. (Like that other game, which I did play this year, and even got in some co-op time.) I’ll play it eventually, but I regret not having gone after it while it was still fresh.
Coolest New Mechanic: Sandy Windows, Special Ops: The Line
Special Ops: The Line was excellent for many reasons, but Tom Bissell explains them better than I can. The most nifty new thing we got from that game (aside from intriguing introspection into our own psyches) is the use of sand-packed windows to overwhelm the bad guys.
In several tense spots, the wicked baddies would stand obliviously in front of huge windows, (barely) holding back enormous gouts of sand. A few well-placed shots and WHOOOSH they’re buried in a gritty tan avalanche.
Longest-Awaited Feature: Killstreak Points for Destroying Aircraft, Black Ops II
Despite my previous insistence that I’m not much of a social gamer, I play multiplayer shooters like Call of Duty with a rabid devotion to the team. Even though I use perks that make me invisible to UAVs, I carry (and use) stinger rockets to blast them out of the sky.
So it was with great satisfaction that I realized I was racking up killstreak rewards more quickly in Black Ops II than ever before. This, of course, is because they’re not just killstreaks, but scorestreaks, awarded for many different activities that serve a positive function. How cool is it to get a UAV for destroying the enemy’s UAV? Very cool indeed!
Best Effort: Quantum Conundrum
This is another game that looks amazing on paper. Directed by Kim Swift, leader of the Portal team, it featured a quirky (and amusing) scenario with characters that wouldn’t feel out of place at Aperture Science. For some reason, though, it didn’t excite me.
I’m not one of those people who believe that every new game needs to have “something new” in it. Some of my favorite games (RIVEN and Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 come to mind) have nothing new in them at all — they simply rearrange and provide the things we love from other games. Rather, I felt like Quantum Conundrum suffered from trying to be too different from Portal. An understandable desire, but the player spent too much time sorting through all the different “dimensions” and didn’t get much time to have fun.
Worst Reboot: Double Dragon Neon
There was no such head-scratching involved in figuring out why Double Dragon Neon flopped. Take a classic 2D brawler that doesn’t stand the test of time, and.. well, what should we do with it? I know! Just throw a bunch of stupid glowing lights everywhere and BAM it’s ready for launch!
Oh, the pain. Oh, the wasted minutes I spent downloading and playing it. (I remember thinking something like: “It can’t be as bad as it looks.”) Oh, the sad laughter and amused sighs. I’m pretty sure this was the moment when I decided to be more discriminating about which XBLA titles I would bother trying, even for free.
Best Sequel: Borderlands 2 and Far Cry 3 (tie)
Borderlands 2 follows the first directive perfectly: Gearbox knew that we wanted more of the same, and that’s exactly what B2 provides. Bring back the best character, develop lots of new twisted weirdos, give us oodles of guns, and let us go nuts. I’m only a few hours in, but I can already say it’s one of my Top 5 of the year.
While I enjoyed Far Cry 2 (and no, not because of the wacky possibilities that Tom B gushes about in Extra Lives), it had some problems. The constantly-respawning checkpoints and absurd lack of fast-travel options (buses notwithstanding) were at the top of the list. Fortunately, FC3 remedies both of those problems and finally nails the open-world FPS formula. I’m not too far into this one either, but it’s made me smile big.
I also want to point out how cool (and totally accidental) it is in the composite image I made there, where Maya looks like she’s holding the machete.
Fastest GameFly Turnaround Time: Devil May Cry HD Collection
“I had so much fun playing this back in the day. Eh, those graphics don’t look very different. Man, this is kinda repetitive. Where the hell am I, and where am I supposed to go? This map sucks.”
“Okay, maybe DMC3 will be better. Nope, same bollocks. I’m done.”
And speaking of done..