2012 was a crazy year in gaming for all kinds of reasons. It was even crazier for us. At the end of it, I have to say that this year’s Fall lineup was probably the best one since 2007. We got all kinds of games this year. Sure, you’ve got the big shots rolling out the AAA titles, but you also had tons of quality indie games dropping this year. This is our third Top 10 Games of the Year list, which blows my mind to even say. Here’s to 2013 and another year of quality gaming.
Pokemon Black and White 2
With Pokemon kind of always just being Pokemon, it’s not going to make the list, but it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be mentioned. First off, any franchise that still manages to realize a quality game after all these years definitely deserves some recognition. Like they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Still, this one felt different. For one, it actually had a story that wasn’t regurgitated from the original Red and Blue. A Memory Link feature let us know what happened between games as well. With GameFreak adding new Pokemon Tournaments in addition to a world tournament and the incredible looking Pokemon X and Y hitting 3DS this October, you have no reason not to go back.
Minecraft Xbox 360 Edition
Well it’s a pretty household name at this point, but in 2012, Minecraft (suprisingly or not) took over the Xbox 360 and in turn, the whole console community. Although it’s a slightly cut down version of the PC version, more stuff is constantly being added. People wanted creative mode, and with the next patch, in it went. Now every person with an Xbox could party up and spend hours building castles. That’s dangerously addictive. At one point, it was the number one online game on the Xbox 360, knocking Call of Duty off its high horse.
#10 Hotline Miami (PC)
Developer Dennaton Games, made up of two dudes who previously worked on a game called Keyboard Drumset Fucking Werewolf, decided to make a new game. So with their first title being absolutely in no way insane, why would the second one be over the top? Enter Hotline Miami, a 2D “top down fuck-em’ up.” From the minute you start playing this game, you can tell it’s clearly a homage to 2011’s film Drive. Between it being a straight up murder simulator, the odd story, the main character not having a name, and the awesome synthy soundtrack, it’s definitely a Drive love letter. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Taking place in an alternate Miami in the mid 1980s, he game features tons of various weapons and masks that give you upgrades as you progress through the odd storyline. Each level brings gratuitous amounts of violence and features you dying quite a bit. Regardless of your probable 300 deaths per level, you’ll keep playing just because it’s so fun. The game currently goes for $10 (or lower sometimes) on Steam. It has controller support and can run on essentially any system. You don’t have a reason to not check out this one.
#9 Mark of the Ninja (PC, Xbox 360)
Developed by Klei Entertainment (Shank, Shank 2) and published under Microsoft Studios, Mark of the Ninja came out of the gate as something quite different from what people expected. Returning to the animated style of Shank, most expected a platformer about ninjas. Sure, that’s what it was, but it turned out to be so much more than that. It’s a stealth game as well. A stealth game 2D platformer with a ton of depth. It’s also probably one of the best stealth games I’ve ever played. Cutscenes are animated and presented like a WB cartoon. One of the main features of the game is use of line of sight. If your enemies can’t see you, you can’t see your enemies. This means you need to lean against doors and vents to see what’s going on inside rooms. The game also uses sound in a very unique way. You can visually see sound to tell where your enemies are. If they’re walking on the other side of the door, you’ll see the sound of their steps. This works both ways as well. If you don’t sprint, you’re silent. Start running and pretty much any person within the radius of your whole screen is going to be searching for the noise. The game also makes use of light in such a way that the minute you step in it, you’re completely visible. By using things such as darts to take out the lights, or noise making firecrackers, you can confuse your enemies and take them out with a bloody one-hit kill. With good level design, gameplay mechanics, and awesome animation, this game sets the bar for future stealth games while being a great platformer in general.
#8 Halo 4 (Xbox 360)
Five years and a developer studio shift later, 2012 finally brought Master Chief back to our living rooms. With an E3 2011 announcement of the game and that a new Halo trilogy was coming, pretty much every hardcore fan was skeptical. After all, who could do justice to a franchise created by a different developer? It turns out it could be done, and thus Halo 4 was released. Despite the curiosity, the game made $220 million on its launch day. It feels like Halo, but different at the same time. The new HUD really lets you figure out everything much better and also better immerses you in the experience. One thing that definitely stood out throughout this experience was the graphics and level design have been cranked to an absolute maximum. The game is beautiful to look at and goes well beyond what any previous chapter in the franchise has. With familiar multiplayer coming back for millions to battle out 24/7 and a fantastic campaign, you get your money’s worth in a title that has hopefully gained the blessing of die hards as it ushers in a new trilogy.
#7 Borderlands 2 (Xbox 360, PS3, PC, OSX)
After the unexpected success of 2009’s Borderlands, we all knew a sequel was on the horizon. Again developed by Gearbox Software, the player is thrown back into the harsh wasteland known as Pandora five years after the first game on an attempt to find an even bigger vault and get some revenge. Ushering in four new characters each with their own abilities, you get right back to shooting anything that moves. Returning from the first game is the ability to play with up to three of your friends through the entire game online, as well as many of the RPG elements such as class mods and a skill tree. In addition to this, there really are what seems like a billion guns, each being able to be upgraded and customized to your liking. The game also introduces four seat vehicles so you don’t have to pair up anymore. You travel to various locations on Pandora, doing NPC quests and gaining experience all while battling enemies who are equipped with AI that is a huge improvement from the original game. With the addition of excellent voiceovers and hilarious writing, this is a game you can lose hours and hours of your life to. When you have a game of this quality, that’s not exactly a bad thing.
#6 Max Payne 3 (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
Nine years after the second chapter in the franchise and three years after it was announced, we were given the long anticipated third chapter of Max Payne. Rockstar Games really wanted this story to continue and have Max finally find his peace in their own unique way. What hit shelves was a game full of gripping story, graphic violence, beautiful graphics, and an awesome multiplayer. The story picks up with Max protecting a wealthy Brazilian family in Sao Paulo. As the story goes on, we further see just how low Max is. He lives for nothing except painkillers and alcohol, trying to forget what happened to him all those years ago. The story is full of twists, deception, and revenge. With the excellent voicework of the returning James McCaffrey and story from previous Rockstar title writer Dan Houser, you’re given a very long, fantastic campaign you do not want to put down. The gameplay mechanic of the now famous bullet time returns and is more badass than ever. The game has some very impressive AI as well. The soundtrack by the noise rock band Health provides an awesome overlay to the already edge-of-your-seat story. Top this off with Health’s single, “TEARS” blaring over you during one of the final sequences of the game as you mow down every person in your way and you have one of the best gaming moments of the year. The multiplayer, which many thought would be a back burner addition, stands right next to its counterpart. It’s one of the better multiplayer experiences I played all year and it still has a very popular online presence. With everything above, whether you’re a fan of Rockstar, action, or storytelling in general, do not miss Max Payne 3.
#5 Spec Ops: The Line (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
What was surely a surprise hit this year, Spec Ops The Line took us to places in shooters that not only we never visit, but maybe we didn’t necessarily want to explore. Telling the story of Captain Walker (voiced well by the always awesome Nolan North) and his squad as they are sent on a recon mission into a post-disaster Dubai, the player is thrust into situations that mess with your mind. The gameplay is your traditional third person shooter gameplay. It’s pretty good. You go to cover, blind fire, etc. But what sets this game apart is the story and the environment, which is a character within itself. Since massive sandstorms have hit Dubai, there is sand piled as high as some skyscrapers. Several times throughout the game, you can shoot glass with sand packed behind it to crush your enemies. The thing that probably makes this game different is how your character reacts to firefights. In the hundreds of shooters we play over the years, hardly any have your player questioning their decisions or If they made the right call. This game focuses on the effects of PTSD caused by being in a war time situation. It’s this specific mechanic mixed in with a story that has multiple endings that really makes this game one of the best single player experiences all year.
#4 Hitman Absolution (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
Released on the 47th week of the year and six and a half years after the previous entry in the series, we were finally given a new chapter to play in the Hitman franchise. Was it worth the wait? You bet your ass it was. Hitman Absolution keeps everything you loved about the previous games while adding so much more. In addition to the massive campaign where every level has several ways for you to execute your mission, there’s a new mode called Contracts. Contracts lets every single person that owns a copy of the game issue their own specific contract for each level. Kill this person with a machine gun without getting caught, for example. The harder the contract, the bigger the pay off. The money can be used to upgrade your stuff, which means even more reasons to go back and play. This chapter opens with you being given a difficult assignment. Once finished, you come into possession of a young girl. From here on out, you must protect her. Needless to say, there’s a few people after her. With help from an added gameplay mechanic called “Instinct,” you kill (or don’t kill) every person necessary to complete your mission. Instinct lets you see through walls and predict the paths of every person you come across. This allows for accurate planning and strategy. The controls also feel completely revamped in order to give the player a better console experience. With the super long campaign, unlimited replayability, and being considered one of the best looking games out there right now, Agent 47 is back and he is better than ever.
#3 Assassin’s Creed III (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
We all knew the next chapter in the Assassin’s Creed franchise was imminent. We just had no idea it’d be in such a familiar setting. Announced around the beginning of February, people were very excited to see a new character and for us Americans, a familiar tale. For us New Englanders, it even hit closer to home. Controversies aside, the game is the biggest Assassin’s Creed yet as it tells the story of a half Native, half British young man named Connor who becomes involved with the brotherhood of assassins during the American Revolution. The game has you visit Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and the Frontier, which includes stops such as Lexington, Concord, and Charlestown. In addition to all the little sidequests, hunting, crafting, and just running around killing people in general, there’s naval missions where you control giant ships during historically accurate sea battles. The brand new Anvil Next engine allows for very fluent climbing and running be it across buildings or through very heavily wooded areas. The controls are also revamped to allow for a better free running system and it works quite well. Now that guns play an even bigger role at this point in history, your arsenal changes quite heavily. You can pick up any musket and use either end of it as the business end. Newer assassin weapons such as the rope dart really make you feel like a badass assassin during a crucial point in our nation’s history. The graphics are beautiful and weather/seasons changing will effect how fast or slow you move. Multiplayer returns with new modes such as Wolfpack, which is sort of like Halo 4′s Spartan Ops, where you must complete objectives with friends. Another mode called Domination was added which is essentially King of the Hill. If you’re a history buff or just love time consuming games in general, Assassin’s Creed III is your game.
#2 Dishonored (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
In an industry that is begging for creativity and originality with AAA titles, let’s face it, there weren’t too many this year without a number after it. There was Dishonored, however. Developed by Arkane Studios and published by Bethesda, everybody had a really good feeling about this one. Taking place in the fictional city of Dunwall, you play as Corvo, a once legendary bodyguard to the Empress. After a successful assassination on the Empress by corrupt government officials, you’re framed as the murderer. Once in prison, Loyalists looking to overthrow the government help you escape, in turn helping you become an assassin strategically taking out key government members to help get Dunwall back. Dunwall is modeled after 19th century London and on a scale of no steampunk influence to clocks in people’s eyeballs with top hats, it sits at “whale oil is the main resource of the city.” In this universe, superpowers are normal and newer technology is mixed with people living off candlelight. Whale oil has caused technology to really take off, and thus, government to become corrupt. The game features first person gameplay that lets you make all the decisions. You can kill as many or as little people as you want, which will in turn directly impact the end of the game. You are granted enchantments and “Bone Charms” which allow you to commit supernatural acts. Blink lets you teleport, while Possession lets you control an animal and eventually other humans. You can even fully stop time. How you go about every mission is entirely up to the player and makes for a very rewarding gaming experience. In addition to all your powers, you have access to things like pistols, crossbows, knives, poison darts, and more. These too can all be individually upgraded. Each level has its own mini side quests that can also impact the overall mission. It’s usually a good idea to do them plus you get more out of the story. With awesome gameplay, a story and environment that is comparable to the depth of Bioshock, and a great campaign, Dishonored definitely deserves to stand pretty much above the rest this year in terms of AAA titles.
#1 The Walking Dead (Xbox 360, PS3, PC, OSX, iOS)
When you think Telltale Games, you think cute and whacky adventures. So when the makers of Sam and Max and Back to the Future announce they’re making a very shocking, graphic adaptation of the insanely famous comic series The Walking Dead, you go, “how bad will it possibly be?” Bad idea. Emotion is something lacking in games these days. We mow things down with a gun and carry forward, we play puzzle games, music games, MMOs. Where’s the backlash to ourselves doing these things? It doesn’t exist in this industry. This game changes all that. Broken up into five parts spread out over the course of 2012, we played as Lee Everett, a man who may or may not have murdered somebody, who is on his way to jail when all hell breaks loose across the landscape. Upon waking up, you venture to find a little girl named Clementine who was being babysat while her parents were on vacation in Savannah, Georgia. With a friendly control scheme that works fantastic be it a mouse and keyboard, a controller, or touch, you play through probably the most depressing video game of all time. This is the first game I can honestly say I cared about the characters. I cared about the hard decisions I had to make. I felt uncomfortable like I did something wrong once I turned the game off, even though I knew it was just a game. It’s things like this that make memorable games a part of history. There’s ten people in your group. Decide which three get a piece of the rations for the day. There’s two sons getting attacked in front of their fathers. Save one of them. Which one dies at your hands? That father with a dead son now changes his views about you. How will that effect the rest of the story? Did I just make a mistake? No, it’s what best for the group. These are the decisions and questions you’ll constantly be dealing with. While part one is pretty controversial, things just get worse and worse as the episodes go on. You worry booting that next chapter up, but you can’t put it down. The finale is one of the best moments of the year. A second season is in the works for 2013. By being not just ours, but winning several game of the years, Telltale has truly set the bar for storytelling that all future games should abide by. We are all the walking dead.
Thanks for another fantastic year with us. 2013 will bring even bigger and better things! – BC