The Games Of 2012, Part 1
January 2, 2013 1 Comment
I haven’t touched this blog in a long long time. Since starting over at The Gameological Society, I haven’t really thought to use it for anything. Seeing as how we didn’t do a traditional end-of-year feature, I wanted to put together a little list over here. I’m probably the only person on the site who actually likes lists, but when you have a stable of writers as deep as ours, well, you could see how it would become problematic.
Here’s the way this is going to work. I have 13 games (deal with it) to single out. The first eight—featured in this post—are unranked. “Part 2” will feature my five favorites of the year, and that one is ranked. To be frank: the writing here isn’t great or particularly deep. I kind of wanted to just throw something together.
Let’s do this:
Thirty Flights Of Loving—Blendo Games
The latest from Brendon Chung (Gravity Bone) is an experiment in non-linear video game storytelling. It’s kind of like Reservoir Dogs the video game, only it tells its story (astonishingly) without dialogue and with far more care for the people beneath the suits and skinny ties. Chung borrows tools mostly associated with cinema to tell the tale—smash cuts, needle drops, and time jumps. The most impressive result is just how much intrigue and character he was able to sow within the game’s 15 minute runtime.
You can get Thirty Flights Of Loving here or on Steam.
Halo 4—343 Industries
In what is perhaps an accomplishment worthy of a spot higher on this list (alas, I’m not giving in), Halo 4 taps into the core philosophy of the legendary series (pun most definitely intended) unlike any other sequels. Halo’s new handler, developer 343 Industries, captured the spirit and feel of the original game to a T. It’s a game about experimentation and improvisation—more gun-filled puzzle box than first-person shooter. Firefights never play out the same way twice thanks to the breadth of weapons with unique properties and cleverer than average enemies.
The multiplayer shines by embracing the same ethics. Larger-scale matches breed a creative chaos in which it feels like anything can happen at anytime. It makes for some laugh out loud absurdity and that’s exactly what I want out of Halo.
Mark Of The Ninja—Klei Entertainment
It can often be difficult to talk about video games because they’re as much a sort of machine as they are art. Many of the best games are like complex pocket-watches—something shiny and simple on the outside, but that only works because of a series of complex mechanisms hidden underneath. Stealth-based games, which seemed to have something of a resurrection this year, are perhaps the most pocket-watch-like of all. They only work because of the cogs that go unseen by the player and that seems to be what has made them so hard to perfect.
As in most things, the key to success is communication, and Mark Of The Ninja excels. Everything you need to know in order to be the best ninja you can be is presented constantly and elegantly. It’s a work of extraordinary craftsmanship—a mesmerizing pocket-watch that just plain works. I wouldn’t hesitate to call it the best stealth-based game ever made.
McPixel—Mikolaj “Sos” Kaminski
You know that “MacGruber” sketch from Saturday Night Live? McPixel is that for an entire game. Your presented with a deadly scenario—say a bomb on a bus—and a handful of props to interact with. It’s your job to save the day by finding the right combination of props to use. Each scenario only lasts for a few seconds before you fail and it’s on to the next one. Failure is McPixel’s bread and butter. Each incorrect path plays out with bizarre and funny results.
Sleeping Dogs—United Front Games
After a very ugly, and publicly so, development period it’s shocking that Sleeping Dogs is any good at all. It turned out to be a charming love letter to Hong Kong and its presence in popular culture. The city itself is deftly recreated. It’s not perfect in every detail, but it’s for the sake of fun—a sacrifice anyone in there right mind would make. The Hong Kong of Sleeping Dogs is a sprawling mix of old and new—Chinese temples live nestled beside energy drink hocking street vendors and neon lights—and a beautiful playground for the shenanigans of protagonist Wei Shen. His undercover cop story never feels too hokey, but is told with enough humor and pulp to keep things lively.
The Walking Dead—Telltale Games
Making decisions is hard. I often have a rough time just trying to figure out what to have for lunch. I’ll sit and stew and mull it over, ignoring how hungry I’m getting while stupidly thinking it over. The Walking Dead might as well be Lunch Time: The Game. It’s nothing but decisions, only you’re not choosing between a sandwich and a slice of pizza, but which member of your zombie apocalypse survivor group to save from impending doom. Unfortunately, you’re not given the luxury of time when making these decisions. You’re held to a timer. Wait too long and, well, your character just doesn’t do anything.
In the end, however, almost none of the choices change the game’s narrative. There are character entrances and character departures and they will occur in everyone’s game regardless of your choices. Yet, each choice feels important, and in some way it is. What you do and what you say paints how people think of you and what’s more important than that?
Much like the comic book series it’s based on, The Walking Dead is human drama punctuated by moments of sudden and shocking violence. Put into the context of a video game, these moments are especially poignant. A character’s death will feel like your fault, like there was something you could have done to stop it. It’s a powerful and smart take on how people play video games, denying at every turn the efficiency and perfection for which we often strive and making us feel awful for it.
Rhythm Heaven Fever—Nintendo SPD Group No. 1
Rhythm Heaven Fever is a true rhythm game. It’s not about nailing the guitar lick in “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” but rather tearing apart rhythms—both universal and characteristic of specific types of music—examining them, and building charming mini-games around them.
Charming is probably an understatement. The amount of personality that’s packed into each and every challenge is incomparable. From the fiendishly cute “Monkey Watch” to the frenetic and endlessly catchy “Ring Side,” it never misses a beat (HUR).
Super Hexagon—Terry Cavanagh
Terry Cavanagh’s Super Hexagon is pure, uncut video game and apparently when you cut a game to its core like this, what you’re left with is nothing but thrill. Your score is measured in seconds, turning each one into something to celebrate and cherish. The propulsive music and pulsating visuals transform the game from something serene into a kaleidoscopic nightmare. It’s simultaneously stressful and empowering.
You can get Super Hexagon on Steam or iOS.