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Tuesday
Feb192013

GameBanter's Top Ten 2012

2012 was, for me, disappointing. There were games I liked (as there are every year) but I can't recall any other years in which I played more middle-of-the-road games. I found myself detached from the rest of the video game world on a few games, disliking them a lot more than the rest of the industry did, but just in general I felt that the quality wasn't as overwhelmingly high as in, for example, 2011. (Skyrim, Portal 2, Gears 3, Bulletstorm etc.) Granted there were definitely some blind spots for me (Journey and FTL remain unplayed by me, despite my longing) but there were some ball-grabbingly good games as well, so read on to see which games I liked that you should hate me for:

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10. Far Cry 3


Far Cry 3 starts off stronger than almost any other game in recent memory, unfortunately it goes off the deep end far further than is forgivable. The game's story is not only bad, it's also poorly told, with clumsy story missions intermingling with stupid drug cutscenes in which you have no idea whether your character has supernatural powers or is just high as a kite, and the voice actors read every line weirdly, with odd intonation and emphasis. Things like this make the game impossible to take seriously, but it also doesn't go far enough towards ridiculous to be endearing. Fortunately for the game, the island it's based on and the gameplay that the location invites are just enough to keep you playing and having fun while avoiding the latest story mission. hunting wild animals and crafting their hides into useful equipment is genius, and is the best thing about the game by a mile. Worth playing to experience this aspect of the game, but don't expect to get any deeper fulfillment from the experience than that.

 

 

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9. The Darkness 2


Grab the door off a nearby car, use it as a bullet shield, throw it and decapitate 3 bad guys at once. Pick up an enemy by one foot, grab the other foot and rip him open like a wishbone. Throw a demon at an enemies face and wait for it to tear his throat out... Or you know, just shoot dudes. All of these options are available to you at all time in The Darkness 2. The combat is nothing short of a joy, with mechanics in place to keep you thinking tactically about your next execution and looking round the battlefield for the nearest throwable object. You start off the game super powerful, and you keep getting more and more powerful as it goes on, making it a very fun game to take part in as a result. On top of the satisfying combat, the game is wrapped up in a really cool story. Jackie is a mafia don and uses his Darkness powers to get the edge over the other gangs. The story takes twists and turns, and gets pretty brutal in places, but you always feel like Jackie is nothing short of an invincible killing machine, despite the best efforts of all his enemies to try and finish him off. Even a lackluster multiplayer mode doesn't hurt the game's fun factor. It's a superb power fantasy and a pretty satisfying mob story as well, just don't be surprised if it grabs you harder than you're expecting.

 

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8. Hotline Miami


There are a lot of reasons not to like Hotline Miami. It's unforgiving, tough, violent and weird as hell... Though some people, myself included, see those as positives where Hotline Miami is concerned. The gameplay is super tight and quick, and rewards experimentation. The game's art style is 8-bit and looks great. Enemies die exploding with glorious pixel blood, in an over the top way games tend to be steering away from nowadays. The game's story is mysterious and trippy and though it's clearly just a thinly veiled excuse for killing more bad guys, its anonymous mission givers make the tone feel very sinister. All these things are well and good, but it's the soundtrack that really excels. It may be the best soundtrack of the year, perfectly matching the 1980s drugged up feel the game's got going on. You never come across a song in the soundtrack that sounds out of place or isn't absolutely ideal for the action going on on screen. The game gave me a strong Super Meat Boy feeling, which is always something I savor when I find it. You respawn instantly when killed, so the game moves quick enough that the difficulty doesn't feel like a negative. If you see it in a Steam sale buy it. For the soundtrack alone.

 

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7. Sleeping Dogs

 

What a load of bullshit. How is this game good?! This was originally a True Crime game (one of the most middling-to-shitty franchises to grace the last 10 years) and got it's arse passed round so much even a professional porn star would be impressed. The fact that Sleeping Dogs not only functions properly as a game, but also is a fucking good one is damn near a miracle. You play as Wei Shen, an undercover cop in the Chinese underground. The game is open world, takes place in Shanghai and looks fantastic. Everything about it oozes quality, from the visuals, to the atmosphere, to the great voice acting and even, crucially, to a story that stays captivating throughout. The story is surprisingly ballsy, taking a bit of a brutal left turn around 3 quarters of the way through which was not only unexpected, but really did the game some favours. The game could easily have chugged along in the standard way, but instead it takes some risks and becomes a stand out for the year as a result! And this is to say nothing of the game's open world gameplay and hand-to-hand combat, both of which are outstanding. It disguises itself as something mundane, but make no mistake, Sleeping Dogs is special.

 

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6. The Walking Dead


By now you've heard a lot about The Walking Dead, in fact you've probably already played it and chances are, it's much higher on your list than mine. This is one of those games I disagreed with the rest of the industry on. I don't dislike it, obviously, it's number 6, but I don't think it's the best game of the year. When you're not controlling Lee directly you're interacting with characters in tense, important conversations that feel just as draining as a real life argument would. Timers tick down, forcing you to pick a response in a hurry, so every time an argument flairs up you're left going with your gut, as if you were arguing in real life. It's remarkable how well this works, and if all the other games out there could master character interaction to this degree we'd be guaranteed years of great gaming experiences. The problems come any time you're required to do any kind of action scene. It's woeful, it really is. You need to hit a zombie in the head before it bites your face? Good luck. Shooting something? Better start praying. Trying for the fifth time to do this one sequence? Get ready to do it 5 more times. Pacing and fun are the victims here, but my goodness is it ever fulfilling the other 90% of the time. A must play, just have a little patience.

 

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5. Asura's Wrath


I don't even know where to start with Asura's Wrath. A game that follows the structure and narrative mannerisms of an anime, majoring in ridiculously exhilarating visuals and set pieces. Sure, you don't 'play' these sections, but it's hard to care when the stuff going on on the screen is easily the most ridiculous, awe inspiring shit you've ever seen. Granted, the bits you are playing are somewhat samey and lackluster, but it hardly matters when every single battle you know you're building up to a magnificent, breath-taking cutscene in which infinite ass gets kicked. A lot of the game is Quick Time Events that the player takes part in, though unlike other games, the game contextualises these in a way that is clever and imaginative. The whole game just feels epic in a way that's hard to put your Earth-sized finger on, but for me i found it intoxicating. I couldn't put it down. Asura's Wrath had me by the short and curlies and refused to let go until I was jumping off the couch yelling "HOLY SHIT!" and "YES!!!" so loud that the neighbours probably suspected a whole different kind of "Quick Time Event" taking place... Just play it. Experience it. Be one with Asura's Wrath. Buy it dinner. Seduce it. Take it to your bedroom and BURST its brains out!

 

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4. Fez


On its surface, Fez is simple: A simple 2D platformer in which you rotate the world around you to access new areas. The true genius of Fez lies in its secrets. A secret language written specifically for the game, hints left absolutely everywhere to ancient civilizations and hidden meanings and puzzles which break the 4th wall and reach out from the TV to grab at your brain, like tantalising little breadcrumbs for you to follow down the rabbit hole to Narnia... Granted I mixed up my metaphors there, but such is Fez! It bends your mind and leaves you little choice but to completely change the way you think and absorb information from your environment. Seemingly insignificant details dotted around the game world turn out to be more relevant than you can ever imagine, and things you never thought possible turn out to be an inevitability should your curiosity continue to grow. Fez is definitely the most ambitious and original game to come out this year, which is saying a lot! I think of all the games I played this year Fez will stay with me the longest. It gets in your head and makes a home, it does things no game has done before and probably won't attempt again. Fez is an instant classic, and though not as fun or challenging as I wish it was, still accomplishes an incredible amount. Its respect is earned.

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3. Mass Effect 3


Oh Mass Effect. How I adored you. One of the great trilogies of our time, ruined in the last 10 minutes. I didn't play the extended ending DLC, nor did I play Leviathan or the other buyable DLCs, my experience with the game was with the original ending and it left me sad and unfulfilled. Luckily there were at least 30 hours before those last 10 minutes that really had me. The returning characters experience their final in-game moments along with you, destined to be the subject of some extended universe book in a few years but their journeys come to an end in the Mass Effect universe as we currently know it. Character moments are dealt with respectfully and realistically, having a shooting competition with Garrus feels natural, as does helping Jack and her students escape from Cerberus' evil clutches, it all makes sense and flows wonderfully. The adventures of Shepard have always been great entertainment and Mass Effect 3 keeps that ball rolling throughout. Seeing the team members I've spent days of my life with again was enough to make me enjoy the game, but Bioware also included a multiplayer mode that blew me away. So much better than it had any right to be, and with more hooks than a fisherman's wharf, it kept me playing for hours. Mass Effect 3 may not have been a perfect game by any means, but it's more than good enough to stand up on its own right. A shame to see Shepard go.

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2. XCOM: Enemy Unknown

 

Honestly I had no idea there was a turn based strategy game all those years ago called X-com until Enemy Unknown was on its way. Not being a PC gamer at a young age it was in my blind spot, so I wasn't expecting X-com: Enemy Unknown to be any good at all. It was. It was very good. I'm a fan of turn-based combat anyway, with my love of Advance Wars and Pokemon, and this was like a breath of fresh air. It's not only the actual art of fighting in a turn-based game that had me endeared to X-com right away, it was the extras. In-between every mission you go back to base and research new weapons, upgrades, train new troops, buy air interceptors, make sure the planet is protected and plan ahead for your next mission. It's awesome, and has a weird habit of making you look forward to missions whilst you're not in them, and looking forward to not being in missions whilst you are. Every part of the game is so well thought out that you always have something to do and something to look forward to, it's great design. The game has a myriad of technical difficulties, with characters shooting through walls and glitches occurring frequently, but it's hard to care when you're having so much fun.

 

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1. Borderlands 2


Yep. My favourite game of the year was Borderlands 2. In terms of fun, no other game last year even came close. The gameplay loop of levelling, finding new badass guns, killing enemies with those guns and then levelling up again is as simple as it is addictive. Levelling up is satisfying, shooting things is satisfying, using your action skill is satisfying and getting new weapons is BEYOND satisfying. It's a game built on the solid framework of the original but tweaked to maximise the fun. Floods of enemies try to overwhelm you while you try to explode them into chunks same as before, except now they juke and jive and do some dodging so you have a harder time getting a clear shot. New AI systems like this make the enemies more fun to combat across the board, not just the ones that run at you. You'd think this would make the game worse, but actually it livens things up a bunch and improves the fun factor. Fun is what this game does, it oozes from its pores like squeezing water out of a sponge. The gameplay is outstanding and the characters are amongst the most well written I've ever experienced. It's genuinely funny and witty, and left me immediately wanting Borderlands 3. If I could only play one game that came out in 2012, it'd be this every time. Hands down.

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So that's my list. I know it was late, and I know there were 1 or 2 games I didn't play that might have squeezed on this list, but by all means if you disagree with it there's a comment section below, and a Twitter account to harass me on. Feel free to do both!

Fingers crossed 2013 will put 2012 to shame. I have high hopes... well... I have hopes. That's better than nothing, I guess.

 

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