Sunday, January 13, 2013

2012: Games I Cared About

So 2012 is dead now. Dead forever and it's NEVER coming back.

There have been worse tragedies.

Anyway, 2012 had a good number of video games come out during its 365 day lifespan. Some of these were really good, and others were somewhat lacking. Here are the games I cared about. Either because I played them and they were good, or bad, or they raised a good deal of interest from me.

Let's just pretend that it hasn't been thirteen days since New Years.... yeah?

Favorable Games

Halo 4

To be fair, this game isn't anything new or innovative, but two things stand out to me. A new developer came in and took the reigns in the wake of Bungie's absence, and they did well. While Halo might have never been the most compelling game series to ever exist, it was a well designed game, and living up to the expectations of fans is never easy. Fortunately for 343 Industries, they did.

The other thing was that it talked about the morality of Master Chief and the Spartan program, which was refreshing. Kidnapping a kid and breeding them into a super soldier is on pretty gray moral grounds, so it was cool to see Halo 4 actually discuss something that had more thematic depth than "Bad guys shoot 'em in the face!"

Then again, the Machinima series Red vs. Blue had a project head justifying his morally gray super-soldier program in order to help save humanity back in season 6 and onward. For whatever it's worth.

Vaas, from Far Cry 3
Far Cry 3

Speaking of Far Cry 3, it apparently was good. Which is nice to hear about anything really. However, the plot of the game was the most peculiar thing to me.

Far Cry apparently is following in the wake of many other games, such as Spec Ops, Hotline Miami, and Little Inferno, that want to talk about games. It plays like a giant white male empowerment fantasy, where you come to an island full of pacific tribals and save them while hang gliding and jet ski-ing.

Then the ending comes. I'm not going to spoil either of them, but it takes a strange turn. The lead writer of the game has said in an interview, seen here at the Penny Arcade Report, that the game is supposed to be a satire of the empowerment fantasies of modern video games, such as Call of Duty or even Uncharted. The problem with satire however, is that it's a very thin line between parodying something and becoming the very thing you're parodying.

To be honest, I have no idea if it does it well or not, but it's still an interesting discussion nonetheless, and that's a very good thing for a game to do.

Borderlands 2

It was better than the second one, unless you don't like Anthony Burch's writing, in which case it probably sucks a lot.

In retrospect I don't know why this is even listed. I have nothing to say on it. JPH over at Ninja Game Den wrote stuff on it. Apparently he liked it a lot, so there's that I guess.

Little Inferno

This was a cool little game. There's no way to really discuss what it's doing without spoiling the entire thing, but it's definitely worth your time. The guys who made it made World of Goo, which was a really solid little puzzler, but sadly was pirated like crazy on release. Errant Signal made a video analyzing Little Inferno, so go watch that after you finish the game. It's good, but that's pretty par for the course with Campster's stuff.

Spec Ops: The Line

By far the smartest modern military shooter, and by smartest I mean the only one that isn't a self-indulgent empowerment fantasy. Sadly, the marketing made it look like a bland, generic modern military shooter, which probably cut into it's financial success. Then again, that's kind of the point.

Go buy and play it if you haven't yet. It's totally worth it.

Riflemen versus Katana Samurai in Shogun 2: Fall of the Samurai
Shogun 2: Fall of the Samurai

I'm a huge Total War fan, and this is probably the best installment they've ever made. Much better than Napoleon and Empire, and has a bit more polish than the core Shogun 2. It's no Stainless Steel, which is arguably the best Medieval 2 mod, but it's still really well-put together. I put a solid too many hours into it, just like every Total War game.

Civilization 5: Gods and Kings

Another expansion here, but a really good one. Civilization 5 was decent enough, though lacking a lot of depth that Civilization 4 had. Primarily in the diplomacy aspects.

With Gods and Kings, Civilization 5 gets really good. Really, really good. Diplomacy actually exists now and there's a reason to build boats other than for whaling. The new nations they've added are interesting and fun to play, along with the balance changes they've brought to both units and social policies. Religion is also implemented in a much more intuitive and impactful way than in Civilization 4, and is far and away the best new feature.

I'm not going to say Gods and Kings makes Civilization 5 playable, but Gods and Kings makes Civilization 5 playable.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

This game was one of the most excitement inducing games I've ever played. I had always wanted to actually play and enjoy the original XCOM series, but considering it was part of the generation of games that featured horrible UI, insanely hard difficulty curves, and required reading of an aid, it wasn't exactly easy to get into.

Which is why Enemy Unknown is awesome. It takes the excellent gameplay of XCOM and makes it more accessible. It's not a complete copy, as there are some features taken out here and there, but it streamlines itself well enough to where it's easy to delve into, but still has tons of depth and enjoyment underneath its covering.

One of the first tactical turn-based games that works spectacularly in a very long time. It's something that's been missed, I must say. Go play it if you haven't, you owe it to yourself.

Sleeping Dogs

While not the most underrated game of the year, it has gotten a good amount of praise from various sources, it seems to me that a lot of people either forgot that it existed or that it ever even existed at all.

I however, have always held this little game in my heart. I loved it when it came out, and still love it now. It was as if GTA4 didn't suffer from the worst case of ludo-narrative dissonance in the history of narrative, and was also actually enjoyable to play. While not as insane as Saints Row 3(rd), it still was a blast to play through.

Sadly, it did have some issues. The guns were pretty clunky to use, and some characters could have done with a bit more development.

Sleeping Dogs also probably means more to me than it should because it's the subject of the first near legitimate thing I've ever written about video games. Also the only thing I've written over at this website, which is mainly because I'm really, really bad about getting down and actually writing content. Hell, this is the fourth thing I've written on this blog.

Anyway, go play Sleeping Dogs if you haven't. It's really damn good.


One of the most beautiful games I've ever even heard of. It's literally you and a complete stranger, of whom you can't even really communicate with, bonding together while walking through a desert. It's not that long, but my god is it amazing.

Often, when the "games are art" argument is brought up, some the most common examples used by people defending games as art are things such as Shadow of the Colossus or Braid. It isn't very hard to see that Journey is pretty much one of the best games to demonstrate the emotion and beauty that games can communicate. It's going to be one of the first things I think of when I think of what games can do as art.

I don't really have that much to say here, because honestly there isn't all that much to say. It's a beautiful game that deserves to exist, and it's awesome that it does.

Less Favorable Games

Hitman: Absolution

So I became a big fan of the Hitman games after I played Blood Money a decent number of years ago, and I was really excited to see a sequel after about 4 years.

Too bad it wasn't a Hitman game.

Absolution is an okay game, to be fair, but it doesn't play anything like any other Hitman title. The levels are almost all linear and encourage stealth that feels more at home in something like Splinter Cell. Blood Money wanted you to use disguises in almost every situation. With Absolution it feels like it never wants you to use a disguises, with a few exceptions, because half the time it doesn't do anything. You'll still be caught and seen because in levels where there's only one disguises to actually use, if you're seen your cover is blown and everyone starts shooting.

Even the story is worse here than in Blood Money, which is really absurd because Blood Money barely even had a story to begin with. But alas, the writing for 47 is insanely out of character, which is one sentence I've never thought I would ever write, and the game is oddly sexist, with not a single strong female character or even just a female character with agency.

So yeah, Absolution sucks. Okay no, that's not fair. Hitman: Absolution sucks. If you get rid of the whole "Hitman" thing it's, at best, adequate.

47 in Hitman: Absolution

Female Shepard in Mass Effect 3
Mass Effect 3

The second of two games that left a bad taste in my mouth. Now, the ending is the big controversy topic surrounding this thing, but it's not the only problem. The game has a lot of flaws beyond that.

And I'm not going to write it all out. It's been very well said by Shamus Young and countless others, and I don't need to repeat all of it.

If I had to give some kind of conclusive opinion on the series and Bioware in general, let it be thus:

Mass Effect was a decent series that started poorly in terms of gameplay, but strongly in terms of story and world building. Mass Effect 2 saw a huge drop in terms of narrative quality, though the world building remained strong and the gameplay was actually passable, if only just that. As a part of the series, Mass Effect 2 is really only there to introduce more characters and add more details to the universe so that we have more emotional investment in Mass Effect 3. And it works fine as that.

Speaking of Mass Effect 3, the characters and world were still strong and by far its best quality. The gameplay was, once again, passable but its narrative was somewhat weak. Then the ending came, and pretty much destroyed the only excellent part of the series, which were the characters and universe. So yeah, the Mass Effect series, while ambitious, did not particularly turn out that well. Bioware is pretty much on it's last legs, in terms of whether or not its fans are willing to put up with another Dragon Age 2 or Mass Effect 3. They handled the response to Dragon Age 2 criticism horribly, and Mass Effect 3's extended cut could only do so much. All eyes are on Dragon Age 3 as of now. If it's received well by fans, then yeah. Bioware pulls through for a little while longer. If, however, it flops with fans like its predecessor, then Bioware would probably have literally no more good faith with the majority of their fanbase.

My Game of the Year

The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead is a amazing game. Sadly, it's a rare thing to see many games like this get a lot of recognition from the industry. Thankfully, this one has been considered in Game of the Year lists by pretty much everyone who played it, and it topped off mine.

It's emotionally impactful, resonant, and insanely well written. While the game itself isn't perfect, it's still amazing.

It's hard to praise a game without actually going too in-depth with it, since I don't want anyone reading this to have any part of the experience spoiled, but it's so good. Trust me. Go play it now if you haven't, it's an awesome sign that the industry can actually produce games with a real heavy focus on writing and story without having to worry about appealing to a more mainstream audience.

So yeah, those were the games that I had any remote interest in.

Woozle-bazle-wazle, or something like that.

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