12-15-2012, 03:41 AM
Festive greetings!
In an entirely predictable and disgustingly traditional... tradition, here is my list of the games I enjoyed the most this year. Overall, I felt it was an acceptable, if not super amazing year. I actually had to think about what to include this year, compared to the last few years, when I've struggled to even name 10 games I liked all year, so that's something. As ever, these are the games I personally liked the most. I think subjectivity has to come into it, because trying to be completely objective seems foolish to me. It would mean picking games you didn't actually like, or genres you didn't care for, simply because you could objectively see they were well made games.

So this is my completely subjective list. If I liked playing it, chances are its on here! As I said, there were a few that almost made the cut, and I'll run over them very briefly at the end. And perhaps most importantly, this list is NOT in any particularly order. I find it generally useless to try and say which games were definitely better than others, when they are from different genres.

1) X-COM: Enemy Unknown.
I was a bit dubious when I heard X-COM was being remade. It looked like a fairly respectful version, but I wasn't thrilled about the idea of playing a game which was very similar to an already great game from the early 90's. It just felt unnecessary. Happily, it won me over immediately and showed again that games can have depth and complexity, whilst still being fun and action packed. It was the textbook example of how all games would be in ideal world. Basically, it had all the things that made gaming in 'the olden days' so rewarding and fulfilling, but with the technology of today making it seem relevant. Its a great achievement for a game that gives you infinite time to think about your next move, that you frequently play it like its a real time action game - that's how absorbing it is. Its real tough, but its real good. Check it out.

2) Silent Hill: Downpour.
Its no secret that Silent Hill has been on slippery slide into mediocrity for ages now. This game may not have had the chills and atmosphere of the best Silent Hill games of yesteryear, but it was nevertheless a very good game that stopped the rot. A surprisingly likable main character and a genuinely good story were the foundation of its success. If they can just get the scares right again, there might be hope for this series after all. The best way to describe the game would be that it is always at least slightly better than you were expecting it to be. That might sound like faint praise, but there's something to be said for a constant feeling of 'You know... this is actually pretty good'. It keeps you going all the way to the end, whereupon you realize that to your surprise, it was a worthwhile experience. Sure, it'd be better if this knocked it out of the park and was everything that Silent Hill used to be, but as the first step on the road to recovery, this was very promising.

3) Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City.
Yes, I still love this game and yes, I still know that it is by no means a technical marvel, nor is it even a survival horror. But that didn't matter, because in going back to the Raccoon City incident, having Umbrella back as nasty as ever, and being able to play a variety of very different squad types against all the old favorite RE foes like the Hunters, Nemesis, Lickers etc, this was a shot of nostalgia that I was more than up for. It helped me rediscover my love for RE, and it had great replay value, especially with the excellent Spec Ops DLC adding a whole new proper single player campaign.

4) Dishonored.
I spoke about this quite recently, but basically I am not even remotely a stealth games fan. I *hate* them, but this was a game that had enough else besides that going for it, that I could overlook it. An amusingly eccentric world and cast of characters, some great locations, and a story which whilst it was rarely as good as you hoped it would be, definitely had its moments. Really, the best praise I can give this game, is that I was able to play it at all, because as I say, my hatred for stealth games is deep and long standing - and this game pretty much forces you to play with stealth. Not many games have managed to convince me to overcome that prejudice.

5) Final Fantasy 13-2.
What can I say, given that Final Fantasy has reached the stage in its life where words mean nothing to either side of the divide? Either you are still a fan, and gave it a chance, or you've given up on Square and won't touch it even if it came with a free winning lottery ticket for a million quid. I can only say what I thought of it, which is to say I thought it was a fantastic game. Ticking all the right boxes for me, with influences ranging from hard sci-fi like 2001: ASO, through time travel capers like Doctor Who, Quantum Leap and Sliders, and with some great echos of the better aspects of Superman etc, this was a fine game and a brilliant return to form. Its spin-off nature and smaller budget meant it could definitely have stood to be longer, with more locations and less filler side games, but overall, this was a fabulous game.

6) The Walking Dead.
As a dyed in the wool adventure games fan when I was growing up, the virtual death of the genre hit me very hard indeed. The days of playing the old Sierra Quest games, the Monkey Island games, Simon the Sorceror etc etc are some of my most treasured gaming memories. And I tried to keep the flame alive by trying out modern games like Still Life and Syberia, but I couldn't deny they were lacking. So to my relief (and great surprise), TWD rolled back the years in spectacular fashion, putting adventure games back on the map, with its excellent cast of characters, tough moral decision making, and attention to patient and rewarding storytelling. Simply put, if you haven't played it then stop whatever you're doing like paying the heating bills or buying presents for your kids or any of that nonsense and do the right thing instead - play The Walking Dead, stupid!

7) Resident Evil 6.
ORC reminded me why I loved RE so much, but RE6 was the game that gave me hope for its future. As some people will have seen, I was intensely cynical about the whole need for RE to continue, given that RE5 had finished the Wesker and Umbrella story. There seemed nowhere else to go that would justify a new game. But with its mountain of content (100 or so levels in fact!) RE6 showed me that there was still of plenty of work for the RE heroes to be getting on with. Playing out like a really good season of '24', this game packed in so many different play styles, locations, set pieces, plots and gave them all the time and context to feel like a vital piece of the whole puzzle. When modern wisdom hold that 'Less is More' and 'Shorter is Better' in action games because of shortening attention spans, RE6 bellowed 'Nonsense! More is More!' and love it or hate it, you couldn't deny that it gave you a hell of a lot of bang for your buck.

8) Syndicate.
Despised right out the gate for being a FPS, compared to the old tactical Syndicate games, this was much better than most gave it credit for. Its underrated Robocop style campaign got the dark tone of the series just right, showing in particularly brutal fashion that your guy and his fellow agents didn't care and know *how* to care about hurting innocent people - they were company men and did whatever they had to do. Yes, your man eventually discovers his humanity, but its handled well and is actually one of the better examples of above mentioned 'Less is More' manner of storytelling, by simply not wasting any time. Every level is action packed and fun as you use your cybernetics and guns to mow down enemies and innocents in equally cold blooded fashion, but all serve their purpose in the story.

9) Spec Ops: The Line.
I had to think quite hard before including this, because like ORC this game is certainly no feat of wonder in terms of execution of gameplay. Its one of those games where you kind of have to play it through, before you understand why anyone cares about it at all. For the first half of the game, its a mostly forgettable shooter, with very little to recommend it other than the occasionally interesting locations (its set in Dubai, which has been swallowed up by an enormous sandstorm). But as you play on, the game shows you the side of warfare that most games shy away from, showing the strange beauty and savage horror of warfare and weaponry. There are darkly magical moments that call of ideas of heaven and hell, and brutally realistic moments too. The ending is well handled, if a little too artsy for its own good perhaps. But all told, this is an understated game that makes a lot of good points, but doesn't judge us for liking something that is fairly horrifying. Its just how we're wired, and the multiple endings do a good job of saying 'How you feel about this, is up to you'.

10) Catherine.
There were a number of games that I could have gone for, which didn't quite make the cut. This was probably the hardest inclusion, because for vast swathes of the game, I was muttering away to myself and grousing about how much I hated the actual gameplay and didn't want to play it! But then I'd settle in to the game's block jumping antics, and by the end of each stage I still wouldn't be enjoying it, but I wouldn't be hating it anymore. And this cycle continued throughout the game. So you'd imagine that I must have thought the story was fantastic and worth the effort, but that's only partially true. Its good at times, and I did really enjoy just knocking about in the pub with Vincent and his hopeless mates. At best, the game is a triumph at showing the general aimlessness of life, the unfulfilled promise of life, and that's certainly interesting that a game would explore such a downbeat idea. Ultimately though, the story kind of disappoints, leaving me again trying to say why this is on the list. The only thing I can say is that it felt like something new, something that really struck to the heart of how any of us survive the daily grind, and carry on even though we know its just going to be more of the same. Its strange, because that is very depressing and the endings which can give an upbeat message actually ring very hollow. But like I say, games don't usually tackle this stuff, so it definitely got my attention.

So, that's the list. Honorable mentions go out to:
Dragon's Dogma - good open world quester, but respawning of enemies in the exact same locations gets really old, as does the lack of any kind of fast travel. Promising first try by Capcom, and the actual roaming and questing and slaying is excellent, but they need to make the world a bit more lively and interesting story wise.

Persona 4: The Golden - Again, I talked about this recently. Basically, its great fun, but the story drags and never fulfills its great early promise. The cast of characters are likeable, but feel out of their depth for the most part, and at its core this is still essentially the exact same game as Persona 4. There's new content all over, but the meat and potatoes of the game is the same, so I'm not sure its fair to hand out a top 10 place for it in 2012.

Mass Effect 3 - I found this last game a bit underwhelming in all the parts that really mattered to me in a final installment. The story was pretty boring throughout with only a couple of really exciting levels (the Citadel Siege probably being the standout), the Reapers were a joke and incredibly boring to fight, the dialogue were pretty mawkish and overwrought at key moments and the game never felt like it really got going properly. But as damning as that sounds, those are just the reasons that it didn't make my top 10 - by and large I still felt it was a good game, and it even managed to recapture at least some of ME1's glory. But its just not a game that I have many strong feelings one way or the other about.

Halo 4 - Which sums up this game too, I think. I generally speaking enjoyed it, and the action was occasionally very good. But just as often, it felt a little undercooked, and the handling of the Prometheans and the Didact fell kind of flat for me, most of the time. Its a strange balance of the game exceeding what I thought it would be (its probably my favorite since Halo 1), but still falling short of where I really wanted it to be. I thought the premise at the end of Halo 3 was very promising, with Chief and Cortana drifting into unknown territory. So the amount to which 343 hit the reset button is very deflating, especially the apparently motiveless hostile reappearance of the Covenant.

So that's me. There were a few games that slipped the net this year, that I intend to get round to at some point. Lollipop Chainsaw, Sleeping Dogs and The Darkness 2 all seem to bear further investigation, but for one reason or another, I haven't yet seen to it.