2012 Top 10’s: Editor Alex Linna
This is a defense of my Top 10 games of 2012 – Alex
10. Hitman: Absolution
Despite Mark of the Ninja being the best stealth game I have ever played, Hitman: Absolution is the highest ranking stealth game on my list this year. Mark of the Ninja takes a complex gameplay mechanic (stealth) and distills and simplifies it to its very essence, while executing on it perfectly. Hitman rises above Mark of the Ninja due to the inherent complexity of a 3D stealth game and all the crazy systems at work in a Hitman game. Hitman: Absolution begs to be replayed providing a list of all the possible ways to kill someone at the end of a level, whilst taunting the player with the highest scoring player’s score on one’s friend list at the beginning of every level. Hitman: Absolution looks absolutely fantastic and is technically impressive. The story and characters are ridiculous at times, but I found Dexter to be a suitably loathsome antagonist. While replayability might be the greatest selling point of Hitman: Absolution, I would like one to focus on the playability. The game handles like a dream, and can make for a suitable action game if one desires it. Gunplay is clean and satisfying while hand-to-hand and stealth takedowns are brutal. 2012 is the year of the stealth game; Dishonored certainly being a notable entry in the genre. Dishonored’s story fell flat for me. The difficulty of clearing a level with low/no “Chaos” is insane. I completed a level without killing anyone only to be scored a “High Chaos” rating. I did not find Dishonored to play as smoothly as Hitman (likely due to the first-person perspective). Though novel and original, I felt like something was missing in Dishonored and I have yet to pin down exactly what. It could be the brevity of the game, the lack of upgrades, the lack of a strong narrative (though Hitman is not going to be nominated for any story/writing awards); I am not sure, but something is missing. Hitman: Absolution was the first Hitman game I have finished due to my Blood Money disc being scratched. Hitman: Absolution provided an excellent experience with very solid gameplay, technical prowess, memorable characters, and it incites the urge to replay it. This makes Hitman: Absolution my tenth favorite game of 2012.
9. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
Part of me wonders if I am just loving-on this game for the tragedy that is 38 Studios, then I think back to my time in Amalur and how an enjoyable, satisfying, and lengthy the experience was that it provided. Amalur is one of the best action-RPGs I have played. I played the entire game as a rogue despite the ease of changing classes and I had a blast with the makeshift stealth mechanics that actually worked. I was continually impressed by how solid the action in the game was and how challenging it can be. I went into several areas underleveled and the game provided me with a good work out, and I never found myself frustrated with difficulty. While delivering excellent gameplay and a lengthy experience, Amalur provides the player with some good storytelling in the faction side-quests (not so much in the main quest). Becoming the head of the House of Ballads and the time with the Travelers was time well spent. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was comfort gaming embodied. Its familiar quest-filled world felt like I had already spent considerable time in the world before even playing it, for better or worse.
8. Xenoblade: Chronicles
Despite having put close to 60 hours in Mass Effect 3, 50 hours in Borderlands 2, over 30 hours in SMT: Devil Survivor 2, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, Final Fantasy XIII-2, Virtue’s Last Review, and Pokémon White 2, Xenoblade Chronicles is the game world I spent the most time in during 2012. Clocking in at 72 hours, climbing all over the Mechonis and Bionis in Xenoblade Chronicles took a long time, and with time comes love and respect. The tale of Shulk goes all over the place in Xenoblade, swapping motivations and dropping narrative bombs along the way. A game of this length is nothing without solid narrative and characters to keep the player going. Two love triangles form, characters die, characters come back from death… as robots! The story of Xenoblade Chronicles is one that keeps the player begging for more. Core gameplay is also critically important in a game over 70 hours in length. Xenoblade innovates in its battle system being MMO-like in that it is not turn-based, but not an action RPG either. One has arts (or abilities) to use during battle that have cool-downs. Though all the party members are playable, I mostly played as Shulk due to his incredibly powerful Monado. I would be remiss if I did not mention the excellent British voice acting or type “Reyn time!” at least once in Xenoblade’s defense. An incredibly long journey with much to do, memorable characters and story, and innovative JRPG gameplay make Xenoblade Chronicles my #8 game of 2012.
7. Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward
Though I am quite critical of Virtue’s Last Reward in my review when comparing it to its older brother: 999, I am glad I get to extol VLR’s virtues now! VLR is naturally all about its flawed, mostly believable, and realist characters in addition to the game’s absolutely insane plot. Story twists abound in this sequel, as does 999, culminating with a large dose of crazy as a “set-up?” for a third game. Though it is nearly impossible to tell where Chunsoft goes from here, I cannot wait for the third installment in this newly budding and rebranded franchise. I do not expect that I will need to defend this one very hard with our collective love of 999, but nevertheless VLR is an unforgettable journey and one of the best games of 2012, number seven for me.
6. Assassin’s Creed III
Admittedly, this is my highest rated game that I am most worried about. With fairly split critics and few of us that have experience with it, Assassin’s Creed III is nonetheless my #6 of 2012. Here’s why: ACIII takes a couple of steps back from the ACII trilogy and it might more closely resemble the first game in the venerable series. The game has an excellent introduction section that is followed by a large set-up for the rest of the game. It takes its sweet time opening up. ACIII, much of the time, feels as though there are too many cooks in the kitchen. There is a lot going on and a lot of new gameplay systems at work here. I simply ignored the ones I did not care about, and focused on the one I did. This helped in making the game feel less cluttered to me. There are plenty of things wrong with the game (chases, eavesdrops, and some technical issues), but the game has many more shining moments up there with the best of the series.
Being the fourth game in four years for the Assassin’s Creed series, ACIII needed to change things up, and in many ways it does and succeeds. For instance, the boat battles are fantastic with a vast majority of my money in the game going into boat upgrades. Both the combat and climbing are at the best they have been in the series plus the addition of an interesting hunting system and some excellent side quests make ACIII unmissable. A massive patch came out on the game’s release date, so I did not experience the technical problems many reviewers experienced, and more have been released since. Though I am naturally against the idea of shipping broken games and patching them later; I am not sure if the now absent technical issues should be held against it. ACIII is still an Assassin’s Creed game with many of the core mechanics at their best with a slew of new and interesting side stuff to mess with. This cements it as my sixth game of 2012.
5. Dragon’s Dogma
As far as pure gameplay goes, Dragon’s Dogma might be my favorite game of the year. Having only finished it once and dabbled in two of the nine classes Dragon’s Dogma could keep me going for a long time. It’s too bad the Q1 2013 release schedule is so crowed or I would keep playing it over and over. Dragon’s Dogma feels and looks great. The diversity of the two classes I played with (Strider and Assassin) was incredible, with many different skills and passive abilities that make playing the game an absolute joy. It plays most like Dark Souls and Monster Hunter with a splash of Shadow of the Colossus, but handles better than any of them.
If gameplay is where Dragon’s Dogma shines, the narrative is where it does not. Most of my Top 10 this year strongly relies on narrative as a crutch; Dogma does not. For Dragon’s Dogma, gameplay is king, and for this it lands at my number five spot for 2012.
4. The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead innovates in that it turns narrative into gameplay almost entirely, and what an interactive narrative it weaves! It might be the game I have ever been most emotionally invested in. It did not, however, join the illustrious list of games to bring a tear to my eye, but was it close! You all know, The Walking Dead is all about the characters and the arcs they follow with a very convincing illusion of choice that demands the player’s emotional investment. The game does an excellent job of capturing the tension and despair present in the books. The game entirely met my expectations of what a narrative based survival game can be, although I would have liked some more actual influence in the brutal narrative. I fell hook, line, and sinker for the illusion, and in the moment, little is better than The Walking Dead making it my number four game of 2012.
3. The Witcher 2
Upon finishing The Witcher, I was pumped to dive into The Witcher 2, with that said; I must constantly remind myself that The Witcher 2 is basically two games in one: one where Geralt sides with the Scoia’tael and one where he sides with the secret service of Termeria. It is unfortunate that I ran out of time this year to experience both, because the game felt too short after the near 40 hour original. Aside from length, I have little complaint with The Witcher 2. It is one of the best looking games I have ever seen. It dramatically improves the combat from the first game and the story/writing is nearly as strong as the original. Yet I have only seen half the game, I am not sure how much different the other half is. Though the game is self-contained, it might rely too much on setting up The Witcher 3. The last line of the game calls the game a prologue for what is to come.
Now to laud the efforts of CDProjekt RED, the combat is much improved to be more of an action game, the upgrade system, alchemy, and inventory presentation is dramatically better than the first game. The story twists and turns and provided at least one mind-exploding moment. The balls it takes to lock half the game away is an enormous risk that I greatly respect. The cast of characters is excellent and one of the best I have had the pleasure of spending time with. The game shines with the choices not being an illusion, but it details the consequences of such choices with mini cut-scenes revealing that the player’s choices matter and matter greatly. The look, the story/writing, the improved gameplay, and the consequence of choice make The Witcher 2 my third favorite game of 2012.
2. Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2
What is it about this crazy NDS game that has me so enraptured? Trust me; I have been trying to pin it down. Why is it my “Most Addicting” game of 2012? I do not say this about many games, but SMT: DS2 is like drugs. I get a release from properly planning my team and dominating the map. The fusion of turn-based RPG and turn-based strategy would sound like a slow and boring combination, but few games this year have excited me so. The first Devil Survivor hooked me hard when I played it back in 2011, getting back into SMT: DS2 felt like putting on a favorite shirt, making me feel incredibly comfortable and ready for anything. SMT: DS2 adds to the compulsive gameplay by adding a stronger narrative than its predecessor and a social link system similar to the modern SMT: Persona games. This gives already interesting characters some incredible arcs throughout the 30+ hour game. Most of the game builds wonderfully to one critically choice. This choice leads to the multiple ending present within the game in traditional Shin Megami Tensei fashion. The narrative climax resonates with the weight of the choice it presents. The game presents a remarkable clash of ideologies and philosophies rivaled by few. The already addictive gameplay paired with these strong narrative and character hooks makes Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 my second favorite game of 2012.
1. Mass Effect 3
This is a call to remembrance. I ask that one remembers what Mass Effect 3 brings to the table. Mass Effect 3 is a game of unforgettable moments that are not undone by the lackluster ending. One cannot allow the final moments, such a small percentage of a game, to tarnish the rest. Let’s take a look back: Dr. Mordin Solus and genophage dilemma, peace between the Geth and Quarians, a galaxy united against the greatest threat it has ever seen, drunk Tali, hung over Ashley, Thane’s sacrifice, shooting targets in the Citadel with Garrus, Liara and Javik arguing to no end, Joker and EDI… I could continue, but Mass Effect 3 is packed with excellence. Not only is it the best playing game in the series, it resolves almost everything the two prior games demanded perfectly; a herculean task to be sure. This is why it is my favorite game of 2012.