Thoughts on Games of 2012

Game of the Year: Borderlands 2 (PC) - I have never sunk so many hours into a game so fast. This game, moreso than other recent FPS/RPG hybrids, managed to find just the right action/looting/character management ratio for me, was set in a gorgeously realized and sprawling world full of compelling characters, tells an interesting story that drives you to keep going, and generally strikes me as the most refined game to see release this year. It was also the first game of its type in a long time that I felt was equally as strong in single player or multiplayer, and one that should keep me coming back to it for the next few years.

2. Journey (PS3) - I don't know how much I can say about this game that hasn't already been said, and I have only played this game for about 3% of the time I spent playing my GOTY above, but Journey is one of those rare games that knows how to pull a gamer out of his or her comfort zone and then immediately exploit that disorientation by manipulating the player's emotions. Journey is a technical and aesthetic marvel of a game that shouldn't be missed and one of those rare instances wherein all the superlatives and hype surrounding it are justified.

3. The Pinball Arcade (PS3/Vita)- I wouldn't be surprised to learn that I sunk almost as many hours into this game this year as I did into Borderlands 2. I've been on a bit of a video pinball kick the past few years, and this game is everything I could have ever hoped for in a modern pinball game. The emulation of physics on a table to table basis is uncanny, the quality of the game across platforms is excellent (I mostly play on the Vita), and the constant release of new tables to compete against folks on the leaderboards keeps me coming back again and again.

4. Sound Shapes (PS3/Vita) - This is the best, most inventive and stylish platformer I've played in some time. I really dig the soundtrack and its integration into the games, the game controls feel perfectly responsive, and it is a solid if quirky title that I had a blast playing.

5. Diablo III (PC) - I know that a lot of folks didn't like this game (and for good reasons, I guess), but this is the only Diablo game that I've really been able to get into (despite many tries with the others) and I quite enjoyed my run through the caves, caverns, fields, and celestial planes fighting evil. I thought that the gameplay/UI changes from D2 were brilliant, I thought that the single player game (which is what I mostly played) was well paced and compelling, and I am looking forward to revisiting the game with (hopefully) some expansions in the near future.

Honorable Mentions:

BlazBlu: Continuum Shift Extend (Vita) - I've mentioned before that I think this is the best handheld fighter ever made, and months after its release this is still very much the case. Scaling, fast, fluid, and responsive gameplay is married to gorgeous, crisp graphics in a game that benefits from the enhancements of its predecessors and the perfection of its engine over the past few years. Not to be missed by fighting game fans of any kind.

Hotline Miami (PC) - A compelling retro-aesthetic meets ultra-violence in a perfect storm of twitch/stealth gameplay made this one of the best indie experiences of the year on any platform.


a few other categories for fun:

Best not-really-a-game: Dear Esther (PC) - much like Journey, this one pulls you out of your gameplay comfort zone and has the potential to poke at your emotions. An engaging mix of awe, hubris, and sadness that doesn't feature much in the way of traditional gameplay.

Best retro-release of the year: The Simpsons Arcade Game (360/PS3)- I love the recent trend of releasing classic arcade brawlers with enhancements (X-Men, Guardian Heroes, etc.), and this year we got one of the great ones in The Simpsons Arcade Game.

Biggest Disappointment of the Year: Resistance: Burning Skies (Vita) - Resistance 3 was my GOTY last year, and even though this was made by a different developer I had hoped to see a quality game that either built on the excellent PSP Resistance Retribution entry or took cues from the strengths of the PS3 series. Instead the game feels largely generic, forces touch screen controls in sometime irritating ways, and just isn't up to par with the past entries in the series. It isn't bad per se, so it isn't "worst game" of the year, but it isn't near as good as the rest of the franchise.