2012 started with a bang and ended with a series of nuclear-grade kabooms. Fortunately for humanity they were only felt within the videogame sphere. Planet earth made it through 2012 just fine and so in celebration of our continued existence, here are my top games from a top year.
12. The Walking Dead
A great story or a great story by videogame standards? The latter, truthfully, but that didn’t detract from Telltale’s triumphant efforts to bring story to the forefront as it saddled another popular franchise to its clunky adventure game mould.
The veteran developer achieved the almost impossible by making choices that were neither important nor impactful (despite claims made to the contrary) feel enormous and then again by converting typically egocentric videogamers into firebrand altruists. You’d have had to have been a beast with a lust for misery not to have felt something in the feels department during those closing scenes and it was a testimony to the power of Telltale’s story at large that so many of the player’s decisions were bound to the question: what’s best for Clementine?
While the dialogue was often stilted and some of the best characters were unceremoniously done away with in a bid to advance a plot that weaved and U-turned between illustrious and rotten with drunken relish, those won’t be the enduring memories of The Walking Dead. The player’s kinship with Clementine and co. takes that honor.
Though technically a 2011 release Catherine didn’t wash up on European shores until earlier this year. A brilliantly off-kilter game about love, death and pushing blocks to escape overgrown hell-babies, Catherine thrust you into a complex love triangle with gutless protagonist’s long-term lover Katherine and foxy blonde stranger Catherine. A psychological horror at heart with an emphasis on not doing a great deal, developer Atlus did a remarkable job of boring deep into your brain and posing some pretty thorny moral questions. It also wooed the senses with a delightful soundtrack and had a visual motif to die for.
Relationships, commitment issues, jealousy, lust and pregnancy woes all came together in an actual videogame. And in an era of me-too sameness, shoddy writing and shoddier stories, Catherine represented a galvanizing shift in the opposite direction.
+ Best Visuals
A dazzling and unique game about walking, Journey enjoyed the warm embrace of critical acceptance back in March and hasn’t quite managed to wrestle free since; cropping up in countless GOTY discussions and finding itself in the company of ICO and Shadow of the Colossus whenever the ‘are games art?’ squabble reignites.
thatgamecompany’s hit was blessed with beautiful art, a poignant soundtrack and a delightfully relatable tale about the struggle of life. But best of all was its canny use of multiplayer. Players were joined at random by strangers but with no means of communicating with them besides a rudimentary chirping noise, they had to teamwork it through the world without words. It proved astonishingly heartwarming, as evinced by the sheer number of accounts posted to forums from players dismayed at losing their partners.
The developer should have ended its opus fifteen minutes earlier, but even a spineless finish couldn’t dent the marvellous two hours that came before.
09. Max Payne 3
+ Best Audio
Life’s personal punch bag staged a welcome comeback after nine years hunched over a Hoboken bar. With Max Payne 3 Rockstar channelled the spirit of a dusty PC game but married that to the class and storytelling panache for which they have more recently become known.
Production values burst through the roof and, last time I checked, had made it as far as Saturn’s third moon having shown no sign of slowing. A graphical knockout with pitch-perfect controls and a soundtrack to die to, Max’s comeback didn’t herald much in the way of new but was so confident and so effortlessly cool that it didn’t take a lot to be sucked into Max’s wretched world (only the miserable bastard’s sarcastic quips cut through the ever-thickening layer of dismal).
Solid story, fantastic shootouts, shite advertisement for South America.
08. Far Cry 3
2012 proved a bumper year for shooting chaps in the face with the likes of Borderlands 2, Natural Selection 2 and The Darkness 2 leading the testosterone fuelled pack. Far Cry 3 was the best of the lot though, bending genres to its will and making the act of killing a bear an uproarious occasion. I have a wagonload of tales scribbled down on digital notes with headlines like ‘Bear Thumps Family of Goats into Paste’ and ‘Komodo Dragon Clan Chases Stupid Human Off Precipice’ but words do no justice to the sight of these things actually happening in front of you.
It romanced the senses too, but really it was just a great throwback to the first-person shooters of yesteryear – those that embraced player choice over whichever summer blockbuster had made the most money the year before.
07. Hotline Miami
+ Best Soundtrack
Hotline Miami was a ruthless crush of Drive, Super Meat Boy and Smash TV, placing you in charge of a psychopath with an unhealthy obsession with squashing heads with a hammer.
The blistering sequence of dying and restarting proved outrageously commanding, the soundtrack topped a year that played host to some truly great videogame soundtracks and while the story was a mile apart from the whiz-smash-fuckI’mdeadagain gameplay, nothing could detract from the nigh-on perfect feeling of bludgeoning goons to death in a bloody disco haze.