Today’s edition of The Aggie Arcade is the last of the Winter Quarter and year, meaning it’s time for a 2012 video game wrap-up. I can think of no better way to mark the occasion than by counting down my top 10 games of the year.
10 – Hotline Miami
For those who have seen the 2011 film Drive, think of Hotline Miami as the videogame equivalent. There’s a largely silent protagonist, a slick retro look and a startling amount of violence. Of course it helps that Hotline Miami is a blast to play with its breakneck pace that has players killing multiple enemies in a matter of seconds.
9 – Sleeping Dogs
The success of an open-world game often correlates directly with the breadth and scope of its world. Just take a look at Sleeping Dogs to understand the logic — the bustling streets of Hong Kong feel expansive, from the neon-lit glow of signs to the interaction among everyday citizens. There are also numerous activities to take part in and secrets to discover. The result is an appropriately deep game that places its mark on the genre with outstanding melee combat and a distinctive action-movie vibe. The fact that Sleeping Dogs was nearly canceled only adds to the allure of 2012’s most pleasant surprise.
8 – Assassin’s Creed III
I found myself disappointed by Assassin’s Creed III’s brutally slow start. Players who can endure the slog through those first six hours or so are in for a real treat, though. In many ways the final entry in Desmond’s storyline tries to do too much, but the positives can’t be ignored. The Colonial America setting in particular is fantastic, providing a fresh and exciting new environment to explore. Plus, who doesn’t like hanging out with Ben Franklin and George Washington? Some of the new side activities are worthy additions as well, especially the naval battles. Captaining a large warship for the first time was one of my favorite video game moments of 2012.
7 – Fez
This downloadable puzzle-platformer took a while to grab my attention. I beat the game and thought to myself, “That was pretty neat.” Then I realized beating the game is only the beginning. The secrets in Fez’s world are staggering and require real commitment. I’m talking “pull out a sheet of paper and take notes” commitment. There’s an entire language to decode, mysterious monoliths to discover and an endgame mystery that baffled gamers for weeks. How awesome is that?
6 – Borderlands 2
It’s funny how one’s attachment to a game can be influenced entirely by circumstance. The original Borderlands was certainly fun, but I didn’t have a lot of time to play online with friends. Borderlands 2 was an entirely different story — even my brother joined in on the fun with me. I now fully understand the appeal of the Borderlands experience, and the various gameplay improvements introduced in the sequel only helped matters. This is one of the best co-op games out there, first-person shooter or not.
5 – Dishonored
Dishonored is all about player choice — less so in a narrative sense and more so in regards to the actual game mechanics. Each mission is like its own little sandbox, and it’s up to players to use the game’s many cool powers to sneak past enemies or take them down. Want to approach a guard head-on, use the cyclone ability to knock him against the wall and then light him on fire with an incendiary arrow? Go ahead. Want to transform into a rat and sneak past enemies in a small tunnel? That works too. The level of freedom truly empowers the player.
4 – Mark of the Ninja
In many ways Mark of the Ninja is the perfect stealth game — there are plenty of cool gadgets, smart design choices and everything doesn’t completely go to hell when the player is discovered by a guard. Perhaps it’s the benefit of working on a 2D plane, but I feel like some ideas in this game should be used in every stealth release from here on out. That’s about the highest praise I can give a downloadable gem like Mark of the Ninja.
3 – The Walking Dead
Every installment of this episodic adventure left me on the edge of my seat. The emotional connection between characters played a large part, as did the meaningful decisions that shaped each individual player’s experience. I loved going online and seeing how other people’s stories diverged from my own based on each of our unique choices. The game mechanics are admittedly archaic, but The Walking Dead shows that an emotionally resonating story can compensate for a lot.
2 – XCOM: Enemy Unknown
The constant tension that looms throughout XCOM: Enemy Unknown is equally terrifying and thrilling. Soldiers will die, tough decisions will have to be made and some countries won’t be happy with those decisions. And yet when that victory screen kicks in at the end of each battle, the sense of accomplishment reigns supreme. The feeling only heightens 20 to 30 hours later when the player has finished the campaign. This is strategy gaming at its finest.
1 – Journey
Journey is a video game and yet the only goal is to reach the top of a mountain. It’s an online co-op experience and yet text and voice chat are absent. A series of foreign symbols represent the only form of communication — players must put some kind of meaning into the game themselves. It’s a fascinating experiment in minimalism that works wonders on someone like me. I love to see the video game industry move in exciting new directions, and Journey proves that the results can be truly astounding. And for those who appreciate this entertainment medium on a visually aesthetic level, there may not be a more beautiful game out there.
ANTHONY LABELLA can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.