Gaming favorites from 2012

With the recently released Far Cry 3 as its bookend, the gaming year has come to a close. I feel like 2012 was finally the year when everyone started taking indie releases from smaller studios seriously. Many of my personal favorites were indies, and my #1 was a free-to-play game that’s not even been properly released yet! Add into the mix the numerous old-school projects Kickstarted this year, and I can only conclude that 2012 was a pretty good year for gaming. Here’s what I liked the most:

01. Dota 2 (PC)
How could it be anything else than Dota 2? So far, I’ve played the game for more than 900 hours, which is way more than the combined time I’ve spent playing everything else this year. I jumped into Dota 2 raw, never really having played Dota 1, League of Legends or any of the other games in ARTS genre. Of course I sucked. Slowly but surely, however, I got better, having now reached what I consider a reasonable understanding of the game. I can clearly see there still being miles to go to actually be good, but I can also see how far I’ve come. That’s the beauty of this game.

02. Super Hexagon (iOS, PC)
I think it’s fair to say I have a bit of an obsessive personality. I also like games that put my skills to the test, but the gameplay loop has to be short enough. When a hard game makes me backtrack half a level, my interest fades. That’s why Super Hexagon is so great: It’s nothing but the loop. Just one minute of your time, two buttons and a minimalist aesthetic that I find really appealing. This game always seems impossible, but somehow it you keep playing. A design masterpiece.

03. The Walking Dead (PC)
During my formative years, I was all about point & click adventure games; Especially LucasArts ones. So it pleases me greatly to see Telltale Games finally having struck episodic gold with The Walking Dead. Moving the focus from puzzle-driven mindbenders of the past to a more story and decision-driven experience, this a game where writing comes first. Some gameplay elements get cut in the process, but at least I consider the payoff well worth it.

04. Journey (PS3)
One of the most beautiful games I’ve played. Journey sheds almost every game-like quality from itself, focusing solely on the experience. Everyone will have a different journey through this desert, and everyone will see their path in a different light. The Grammy nomination couldn’t have gone to a better soundtrack either, since the music in this game is sublime.

05. Far Cry 3 (PC)
Sandbox game of the year. After the massive disappointment that was Far Cry 2, I wasn’t expecting that much from the third installment. Luckily, FC3 is a giant step in the right direction. Eliminating the bad parts and amplifying the fun ones, poking around the freely explorable island is an absolute joy. You can opt to go with stealth or just blow everything up, often ending up doing both. The combination of great technology, nice supporting characters and cool gameplay elements keeps things interesting, even though the game kind of winds down a bit towards the end.

06. Spec Ops: The Line (PC)
I almost skipped this game since I wasn’t paying enough attention. After all, on the surface Spec Ops: The Line looks like any other cover-based military shooter that’s come out in the last few years. But the real meat here is in the story: An unflinching view into the darker side of war where atrocities get committed and no-one really knows who the good guys are. Got me thinking, which is more than I can say for a lot of games.

07. Legend of Grimrock (PC)
RPG’s had a bit of a quiet year, especially the fantasy ones. One little piece of old-school dungeon crawling goodness was released, however. Harkening back to tile-based classics such as Dungeon Master and Eye of the Beholder, Legend of Grimrock updates the graphics and interface to the modern standards but otherwise adheres to the tried-and-true formula: Puzzles and exploration with a four-man group. The game works because of its strong mechanics and general atmosphere, even though the story is a bit flimsy. Bonus points for no hand-holding and letting players figure out stuff on their own.

08. Mass Effect 3 (PC)
One of the biggest releases of the year, and also the one that spawned a good chunk of controversy. All things said and done, ME3 is a worthy addition to the series, but not as brilliant as part two. Since the gameplay is mostly the same, it all boils down to the story: Saving the galaxy in an epic war of the worlds might be more important, but the stories and personalities of your teammates were just plain more interesting to me. There’s some good drama in ME3 as well and overall it’s a very good game, but just not a GOTY contender. After all, they reduced my Jack to a minor side character!

09. Dear Esther (PC)
Lots of games with hefty subject matter came out in 2012. Dear Esther is one of the more grim ones. A dose of depression and melancholia that’s oddly intriguing, a tranquil stroll through a deserted island and a mind of a lone wanderer. Lasting only a couple of hours, the actual gaming elements here are few and far between. Dear Esther, more than any other game on this list, is purely about experience. What you get out of it is completely up to you.

10. Edna & Harvey: Harvey’s New Eyes (PC)
Germans never stopped making adventure games. And it’s a good thing that they didn’t, since Edna & Harvey: Harvey’s New Eyes is one of the best traditional point & clickers I’ve seen in a few years. Way more twisted than the children’s storybook-like art would have you believe, this game had a sense of humor I could relate with. No, it’s not always funny and the voice acting gets annoying in places, but for the most part I enjoyed myself a lot.

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