Games of the Year 2012 (5-1)
5. Journey – In my eagerness to play Journey, I played it in two chunks. I also didn’t seek a partner until the desert and when I found them, I left them at the bottom of everything because I had a show to do. It’s not the ideal experience for a two hour game that deserves to be played in one sitting. I didn’t learn Journey’s language until my second playthrough, where I gave myself the proper experience. On my third and fourth playthroughs, I tidied up Trophies while looking for the one who would complete the trip with me and me alone. Thankfully, I found them on my fourth after a heartbreaking loss in the final act of playthrough three.
On my fifth playthrough, I watched friends play Deadly Premonition while I “speed ran” the game in my new white robes. On my sixth playthrough, I made a Halloween costume while studying the game. Finally, after five attempts to make up for my botched first go, I realized the silliness of my feelings toward Journey. I didn’t finish in tears; I didn’t have an epiphany; I didn’t “ruin” my first playthrough. I simply made myself work harder to appreciate the journey.
4. FEZ – FEZ is about space exploration. X, Y, & Z dimensions, to what at times feels like infinity. Whereas most games present spaces to play in, FEZ is playing with and in the mysteries of the come with completely raw space. It’s discovery at its most pure in A/V entertainment. I’m sure other games pull this off more in the way of places, but every pixel seems relevant in FEZ. Every “world” is crammed full of puzzles, meaning, mystery, and enjoyment. It’s deliberate to a fault. Although puzzles cater to all types of minds and thought processes, some demand community, and during its first weeks, FEZ had no shortage of peers searching for the answers, sharing notes, and generally coming together to solve problems. It was truly remarkable.
The simple act of platforming while rotating the world is enough to make one feel special. However, when piecing together the cipher of Tetris symbols/hidden languages/sensory puzzles after hours of taking notes and staring at a screen, you feel like you can fight lions with your mind. I’ve rarely felt the sense of accomplishment from solving most of FEZ’s puzzles when beating any of today’s AAA games.
3. The Walking Dead – There are several ways to make the undead fresh in this post-Dead Rising world. A focus on characters is one such way; in fact, it may be the best way, as Robert Kirkman, AMC, & TellTale Games are proving. The Walking Dead is the only zombie stuff I can get excited about anymore. As much as we as a culture are okay with running the genre into the ground it so readily escapes, Zombies are, have been, and always will be cool. The human element of a zombie apocalypse, however, is the most interesting aspect of it all. George A. Romero nailed it 30+ years ago & we’re just now finding meaningful stories in the loss of humanity in the wake of a decimation of our ways.
Clementine & Lee are deep, nuanced, and evolving . TWD embraces the difficulties of its place as interactive fiction and reveling in the tough choices only the player can make to advance the narrative. Its punishment for indecision is swift and brutal, but stick to “your” Lee and the reward is endearment to our heroes beyond that evoked by most other fiction. Pressing a button once (or repeatedly) has never yielded such emotion. The Walking Dead taught me that choices (no matter how large or small) define us. Tough choices, easy choices; choices for others, or choices for ourselves. Choice is powerful. This lesson is one of the biggest reasons I’m writing again. It’s the reason I broke in the game’s final moments, and why I wasn’t able to pull myself together the same way after and since. And I’m better for it.
2. FTL – I don’t remember how I came to FTL, but I know why I’ve gone back for over 45 hours. Faster Than Light (one of the first Kickstarter success stories) showed me an appreciation for game design I’d never confronted. Closed, limited systems offer the illusion of mastery to me. The method which FTL uses to diverge paths each playthrough is enticing. Each roll feels even odds, it’s thrilling. One turn, I’ll welcome aboard a new crew member to compliment my already well-rounded group of travellers. The next turn my ship will lose power to half its systems, go dark and I will scramble to repair systems while searching for the intruders as they unleash blasters on my various systems.
This sort of event can’t be evaded, but you can be better prepared for it. The thing FTL does so exceptionally well (much like Dark Souls) is teaching through repetition. I seldom have the patience to replay parts in games, let alone the entire arc of a game. FTL’s mixture of Sci-fi, turned-based/live action gameplay, and deep respect for ship (and game) systems is perfect to me. I will be playing FTL for years and years to come, enjoying a brand new journey with my crew every…single…time.
1. Mass Effect 3 – Mass Effect is not only my favorite game from 2012, it’s also my favorite experience of this generation. The final entry into the Shepard trilogy is the best playing of the three, offers satisfying conclusions to many (but not all) of the relationships I’d formed, has one of the most addictive multiplayer modes I’ve played, and, yes, Mass Effect 3’s ending satisfied me; on a molecular level. As the prologue fades with three repeated piano notes and an orchestra of destruction, I felt the stakes bearing down on the Commander and our team. The scope of the galaxy, which the team at BioWare had spent years trying to convey finally came into focus.
Over the 75 hours I played Mass Effect 3 and its downloadable content, I faced overwhelming odds and emotion. Landing on Mars, finally seeing Palaven and then watching it be decimated by Reapers, giving an entire race hope for their future, returning a lost planet to a star-faring people, reconciling the creation of advanced A.I., making discoveries about the nature of life in our galaxy (fictionally and otherwise) while a deified being walks among my crew, offering redemption to two of the best characters in recent memory, and seeing the battle against an unstoppable force to its end rival the gravitas of the Harry Potter series. (That’s a huge deal to me. Enormous.)
As a haggard Shepard lifts himself to his feet, eviscerated, flesh melded to armor, I felt abject terror. I knew he wouldn’t survive and spent the next 30 minutes coming to terms with this dwindling hope as myself and three men decided the fate of all known, wondrous peoples. We are left with an explanation and a choice. I mentioned before how powerful choice can be, and while this final choice isn’t executed as well as those in The Walking Dead, I’d spent over 150 hours trying to arrive here. Those hours with Liara, Thane, Garrus, Tali, Mordin, Joker, and all the rest made the choice for me. My decision was the same one I’d made in Mass Effect; I chose to save the galaxy.
And goddammit, I did.