My name is Matthew and I like social commentary!
#10 – Fez
Fez is a game that I personally appreciate far more than I love. It requires more patience and dedication than I’m really willing to give to any puzzle game, and as such I shied away from the more complex puzzles. But it’s still impossible to deny that Fez is a remarkable achievement, blending fun puzzle-platforming with diabolically tough enigmas that take hours to crack. It’s also remarkable how its aesthetic qualities have a way of dragging one into its world, through its gorgeous pixel art and ambient soundtrack.
#9 – XCOM: Enemy Unknown
“Bringing challenge back to games” seems to have become somewhat of a mantra in the gaming community, with Dark Souls in particular being lauded for its difficulty. While it occasionally crosses over into unfair, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is as difficult and rewarding a title as any this year. The game ramps up in a very satisfying way, compounding your decisions in battle and base-building gradually and effectively. It helps that the strategic combat is also quite good, using perma-death and destructible environments to set it apart from other strategy titles.
#8 – Max Payne 3
Not exactly known for his great luck, gaming’s favorite anti-hero has fallen on some hard times once again. Fortunately, that doesn’t go for the game itself; Max Payne 3 combines the great bullet-time shooting of the franchise with the polish that few companies outside of Rockstar can deliver. I perhaps appreciate Max Payne 3 most for the great work Rockstar has done with the titular character, giving him a good arc filled with tons of memorable quips.
#7 – Halo 4
The arcade-style slower paced gameplay of the Halo series has always appealed to me (especially in the wake of the modern military shooter), so I was relieved to find that 343 Studios has done a wonderful job of improving upon the series while leaving the fundamentals intact. Halo 4 brings with it a story that actually provides some good motivation, and multiplayer modes that play like smart twists on already great modes. Ignoring the botched excuse for a co-op mode, there’s plenty here to recommend, and can safely say I’ll be coming back for plenty more over the course of 2013.
#6 – Mark of the Ninja
Ever want to be a ninja? Mark of the Ninja is the closest I’ve seen any game come to replicating such an experience. Featuring a 2D art style that is simultaneously stylistic and informative, you play as a ninja embed with supernatural powers. Missions proceed simply, with the player tasked with killing (or distracting) guards. But there’s such a wide variety of ways to do this that the game becomes a positively engrossing stealth playground. For example, you can scare guards and cause them to shoot their allies, or lure them away from your position and then crawl past them on the ceiling. Whatever you choose, Mark of the Ninja is a fun and fresh game in 2012 that shows how to do stealth in games right.
#5 – Little Inferno
What seems at first like a shallow match-two game gradually transforms into both a critique of social games and an uplifting meditation on morality. The gameplay of Little Inferno is rather simple – you burn a variety of objects in a fireplace – but contains some great social commentary through its mechanics. For example, many of the things you burn have far more value than the act of burning them, leaving you to consider exactly where you should be spending your time. It also features the gorgeous art of Alan Bloomquist, who puts his “cynically-charming” talents to great effect here.
#4 – Mass Effect 3
Mass Effect 3 serves as an excellent capstone to the acclaimed trilogy. Mass Effect 3 does well to provide satisfying conclusions to each character’s story, in addition to a smattering of highly memorable moments. This isn’t to mention the much-enhanced gameplay, which improves the more action-oriented focus from Mass Effect 2 while bringing some of the nuance in customization back from Mass Effect.
#3 – Spec Ops: The Line
Initially appearing to be little more than your standard military shooter, Spec Ops turns into a brilliant subversion of the genre. The game has Delta Squad, a three-person team of soldiers, descend into the madness of Dubai, where a series of sandstorms has damaged much of the area. Delta Squad deteriorate both mentally and physically over the course as they perform a number of atrocities that I refuse to spoil here. Suffice it to say, Spec Ops: The Line changed my perspective on modern military shooters in a big way, and also features no small critique of imperialism and the military as well.
#2 – The Walking Dead
Many expected The Walking Dead to be good, but few expected it to be the saving-grace of episodic gaming. The game brought with it some of the best writing in gaming (particularly in the lauded relationship between Lee and Clementine) and an innovative dialogue-system that helped to attach the character more to Lee. While some criticize the fact that your decisions don’t truly matter, they still brought a rare amount of texture and interest to your personal story. I’d like to see a removal of some of the antiquated adventure game elements, but by and large The Walking Dead stands strong as one of the year’s finest experiences.
#1 – Hotline Miami
I’ve never played a game quite like Hotline Miami before. Intricately crafted, every single aspect of the game combines to form a brutal, unnerving condemnation of the violence prevalent in gaming. The gory pixel artstyle, fast-paced lethal gameplay, and hyper soundtrack all come together to form an abstract atmosphere that holds you at arms length before pulling you in to witness the terrible outcomes of your actions. Hotline Miami stands as a masterful testament of games as an artistic and story-driven medium, and well-deserving of my game of the year.