So it’s time to take the Xmas tree down. Instead of doing that I am going to talk about some of my gaming highlights of 2012. As always there are notable omissions. I have been told I must play Far Cry 3, Hotline Miami, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, CSR Racing, Tribes: Ascend, Spelunky and The Walking Dead but I haven’t got round to them yet – I was too busy 100%ing Arkham City.
So here are my highlights of 2012 (in no particular order):
- XCom: Enemy Unknown
- Rayman Origins
- Trials Evolution
- Sound Shapes
- Spec Ops: The Line
- Batman : Arkham City Armored Edition
XCom: Enemy Unknown
XCom: Enemy Unknown needed about three more months in development to make it as good as everyone seems to think it is. And it’s testament to the ideas that went into it that a game so broken can still be so good.
It suffers from some pretty severe bugs, some bizarre design decisions and a line of sight system that is frankly unfit for purpose. However despite all this it manages to be one of my favourite games of 2012. Largely because it’s unlike anything else out there. It’s your strategy not your skill that is being tested. You are the strategist not the executor but you are dealing with individuals not armies. Every injury, death has very real impact. You grow attached to individuals. I have a friend who has played it much more than me who has never got to the end. They are too attached to their experienced soldiers to carry on after one dies so they just restart.
The emphasis on strategy does make the frustrations all the harder to take. My advice is that when your favourite Assault soldier performs an exposed flanking maneouvre (that results in a 4% chance of hitting as opposed to the 96% you were expecting) and they die – simply take a deep breath, make a cup of tea and come back tomorrow.
Oh and read up on how the saving works before you start a game. “This game uses an auto-save feature. Please do not turn off your console when you see this icon” does not actually mean auto-save is on.
If it was a bit more polished I think people would be talking about this for years to come. As it is, it is merely one of the most interesting games of 2012.
Rayman Origins is a wonderful 2d platformer. It is both beautiful and precise. It is both challenging and fun. It’s a chaotic, funny, varied romp through some wonderful 2D art. I haven’t enjoyed a platformer as much since Super Meat Boy – and this one is co-op.
I played it both single player and co-op and both were a pleasure. My nephew and I found ourselves jostling for place even running between levels, grabbing things out of the air in front of each other and occasionally even doing each other over at a critical time – just for a laugh. But we also managed to save each other repeatedly as we raced to the end of a challenging level that was falling away underneath us.
If you have two players it’s an essential purchase. If there’s one of you it is still highly recommended.
Trials HD is one of my favourite games. The controls are so stripped back and yet so expressive. The medals and leaderboards are the perfect carrot to make you replay endlessly and the difficulty is initially so trivial and eventually so impossible that you can’t help but love it. No matter how hard it gets an instant retry is one button away.
Trials Evolution takes all that and improves on it technically and improves on the tools. It also adds a few less welcome evolutions. Rotating the tracks around the environment makes the tracks harder to read. Hiding the bike from view in tunnels is simply annoying. But these are minor gripes. It’s a wonderful game – supported by add-ons and a talented community.
Sound Shapes is a game where the levels are informed by the music that’s playing. Everything moves to the rhythm of the beat. In Beck’s ‘Cities’ platforms appear and disappear with the vocals, others change their form dependant on the words and on some of the later screens missiles slowly explode in time with the music. It immediately feels fantastic. In the best levels it’s a pleasure just to see how the music informs the levels.
The only place it really falls down is in the challenge. The checkpointing is very generous – there being multiple checkpoints on most screens. Also there’s no real incentive to do a level quicker or better. It’s a sublime experience while you are playing but there’s not much to take you back to replay a given level – except Cities (which I sometimes replay just to listen to).
Having said that there is a constant stream of new levels to keep you coming back.
Spec Ops: The Line
Spec Ops: The Line is mechanically very similar to Gears of War. It’s a pretty standard 3rd person shooter. It looks great, is well produced and polished but mechanically it’s not going to change the world. However narratively and artistically it’s in a different league to mostly everything that’s come out this year. You can tell its narratively interesting because the lead character is not built like a fridge and called Marcus Fenix.
Set in the near future in Dubai and taking it’s inspiration from Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness; Spec Ops: The Line kept me playing because I wanted to know what happens next. I demolished it in 24 hours desperate to find out what the hell was going on. I enjoyed the playing but loved the story.
If you want something that restores your faith in traditional game storytelling this may be it.
Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition
Okay so Arkham City came out in 2011. But the Armored Edition came out in 2012. I haven’t actually played it but Arkham City may be my favourite game of all time. So it’s worth a mention in 2012.
Batman: Arkham City took everything that was great about Arkham Asylum and improved it. It’s maybe not quite as focussed as the first one and the absence of the Scarecrow moments are slightly disappointing but it’s just so right in every other way.
Arkham City basically consists of two games: a stealth game and a combat game. The stealth game is very similar to Arkham Asylum. It’s a subtle evolution. The combat game is much more of a step forward. At first glance it looks similar but every aspect has been honed and refined. It’s faster, more responsive and better telegraphed. The enemies are better designed the controls are more forgiving and the feedback is better.
These two best-in-class games are held together with a slightly overblown story, a series of lovingly crafted side-missions, an array of gadgets, the fabulous Riddler challenges and a city that is a pleasure to navigate. Finally Rocksteady provide the challenge rooms. These show how fantastic the basic games are. Put Batman in a box, add enemies, fight. Repeat. Enjoy. Best game ever.
Did I miss anything?