In any end-of-year survey, there’s nothing worth saying that isn’t worth saying briefly. For Game On’s 2012 write-up, the rules are simple: here are the videogames of 2012, all accompanied by only two sentences.
The Best Games of 2012:
5. Mark of the Ninja [Klei Entertainment: Xbox 360, Windows].
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A game about sensation: seeing, hearing, smelling, and how all translate into touch and reaction in the fingers of the player. And of course it is also a game of thwarting those same senses: of avoiding sight, escaping smell, and muffling sound.
4. The Walking Dead [Telltale Games: Windows, Mac, PS3, Xbox 360, iOS].
A game that understands that the fascination with the zombie apocalypse is not a base dread of monsters, but the panic of societal breakdown. It managed to manifest that panic in four terrifying words: “Clementine will remember that.”
3. Dear Esther [thechineseroom: Windows, Mac, Linux].
A memory palace of melancholia. The experience of staring at a landscape for so long, of being drawn in beyond the details of grass and rock and cliff to the point where you are no longer sure if the form you thought you saw was ever there at all.
2. Journey [Thatgamecompany: PS3].
A leaf in the breeze and a friend on a lonely mountain. One button to soar, one button for love, one analogue stick to journey.
1. Dys4ia [Anna Anthropy: Web browser].
As I said: “Dys4ia is moving and genuinely emotional (while not being manipulative), and possesses an economy and pace that should shame the producers of the next 50-hour role-playing game about nothing. The fact it’s a free browser game, playable in five minutes, reminds us those conservative corporations who have held the keys to video game culture for so long have done so little.”
Not the games of the year, but worth talking about anyway:
Assassin’s Creed III [Ubisoft Montreal: PS3, Xbox 360, WiiU, Windows]. A main meal made out of side dishes. The American Revolution for “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” has never before been so ruthlessly evacuated of romance and significance.
Fez [Polytron: Xbox 360]. An empty gesture, a wistful backwards glance. Fez is a warning for what indie games become when subsumed by nostalgia and mannerisms: pretty, but unsatisfyingly hollow.
The Last Express [Jordan Mechner/DotEmu: iOS]. One of the great overlooked adventure games finally found a modern and accessible home on iOS. The Last Express plays with the traditional confines of space and time for videogames, limiting and accentuating both in its miniature world of a passenger train on the eve of World War One.
LEGO Lord of the Rings [Traveller’s Tales: Windows, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii]. The familiar LEGO formula may have worn thin some time ago, yet this Lord of the Rings adaptation imbues the formula with life, style, and a holistic sense of completeness missing from previous games. Not simply the best LEGO game so far, LEGO Lord of the Rings is easily the best film adaptation of the year.
Letterpress [atebits: iOS]. In a year of excellent competitive mobile puzzle games, Letterpress stands out for its originality and elegance. For players, the compulsion for competition is neatly balanced between the skill of seeing words, and the skill of realising and controlling space.
Mass Effect 3 [BioWare: Xbox 360, PS3, Windows]. An encyclopedia of fan service masquerading as a videogame. The original ending was bold and refreshingly reckless, and was correspondingly denounced in the need for a universal catharsis to match the game’s universal scope.
Quantum Conundrum [Airtight Games: Windows, Ps3, Xbox 360]. One of the year’s most overlooked videogames. The storyline may have been bunk, but the puzzles bring with them Kim Swift’s Portal-like thrift and grace.
Rayman Jungle Run [Pastagames: iOS, Android]. While Jungle Run is absorbing in its console-quality beauty, it is the rhythmic precision of the game’s twist on the endless runner that makes it one of 2012’s best iOS games. Jungle Run is the memory and exactness of a fighting game, translated into delightful running and jumping.
Ski Safari [Defiant Development: iOS, Android]. The game that I spent the most time with in 2012. An elegant and delightful endless runner that was absorbing in its simplicity—until the game was updated several times later in the year with the predictable bulk of excess levels, costumes, abilities and microtransactions.
Slender: The Eight Pages [Parsec Productions: Windows, Mac]. As I sat in a classroom with my group of otherwise composed students reduced to a screaming mess, I realised Slender had captured something interesting. Slender might not be anything near a game of the year, but it does a lot with very little.
Spec Ops: The Line [Yager Development: Xbox 360, PS3, Windows]. Self-critique is the only logical endpoint for the self-loathing military shooter. After the failings and success of that criticism in Spec Ops, there is no more room to maneuver for the genre.
Super Hexagon [Terry Cavanagh: iOS, Windows, Mac]. Perfectly balanced between frustration and challenge. It also makes me feel hopelessly queasy after under a minute’s play.
Unmanned [Molleindustria and Jim Monroe: Web browser]. Molleindustria continued to be one of the most substantial presences in videogames in 2012 with Unmanned, a disturbing censure of the mundanity of military-sanctioned murder and technology. Actions become indistinguishable in their monotony: finding hair on your face and shaving it; finding ‘insurgents’ through a drone interface and killing them.
ZiGGURAT [Action Button: iOS]. A game that is wholly committed to economy and minimalism, yet also a game that contains more than anyone has ever seen, owed purely to its towering difficulty. This is the extraordinary contradiction that fuels ZiGGURAT—it takes absurdity unconditionally seriously.
Finally, the games of 2012 that I probably should play, but haven’t yet (but will):