This was a special year for me. It was the first one where I actually owned a computer that could run anything thrown at it. Until last Autumn my PC had always been abysmal where games were concerned, often failing to run things from three years before. These last 16 months have been different and I’ve played a great number of new releases this year. They didn’t all demand much from my PC though; there have been plenty of indie hits as well as Triple-A greats. There are also a number of things people have raved about that I haven’t played yet, and I’ll give those a mention as well. So now, in no particular order, some games that I liked this year followed by four I really, really liked and some I’d like to like.
FTL: Faster than Light
Oh random elements, you work wonders for indie games. ‘Rogue-likes’, as they’re now commonly known, are great for indie developers. They allow a developer with a good idea to create a fun basis for a game and then increase the replayability tenfold. With a risk and reward system where death means a lot more than just restarting at a checkpoint these games provide a level of tension not found in other games. But then, if you fail, you can just start all over again, again and again. I’ve never completed a rogue-like, I’m a terrible product of the modern world and I tend to move on before I can refine my skills enough to reach the end. That doesn’t matter though, because they’re still great fun, and FTL may be the best. FTL is all about managing a spaceship and its crew, a dream of sci-fi nerds for decades. The player is forced to make thrilling life or death decisions all the time. ‘Can I afford to shut off the oxygen for long enough to power up my mega missile? Should I risk my last drop of fuel to save these space slugs? Can I afford to send my weapons specialist to fix our door system so I can drain the oxygen from the fires that are currently burning my pilot alive?’ It hurts to see your hard work break apart from that final damning laser beam but that despair is followed by a drive to continue, to persist, and perhaps, to succeed. Also the soundtrack is great, very bloopy.
Guild Wars 2
It is to my eternal despair that I can’t get into an MMORPG properly. I’ve tried but never even reach a third of max level (and if you know traditional RPGs you’ll know that number means very little given the exponential nature of level gain). Guild Wars 2 came far closer to shackling me than anything else ever has. It was the first non-free to play game of its type I played. Subscription-based games always seemed like a ludicrous expense to me but Guild Wars 2’s one time payment model (plus some unintrusive microtransactions that are also easily obtainable for free) seemed a worthy expenditure*. It was. I wouldn’t be alone in saying that Guild Wars 2 seems to be the best MMORPG ever. While the combat may not be as good as the top hack-and-slashers it was still a major improvement on the majority of games in the genre, offering wide diversity for all nine classes. One needn’t even focus on fighting, there’s plenty of fun to be had exploring and completing puzzles. Everything in this game is beautiful, the world is full of lovingly crafted natural vistas and pretty cityscapes, the sweeping soundtrack is deftly played by a full orchestra, the weapons and armours are cleverly designed to look very, very cool and even the UI looks attractive, with all the menus and stat bars looking like they were painted on with a casual brush of watercolour. It’s a glorious achievement. Aye, I spent a wonderful two weeks jumping, slashing, crafting and dancing my way through Tyria. I wish I could stay longer but I find when I try to pop in I bounce off, unsure what to do. I definitely got my money’s worth in that time though, which is pretty good for a genre that typically stretches everything out to force you to keep paying. What’s more my ticket is good for life, I can check in whenever I like. I do hope I’ll return soon, perhaps I’ll bring more reliable friends.
Don’t get me wrong from what I say about this game, I really did like it and I’d recommend it. I just have some big issues with it that I haven’t really seen other people address.
People really like this game. As did I, till about two thirds of the way through. The game takes a bad turn on a hospital level when the player has to escape without being seen or killing anyone, if you know anything about what kind of game this is you’ll know why that’s a bad thing. From then on none of the levels capture the earlier creative joy. As guns and whack-proof thugs become more prominent stealth and frantic melee weapon usage become less viable options, I found that in the later levels I often just had to shoot my enemies or lure a hoard of them into walking into a small room where I would whack them in the doorway. Dying and starting the level again becomes more frustrating than it was before and the storyline that was once endearingly meaningless becomes annoying, intrusive, and perhaps even a little pretentious. After you complete the main game you’re treated to a series of bonus levels made dull simply because they restrict you to one weapon. I found it odd how some elements of levels were random, if the guard won’t always patrol in the direction you’re expecting him to, the same weapon won’t always appear in the same place or your thrown baseball bat might not always hit its target how can you rely on your intricately made plans? Despite all these problems, and they’re pretty significant, this is a game I, for the most part, very much enjoyed. It’s a frantic, disgustingly violent (in a good, deliberate way), clever, action-puzzle game with similarities to Super Meat Boy but with more creative freedom. Little beats the excitement of slamming a door on a thug, picking up his knife and throwing it at his friend, finishing off the first man by slamming his head against the wall and then whacking an angry dog’s entrails across the room with the second man’s baseball bat. I hope developers Dennaton release a Meat Boy-esque level creator so that there can be more Hotline like its better levels. They’ve already announced plans for both DLC and a sequel so maybe they’ll have a return to form.
Perhaps I’m alone in wanting a sequel to Rayman M and people were getting pretty tired of those damn ‘Rabbids’, but many rejoiced when they got their hands on Rayman Origins, and rightly so. It’s like New Super Mario Brothers Wii (suspiciously so) but better in every way! This game understands movement. Watching the eponymous hero slip and slide around the vibrant world, free of awkward limbs, accompanied by his blobular friend Globox and his Teensie pals is a joy to behold. The world responds delightfully to every action, both audibly and visually, and the simple controls combined with the more challenging, optional objectives make this a great game for anyone, skilled or otherwise. The music in this is great too, (you may see a theme emerging with these games). Plus you can slap your friends repeatedly, which is always good.
Crusader Kings II
‘I have no idea what I’m doing!’ I often say to myself as I play this game. ‘What the heck’s a Duchy? Why can’t I marry the queen? How do I kill my son?’’ It’s a pretty daunting endeavour, this grandest of the grand strategy games, but I was intrigued by the tales of political deciet and manipulation I’d heard. I’m still pretty confused by it, I have no idea how technology or battle manoeuvres work but I know enough to have the game spin me a good yarn. There was the time I rewrote history as the King of Galicia by persuading one of my kingly brothers to turn on the other one (in reality they both turned on my character). Or the time my ungrateful nephew tried to take Lesbos from me before he earnt it on my death. As with the Civilization games I’ve actually learnt a bit about history from this. How about that? A game that makes learning fun!
It’s not exactly a game I’d recommend to the faint-hearted but if you can get past the fact that the whole game world is a map you’ll find a rich simulation of medieval politics. It’s great for fans of (A) Game of Thrones, unless you watch that for the boobies, in which case you should get out because you’re ruining people’s perception of gamerkind!
Come back later for further parts where I talk about (among others) DOTA , Assassin’s Creed, Mass Effect, Borderlands, Far Cry and Dear Esther and reveal my number one game of 2012.
*Especially since I pre-ordered it for just £29.99. I hardly buy any games at full price now, even pre-orders. I highly recommend Savy Gamer to anyone, whatever your platform. I really should donate to thank them.