Last year, I wrote a one-sentence description of every game I played in 2012. I’m making this an annual tradition, so let the run-on sentences commence! Because throwing glowing adjectives in a sentence gets tiresome quickly, this is not intended to be fair in any way shape or form; some of these are serious commentary, some are larks, and none represent my full views on the game.
For transparency, games I actually *finished* have an asterisk after them.
Diegetic menus should be done more often.
The massive critical backlash is explained by the fact that it’s extraordinarily clever without being particularly smart.
Book of Unwritten Tales*
Most of its comedy fell flat for me, but this German adventure has a fullness to it that I haven’t seen since The Longest Journey.
Come for the humor, leave because the gunplay feels like it was lifted from the first Planetside.
Call of Juarez: Gunslinger*
The rare case of meta self-referentiality succeeding as the core of a game narrative (and a budget shooter at that).
Notable as much for its accessibility as its charm, Card Hunter is the best example of how free-to-play can be great for players as well as (or perhaps instead of) developers.
Civilization V: Brave New World*
The most satisfying Civilization endgame yet, but its best feature shines in multiplayer, which you will probably never play.
Relies on the player making a series of uninformed decisions, which is totally okay because it’s a choice between “awesome, super, and fantastic.”
The developers have made a big deal about creating a tower defense narrative with no ludonarrative dissonance; unfortunately, this required making the plot generic and otherwise not worthy of note.
PC Local Multiplayer Game of the Year, especially for those of us who bounce off “real” fighting games.
A throwback to the simplicity of early Ultimas and Dink Smallwood, this charming Finnish RPG has amateur written all over it, but it’s an amateurism you want to help flourish.
Dungeon Siege 3
This Obsidian title breaks from the rest of their catalog by being completely bug-free, and by achieving an almost platonic ideal of boring.
Like Reccetear, The Entertainment casts the player as a background NPC, a conceit that should spawn a thousand video games (but probably won’t).
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn
The best example of a bad genre, FF XIV is probably the peak of the Everquest/WOW clone, and will hopefully remain unchallenged as the MMO branches out after a decade of fatalistic conservatism.
Game of Thrones*
Manages to embody both the strengths and weaknesses of its source material, which is the best you can ask of a licensed game.
A charming mystery-house exploration sim, Gone Home will please if you aren’t expecting anything revolutionary, but may well disappoint if you are.
What do you call a puzzle platformer without the platforming?
John Walker is very, very adamant that this is nothing like Minesweeper, because Minesweeper requires guessing and this doesn’t.
12 years after release, ICO‘s puzzles and combat taste a little gamey, but the atmosphere is as distinct and haunting as it ever was.
I Get This Call Every Day*
Succeeds in making you feel grateful you don’t work phone support (in case you do, in which case, I’m sorry).
While distinct from previous Zach Barth games, this alternate-Civil-War CCG/MOBA mash-up shares their tight puzzle design and brutal difficulty.
Left me with a strong belief that 3-5 hours is the best length for a Zelda clone.
Every ounce as good as the press said it was, though I think people tend to undersell how key the multiplayer is.
Kentucky Route Zero*
With only two of five episodes released, the magically realist Kentucky Route Zero is already the most radical thing to happen to adventure games since Lucasarts came up with the idea of invincible protagonists.
The Last of Us*
Playing The Last of Us was like watching a thoughtful lecture by an intelligent professor while someone drew their nails across the chalkboard.
More games should have boats.
Limits and Demonstrations*
Like Kentucy Route Zero itself, Limits and Demonstrations is a…demonstration of why we should not use the word “pretentious” as a pejorative.
Lord of the Rings Online
More games should have horses (unlike boats, the industry is proving responsive to this).
Max Payne 3*
Further demonstration that almost nobody understands that the original Max Payne was a pastiche, and that playing it straight completely subverts the purpose.
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker HD*
The first Kojima-helmed, canonical MGS entry that feels entirely unnecessary, Peace Walker’s highlight is featuring some of the best CODEC comedy in the series.
Killing a friend’s cat produced the greatest guilt I have ever felt in a video game.
Like Magicka, Monaco is most fun when everything is going wrong.
An overly simplistic combat system hurts it, but you can bet it’s a far better Roman Game than this year’s Ryse.
Its conceit is as well executed as it could be, but it mostly just made me want to play Oregon Trail II.
The decision to focus on balance, fix bad game designs, and optimize performance means little new happened with Planetside 2 in its first full year, but if it doesn’t go bankrupt is has a bright future on the PC and PS4.
Accessible game design incarnate.
Race the Sun
A really good endless runner that reinforces that I don’t much like endless runners.
Like so many JRPGs, it has a single distinct conceit (jumping around the timeline to fix mistakes) but is otherwise generic, embodying a conservatism that is the rotten core at he heart of the genre.
I can’t remember the last shooter I played that was this forgettable.
A brilliant critique of gun porn, though I’m not sure that critique is entirely intentional.
Switching between four dull protagonists does not make a dull game less dull.
Uncomfortably close to a Skinner box.
Room of 1000 Snakes*
Best Use Of Licensed Music In a Video Game (where the music was certainly not licensed).
Even more so than the previous games, your enjoyment of Scribblenauts Unlimited is determined entirely by your capacity for nonlinear thinking and imagination.
An earnest endeavor kept from a greatness by a fundamental conservatism and some really bad design decisions around the modding engine.
Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol*
Apparently, you CAN make a turn-based strategy game optimized for touch – at the expense of PC players.
The obvious clusterfuck of design and PR overshadows the fact that this game has an amazing FEEL, and could be modded into something amazing – if only EA allowed legitimate modding.
Skulls of the Shogun*
In my dream universe, this game is a gateway drug to all turn-based strategy/wargames.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, but Sleeping Dogs is earnest in a way no GTA game since the first has been.
Sonic & All Star Racing Transformed
Probably the best kart racer ever made, though it lacks Ryo Hazuki driving a forklift.
Super Pole Riders
Every time I try to pitch this game to people, they giggle at the name like a bunch of preteens.
Thecatamites’ most famous game is, surprisingly, his least humorous.
Spy Party (Alpha)
The kind of game I want to own all my coworkers in.
There’s something in the water this year that made everyone proclaim their love for Startopia, leading to Spacebase DF9, among others.
As a co-op game, I think I’d really enjoy this; as a single-player game, you spend way too much time moving your characters separately.
Probably as good as we could expect from a AAA reboot, Tomb Raider is a tour-de-force that struggles for a reason to exist.
I would love to see this design with a larger budget, but it’s probably true that I’ll never forget fleeing lions as a Pomeranian.
Total War: Shogun 2
The Sengoku Jidai period has to be one of the greatest settings for games and fiction.
War of the Human Tanks*
This tile-based wargame captures the simple pleasures of Minesweeper with a dark story about marginally self-aware war machines.
War of the Roses
I can’t go back to deathmatch.
Remarkably like Fire Emblem to a contemporary American perspective, but brought to the States a decade before that series.
World of Warplanes
An immaculate rendition of five minutes of dogfighting, but it’s the same five minutes over and over.