Best and Top of Everything : Top 10 Video Games of 2012

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Top 10 Video Games of 2012

10. Torchlight II


Torchlight II may be another prepossessing click-festival of studied, refined imitation — an extension of Torchlight‘s budget-priced, high-gloss loot game with multiplayer sewn in. But it’s arguably seen a little further, if only by standing on the shoulders of giants (and goatmen, dryads, droog, machae, bugbear necromancers and siren’s daughters). In that sense, it remains unabashedly Blizzard-like, a greatest hits of greatest hits albums, an amalgam of amalgams. But where Blizzard still wants $60 for a game like Diablo III, developer Runic continues to upend traditional sales models by asking just $20 for a no less polished action roleplaying game, with at least as much content.

9. Halo 4

Microsoft Studios

“This is as close as I could get us,” says Cortana, your A.I. companion not long after Halo 4 begins. “Hope you don’t mind hoofin’ it a little.” This explains a lot about Halo 4 and the Halo series in general. You’re never very close to where you’re going, because, well, what fun would that be? It has a price, of course, the story twisting and conforming to serve the game, every route the longest one, every puzzle an excuse to send you through gauntlets of aliens. And yet that’s what we love about Halo, and Halo 4 does it better than any game since the original, adding some of the shrewdest enemies (the Prometheans) the series has yet seen.

8. LittleBigPlanet

Sony Computer Entertainment

A tiny button-cute biped voguing burlap and Clouseau costumery, who bounds through lush, gloriously absurd backdrops that look like dioramas of childhood creations as imagined with markers, stickers, pieces of felt and bits of scribbled-on cardboard. That’s LittleBigPlanet, the game that looks and plays like no other. As sidescrollers go, there’s nothing — not even the latest Mario games — that surpasses it. The Vita version offers the same genius level design punctuated by the handheld’s unique front-back touchpad controls, as well as the welcome option to design and share thousands of levels with other Vita players on the go.

7. The Last Story

Nintendo / Xseed Games

The Last Story is like an opera played through smartphone speakers — a magnificent, galloping stampede of a game with a memorable story, exquisite battles, lively tactics, grand vistas and elegant tableaus somehow running on Nintendo’s antiquated hardware. It’s as if someone took developer Mistwalker’s stunning Lost Odyssey engine, glued that onto a completely different game, then crammed everything into a console with the heart of a computer half a decade old. You’ll play little that looks as dated this year, but only one roleplaying game that’s better (Xenoblade Chronicles), and even then, it’s a close thing.

6. Papo & Yo

Sony Computer Entertainment

Indie puzzler Papo & Yo is a video game through and through: It has climbable ladders, autosaving, platforms you tap a gamepad to jump between and literal geometry-bending conundrums whose solutions enable passage from one area to another. And yet it’s also a playable metaphor for something much darker: the tortured relationship between an abusive father and his terrified son. But instead of melodrama, the game preaches reverie. Instead of nightmarish scenery, you’re treated to dilapidated yet beautifully sunlit favela-scapes that groove with soothing, trance-like tunes. This is big idea-gaming at its finest, testing your brain with clever twisters, but also your emotions as you attempt to cure a bumbling monster of his sinister vice.

5. Assassin’s Creed III


In Assassin’s Creed III, we come to the end at last — dozens of games, books, comics, live action and animated short films, and a standalone encyclopedia later, five years after first poking our hook-cowled heads into the world of Alta├»r ibn La-Ahad and protagonist Desmond Miles. While the last few games rehashed too much, the final chapter riffs effectively on its historical setting, sending you clambering over colonial rooftops and dangling from eaves and gables, but also leaping between snow-dusted tree branches and scrambling up the sides of battleship-gray wilderness cliffs. Sequences still play like micro-sandboxes, challenging you to try and try again using different tactics, studying defenses, testing until you find approaches that work. Even then, this is the most situationally fluid Assassin’s Creed, varying patrol routes and enemy positions, forcing you to move as they move, waiting for the right moment to dart up a wall or ship side and snatch someone over the edge into oblivion.

4. Dishonored


The last time a stealth game came together as well as Dishonored was probably 1998′s Thief: The Dark Project. This is sandbox-sneaking at its finest as you slink through a beautiful steampunk-verse, lingering over objects strewn on shelves, empty bottles, teacups, coins, “audiograph” players that offer snippets of story, tins of edible brined or jellied or potted food or leaf through books and reading excerpts on the esoteric practices of the world’s institutions. Best of all, your choice to play either subtly or violently has real consequences, altering the physical game world and dynamically transforming the game’s storyline.

3. XCOM: Enemy Unknown

2K Games

A turn-based strategy game after all these years? On consoles? As Mulder might say, believe it. XCOM distills (without oversimplifying) the best parts of what made the original 1994 PC game so captivating. And like that game, this one’s virtues lie largely in its spooky atmospherics: creeping through buildings or over rooftops after dark, hunkering along curbs, park benches, water fountains or inside abandoned buses, exploring a fire-lit forest in the wake of a UFO crash, wondering when some alien Sectoid or Muton or Floater might pop into view wielding a crazy extraterrestrial weapon that’ll drop any of your squad members dead with a single well-aimed shot.

2. Xenoblade Chronicles


Xenoblade Chronicles is game-making at an Olympic scale, from its ever-deepening battle system to its grand alien expanses, inhabited by hundreds of creatures (including several the size of skyscrapers). Instead of level-clearing, where you work over an area then never come back, retreading is essential. But Xenoblade Chronicles makes it worth your while, slow-feeding its bonuses and mysteries and gameplay change-ups so that just when you’re bored with activity X, along comes diversion Y or undertaking Z. In that sense, it’s mastered a trick few games ever do: keeping you riveted while making that bid for your attention seem effortless.

1. Guild Wars 2


Guild Wars 2 is one of those rare games that unexpectedly knocks your life off-kilter, like a meteoroid banging into a satellite. Call it the pinball machine of MMOs, devoted to keeping you entertained by the minute, whatever you’re doing. You’ll get into snowball fights, go on scavenger hunts for eggs, play catch with barrels, defend homesteads from ice worms, protect towns from bear hordes and knock out enemy portals that spawn creatures like the Chitauri in The Avengers. All those events and hundreds more play out in real-time — with, as Bono would say, or without you, lending Guild Wars 2 the feel of a living world, and the sort of compulsive anywhere-you-go playability other MMOs only dream of.