Joystiq will reveal its 'Best of 2012' during the first week of the new year; the culmination of hours of intelligent debate ... and probably a lot of chair throwing and hair-pulling.
We've been preparing for this list all year, but there are still a few games we each need to complete. Here's what the Joystiq staff will be playing during the final hours of 2012.
Progress in Super Hexagon is measured in seconds, and true mastery is represented by minutes. It is the smallest, smartest game of the year, and purifies the medium to the barest of shapes and impulses. Concentric traps encircle you, grow smaller and threaten to crush you. All you do is stare, seek out the patterns in the merciless, swirling symbols, and escape again and again. The intensity is so great that it starts warping the economy of time. I can survive for nearly two minutes, but it feels like I've traded in as many months to obtain that. Let's see if I can hit three before 2013.
I'm hesitant to revisit Journey, if only because I'm worried I might learn that the first trip wasn't as special as I thought it was. Journey gets games: it tells a story without words, instead relying on the language of play; its goals are clear and its protagonist is a joy to control; its environment welcomes exploration and connects you with a friend that you'll likely never meet again. Journey understands drama and includes you in it as you make an arduous climb to the top of the world. Bonus: It's also the one and only time you're almost allowed to say a game "peaked" your interest. (But don't do that.)
I'm convinced by the universal love for The Walking Dead that I need to try it. I have zero interest in zombie fiction, and even less interest in being sad – which I understand to be this game's specialty. But enough people have said enough nice things about this game that I'll try it and see if I really have such a meaningful emotional experience. I'll be a little upset if "sad Telltale" completely overtakes "funny Telltale," though.
Mark of the Ninja
Unlike The Walking Dead, Mark of the Ninja isn't sad at all, and I have already tried it. I just need to finish it. I already know it's fantastic, but I got caught up in reviews and other games, and never wrapped it up. Game of the year consideration is just the excuse I need to go back to that game.
There's a lot of love for how developer Telltale managed to tell its story in the comic-inspired episodic adventure. Despite Telltale creating a serious contender based on its narrative creativity, I still have huge reservations behind the mechanics of playing the game. I'm only one episode into the series and there may moments in the story that make me forget that I'm not too fond of how it controls as a video game, but I haven't hit that point yet. By the end, perhaps issues are fixed. I'd love to be proven wrong.
Despite first launching in Japan two years ago (and in Europe in 2011), Xenoblade Chronicles made its way to our side of the world in 2012, landing it a spot on our contenders list. Not since playing Chrono Trigger have I been so engrossed in a Japanese role-playing game (and not since Final Fantasy X have I cared to even experience one, really). The story, characters, and combat in Xenoblade Chronicles are all outstanding and I'm close to putting an end to the epic journey.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown came out at a bad time for me, both financially and from a free time perspective. It took me about a month to play the demo – I had seen it covered on Joystiq and at various shows, but until I played it I wasn't sold. After finishing the demo, I ordered the game immediately but it still sits in its shrink wrap, on top of my backlog pile.
I absolutely love stealth games, a genre we don't see represented very often – save for the handful of series that stick to the genre like glue by issuing a new game every few years. With its steampunk aesthetics and hordes of hungry rats ready to devour anyone in protagonist Corvo's path, Dishonored is something I'm very much dying to play. And as soon as Alexander lets me borrow it like he said he would, I'm going to.
It can be difficult for me to finish open-world games, probably because I can never stay focused. Far Cry 3 may actually be worse than most open-games in this respect, because I'm constantly distracted in the best possible way. Sure, I'm supposed to be rescuing all of my stranded buddies from modern-day pirates, but there's a pack of tapirs over there and I could really use a new wallet. I may not finish Far Cry 3 before the year is out, but I'm enjoying every distraction-packed minute of it.
Dishonored lets you accomplish your objectives in multiple ways but, as far as I'm concerned, there is only one: stealth. I've barely even started the game but, if the number of checkpoint restarts is any indication, I've got a long way to go before my sneaking skills are tip-top. That is, of course, if I can keep myself from stopping to read every piece of fascinating whale-related literature littering the rooms of Dunwall. Seriously, the place is nuts for whales.
Having hunted the deadliest predator (man, etc.) I still have relics to find, postcards to mail off and those sweet nose-candy recipes hidden on laptops to add to my Dropbox. I could also follow the path of the hunter and finally get that sweet rhino wallet. I still won't wade through waist-high water. Nope, not going to do it. Just keep injecting that animal repellant. Yellow leaves are my friend.
So many elements conspired to keep me from playing this game soon after it launched – from the sales figures, I'm guessing y'all have a similar excuse. Anyway, it's time to finally get around to playing it. I hear it's not bad and I really could go for something that's a God of War-ish actioner with Zelda elements.
I'm told Journey is a magical experience that will affect me on a deep, personal and existential level, which is probably why I've put it off for so long. Remember when the deepest a game got was "wherever that pipe I just went down goes?" Honestly though, I'm not complaining – I revel in games that transcend the screen and induce true emotion, but there is definitely a time and place to play this genre. Preferably somewhere no one can see me cry.
Journey had two things going against it during development, though it turns out those are the things that make it so incredible, from what I've heard. It's stylized ("artsy-fartsy" as my mom would say) and it's indie. Luckily, this was the year to launch a game like Journey, just as many other experimental indie games are gaining traction across all platforms. If Journey were on Steam, of course, I would have played it ages ago.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
XCOM: Enemy Unknown and I have a difficult relationship. It's not the game; it's me. Rather, it's my dog. I had a beautiful, shiny copy of XCOM for Xbox 360 when it launched, and I got to play it a grand total of one time, in an hour-long sitting, before I flew across the country on vacation. I suppose the dog missed me, because he ate the box and the disc inside while I was away. It's kind of sweet, in a horrible, terrible way. I can't imagine the ordeal felt much better to his stomach.
I now have a PC download version of XCOM, and the only way the dog will destroy this one is if he eats my computer (This might happen. Apparently he's a Doberman Pinscher, not a Mini one as the pound guessed). I now have to recall which characters in the Harry Potter universe I had enlisted during my short 360 playthrough, which ones died, and how to best recreate those circumstances on PC. No one likes Mundungus Fletcher anyway.
I'm not a "Halo guy." I'm actually pretty terrible at first-person shooters. So why am I so interested in playing through Halo 4's campaign? The praise the game has received is intriguing enough for me, not to mention the curiosity I have for the change in development teams. Seeing where Master Chief goes next in the sci-fi epic is fascinating to me, and the hype close friends that have played the game have built around it has convinced me that this is one FPS to pay close attention to this time of year, even if I lose every multiplayer match.
Fez's post-launch patch issues are unfortunate, because my recent time with the game has been a blast, so I'm afraid that some players have forgetten about this game. The puzzle-platformer has players controlling a magical fez-wearing fellow named Gomez, who sets out to collect cubes to essentially keep the universe from falling apart. The key ingredient in Fez is the ability to rotate the 2D/3D world to solve the mind-bending puzzles. Fez's adorable, light-hearted style really clicks with me, making it a must-finish by the year's end... even if I get some awesome games for Christmas.
I'm a huge fan of the Mass Effect series, but this iteration just hasn't gripped me in the way the last two games have, to the point that even now, nine months after release, I'm still lost somewhere in the middle of the game's story. It's not that this third game is bad, it's just that after the losses my crew took in the second game (it was goodbye to most of my favorite characters, unfortunately), I'm not sure I have the interest or passion left to really finish the fight. Not to mention that what I've heard about the game's ending is mostly not-so-complimentary, even after the changes have been patched in. But I've put hundreds of hours into this storyline and my Commander Michael "Schepard" (as I call him), so before we talk 'Best of 2012' picks I owe it to him to finally complete his tale.
Honestly, I'm not very good at most stealth games. They tend to require some patience in navigating environments and the angry enemies in them, and patience is not a virtue I always enjoy, especially when equipped with a bevy of wild weapons and abilities. But I've heard good things about Dishonored, and a short play session at E3 has convinced me it's a must-play this year before we finally boil down our picks. So I'll be spending at least some of my time over the holiday jumping from point to point through Dunwall with that teleport spell, and possessing various creatures and aristocrats as I find them.
Sometimes I get a hunch before playing a game of how I'm going to feel by its end, but with Asura's Wrath I really have no idea. It's not just that it's a divisive game – Joystiq's review was glowing, but some other reviews certainly weren't. It's more that it sounds like very few games I've played, that it's got this you've-got-to-play-it-to-understand-it aura around it. At the very least, I'm curious.
Just before its release, Dishonored got a whole ton of attention at a major UK expo. It was easily the most popular game there, with expo-goers buzzing about their experience with it. I didn't have time to try it back then, let alone play it at the time of release - I was still learning how to keep up with everyone else at Joystiq (and I still am). Now that I do, and after quite a few glowing references from fellow staffers, I'm definitely looking forward to it
I'm halfway through Mark of the Ninja at this point, and I'm glad I decided to give this game a chance before the year was out. Getting stealth "right" in games is an incredibly difficult feat, and so far Mark of the Ninja has managed to hit the nail on the head by overloading the player with information about their surroundings. There's never a question as to whether something I do will or will not alert a guard; everything is very digital and very well defined.
Conversely, I'm only about 45 minutes into Arkane Studios' Dishonored, and while its strengths as a stealth game and/or shooter have yet to make themselves apparent, I have been impressed by its "don't call it steampunk" art style and pseudo-colonial, England of Future Past setting. Additionally, games based around political intrigue are typically my kind of jam, so I felt obligated to give this one a shot. Besides, I just have to know what's up with all these freaky masks. I've been to a few wild masquerade parties in my day, but this looks like it's on a whole new level.