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D+PAD’s Games of the Year 2012

14:2507/01/2013Posted by D+PAD Staff4 Comments

Dave Stuart’s Game of 2012: The Walking Dead (PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, iOS)

It is no exaggeration to say that The Walking Dead – an episodic series of adventure games, based off of the popular graphic novel and developed by Telltale Games – was something of a surprise hit during 2012. After mixed releases in the past, expectations were tempered before release, however it soon became apparent that Sean Vanaman and Jake Rodkin and the team at TellTale had created something quite special, a game that took story and character as priority and that used its limitations as an advantage to craft a personal, harrowing and emotional tale that was one of the most engaging experiences of the year. Telling an original story in the Walking Dead universe the game focused on Lee Everett, a convicted murderer with an ambiguous past, and the group of survivors of the zombie apocalypse he teams up with, including Clementine, a 9 year old girl searching for her parents, with whom you come to have a strong bond with. The game’s strengths rely on well written dialogue, interesting three dimensional characters and forcing choice upon the player in a series of agonising decisions with no clear right answer.

It is here that the game draws you in, a mile away from Mass Effect’s glowing Paragon and Renegade choices, these decisions are thankless and brutal, and a swiftly moving counter leaves you precious little time in which to justify your decision. As such your choices become impulsive, playing off recent interactions, or a self-imposed moral code, leading to almost immediate regrets or hand-wringing. This is a game that wants you to suffer, where there will be no happy ending, but where you really, truly feel that you have crafted your own story, and lived with the consequences of your actions.

From a gameplay perspective the game is very simplistic, basic puzzles and some less than convincing action sequences make up the majority of the game aside from the conversation, but this doesn’t matter, the world is so well realised, these people so engaging that you are happy to simply watch the story play out. It is the interactivity that separates it from a novel, or TV series, and defines the player as an active participant in the drama. Add to this some great individual sequences; the peaceful farm that seems too good to be true, a train journey fraught with tragedy, and a final, heartbreaking scene in an abandoned shop that elicited genuine tears, and you have an episodic game that truly justifies the format and kept gamers on the hook for a good portion of the year.

Videogames still have a long way to go to develop stories and characters on par with other media, but The Walking Dead is evidence that they can be just as valuable, just as worthwhile and emotionally rewarding, given the right level of care, attention and genuine heart.

Raymond Webster’s Game of the Year 2012: Super Hexagon (PC, iOS)

Almost all video games, once the themes are stripped out, are tests of reactions, of logic or of chance. Space Invaders is about avoiding hazards while hitting targets. So is Call of Duty. Angry Birds is about identifying the solution to a problem logically and then overcoming chance elements to solve it. Super Hexagon is a reaction-test stripped down to the simplest it can possibly be and for that reason it is immensely compelling. The basic concept is immediately understandable – press one side of the screen to move your cursor one way and press the other to move it in the opposite direction. With this fixed capacity for movement, the player is expected to avoid constantly approaching random obstacles. Yet what makes Super Hexagon compelling is that it sets up a premise that sounds inanely easy and then uses the theming inherent to games to make it difficult.

A lot of video games use theme and aesthetics to become more relatable; by framing you as a soldier and the hazards as enemy soldiers a reaction-test becomes a simulacrum of war. Super Hexagon has an abstract aesthetic that actively fights familiarity; the background and cursor spin and pulsate, the music is loud and the colours bright. As a result, an easy task becomes difficult owing to the number of distractions thrown in the player’s way. Furthermore, it is a game which more than many others appreciates the requirements of the mobile platform; it reduces the length of a game session to a minute or less, fully aware that many users of mobile games play them when they have little time to do so.

While full-length epics can work on mobiles, and the capacity for the tablet as a handheld console replacement is there, the mobile phone itself works best as a quick arcade-like experience, and games which can mimic this appeal like Super Hexagon are currently those which make best use of the format’s constraints.

Chris Braithwaite’s Game of the Year 2012: Mass Effect 3 (PC, Wii U, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)

I started 2012 with a serious Skyrim-inspired backlog of games to play and never really caught up, so most of the better contenders for GOTY passed me by. Journey, The Walking Dead, Dishonored and Far Cry 3 are all filed away in my brain with a big “buy this soon” label on them.

Almost by process of elimination, my Game of the Year for 2012 is Mass Effect 3.

I’ve never really been a huge Mass Effect fan. I’ve enjoyed them, but never to the extent of agreeing with the fawning praise heaped upon the series. Good games, without ever being outstanding, just-about-adequate gameplay and some pretty serious flaws (mainly known as “side missions”). I felt that Mass Effect 3 made a big step up in terms of the combat mechanics, and the overall polish of the gameplay, without compromising on the quality of and commitment to the characters.

In addition, it finally made the universe of Mass Effect feel like an actual place where people lived, rather than a series of small environments where people got shot. The side missions this time around did a good job of making the main story more believable, that all the species believably together to fight to protect the places where they belonged.

Still, it rarely hit the heady heights you would expect for a Game of the Year contender, and it probably would have struggled to crack last year’s top 5. There are a couple of reasons why I’ve plumped for it as my Game of the Year though.

First off, it simply lacks any significant flaws. Every other 2012 release that I’ve enjoyed has had something that leaves me thinking of it as “really good but…” (Assassin’s Creed 3: awfully paced, weirdly unpolished; Kingdoms of Amalur: laughably easy; Hitman Absolution: stuffed with filler; Pro Evolution Soccer 2013: madder than a sack of angry cats). Mass Effect 3 was simply “really good”.

The other reason that I’ve gone for Mass Effect 3 is that it I enjoyed the story, and particularly the choices that it made you make. An enjoyable story isn’t anything unexpected from Bioware these days, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t still get credit for it. A satisfying journey, some outstanding set pieces, an interesting cast of characters with strong relationships between them, and a satisfying ending. That’s rare enough in gaming to be worthy of praise.

While the choices didn’t actually seem to make any major difference to the story, they at least made me think. Most games that give you an explicit moral-based choice just go “this is good, this is evil, hit the button that levels up the moral side you want”, but in Mass Effect 3 it felt like all the choices were shades of grey.

Overall, Mass Effect 3 was solid, and occasionally spectacular. I suspect once I get through the rest of the 2012 backlog Mass Effect 3 might be lucky to break the top three of my favourite games for 2012. Let’s just call it my Christmas number 1.

Sean Evan’s Game of the Year 2012: XCOM – Enemy Unknown (PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)

It’s one in the morning: France is one step away from pulling out, I can’t afford to build more satellites until next month’s finance rolls in, and I just lost my best sniper to a last ditch grenade toss from the most resilient Muton in the known universe. The threat of constant pressure comes part and parcel with XCOM: Enemy Unknown, but it’s the best type of pressure you could hope for from a game.

The push and pull between the tactile strategy and the management nightmares plied with running Earth’s largest and best defence force against our aggressed alien attackers is mesmerising from invasion to expulsion. XCOM’s hallowed strategy is well retained and modernised in Enemy Unknown, and building up your squad’s abilities for use in battle and executing on your best-laid plans is incredibly fun and rewarding. Keeping tabs on the states of your allied nations, building up new scientific research and developing the right weapon technology isn’t the icing on the cake either — it’s an entirely separate cake that’s just as sweet.

I just hope France feels the same way…

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