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I look back at 2012 as one of the strangest years of gaming for me. I graduated high school and went to college, and although I have ridiculous amounts of free time, I spend almost none of it on gaming. Especially since I have to budget myself, the amount of new games I get have drastically decreased. But worry not, as my Top 5 games this year are still extremely fantastic titles that I'm simply dying to talk about. Without further ado...
My Top 5 Games Of 2012!
5. Spec Ops: The Line
Oh Spec Ops. I heard great things about you, and I knew what you were about even before I played you. But even though I knew every trick you had up your sleeve, nothing could stop you from impressing me. It's rare that I would play through a game immediately after I beat it, but Spec Ops delivers. With unforgettable characters, astonishing setpieces, and enthusiastic intelligence, the game does all it can to provide an extremely powerful narrative that simply blew me away. The really small details stuck with me, especially regarding how your main character behaves during gameplay during the later stages of the game. It's the small details that reward players who are paying attention that make the game shine brightly. I can see myself playing this game long after the other games on this list. It's simply that good.
4. Lone Survivor
Wow. Just... wow. I'm a very vocal Silent Hill enthusiast, so this year has been... mixed to say the least. Silent Hill HD Collection ended up being a bad collection of 2 classics, and Downpour was simply just awful. I loved the two titles, but their flaws were incredibly apparent, and it bummed me out that the series had lost its way. Then I played Lone Survivor. If anything could rekindle my love for a Silent Hill game, it was a completely unrelated indie game whose very existence is a love letter from a dead spouse. The game oozed style and charm, and when 16 bit graphics are scaring you much more than Japanese horror films, then you know you're doing something right. The atmosphere was tense, the journey was incredible, and the gameplay is... addicting. That's kind of bizarre considering that it's a survival horror game, but I can't put it down. I look forward to seeing its impact on the horror industry.
3. Rock Band Blitz
Ahhhh, the token Rock Band entry. This should surprise absolutely nobody. With incredible Facebook integration, great tracklist (it grew on me after a while), complete compatibility for all Rock Band songs, and a still updating goal system, the game is perfect for a quick solo session. And it doesn't hurt that I'm pretty good at the game. AND THIS GAME EXPORTS TO ROCK BAND 3! Just more reason to get this game, because it's an incredible value and it's just really really fun. Harmonix really is a fantastic developer, and I'm excited for their future.
2. Kid Icarus: Uprising
The controversial entry on my list. For me, anyway. If you followed me on Twitter, you know how much I moan about my grievances with Kid Icarus: Uprising. Or rather grievance: it's completely stupid plot. What angers me about this game is that it tries so hard to have a great plot, and the fact that it fails so miserably upsets me, especially since everything else about this game is fantastic. I know people are down on the controls, but I personally found them incredibly natural WITHOUT the dumb stand. With addicting gameplay, incredibly fun multiplayer, and tons of content, Kid Icarus: Uprising is the absolute BEST game to get a 3DS with. It'll last you a ton of time, and it's actually good, unlike Super Mario 3D Land and Kingdom Hearts 3D (which are both very mediocre in my book). Also this game has Pyrrhon. That guy is awesome.
And my Game Of The Year IS...
Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward
I can not tell you how much I thought this game was going to blow. I really enjoyed it's predecessor Nine Hours Nine Persons Nine Doors, and found it engaging all throughout except for the finale, which introduced psychic shenanigans that for me broke the realistic atmosphere the game tried so hard to make. Especially since I DETEST time travel stories (yes, I don't like Doctor Who), the curveball left a bad taste in my mouth. When it came time to play the sequel, I only had one request, to integrate the time space stuff throughout the story and have them weave into the exposition naturally. And did Virtue's Last Reward hit it out of the park. Although the To Be Continueds were detrimental to flow, the game handled my request beautifully. My other fear was that the original felt compact and definitive, so I thought a sequel would only try to make things BIGGER in order to outdo the original (ala Ghostbusters 2). With 24 endings (over the original's 6), fully voiced cast, 3D models, etc, I had good reason to fear this. And while the game is "sequely", the execution is done so well that I can't complain. And the twists, oh the twists blew my mind away in every conceivable level. When a game's story is keeping you up at 3 in the morning, you know something is done right. And this game is about the Prisoner's Dilemma. As someone who LOVES economics and is fascinated with game theory, this game's very core made my tremble with excitement. On the negative side, the cliffhanger ending was disappointing, and the save glitch (which I thankfully did not go through) and some of the puzzles can go die horribly. However, I left the game (which is about 3-4 times longer than the predecessor) with a huge smile on my face and sky high expectations for Zero Escape 3.
It's no secret that I love Harmonix. I love their games, their community team, their philosophy on gaming, and their approach to the untried and risky instead of playing it safe and by the books. Every time I hear someone curse DLC as the worst thing to happen to gaming, I shake my head and think of Harmonix, which proved that DLC can be an extremely fundamental part of gaming. Unfortunately, these high standards will cause people to look at their latest title, Rock Band Blitz, and declare it as a Audiosurf/Frequency/Amplitude/Rock Bad Unplugged rip-off. At the surface, this statement is very true. You're hitting notes using a controller and switching between lanes in order to get as many points as you can. However when looking at gaming history, Rock Band Blitz would probably be seen as the first fully fledged Facebook game.
Make no mistake, this game is built for consoles, meant to be played on consoles, and Facebook isn't necessary to experience the balls out fun that Blitz has to offer. However, I STRONGLY encourage you to connect your Facebook account to the game to experience what it has to offer. If you're an antisocial individual that wants nothing to do with the social aspects of Facebook, just make an account, set it so nobody sees you, connect Blitz to it and just forget about it. Connecting your Facebook account allows you to attempt goals with friends, set up duels with friends and strangers to see who can get a higher score, set up a wishlist for DLC purchases, and track your ingame stats.There is definitely room for improvement, however. Anyone can join your goals and mooch off of your points, Score Wars aren't customizable, and you can't Score War with someone on a different console as of the time of writing. The cynic would ask why all of this information couldn't have been provided in game, which would definitely be a fair question. Some of the experience like setting up Score Wars, which could be done extremely awkwardly ingame, feels like it could have been plastered onto the game itself. However, at its core Rock Band Blitz was built as a game that uses Facebook as a foundation for its philosophy.This is made evident by the currency the game provides you after completing songs, which can be gained in large amounts after completing Facebook goals, setting up Score Wars, etc. How well Harmonix encourages you to use Facebook is beyond frightening, in less than a weekend I was already an admin in a 23 people Facebook group discussing the game and challenging one another. As one of our Rock Band regulars said
"Who would have thought that a single player game would bring a community based on a multi-player game closer than said multi-player game?"
Ironically, I would compare the Facebook integration to the use of guitar controllers in previous Guitar Hero titles, like Guitar Hero 3. You COULD play the game with the controller but playing on the guitar is a much more satisfying experience. It's ironic, because the gameplay in Blitz is nothing but satisfying. The game is fast paced, rewarding, and appealing as getting high scores to beat your friends and smashing goals is extraordinarily fun. I found myself going to sleep at 2 am and waking up 7 hours later just to get my Blitz fix. Unforunately, the game's problems become apparent with the gameplay. First off, this game is challenging. I never declare a game's challenge as a problem with the game unless it's well deserved (shoddy curves, improper pacing, unfair or fake difficulty, or lack of engagement), and the game's challenge feels contradictory to the audience it's trying to capture. Getting great scores is definitely not an easy task, and casuals who demand constant statements of them rocking will not be pleased with the reality of them sucking initially. The game does have a learning curve, but I feel that by the time casuals start getting good at the game, they would have already given up and gone to play something else. Another part of the gameplay that may seem off putting is the VAST amount of on screen information being thrown at you at all times. The game definitely does feel overwhelming to an onlooker as they see and endless sea of notes and only one lane to score them in. It's not a flaw, but it does feel a bit unsettling considering the audience the game is targeted towards. The game's menus share this characteristic, as every single menu is flowing with information. Seeing as there are multiple menus, each filled to the brim with text, this could definitely be seen as off-putting.
Another one of the game's issues would be navigating its song sorting. Gone are the days of filters, album sorting, and ratings (the latter which I used extensively). Setlists are strangely gone as well, however the time it takes between picking songs is extremely insignificant, which always leaves to fluid song choices. The songs themselves are in small to read font, which definitely is an issue when it comes to playing with other people at parties and anybody who is used to Rock Band 3's navigation will curse their muscle memory as they'll accidentally go to another menu. Lastly, the game also doesn't save the last song/sorting from your last play which is very disappointing considering I remember this being heavily requested to be patched in Rock Band 3, going to your last song choice could remind you of the goals you were doing, and there's a specific way I like to be greeted by songs. The game also features DRM out of all things, not allowing you to gain coins if you're not connected to the Internet. It definitely feels out of place, but you can still play the core game without problems if you lose your connection.
As for the 25 song list... it's very geared towards modern listeners, but they're an absolute BLAST to play on Blitz. With the exception of probably Shout and We Are Young, every song is extremely fun to play with their unique quirks to get you engaged in the game. My favorite part of the game is allowing every song to have different approaches for getting a high score. Different solutions towards the same problem allows for discussion outside the game, which is an excellent way to promote gaming culture as a whole. The variety of power-ups suits varying playstyles ranging from by the book people who take no risks in life to high rollers who would risk it all to win the big jackpot with a roll of the dice. Finding the style that suits you is extremely fun and the strategic elements can not be be missed.
As a whole, the game is a fantastic value and a fantastic package for its 15 dollar price tag. With the potential of infinite replay value thanks to DLC (I have over 700 hours in Rock Band 3), goals, Score Wars, etc as well as all of the songs being immediately playable in Rock Band 3, it's amazing how much value this title has. ESPECIALLY considering song downloads are usually 2 dollars each, even if the thought of Blitz repulses you, the amount of compatibility it has with Rock Band 3 is great. However, with the amazing friends I've made thanks to this game, I couldn't give it anything less than a glowing recommendation. It might even be better than Castle Crashers. MIGHT BE.
But seriously, We Are Young is awful.
I finished Resident Evil the other day, in an effort to expand my knowledge of the history of Survival Horror genre. I was hungry for more good horror games, especially considering I ran out Silent Hill games whose awesomeness are uncontested. Seeing as Resident Evil "started it all", I had high hopes of a horror classic that would have me as pumped for the genre as Silent Hill 2 did. However, knowing the background of Resident Evil, I was expecting an undisciplined sort of horror as compared to the strict rules that Silent Hill set for itself in order to play with the player's expectations. Even though Resident Evil did play with my expectations of its horror, it did so in a negative way, as the horror is practically nonexistent. Although the horrors are nonexistent, the game's ability to engage the player is phenomenal and the experience is unforgettable.
Taking Resident Evil seriously will only doom the player to frustration. The scares are nonexistent, the plot is a total disaster, the writing is atrocious, the voice acting is horrible, and the controls are some of the worst in any game I've ever played. Looking at the game now, I can't see how anyone can consider it a horror classic as the game is about as unscary as Dead Space (although Resident Evil doesn't seem to be trying as hard). However, after obtaining the first ink ribbons I realized that I was looking at the game in a frame of mind that would cause me to never enjoy it. The scares I were expecting were never coming. However, the gameplay for the perfect survival horror game was there, in a package of cheese instead of psychological thrills.
The ink ribbons represents a lot more than a stupid gimmick that prevents players from saving their game, something which I understood the second I picked them up. The framework that the ink ribbons crafted was ripe for scares, in a way that Silent Hill approached in a different way. Ascending the importance of both the scarce ammo and health restoration items, limiting saves was the best move that the original Resident Evil could have done. It made players strategize their attacks on the mansion, fear every encounter with the garden variety zombie, and contemplate every use of a save they have. Because if they screw up, they can't restore their save and try again. It led to the exploration conundrum: "Should I explore and run into enemies and scares to find more crucial items? Or should I press on and try to tough it out and play it safe as long as I can?" which is a favorite of mine in horror. Unfortunately, Resident Evil doesn't succeed 100% in this, as you're going to explore almost every room anyway, but it still does a heck of a job doing so.
Along with setting the framing device for the gameplay for one of my favorite game genres of all time, Resident Evil actually reminds me most of Luigi's Mansion of all things. Not just in face value, either. The main characters come across a mansion full of a colorful variety of monsters, environments, and areas to come back to and unlock, and there's many crevices to explore. The entire experience felt so much like Luigi's Mansion, that I dubbed Resident Evil "Luigi's Mansion, but replace the colorful cast of ghosts and charm with zombies, strict resource management, and plenty of cheese." Exploring the mansion was always rewarding and fun, and finding a new key filled me with excitement as I ran across the halls like a giggling school girl trying to find the new rooms I've unlocked. In addition to this, the main objective of Resident Evil was to have as much fun as you can, which Luigi's Mansion does extremely well (To be fair, Nintendo games are full of this).
As for the cheesiness... There's not much else to say. I mean, what else can you add on top of the infamous Jill Sandwich scene?! Every line of the game is written in ironic comedic gold, as if the localization team had only a vague idea of what humans were and used The Room as their thesis on human interaction. Every character has atrocious voice acting to accompany their hammy dialogue, which leads to several highly entertaining sequences especially involving the primary use of rope. Another hilarious exchange revolved around a missing character, who was found by the playable character in the middle of the game. The exchange went like:
"Holy cow, you're still alive!"
"We were looking all over for you, where have you been?"
"Be safe around here. Good bye" *leaves*
No mention of where they were going or why they were gone, just poof. It kinda makes sense at the end of the game, but the fact that no one bothered to think about it worries me. Interacting with the enviornment is also incredibly cryptic Ã la Zelda 2, as interacting with a locked door will tell you something along the lines of "A shield". Wait, what? A shield of what?
As for the environments and enemy designs, they're fantastic. Every room has different things to offer and all of the rooms are coherent in terms of "zombie riddled mansion that may or may not be evil". There's no random out of place snow area or a random rule breaking minigame. The logic that the environment sets is coherent and the depths that it goes to leads to very entertaining scenarios (like fighting a killer shark in a flooded basement or a plant that grew a mind of its own and conquered an entire shed). The player is almost always given several options to solve a particular boss, which was always fun trying to find the solution that fit you the best. Unfortunately, the extent of options did not spread to puzzles, which would have been neat to be given the option to solve a puzzle by shooting in addition to pushing blocks around.
At the end of the day, I can't help but love Resident Evil. I literally can not understand how anyone could have found it scary at any point in time, but the experience was too much of a mindblowing good time to not leave from it happy. I actually prefer it to the original Silent Hill (which I found relatively spooky, like a pretty alright piece of creepypasta), but comparing the two series leaves something to be desired. The two approaches horror in different ways, and while only one succeeds in being scary, I can't say the other doesn't succeed in being amusing in how it fails in an adorable way. Like a baby wearing a traffic cone on his head. You go "Awwww, babies aren't supposed to do that!" and keep a watchful eye on them so they don't try to stick the cone up their nose. Which looking at RE5 now, I'm afraid we're too late.