Funk’s Top 5 Games of 2012
Let’s make sure everyone knows where we stand with this Top 5. This website is more of a hobby than a job. In fact, this gets done in addition to a job. Plus in 2012 Doctor Funk and I welcomed our second child into the world. What I’m trying to say here is that I haven’t played every game that came onto the market this year. A very small proportion, in fact. Nonetheless this is the five games that come highly recommended. So highly recommended that you should play them if you haven’t. Now. Or when you’ve read the article.
#5 – Journey
Sometimes simplicity in the key to a good gaming experience. You’ve got a hooded, cloaked and otherwise nondescript figure in the desert with a towering mountain in the distance. You can walk around, jump and whistle but with nothing to guide your way all you can do is set off towards that distant peak. Best played in one sitting, the two to three hour journey will take you through a couple of different environments, solving mild puzzles and learning a little about the world you’re in.
There are several things that make this a magical experience (yes, that sounds corny but it’s the best descriptor). Building your ability to fly has you floating across the landscape in a very relaxed manner is entrancing and it’s easy you forget the puzzles and just bob around. The scenery is wonderfully designed and features some mesmerizing moments. Most notable is the strangely effective multiplayer. On paper it goes completely against the grain of most online gaming in that you randomly cross paths with another player who is not essential to gameplay, doesn’t make the puzzles easier and it’s impossible to communicate with. Instead you either ignore them or you tag along with each other. You may work out some communication by jumping and whistling. You might follow each other for a while but separate at some point. All I know is that going through the pilgrimage alongside another anonymous person, losing them in the second to last environment and then find them waiting for me at the end of the game so we could finish it together is the best experience I’ve had in online gaming ever.
#4 – Sleeping Dogs
Here’s something you should know about being a geek parent: you don’t like playing games that piss-fart around. Sitting through extended cut scenes and dedicating hours to accomplish something simply doesn’t work. Skyrim, I love you but I’ve just got so much on my plate right now and I think we should see other games. Games that drop you into ridiculous and madcap fun without much context. Meet Sleeping Dogs. The crime sandbox game that is pure fun.
It’s like a more polished and less goofy Saints Row. It’s set in a very detailed and very colorful version of Hong Kong and you play as an undercover cop infiltrating the Triads. Storywise it’s serviceable but you still follow a pretty linear path towards what amounts to a revenge plot. Of course with the all the free running and kung-fu the story is taking the back seat anyway. The combat mechanic is among the best seen in the genre, taking a leaf from the book of Arkham in the free-flowing attacks against the groups of enemies. Unlockable martial arts moves including limb breaks keep things varied. The missions also have plenty of variation with races, vehicles and collectables to space things out. Also being able to leap from car to car is never getting dull.
#3 – The Walking Dead
The gaming industry has come a long way since the days of Pac-Man in terms of what can be achieved with picture, sound and story-telling. In spite of this many still don’t rate gaming as a form of entertainment on par with cinema or books. Spielberg once infamously said that a video game will never be able to make the audience cry. If there’s one game that can challenge this perception it’s the 2012 episodic release The Walking Dead. Even more impressively it challenges the reputation that adaptations of movies, TV shows and comics tend to be pretty poor.
Working off the genre framework of a point and click adventure players take on the role of Lee, who was being transported to prison when a zombie outbreak left him stranded in the suburbs with the lost young girl Clementine. Together they seek shelter and fall in with a larger group of survivors. With no end or rescue in sight Lee and the survivors go from day to day contending with the lurking horror at the gates and in-group conflicts that grow amid rising fear and paranoia. It’s a tightly plotted adventure riddled with shocking moments that could really squeeze your soul. One of the best, and under-played, scenes features one survivor who’d recently lost his family finding the zombie of a child who’d starved to death in an attic. Don’t go into this game expecting the usual zombie slaughter-fest.
#2 – Dishonored
This new title appeared on a number of 2012 best game lists, but oddly enough some of the major channels have neglected it. Gametrailers and Spike did their usual dry-humping of sequels like Halo 4 and Assassin’s Creed 3 instead of rightfully honoring this original and unique game. With a solid couple of production teams backing it Dishonored is a first person stealth and action game. Impressively it balances the two perfectly, offering pros and cons to either a shadowy assassin approach or the sometimes horrific full on attack.
Set in the fictional steampunk town of Dunwall you play Corvo, bodyguard to the Empress and her daughter. Corvo is framed for the Empress’s murder and her daughter’s kidnapping and finds himself in line for the noose. He escapes with the help of a resistance group and sets out to make things right. The nine expansive levels feature multiple paths for the player to take, whether along rooftops, sewers or straight down the street. Different side-missions open up new ways to approach a target with violent and non-violent options available. When approaching technology like the electric ‘walls of light’ you can avoid them, shut them down or rewire them to disintegrate the enemy. It’s an extremely well crafted world that is very easy to get absorbed into, and the special abilities make it feel unique.
You have your sword and gun, yes, but you also have some supernatural powers to briefly teleport, slow down time, blast enemies into walls and summon a horde of hungry plague rats. If you opt for the violent approach the game bumps up a few ratings – slitted throats, severed limbs and corpses being devoured by rats is visceral and bloody. Special mention goes the proximity mine that lets lose a tangle of razor wire, sending limbs flying. Either way the slow motion and teleport will most likely become your quick select options.
Unique, well designed and challenging fun.
So I bought this game two days ago and it’s at the top of my list. That may be a knee jerk reaction, but this franchise and I have a history. XCOM: Enemy Unknown appeared in it’s original format in 1994 and in that time I have never not had a copy on whatever computer I own. No matter what new games have been released and impressed me the original XCOM has always been a game that I go back to. The graphics and controls have aged as well as a pair of gym socks but it’s such a well designed game with such great atmosphere that it’s still brilliant. You manage ‘XCOM’, an international military and research organization that is founded in response to an increase in UFO activity on Earth. Your time is spend defending the Earth and finding a way to fight back.
Somehow the micromanagement of this organization is damn exciting stuff. When in your base you decide what research gets done, what to build, how to lay out your base and use satellites to scan the globe for alien activity. When the aliens attack you shoot down their UFOs and send out the troops to kill/capture the enemy and recover their technology to further your research. Sounds straightforward. As well as the imagination and design that goes into the game and creature’s look there’s a great atmosphere to the action sequences. With only limited movement and actions available in each round of turns a simple mis-click can turn the tide of battle. From the beginning of the game you are out-classed in technology and strength meaning that careful management of your troops during a mission is essential. Unlike many RTS and turn based strategy games you do form an attachment to your troops after you customize them and guide them through several missions while building their skills. Seeing them get cut down in battle is pretty serious business, and given that the aliens have many advantages over you this is pretty likely. During the game you also have many decisions to make about where to direct your resources. When aliens start abducting people from three major cities who have to make a call on which one to protect based on what they can offer you. Countries left unprotected will restrict their funding to XCOM and if enough countries descent in panic then the aliens win.
Whether you’ve played the original or not this must be played. You may not even be a fan of the genre but this is such a perfectly designed game that it will work for you. I’m not a fan of turn-based combat and I’ve been replaying the original for nine years. This is the perfect remake of a classic.