Reviews

Happy New Game+ 2012

The Best PC Games of 2012

The way some people rabbit on, you’d think PC gaming had been dead for longer than disco. Thankfully no one has told the PC games industry, and 2012 was the best year PC gaming has had in a long while.
Kickstarter helped bring some longforgotten genres back into the spotlight, industry heavyweights listened to our whining when it was both justified and completely childish, and the brain seed for this very website was planted. Oh, and the games.

Corey

For the first three-quarters of 2012 I was travelling around the world confined to an underpowered netbook. This isn’t a complaint at all – I mean, I was travelling the world – but I mention it because even despite this temporal disadvantage it still feels like it’s been a fantastic year for games. I’m sure there are plenty I’ve missed (notably Dishonored and FarCry 3), but of the many games I have devoured this year, there can be only one…

Hotline Miami

The best action games are the ones that illicit physical and verbal feedback from the player. Shouted insults through a mic or at a LAN, the infamous controller throw or the more-subtle mouse slam – whatever the reaction, it takes a special game to get under your skin and make you act out. Enter Hotline Miami.

If Rockstar were able to Frankenstein together the best parts of Grand Theft Auto, Manhunt and the media-frenzy they always generate but never really earn, it would be a psychopath in an animal mask wielding a powerdrill.

But how does it play? Well, if Super Meat Boy slashed his wrists with a Jagged Alliance the blood spray on the walls and ceilings would read Hotline Miami. It’s a fast-paced, 2D, action game where the slightest fuck-up will mean your death, and you will die a lot. Like SMB though, you can respawn instantly and tackle the mission again and again and again until you get it fucking perfect. That’s where the Jagged Alliance comes in – there’s a tactical level to the game that isn’t immediately apparent from screenshots and videos, and you’ll find strategising as important as twitch reflexes.

It’s the purest game I have played in the longest time. It is a heart burning with adrenaline. It is a skull shattered by a lead pipe. It is the long exhalation after a good hit or great sex. It is crystalised neon death. It is the game of the year.

 

Honourable Mention:

Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition

Dark Souls is an entirely unique game in the landscape of PC RPGs, with only an ancient prophecy to connect it to its Western counterparts. Western RPGs will give you expository dialogue and copious amounts of text to discover and read, but with Dark Souls the developers are confident enough in the depth of the world and in the intelligence of the players that they don’t feel the need to shove it in your face.

Where Western RPGs give you the tools to become a casually omnipotent demigod by the time you’re two-thirds of the way through, Dark Souls demands patience and focus throughout. At level 30 I was nearly killed by the weakest enemy in the game because I got cocky and stopped taking them seriously. That is the sort of game Dark Souls is; it will punish you and you will love every second of it.

If you can forgive the awful port, it is a perfect game.

 

Jake

I pledged to reduce my backlog in 2012, but looking back on it from 2013 it has in fact grown. Battlefield 3 has absolutely ravaged my free time this past year, with each successive update bringing it closer and closer to my ideal multiplayer FPS.
I’ve found myself somewhat disillusioned with the years biggest games; Dark Souls bored me and Dishonoured was too vast for me to sink my teeth into, but then there was…

XCOM

Jagged Alliance 2 is the best game I have ever played. X-COM: Enemy Unknown is Number 3, or at least it was until XCOM came along.

XCOM is such a strange beast. Not because it’s a top-down, turn-based strategy game rich with atmosphere, tension and compelling gameplay, but because it’s all those things made with the Unreal engine and put out by a major publisher for PC and console alike. XCOM feels like it came from an alternate timeline where the X-COM and Jagged Alliance franchises weren’t left for years to collect dust, and strategy was allowed to evolve alongside other popular genres.

Inevitably there will be people who decry the amount of streamlining in XCOM compared to turn-based strategies of yore, but I don’t see it as a bad thing. There will always be indie devs and small studios making hardcore games in niche genres, but we’re going to get something completely different when large studios and large budgets get involved.
What we get is a cinematic experience – both in and between missions – but without the common sacrifice of player agency. The cutscenes might be telling a story, but it’s a story that is happy to live alongside the ones we create as we play.
I can’t remember the last time a game had me so invested in the lives (and deaths) of the soldiers under my command, or the last time a game made me genuinely dread the arrival of certain enemy types. It also has that ‘Just one more mission’ effect, which will almost certainly give you a few bleary-eyed mornings.

If Firaxis had taken note of the brilliant PBEM-style asynchronous multiplayer of Frozen Synapse then I may have never escaped from XCOM’s clutches, but as it is, the multiplayer is a half-baked mess.

I’ve gone out on a limb with friends and said that I prefer the streamlined approach and the way they’ve turned one of my most beloved TBS games into a console friendly cover shooter, but I think it’s absolutely excellent. I can’t say a bad word about it, and while the stories aren’t quite as great, I eagerly await the Terror From The Deep sequel because fuck Lobstermen.

Here are a list of things in XCOM that I think are awesome:

  • The redesigned Chryssalid is a great example of how fear works in a Turn-Based game. While I’ve not lost a soldier to one yet, any I encounter are met with the maximum amount of rockets and grenades.
  • The level with the Train, that’s awesome.
  • The gunslinger perk for snipers, I found myself with a team of 4 snipers with plasma pistols, tearing it up.

Here’s what I really missed:

  • Det-packs
  • Blaster Bombs.

XCOM then, is probably a game you should all be playing.

 

Honourable Mention:

Sleeping Dogs


I wasn’t expecting much of Sleeping Dogs when I initially booted it up, picking it up as a rainy day game and promptly forgetting about it until a wave of positive feedback forced me to give it an afternoon of my time.
That afternoon swiftly turned into a solid weekend as I re-discovered the joy of driving around in an open world, singing karoake and roughing up thugs in the most entertaining open world beat-em-up I’ve played since Arkham City.

It does suffer a little from trying to nickel and dime its consumers with cosmetic DLC, a fault shared with Saints Row the Third, but I think in terms of open world crime shenanigans, this has more going for it than Saints Row, as it captures the exact thrills of this sort of game: weaving motorbikes far too quickly through oncoming traffic, tossing goons around like ragdolls and just generally being a nuisance.

It’s an absolute sleeper hit, pardon the pun.

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