By this point last year I had already played Arkham City (10/10), Uncharted 3 (A+), Portal 2 (Perfect score), and showed up at midnight to pick up my copy of MW3 and unintentionally participated in the biggest entertainment launch in the history of ever. I thought that surely there could never be another year of video games quite that good. Right? Well, actually in a way I was right. The heavy hitters from mega corporations couldn’t quite live up to the grand standard set 12 months ago. But what really blew me away in 2012 were the quiet, “where-did-that-come-from?!” experiences found in more soulful and often smaller titles. 2012 rocked the house again, but this time it went through your heart… and soul… and chi.
1. Gravity Rush (Vita)
Teenage angst in life or death situations? Check. Level dedicated to private prep school outfits? Check. Incoherent story? Check? Yep, this game is as Japanese as they come. But Gravity Rush is fantastic and easily my Vita game of the year. This adventure demonstrates how game-play is king. In every game I’ve ever played, my biggest pet peeve is back tracking or just walking around for miles (see: Skyrim/any Zelda) but I loved whenever the Gravity Rush wanted me to go across town so I got to fly/fall everywhere at supersonic speeds. Often I found myself skipping opportunities to warp to the next area because it was more fun to get there on my own. I saw a comment on an internet forum and wish I could find the author to give proper credit, but this anonymous gamer said it best: “Gravity Rush was like losing my virginity. It was incredible, I didn’t know what I was doing most the time, and it was over way too quick.” Whoever you are hilarious interwebz commenter, thank you.
2. Halo 4 (360)
I groaned when I first saw the teaser trailer E3 showed a few years back for fear that the Halo franchise was getting the ‘annualization’ treatment which leads to nothing but sadness, kart racers, and more sadness. I grew even more nervous upon learning that Bungie wouldn’t have any involvement in the development. But I have to apologize profusely to 343 Studios, ‘cause man, they nailed it. Each time I play a Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed, I feel like I’m playing another installment of the same game, which is fine for a while. 343 decided to lift their hind right leg and urinate all over that idea and found a way to make it feel like I’m playing a new game; updated, better, and different. It handles well, has excellent pacing, and a story that makes you feel more attached to your blue companion than ever. Also, the game is just flat out pretty. Halo 4 is the best looking game on the Xbox 360. I dare you to watch this intro to the game and not go find a copy right now. I double dare you.
3. Darksiders II (360, PS3, WiiU)
Grossly overlooked and written off as a “Zelda/God of War Lovechild” (which is bad becaaause… why?), DS2 was an action/adventure game all should try. There’s just a level of creativity in the art direction that must be appreciated. So what if it borrows from incredible franchises? It takes ideas and makes an awesome compilation of them. In Darksiders you are the embodiment of Death himself, and you go out and administer, well, death, to everyone. The combat is just in a world of its own and boss fights couldn’t be more epic. You should come to the dark side (LMAO, get it? I’m totes funny, amirite?).
4. Quantum Conundrum (PSN, XBLA, PC)
This game comes courtesy of Kim Swift, one of the lead designers of Portal, and you can tell the heavy influence right away in this first-person physics type puzzler. While nowhere near as groundbreakingly successful as the source material, QC is still extremely fun and gives that same sense of accomplishment when you finally complete a puzzle after being utterly stumped. Instead of a portal gun, you are given control of four different dimensions (fluffy, heavy, slow-mo, and gravity) to make your way through Aperture Science Laboratories, I mean uh, the Professor’s mansion that looks like the house from Disney’s Meet the Robinsons. There are some tiny technical issues with frame rate and such, but if that’s enough to get you to stop playing the game then you were probably too dumb to solve the next puzzle anyway. #pwnd
5. Journey (PSN)
Here’s the “How To” for playing Journey.
1- On a Sunday afternoon get a cup of hot chocolate and a blanket (optional).
2- Put on headphones or turn up the surround sound (essential).
3- Play Journey straight through in one sitting (2 hours).
4- Then go take a nap while listening to the soundtrack (here).
5- Don’t wake up for 4-9 days due to immense relaxation (unavoidable).
Truth be told, no amount of gushing or even watching video reviews can give any indication about the experience you’ll have with Journey. Because it’s just that, an experience. So please do yourself a favor and check it out. You won’t be sorry.
6. Mass Effect 3 (360, PS3, PC, WiiU)
If you haven’t played the first two installments, I highly recommend doing so as the Mass Effect trilogy is by far the most ambitious video game project we’ve ever seen. Words cannot describe the beauty that is Mass Effect 3. I lack the vocabulary to do it justice and will only make a mockery of its sheer brilliance. The only way to adequately express what my heart yearns to say is through a mix of ancient oriental and beatnik poetry:
Import save, be Shep
RPG, convo, shooter
Save Earth, beauty, cry
(collective finger snaps from audience)
Uncharted: Golden Abyss (Vita)
Walking Dead (PSN, XBLA, iOS, Droid, NeoGeo, PSX, SNES, and Rotary phone)
Spec Ops The Line (360, PS3)
Star Wars: The Old Republic (PC)
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 (360, PS3, WiiU)
Unfinished Swan (PSN)
Max Payne 3 (360, PS3)
Philip is the head boss of Link’s A Lefty Gaming Blog and spends more time playing video games than drinking water. It’s detrimental to his health, but it makes his twitter @linksalefty that much funnier.