Back in July, the Rocket Chainsaw staff provided their thrilling insight into the best and most disappointing titles from the first half of 2012. With the year now coming to its conclusion, so too does this feature, as we return again for the second half of the year. Behold…personal diversity!!!
Best: Hotline Miami
I’m a strong believer that for a video game to mean anything, it has to make you feel something. I’m not just talking about empathy towards characters or thinking a story is cool. A game can you make feel frustrated, or proud of yourself, or simply make you crave more – anything but make you bored. With this in mind, I can’t think of a game this year that’s made me feel these things more than Hotline Miami. Hotline Miami is a dark, wild, gritty journey into what it means to be a killer, complete with tough-as-nails gameplay that serves to conduct raw tension throughout the time you play it. There’s no room for complacency in Hotline Miami – one wrong move and you perish in various terrible ways. From the neon visuals to the haunting soundtrack to the intense brutality of the gameplay, Hotline Miami is, without a doubt, an overdose for the senses.
Most Disappointing: Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir
I was very excited to see how Nintendo’s 3DS could be used for horror games. I was also very excited to see what else they could offer in terms of augmented reality, after messing around withFace Raiders and the AR Cards for a while. So when Spirit Camera, a spin-off title of the Project Zero series was announced and released (although not in Australia), I was excited. Maybe I was still coming down from the Project Zero 2 high, but to me, Spirit Camera was more a tiny cartridge filled with wasted opportunities. Never mind that using the 3DS camera as the Camera Obscura or that the AR book provided with the game is admittedly pretty creepy and awesome; being able to properly interact with it would take a combination of perfect room lighting and several frustrating minutes to get absolutely anything to happen. Combine this with a pretty hackneyed story, a lack of any real exploration as per the other games and Spirit Camera is a far cry from the immersive and terrifying experiences the other games in the series provide you with.
Best: The Walking Dead
Incredibly, monumentally, the best game I played in the latter of half of 2012, and perhaps all year, was on an iPad. Sure, Telltale Games’ opus also came out on consoles, PC and MAC, but it was on iOS devices that The Walking Dead finally found its true home, with the intimacy of the touch-screen in my hands bonding me ever closer with the characters I had grown to love, despise or mistrust. But whatever the platform, The Walking Dead truly is something special. Taking the guise of a point-and-click adventure, its true purpose becomes clear almost immediately – to tell you a story you will invest in; to paint characters you will care about, and empathise with; to implicate you in some of the most heart-rending decisions you will ever have to make in a game. Sure, the puzzles are rudimentary, and the interactions fairly crude, but to dismiss The Walking Dead for its few missteps is to miss the forest for the trees. Give your twitch reflexes a rest, take a break from the mechanical rigours of grinding for XP, and bask in one of the oldest and simplest pleasures: the joy of an affecting story, well-told.
Most Disappointing: Assassin’s Creed 3
Hunting rabbits. Sending out convoys. Engaging in naval warfare. Playing board games. You can do all of these things in Assassin’s Creed 3. Just don’t expect to do much, well, assassinating, because it is clear that Ubisoft, in reaction to the criticisms justly-levelled at 2007’s Assassin’s Creed, have swung from one extreme to another to disastrous effect, piling on additional systems, mechanics, and narrative layers to what was originally a fairly focussed experience. From a tutorial segment which lasts an agonising five hours, to a grab-bag of missions which see new franchise-lead Connor doing anything but stealthily and creatively assassinating targets, to a story which disappears, ouroboros-like, up its own arse, no other game in 2012 disappointed me quite like Assassin’s Creed 3. A game of immense ambition and budget, but utterly devoid of focus, polish or imagination, Assassin’s Creed 3 turned out to be nothing more than the bloated corpse of a franchise which, for a while there, was almost great.
Dishonored certainly has one of the most original settings I’ve experienced this year – a steampunk Victorian era plague city run on whale oil, where magic allows assassins to teleport and possess the unwitting? Let’s go! While the story is strangely predictable and unremarkable for such a weird and cool environment, the gameplay is what makes this my pick for the second half of the year. Being able to ‘blink’ between locations on a map unheard and unseen, or scurry around as a rat, or even let rats devour annoying guards are all an enormous amount of fun, and it’s another feather in Bethesda’s cap, to add to the publisher’s growing catalogue of amazing game universes.
Most Disappointing: Silent Hill: Book of Memories
I know some have enjoyed the dungeon crawler mechanics of this portable Silent Hill entry, but I don’t think even they completely work in this horrific misfire. A non-canon ‘fun’ entry in the series, Book of Memories brings together creatures from across the series to be beaten across the face by poor Vita touch mechanics. The game is repetitive as all hell, has collectible ‘karma’ and ‘memory residue’ that only serves to annoy, and confusing story elements in the worst way, and not the good way that Silent Hill is known for. I can complain that it’s not scary, but then it was never intended to be. So what was the point?
Best: Far Cry 3
Just pure fun in every way. I loved the cheesy story, I loved scouting outposts and being a sneaky sniper / pyromaniac. Really fluid gameplay with a lot of options when approaching situations, and everything that was wrong with Far Cry 2 has been completely fixed up or improved upon. This brings along a few of the game’s own unique niggles, but they are so minor it’s hardly worth mentioning, which I find to be a rarity. The game contained moments that were absolutely the most fun I’ve had this year in anything I’ve played, and that’s why it gets the Number 1 spot from me.
Most Disappointing: Hitman: Absolution
I had doubts about this game since day dot, but I somehow convinced myself it was actually going to be good. I was wrong. Everything I loved about the Hitman games is either gone, or watered down into something unrecognisable. Gone are most of the big sprawling environments in interesting locations with many, many options; replaced by mostly linear levels where the best approach is often the most violent one. When the levels did resemble classic Hitman, the game was at it’s best, for a fleeting moment, before you’re whisked back into a corridor crawl or more levels that feel like they are almost designed for big shoot-outs. It just goes to show, always trust your “instinct.”
Best: Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward
I’m going to get a little niche on you all. The sequel to 2010’s 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors may not be a big AAA title, but Virtue’s Last Reward really has what it takes to immerse you in its intriguing world. You wake up, only to find yourself trapped in a mysterious building, along with eight other people and a sadistic AI. As an involuntary participant in the mysterious Nonary Game, you’ll need to work together with the others if you want to avoid a terrible fate. One vote can mean the difference between life and death, and you’ll need all the help you can get. However, can you really trust anyone, when there’s so much to gain from betrayal? Ally? Or betray? The choice is yours.
As a lover of good stories, the visual novel genre has strongly drawn my attention in recent times. Sadly, most games of that genre don’t make it outside of Japan, but VLR is one of the best arguments for why they should. It features a character driven narrative that grabs you within the first ten minutes, and doesn’t let go until the credits are rolling. The game is presented in what you might call a ‘choose your own adventure’ style, where you make choices at certain points in the story, and see where they take you and the characters you interact with. It’s a simple style, but very effective, and the game even provides an interactive flowchart to help you track your progress. Fragments of the overall story are revealed in each route, and the pieces slowly but surely fall into place until you finally see the big picture at the very end, once all routes have been explored. It’s a surprisingly addictive format, each new piece of information makes you want to know more, until the whole mystery is unravelled. The high quality writing and English voice acting (only available in the US version) really bring the story and colourful characters to life. It’s easily the most compelling game I’ve played this year.
Most Disappointing: Paper Mario: Sticker Star
Don’t get me wrong, I really like the Paper Mario series. That’s what makes Sticker Star all the more disappointing. While the game revives the battle system seen in the first two Paper Mario games, which was absent in Super Paper Mario, it does so in basically the worst way possible. Gone are the partner characters. Gone are the experience points, levelling up, and stat boosting. All that’s left are battles, for the sake of battling. All attacks are executed through the usage of stickers, single use items which you pick up as you explore the game’s environments. It’s not that there’s anything particularly wrong with the battle system itself, it’s just that it no longer has any real point. Your only reward for winning a battle is coins, which you can use to buy more stickers, so that you can perform more attacks to earn more coins, etc. It’s so pointless that you can almost get through the whole game without battling at all. The situation doesn’t get any better from here. The witty, often humorous writing seen in the previous games is largely gone. It’s been replaced by the usual story (Bowser kidnaps Peach…again, and that’s pretty much all there is to it), which works for main series Mario games, but is quite disappointing by Paper Mario standards. One of the great things about the previous games is that they took advantage of their opportunity as side games, to mix up the general story a little bit and introduce new villains/enemies. There’s none of that here, and it leaves the game feeling drab and lifeless. Even the usual cast of NPCs is gone, replaced by Toads of varying colours. I’d been looking forward to Sticker Star since the Nintendo 3DS was announced, but it’s not the game that I hoped for at all.
Best: Guild Wars 2.
I wrote two and a half thousand words on why Guild Wars 2 changes everything about MMOs earlier this year, so I probably don’t need to go into too much detail on what makes this game so brilliant. Just as Everquest and World of Warcraft did when they first launched, Guild Wars 2 sets the template for all MMOs to come in the next few years. Removing quests, and rewarding players just for helping out makes this the friendliest MMO ever. Vast, epic world events, beautiful scenery and character design, and lack of ongoing subscription fees (but without the shadow of a true “free to play” model) all put this game squarely at the forefront of modern MMO design. Guild Wars 2 is going to be talked about for years to come, and is now the standard by which all future MMOs will be judged.
Most Disappointing: Dishonored
I wanted, so very much, to like Dishonored. It had everything going for it. The beautiful, panted visuals, the fantastic world-building, relatively interesting characters and the excellent implementation of stealth and first-person combat mechanics all made this a sure-fire winner. Unfortunately, it fell apart in the execution. While you get hints of the amazing world, you only get to see a tiny fraction of it. As you progress, it becomes obvious that, despite pretences to freedom, the developers clearly have a single, linear path for you to follow, and deviating from it will punish you in the endgame. That endgame itself is probably the worst since the original BioShock, and for most of the same reasons: A sudden plot twist that should open up the entire game, but instead rushes you to an anticlimactic finale that leaves you wondering why you wasted your time with this game.
Best: Halo 4
From the moment you step onto the Forward Unto Dawn, players immediately know they are embodying Master Chief again in the Halo world. Halo 4 is truly Halo, and that is perhaps the best compliment you can award to a novice studio standing in the shadow of Bungie’s legacy. Whereas some iterations fails to breath new life, Halo 4 injected a certain vibe while still retaining what made the series great. 343 Industries didn’t miss a single step in their continuation of Halo franchise, arguably producing its best game yet. A heart-stopping plot, beautiful soundtrack, faultless gameplay and the most mind-blowing visuals seen on the Xbox 360 to date rocketed this game to personal GOTY contender. Special award should be reserved for Cortana’s portrayal, with a performance that tore at the emotions and produced the most poignant moment in gaming this year. The addition of the Spartan Ops co-op mode and classic Halo multiplayer, albeit also with a new coat of paint, round out the fantastic Halo 4 package and the crowning jewel of the Xbox 360 in 2012.
Most Disappointing: Medal of Honor: Warfighter
In an industry where dudebro shooters are constant, EA gave DICE the year off and instead produced a continuation of their modernised Medal of Honor. There are more average dudebro shooters than I can count on my toes and fingers, but Medal of Honor: Warfighter was truly the worst soldier simulator I’ve ever played. The shooter all but failed to fill the Battlefield void, and felt not only felt like an insult to players, but also to the material the game sought to depict. Blatantly ripping into Call of Duty‘s design document, Medal of Honor did everything the same, only about a hundred times worse. The PR machine had established the game as an authentic and grounded reimagining of today’s wars, but instead we got a stupid, short and artificial campaign, and run-of-the-mill multiplayer. The developers insisted on holding our hands at every moment, and instead of a world that responded to the player’s actions, we ran though an orchestrated movie of shoot this, reload, duck and open this door. Medal of Honor: Warfighter was certainly a mindless box-ticking exercise, but the developers stupidly made the assumption that the players could be another programmable construct of their lifeless war.
Best: Hotline Miami
A psychedelic ultra violent trip, fashionably drenched from head to toe in blood and style, Hotline Miami is the quintessential example of the many components and qualities of video game design coming together in perfect unison. Its confident, self aware identity panders to no focus group, market, or specific taste. Every element, whether it be the retro electronic soundtrack, neon pixel graphics, visceral twitch gameplay, or schizophrenic narrative, brilliantly toes the line between self serving aggression, and co-operation with its companions. It’s like the best cocktails; acidic, volatile liquors and spices entwined to manifest a flavour you can’t quite describe yet won’t ever forget. You’re never sure which part of Hotline Miami you like the most. As the sweat beads down your forehead you’re not even sure if you’re really “enjoying” yourself. Is this experience fun? Is this entertainment? The answer is irrelevant. What matters is you cannot put the controller down, and all those blockbusters you’ve played this year, gluttonously padded with their mulit-million dollar budgets, lay twitching in a pool of crimson at your feet.
Most Disappointing: Hitman: Absolution
Imagine a Hitman game where expansive sandbox playgrounds shift to linear hallways and tiny rooms, the impressive web of character types and patrols forgone in favour of tightly designed, compartmentalised challenges. Where the art of disguise and hiding in plain sight, a wolf among sheep, is replaced by conventional snap-to-cover sneaking mechanisms, and disguises that actively dissociate you from the group you’re supposed to be disguised as. And that by the end, you find yourself grappling threats over cover and clearing rooms of guards with slow motion multi-target gun fights, instead of methodically orchestrating the perfect clean hit without a single disturbance or alert. It’s not that Hitman: Absolution is a bad game, it’s that it’s an embarrassingly misguided Hitman game, one that mechanically draws closer parallels to the Splinter Cell series than its predecessors. Disappointment stems not just from failure to match a legacy, but also from the absence of malicious intent. Changes made to the disguise system are reasonable in theory, development of sneaking mechanics would be welcome in any Hitman experience, and additions like the contracts mode aim to legitimately expand the Hitman formula. But too many slip-ups and gross miscalculations suggest a team that misinterpreted the series’ most unique and iconic qualities as something that they’re not. Absolution is a good-to-great stealth game, and possibly a better Splinter Cell than Conviction. But Hitman it is not.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading the staff’s personal picks for the best and worse from the latter half of 2012. We had a lot of games to ponder over, and the above were the ones that well and truly dug their talons into our memories.
We’re not quite done with our 2012 gaming coverage. We’ve still got our official Rocket Chainsaw Game of the Year coverage coming up. Be sure to read the details to see how you can contribute, and go in the running to win a $50 JB HiFi gift card.