2012 was the year that I finally got back into gaming in a big way, ditching my shitty laptop for a mid-range gaming PC. Suddenly, I found myself able to play the dozens of games I had missed over the past few years. I uncovered conspiracies in Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I beat up thugs in Batman: Arkham Asylum. I stabbed Templars in Assassin’s Creed. But I also managed to play some games from 2012 itself. Here are some of the 2012 games I enjoyed the most, in no particular order:

Mass Effect 3
Mass Effect 3 is a game about war. The game isn’t subtle about this. Walking through the different floors of the Citadel (the giant space station that serves as the hub of the galaxy) reveals conversations about a woman suffering from PTSD and a teenager separated from her (probably dead) family. But what Mass Effect 3 excels at is showing the hidden side of war. The game doesn’t put you on the front lines. Instead, it sends you all over the galaxy to make backroom deals and broker alliances, to uncover and gather resources. The Mass Effect series has always done a fantastic job of illustrating the intricacies of interplanetary politics. The final game in the trilogy filters those intricacies through the lens of war, showing how loyalties can shift during times of conflict.

However, all this discussion of war makes it easy to forget that Mass Effect 3 is just really damn fun to play. Sure, there’s enjoyment to be had in shooting at mutant aliens behind chest-high walls, but the real excitement is in using the player’s abilities – tossing enemies around with magical powers, reprogramming robots to kill their allies, or becoming invisible to sneak from cover to cover. Heck, sometimes it’s fun just to get up close and personal and slice an enemy to death with your Omni-Blade.

The story was often thought-provoking, the combat was fun, and the game was thrilling from start to finish. All in all, Mass Effect 3 was a fitting conclusion to one of the best video game series ever made.

Plus there was that bit near the end where Garrus and Tali awkwardly tried to make out. That was hilarious.

Spec Ops: The Line
Out of all the games released in 2012, Spec Ops: The Line probably has the highest ratio of people who discussed the game online to people who actually played it. It was an utter commercial failure, but it was the subject of an episode of Errant Signal, two episodes of Extra Credits, innumerable thinkpieces, and an entire book. Much of this discussion focused on how the game is an indictment of the modern military shooter, but I think that’s a little reductive. What Spec Ops: The Line really does is that it shines a magnifying glass on the ugly aspects of warfare – civilian deaths, no-win situations, and PTSD. It also criticizes the way warfare is perceived by the general public, shattering the myth of the all-American hero who blasts his way through hordes of brown people for the glory of the Stars and Stripes. Spec Ops: The Line shows that any victory in war is Pyrrhic. You can beat the game, but you won’t feel like a winner.

I have never been into stealth games, but Dishonored changed all that. Dishonored turned me into a sneaky bastard. Suffocating unsuspecting guards and then moving their corpses to the shadows doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, but I found something almost soothing about the rhythm of sneak->choke->drag->repeat.

Though I often fell into this rhythm, it helped that I didn’t feel restricted to it. Levels were open-ended in a way that encouraged exploration, reminiscent in a way of Super Mario 64. There were secret passages to discover, diary entries to read, and upgrades to find. Each objective could be accomplished via multiple paths, which could be traversed with a combination of swimming, running, fighting, sneaking, or teleporting with the help of a special ability called “blink.” Dishonored equipped me with a bunch of weapons and powers and told me to go nuts. I favoured stealth-oriented powers, because it gave me a thrill to walk past unaware enemies to explore new areas of the map.

All of this took place in one of the most fascinating and unique settings for a video game, the quasi-Victorian city of Dunwall. Many of the world’s background details are filled in via the aforementioned diary entries, but the game’s art direction was superb too, contrasting the opulence of the rich districts with the grime and rot of the poor ones.

It’s rare to find a new IP this impressive and accomplished. Dishonored is a fantastic experience and easily one of the best titles of 2012.

Sleeping Dogs
I’ve already written about some of the things I like about this game on this blog, so I’ll repost a comment I made that was featured on The Gameological Society:

I liked Sleeping Dogs because it took everything I loved about other open world games, refined it, and wrapped it in a fascinating tale of duty versus honor. Someone else described the game as “Grand Theft Auto with an editor.” It’s an apt description; almost everything about the game contributes in some way to its Hong Kong action movie sensibility. I beat up thugs in back alleys. I shot out motorcycle tires while my Triad buddy drove the getaway car. I leaped off tall buildings in slow-motion. I action-hijacked vans on the highway, leaving my abandoned vehicle to spiral out of control and cause a mini pile-up. Later, when things slowed down, I roamed the city’s streets, listening to the shouts of Cantonese that punctuated the constant honking of horns and whirring of car tires. I walked past an open-air market and could practically smell the fish dumplings. Oh, did I mention that the game is gorgeous? If you can, stand at the edge of a dock or harbor and watch the sun set over the sea. As U2 would say, it’s even better than the real thing.

Other 2012 games I played this year: Frog Fractions; Katawa Shoujo; Quantum Conundrum

2012 games in my backlog: Analogue: A Hate Story; Containment: The Zombie PuzzlerKingdoms of Amalur: ReckoningMax Payne 3Q.U.B.E.Thirty Flights of LovingTiny and Big: Grandpa’s Leftovers

Overall, 2012 was a solid year for gaming, and as you can tell from my backlog, I still have a lot left to experience. 2013 doesn’t seem to have quite the embarrassment of riches (much to the elation of my wallet), but I am looking forward to The Cave, Watch Dogs, the Tomb Raider reboot, BioShock Infinite, and the Double Fine adventure game. Until those games come out, though, I’ve got a whole bunch to tackle.