Top 10 Video Games From 2012

For the first time in years, I did a decent job keeping up with the latest video game releases. There were still many that I missed, but this is the first time I have been able to put together a top 10 list during January. This was a great year for video games, especially when it came to narrative-driven experiences.

Honorable Mentions:
Journey
Dyad
FIFA 13
Call of Duty: Black Ops II

Mass Effect 3
10) Mass Effect 3
This is The Dark Knight Rises of the Mass Effect trilogy, especially in terms of divisiveness. I loved it despite mixed feelings about the ending.

Trials Evolution [XBLA]
9) Trials Evolution
Pretty much the perfect sequel. Expands upon the original in every way possible.

Sleeping Dogs [Xbox 360]
8) Sleeping Dogs
A strong contender for my new favorite GTA-style game. Gotta love the Hong Kong setting, too.

Mark of the Ninja [Xbox 360, 2012]
7) Mark of the Ninja
This could very well be the best stealth game I have ever played. Finishing a level without being seen always feels like a huge triumph.

Max Payne 3
6) Max Payne 3
If ever there were a game that feels like an action movie, this is it. Hell, it’s better than most of Hollywood’s recent action flicks.

Hotline Miami [PC]
5) Hotline Miami
The violence is hard to stomach, but the gameplay is so addictive that I kept coming back for more. Best soundtrack of the year as well.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown
4) XCOM: Enemy Unknown
I’m usually not a big fan of strategy games, but XCOM locked me in and didn’t let go. Easy to learn, difficult to master, but always fun.

Spec Ops: The Line [Xbox 360]
3) Spec Ops: The Line
On the surface, this appears to be nothing more than a standard third-person military shooter. But then the story kicks in, and it’s impossible to get out of this descent into madness. Arguably the best narrative ever found in a shooter.

Borderlands 2 [Xbox 360]
2) Borderlands 2
The original Borderlands was one of the breakout hits of 2009, and the sequel delivers everything that worked so well in an even more refined experience. I can’t stop looting.

The Walking Dead: The Game [Xbox 360, 2012]
1) The Walking Dead
The most emotional experience I have ever come across in a video game. An unheralded art of storytelling in a medium that so badly needs strong narratives.

What I Missed: Far Cry 3, Lone Survivor, Torchlight II, Diablo III, Hitman: Absolution

What did I miss? Do you agree with these choices? If you have your own top 10, feel free to share in the comments!

Video Game Review: Hotline Miami [PC]

Hotline Miami [PC]

Hotline Miami
System: PC
Genre: 2D top-down action
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Dennaton Games
Release Date: October 23, 2012

Hotline Miami is one of the most violent games I have played all year. It’s also the most addicting.

Heavily inspired by Nicolas Winding Refn’s brilliant 2011 film, Drive, the game places you in the role of an animal mask-wearing hitman dubbed “Jacket.” At the beginning of each chapter, Jacket receives an anonymous phone call in which he is told to “pick up the laundry” or something similar — essentially code for “go to this location and massacre everyone there.”

Every location is stacked with enemies that will kill you with one hit. It takes some serious trial-and-error to develop a successful strategy for making it through each level. As such, Hotline Miami feels most like a puzzle game. You can’t just go in guns-a-blazin’ and expect to win. Every level requires meticulous thinking and quick reactions, because not everything will go as planned.

Hotline Miami [PC]

Before each chapter, Jacket is given the option to select a new animal mask. Each mask has its own perk (i.e. increased ammo, one shot doesn’t kill, etc.), and using the right one is crucial to succeed. There are a number of weapons in each level, most of which can be picked up after killing an enemy. Guns are a popular choice, obviously best for long-range targets, but there are a number of melee weapons (i.e. baseball bats, machetes) that can be used for up-close brawls.

Deaths in this game aren’t pretty. Enemies fall down in a pool of their own blood, with body parts often flying aross the room. Hotline Miami doesn’t glorify violence, however — it makes you question just what the hell you’re doing. After successfully wiping out everyone in a chapter, the game forces Jacket to walk back through every area, observing the carnage he has created. It feels like a punishment for following through with these anonymous jobs. Who is calling in these requests, and why is Jacket accepting them?

At times, the violence can get to be too much, and I found myself needing to take a break much more often than usual. Chapters are quick, intense affairs, and they require extreme precision. It’s a physically and mentally demanding experience, but the well-refined gameplay kept me coming back for more.

Hotline Miami [PC]

It also helps that Hotline Miami is undeniably stylish. The top-down view shows off its gorgeously retro pixelated graphics, and the 80s setting lends way to some sizzling neon colors. The soundtrack is also a perfect fit for the on-screen action, and the music is very, very similar to that found in Drive (whose soundtrack I included in my top 25 albums of 2011). Seriously, the music is amazing, and the intense gameplay really feeds off the frenetic energy the tunes provide. In an awesome moment of generosity, the soundtrack can even be listened to in its entirety online.

There has been a lot of buzz surrounding Hotline Miami, and all of it has been deserved. Quite frankly, there isn’t another game like this.

9/10