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:
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!

Top 5 Video Games of 2012 — So Far

Yesterday I took at a look at the best movies to come out so far this year. Today, it’s video games. Now, there are a handful that I still need to play (Fez, Sleeping Dogs, The Witcher 2) but I am doing a better job this year at keeping up with the latest titles. Here are my top five video games so far for home consoles:

Journey [PS3]

5) Journey

More of an experience than a game, but it is one I will not soon forget.

The Walking Dead, Episode 1: A New Day [PS3]

4) The Walking Dead

This episodic series just keeps getting better and better. Blows away the TV show.

Trials Evolution [XBLA]

3) Trials Evolution

The perfect example of what a sequel should be: it improves upon the original in every way.

2) Max Payne 3

This Rockstar effort is better than most modern action flicks, with an unparalleled visual presentation, to boot.

Mass Effect 3

1) Mass Effect 3

This is the Dark Knight Rises of the Mass Effect trilogy. Not the best of the series, but still pretty damn good, and a satisfying conclusion to one of gaming’s best trilogies.

Thoughts? Am I missing anything that is an absolute must play so far?

Video Game Review: Max Payne 3 [Xbox 360]

Max Payne 3 [Xbox 360]

Max Payne 3
System: Xbox 360 (also on PS3 and PC)
Genre: Third-person shooter
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar Vancouver
Release Date: May 15, 2012

Max Payne is an alcoholic, a pill addict and a chain smoker. He is also one tough son of a bitch. After hitting rock bottom following the death of his wife and infant daughter, Max finds himself in São Paulo, Brazil, working as a bodyguard for the wealthy Branco family. Both on the clock and off, he struggles to cope with his past by hitting the bottle. The man is in bad shape.

While Max’s job as a bodyguard is simple in theory, his commitment is immediately tested when the Brancos are targeted by kidnappers. Having failed at his job of protecting them, Max becomes determined to recover the missing family members, even if it means leaving hundreds of dead bodies along the way. Trouble seems to follow him everywhere, even all the way down to Brazil.

The game’s plot does not play out chronologically; instead, we are given occasional flashbacks to Max’s last days in New Jersey. This is where he meets Raul Passos, the man who recruits him to work security in Brazil. They immediately share a bond by pissing off the local mobsters, and Raul is about the closest thing to a friend that poor Max has anymore.

The storyline, while admittedly familiar, is presented phenomenally in a way that makes the game feel like an action movie. Cutscenes are frequent, but they are used during what would normally be dull loading screens. These scenes use the in-game graphics, providing a seamless transition to the actual gameplay. The presentation is cinematic in that Max provides voiceover narration (often in a snarky tone), and certain words of importance are emphasized on screen. It takes a few chapters before the story and subsequent gameplay takes off, but once it does it sure becomes hard to stop playing.

The core gameplay comes across as a third person shooter, with an emphasis on using cover in the form of walls, benches, couches and the like. What sets this apart from other likeminded shooters is that the game provides the option to use the addictive Bullet Time format. In this, time slows down to a screeching halt, allowing Max to fire off some better aimed shots. This can only be used sporadically so as not to hinder the enemy AI too much, but Max also has the ability to dive at any point and trigger the same sequence. It’s a little tricky to pull off the diving method, especially when multiple enemies are firing at your suddenly prone body, but it can be a great last ditch effort if necessary. Another twist to this formula comes in the “last man standing” feature — in this, when Max is down to his last bar of health, time slows down and he is given the chance to fire off a kill shot on the shooter. If he succeeds in killing him, Max survives. If not, he dies. It’s actually quite amazing just how much this Bullet Time dynamic adds to the overall gameplay, as it surprisingly never grows old during the single player campaign’s 10 hour run time.

Max Payne 3 is a challenging game, even on Normal difficulty. In order to level the playing field, there are options for “Soft Lock” and “Hard Lock”, both of which provide aiming assistance. These are incredibly helpful during some of the more infuriating moments, and thankfully they can be switched at any time.

After completing the single player campaign, which I greatly enjoyed, I moved onto the other facet of the game: the multiplayer mode. I wasn’t expecting much from this; after all, so many games today just tack on one or two lackluster online modes and call it good. Thankfully, that isn’t the case here at all. Max Payne 3 has a surprisingly deep amount of online options, all of which are presented with a thorough Call of Duty-like progression system. Standard battles such as team deathmatch and capture-the-flag are provided, but the real treat is the storyline-driven Gang Wars mode. In this, a collection of objective-based games are linked together in a longer series in order to determine gang supremacy. The story arc changes based on the performance of each round. It’s a neat twist on the standard online gameplay, and it makes for some tense encounters.

Max Payne 3 [Xbox 360]

Oh, and if an in-depth online mode wasn’t enough, there are also options to play through the single player campaign again in arcade scoring format. In these, points are accrued via how fast levels are completed, as well as the quality of Max’s shooting (i.e. headshots are worth more than knee blasts). An online leaderboard helps keep competition fierce.

In a nutshell, Max Payne 3 is the complete package. The single player campaign plays out like a badass action movie, one that feels better than most of the filth that Hollywood has produced in the last decade, and the multiplayer just adds to the overall value. For those worried about needing to play the first two games in the series, don’t fret — the in-game cinematics will get newbies right up to speed. It took me a few chapters to get into what Max Payne 3 had to offer, but by the end I was breathless. This is another fantastic effort from Rockstar, and it is an early game of the year contender.