Saturday, March 9, 2013

RB International’s 2012 Top 20 Games of the Year From indie to AAA, iOS to high-end PC, 2012 was a Great year for games.

t's always difficult to narrow an entire year of games down to just a select set of the best, but this task seemed harder than usual in 2012. The year really was an embarrassment of riches as far as video games, with plenty of excellent, innovative games ranging from indie to AAA, from iOS to high-end PC.
This is our best attempt to narrow that great year to 20 games that we feel no one should miss. Obviously there were some personal picks from our editors that didn't make the cut; a small sample of these are included in the "best of the rest" section at the end of this piece. Even with that, there are plenty of deserving games that we weren't able to include. Let us know what you thought were the best games of the year in the comments.

20. Dustforce

Hitbox Team
Windows, Mac, Linux

It’s easy to think that there’s nothing new to see in a genre as old and overdone as platform games, but Dustforce proves just how false this is. Ostensibly a game about cleaning up detritus, the game is really about finding that perfect line of momentum through some exquisitely designed 2D levels, using a careful combination of slides, dashes, double jumps, wall and ceiling runs, and mid-air attacks.
The gentle learning curve quickly makes these things second nature, and turns each level into an almost balletic performance, forcing you to strive not just for completion, but perfection. The result can be maddeningly frustrating at points, but it’s all worth it for that one pure moment of well-earned success.

19. Final Fantasy: Theatrhythm

Square Enix
Nintendo 3DS, iOS

As a love letter to obsessive Final Fantasy fans, packed with the series’ signature music, this game was guaranteed to sell well even if the gameplay was utter tripe. So it was a bit surprising that Theatrhythm is one of the freshest and most interesting takes on the rhythm genre in recent years. The game takes great advantage of the 3DS touchscreen for a number of different rhythm-keeping modes that requiring precise movements and flicks in time with the music, rather than just taps.
It’s accessible enough for beginners, but some songs can get pretty darned tough even for rhythm game experts. The way the game integrates light RPG mechanics and character building into the mix gives a bit of extra depth that’s lacking in many other rhythm games. Maybe there’s life in this half-dead genre yet.
As Jon Brodkin summed up, "Final Fantasy Theatrhythm perfectly mixes nostalgia and clever gameplay, combining Guitar Hero-style mechanics with battles and the best music from the Final Fantasy series."

18. FTL

Subset Games
Windows, Mac, Linux

I have yet to beat FTL, and it’s not for lack of trying. There have been times I’ve come close, methodically building up my ship’s crew, defenses and attack power as I explore a randomly-generated galactic map. But then I’ll have the bad luck to stumble across some overpowered ship, or lose precious resources in a random accident, or have my crew die on a seemingly safe away mission, and all the careful progress will be totally lost.
Yet I keep coming back to the game, hopeful that next time will be the one I escape what seems an inevitable failure. That’s a testament to the core design of the game, which has a deep base of tactical logic beneath the capricious and cruel fate. And I always know that, the next time I fail, at least it will likely be in a way I have never failed before.

17. Mark of the Ninja

Klei Entertainment / Microsoft Studios
Xbox 360, Windows

Mark of the Ninja made me actually feel more like a ninja than any game before it, which is saying something considering how common the character trope is in video games. The key is in the way the game grants players just enough information to feel like a preternaturally gifted stealth warrior, without offering so much making that player feel like an invulnerable superhero. Whether it’s seeing the footfalls of an unseen guard as small rippling clouds or seeing an enemy’s last known position as a quickly-fading outline, the visual presentation is top notch.
It doesn’t hurt that the game’s slowly expanding bag of ninja tricks is incredibly enjoyable, or that that the game rewards you for using the most inventive and/or stylish way of clearing rooms, offering many distinct methods for solving potential problems. Overall, Mark of the Ninja is just an extremely well-designed and thought out stealth experience.

16. Guild Wars 2

ArenaNet / NCSoft
Windows, Mac

First off, there’s the world of Tyria, a huge, beautiful place filled to the brim with opportunities for heroism. But Guild Wars 2 doesn’t simply paste the usual MMO tropes onto this environment. Instead, it advances the genre in some important ways, streamlining the quest-giving process and overhauling the character advancement system to largely eliminate the “level grinding” that required getting to the most interesting end-game content in other MMOs. The epic “world boss” fights, which can involve dozens of players at once, are sprinkled throughout the game in a way that breaks up the usual MMO errand-quest monotony quite well.
Add in great PvP options, a subscription-free business model, and the sheer amount of available content, and you have what’s easily the year’s most compelling MMO experience.

15. Letterpress


There are probably thousands of word games on iOS at this point, but there’s a reason Letterpress is one of the few to catch on with a wide audience. The well-balanced two-player competition mixes the pure vocabulary and pattern matching of a game like Boggle or Scramble with the positioning of a board game like Risk. This means that the best word isn’t necessarily the longest, or the one with the most difficult letters, but the one that uses the best positioned tiles.
Sure, games can often come down to games of chicken where both players don’t dare to take the second-to-last letter, for fear of ending the match on the losing side. Still, the tight mix of game styles and tight Game Center integration has made this our go-to iOS app for filling a few space minutes this year.

14. Uncharted: Golden Abyss

Naughty Dog / Sony
PlayStation Vita

The game that finally proved that portable games don’t have to be the neglected cousins to their console counterparts anymore, Uncharted: Golden Abyss launched the Vita with a meaty exploration adventure that’s easily the equal of it’s PS3 predecessors, with top-notch production values and gameplay that’s nearly indistinguishable from the games that came before it. It remains to be seen if there’s a market for this kind of game and this kind of system in a world dominated by Angry Birds and free iPhone apps, but it’s nice that someone was able to make it anyway.

13. Hotline Miami

Dennation Games / Devolver Digital

If video games have an id, this is probably the purest distillation of it to come along in a while. The deaths come fast and furious as you run into buildings full of enemy gang members who shoot or charge you on sight. Sure, it’s primarily a test of twitch reflexes, but it’s also arranged so that every level is a kind of puzzle; how do I kill that next guy without getting killed myself?
The lo-fi graphics and the rocking, ‘80s-tastic soundtrack somehow fit perfectly with the fast-paced, blood-spattered carnage.

12. Super Hexagon

Terry Cavanaugh
iOS, Windows, Mac

By far the purest test of reflexes on this list, Super Hexagon at first doesn’t seem like it’s very different from the kinds of simplistic, auto-scrolling, dodge-the-enemy games that haven’t been in fashion since the days of the Atari 2600. But there’s something about the purity of the design—the bright colors, the pulsating, angular shapes, the extremely tight controls, the infectious background beat—that makes it an incredibly addictive standout.
The most amazing thing about Super Hexagon is the way you get better at it without even really noticing. The game is constantly pushing you to perform split-second maneuvers that at first seem impossible, but soon become second nature muscle memory through constant repetition. This is a game that forces you to constantly ride the very edge of your current skill level, fighting for that little extra bit of survival time, and rewarding you with new skills.

11. Spec Ops: The Line

Yager Development / 2K Games
Xbox 360, PS3, Windows

From a pure gameplay perspective, Spec Ops: The Line is a competent but unremarkable shooter, featuring a short campaign in the well-worn march-forward-and-shoot-large-waves of-bad-guys mold. What earns the game a place on this list is the excellent narrative, which suckers players in with a seemingly boilerplate war storyline only to see things quickly descend into a moral and psychological nightmare that raises questions about everything from the nature of war to the nature of the video game medium. It’s a story that will stick with you much longer than most other forgettable shooter narratives, and one of the most memorable gaming experiences of 2012.

10. Mass Effect 3

Bioware / EA
Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U, Windows

OK, yes, the initial ending wasn’t everything it could have been, and the tacked-on “Extended Cut”didn’t totally solve the issues involved with it. But endings in general are hard, and they’re even harder when you’re trying to tie up a massive, branching, Galactic-scale narrative that many players have already put over 100 hours into.
Despite the furor over the final conclusion, Mass Effect 3 largely lived up to this challenge, with multiple story beats that both integrated meaningful moral decisions and seemed like perfectly natural end points for characters that had grown to be well-known friends over the series past two games. Or, as Ars' Lee Hutchinson put it, Mass Effect 3 is "a game that wrung more genuine feelings from me than anything I've ever played before." Say what you will about how Mass Effect ended its trilogy, but it was definitely memorable.

9. Fez

Xbox 360

Fez’s clever concept, of letting the player experience a 3D world by rotating a 2D plane at 90 degree angles, is what gets the game noticed. But it’s the specific things Phil Fish did with that concept that make it a puzzle platforming classic. The product of more than four years of work by a single-minded developer, perhaps it’s not surprising that Fez's mind- and space-bending puzzles are likely to drive players insane as well. Product of insanity. I mean, the final puzzle took a decent portion of the Internet nearly a week of concerted effort to complete and we’re still not sure they’ve completely figured it out.
The difficulty didn't hinder Ars' Florence Ion. "Fez was so addicting that I was literally dreaming about it," she writes. "I loved the soundtrack, the bright neon colors of each level, and attempting to figure out the various puzzles with cryptanalysis. ... I’ve had games have me jump through hoops before, butFez’s puzzles were the kind I wanted to solve so that I could get to the end of the story."
This is a game that requires (and rewards) careful observation and outside-the-box thinking in a way that most puzzle games are afraid to really try, for fear of scaring off part of the audience. And we haven’t even gotten to the wonderful retro aesthetic and haunting background music. A heartbreaking work of staggering genius.

8. XCom: Enemy Unknown

Firaxis / 2K Games
Xbox 360, PS3, Windows

This game had an insanely high bar to clear, living up to the reputation of the original XCom and its sequels. The developers took the franchise in a slightly new direction, simplifying the gameplay a bit but not dumbing it down to the extent some feared. The new XCom is still a careful battle of positioning and far-looking tactics, with real consequences for mistakes and real variety in the workable strategies. This time around, though, there’s a dynamic camera and well-integrated cut scene fights that help make the experience much more cinematic and action-packed. Add in a workmanlike multiplayer mode, and you have a game that does its namesake proud.

7. Journey

thatgamecompany / Sony

A simple, elegant game where the act of exploration is the only “gameplay” necessary. A beautiful, light-filled work of beautiful animation and aesthetics, both visual and aural. An abstract, open-to-interpretation story that hits strong emotional notes without a single line of dialogue. A touching demonstration that two players can connect despite being total strangers unable to exchange a single word. A testament that games can be more than killing simulators and mindless clickfests. A piece of art. The "densest incarnation of gaming joy I've experienced in a very long time," as Ars' John Siracusa put it.
Journey is all of these things. It's also one of the best games of the year.

6. Spelunky

Derek Yu and Andy Hull
Xbox 360, Windows, Mac

Yeah, the PC version of this game has been available for years, but this year’s Xbox Live Arcade release should probably be considered the canonical one, with its significant gameplay tweaks, upgraded controls and beautiful HD graphics. What hasn’t changed, though, is the great mixture of action platforming with a Rogue-like devotion to constant, meaningful death and exquisite, randomly generated levels.
It can be incredibly frustrating at points, for sure. But Spelunky is the kind of game where you feel yourself getting just a teensy bit better with every play, where the desire to prove yourself just a little bit more drives you on even after the most frustrating deaths, where you know you have no one to blame for your mistakes but yourself.

5. Borderlands 2

Gearbox Software / 2K Games
Xbox 360, PS3, Windows, Mac

The best thing about Borderlands 2 might be how it doesn’t take itself too seriously. In a world where many games keep tripping over themselves to tell deep, meaningful, “adult” stories with major themes,Borderlands 2 is laser-focused on just giving you an insane array of constantly improving weapons and letting you shoot an inventive cast of soldiers, beasts and robots.
Don’t get me wrong, the characters are decently written, and the game does a pretty good job building a believable world. But the sheer balls-to-the-wall action is reminiscent of FPS classics likeSerious Sam and Quake, mixed in with a much more open and expansive world and a patina of character advancement. That’s what will keep you coming back, especially if you can recruit a few friends to shoot alongside you.
Borderlands 2 was a particular favorite for Ars editor-in-chief Ken Fisher, who called it "thrilling, oftentimes hilarious" and " a worthy sequel, [with] enemies [that] are more cleverly challenging, and perfectly balanced."

4. FarCry 3

Ubisoft Montreal / Ubisoft
Xbox 360, PS3, Windows

First of all, just ignore the story. The characters, while well-acted and animated, often act incomprehensibly and strain your suspension of disbelief at every turn. If you can forget about that, though, you’re sure to have fun in FarCry 3’s exquisitely realized jungle paradise, which is loaded with interesting things to do. Whether you’re hunting wild animals, sneaking through an enemy encampment, racing to deliver goods, diving for treasure, hang gliding, or burning down a field of drugs (in one of the best single sequences of the gaming year), it’s hard not to enjoy the sense of freedom.
The world is rendered beautifully down to each blade of grass, and feel like a real place (when the residents keep their mouths shut, at least), and there’s a feeling of heft and weight to everything from the vehicles to the weapons that just adds to that feeling. It all adds up to the world’s most satisfying virtual playground.

3. New Super Mario Bros. U

Wii U

Since first reviving the 2D Mario games with New Super Mario Bros. back in 2006, Nintendo has struggled to recapture the magic of the series two-dimensional heyday during the NES and SNES eras. New Super Mario Bros. U brings that magic back, with excellent, inventive level design featuring plenty of wonderful hidden secrets. This is a game that’s not afraid to really crank up the difficulty, either, especially in later levels, and in the addicting side-challenges.
The fact that it’s the first Mario game ever with high-definition graphics helps make this one of the most visually appealing Mario games ever. What’s more, the Boost Mode goes a long way towards proving the worth of the Wii U’s touchscreen GamePad by presenting an engaging co-operative mode that lets two people play together without getting in each others’ way.

2. The Walking Dead

Telltale Games
iOS, Xbox 360, PS3, Windows, Mac

Anyone who thinks the point-and-click adventure game is a dead genre needs to play this truly groundbreaking episodic series. The Walking Dead sets what might be a new highwater mark for rolling out a narrative in a video game, with flowing, natural dialogue centered on some truly believable characters, much like the comic and TV show it’s based on. The branching story beats don’t just have a major, lasting impact on how that story unfolds, but also represent genuine moral conundrums that go well beyond the “good path” or “evil path” of many other games. I felt like my eyes were going to fall out of my head at more than one point where the narrative took a truly unexpected twist.
There’s just enough action to keep you interested, though not so much as to scare off people who haven’t been playing video games all their life. The presentation has some rough edges at times, but not enough to distract from the excellent storytelling here. Hopefully Telltale will continue to refine the form in the future.

1. Dishonored

Arkane Studios / Bethesda Softworks
Xbox 360, PS3, Windows

If video games are primarily about letting the player interact with an interesting, believable world,Dishonored gets our pick for Game of the Year because it created our favorite world of the year. Everything from the extremely detailed environments to the fleshed-out characters create a Steampunk-meets-magic world that’s incredibly easy to lose yourself in. Even minor characters and random side-rooms that have nothing to do with the explicit missions provide wonderful color and add depth that makes it feel like a real place that existed long before you entered.
And, oh, that magic. After playing Dishonored, it's a bit hard to go back to stealth games where you can’t warp to far off ledges, take control of enemy guards, or look straight through walls. These abilities add a level of inventiveness and variety in the way you can handle the game’s myriad situations that keeps things from getting stale even on subsequent playthroughs.
And as EIC Ken Fisher notes, "the outcome of the game is truly affected [by your decisions]. Unlike so many 'oh, you can influence the outcome' games where it only means you see a different closing video sequence, your choices in Dishonored effect every level of the game, from weepers, to guard presence, to how your allies relate to you."
The plot may be a bit simplistic, and the actual sword-and-gunplay can be a bit frustrating when your stealth abilities fail, but these are mere trifles. In 2012, there was nowhere we wanted to be more than the world of Dishonored.

The Best of the Rest

This section is for games that one Ars editor or another has a soft spot for, but which didn't reach a critical consensus to earn a spot as one of the best games of the year.

Torchlight II

Torchlight II is as fun a romp as any click-and-slash of late, with the added bonus of being half the cost of the closest competitors. If you’re a fan of the giants like Baldur’s Gate and Diablo, this is a game you want to play. And wouldn’t you know, its creators were involved in DiabloMythos, andFate.


Though a fleeting experience (lasting about four hours) after which you may never want to play it again, 10000000 fills its few hours with an utterly addictive take on the "upgrade-driven RPG" genre. The gameplay, stripped to the barest possible essentials, is a mashup of Puzzle Quest and the "endless runner" genre, with gem matches launching swords attacks or spells on the denizens of an 8-bit dungeon. If leveling up your stats has ever kept you mashing buttons longer than might be good for you, 10000000 will provide a few hours of gaming nirvana—a bargain at only $1.99.

War of the Roses

War of the Roses is a multiplayer medieval combat simulation along the same lines as Mount & Blade. With its deliberate combat and persistent character buildouts, it manages to marry the challenge ofMount & Blade with the appeal found in modern FPS games. There is nothing quite so satisfying as leveling up by landing three successive blows with a warhammer!

Triple Town

Maybe the simple, match-three mechanics of this mobile game doesn’t necessarily warrant Triple Town a spot on the Game of the Year board, but it’s still the only game that I’m playing on my smartphone and the only one I’ve dumped any money into. Oh, you can call me a sucker for free-to-play games, but I’ve never picked up a FarmVille game in my life. I’m incredibly addicted to this turn-based, city-building game, and I probably won’t stop playing until I reach my highest score and can go no more.

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