This year, rather than attempting to collate our favourite games into rank order, the IncGamers staff decided to each write an individual piece detailing some of the games we really loved. Fans of award ceremonies need not fear, though, as there’ll also be a communal piece in which we’re picking out some of the more peculiar gaming achievements of the year.
When I relayed my games of the year 2012 picks to him, Tim accused me of having an “indie hipster list” that made him feel too populist. That’s kind of true, but not deliberate. My approach to selections was simple; check what games I’ve reviewed for the PC this year, and write about any that got 9/10 or above. Then I added Dishonored because, well, you’ll see when you read that entry.
So aside from my dances with Dunwall this is a list based heavily on what I was given to review, filtered through the unpredictable colander of my own taste. Turns out I like lonely gothic fantasy, devious medieval Kings, animal masks, extended love letters to Thief and lost robots. A lot.
I played Dark Souls for the first time this year. Anybody who’s played the game before, just let that sink in. I had the chance, in 2012, to experience Dark Souls completely fresh. That’s something you’ll never do again. It’s something I’ll never do again. I wish I could.
It’s fine to play Dark Souls as a veteran. Maybe you’re someone who’s strolled through New Game+++ and is now contemplating getting their speed run under two hours; perhaps you’re a Darkwraith who fancies role-playing as a deadly version of Solaire. The game remains compelling long after the fires of that first run have turned to temperate embers. But it’s not quite the same, is it? It’s not quite the same as that very first time.
Desolation. The magnificent sense of discovery that grows from the simple act of discovering a shortcut between a pair of interlocking areas. Despair. An engorging, overwhelming sense of triumph when you defeat a boss on the sixteenth, thirty-first, eighty-ninth time. Loneliness. The way almost every NPC in the game ends each monologue with unhinged laughter. Fate. Risk. Design. Reward.
The PC port of this otherwise flawless title is fundamentally terrible. Fix it with Peter ‘Durante’ Thoman’s most excellent mod. Then play it until you know every single item description by heart.
Crusader Kings II
I’m not quite sure why the NRA bothered to name-check Bulletstorm and Mortal Kombat as primary causes of the encroaching-sickness-in-America-that-definitely-isn’t-guns when Crusader Kings II exists in the world. In this game, you kill children. That’s not some kind of incidental thing where you attack a town and oh, hey, you know I bet some kids were there too. No, you actively scheme to bring about the deaths of infants.
They’re always in your way, you see. You’ve worked hard to put a near-perfect line of succession in place for your half-nephew-in-law, but tiny Prince Innocent the Cutesyface is still hogging the bloodline. The only thing that stands between a one hundred year dominance for your family name is one insignificant little accident. Children die all the time in the 13th Century. Who’ll really miss this brat?
Like most of Paradox’s ‘grand strategy’ titles, it’s presented in such a dry, scholarly way that you barely notice the amoral chaos you’re being sucked into. One minute you’re casting an approving historical eye over the medieval regions of France, the next you’re marrying off your four year old daughter to a leering Duke in the hope he becomes someone famous one day (so you can kill him and his entire family, leaving your traumatised offspring as the only candidate to manage their lands).
It’s Truly Horrible Histories for grown-ups; a freeform, sandbox strategy where faceless statistical armies (mostly) take a back-seat to every devious, manipulating character of the age. Plus, it has an in-progress Game of Thrones mod that puts the official games to the sword.
The one and (so far) only videogame to inspire me to carve a Halloween pumpkin in its honour.
Yeah, it’s the hip indie game of choice for critics to fawn over this year. An enigmatic creator, a trendy publisher and a legitimately cool-as-fuck soundtrack. Toss in a narrative structure with a liberal dose of unreliable narration, add a double ending, and you have a digital broth ripe for ingestion and chin-stroking introspection. I’m one of those insufferable people. I love the different interpretations of what happened, with who and why. I also love that none of it may matter at all.
Hotline Miami works so well because it didn’t neglect the game portion of its presentation. Even if you care little for the stylistic trimmings, you can still get a kick out of what is essentially Trackmania’s instant-restart formula transposed onto a top-down man murdering sim. It’s part tactical (when to launch your attacks, and in what order), part skill (actually pulling them off) and part ultra-violence (squeezing your thumbs into someone’s eyes until they die). It’s neon chic and absolutely amoral.
It’s Hotline Miami.
For the long version of why I (and Tim) enjoyed Dishonored so much, settle yourself down for the one and a half hour Podcast Special.
The short version? Well, just like the Thief series (which inspires much of the game) the developers are confident enough to letting their world do much of their talking. Dishonored is a fantastic example of passive exposition done just right, with plenty of secrets and stories hiding in Dunwall’s back alleys … if you care to seek them out. You’ll get the basic plot if you move from point A to point B, but it’s a game that’s self-assured enough to allow players to dash past intriguing narrative strands or even sizeable side-missions.
Whether you’re taking the game up on its offer to let you sneak around in non-lethal style or embracing the mantle of magic-assisted assassin, Dishonored’s fluidity of movement and smart use of vertical space make traversing each level a joy in itself. There’s not a duff mission among the nine here, so the incentive to replay with a different approach is high.
Above all, Dishonored lets you loose in a level with the tools to handle matters however you please. One objective; many organic pathways. Turn off the objective markers, soak up the rat-infested atmosphere of a desolate Dunwall and enjoy a rare example of a game that understands how player agency should work.
A game I reviewed thanks to the sheer serendipity of it showing up unannounced in my inbox during a quiet week and not being a free-to-play MMO laced with anime-themed microtransactions. Instead, Unmechanical turned out to be a side-scrolling puzzler featuring a lonely yet determined robot and his quest to escape some underground caverns. Tone, pacing and puzzle design were all just about perfect. Where other reviewers saw a short length, I observed tight construction and a refreshing lack of padding. There aren’t many better ways to spend three or four hours than this cognitive workout with an adorable robot pal.