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My 10 Favorite Games of 2012

5. Journey (thatgamecompany/Sony Computer Entertainment; PS3, March 13)

While it can be finished it one sitting of an hour or two, Journey leaves a lasting impression on the player well after the trip is over. It opens the door on what the video game medium’s true potential can be. Journey really is a title that transcends gameplay, forming a genuine experience for the player. I feel like there could be so many different interpretations to the game. Is this a spiritual message? A tale about the frailties of life? Most games never tackle the concept of the afterlife. Journey does it without a single word of dialogue. I’m not even sure what the main character is supposed to be, or where he (she? it?) is going. Honestly I had no clue what the hell was going as I played, but I wanted to see it all through to the end. I found myself feeling the highs and lows of this scarf-wearing creature as I slid down the desert sands or collapsed during a snowstorm.

All you’re left with is the game’s environments, which are incredible beautiful. You might have a real-life partner run alongside you as you play too. Their screen name is never revealed. There’s no chatting between the two of you besides hitting the circle button to make your character yell out some musical-sounding speech. There’s no 13-year-old boy talking in a high-pitched voice or a some guy yelling out racial expletives and his disdain for homosexuals. It’s tranquil. You’re both on the road together. I couldn’t believe I had eight different co-op partners on my trip. I thought I was with only one person. You could write an article just on that aspect alone and how it relates to our real lives.

Journey features a stunning soundtrack (here’s a sample and another) from composer Austin Wintory, who was nominated for an Emmy for his work on Journey. Without Wintory’s music Journey wouldn’t be as powerful and the concept probably wouldn’t work. There are few games where the music is that integral to the package. The different seasons from the beginning to the end in Journey go along perfectly with the music.

Games don’t have to all be something that belongs in an art gallery, but Journey proves there is room for an engaging title that plays that role. I’m not one of these types that feels the need to prop up every game as art to people whose knowledge of the medium ended in 1981 with Frogger and Pac-Man. Journey is one of the few artistic titles that I can use as an example of how great games can be without feeling like I’m overcompensating. thatgamecompany deserves all the recognition its received for its outstanding work on Journey.

4. The Amazing Spider-Man (Beenox/Activision; PS3/360/PC, June 26) *

The Amazing Spider-Man is my pick for sleeper hit of the year. You might pass it over because it’s a movie tie-in or appears to be a budget title from Activision looking for a cheap cash-in. True believers, it’s none of these things. I would call it a poor man’s Batman: Arkham Asylum or Arkham City, except the poor man gets a pretty damn solid game. The Amazing Spider-Man doesn’t top the Batman games (who could?) but it’s still excellent superhero adventure.

The game’s original storyline splits off from the movie released this summer. Spider-Man has to stop an outbreak of cross-species experiments that are infecting everyone in the city. Along the way you team up with the Lizard, fight classic baddies from the Spider-Man universe like Scorpion and save civilians from getting their $500 iPhones stolen. I couldn’t stop playing The Amazing Spider-Man. I rarely do that. It usually takes me weeks to beat a single game. I finished Spidey’s game in a couple days.

The Amazing Spider-Man takes collecting to an absurd level with 700 comic book pages scattered through the city. As you collect a bunch these pages you unlock famous comic issues from the Spider-Man catalog. I enjoyed the game so much I considered going after all 700 pages. Of course there’s the hilarious appearance by Spider-Man creator Stan Lee. Sorry about the mess Mr. Lee. The game-breaking glitch you encounter after beating the final boss bummed me out. Although that really aggravated me, I still had a good run with my friendly neighborhood webslinger.

* There’s a game-breaking glitch right after you beat the game. After the credits roll, the game will continually load and never start Chapter 13 in the game, “Peter and Gwen.” You can’t free roam, finish sidequests, find collectables, etc. This might be caused by finishing the game while wearing the alternative “Big Time” costume that can be unlocked through a sidequest. There’s no fix to this infinite loading screen besides restarting the entire game. There’s been no support from developer Beenox or Activision.

3. Resident Evil: Revelations (Capcom/Capcom; Nintendo 3DS, Feb. 7)

Another survival horror game on this list? In 2012? Really, I’m just as surprised as you. Resident Evil: Revelations is one of the premier titles 3DS owners have to play. I’m utterly shocked at the quality of Revelations. Shocked. I’ve been a hardcore Resident Evil fan since 1997. Right now the series is in the toilet after the embarrassing release of Resident Evil 6 in October. That some of the people who worked on the disastrous Resident Evil 6 had anything to do with Revelations is one of the most baffling mysteries of 2012.

Revelations takes the old school feel of the proper Resident Evil games and brings it into the modern era. This isn’t a full blown action game. There’s plenty of survival horror here. Revelations is definitely scary. I even squealed a few times. Revelations has a great story that actually makes logical sense. It keeps the ridiculousness to a low level, unlike the past few Resident Evil games. Don’t worry, there’s no volcanoes here. A solid cast of returning characters and new faces discover a multilevel conspiracy surrounding the outbreak of the latest virus. The campaign throws good twists during the story to keep you motivated.

Revelations also brings back challenging boss fights, especially the final encounter. I almost wanted to throw my 3DS at the wall, but in a good way. The game is designed with the handheld style in mind. There’s these cool recap cut-scenes like something out of a TV show that play at the start of each new chapter. I wish more games had this feature, especially handheld games. My only gripe is that the game’s controls are kind of annoying since dodging hardly ever works and there’s no run button. Even with a huge bio-terrorism monster wanting to kill her Jill Valentine can’t move at a hurried pace.

Revelations is another game I beat in just a few days. I couldn’t put it down. The game almost gives me the faintest bit of hope that one day the series can go back to its survival horror roots and produce a quality Resident Evil title on the grand scale of home consoles. Seriously, as a diehard Resident Evil fan, Revelations delivered in almost every way I wanted.

2. Spec Ops: The Line ( YAGER Development/2K Games, PS3/360/PC, June 26)

To me Spec Ops: The Line is one of the most important games put out this console generation. I’m surprised The Line developers actually found a publisher willing to release the game with the content it brings. Are you tired of the first-person military shooter that continues to celebrate war and violence all while wrapped up in faux patriotism and “realistic” stories based on international conflicts? Then this game is for you. The Line is a war game that’s the anti-Call of Duty. The Line is so much different compared to the storylines found in the John Wayne-style games of the Call of Dutys, Medal of Honors and Battlefield 3’s. These mindless military shooters just reinforce the status quo and don’t question anything. These types of games actually advertise that “There’s a soldier in all of us” or whose companies sell real guns from its games to boost its realism credibility. Spec Ops:The Line depicts how dumb military video games have become. It also shows that global conflicts aren’t all black and white, good guys versus bad guys that the news and world leaders depicts them as.

The Line paints everything most games, mainstream media and entertainment mediums celebrate in a bad light. Think dropping bombs and drone strikes on “enemy combatants’ in your video games is cool? Maybe you wont after playing The Line. There were several emotionally devastating scenes that made me pause after it was over. I didn’t know if I wanted to keep playing after those moments. Instead of feeling like a ooh-rah American hero throughout the game, you feel like a total piece of crap. Gruesome images of war that almost never appear in games or the evening news are everywhere in Spec Ops. The lines are blurred on whose doing the right thing and who are the ones committing crimes. The game makes you feel completely uncomfortable, both physically and emotionally. On question on the loading screen even asks, “Do you feel like a hero yet?” After all the atrocities you witness and commit, you sure don’t. Spec Ops: The Line is an emotional toll that says a great deal about the society and world we live in. It’s another game like Journey that I can point to and say, “that’s what games can do.”

There’s awesome use of in-game music, from Deep Purple, Jimi Hendrix to Martha and the Vandellas. These tracks hit during the perfect spots of the story. Spec Ops: The Line drops off nearing the end of the game, diving into “Apocalypse Now” territory. I’m not totally sold on this aspect but it leaves the game open to many interpretations. The repetitive gameplay elements of constant firefights where you face dozens of enemies becomes a drag. I must’ve fought about 8,000 soldiers (and a few oryx) during the campaign. While the gameplay isn’t the absolute best, everyone into games should play Spec Ops: The Line. It’s extremely powerful in its message, making giant waves in a way that’s badly needed.

1. The Walking Dead (Telltale Games/Telltale Games, PS3/360/PC/iOS, April 24-Nov. 20) *

The Walking Dead is my favorite game of the year. Telltale Games’ recent titles like Jurassic Park and Back to the Future were decent releases but nothing you’d remember playing a week later. It’s incredible how they pulled off The Walking Dead. The game is based on the popular comic series universe with alternative characters Lee and his “daughter” Clementine, who he unofficially adopted during the zombie apocalypse. For $5, each of the game’s five downloadable episodes downright embarrasses most $60 retail releases. The low-priced, episodic content design of the game worked great. I hope we see more of this release style in the future, because $60 is way too much to pay for games that don’t even come close to The Walking Dead.

The Walking Dead’s story is one of the best I’ve ever played in games. Not because it’s about popular topics like zombies or the end of the world, but because it’s focused around real human relationships. The drama and range of emotions depicted by the characters as their faced with impossible circumstances is matched by few other games. During gameplay you’re forced to make quick decisions that impact how the others in your small group view you and interact with your character in the future. Across five episodes there’s many choices that you have to live with, no matter how ugly they might be. Your in-game choices also ultimately affect which people will have your back or end up only taking care of themselves. You’ll be surprised by who is loyal to you when you need their help the most.

There’s a diverse cast of characters coming from all different backgrounds featured in the game. Much like the comic and TV show, no character is safe in The Walking Dead game. Just as you might start getting attached to a certain character, they could face a gruesome end. The character Ben, a high school student, is so incredibly annoying that you want to throw him to a horde of zombies. I hated him for his poor decisions. He basically ruins everything. In the end though, I grew to feel sorry for him. That’s how incredible The Walking Dead is. One moment you’ll hate somebody and the next you’ll sympathize with them during their misfortunes.

The story in The Walking Dead is so good that you can’t stop playing until the episode is over. As soon as I finished one episode I felt instant dread, knowing I would have to wait another month to continue the story. Clementine is one of the saddest characters you’ll find in a game. She’s only a kid but has to go through so much chaos to survive. One of the things that keeps her going is the belief that one day she’ll reunite with her parents. The other is her relationship with Lee. At the end of The Walking Dead you feel as worn out as Lee is during his attempt to find a safe haven in the world. A powerful ending in episode five “No Time Left” depicts the strong bond created between Lee and Clementine, two people from opposite worlds who formed a new family built on love and trust. The best part about The Walking Dead is that it turns the game industry upside down, challenging and destroying the preconceived notions of what should go into making a successful modern release.

*For being a Game of the Year winner across the board from the game media and selling 8.5 million episodes, The Walking Dead has major, major problems. I experienced difficulty with the PlayStation Store not recognizing my Season Pass for all the content so I couldn’t download one of the episodes. When I loaded up the game it also wouldn’t recognize my save file or that I had one of the episodes installed on my hard drive. This caused me to be unable to play the game for almost two weeks.  The support forums are littered with complaints about the game. Some Xbox 360 owners can’t even play the retail version of the game on their 4GB system model. As good as The Walking Dead is, the package is definitely a buyer beware. This game is basically 2012’s version of Skyrim on the PS3-lots of game of the year awards, just as many problems.

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