The 25 Best Video Games of 2012

The 25 Best Video Games of 2012


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Let's set the scene, shall we? Eleven forty-five p.m., November 17, 2012. High in energy, fresh out of a Holy Motors screening, I joined my comrades in jest, partnering with the inconsiderate a-holes strutting by the midnight Wii U release lines, pointing and laughing at the wide-eyed masses clamoring for their dosage of pre-ordered digital drugs. It was a symbolic, suitable conclusion to a mediocre calendar year in gaming, one that produced a scattering of very good games, but only a couple of legit masterpieces. Much like 2011, it was a year of expected sequels and companies feeding off of the never-ending urge of gamers to quench their thirst for supreme nostalgia. Over half of the titles on our list are continuations or reboots of well-known franchises; hell, there's even a sequel to a sequel, and there would have been another such follow-up had fellow Slant contributors to this poll become as Poké-obsessed as myself.

That's not to say that 2012 was a step in the wrong direction. No, there was much risk-taking on the part of developers, as well as commendable attempts by publishers to alter the way people purchase and promptly consume their video games. Many respected outfits crafted new entries in their respected series that greatly differentiated from what came before, in both style and direction, and while some of them fell flat on their faces (Worst Game of the Year contenders include Risen 2: Dark Waters, 007 Legends, and Assassin's Creed III) and some merely fumbled in execution rather than initial concept (Resident Evil 6), others benefited exceedingly from their throwing caution to the wind and embracing diversification. (In lieu of naming names, I implore you to read on.)

Two thousand and twelve may eventually come to be known as the Year DLC Took Over, as more and more games are being made available for acquisition via the Internet on or before their official retail street dates. Furthermore, so many download-only, independent titles are receiving immense critical acclaim on the spot, and most are far more substantial in originality, scope, and accomplishment than the big-budget heavy-hitters that spawn those aforementioned witching hour launch-party lines. One of these DLC exclusives, Thatgamecompany's sublime Journey, shortlisted by our entire gaming staff, nearly landed at the very top of the rankings. Befitting, though, that in a year of several marked technological adjustments, and the effective birth of the next generation with the Wii U, our favorite game is a callback to the era of the classic JRPG.  Mike LeChevallier


Persona 4 Arena

That the curiously unheralded partnership of Atlus and Arc System Works managed to produce the best fighting game of the year is all the more praiseworthy given the fact that the well-publicized Street Fighter X Tekken spent the majority of 2012 maintaining such a remarkably tight grapple on the lofty accolade. Yet, in the end, Persona 4 Arena, with its unique visual style, scaled learning curve, and intuitive control scheme edges out Capcom's still-formidable blockbuster brawler by a fair margin. By taking the already vastly celebrated property of Atlus's Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 and, through an utmost attention to detail and a thoroughly innovative spin on the popular 2D-throwdown genre, Arc System Works (Guilty Gear, BlazBlue) translates one of the past decade's most important JRPGs into a perpetually rewarding fighter that not only faithfully retains the eccentric spirit of the source material, but quickly establishes a singular attitude all its own.  LeChevallier


Transformers: Fall of Cybertron

After the disastrous Michael Bay films and the dull, derivative Transformers: War for Cybertron, the first miracle bestowed by Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is that it leads one to actually care about the Transformers franchise, and further, to care about its typically inhuman, two-dimensional robot characters. This is an action game with stakes, in which we see the end of the world from multiple sympathetic characters fighting to stop an apocalypse. The gameplay is varied and thrilling, with clever levels designed to take advantage of the unique talents gifted to the characters. Forgetting the much-hyped, basically awful Grimlock chapter, the game is consistently exciting and concludes intelligently, linking to nearly every incarnation of the franchise. A smart and exhilarating action-adventure, Fall of Cybertron has something for everyone, not just fans.  Ryan Aston


New Super Mario Bros. U

The Super Mario Bros. series manages to tweak just enough of its classic platforming tropes every year to remain innovative. Now Nintendo introduces the Wii U's tablet-like gamepad controller for an unforgettable couch co-op experience, and in the process perfects Mario's blend of cartoony fun for new players and tricky platforming for longtime fans. New Super Mario Bros. U will transform you into a grinning kid again with its Super Mario Bros. 3-esque gameplay. Also, new power-ups for Mario, Baby Yoshis, and the ability to play as Mii characters add a fresh veneer to an old hat. The Mushroom Kingdom's colorful worlds are meant for an HD screen. Welcome to this generation, Mario.  Kyle Lemmon


Twisted Metal

David Jaffe's return to his pre-God of War success, the 2012 Twisted Metal reboot built on the existing franchise with a strong story component and the same hilariously over-the-top arcade-style vehicular combat that made the series successful in the PSX and PS2 era. Taking a cue from Saw and its genre ilk, Twisted Metal features some of the most ghastly and reprehensible full-motion video ever seen in a video game, married comfortably to its over-the-top gameplay in which serial killers take to ridiculously modified vehicular death traps to kill and maim each other. Even the difficulty is extreme, making some parts of the compelling and vomit-inducing narrative a chore, but ultimately a rewarding one. Twisted Metal is a thrilling celebration of immature excess with intelligence and a sardonic sense of humor. It's bloody awesome.  Aston


Gravity Rush

The sensation of realistic human flight, sans any sort of motorized transport vehicle or giant airborne organism, is captured brilliantly in SCE Japan's Gravity Rush, a game that uses the power and freedom of aerial navigation as a metaphor for decrypting its heroine's own mysterious past. Kat is surely in the running for Best New Protagonist of the Year, her subjectively shaded characterization covertly drawing the player in deeply with each passing storyline development. With its coolly interactive comic-book transition sequences, touchy yet intricate manipulation physics, and unexampled graphical approach, Gravity Rush was the first game to truly make the PlayStation Vita stand out among its peers. In all honestly, though, the only systematic rival opposing Sony's current-gen handheld is the 3DS, and if the Vita had released one or two more titles at or above the quality level of this diamond in the rough, Nintendo would likely be shaking in their aggregate boots. Bring on the sequel, please.  LeChevallier


The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

The choice was clear, and Geralt, the mutant Witcher thought little of it. After all, he'd already taken down the many-tentacled kayran in an epic and grueling battle; he'd gone one-on-one with the mysterious Kingslayer. It'd be a shame for those elven women to burn alive, especially after all the abuses they'd already suffered, but wasn't it more responsible to butcher the man responsible for it? As it turns out, none of the choices in The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings were that black and white: This one decision branches the game into two distinct experiences, each so smoothly written and substantial that each path—your path—feels correct, no matter how blood-soaked it gets. Forget the sex and violence; that's maturity.  Aaron Riccio


Paper Mario: Sticker Star

In theory, the Paper Mario franchise never should have worked as well as it did. It strips away nearly all of the elements that make the mainline Mario games highly anticipated events in the gaming community, and replaces them with RPG aspects and a literally paper-thin aesthetic that renders Nintendo's foremost mascot an overly cartoonish caricature of himself. Yet, even now, as the Wii U bursts onto the scene with a fantastic launch title in New Super Mario Bros. U, the greatest achievement Nintendo has to their name in 2012 is arguably Paper Mario: Sticker Star. The fourth game in the Paper Mario series gets just about everything right, carrying on the Paper Mario tradition of taking risks in shaking up the formula of the previous installment (how the sticker system evolves from throwaway novelty to an automatic essential is nothing short of extraordinary) while sustaining the signature unabashed, tongue-in-cheek writing quirks that casually make fun of Mario's world without pulling any gold coin-spouting punches.  LeChevallier


Hitman: Absolution

Stealth games saw a renaissance this year, so it was only natural that IO Interactive's barcoded, silent assassin Agent 47, a patient antihero who doesn't require a gun to shake a target from its mortal coil, makes a triumphant return. The thrill of the hunt propels you through Hitman: Absolution's 20 missions. Your choices of doling out death to targets are various: push them off a building, poison their fish dinner, shock them while they piss on an electrified fence, and so on. These decisive moments, as memorable as the exquisite crowd animations and lighting effects, imbue the game with a special brand of sadistic enchantment; hiding garroted bodies in crates and putting on ridiculous disguises, for example, never gets old. Hitman: Absolution makes a strong case for finite game environments that value sharpness of vision over breadth of experience.  Lemmon


Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance

It's appropriate that Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance is the strongest entry in the mashed-up Disney/Square Enix franchise since 2005's Kingdom Hearts II, as it's the only notably legitimate chapter since then to focus intensely on the light/dark relationship between dual protagonists Sora and Riku. By introducing the infinitely fickle drop system, which places a countdown clock on the player's gameplay sessions assuming the role of either of the game's two heroes, a continuous sense of alternating personalities and overarching motifs must be gradually comprehended in order to fully grasp the depth of Dream Drop Distance's categorically compressed core morals. Sora's comparatively lighthearted quests are typically about doing the right thing for the betterment of a specific community, Disney-themed or otherwise, while Riku's missions usually demand that the secondary champion undergo a more intense self-examination process, symbolically prying himself open and dragging out the darkness inside. Both of these spiky-haired teens have been through the proverbial ringer since the series's outset, and their subtle intertwinings, as well as the sensitive fusion of Disney and Square Enix, has never been more sound than it is in Dream Drop Distance.  LeChevallier


Prototype 2

There's a point in shape-shifting antihero James Heller's brutal quest for revenge—a quest that spans the entirety of Prototype 2—that the dubious motives for his actions are completely forgotten, lost in the total destruction of New York City and the endless massacres of both guilty and innocent. Finally fulfilling the promises of the original game and the disappointing InFamous series, Prototype 2 emerges as one of the best open-world games ever made, an ultraviolent interactive superhero fantasy in which the “hero” is recast as a overpowered and mindless maniac with little interest in anything but mass murder. With a gorgeously grim, progressively degrading setting that mirrors the protagonist's personal crumbling alongside fluid controls and an RPG-like point system that rewards one for playing, Prototype 2 is an irresponsible, intelligent, and insane power fantasy.  Aston



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