We’re becoming all too comfortable in this generation.
We are seven years into this console generation, one of the longest in history. And while you could argue that the Wii U started the next generation, the current one is still going strong with no new consoles announced from Microsoft and Sony. With us so deep into this generation, it’s easy for developers to be comfortable with current franchises and engines and simply going with the motions to continue putting out games that may very well be excellent, but are doing nothing new.
That’s what made it so tough to decide on the best game of 2012. There were plenty of marvelous titles, but so few of them did anything new or special to make them truly stand out during the year.The best game of 2012, and the runner-up, are both games that broke new ground in some way, and provided the freshest and most enjoyable gaming experiences of the year.
A brand new IP is rare in any medium at this point, so to have one launch by a relatively unknown studio and be such an incredible experience is SO rare that I actually doubt this game’s existence entirely.
In Dishonored, you’re placed in the boots of Corvo Altano, protector of the royal empress and her daughter. After you are framed for their murder and kidnapping, respectively, you embark on a journey to reclaim your good name and the sweet young lady. Throughout the game, there are genuinely different and unique methods of completing your tasks. Sneak your way through, murder your way through, or do a little bit of both. There are many paths to completion and many ways to see the game through from beginning to end. The amount of freedom in every level is mind-blowing and being able to really decide how your story is told is unbelievably satisfying.
The game has an amazing art style and the atmosphere truly puts you in plague-era England. The combat is fluid and addictive. The stealth is genuinely tense and challenging. Every option is completely viable and masterfully done. Dishonored does stealth better than almost every other game this generation, and the combination of melee combat, weapon-based combat, and special powers give even BioShock a run for its money in terms of creatively ending the lives of the opposition.
The only things that really prevent me from giving this game the title of the absolute best game of 2012 are the fact that A) the best game of 2012 is seriously so super awesome and B) Dishonored actually put me off a bit.
The letterboxing of cinematics and important moments prompting you to hold X/square to skip the dialog completely take you out of the experience and are inexcusable in 2012. Having the option to skip a cutscene in a game, to me, has always implied that the developers don’t find the story important and remind you that you don’t have to bother with it. And letterboxing is simply redundant in an era where most gamers are playing on a widescreen television in the first place. These presentation issues have no place in 2012.
Even still, if this next game wasn’t so undeniably perfect, Dishonored would easily take the spot as the best game of 2012. It is a different, painstakingly crafted, and thoroughly replayable game that you absolutely need to try out.
The best game of 2012: The Walking Dead
Choice has been a major part of story-based games for a long time now. Often, you are presented with a moral dilemma and have to make a choice: Do I do the good thing or the bad thing? In even the best games, these decisions are typically very black and white. In BioShock, you could save or harvest the Little Sisters. In Mass Effect, you were a Paragon or a Renegade. But in Telltale’s The Walking Dead, there are rarely good choices. Very few of the many, many choices you make in this episodic series can be considered good. But you’re not a bad person. You’re just in the worst of situations.
The Walking Dead managed to burst narrative in games ahead by a decade. The stellar writing, powerful voice acting, convincing characterization, and the seamless integration of storytelling into tense, powerful gameplay are what make this the absolute best game of 2012. When it comes to playing it safe with storytelling, videogames are just as guilty as Hollywood, if not more so. Important issues and genuine darkness are often avoided at the expense of making a character feel cool or badass. But The Walking Dead thrives on making you an average man in a horrifying situation. You feel what the character feels every step of the way.
Your sins will not be forgotten. The impact of your decisions show around every corner. This game is yours. The experience is yours. The decisions are yours. You have to own up to absolutely everything you do in this game.
In the shoes of Lee Everett (a black man who is not a stereotype and whose race is, shockingly, scarcely even referred to; another plus!), you look after a sweet young girl named Clementine and simply try to survive with the people you find yourself aligned with. The Walking Dead is rarely light-hearted and almost never makes you feel good. This is a world that will eventually be only zombies; you just have to make it long enough to never become one. Instead of making you feel optimistic or like a zombie-slaying powerhouse, though, you always feel overpowered, scared, and on edge.
Your one saving grace, your reason to survive, is Clementine. While most children in games are a burden that you wish you could leave behind as a tasty treat to the undead, Clementine is both useful and interesting. You get to know her as a person, she’s brave but not obnoxious, she acts like that one child out of every hundred that you don’t want to punch, and best of all, she’s useful. You’re not forced to protect her, you don’t have to watch out for her health bar, and she does not slow down, ruin, or otherwise destroy the game or its pacing. By establishing her as a human being and making her helpful in the story, you are not forced to help her – you actually want to help her. You, if you have a heart, will become attached to Clementine and feel compelled to protect her from the horrible world around you. And not because the game makes you. SHE makes you.
The in-game puzzles are natural and feel like things you’d actually go through in these scenarios. Dialog choices have a timer so your responses are based on gut reactions. Action sequences are appropriately tense and heart-pounding. And the choices that you make affect you from episode to episode and come back to haunt you in a big way near the end. Your sins will not be forgotten. The impact of your decisions show around every corner. This game is yours. The experience is yours. The decisions are yours. You have to own up to absolutely everything you do in this game.
Everything about The Walking Dead works. From its thrilling opening moments to its dark, heartbreaking ending, The Walking Dead is a flawless experience that you will never forget. There have been games like it before, but never executed so flawlessly. This is a title that breaks new ground in games storytelling, and it does not do so at the expense of gameplay.
Every last thing about this game is brilliant in its design and its execution. This goes beyond the best game of the year. It is the best piece of entertainment in 2012 period.