With 2013 taking it’s first few nervous steps into the limelight, I wanted to look back at the 5 most memorable moments in Games over 2012. For obvious reasons, these choices are subjective and I can only include games I actually played, but other suggestions are more than welcome. There may be some very mild spoilers contained within as well – I’ve tried to ensure there’s nothing too revealing, but you’ve been warned. So in no particular order…
FTL, Subset games superb Indie-throwback to space based action games of the late 1980′s, doused thoroughly in lashings of Real-Time Strategy, sets you in a single spaceship attempting to deliver some critical information back to your base, while hotfooting it from the relentless pursuing Rebel fleet. The path back to your allies is a treacherous one, and each step of the way sees you fighting off various alien species and helping stranded ships to get more of the precious ‘Scrap’ you need to improve the various systems on your ship. After spending 5-6 hours building up your crew, upgrading your ship to it’s best possible condition and finding the perfect combination between offensive and defensive capabilities, you’re forced to confront the Rebel flagship head-to-head, in a final desperate battle. The battle itself takes place over three separate encounters, but it’s the ‘Oh Sh*t’ moment as you first lay eyes on this unseen behemoth and grasp the magnitude of the battle that lies ahead, that will have you and your shipmates paralysed in fear, as you try to contend with defeating a ship with a seemingly endless supply of weapons, shields, bots and crew members, while repairing damage, extinguishing fires and battling teleporting aliens all at once on your own vessel. The knowledge that death is permanent (there are no reloads or second tries – if you’re ship is destroyed, you have to start all over again) makes the tension even more palpable, and adds to the immense satisfaction you’ll feel after finally defeating this colossal foe.
Ubisoft’s glorious, sun-kissed sandbox adventure through Rook Island deservedly brought with it several game of the year nominations, thanks to it’s truly open-world feel, expertly engineered platforming and hunting elements, and infusions of brutally visceral combat, seamlessly mixing all these ingredients together and set in one of the most breathtakingly gorgeous games ever seen. It’s also very refreshing to play as a character that actually develops and progresses throughout a game along a story arc, rather than starting out as a fully-trained super-soldier, and ending as slightly more haggard looking super-soldier. Whilst exploring, you’re certain to stumble upon several temptingly placed Hang Gliders to use for faster travel and exploration. The first time you push off from the cliff-edge and majestically soar through the pale blue sky, the wind rippling past you as the blazing sun ripples off the vast, seemingly endless expanse of ocean and islands dotted below you, it provides the most profound sense of the epic scale of the world that the developers have sweated over here. In a journey empowered by a veritable treasure trove of memorable moments, this is likely to be one that will stay in the back of your mind the longest (The small terrified exclamation you inevitably whimper when a Tiger suddenly jumps upon you and rips you apart comes a close second).
I’ve eulogised in previous reviews about my long-standing love-affair with the Tribes series, and Hi-Rez studios 2012 release managed to perfectly capture the dizzying sense of speed, immensely satisfying and precise combat and liberating level design that Tribes has demonstrated in the past, made even more impressive by the superbly integrated Free-To-Play package it came with. What places Tribes so much further ahead than it’s comparatively work-a-day competition is the undeniable satisfaction of so many of the kills you earn in Tribes. I emphasise the word earn, as so often in other on-line shooters that luck plays equally as big a role as skill, leading to inevitable frustration as your carefully planned and lined up kill is cut short as you’re on the wrong end of a cheap head-shot from a guy spraying all over the place, or blown sky high from a random hopeful grenade. Compare this to the measured, almost balletic, combat encounters you share in Tribes as you and your opponent attempt to outfox each other, potentially climaxing with the ultimate reward to your finesse – the Mid-Air Spinfusor kill. The Spinfusor is the most iconic weapon in Tribes, firing high-speed blue discs that explode on impact, and the first time your perfectly timed Spinfusor shot connects mid-air with your fleeing combatant, sending his lifeless body hurtling to the ground, the *click, ding* sound you’re rewarded with is almost the game’s standing ovation to your dexterity, and never fails to leave a small smile as you jet off over the horizon on the hunt for more victims.
My personal game of 2012 was Arkane Studio‘s stealth ‘em up Dishonored, as intimated from this piece I penned a couple of months back. Given that Dishonored excels when experiencing the package as a whole, it’s difficult to zero-in on a particular moment or scene, but I wouldn’t countenance the injustice of excluding a title of such quality from this list. The game’s third mission sets you off to abduct the Royal Physician, Anton Sokolov, from Kaldwin Bridge, and the quest brings with it everything that makes Dishonored such a triumph. In order to escape with your cargo, you’ll have to climb to the top of the bridge and disable its searchlights so your boat doesn’t get spotted. The bridge itself is littered with guards, barriers and shock towers preventing your progress, which ups the challenge considerably when you’re trying to achieve the ‘Ghost’ (remain unseen) achievement as I was. Combining the use of evasive powers to spot and avoid enemies, acrobatic skills and speed to plot the best possible course forward and desperately trying to find a suitable hiding place for a stunned enemies body on a narrow walkway before the watchful gaze of the approaching guard catches you; all the above ramp up the nail-biting tension, until you finally reach the top, switch off those pesky searchlights, and are rewarded with the intoxicating view of the Victorian, steam-punk city of Dunwall infinitely expanding onwards, as the last rays of a receding sun reflect off the river lapping at the shores around you, all captured in exquisite detail. Those few minutes are a wonderful demonstration of everything the game does right: intelligently incorporated stealth game-play, luscious graphics and the empowerment of the player to feel like an unstoppable, deadly (and in this case silent) assassin.
Think back to any game you’ve played over the last 5 years – Can you honestly say you recall anything other than a vague recollection of the story outline of any of those games? (Bioshock for me being the wonderfully crafted exception that proves the rule) Narration and plot development generally take a back-seat for many developers, who prefer to blow their budgets on minor graphical tweaks and bombastic, quick-time event focused set-pieces, as they assume a typical gamer only possesses the brainpower to connect with a character whose sole motivation is to either remain mute throughout, or destroy everything with a backbone in a 5 mile radius. Telltale’s ‘The Walking Dead’ series successfully bucked this uncomfortable trend, a point-and-click adventure that casts you in the role of an escaped convict trying to survive yet another Zombie outbreak. Despite Zombies being one of the most over-used thematic devices over the last decade in popular culture, there’s an emotive and powerful story arc that drives the action, with a cel-shaded graphical style that delightfully compliments the comic book aesthetic that Telltale have emulated. The game’s story adapts to the choice you make in game, and your decisions lead to significant changes in how the action plays out, while the voice-acting is almost universally excellent, particularly given the large number of characters you come across through the game’s 5 episodes, helping you to form the emotional bonds that will drastically effect how you react in an urgent situation. One particularly visceral moment that sticks, comes at the start of Episode 2, where you stumble across a man with his leg caught inside a Bear Trap. As you try to find out what happened, the foreboding groans of nearby ‘Walkers‘ fills the air and they start to lumber towards your group and the unfortunate trapped soul. Despite you’re every effort to remove the bear trap, your quickly faced with the choice of some rather hasty amputation surgery, or leaving him to be devoured. Choosing the former, with each mouse click resulting in a shuddering axe blow to the man’s leg and cries of indescribable pain, will guarantee to leave you cowering in a corner in the foetal position, and a resounding appreciation for your own functioning tibia’s thereafter.
What do you all think? What was your favourite gaming moment(s) of 2012?