Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Top of the Scots 2012 | The Best Games: Other Awards

Yesterday, I selected my Five Favourite video games of 2012.

Spoiler alert: season one of The Walking Dead won!

Today, it's time to look at a couple of the other most memorable experiences I had with a controller in my clutches. We're going to pick up right where we left off, beginning with two games that only narrowly missed out on slots at the top.


Here are two worlds I lost myself in for more hours than I could count. Two games, differently anticipated admittedly - I expected more from Assassin's Creed III, and almost nothing of Sleeping Dogs - which I played and played and played, equally even. Not a single collectible escaped my character in either case. Not a single side mission or miscellaneous objective was left where it very probably belonged.

What can I say? I plum love an awesome open world, and in Sleeping Dogs' Hong Kong, and Assassin's Creed III's revolutionary-era America, I found two to rule them all: two created spaces so different from Liberty City and the like that any excuse to explore them was a worthy one, even if this often amounted to a bounty of busywork.

You often hear it said that the sum of something is better than its parts. I'd turn that hoary old story on its head as regards my runners-up to The Best Games of 2012: both Assassin's Creed III and Sleeping Dogs were fundamentally flawed products which boasted parts far more fun than their sum.

Honourable Mentions

Oh, Rayman Origins. We had such fun together, didn't we?
"Don't think I'm some rabid Rayman fan. If anything, I'm the exact opposite; before now, one of my guiltiest gaming secrets was that I'd never played a Rayman game. Not even a Raving Rabbids. Well I'll tell you this for free: I'll be playing the next one now. 
"The first thing that strikes you about Rayman Origins is its dreamy appearance. Particularly considering that it began life as a downloadable Wii-Ware affair, it's a gorgeous game, lavishly lit, perfectly rendered and smoothly animated. The seemingly simplistic appeal of sidescrollers like this and Mario and all the other console mascots is such that they don't need to be beautiful. The fact that Rayman Origins is so artful and aesthetically fetching is just the icing on the cake. 
"But cake has rarely tasted so great, and I don't mind saying I've tasted some great cakes in my time. The actual platforming mechanics are easy to pick up yet demanding to master, and you do a lot more than run and jump in Rayman Origins. You also swim, wall-run, float, slide and shoot; indeed, eight of the ten worlds you speed through unlocks a new ability, which the subsequent levels teach you to use. All of which means that things are rarely as straightforward as they appear. For a minute it might look like all you need to do is run to the right, but then you have to hop onto a handy mosquito and the bullet hell begins. For serious."
You can read the rest of my Rayman Origins review in this edition of The Monday Miscellany.

For now I'll only add that it was with great regret that the other half and I heard Rayman Legends would be a bloody Wii U exclusive. Hopefully that doesn't last - few exclusive do these days - because I'd hate to be obliged to buy Nintendo's new home console. I played all of about eight games on my Wii in the whole time I had it, and I've staunchly resolved not to make the same mistake again.

Bet I'm not the only either, either. It's awful, but I'd be over the moon if Nintendo shifted its focus to software, like Sega did back in the day. But they just keep on keeping on!

From fun to fear, by way of a 2010 indie effort which scared me in a way no other game has to date. Not even The Walking Dead!
"Amnesia: The Dark Descent is without a doubt the scariest game I have ever played.
"This honour used to belong to the second Silent Hill, but Frictional Games' latest and greatest makes that touchstone of terror look like clowning around by comparison.
"You are Daniel, and that's all you know at the start of this unforgettable six to eight hour experience. When you awaken in the dark somewhere in the underbelly of Brennenburg Castle, for some reason, you have amnesia. What else to do but follow the strange trail of bleeding red petals that leads from your position into the indefinable distance? 
"This is easier said than done. Most of the castle's heavy oak doors are shut tight, meanwhile many of its corridors have collapsed, so for the moment there's only one way to go... but it's so incredibly dark that you can hardly see one foot to put in front of the other. Almost immediately, Daniel's fear begins to get the better of him, and we are with him every tentative step of the way: after all, almost anything could be biding its time in the next room, and lacking illumination, we wouldn't know till it was too late. 
"To make matters worse, it becomes clear that there is someone, or something, hot on our heels. A shadow of some sort. An embodiment of the darkness which seems to mean Daniel harm..."
I reviewed Amnesia: The Dark Descent in full right here on The Speculative Scotsman, and though there's no sense in repeating myself, this once I will: play this game, guys. The last act is trash, but before that, nothing in the industry - perhaps nothing in any industry - can compete with Amnesia in terms of unfettered terror.

The early 2013 sequel, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, can't come soon enough for some.

Biggest Disappointments

I spend an interminable amount of time thinking about which books and movies and games and so on deserve spots in Top of  the Scots. I'm particularly finicky about my Five Favourites, but this year - as you'll see - they've come reasonably easily to me.

Comparatively, this particular category has been a challenge, because to discuss disappointment is to talk about one's expectations as opposed to the quality of a given game per se.

Thus, my first answer will be no-one else's, I expect. After all, who else had high hopes for Silent Hill 8?

From my review:
"Silent Hill has to be one of my all-time favourite franchises, but with each passing year it's become increasingly clear that my position is practically indefensible. 
"I don't think anyone would dispute that the series started strong. Resident Evil might have popularised the survival horror genre, but let's face facts: it was crude, and unconscionably camp. Occasionally shocking, is how I'd politely describe it, rather than scary, or legitimately horrific. Silent Hill, however, hit on a much more meaningful formula.
"Silent Hill: Downpour gets off to a credible start, but all too soon everything was promising about it recedes into the middle distance, and thereafter the ever-present ether. Most players don't finish games, so I suppose it makes sense for Vatra to have frontloaded the latest in the Silent Hill series with the best of their ideas. At this late stage, though, it seems cruel and unusual to tease the type of people likely to give Downpour a go - which is to say me, and folks like me, who finish everything on principle - with an hour of reasonably good game, only to call it quits with nine tenths of the whole as yet ahead. 
"A disappointment, then. Not broken, but boring, and undeniably bland. No surprises there. And what, I wonder, is Silent Hill worth without the element of surprise on side?"
Downpour was the game that finally made me realise that Silent Hill is essentially dead to me, and that -  given my feelings for the series in years previous - is why it's one of my Biggest Disappointments of 2012.

I have another, however.

Famously, Fez was in the works for an egregious period of years, and I'd been desperate to play it since its debut at the 2008 Indie Games Festival. So you can imagine my state of mind when I sat down with Phil Fish's much ballyhooed-about baby fully four years later, only to realise I just wasn't enjoying it.

Fez is a lot of things, obviously: gorgeous, intelligent, literary and ambitious. But the actual experience of playing it is either so simplistic as to liquidise one's intellect, or so incredibly cerebral that it'll make you feel a  fool. Unable to find a happy medium between the two, I came away from Fez fatally deflated.

I've soured even further on Fez in the months since its release, given Phil Fish's bad behaviour. He may be the most obnoxious figure in the industry, and there's stiff competition in that category.

But onwards and upwards, eh?

Glaring Oversights

Despite my feelings for Fez, I can absolutely get behind good arthouse gaming. In fact, given the exceptional response it's gotten - as well as my fondness for Flower, thatgamecompany's previous masterpiece - I full well expect to adore Journey from tip to toe whenever I find the time to play it.

I know it's not a long game. What, two hours tops? And I don't doubt that I could get two hours together. But would I be at my most receptive before bed, or if I were to squeeze in the experience between sessions of something else? I think not, and I want to give Journey room to move; to breathe, like fine wine — not that I'm any kind of connoisseur.

Luckily, with the holidays so nearly here, I should have the chance to do exactly that within the next few weeks, so stay tuned to The Speculative Scotsman for more, because I'll very probably blog about whether or not Journey lives up to my great expectations. Here's hoping!

Final Thoughts

Hard to believe that I've managed to put together not one but two fairly lengthy lists about my most memorable experiences in gaming this year without even alluding to Mass Effect 3Dear Esther, or any of the others that have gone unmentioned in this vast category.

Well done, 2012!

I'm so glad that the industry did itself proud this year, because with the Wii U already out, and news of new consoles from both Microsoft and Sony as good as guaranteed next E3, 2013 is apt to be lacking. I've been gaming since age 8, and in my experience, transitional years are rarely worth writing home about.

There's hope, of course. Hope buoyed by a surprising number of exciting new releases still to come before the great change. Off the top of my head, there's Bioshock: Infinite to look forward to; the latest Tomb Raider reboot; a second Dark Souls; the sequel to Metro 2033; and so many more they deserve their own post rather than this postscript.

That'll have to wait, I'm afraid... because Top of the Scots has hardly started! Tomorrow, we'll be looking at The Best Books of 2012, and more from the speculative fiction front will follow on Friday.

Between now and then, though, I have a couple of questions to ask you fine folks.

What were your favourite video games of 2012? And what are you most looking forward to playing in 2013?

Let's talk it out in the comments! :)


  1. Hope you're not too late and there's still people playing Journey, the online element was a huge part of what made it one of the best experiences I've had in any gaming.

    Oh, and here's a nice list of what to look for in 2013!

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