The Best Games of 2012

This entry is part 3 of 11 in the series Gaming year in review / Game of the Year Awards

Happy Ne1st Place Award Ribbonw Year, everyone!


2013 has dawned, and it’s time to review the best of last year’s games (that I played). This year I’ve opted to break from the traditional “best RPG”, “best strategy”, etc format normally used in Game of the Year rankings. For one, it papers over the vast differences that exist within any genre: Dark Souls is not Skyrim is not Mass Effect. For another, there are sometimes multiple standout games within the same genre. So instead, I’ve opted to recognise games for their special achievements. Here are 2012’s exemplars:



Best strategic gameplay: Eugen Systems’ Wargame: European Escalation, an easy-to-learn, lifetime-to-master Cold War RTS built around interesting choices: which troops, out of the vast array available, should I use? Where should I send them? And when? Half the beauty of Wargame is that there are no right answers. The other half lies in the simple, elegant way in which the game represents real-world military concepts, such as scouting, terrain, and logistics – this is beer and pretzels at its best. Highly recommended for (a) period and (b) strategy buffs.


Multiplayer game of the year: Wargame: European Escalation again, because in a game about interesting choices made on the fly, it is a joy to test one’s mettle against human opponents. It helps that a Wargame match can be played in 15-30 minutes!


Best emergent narrative: Firaxis’ XCOM: Enemy Unknown. While flawed as a strategy game (Wargame is a better exercise in “interesting choices”), XCOM shines as the kind of unscripted emotional ride that would be impossible in any other medium. My playthrough was a memorable tale of struggle and sacrifice, tension and terror – all enacted by me, the player.


Best traditional narrative: Christine Love’s Analogue: A Hate Story, which underscores that gaming also has room for scripted emotional rides. To quote the piece I linked above, “Only a few video game stories have made me respond as strongly as Analogue did in its most powerful moments, and that says it all.”


Indie of the year: Analogue: A Hate Story, beating out FTL: Faster than Light. While FTL is – for the first 90% of a given playthrough – clever, engaging, and addictive, it’s Analogue that’s stuck with me months later.


Game I most want to see imitated: Paradox’s Crusader Kings II, which marries two normally separate genres to memorable effect: the grand strategy game in which the player oversees war and statecraft; and the character-driven game, which normally takes place at a much smaller scale (XCOM and its fellow squad-based games, The Sims, etc). The only other company I’ve known to do this was KOEI (Romance of the Three Kingdoms, et al), and I’d like to see more. Now, will someone please Kickstart a remake of Emperor of the Fading Suns based on a licensed CK2 engine?


Most interesting experiment (EDITED TO ADD, because I’m forgetful): Journey, which takes the camaraderie-driven experience of classics such as Ico, strips out the puzzles, and makes your partner another human being rather than a non-player character. A short, sweet exploration of companionship.


The game I wish I hadn’t spoiled: Yager’s Spec Ops: The Line, one of the very few games that doesn’t encourage players to exult in inflicting digital carnage. Had I gone in blind, Spec Ops would probably have been a contender for Best Traditional Narrative – but I made the mistake of reading extensive spoilers. Foreknowledge left me with a story I enjoyed on an intellectual level, but robbed of its emotional impact. Oh, well.


Disappointment of the year: Shogun 2: Fall of the Samurai, a game based around a brilliant concept – conveying the change that wracked Japan in the late nineteenth century – that the computer player just could not grasp. I hope Creative Assembly will do a better job with next year’s Rome 2.


Most underrated game: Cyanide’s Game of Thrones. So far – I’m about two-thirds in – this RPG offers a good to very good story, gameplay of comparable quality, and a couple of minor but very cool mechanics. The only place where it really falls short is production values, in particular voice acting. Does shonky voice acting justify a 58% Metacritic score and near-complete dismissal (seriously, there is not one guide for this title on GameFAQs)? I really, really don’t think so.


The overarching theme: Storytelling. Whether scripted (Analogue, Spec Ops, Game of Thrones), unscripted (XCOM and CK2), or a combination (Journey), most of the games that stood out for me tried to convey an emotion or an experience, or sought to question the player. As a believer in the narrative potential of games, this is one theme I welcome with open arms. Keep it coming, devs!


(As an aside, I think 2011 was the year of iteration: Total War: Shogun 2, my GOTY for that year, learned from the mistakes of its predecessors to become one of the best strategy games ever made. Tactics Ogre, a remake of a 1990s SNES/PSX game, inherited its excellent story from the original; but its polished gameplay – and even its gameplay missteps – are built on 15+ years of evolution in the tactical RPG genre.)


Game of the year: Unlike previous years, I can’t name a single stand-out. After careful consideration, I have to declare a three-way tie between Wargame: European Escalation, my new favourite RTS; XCOM: Enemy Unknown, the worthy heir to one of the best games of all time; and Analogue: A Hate Story.


Congratulations to a very strong crop of developers and publishers in 2012, and may 2013 bring us a field just as good!

Series Navigation<< My Game of the Year – 2011 is…Games of the Year: 2013 >>

9 thoughts on “The Best Games of 2012”

    1. Whoa, now THAT is a comprehensive list. Thanks for the link!

      2013 is going to be a strategy year for me, too. Three of the four games at the top of my list are strategy: Wargame: AirLand Battle, EU4, and Rome 2 – I’m pretty confident about the first two, and while Rome could turn out either way, I’ll want to see for myself. (The only non-strategy game on the short list is Hate Plus, the sequel to Analogue: A Hate Story.)

      Looking at the long list… after all the love Eador: Genesis has received, I want to check out Masters of the Broken World for myself. In RPG territory, we’re meant to get the first single-player chapter of Banner Saga in 2013, and looking at action-y games, Bioshock Infinite, Tomb Raider and especially The Last of Us (not for PC) all seem pretty interesting. And, of course, an indie gem could come out of nowhere a la FTL!

      How about yourself?

      1. Bioshock Infinite will be a day 1 buy. And to think I still haven’t finished Bioshock 2 (not even started) but the first game was compelling enough. New environment, what appears to be some modest, likeable characters strike me as being worthy of getting into.

        Rome Total War I think I’ll go with. I’m a sucker for anything Rome related I guess. It is very much a gamble, but then, what game isn’t these days. The same thing applies with Command and Conquer Generals. It too will be a gamble, though EA is the reason for that. Company of Heroes I hope will be as amazing as the first, but the balance will be critical once again. Relic were always good in that department, tweaking and forever tweaking. However, I don’t have a whole lot of interest in the Russian front, yet I will likely go for a day 1 purchase nonetheless, mostly in support of THQ. THQ has some fine games and developers under its belt, I want to see them keep on going.

        EU4 is a wait and see game. It will more likely be a pick up much further down the line. There is still so much more I want to achieve in EU III first, so I’m not going to hurry with that game. They’ll get me anyway with the DLC and likely expansions, so no worries there.

        Medieval Mayor, I don’t know enough except it is Tilted Mill game, which means it should be awesome. I need to get some more info on it first though. Masters of the Broken World is getting a lot of love lately, inadvertant peer pressure may lead me to picking it up. Omerta: City of Gangsters looks terrible. I wanted to believe in it, but they have to spend more time just making the game look better, let alone play better if JA: Back in Action is anything to go by.

        Wargame: Airland Battle will be a pick up, because I think you and I need to have some competition/co-op action. And I love a lot of Cold War related games. Plus I am aware of how much you liked European Escalation. Planetary Annhilation… hmmm. I didn’t get into the kickstarter for it, but I think it shows promise. But with everything else going on, gosh, I won’t have any money left. And this is just strategy games!!! Not to mention Defense Grid 2 and Xenonauts.

        Before I saw that list, I thought 2013 would be the year I work on my backlog. I don’t think it stands much of a chance right now, especially given the replayability that strategy games have.

        Other notable games outside of the strategy genre include Sim City (despite it being EA and DLC and DRM etc) Cities in Motion 2, Prison Architect. Hmmmm, I’ll leave it there before I get depressed.

        Also funny you mention FTL. Remember that it wasn’t until February (if I recall) that XCom was announced. It isn’t just the indie games to watch out for, but there could be other AAA games brewing away. Who is to say that Half Life 3 won’t come out this year?

        1. Agreed on Planetary Annihilation. Company of Heroes 2 I guess might depend on the single-player.

          “… there could be other AAA games brewing away. Who is to say that Half Life 3 won’t come out this year?”

          Good point! The Last Guardian has been “due out soon” for years, but who knows, 2013 might just be the year. And I don’t think there’s an official release date for Dark Souls 2

  1. I certainly enjoy gaming and wish I had more time in my day as gaming is usually what suffers as I focus more efforts and energy on reading. And not having a PC that is game-worthy anymore I spend most of my time console gaming. Not that I’m complaining. I play much more mainstream stuff but I enjoy it. I hadn’t heard of most of these games before finding your site recently and many of them sound like ones I would enjoy. I’m not big on RTS games but I think more of that is from having little experience playing them vs. “not liking” them.

    I’m glad you had a good year gaming. I’m looking forward to a good year of it myself.

    1. Thanks, and you too! What are some of the stand-outs that you’ve enjoyed?

      I’m the other way around. Most of my reading nowadays is non-fiction, so I probably game more than I read fiction. I still love the odd novel, though! :D

      1. Honestly I played very few games this past year, but played many, many hours, mostly Skyrim and its various DLC releases. I think I’ve logged 300 hours in Skyrim since its November 2011 release. Crazy, I know.

        My all-time favorite games are the three Thief games, particularly 1 and 2, Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, and the old Goldeneye game for the N64. I tend to buy a version of Madden NFL every two or three years and play a lot of football as I’m a big football fan. I’ve enjoyed the major titles–the Mass Effect games (have just started 3), L.A. Noire, Red Dead Redemption, Max Payne. I enjoy the odd shooter every now and again.

        1. Ah, got it! I love Fallout 3, while Skyrim and Fallout: New Vegas are on my backlog. :) So hopefully, at some point, I’ll have some tales to tell from those games!

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