Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Echidna Awards! (a delayed List of GOTYs 2012)

I'm currently bored out of my poor mind at Columbus International Airport and just realized that I never got around to making a list of the best games of 2012 like any respectable video game blog would do. Having little else to occupy my time, I figured I would take a few moments to remedy this travesty.

Six games make the cut this year. I decided to cheat and include two games from previous years that were only ported to PC this year or remastered this year because I love them so much and wanted an excuse to ramble about them some more, so forgive me. Also, only one non-indie game makes the list. The only mainstream commercial games from 2012 I played this year were Mass Effect 3 and Borderlands 2, the former of which made the list. Borderlands 2  had a few laughs and was sort of fun at the time, but overall it was a forgettable experience that didn't leave a lasting impression - at it's core, just another shooter. It also doesn't make the list because I'm a little salty that I wasted $50 on it.

In no particular order (although I save the best for last), my six Echidna Awards:

Echidna Award for best game that I haven't actually gotten around to finishing yet: 
Lone Survivor

I'm usually  not a fan of horror as a genre, but Lone Survior is a real gem. Created solely by Jasper Byrne during a period of two years, the game perfectly captures the feeling of being isolated in the aftermath of a post-apocalyptic event. The atmosphere is incredible, and the writing is top-notch. I don't have anything terribly profound to say about the game besides that it excels in almost every area.

I got frustrated by an end-of-the game monster encounter and failed to actually complete the game yet, but from the rest of my experience, I'm sure that the ending will not disappoint.

Echidna Award for best game with a fairly pleasant AI character:
Analogue: A Hate Story
"Back off, man! I'm a scientist!"

I originally wrote about it here.

Although its story about ancient Korean patriarchal society as applied in a science-fiction setting was a solid one, Analogue would not be half the game it was were its story not told through the well-developed and absolutely charming AI Hyun-Ae. The game received mixed reviews, but for me, her interactions with the player gave the story an incredibly personal component that made Analogue special and landed it a spot on this list.

Echidna Award for best game that still had redeeming qualities despite it's relative lack of hipness
Mass Effect 3

As time goes on I increasingly find the gunplay in the Mass Effect series to be deadening, and the series as a whole is, at it's core, an egocentric power fantasy. That being said, after five years of fighting alongside the likes of Garrus and Ayara I couldn't help but grow fond of the characters in the Mass Effect universe. Since the main story of the games lacks a personal, human component, it was the relationship that my Commander Shepherd with her crew that kept me playing to the series' completion. It was a real pleasure to watch Wrex and Mordin develop over the course of the trilogy especially. On top of that, the series raised the bar for non-linear, avatar-centric interactive storytelling. It was fascinating to see how decisions made in the first game had resulted in lasting consequences this far down the road.

Echidna Award for nostalgic and gratuitous violence
Black Mesa 

I originally wrote about it here.

First person shooters used to be my favorite genre. I've played all of the classic iD games. I've beaten Halo  on legendary difficulty at least three times. I've poured countless hours into Team Fortress 2. Shooters used to satisfy me like no other game genre could.

However, as I've written before, game violence for it's own sake is not only starting to bore me, but it sometimes even disgusts me. I played Borderlands 2 and Rage with the expectation that they'd remind me why I once enjoyed shooters so much, but they didn't capture the feeling. The combat in both games, especially in Rage, was repetitious and underwhelming. Black Mesa, however, captured that old feeling perfectly.

The game's combat is fast, frantic, and manages to stay fresh in the way that only the combat in an old-school 90s FPS can. As I played it, for good or for ill, I forgot all of my misgivings and discomfort with game violence and just had fun. Although my pansy-ass-pseudo-pacifistic-hipster self says it begrudgingly, it's really good.

Echidna Award for just being plain fantastic
Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP

I talk about it briefly here.

(Yes, it was originally released in 2011 for the iPad, but it wasn't ported to the PC until last year, so deal with it.) 

To begin with, S&S has incredible atmosphere. The game's art and the soundtrack make its world a real pleasure to explore. On top of that, quirky writing set against a grim story about martyrdom create an emotionally engaging and memorable experience. It's has earned a spot alongside Shadow of the Colossus in my favorite games of all time. There's really nothing like it.

Echidna Award for quite unexpectedly also becoming one of my favorite games of all time
Embric of Wulfhammer's Castle (Deluxe Edition)

I originally wrote about it here.

(Yes, the original was released in 2010, but the new version improves on the original enough that it might as well be a new game, so deal with it.)

Do you know that feeling after reading a really good novel when you wish that it wasn't over, you miss the characters, and reality seems inadequate? Wulfhammer gave me that feeling real bad.

At first, the game seemed like nothing more than an amusing farce, but by the end, it became much more than that. I was initially surprised that a game with such a strong focus on comedic and sexual content ended up being one the most engaging interactive stories that I had ever played through, but in retrospect, the comedy and the sex all served in some form or another to develop the characters and the relationships between them. Some of Wulfhammer's characters are quite complicated, and the rest are still very endearing. The writing is sharp and funny, but at the same time believable. It's probably not to everyone's tastes, but it's absolutely brilliant. 
Feel free to leave a comment on your personal favs from the last year! 

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