Yeah, yeah, I know: late to the party as usual. My bad. Still, better a top-five list in mid-January with some time to reflect on the previous year’s releases than a rushed December article in the midst of holiday revelry, right? Right? Right! Moving on.
Unlike last year, where I handed out awards in some rather unique categories, I have decided to keep things simple: these are my five favourite games of 2012, in ascending order. Drumroll, please!
5. Civilization V: Gods & Kings
We start off this year’s list with an expansion pack to Sid Meier’s legendary strategy series, wherein a key component is now available: religion. Remember back in the Civilization IV days when you could arrange your tech in such a way that you founded Buddhism, Judaism and Christianity, gaining all the free-pseudo-spying perks that went with it? Yeah, that’s gone. Instead, religion is now represented by a “Faith” resource and treated like culture: gain enough via buildings, secret projects, racial bonuses, etc. and you can do things from founding your own customized religion to buying specialized units and buildings.
Check out the fancy new hats!
In other words: it’s a far better balanced and much more enjoyable game mechanic. If that wasn’t enough, a bare-bones espionage component is there to add a little bit of malice in the late-game and some intriguing new civilizations join the fray. While I’ll still gravitate towards Russia most days, it’s hard not to pick up Austria with its astonishingly powerful diplomatic marriage ability (spend gold to annex a puppet or city-state), or the Mayans with their ability to generate a great person every time the Mayan calender cycles*. Just when you thought Civilization V couldn’t get any deeper, along comes Gods & Kings to give the whole package a swift kick in the Boudicca.
4. Jagged Alliance: Crossfire
The pedigree of the Jagged Alliance series is one of challenging -yet rewarding- tactical strategy. Unfortunately, the first modern reincarnation of the series ramped up the difficulty to kick-you-in-the-junk-repeatedly levels with a lack of tangible rewards. Thankfully, bitComposer didn’t give up after cutting their teeth on Jagged Alliance: Back in Action and forged ahead with a stand-alone follow-up, Jagged Alliance: Crossfire, that straddled the difficulty/reward barrier far more effectively.
Re-enacting a scene from The Untouchables.
The gunfights are still as tense as ever, the mercenaries still exude their distinct personalities and charm, and it’s still hilarious to see that one machete-armed enemy decide that charging towards your four heavily-armed squad members is the best course of action. This is what I was envisioning when the first reboot was announced; hopefully, bitComposer has more of the same up their sleeves should they go to the well one more time.
I’d like to publicly apologize here and now to one of my gaming buddies: Jabu**, I’m sorry for ignoring you when you said this was an incredible game. You were absolutely right to pester me about how Awesomenauts takes the standard MOBA format, squishes it down to a 2D platformer, ratchets up the pace and heaps on the Saturday morning cartoon charm.
Frogs toting ray-guns are the latest new thing; didn’t you hear?
I had no business turning a deaf ear to the antics of a rocket-booted, dynamite-throwing space cowboy, a one-armed, lizard-like assassin, an alien businessman’s moronic nephew carried around in an intelligent combat walker, or any of the rest of the ‘nauts. Awesomenauts is a fantastic game; you were right and I was wrong. I’m sorry. Now stop biting my head and blowing me up every time we play. Geez!
2. XCOM: Enemy Unknown
I’m still amazed that I nearly overlooked this game. My own pig-headed stubbornness nearly had me tuning out any and all alien-hunting news once images of 2K’s Mad Men-esque take on the X-COM license surfaced. Thank goodness I wasn’t a complete moron and paid attention when I first heard that Firaxis was doing their own modern relaunch; I can only imagine how devastated I would’ve been to miss out on the phenomenal effort that is XCOM: Enemy Unknown.
This would be a far tenser affair with Time Units. Just sayin’.
The purist in me still quibbles incessantly over little things – “Where are my Time Units”, “I want additional X-COM bases”, “Alien ship hulls should be nigh-indestructible”, and so forth – but the gamer in me is too busy defending the earth from dastardly alien invaders to care. The art direction, the sound, the character models, the scaling levels of difficulty and reward, the hard choices as to what upgrades I should pick for not just my soldiers but XCOM HQ itself – it’s the ideal modern recreation: faithful to the original where it matters while pushing the genre forward in thoughtful ways. Well done, Firaxis!
1. FTL: Faster Than Light
Scroll up for a second. Note how the previous game had “XCOM”*** in the title. Note how that game came in second place. Please recall that at every given opportunity, I mention how X-COM and Deus Ex routinely battle for top spot in my personal “Best Games Ever Of All Time Ever Ever” list****. Consider all of that as your realize that, no, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is not my top game of the year – that honour goes to Kickstarter and indie scene success story FTL: Faster Than Light.
You will find yourself saying “uh oh” a lot.
This game is a masterclass in so many categories: straightforward UI; compelling game-play; simple yet clever writing; deep RPG-style options, nearly all of which have meaningful impacts on the game’s outcome; and an easy-to-learn opening act that quickly evolves into a precarious high-wire routine where death on Normal difficulty is one bad jump away. Matthew Davis and Justin Ma, take a bow: you’ve earned it.
Well, those are my picks for 2012. Agree? Disagree? Leave your thoughts in the comments section alone or find me on Twitter: @ThatRituroGuy.