Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
New England Gamer
January 2013

Top games (that I played) in 2012

Another year has passed and I, like every other writer that even remotely covers video games, am here to run my readers through the games that I enjoyed playing the most in 2012. In a vain effort to try and differentiate myself from the crowd, however, my list of games isn't limited to just to games released in 2012. If I played it this year and enjoyed it, it's fair game. So without any further ado, here are my top games (that I played) in 2012.

(Spoilers ahead!)

The Walking Dead

While I tend not to organize these things in any specific way, I do put The Walking Dead at the top of this list on account of it being, hands down, the best thing I played all year. I'm not alone in this. The Walking Dead, an offshoot of the long running and popular comic series, sat high on the favorites list of many gamers and gaming journalists, with more than a few placing it at the very top. The irony is that it's actually kind of a lousy game. The actual gameplay elements of The Walking Dead are its weakest point; its puzzles are overly simplistic and its combat generally restricted to difficult to fail quick time events.

Where the game excels and excites is its focus on quality writing and storytelling. A product of Telltate Games, one of the few remaining devotees to the adventure genre of gaming, The Walking Dead is more of a "choose your own adventure" game than anything else. It has set start and end points, but it allows you to fill in the blanks on the way, choosing how you interact with characters and events. Gamers the world over formed strong attachments to its cast, especially protagonist Lee and Clementine, a young girl oprhaned by the zombie apocalypse who winds up in Lee's care. The game made you care about each character, often just so it could make you feel awful when they died horrible, painful deaths.

The Walking Dead is one of the few games that I can say genuinely moved me to tears. The whole game, spread across five episodes, is a rollercoaster ride of shocks and twists, but the last moments of the final episode, where Lee, infected by a zombie bite and near death tries to calm a terrified and grieving Clementine are some that will with stick with me for years to come. It was tragic not just for a video game, but for an honest-to-goodness narrative that was easily the equal of any book or film that came out in 2012.

inFamous 2

For Christmas of 2011 I was gifted with two video games: Batman: Arkham City and inFamous 2. Both were sequels to games I adored, but I opted to play Arkham City first because, well . . . it's Batman. Arkham City was a great game that took the gameplay of its predecessor to new levels, and yet when I beat it a few months later I found the story to be lacking. It tried to cram too much plot and too many villains into a story that was too small and more than a bit contrived.

inFamous 2 comparatively was a more subtle growth from its predecessor, but also a more successful one. It opted to refine the problems of the first game while continuing a plot that is still, to date, one of more underrated stories told in a video game this generation. Following protagonist Cole McGrath, newly endowed with superpowers, it explored (depending on the players in game choices) what it means to be a hero or villain, and the personal consequences that come with both paths.

The second game furthered these themes with a vengeance, especially when it came to matters of choice. In the first inFamous the "good and evil" choice system didn't really amount to much. The story played out largely the same with only a few differences and Cole basically remained the same person, regardless of if the player opted to be a hero or a villain. The second game upped the ante, providing several key moments of choice that could greatly vary the game and a final decision that completely altered the story's end. The ending on its own was an incredible high point, taking the character's and world of the game to a place that was equal parts personal and apocalyptic.

Both for its ambition and with the skill and sincerity that it pulls off the absurdity that often permeates its world, inFamous 2 easily makes this list.

Organ Trail

One of the random footnotes of my generation is that, at some point or another, we all played Oregon Trail growing up. It's one of those minor cultural touchstones that will someday be forgotten but never fails to draw a smile on the face of those who partook and share in its resonance. Organ Trail is a zombie-centric tribute to Oregon Trail and it manages to beat it at its own game in almost every way possible.

It does this primarily by taking visual and concept cues as its inspiration, but then using them to its own, vastly more complex, thing. In Oregon Trail you were merely trying to survive the game, enduring the elements and dangers of nature. Organ Trail actively tries to kill you.

Supplies are ever dwindling and need to be carefully managed. You'll need to take on dangerous jobs and contend with bandits in addition to the zombie hordes. There are moral choices to make; quandaries that test how far you'll go and what you'll do to keep you and your group of survivors alive. It's consistently challenging and probably one of the few genuine survival horror games I've played in years. It's tense but not because of shiny graphics or jump scares. The fear comes from looking at your supplies and knowing there's not enough and that at any moment the unexpected can happen and lay all your well laid plans to waste.

I bought Organ Trail on a nostalgic whim. It wound up being an unexpected favorite for 2012.

Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride

Dragon Quest is kind of a big deal. It's a gaming icon in Japan; so popular that each new entry is guaranteed to sell millions of copies. There are even longstanding rumors that the Japanese government asked the game's publishers not to release new Dragon Quests on weekdays because too many people were skipping work and school to buy and play the game.

You wouldn't know that in North America. Dragon Quest (originally released as Dragon Warrior stateside for copyright purposes) has had a presence on these shores since the 1980s, but never really caught on the way other role-playing franchises like Final Fantasy did. I myself had never played a Dragon Quest game prior to this year and my first, Dragon Quest V, didn't even see a stateside release until 2008. I can say without any hesitation that I wish had jumped into the franchise sooner.

One of the things I love about old Final Fantasy games is that the best of them managed to balance a focus of whimsy and drama. It's an element that more recent entries in the franchise have failed to grasp, and that I have frequently spelled off as a thing of the past. Dragon Quest V could practically be defined by this balance.

It can be a silly, funny game at times. The visuals are bright and colorful, the music cheerful and the game loves to employ puns and humor whenever the opportunity arises. And yet it can also be starkly dramatic at times. At one point your father is brutally murdered in front of you. In another your character is turned to stone and forced to watch for years as a family raises its child while his own son and daughter are forced to grow up without him. It maintains a vibrancy and color often lacking in other games, but it's also not afraid to take dark steps where they serve the story.

I will confess to having not completed Dragon Quest V. Even so, I've it enjoyed it so much so far that I can't help but include it on my end of the year list.

Mass Effect 3

I hemmed and hawed about including Mass Effect 3.

On the one hand I don't think I have ever been as personally disappointed in a game as with Mass Effect 3. As documented in my Mass Dissaffected piece from earlier this year, the ending of Mass Effect 3, which capped off three games worth of otherwise excellent storytelling, was received by a good majority of gamers as a complete and outright betrayal to all the work and devotion they had invested in the franchise. For my part, I found the ending of the game rushed, inadequate and broaching on nonsensical. And while developers Bioware did eventually try to rectify this with downloadable content that expanded the ending and corrected many issues, the series still went out with a fizzle instead of a bang.

For this reason, I wanted to leave it off my end of the year list. Then I thought about it some more and realized that that wasn't fair. I love Return of the Jedi despite the Ewoks. I liked The Dark Knight Rises even with its serious structural and pacing problems. I enjoyed The Godfather, Part 3 in spite of Sofia Coppola. Mass Effect 3 could not have ended in a worse way, but it's still an excellent game from an incredible trilogy.

It had problems besides its ending. The gameplay suffered at times from poor controls. Its quest system is easily the weakest in the trilogy, turning much of the game into a glorified fetch mission that ultimately nets you very little for the effort.

Where it delivered was on the story front. Plot arcs that had been building since game one were resolved, often in glorious fashion, while most every character in its expansive cast was given time to shine (some more than others). Mass Effect 3, for its failings, was nonetheless an engaging and poignant ride that takes you to places most other games lack the ambition to even try and reach. Keeping this in mind, I can forgive it for faltering at the finish line and love it for the things it got right.

Read more by Stewart Shearer


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