(This is another edition of /RANT, a weekly opinion piece column on GameFront. Check back every week for more. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not reflect those of GameFront.)
We’re hurtling towards the end of the year, and that means plenty of list columns, as we celebrate the best and brightest videogames of 2012. Awards are being given out as major releases like The Walking Dead, Borderlands 2, Mass Effect 3 and Dishonored all get their due applause, but what about the little guys? What about the many great games that, for one reason or another, released to little fanfare and won’t get the respect they deserve in the annual roundup? That’s where I come in! 2012 was full of awesome games, but some of them you might have never heard of. They won’t clean up the awards, but they do deserve your time, so come with me as we look at the best games of 2012 that many of you won’t have played!
My love for Lone Survivor cannot be stated enough, and while it gained some grassroots interest, it could always do with another boost. This 2D survival horror game pays utmost respect to a genre long disregarded by the mainstream game industry. As titles like Resident Evil 6 and even Dead Space 3 move steadily away from the roots of horror, Lone Survivor submerged itself in the world of spooky corridors, mutated creatures, insanity, and item puzzles. Though at first glance it looks like yet another trite indie game trying to win us over with nostalgic graphics, Lone Survivor is deceptively haunting, as players take on the role of a man slowly going mad through isolation. Your every action contributes to a psyche evaluation at the end of the game, as actions determine your ending and overall mental health. Eating and sleeping regularly, taking or abstaining from drugs, and talking to plush animals all craft your final outcome, and while it’ll only take three hours to beat, you’ll have merely seen a fraction of content on offer.
Lone Survivor is a must for survival horror fans. It lovingly recreates the spirit of the genre, and comes from a developer who truly “gets” what it’s always been about. 2D gaming hasn’t been this scary, and horror lovers will lap it up.
Many gamers would be tempted to write off Super Hexagon, given its origins as an iPad game. However, with a Steam port available for purchase, there’s no longer any excuse not to try out one of the most punishing and hypnotic games on the market. Gameplay is simple — you press two buttons to move a pointer from left to right and avoid an ever-enclosing series of walls. However, the speed of movement and dizzying audio-visual assault makes this an absolutely mindbending experience. Your first time playing might last three seconds if you’re lucky. You’ll be proud of yourself for lasting twenty seconds. You’ll feel like a champion just for crossing the minute mark. There are three modes of difficulty — Hard, Harder, and Hardest. Yes, the easy mode is called Hard, just to mess with you. It’s an addictive bit of software, so easy to restart and over so swiftly that you’ll be compelled to keep trying, trying, trying, just to squeeze out an extra second or two over your best time. It helps that the music is so damn good, it’s worth playing just to hear it.
Super Hexagon is one of those games that, through sheer simplicity of concept, manages to achieve near-perfection. It does what it sets out to do flawlessly, and what it sets out to do is provide an encouragingly frustrating exercise in excitement, pride, and hopelessness. A fantastic bit of interactive torture, that shouldn’t be missed.
Free-to-play is an overlooked genre, even as the games steadily get better and better. Blacklight: Retribution won’t receive many accolades due to its freemium nature, but it’ll be a shame if you ignore it, since its quality rivals any $60 multiplayer shooter on offer. Featuring a detailed customization system to compliment rock-solid online shooting action, Retribution provides a level of quality worth paying for before you ever have to consider dropping down any cash. I got hours of gameplay out of the game while using just the free in-game currency to purchase or rent equipment, and they were fun hours indeed.
Games of Blacklight’s caliber have the potential to upend the current retail model by showing just how shafted customers can get. When a free game is providing as much content as a $60 title, and its paid DLC is cheaper than the DLC of that $60 game, it becomes increasingly difficult to justify the current model major publishers use. While free-to-play is not going to be the be-all, end-all future as some companies believe, I do feel it has a ton of scope, and games like Retribution demonstrate just how good games within that structure can be. Even if you don’t think it’s worth your money, it’s well worth your time, and time is all you really need to enjoy it.
Now here’s a game that never got the attention it deserved. While seen as a derivative and unexciting shooter on the surface, Binary Domain is actually a witty, expertly paced, surprisingly engrossing action game that tries some new things, and often does them well. A squad-based shooter, Binary Domain’s big gimmick is the ability to directly order A.I. partners who will actually respond to voice commands provided over a headset. In truth, the voice recognition just isn’t there to make it run smoothly, but the button commands are just as good, and help create a team that does feel useful and responsive. Teammates also learn from the way you treat them, being more helpful if you avoid insulting them, or make them perform tasks they can do successfully.
At its core, Binary Domain is a fairly standard shooter with a fun little gimmick. It is, however, a highly polished and well executed shooter that pulls off familiar gameplay extremely well. It’s rare for a Japanese studio’s take on a cover shooter to be even competent, let alone this well made, and fans of third-person action titles would be doing themselves a disservice by ignoring it. If anything, being able to battle an army of fantastically designed robotic opponents makes Binary Domain a very amusing experience, and the cast of fun characters in a compelling world doesn’t hurt either.
Of Orcs and Men
Of Orcs and Men wasn’t exactly a critical darling, and I do in fact find it hard to blame anybody who hated it. However, for those who want an interesting roleplaying game with likable characters, intense combat, and the best soundtrack of the year, this greenskin-favoring adventure may well be worth checking out. It’s a rough game, with glitches and unresponsive A.I., and it often comes off as clunky and inefficient, but Of Orcs and Men manages to power through its faults to provide a game that just isn’t like other RPGs out there. It can be a beautiful, even hilarious, sometimes thoughtful experience, telling as it does the story of an Orc fighting against an oppressive human regime. Combat is all about taking control of this Orc and his swifter, more rogue-like Goblin partner, and success is determined by using the skills of both heroes to compliment each other. More than in any other game, you are playing as two characters, not just one — trying to solo the game with either protagonist can lead to a quick death.
Combat is intuitive and fun, with characters automatically attacking while the player interjects with a growing range of brutal special moves. Fights are made easier with a puzzle-like stealth mode, in which players sneak around the battlefield and try to silently execute guards before rushing in to kill the rest of them. For those who can look past the faults, Of Orcs is an engrossing prospect, but it requires a very specific audience. In any case, for all the good it does, many will choose to focus only on its bugs and design faults, which is fair enough, but will ultimately lead to many overlooking a sincere and respectable showing from the European RPG mill. If you’re feeling brave, I say you ought to take a gamble on this.