‘I come not just to bury 2012, but praise it’: A Gaming Retrospective
IMAGE: Journey (thatgamecompany)
As gaming publications around the world finish declaring their Game of Year awards and looking back over the previous twelve months of releases, it is hard not to pick up on the sentiment that overall many do not consider 2012 the most stellar year for gaming. Sure, there were some standout surprises that defined much of the critical discourse – X-Com: Enemy Unknown, The Walking Dead, Journey, and Dishonoured for example (all games I am ashamed to say I have not yet had the opportunity to sink into) – but overall the picture being presented by even some of the most glowing commentary is tinged with a vague sense of gloom.
New consoles were seen to be flagging: Sony’s Vita, thanks to an anaemic launch line-up, was released into the world to be greeted by the sound of tumbleweeds; Nintendo’s Wii U has likewise underperformed, and despite having the most unique (or needlessly convoluted) control scheme ever devised it was criticised for taking so long to catch up with the HD graphics of 2006 and botching its online capabilities. The purported ‘future’ of gaming through motion control titles (to put it politely) failed to impress: the horror of Kinect Star Wars’ dancing Han Solo cannot be unseen, and what in the name of Batman’s shiny grapple was Steel Battalion: Heavy Armour?! Publishers too came under fire as many of the most highly anticipated games (read: giant, sequel blockbusters) were said to have disappointed on some level or another, offering experiences that, despite being highly polished, were either derivative, anti-climactic, or technically and narratively lacklustre (see Resident Evil 6, Max Payne 3, Diablo 3, Far Cry 3 …and personally, I’ve not yet shut up about the half-baked grotesquery of Mass Effect 3’s morally deplorable conclusion).*
Of course, thankfully these kinds of sweeping generalisations are not the whole picture of this past twelve months, and wholly fail to capture the more interesting minutia that has defined this exciting period of the videogame medium’s growth. Because, yes, while a catch phrase like ‘2012 was a bad year for gaming‘ is unfair to some of the works being shovelled into the ‘fail’ pile, what is far more unfortunate is that such a blanket summary completely dismisses the innovation evidenced in the smaller, noteworthy trends that were able to flourish this past year now that (perhaps for the first time ever) the usual saturating buzz that surrounds every Triple-A title could finally be penetrated.
‘2012 was a disappointment‘ fails to capture any of the nostalgic innovation we saw this past year in games like Mark of the Ninja and Fez; it totally dismisses the industry-wide revolution of downloadable titles and independent publishers that have exploded to the forefront of the audience’s consciousness with games like FTL and Hotline Miami; it barely even touches upon the works that tried (even if not always successfully) to explore the nature of gaming itself, to test the boundaries of its capacity to convey complex, emotionally resonant material, such as in Spec Ops: The Line’s autopsy of the shooter genre, the utterly charming Thomas Was Alone’s playful evocation of rich interpersonal relationships between two dimensional shapes, or Papo and Yo’s poignant metaphorical depiction of domestic abuse.
Yes, this past year may have been a little sparse if judged by the traditional blockbuster headliners (Halo 4 was celebrated, but not really considered revolutionary, and Assassin’s Creed 3 seems to have alienated as many as it enraptured); it may have suffered some from the displacement of a few of the most hotly anticipated games of the year being pushed into early 2013 (Bioshock Infinite and Tomb Raider are still being polished, and the long, long awaited GTA5 will arrive whenever Rockstar deigns); and it may be judged a little saggy and tired by those, both in the industry and audience, who are becoming increasingly disenchanted with the limitations of the current hardware and who simply want the next console cycle to be announced; but the year was by no means a resounding downer.
Certainly it was not a failure in light of the revolutions in mechanics, artistic expression, and distribution that flourished in its span. FTL was birthed into the world through the then-untried method of crowd-sourcing investment (and Double Fine’s adventure game is still forthcoming through the same route); Journey revealed untapped potential in emotive co-operative online multiplayer experience that extended beyond being verbally assaulted through a headset because you tanked a death match; and The Walking Dead proved episodic narrative to not only be viable, but potentially the most absorbing, exhilarating means of investing an audience in a harrowing, adaptive tale. And Fez? Come on! He’s wearing a Fez, people!
And so, with all of this righteous surety ringing in my head, scoffing at anyone who would dare dismiss this past year as a shadow of greater times, confident that despite the fact that we are crowding around the light of this console cycle’s dying embers we are still being lit with its warmest glows, I decided to arrogantly give it a shot myself, to think back on my own most transformative gaming experience of 2012 and decide which game most entranced, most moved, and most surprised me this year…
And to my utter astonishment (and rather to the complete contradiction of everything that I’ve just been blathering about in the preceding paragraphs), it’s actually not a game from 2012 at all. It’s a game from 2010 that I only just got around to playing…
So for me, in my utterly subjective, walled-off-from-the-rest-of-civilisation, so-anachronistic-as-to-be-completely-meaningless, opinion, 2012’s game of the year is…
…the game I’ll be talking about next week.
Oooo… was that theatrical? Did I create dramatic anticipation?
It was just annoying, and you don’t actually care anyway?
IMAGE: Fez (Polytron Corporation)
* And considering that the 10 top selling games of the year were all sequels, this was particularly evident (http://www.computerandvideogames.com/386138/us-the-ten-best-selling-games-of-2012-revealed/?cid=OTC-RSS&attr=CVG-General-RSS#). Also, for a brief summary of some of the biggest controversies that blackened the year see: http://www.kotaku.com.au/2012/12/the-year-in-controversy/