Far Cry 3's story is racially insensitive, a Bechdel Test nightmare, and is criminally close to being homophobic. Despite all the cringe-worthy narrative elements that are handled with the deftness of a surgeon with a hacksaw, Far Cry 3 immersed me in its world and didn't let go until I finished. It speaks to the brilliance of the game's design team that players are compelled to push on after realizing they are one of the Rich Kids of Instagram and are tasked with saving others of their ilk.
Oh my gawd, and don't even get me started on the mental self-flagellation I experienced after saving Oliver.
I adore accessible strategy games. Any developer that has the talent to create epic strategy and then recognizes editing as the next step deserves a giant Klondike bar. Developer Firaxis and I see eye-to-eye most of the time. In the year where the studio brought us XCOM, it also created the Gods and Kings expansion for Civilization 5. The major additions were religion and espionage, which were absent from the streamlined approach the latest iteration in the series was trying to do. The additions worked, enhanced the game and didn't hurt its pacing. For those who felt Civ 5 needed more, it was a solid expansion.
If you've followed my twitter (@Sliwinski) at all over the past couple years, you'll know that El Presidente's ridiculous world holds a special place in my heart. Tropico's levels are long (usually around two hours), but it's a lush and sunny place I'm always happy to visit, which I've enhanced with my custom Spotify soundtrack of salsa music. I love how Haemimont has evolved the banana republic simulator, taking over the franchise since Tropico 3. Modern Times has a solid conclusion to the epic silliness of Tropico 4's campaign. Tropico brought narrative elements to the simulation genre, something this year's SimCity would do well to notice.
An overlooked gem that deserves more attention than it received. I have a lot of games about which I say, "I should really get back to that," and never do. Whenever I was done playing the latest hotness required to keep up with the times, I'd fall back on Dust and its lush art and stylized combat animations for a few hours. It's a good sign when I actually finish a game, and I went out of my way to finish Dust in 2012.
The Oregon Trail for those who like sci-fi. FTL is brutally difficult (hint: easy is "normal"), but whatever it is about the masochism people enjoy in Dark Souls, I've got that when it comes to FTL. The odds are against the player, and they'll have to start over many, many times, but there's a lesson in every reboot. I wish the game was a little more carrot and a little less caning, but FTL and developer Subset Games have a bright future.
In the deluge of Multiplayer Online Battle Arena games since the over-the-top success of Riot's League of Legends, Ronimo's Awesomenauts is one of the few that new players actually stood a chance in wrapping their brains around. The game's 2D presentation and '80s-cartoon style mix, along with its crazy cast, create a fantastic alternative to the others in the genre. For console players, the game suffered the same fate as Monday Night Combat back in 2010, finding the flexibility it needed to discover its voice within the embrace of updates on PC.
Straight up: if I had time in my life for an MMO, Guild Wars 2 and I would be besties. The game is already the most respectful MMO ever created for an adults' time, but I'm glad I broke it off before I got in too deep. However, Guild Wars 2 is a game I'd want more time with, if we mathematically figure out a week that involves nine 36-hour days.
Reckoning was really great. Everything that happened to its developer Big Huge Games, due to issues with its parent company 38 Studios, is a gosh-darn fudging shame. We'll never know how Project Copernicus would have ended up, but Reckoning is a classic video game industry example of a good start that blows up big in a sequel. Sadly, it's a sequel we will never see. The consolation prize is that the major players from Big Huge Games were scooped up by Epic Games and are now Impossible Studios. If anybody wants to make an RPG that copies Reckoning's combat, I'll be happy to give you my money. Although, if you copy Grandia's combat, I'll give you my money and a big hug.