By Adam Tatelman, Contributor
I was largely disappointed with 2012’s high-profile game releases. All my most beloved gaming experiences last year went mostly unnoticed, despite being (sometimes literally) interactive works of art. So let’s begin 2013 by paying homage to the unadvertised and underfunded, the unloved and the ugly.
5. Dishonored (released October 9, available on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC)
Despite being a graphical Quasimodo with last-gen textures that pop in at random, Arkane Studios’ magnum opus took E3 2012 by storm with its exaggerated character design and Victorian era diesel-punk waterfront setting. Delivering a mixture of tense stealth, brutal combat, and myriad supernatural powers, Dishonored sets you loose on Dunwall to choose between dealing justice and taking vengeance. Although its gameplay elements often congeal into an unfocused mess, there’s something to be said for any game with the ambition to try and do so much with so little.
4. Silent Hill: Downpour (released March 13, available on Xbox 360 and PS3)
If you want to know what it’s like to do hard drugs without the risk of doing hard time, play Vatra Games’ inaugural full title. Though the gothic ‘self-inflicted Hell’ narrative is a retread of the immensely loved Silent Hill 2, the Euclidean symbology of the enemy and environment design and the themes of isolation and inevitability are enough to forge a new identity. Get lost in the free-roaming sections of Silent Hill, outpace personifications of ex-con Murphy Pendleton’s psychological issues, and solve demented puzzles in the ever-shifting acid trip that is the Otherworld. Though the combat is slapdash, running for your life is kind of the point. If you can accept that you aren’t playing as a badass powerhouse, you may find there’s fun to be had with mortal terror.
3. Mark of the Ninja (released September 7, available on Xbox 360 and PC)
Available on Xbox Live Arcade, Klei Entertainment’s 2D side-scroller is a love letter to every stealth title published in the last 15 years. Your wits will have to guide you through the game’s challenging, chiaroscuro-shaded assault courses. Use darkness and silent acrobatics to evade patrolling soldiers, employ ninja tools against modern security systems, and terrorize your foes by picking them off one at a time. Lots of replay-ability can be found in the unlockable New Game Plus mode (try ‘ghosting’ the game in hard mode using Path of Silence, an optional challenge that forbids stealth kills). Though the game is light in the plot department, ask yourself—do you really need an excuse to be a ninja?
2. Spec-Ops: The Line (released June 26, available on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC)
Some play video games because they want to be action heroes. Yager Studios’ post-modern masterpiece reminds us that mass murder is hardly heroic. On the surface, it’s a bland cover-based shooter with poor hit detection. But once Spec-Ops sends a Delta Force squad into a post-apocalyptic Dubai as part of a disaster relief effort, the game veers sharply from Modern Warfare territory and directly towards Apocalypse Now. It takes every trope and cliché we’ve come to expect from a war shooter and plays it like a blood-splattered orchestra, shooting down interventionist foreign policy and escapism through heroic bloodshed by forcing the player to contemplate his own gruesome handiwork.
1. Dust: An Elysian Tail (released August 15, available on Xbox 360)
When one artist paints all the scenery and animates all the characters in a game, you know they really wanted to publish it. The artistic passion behind Humble Hearts’ debut project is apparent in every aspect, from the painterly visuals to the superb voice acting and soundtrack to the epic fantasy tale that subverted my every expectation. The gameplay brilliantly condenses fully fleshed-out RPG elements, Devil May Cry-style combat and Metroid’s progressive exploration into a singular, unique whole. This XBLA title is a game that loves the medium, shouting out to every gaming legend imaginable and lampooning the inherent silliness of the culture in an affectionate, lighthearted way. A joy to play from start to finish.
I love games and I always will, no matter how stagnant the industry becomes; games like these remind me that for every 10 brown and gray gorefests we get, there’s an artist out there making something truly original. I am always more entertained by a game that fails spectacularly at doing something new and exciting than one that succeeds minimally by treading a well-paved path.
Pick up The Other Press next week for a look at 2012’s top five up-and-coming celebrities with Elliot Chan.