The first half of the year tends to get forgotten due to the storm of releases we gamers endure in the later half of the year. With that in mind we at Vagary.tv fought, argued and slapped each other around in order to bring you our collective “top games”. Keep in mind, as individuals this list would vary from person to person. ~ Don Parsons
Best Story: The Walking Dead (our review)
Other games mentioned: The Witcher 2 and Mass Effect 3
While the writing and presentation of narratives in games has improved exponentially over the past decade, many developers are still face with the vexing problem of how to make an engaging gameplay experience featuring a solid narrative. So far this year we have been treated to a smorgasbord of narratives that push the envelope forward in terms of story and presentation but one game has stood above all the rest, Telltale’s The Walking Dead.
It may only be 40% complete but The Walking Dead’s first two episodes features great characterization, meaningful choices, and some truly gut wrenching moments that most other games can only wish for. Much like its comic book counterpart, the zombies in Telltale’s The Walking Dead are just a catalyst for the events taking place. It is not about shooting all the zombies but rather surviving in a world turned upside down and with the narrative tied into every action that the player takes it makes the impact of the gameplay that much more effective.
~ Chris Scott
Best Co-Op: Mass Effect 3 (our review)
Other games nominated: Journey
I greatly questioned what I assumed was an effort on the part of EA to shoe-horn multiplayer into the Mass Effect series by adding cooperative play. I asked myself, why would you want co-op in one of the greatest single player RPG series of all time? Thankfully, Bioware met the challenge with an outstanding effort. In my review of the game, I wondered if the multiplayer would have the legs to carry it forward. And while interest has certainly fizzled from its release day prowess, Bioware has maintained the game for a core group, offering outstanding post-launch support and plenty of free DLC. The cooperative play in Mass Effect 3 is first class, and while it’s not without issues, it is certainly worth the price of admission.
Best Competitive: SSX (our review)
Other games nominated: Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, Twisted Metal and Tribes: Ascend
Games like Battlefield, Call of Duty, Gears of War, Halo and such will always be a place for our competitive juices to flow but sometimes it is quite difficult to get a group together to play. EA’s reinvigorated snowboarding title, SSX allows us to get our competitive edge on while allowing everyone to do on their own time. SSX delivers competitive asynchronous multiplayer, utilizing a modified version of the Auto Log from Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. The constant updating of the log created an addictive environment that just kept us coming back over and over again as we attempted to best our friends scores/times and find their GeoTags.
Best Action: Max Payne 3 (our review)
Other games nominated: LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes, The Amazing Spider-Man and Twisted Metal
Max Payne 3 is a rarity in a crowded shooter market, for two reasons. One, it offers an interesting and deep storyline, dragging you down into the depths of Max Payne’s addictions and depression, leaving you gasping for air and wondering if he’ll ever return to the surface. And two, Max Payne 3 offers deep, compelling and unique gameplay. The use of bullet time is implemented seamlessly and effectively, encouraging its use and rewarding players with awesome spectacle every time. I never tired of seeing Max Payne blow his final opponent away, emptying a clip into them in wonderfully detailed horror. Max Payne 3 is a tough game with some checkpoint issues, but on a whole, it’s an excellent action title that should be tried and loved by everyone.
~ Tony Odett
Best Puzzle: Fez (our review)
Other games nominated: Treasures of Montezuma, Escape Plan, Quantum Conundrum and Bejeweled 3
Fez takes the 2D platformer and cubes it, allowing you to rotate the world at will 90 degrees at a time, and opening up all sorts of possibilities. Its 8-bit inspired music and visuals disguise a completely original take on the old school platformer. You must explore an open world that allows you to get lost down seemingly endless rabbit holes seeking out cubes. The rotation mechanic inspires clever puzzles and platforming. Later puzzles range from obscure to downright opaque, from using a QR scanner on your smartphone to translating the game’s original hieroglyphic language. To find all the cubes, you might need to seek help from other players, but to enjoy the game, all you need is $10 and a love for platforming, exploration, and puzzle solving.
~ Jeff Derrickson
Best Strategy: Crusader Kings 2 (our review)
Other games nominated: Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion
Crusader Kings 2 is simply the best country leadership simulation ever made. From the intricate (and addicting) vassal management calling out your bannermen to fight today’s foe, CK2 offers an authentic and entertaining experience. The game has a very steep learning curve, but for those willing to put in the time, Crusader Kings 2 will provide hours of fun and excitement. I’ve had few gaming moments as satisfying as my victory over my vassals when three-quarters of my kingdom rose in rebellion, challenging my rule. With the vast amount of content the game offers, and the developer’s well reputed doses of DLC content, this game is Paradox Entertainment’s crowning achievement.
~ Tony Odett
Best RPG: Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (our review)
Other games nominated: Pokemon Conquest, Diablo 3, Mass Effect 3 and Xenoblade Chronicles
I weep for the fall of 38 Studios and Big Huge Games. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was the complete RPG package. Wonderful voice acting, amazing writing, fulfilling combat, and one of the best upgrade systems ever designed. Being able to level up as a warrior, and then switch to a mage of the same level without restarting the game was one of the finest gameplay decisions ever made. The world was massive, gorgeous, and there were many, many things to do. And, unlike most games, KOA was thematically consistent, as the sidequests and main confronted many of the same issues in different and compelling ways.
~ Tony Odett
~ Chris Scott
Most Disappointing: Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City (our review)
Other games nominated: Kingdoms of Amalur: The Reckoning, Defenders of Ardania and Syndicate
Being the “most disappointing” doesn’t make a game bad. Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City was actually a fun game. It filled in some interesting plot points during classic Resident Evil games, and delivered zombie-shooting goodness. What makes RE:ORC the most disappointing game is a combination of lackluster AI (from both your partners and enemy zombies) and the forgettable multiplayer. Add into the mix a short campaign and you have the elements necessary for a disappointing game. It’s still a game worth playing for any Resident Evil fan. The co-op makes it even more enjoyable, but I wouldn’t recommend getting excited for it unless you want to sigh from being let down.
~ Don Parsons
Best Game: Diablo III (our review)
Other games nominated: Kingdoms of Amalur: The Reckoning, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, Mass Effect 3, Journey and The Walking Dead
Fans waited for over a decade for Blizzard to unleash the third title in the Diablo franchise and when it released there was a collective gasp as the title failed to work for many players. However after the initial connection issues, when players were finally able to get on and play, what they got was a fantastically crafted action-role-playing game worthy of bearing the Diablo name.
Diablo III might not reinvent the wheel in terms of gameplay but it could very well turn out to be a marquee moment in the history of games. It’s implementation of an always online authentication process and the real money auction house may change the face of gaming as we know it. How we all feel about this is still up for debate but there is little denying that Diablo III has made an impact. Still when it comes down to it, the intangibles are nice but games are for playing and Diablo III is a great experience.
Like Starcraft II before it, Blizzard’s core mechanics for Diablo III are so strong that the little tweaks and additions that have been implemented make it one of the strongest most polished products on the market and like its predecessors, it is highly addictive as well. More than a few of the Vagary staff got sucked into the addictive loop that Blizzard has delivered and are just now coming out of the visit to Hell and some are still stuck there.
So, there you have it. For fans of strategy games, be sure to check out the list Tony put together catering to you here. Some other staff members will be posting their top games so far this year, too. But we want to hear what you think, so be sure to leave a comment.