Snackbar’s 2012 Staff Picks: Shawn Vermette

December 28, 2012

2012 was a banner year for games at the top of heap. There were many games that deserve to be in anyone’s top ten, so it was more difficult to rank my top games than ever before this year. In fact, I wouldn’t argue against any of my top seven games. However, little things differentiate them ever so slightly to me, resulting in the list below. I recommend all of them to anyone who loves games.

HM. Edna & Harvey: Harvey’s New Eyes

This year I discovered a love of point-and-click adventure games I hadn’t realized slumbered within me. And beyond a doubt, the one that sticks with me the most is Harvey’s New Eyes. Yes, part of it is because it’s a naively-twisted tale of a sick girl, but it’s also because its one of the most polished and diverse games in the genre I’ve ever played. Thus, it gets an honorable mention from me and a recommendation that every fan of the genre should give it a play.

10. Endless Space

I’ve been waiting, and looking, for a worthwhile successor to Master of Orion 2 for nearly a decade, and this year we finally got it. Endless Space streamlines some of the system-managing aspects that can bog down a galaxy-wide strategy game without losing the actual strategy, includes a massive tech tree that requires hard decisions regarding scientific direction, and a real-time hybrid combat system that requires strategy in both ship/fleet design and in battle tactics. Failure in either area can mean death to your fledgling empire. This gives me a serious case of one-more-turn-itis.

9. Xenoblade Chronicles

It was almost a foregone conclusion that Xenoblade Chronicles would make this list, considering my interests and its well-documented greatness. In fact, it might be higher on my list if I’d been able to play more of it this year. As it is, the reason I didn’t is because the games ranked above it were also amazing. Suffice it to say, there’s only one game that has been able to force this out of my Wii’s disc drive since I got it, and it is…

8. The Last Story

I wasn’t sure how much I would like The Last Story once I actually got it, I just knew that with Nobuo Uematsu doing the soundtrack, it had a great chance of being one of my top games. I was right. Mistwalker has become one of my favorite studios this generation, and The Last Story is their best game yet. Everyone with a Wii needs to play this. It’s one of the best games on the Wii of all time, not just this year.

7. Journey

I virtually ignored this title until after it was released, and even then I wasn’t really interested or impressed with what I’d seen of it. Based on recommendations from friends, I decided to give it a shot, though, and I’m glad I did. I haven’t experienced anything in any creative medium that was able to create the roiling range of emotions that Journey evoked in me. At least, not in just two or three hours and without any words or explicit story. Journey exquisitely uses technology to create an emotive masterpiece the likes of which I think will take years to replicate. Go play it and experience the wonderment, joy, excitement, despair, sadness, tears and happiness that I did.

6. Tales of Graces f

I’m a recent convert to the Tales series, having first fallen in love with it while playing Vesperia. The characters and story in Graces f aren’t as great as Vesperia‘s, but it’d be hard to get that great again. They are, however, still good enough to carry it as my top PS3 game this year, thanks to the improved combat system. Add in an interesting take on item creation on top of everything else, and you’ve got a game that excites me all the way through, and has me looking forward to the upcoming release of Xillia.

5. The Walking Dead

This is another game I didn’t pay any attention to at first. I mean, I love point-and-clicks and Telltale, but it was based on a show I didn’t care about, with a theme I can do without. A few recommendations and a Steam sale later, and I decided to give it a shot. Wow, this is a heavy story. Telltale does a great job of making you feel the panic and stress and horror over the events that happen because you actually influence them in some way. You choose who lives or dies. You decide whether to chop off a leg to save a life. I recommend this to everyone, but don’t try to play it all in one sitting. It’s just too much that way.

4. Final Fantasy XIII-2

I’m one of the people who loved Final Fantasy XIII, flaws and all. That said, I was unsure of XIII-2 when it was first announced. I didn’t really see what else could be done in that universe. And, truth be told, I was worried about the flaws getting worse. Thankfully, Square Enix listened to the feedback of its fans, and fixed virtually every problem it had while giving us a compelling story, enhancing the combat and used time travel and paradoxes well. Lightning Returns can’t get here fast enough for me.

3. Persona 4 Golden

I really, really don’t know how I never played Persona 4 on the PS2. I’ve remedied that with Golden, though, as I’ve put over 50 hours into it in three weeks and haven’t played anything else since I got it. Pretty much everything about it is what I want in a JRPG. Give me interesting and diverse characters with depth, great and catchy music, fun combat and a crazy story, and I’ll be hooked for life on your game. I’m already planning on playing it again after I finish, just so that I can try to romance a different girl next time and see how things go.

2. XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Having never played the original X-COM games, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect here. All I knew was that it was a tactical strategy game from Firaxis, so it was going to get my money no matter what. I definitely didn’t expect to find such a difficult tactical game. Nor one where killing an encroaching Cyberdisc with your last move before getting your team slaughtered would be so satisfying. And, while the permadeath makes every mission a peril-inducing hazard, it’s that very worry and fear that drives the game forward. Without it, XCOM wouldn’t be nearly as compelling. Balancing the risks and rewards of each movement in missions, and of allocation of your limited resources outside of them, is of the utmost importance and one wrong move in either sphere can quickly spiral your game out of control and beyond help.

1. Mass Effect 3

Mass Effect 3 is basically what I wish the ending of any multi-game series steeped with choices would be. My experience was substantially different than those of every one of my friends, which proves the influence of all the myriad choices we made over the previous 100 hours spent in the world of Mass Effect. Add in the Extended Cut, and the Leviathan and From Ashes DLC, and you’ve got an overall package here that is impressive in its scope and storytelling even without the two previous games. With them though, I grew attached to everyone, and as a result experienced highs and lows of emotion throughout the game that I’d never experienced from a game before. This was an extremely competitive year, but as the finale of my favorite series ever, and a great game on its own, Mass Effect 3 has the edge.