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So even though I missed out on games that looked right up my alley—like Hotline Miami or Natural Selection 2 (which I've actually played a little bit of and loved)—I still found plenty to play that kept me more than happily occupied. These are my favorite games of 2012, in no particular order.
The game with psychotic personalities and more weapons than I could ever dream of. I loved the first Borderlands. It was the perfect cooperative game. Borderlands 2 took everything that first title made great—loot and silliness—and added even better writing, better characters, and more creative weapons. And on top of all that, Gearbox has been busting their butts to deliver us timely DLC that keeps on delivering. It's one of the few games that has come out this year that I keep going back to.
Virtual tourism at its best. Exploring the open world of Hong Kong was not only gorgeous, but it was also full of life that gave a real depth to the game. The story kept me compelled, driving (and perhaps more so, hijacking other cars to drive) felt wonderful, and the hand-to-hand combat is some of the best I've experienced.
I've talked this one to death, especially considering it's my personal nomination for Game of the Year. Suffice it to say that it was the most emotional game I played through this year, with some really powerful characters and, more importantly, relationships. This game can teach you something about yourself.
I only go half-stealthy in most stealth games. Mainly because most stealth games let you get away with doing so. But Mark of the Ninja's practically perfect design puts stealth at the forefront, making it not only manageable and comfortable to play stealthily throughout the entire game, but also incredibly fun to a degree that feels rewarding.
Journey is an adorable game. It makes you want to reach out to someone, help them and rely on them for help. Journey teaches you that you don't need words to communicate with people, and that encouraged people to work together to survive. And that ending? That ending was almost unbearably heartwarming. Even if it was somewhat somber for me, when I'd lost my companion just when we'd reached safety after everything we had been through together. In a way I almost preferred that ending, because it reinforced what Journey showed me: that cooperation is a beautiful thing.
I'm a puzzle person. Fez is an all at once a smart and terribly confusing puzzle game. So much so that the Internet had to come together to compare notes to solve some of the game's tougher puzzles. And beyond that, there were even more secrets to uncover. A challenging puzzle game would normally be enough for me. But the bright and pretty colors and an adorably pudgy Fez made this puzzle game an absolute joy to play through, too.
Being a dedicated fan of Bungie's Halo, I was a little nervous for Halo 4, the first title to be developed instead by 343. But the second I hopped in and started killing the Covies with my battle rifle, I felt at ease. And then 343 pulled a fast one on me and turned the singleplayer story into something of a romance, and a personal story of what it takes to be Master Chief. Even after the campaign is over—and after you've played it through on multiple difficulty levels, cause c'mon—there's plenty of fun times to be had in multiplayer. I must have played thousands of rounds of Flood and Oddball and straight Team Slayer.
It took me a while to finally find the time to get around to playing this one, but once I sunk a few hours in I was hooked. I love driving around the island, pulling over quickly because I spotted a tiger whose skin I really need before continuing on to my mission. I even love scaling those radio towers, including the more frustrating ones that took me a few day/night cycles to complete. But my favorite parts of Far Cry 3—something I wish the game had more of—were the trippy scenes Jason experienced after lots of drug and whatever liquid taking. Scenery morphed, he battled weird enemies, and he faced his fears. I wasn't too sold on the strength of the storyline otherwise. Some average tourist all of a sudden turning into a badass assassin and being welcomed into tribes of warriors who inexplicably can't do anything on their own? Well thank god Jason came along, eh? It felt a little too unbelievable. But I accepted the storyline. Because the game—or perhaps really my skills with using the tools and tatau given to me that helped me wipe out entire camps of soldiers—convinced me just fine otherwise.
Here's my "wtf" entry. Jumping Finn Turbo is an iOS game. I rarely love mobile games. I enjoy some, but I'll toss them aside almost as easily as I pick them up. Super Hexagon is one that came close, but nothing kept my attention like Jumping Finn Turbo. Maybe it's the Adventure Time hook that got me. Or maybe it was the competition to beat high scores (try to beat mine!) and reach the actual "end" of the game. Ultimately? I think it was how simple and yet addictive the game was. Addictive because you knew if you pushed on just a little farther, you could unlock that next ability. Get to that next level that once felt so far away but is now in your reachable grasp. And yet, like most mobile games that come my way, I don't play this one anymore. But I played it longer than most others.
Remember: this game came out in 2012! I'm a blood and gore kind of girl. The more guts I get to spill the merrier, I say. The Darkness II fed into my taste perfectly, and supplied me with two extra arms to multiply the effect. I absolutely loved multitasking between ripping enemy spines out and shooting other people in the head. I've killed a lot of virtual bad guys in my time, but rarely have I done so with such eviscerating enthusiasm as The Darkness II allows.
The second Darkness game was released in 2012. It's...well...yes.
While The Darkness was developed by Starbreeze, who are now putting the finishing touches on the new Syndicate, this game is the work of Digital Extremes, a studio normally responsible for platform-porting other 2K studios' titles. So there are changes. The game feels a bit less serious this time around, for example, the cel-shaded graphics giving things a more pulpy look.
There's also some other stuff that's changed. Let's see how much for the better.
Slice & Dice. Four-armed combat is still as fun as ever. The Darkness II will give you, at least initially, that same giddy rush you get from shooters like Halo and Crysis, that feeling that combat is as much about experimentation and expression as it is mere progression. The fact you can carry guns, dual-wield guns, throw objects, use objects and lash out in a variety of ways with your evil tentacles means every encounter is a chance to try something new, meaning the actual act of killing somebody in this game is always a blast.
Funky, Cold. There's a point early on where you walk into a bar and Tone-Loc is playing. Tone-Loc. That was pretty great.
Light our Darkest Hour - I can't remember if the first Darkness game had this, but the second one definitely has a Dead Space-style pathfinding system. Press a button and a purple vapour runs through the corridors ahead of you, showing you where to go next. Not that you get lost that often in such a linear game, but when you do, it's a welcome touch, one I wish a lot more games went to the trouble of implementing.
Developer: Digital Extremes
Platforms: PC / PlayStation 3 / Xbox 360 (Version played)
Released: February 7 (U.S.), February 10 (Europe)
Type of game: First-person shooter with a supernatural mobster twist.
What I played: Finished the story in around four hours. Played some co-op as one of the most flamboyantly Japanese stereotypes I have ever seen in my life.
My Two Favorite Things
My Two Least-Favorite Things
Made-to-Order Back-of-Box Quotes
2012?. The Darkness II tries to get closer to its comic book origins with a cel-shaded effect, but it's not as fully-implemented as you've seen in games like XIII, or Okami. This gives the graphics a half-assed look to them; sometimes the cel-shading works, most times it just leaves you with muddy textures that make the game look like it came out in, say, 2007.
Sleep Chamber. It's a damn shame that, for all the tools you're given to experiment with, the game doesn't ever give you much of a chance to really put them to the test. Enemies simply appear and run at you, and the cramped level design and scripting means there's little avenue for flanking or surprise. You are little but a four-armed meat grinder, clocking on for an evening's repetitive work.
Short. The campaign is short. Like, you could finish it in 3-4 hours. And that's including the awful "story" sequences I'm about to get to. If this game had a large and robust multiplayer component that'd be fine, but it doesn't. There's multiplayer, yeah, and story-based co-op at that, but it's not much fun. It plays like a slippery, more chaotic game of Left 4 Dead, and will only be of interest to those with an interest in the game's story.
On Rails. The Darkness II tries to flesh out its tale of dismemberment with frequent first-person story sequences. If you liked the Desmond sections from the first Assassin's Creed, you're going to love these. They consist of walking along corridors able to do nothing but hit X when you're standing in the right spot or facing the right person.
PRESS X TO SIT WITH LADY FRIEND
PRESS X TO LIGHT CANDLE
PRESS X TO FEEL REMORSE
Maybe the developers thought giving you this control would make you feel more, well, in control. Maybe it was a way to save time and money on cutscenes. Whatever the reason, it ends up being incredibly dull, as there's no real interactivity to them. Many of them, for example, are set in Jackie's mansion, of which you've got full access. Only...there's nothing to do. You walk up to a man, press X to initiate a conversation, then he tells you to go see someone else. You go over there and...press X.
The game is obviously trying to give you a feeling of choice and control, of being part of the plot, but ironically all it does is rub your face in the fact that you're being dragged at a snail's pace through a story that I didn't find surprising, didn't find engaging and was populated with cardboard characters I couldn't have cared less about.
It's fitting that one of the last sequences in the game has you riding through a haunted house, literally on rails, while enemies pop out predictably to meet an instant and unsatisfying end. So much of the rest of the game had felt just like that, only less obviously put, that it almost feels like an apologetic nod and wink from the developers.
So, it's a "NO" from me. For a game that you may have noticed did OK elsewhere. Since this is the first "NO" any of us have handed out, I may as well explain what's going on with this new review system of ours. A "YES" and "NO" don't correspond to "GOOD" and "BAD" games. They correspond to whether the individual writer thinks the game is worth checking out. I'll recommend you play what I think is an awesome game, sure, but there are also plenty of terrible games I'd recommend playing (not buying, playing!) as well. Maybe they're funny. Maybe they're just interesting.
I'm most unkind to games like this. The grey ones. The middle of the road. The ones that do nothing to excite or interest you either way.
There's something living inside mobster Jackie Estacado, born of the blackest corners of the psyche, eons of human suffering and strife, and not a little high-cost hair product. He's the host for The Darkness, an ancient and powerful entity that thrives on chaos and destruction. This comic book anti-hero's first journey to the video game market resulted in a solid shooter with a surprising amount of heart (in more ways than one). The question is did he leave enough hearts for seconds?
For the answer we turn to that most heartless of uber-entities, the assembled video game critics.
An extra pair of limbs is so useful in an FPS, and so much fun, that it's a wonder we haven't seen more games transform you into a multi-tentacled engine of destruction. Instead, we've had to wait five years for this sequel to The Darkness - an unusually long delay in an industry as fond of annual sequels as it is of taking good ideas and running them into the ground.
And having four limbs really does make a difference, opening up combat possibilities that other shooters can't hope to compete with. As demon-infested mobster Jackie Estacado, you not only have two human appendages with which to wield a standard variety of pistols, shotguns and assault rifles, but two piranha-faced tentacles - manifestations of the ancient Darkness that has set up home in Jackie's body.
In terms of the fiction behind all this bloodshed, Estacado has managed to keep his unholy powers at bay during the two years since the first game's events, but soon reawakens them following the appearance of the Brotherhood – a shadowy organisation that was the original keeper of the Darkness and fancies it back. Estacado's spent the intervening period grieving the loss of his childhood sweetheart, Jenny, who was murdered in the previous game before his eyes.
She may be dead, but Estacado's inability to let go means Jenny reappears in hallucinatory flashbacks. Returning comic-book writer Paul Jenkins pens an intricate tale that flits between reality, the Jenny flashbacks and repeated visits to a mental hospital, where Estacado's a patient and his mob underlings take on the roles of doctors, orderlies and fellow inmates, with Jenny cast as a nurse. It's a genuinely discomfiting experience as you try to parse reality from flashbacks from Darkness-conjured hallucinations. The one constant is Johnny Powell, who's equally manic in real life as he is in the mental hospital, all bulging eyes and flailing arms and conspiracy theories. He's the maddest man in the game, but also the most in the know. In the few quiet moments, smart, sporadic use of licensed music lends real-world credence to the ultraviolent, supernatural fantasy that pervades elsewhere.
Combat relies on reflexes more than strategy this time around; Jackie can rarely get the jump on an enemy, and the Darkness is just a weapon rather than a tool. Most encounters begin when Jackie passes an invisible trigger point in the environment. Foes crawl out of the woodwork, descend from rooftops, and almost always rush his location, resulting in more close-range encounters and challenging battles.
Jackie can quad-wield weapons (two guns and two Darkness serpents), allowing for a variety of grisly kills. Placing two bullets into an opponent's leg makes him reel, giving Jackie enough time to lift him off of the ground with a serpent. As the foe dangles in agony, the second serpent can rip off his head or puncture his chest. The gunplay and serpent mechanics are beautifully implemented, and once mastered, empower the player with the sensation of superiority on the battlefield.
Feeling powerful is fun, but combat encounters lack the necessary variety in design and enemy types to remain fresh. Even with an extensive upgrade system in place, the action doesn't evolve from its initial form. I must have summoned my serpents to perform the grotesque wishbone kill (ripping a foe in two from the crotch to the face) at least 100 times in the seven or eight hours it took to complete the game.
Once Jackie's sufficiently powered up, he feels damn near unstoppable. Again, though, he has one big weakness, and that's light, which causes The Darkness to retract and throws everything into blinding black-and-white. Usually this can be remedied by shooting out whatever nearby light bulb is endangering your life, but some lights require following a wire and blowing up a generator before they'll go out. Then there are the handheld spotlights and flashbangs wielded by the Brotherhood (who are generally more competent and militaristic than the rival mafia goons you'll kill in the game's early stages), which present their own problems.
Luckily, you're far from defenseless when the lights are on, because Jackie has access to a small but impressive assortment of firearms that work just fine even when he's cut off from the rest of his cool powers. Able to carry three guns at a time (one rifle or shotgun and two sidearms), Jackie can dual-wield pistols and submachineguns, or single-wield for more accurate aim. It doesn't really get much more complicated than that, except to say that the guns all pack a satisfying kick, and that you'll rely on them an awful lot, considering the demonic powers at your disposal. Especially in later stages, when the game starts piling on tough, armored Brotherhood commandos by the truckload and swarming you with them.
The Darkness II's multiplayer extends the narrative and the life of the game well after the relatively short campaign. The multiplayer isn't like the original's — a forced-in and boring competitive multiplayer — but instead ties directly into the story. You play as one of four Darkness-powered assassins in Jackie's employ, taking on missions that his normal henchmen can't accomplish. The missions generally tie into parts of the story, like kidnapping a guy that Jackie asks for during the campaign, giving them a narrative component that makes them more significant. Even the missions that don't link to the campaign's story are worthwhile, as they give you and your buddies more fights to test your skills on. Most importantly, though, they're fun. They may not be the types of things that grow into an addiction, but the multiplayer modes provide hours of extra gameplay, and give you a good reason to play with friends.
Official Xbox Magazine
The Darkness II's copious gore might upset sensitive stomachs, but it's vastly superior to its predecessor in every respect, spinning a frantic, fantastic neo-noir nightmare you won't want to end. Even those who ordinarily dismiss horror with a shake of the head should give it a shot.