For those of you who don’t know, no, there was no Duke Nukem game that released in 2012, but most of these titles did all of the kicking ass and chewing bubble gum instead. 2012 is defined largely by games that find several different ways to throw you into explosions, gunfire, slow-mo aerial shots, car stunts, stealth attacks, and all of the death that comes with it all. While these things have become almost synonymous with western gaming (just ask Hideo Kojima), the industry cooked up a large variety of ways to present the genre in 2012, including sci-fi, FPS, literally kicking something to death, and chaotic elemental weapon battles. In addition, a lot of these games come with unforgettable story and character arcs that leave you anywhere in the range of total satisfaction to second-guessing your entire life up to the point of completing the game. Let’s see which ones made the cut:
10. Spec Ops: The Line
“What should have been a Molotov tossed into the worn-out, factory gamifying acts of war stands taller as a game like no other. Call it pompous if you must, but Spec Ops: The Line remains the much-needed Apocalypse Now to a never-ending onslaught of Red Dawns. Compared to broad competitor Homefront’s pitiful attempts at social commentary prodding at resonance, Spec Ops: The Line is bold in its vision and willfully nightmarish in its progression. Decent but evidently budget-induced tactical shooting mechanics are elevated by the searing chaos of a campaign that is at once literary in symbolic detail and graphic in depicting the horrors of war. Spec Ops: The Line never becomes miserable to play due to a remarkably varied depiction of Dubai across its levels and an environment that pronounces itself as its own mechanic.” – Zach Kauz
9. Fire Emblem: Awakening
“Fire Emblem: Awakening was my first Fire Emblem game, but it was also an enormous turning point for the series. The insane amount of new mechanics in this game had the potential to bring the game to its knees if not handled properly. The developers nailed them all, making Fire Emblem: Awakening the most successful in the series at the time. Awakening has defined where the series headed after and won’t be soon forgotten.” – Nathanael Hueso
8. Gravity Rush
“It is truly a bittersweet fate to be declared the PS Vita’s killer app, but Gravity Rush mined the Vita’s untapped innovation in a way that transcends the peripheral’s legacy. Stirring together a world of liquid tones, Gravity Rush proceeds to make it a delight to float within. Gravity Rush vividly documents a dream state to a degree that few games manage. The centerpiece ability to manipulate gravity renders walls, ceilings, and vacant air as surfaces all the same. Gravity Rush’s story borders on complete nonsense, but its world spins dazzling tales all on its own. Even held against fellow PS4 titles (per its eventual port), the only game that parallels Gravity Rush’s unforgettable landscape is its own sequel.” – Zach Kauz
“It takes a bit to get used to the disorienting mechanics of Gravity Rush. Everything is suddenly upside down or right-side up, but once you get the hang of it, it really is a rush. If I’m going to be honest, the story is random, and I don’t care for it, but this game is really about the gameplay. I’ve never played anything like it (besides the sequel) and probably never will. It’s one of those niche gems that you get lucky to play.” – Nathanael Hueso
7. Sleeping Dogs
“Sleeping Dogs is a game that has learned from its peers and leverages their tactics into open-world, cross-genre bliss. It spins a story in Yakuza’s vein while giving explosive set-pieces just as much prominence as thoughtfully-formed character drama. It inherits the combat of the Arkham games with an added street fighting flair (some of the environmental finishers impacted my thirteen-year-old brain permanently). Foot chases generally keep matters at ground level but enhance the acrobatics of Assassin’s Creed with a more chaotic world design allowing you to crash through glass ceilings and continue forward without breaking a sweat. Breakneck shooting and driving mechanics enter the fold to assert Sleeping Dogs as a comprehensive open-world experience. Sleeping Dogs rests at the perfect center of a measured tone and kitschy fireworks. It is heart-racing in the same way that it is slightly ridiculous, but the nuanced world design clenches your interest in ways that surpass cheap thrills.” – Zach Kauz
6. Borderlands 2
“While far from being a perfect game, Borderlands 2 manages to accomplish something far more important: it provides a portal through which people can convene, laugh, and share an enjoyable experience. The mayhem of it all, the variety of weapons, and the ridiculousness of the action all provide the player with a sense of chaotic fun that Gearbox has mastered and so few developers can understand. Few games allow players to feel comfortable throwing themselves at a fight with little to no care of whether or not they get shot in the face. This, in fact, is part of the charm of Borderlands as a series.
“What really separates Borderlands 2 from its predecessor is a focus on captivating characters with jokes and personalities that match the energy of fighting a badass. The gameplay, world, and characters all fit into a cohesive unit that drives long nights of laughing over Discord. Gearbox leans on the writing of Handsome Jack as a character perfectly to use him as a mode of driving the story and giving context to the missions. This makes for a satisfying experience that will be remembered for many years to come.” -Brandon Pero
“Fez’s world is bursting with so much color and personality that sometimes I just want to sit there and look at the beautiful pixel art. It’s a simple platformer, but the world-shifting mechanic does something I’ve never seen in another game. Rotating the map while platforming allows for some really cool puzzles in Fez. It’s a relaxing adventure that ages really well.” – Nathanael Hueso
“Dishonored manages to look straight out of a Victorian-era painting. Cell-shaded art styles typically complement a more colorful world like the ones of Borderlands or The Wind Waker, but not here. The browns and greys of the portside towns you visit cement the bleak, industrialized atmosphere of Bethesda’s stealth-action game while not making the environments unpleasant to look at. It’s this careful balance that gives Dishonored a close place in my heart, along with the cool mask the main protag wears obviously.
“The wide array of tools at your disposal, like the razor-wire traps and the ability to freeze time, give each mission a great amount of replayability. There are plenty of back alleys to explore and small tales to experience too. The freedom you get particularly reminds me of the Thief games as well as the original Deus Ex. And I think Dishonored’s unique atmosphere and mission design make it a must-play for fans of those titles.” – Lewis Mackin
“Dishonored is the perfect example of what stealth should look like. The weapons and abilities in your arsenal allow for incredibly varied gameplay as you sneak around enemies. It’s possible to beat the game without killing a single enemy. The world and narrative in Dishonored are just as good as the gameplay. There’s an attention to detail and commitment to world-building that is rivaled by few other games. Dishonored is a completely engrossing experience that I wouldn’t mind playing through again.” – Nathanael Hueso
3. The Walking Dead
“Prior to 2012, every time I tried a ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ type of game, I always left feeling underwhelmed. Choices felt inconsequential, and conclusions never felt resolute or satisfying. In my mind, Telltales’ The Walking Dead is a near-flawless execution of its genre and a true show-piece for the storytelling potential of games.
“Lee’s story is rife with tragedy and humanity, you’ll often feel like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders as you make tough decisions with consequences that ripple throughout the narrative. This would be a classic zombie affair if it wasn’t for Clementine, the emotional anchor of the experience. Her sunny demeanor grounds your decision making and gives you something worth fighting for.
“Shout out to episode two, ‘Starved for Help’, for being one of the most well-paced and nail-biting two hours that gaming has to offer.” – Theo Durrant
“The Walking Dead tells arguably a much better story than the TV series. It’s consistently horrifying and depressing but also pulls at your heartstrings. This game has some of the best writing I’ve seen in a video game, despite the fact that the choices are mostly an illusion. I would say that this game can be viewed as a standalone story, even though there are sequels. It’s a great example of the variety you can find in the medium.” – Nathanael Hueso
“One of the shortest games I’ve ever played, Journey is also one of the games that have affected me the most. The use of music is a standout for me, punctuating moments of climax and accentuating everything you come into contact with. The message that you receive by the end of the game transcends culture and language. I think everyone needs to play this masterpiece.” – Nathanael Hueso
1. Hotline Miami
“What do you get when you mix ‘80s nostalgia with a gaming climate hungry for more punishing titles? Well, you get Hotline Miami. It has been said before, and I’ll say it again: the 2010s marked a new trend in games that spliced the luxuries of modern game design with the challenging gameplay audiences claimed was a rare occurrence in recent days.
“This isn’t all that makes Hotline Miami stand out, of course. The sickeningly sweet visual style is instantly recognizable for its hot pinks and VHS-like qualities. On top of this, Hotline Miami’s pixelated ultraviolence manages to still churn the stomach with its various ‘chunks’ and ‘crunches’ as you cave in the head of a Russian mob boss with a rusty pipe. The music is an absolute treat as well, sourced from various synthwave artists like Moon and Carpenter Brut. The story’s vague and dreamlike too, adding nuance for the plot-focused-player but not taking away from the fast-paced level-to-level gameplay.” – Lewis Mackin
“2012 was a year whose games repeatedly asked players: what makes being the bad guy so fun; Hotline Miami gave this pressing question its own defiant aesthetic. From the pounding synthwave soundtrack (a frequent indie game asset in Hotline Miami’s aftermath) to the brutal efficiency of combat, Hotline Miami feels like an arcade cabinet sent from hell. Accordingly, it sends you to the sordid corners of Florida transmitted through radiant atmospheric hues and a distinct perversion of the ‘80s aesthetic. Combat relies on a ‘shoot-first-try-to-comprehend-what-just-happened-later’ mentality but rests on a twitchy sort of strategy that never stops testing players. Similarly, the game is relentless in terms of questioning your attachment to the mass murders you gleefully performed. The game is unapologetic with its transgressions, and it implicates the player as much as it implicates itself. But above all, it is so sleek to play.” – Zach Kauz
Mass Effect 3
Far Cry 3
Brandon is a young writer who loves going deep into games to explore meaning, purpose, and life. He believes that there’s nothing better than getting lost in a world full of characters to love and lessons to learn. He has a special place in his heart for single player games such as Mass Effect and Life Is Strange, but he also blows off some steam playing some of his favorite multiplayer games, like Paladins.