Hello, and a merry end of 2012 to you all. It’s been a grand year for video games and for those of us who choose to wile away our time playing them. Many of us have already celebrated the finest games of the last 12 months, so now it’s time to dig a little deeper into 2012′s catalog of hits and misses. Here’s where we champion things like dancing, sex, boss machinations, terrible assassins, and great use of taxpayer money in video games.
Onward with haste.
(Polite heads up: I’ve done my best to avoid major spoilers, but as this is a retrospective look at the year gone by, some minor spoilers have tiptoed in. Use the shield of common sense. The final award should not be read by anyone who hasn’t finished Dishonored.)
Winner: Commander Shepherd (Mass Effect 3)
Video game animation has come a long way in a short time, but we’re still unable to put the sexy into dancing. Despite that, 2012 played host to its fair share of gyrating twits. The gang from Far Cry 3, Marcelo from Max Payne 3, and the dancers from Hitman: Absolution all put forward solid cases, but Commander Shepherd had this one wrapped up way back in March.
Shepherd not only displayed the dance-floor swagger of a beached humpback whale, he also chose to do his dancing while the entire galaxy slipped into the inky abyss. Nice one, S-dog. Your embarrassing dad dance moves almost cost mankind and its best friends everything.
Best (or worst) line of dialogue
Winner: Chap in strip bar (Hitman: Absolution)
I swear to you — this is something I heard. I was playing the strip bar level in Hitman: Absolution, prowling through the drooling masses, when I heard a man cry out from the swarm:
“I’m going to wear your ass like a hat!”
I just don’t have it in me to make that up.
Best use of taxpayer money
Winner: The Chicago Police Department (Hitman: Absolution)
Back in 2010, the Seacrest County Police Department bagged this award for using taxpayer money to fund the manufacture of Lamborghini patrol cars — a crime made worse by the fact that the SCPD didn’t just use them to chase down crooks but also to create roadblocks, which the crooks naturally plowed through at 250 mph.
In 2011, the Steelport Police Department won for what was the equivalent of nuking Steelport from orbit each time the player did a little dance in front of an officer.
So it’s only right that this year’s prize goes to another incompetent police department. Hitman: Absolution’s Chicago PD proved nothing if not dedicated to cleaning up the streets of Chicago. At one point midway through the game, roughly a dozen of Chicago’s finest open fire on Agent 47. It’s a perfectly executed maneuver bar one minor hiccup: the 84 civilians sprawled face down in the wet as a result of misplaced bullets. Oops.
Winner: Ninja Gaiden 3
There aren’t many developers who can say they’ve had easier jobs than Team Ninja. Under the guidance of Tomonobu Itagaki, the Japanese developer perfected its fighting formula with the first 3D Ninja Gaiden. For Ninja Gaiden 3, an Itagaki-less Team Ninja took the old formula round the back of the shed and gave it the 12-gauge treatment. In its place arrived a crude and unsatisfying combat system coupled with a grueling cinematic camera that ducked and dived like an 8-year-old recording a distant ship with a handycam while on a dinghy in a monsoon. Oh, and there was a bit where a little girl asked Ryu Hayabusa to be her daddy. Good grief.
How Team Ninja bungled Ninja Gaiden 3 is beyond my comprehension, but it was far and away the worst game I played in 2012.
Best (or worst) scene of a sexual nature
Winner: Lucius (game)
Six-year-old Lucius wanders unsuspecting into a bedroom to catch his uncle playing hide the sausage with the maid. Rather than stop and explain what happens when a man and a woman love each other very much, the two continue at it in full view of Lucius. It’s game over for the player, but not before Lucius gets a good view of his uncle’s throbbing joystick.
Most inane boss machination
Winner: Richard Attenborough (Ninja Gaiden 3)
Ninja Gaiden 3 was an inordinately stupid game with an inordinately stupid antagonist. Gaiden’s mastermind villain had cloned dinosaurs on a jungle island, but unlike Richard Attenborough, Gaiden’s baddie planned to deploy his dinos in a bid to end the world. Fair enough. On the scale of bad ideas, using dinosaurs to destroy Earth falls somewhere between using tissue paper as toilet roll and bringing a blow-up hammer to a knife fight. But by the Gaiden yardstick, it was a relatively spiceless scheme — at least, until the antagonist told Ryu Hayabusa he was also going to sell the dinosaurs to children as pets. Just take that in for a moment.
They say if you put a monkey in a room for all eternity, eventually it will write the complete works of Shakespeare. I say, if you put a monkey in a room for 15 minutes, you’ll get the script to Ninja Gaiden 3 with 82 percent fewer MacGuffins.
Winner: Agent 47 (Hitman: Absolution)
Runner-up: Ada Wong (Resident Evil 6)
With disguises no longer foolproof and levels roughly the size of a grass snake’s anus, Agent 47 needed a new trick to help him skulk by his enemies. The answer? Taking cues from the Naughty Bear School of Stealth, Agent 47 placed his hand over his face. No, really. Probably the most remarkable thing about 47′s newfangled trick was it worked every time (so long as 47′s magic bar was full). Chicago’s finest, hired goons, and even SWAT patrols were hoodwinked the moment Agent 47 — a bald numpty with an enormous scar etched into the back of his head — raised a hand over his face.
A special mention also goes to Resident Evil 6′s Ada Wong. Ada’s first mission saw her infiltrate a submarine and engage in some light stealth against Killzone’s Helghan soldiers. One of the mission objectives was simply, “Don’t draw attention to yourself.” Thing is, with Ada’s low-cut top and skin-tight leather trousers, not drawing attention proved incredibly tough.
Winner: Hotline Miami
Runner-up: Mark of the Ninja
I lovingly dubbed Hotline Miami “Disco-Mordor” (for obvious reasons) when I reviewed it back in October. Cutthroat, ungenerous, and bloody excellent, Dennaton’s top-down action hit was one of my favorites of the year. But its pooches … dear lord, its pooches. Miami’s mutts had a lust for human flesh and a knack for rocketing out from just offscreen, making them the most bastard-annoying bastards of the year. Sure, you could don a mask and transform them into abiding canines, but then the pendulum swung the other way, and they were suddenly the victims of your callous hate. You couldn’t win with Hotline Miami’s dogs.
Winner: Juliet & Nick (Lollipop Chainsaw)
Lollipop Chainsaw was as unloved as Goichi Suda’s other recent (and probably better) game Shadows of the Damned. While the blow-by-blow bedlam was enjoyable enough on its own, the lead characters were what gave Lollipop Chainsaw its soul. The chitchat between Juliet and her bodiless boyfriend Nick was sharp as they bickered, flirted, and sliced through the carnage with humorous quips. The result? You got the sense you were watching the drama of a genuine relationship amidst all the soaring limbs and gore geysers. Aww.
Bleakest game world
Winner: I Am Alive
Runner-ups: Day Z and Nintendo Land
I Am Alive is an early 2012 Xbox Live Arcade title that severed opinion in spectacular fashion. It may not have been the most polished game of the year, but Ubisoft sure did bleak with panache.
Haverton was a spiteful and uncaring place, painted in stark greys and home only to those robbed of their humanity. During one particularly memorable scene, two men hunched over a fire offered you a hunk of meat. It was an alarmingly selfless gesture from characters caught in a world that had, until that point, offered only sadists, a child, and the dead. If you snooped around a little, though, you soon found cages with human skulls inside them. Haverton was powerful in its wickedness and did a good job of papering over some of I Am Alive’s more prominent flaws.
Winner: Corvo Attano (Dishonored)
Runner-up: Mark (Mark of the Ninja)
It’s been a bumper year for wily bastards in video games, such as Far Cry 3′s Jason Something, Dishonored’s Corvo Attano, and Mark from, err, Mark of the Ninja — not to mention characters from the likes of Lone Survivor and Hotline Miami.
But it’s Dishonored’s disgraced bodyguard and murderer extraordinaire Corvo who scoops the award for King of the Wilies (mind the lone “l” there). Corvo’s knack for teleporting gave him the upper hand over his peers, but even without that advantage, his deep well of tricks and murdering abilities (conjuring rats and slowing time to a standstill were two of the best) meant Corvo was well out in front of the pack. He was presumably loitering in the shadows somewhere like a steampunk Gary Glitter.
Best ego massage
(SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER)
(YOU HAVE BEEN SPOILER-WARNED)
Games are mostly about empowerment. In Dishonored, Corvo’s cache of party tricks did a sensational job of conferring on the player a gross sense of power. But it was a moment of silence — a transient scene at the end of a level that featured almost no killing — that triggered that feeling better than any other.
It came after Corvo had weaseled his way into a fancy dress party disguised as himself (in what was basically the best Hitman level all year). Having hidden in plain sight and satisfied the mission objectives, Corvo left the party, but not before scrawling his name in the guest book.
It was a sensational “screw you” to all the guards who had made your getting there awkward. Your wits, not your trigger finger, had got the better of Dunwall’s finest. A real moment of class.