2012 Game of the Year Awards: Spencer's Honorable Mentions

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It's been a landmark year from the standpoint of a PC devotee. The meteoric rise of Steam (and the Steambox announcement, Doug's deep-seated denial aside) caught plenty of attention. We saw the growth of Kickstarter, now finally beginning to bear publisher-free fruit. It was an outstandingyear for mods, formerly considered a splinter faction of the already fringe PC gaming element. A variety of titles ranged from platform-agnostic to overtly better on PC - undeniable evidence of the vultures circling the dessicated husks of the 2005 console vanguard.

Despite all this headway, the rest of the Silicon Sasquatch staff shot me down on a few of my Game of the Year selections. Here, then, are my favorites that didn't make the cut.

Black Mesa

September 2012 | Black Mesa Modification Team |Windows (Mod/coming soon to Steam) | Free

The 2005 announcement of Black Mesa, fresh on the heels of the disappointing Half-Life: Source, attracted loads of attention and followers. Those ranks would manage to hold fast for seven full years, as it gained a vaporware notoriety near the level of Duke Nukem Forever. Unlike the Duke, however, the wait for the mod was very much worth it.

Black Mesa has simultaneous production value and amateur charm: Half-Life is recreated and reimagined in exquisite detail nearly on-par with professional developers. The voice actors are near sound-alikes for their Half-Life 2 counterparts but quietly hang a lantern on the absence of the originals. There are rough edges, little flaws here and there, but the overall feel is one of genuine love for the subject material. Black Mesa is a manifestation of what every mod endeavors to be - a free, clean, near-retail experience, all the while brimming with earnest enthusiasm.

Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion

June 2012 | Ironclad Games | Windows (SteamStardock Store I guess if you're into that) | $40

Devotees may recall that I gave my stamp of approval to a previous Sins of a Solar Empire expansion - 2009’s Entrenchment (included in the Steam re-release, Trinity). Ironclad Games refreshes the mix with the standalone expansion Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion.

Rebellion builds upon the fortification and diplomatic themes of the previous additions with distinct sub-factions for each of the three races (raising the total of playable sides to six). There's new technology and units, and an all new Titan class of ultra-heavy capital ships. Add a crisp revamp to the game’s graphics engine and you have a worthy strategy game by any measure - an easy buy at $40, half that during the Steam holiday sale. Recommended to fans of RTS, 4X, and the territory that lies between.

Torchlight II

September 2012 | Runic Games | Windows (Steam)| $20

The original Torchlight smacked of the first Diablo and, given the origin of developer Runic Games, it was inevitable. No surprise, then, that Torchlight 2 builds on its predecessor in the same way as Diablo 2 once did - that feeling of "more, bigger," which is high praise for either sequel. Where Blizzard’s latest offering to the genre failed to hold my interest, Torchlight 2 remains compelling thanks to a combination of cel-shaded graphics, moddability, LAN play, and a lower price point.

Divergences from Diablo 3 aside, at its core, Torchlight 2 is packed full of the click-happy action RPG gameplay that has given an entire generation a bad case of carpal tunnel syndrome. Time will tell whether Torchlight will outlast its progenitor/counterpart, but I’m betting (and hoping) it will.

Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition

November 2012 | Overhaul Games | Windows (Beamdog), iOS; Android and OSX "soon"$10-20

The other gentlemen here at the ‘Squatch vetoed my push to include Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition in our top ten, citing our “no ports” rule, but I’m free to sing its praises here as I did in our last Backlog. Simply put, it’s Baldur’s Gate, remastered to be either as good as you remember it, or a treat if you’ve never played it before.

Currently out on Windows and iOS, coming soon to OS X and Android, Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition is a classic, distilled Western RPG experience, and sometimes there’s nothing better. If developers Overhaul Games are recognized for their efforts fiscally, hopefully they will realize their dreams of future Infinity Engine enhancements (Icewind Dale / 2 and Planescape: Torment both leap to mind).

Natural Selection 2

October 2012 | Unknown Worlds | Windows (Steam)| $25

Natural Selection 2 began its life from the 2002 Half-Life mod, and Unknown Worlds faced a long, hard road (and development in two different engines) getting it all the way to release. It’s finally out, though it wasn’t in my possession in time for our GOTY debate.

As the sequel to the original RTS/FPS hybrid, Natural Selection 2 is a game where teamplay is not just rewarded but rigidly enforced. Few (if any) games are like it, and it’s a delightful experience if you’re willing to take orders from a perfect stranger on the internet.