2012 Game of the Year Awards: Numbers 7 and 6
Day two of our Game of the Year awards is here! These winners are sequels (or, in one case, a sequel to a sequel), but their undeniable quality has pushed them ahead of yesterday's batch. Read on to find out which games we're talking about and just what makes them some of the most fantastic games this year.
#7 - Max Payne 3
May 2012 | Rockstar Vancouver | 360, PS3, Windows
A grizzled, washed up ex-cop with nothing to live for. An exotic location, which is the perfect setting for just one last job before hanging up the holsters for good.
Stop me if this sounds familiar.
The third Max Payne game is a conundrum. It's an action shooter that explores numerous, well-tread tropes familiar to anyone who's been to a movie in the past 20 years, but it's also more than its tired veneer implies. Where Max Payne 3 succeeds is, ironically, by copying the Hollywood aesthetic Rockstar has striven for since Grand Theft Auto III. However, it wasn't until this year that the controversy-prone developer fulfilled its cinematic mission statement.
Playing Max Payne 3 is like directing John Woo-style action scenes in the best hard-boiled cop film ever made. It's nauseatingly stylish, unapologetically garish and coherently brilliant. While the game retraces steps from the Remedy-era titles, Max Payne 3 makes its own way by bringing South America to life with a flavor and appreciation for the clandestine elements of modern Brazilian subcultures, albeit in a hyper-stylized HBO fashion. Everything else is secondary: the mechanics from bullet-time to controlling Max himself are flawless, which permits the source material to shine. Max's slow descent into a deeper, sadder hell is captivating. The beautiful fidelity of the graphics (on PC at least) and the impressive voice acting sold me, over and over, on this third shot at interactive cinema.
If Max Payne 3 did one thing right, it was to justify videogames' rapid transformation into playable cinematic experiences. Not all developers are capable of pulling such a task off, but the quality of this game ensures copycats will do their best to try.
And once again a Rockstar game sets the tone for industry trends. -- Aaron Thayer
#6 - Borderlands 2
September 2012 | Gearbox Software | 360, PS3, Windows
Every video game is just a set of systems, an assembly of mechanics covered by a fine mesh of graphics, sound, and story. When you really get down to it, the bits of games we digest, enjoy, and write about are just different coatings on the act of computerized addition.
While this is a bit more real than I intended to get, especially in discussing one of my favorite games of the year, it’s an important fact to note. We could sit here and dissect Borderlands 2 through a set of feature articles, or a couple podcasts, dissect it down to and evaluate its mechanics in turn, seeking at what makes it good, what makes it art. Games are sets of systems, yes, but the coating is where art resides in all this; it's the part we inevitably end up debating. Not all of it is high-brow -- like in real life, few paintings make it to the Louvre, few stories receive the Pulitzer, few films go to Sundance. But, in our medium, a lot of it is fun -- which Borderlands 2 has in droves -- and a lot of it is really fucking funny, which it has as well. In a field crowded with good games, good art and good systems, laugh-out-loud humor is why I pushed so hard for this entry to our list.
Since I'm already being painfully honest with you, the reading public, let me drop a confession on you: As much as I enjoyed the first Borderlands, I’m not entirely sure how it became such a hit. Don’t get me wrong; it was good (we even said so!), but it measurably fell short of greatness.
The original Borderlands was successful, in some notable part, thanks to fanfare from developers Gearbox Software, with marketing and hype galore. But despite the efforts of the noise machine, clear flaws glared through; the game’s narrative began to dissolve within the first hour of play, the mechanics and guns left a lot to be desired in terms of usability and balance, and the writing was just okay. Particularly glaring for me, the PC port was lackluster, suffering many of the typical failures visited upon games that come to the desktop as an afterthought.
But I'm not going to spoon-feed it to you, readers. Borderlands 2 is an RPG/FPS. It's set in the same world as the last one. It’s way, way better than the last one. It has a satisfying batch of classes, an enjoyable story, and a bunch of guns. It plays really well on PC and Steamworks, but it's good on just about everything. It's great with friends. And it (plus its DLC) ranges from funny to really fucking funny. If you're a person who likes humor, you should play it.-- Spencer Tordoff