on Jan 4, 2013
My 2012 retrospective continues. Remember that I’m not some giant review site. This isn’t a list of “THE MOST IMPORTANT GAMES OF 2012”. This is just a list of what I played, when I had time, if I thought of it, and if I happened to own a copy.
Sleeping Dogs and Far Cry 3 won’t appear here. That’s not because they weren’t worth a mention, but because I haven’t gotten around to them yet. I’m probably missing a few other games as well.
Chris bought this game for all his friends, and then proceeded to humiliate all of us with it. He’s so far beyond the crowd in terms of ability that comparisons become difficult.
Super Hexagon is a very simple game. You’ve got a little triangle in the middle of the screen, and you can spin it around to evade incoming geometry. The control scheme is two buttons. If you touch anything at any time, the game ends. No lives. No powerups. No second chances. No strategy. It’s purely a game of reflex and pattern recognition. At the end of the game, your “score” is nothing more than how long you survived. Your first game is likely to be less than five seconds. After some diligent practice, you should be able to top twenty seconds. After that the game begins sorting people into the can and can’t lists.
I am rubbish at this game.
I spent over a week on this game, playing in little ten minute bursts. According to Steam, I’ve clocked over two hours in Super Hexagon, and I’ve never made it past forty-five seconds on the easiest difficulty. (The difficulties are named “Hard”, “Harder”, and “Hardest”, with more tiers available beyond those if you’ve got the dexterity to unlock them. (I don’t have the dexterity to unlock them.))
I learned something while playing this game and Hotline Miami, which is that I don’t hate hard games. I’ve raged against difficulty in games, and I still maintain that the omission of entry-level difficulty for story-based games is dumb and self-defeating. I rarely play hard games, or if I do I insist a game win me over before I crank up the challenge. But here we have two games that are dauntingly hard, offer no easy mode, and throw the challenge at you before they’ve won you over.
But these game didn’t bother me because both had a low retry penalty. This is something I’ve touched on in the past, but these games really brought the problem into sharp relief.
In Super Hexagon, ending a game doesn’t drag you through the obstacle course of Game Over» High Scores» Main Menu» New Game» Select Difficulty» Begin. You just press one key and you’re back at it. And since the games are so short, you’re probably less than a minute from where you left off. Hotline Miami has a similarly low retry cost, where a single keystroke resets the level and lets you try again. The gameplay keeps flowing.
Earlier this year, I couldn’t stand FTL. Looking back, I see that after failure it can often take you quite a while to get back to where you were. And if you were trying to figure out how to beat the final boss? The reset time is two hours.
The retry cost is more important to me than the difficulty of the game or the fairness of the defeat. Some games presume to punish your failure by wasting your time. (Or, as in the case of FTL, can’t give you a way to take one step back and retry, simply because doing so would be either be pointless or game-breaking.) This makes me hate them. This tells me I should never, ever attempt Too Human or Dark Souls.
Also, Chris is an inhuman videogame-playing robot and he must be stopped.
Chris already covered the story and themes of this game, so I won’t belabor that stuff. Besides, what I really liked about Hotline Miami was the gameplay.
As I mentioned in one of the paragraphs up there, this can be a hard game. It’s a top-down game that reminds me a bit of the old 2D Grand Theft Auto titles. Gameplay consists of your character putting on some crazy animal mask, walking into a den of gangsters, and proceeding to hand out murder like it was Halloween candy. The trick here is that all damage is instantly lethal. If you get hit or shot, you die. You’re vastly outnumbered.
Beating a level is a mix of timing and memorization. You have to learn where the guys are and plan a route through the rooms. If you’re attacking guys with guns, then you need to make sure that you can close the distance and hit them before they can get a shot off, and if they have friends you have to deal with the in them right order. Guns are loud, attract huge numbers of foes, and run out of ammo quickly, but they let you kill at a distance. Melee weapons are silent, but mis-timing a single swing usually means death.
As others have said, this is one of the best soundtracks of the year. I’ve actually been playing the soundtrack in the background while I’m programming.
The pulsing electronic beat, the bright colors, and the rhythm of the game itself combine to form a sort of hypnotic experience. I replayed several areas of the game, trying to improve my score and dig up secrets.
Guild Wars 2
Remember how I was writing all those posts about Guild Wars 2? Did you notice how they sort of stopped abruptly? That’s exactly how my experience with the game went. It was an intense obsession that ended without warning. I got up one day and realized I didn’t want to log in.
Some of my friends had a similar experience, and our obsessions ended at about the same time.
I blame the dungeons. We all leveled characters to the end game, jumped into the dungeons together, and realized they went against the design and feel of every other part of the game. They were frustrating, obtuse, unrewarding, dull, terribly written, occasionally ugly, and completely lacking in fun. It was like getting to the end of a meal and finding out that dessert is a punch in the face.
I might have stuck around but Arena Net was making such small, incremental changes to the game when all I could see were these gaping holes in their content.
Guild Wars 2 is the best MMO solo I’ve ever played. I’m prepared to believe it’s the best yet released. But the dungeons are shockingly bad and nobody can even agree on what needs to be changed because nobody can figure out what Arena Net is trying to accomplish with them. Is this supposed to be a fun, low-key co-op experience, like Left 4 Dead? Is it suposed to be a mechanical grind like World of Warcraft? Is it supposed to be a number-crunching test of gear and Wiki-reading, like WoW raids? Is it supposed to be a test of skill for the super-elite characters?
I don’t know. I don’t care. I put in my hours, the game failed to entertain, and I stopped playing.
This series isn’t over yet. Still more games to cover. And we’re not even to my favorite yet.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.