This year was an interesting year, bringing forth some absolutely amazing new video games and movies as well as some huge disappointments. It's not every year that I can see a movie in theatres that I absolutely love like The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and see another movie that I absolutely dislike in The Avengers or Prometheus. It's not every year that my game of the year is a game that almost nobody else is even considering for game of the year. And it's not every year that I get slightly more positive about the direction of video games.
So, without further ado, let's talk about some movies first.
Top 5 Movies
Rounding out the bottom of my top list is The Tall Man, an extremely good movie that I also wrote a review about. I enjoyed this movie immensely despite the horror bait-and-switch. While this is certainly not a movie I would usually be attracted to if I had known the story outright, I found this one compelling nonetheless.
With both great acting, great set-pieces, a wonderful dark story, and so many more things besides, this movie is more than a simple horror flick. It transcends that and speaks a very interesting... and very controversial... message. I think not mentioning this movie would have been a crime. I am so glad I saw it, and I also think that this was my biggest surprise of the year.
People have said a lot of things about my number four film of the year. They have said The Dark Knight Rises is awful and aimless and too messy and cluttered to be any fun, but this movie really stands out despite all of those claims. I loved this movie from beginning to end, loved it almost as much as I loved Batman Begins, which is my favorite superhero film ever. I am not always a Christopher Nolan fan. His movies are usually either hit or miss with me. I didn't really like Memento, I hated The Prestige (Hugh Jackman is an actor I cannot stand in any film he's in), and I found The Dark Knight to be all kinds of not my style. Yes, I am the only person on the planet that was not really all that into The Dark Knight. I had no particular affinity to the Joker, despite a good performance by the late Heath Ledger. I found Harvey Dent as the most compelling character of that movie, but then suddenly he's a villain for no good reason. But I do love Batman Begins and Inception more than any human ever should. But, going into this one, I was expecting more of The Dark Knight, which- while not a bad movie at all- just wasn't what I wanted from a serious Batman film or... well... any film I was watching at all.
The Dark Knight Rises gave me a great conclusion to a story and character that I really liked. I found it amazing, more about the city of Gotham than about Batman himself, more about the legacy of a masked character than about a single man. I know Batman is not really in the film much. I know it's more about Selena Kyle and good ol' Robin and Bruce Wayne and Bane and the stories of characters that revolve around Batman and Bruce. But I still loved this film because I could. And nobody can take that away from me. Bane was a better and more compelling villain than the Joker, and that is the biggest slap in the face I could ever give to The Dark Knight. So, there, I guess?
The Cabin in the Woods is one of the best deconstructions of a horror film I've ever seen. I loved it throughout almost the entire movie. I found the actual real plot of the film to be one of the bet plots I've seen in a very long time, and the movie was an incredibly enjoyable ride. This movie might have been higher up on the list than three if it had just had a compelling conclusion and last five/ten minutes of movie. But because it fell apart in those last minutes, I really can't. Read my review of this film if you want more info on it. Otherwise I think this choice is pretty self-explanatory.
Yes, I chose Silent Hill: Revelation 3D as my number two movie of the year. It was incredibly enjoyable. Maybe it was a little dumb. Maybe it was a little silly. Maybe it won't hold up once I buy it on DVD or Blu-Ray, but I don't even care. This was one of the best movie theatre experiences I have ever had. It was such a fun movie to watch. No, it wasn't ever scary, but I still think it understood two very important things. First of all, it understood what I, as a Silent Hill fan, wanted from this movie. Second, it understood what it means to be a good ADAPTATION of the material. Unlike the first Silent Hill movie that was less an adaptation of the material and more a serious look at a Christian cult and a woman alone in a foggy environment, this movie really stays consistent with the source material. Again, it's not scary, but I never found Silent Hill 3 scary either.
Honestly, I knew I would like this film. It's not a film I would recommend to anybody, but I enjoyed it so thoroughly that I seriously would have put this film atop my top films of the year and been looked at as a laughingstock if not for my number one movie...
...The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey! I have been looking forward to this movie for almost a decade. I am a huge Lord of the Rings fan (so much so that I've seriously dressed up like Aragorn before). I loved every single image in this movie, every single moment, every single line, and every single everything. This is the very definition of a movie of the year- a movie I enjoyed so thoroughly that it will stick with me forever. While it is a to sillier than The Lord of the Rings it works well integrating the source material and extras into its plot to tie up any loose plot threads between The Hobbit films and The Lord of the Rings films. Martin Freeman and the Dwarves and Gandalf are all pitch-perfect. Also I loved the cameo by Radagast the Brown. Man, that was awesome.
I will say that if you are not a hardcore Tolkien fan like I am... well, you may not enjoy this as much. I've heard complaints of being boring, or about the 48 frames per second thing... but I didn't really see any problem when I saw it. Honestly, I don't think I've ever had a better movie theatre experience in my entire life. I went with a bunch of very Tolkien-loving friends, and every last one of us loved the movie despite the fact that we all like very different films. All five of us loved it. So, yeah... there was never another choice for my best film of the year. This was always going to be it. Peter Jackson has delivered yet again.
Worst Movies and Special Mentions
Starting with special mentions of movies I really enjoyed this year but that didn't make the top five...
Chronicle was a brilliant little movie. It would have been in my top five if The Tall Man hadn't been slightly better. As a superhero film, and a deconstruction of what it means to be a superhero, this film is some of the best and heaviest hitting material I've seen in a long time. I enjoyed it thoroughly despite the movie giving me a migraine... and that's pretty high praise.
I just did a review of this movie! Check out what I thought there for more details. For one of my favorite books, this movie did a pretty competent job. It could have been better, could have been worse. I liked it for what it was even though I wished it could have been more.
And now... for the worst two of the year...
I really dislike The Avengers. I don't like Marvel, don't like the characters all that much, and found everything about the movie unappealing to the extreme. Well, almost everything. Mark Ruffalo makes an amazing Hulk, and is subsequently the best part of the film. But there is more here to dislike than to like. This is easily my second least favorite film of 2012. And no, it's not because it's popular, and I hate popular things. It's more because I genuinely did not enjoy the film. Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson were frankly awful, Jeremy Renner didn't have to be there, Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth were going through the motions of acting, and I never found myself actually enjoying the film. It had one of the most forgettable soundtracks I have ever heard in a movie. The lines felt completely out of place... and did I mention I really dislike Marvel? It was one of the worst times I've ever had watching a movie despite being with my girlfriend who had seen the movie three times before seeing it with me. Every time she would whisper something to me about something she did or did not like, I would only be able to focus on the negative things she said, which really poked out of the film at me and hit me in the gut with their obvious awfulness. And the thing is I generally like Joss Whedon. No, he's not my favorite dude ever, but I usually enjoy his films. This one... not so much.
I probably wouldn't have even seen this film if not for my girlfriend being a huge fan of the film. I watched it with her when it came out on DVD and just hated every minute of it. She said I had a pained expression on my face for almost the entire movie. It was not a fun experience. I'm sure a lot of people enjoy it, but I am not one of them. So, sorry...? It's not my kind of film, which is one of the reasons I never reviewed it. I thought it would be unfair to give a critical analysis of something I was never going to like.
This pile of garbage that someone called a movie is the worst of the year. I have nothing else to say. Its nonsense plot, insane logic, and baffling decisions all make for a pretty bad movie. The directing and cinematography are some of the best I've seen in recent memory... but the characters look awful, the acting is awful, the script is one of the worst I've ever seen in an ACTUAL MOVIE, and I thoroughly abhorred this film. The great looking spectacle comes off as even worse in a movie that is actually this bad. Terrible movie and my worst of 2012.
Mass Effect 3 is on the bottom of my list (because I only played 5 games released this year) and have no real interest in playing any others besides a couple indie games I haven't gotten to yet. To me Mass Effect 3 was a mess of a game, never quite finding where it should have been. Mass Effect 2 was one of the greatest games I've ever played, and that is one of the reasons this third game disappointed me so much. It is nowhere near as well put together as the second game. It does not have the wonderful story I was expecting. The gameplay was worse than the second game as well. The party members in the game are conspicuous because not a single character introduced in the second game comes back to stay in the third. This is about as big of a sin as I can imagine. I like James Vega, but why couldn't we have had a great character from the second game instead of him?
There's a lot wrong with Mass Effect 3. From the first five hours of the game being incredibly lackluster, to the game without the Extended Cut having one of the worst series of endings I've ever seen in a video game of this calibre... well, I think it's obvious I have my issues with this game all around. There are some good things though. The story works really well in the middle bits of the game. The characters are incredibly well-written, and with the Extended Cut and the Leviathan DLCs, a great deal of very important things were added to the universe of Mass Effect. Altogether, although this game is disappointing, I put it on par with the first game. It is a solid game, but has some pretty apparent mistakes and missteps that make it far from perfect. I was very disappointed by this game, but suspect I'll grow to accept it as the years go by.
One thing I've learned from this game though, one important lesson, is to never pay full price for a game that you have doubts about.
I had heard so much about this game, and I felt I needed to check it out. It is my fourth favorite of this year despite having some fairly awful technical bugs and glitches to it. I played it on the PS3, and there were a few times the world just disappeared, and I floated in a soulless white void as train noises played in the background. I did play the whole "season" by the way, and for the most part I really liked it.
The first three episodes, specifically the second and the third episodes, are really the very best this game has to offer. They are heavy-hitting, emotionally impacting, and full of every twist and turn you can possibly imagine with a game about the zombie apocalypse. I did not like the last two episodes nearly as much, specifically the fifth episode, which felt more like a grab for emotional attention than any true conclusion. The first and fourth episodes are pretty clearly in the sometimes good/sometimes eh category, but I did enjoy them both a great deal.
I have no overall issues with the game. It's well put together, and for an episodic game you can get for twenty dollars or under, it's well worth the price. I myself am neither a fan of zombies or of The Walking Dead franchise, so this game was clearly not made for me. That doesn't make it bad. Honestly, it probably makes it quite good that it can appeal to me, the uninterested person, as much as it actually does. The horror is very well done. The characters are all very well written. Sometimes the plot can be a little contrived and convenient (or inconvenient as it may be), but it portrays a (I think) fairly accurate idea of what an apocalypse with zombies would be like.
In playing the game I was instantly reminded of three games, all of which I think are better. The first is Fallout 3 and specifically that game of that series alone. I'm thinking the relationship between Andale in Fallout 3 and the farm in Episode 2 here. Spoiler warning, I guess? It's pretty obvious, but very well done. Also the apocalyptic things that coincide between the two games even though both are very different kinds of apocalypses. The second game is Alpha Protocol, a game I love and love to rant positively about. It's a game that was basically passed over in its time, but seems to have grown a cult audience because Obsidian knows how to make great games. That game is all about dialogue creating choices and those choices rippling out. The Walking Dead has a similar system, but it is not done nearly as well. Sorry, but it's true. The lack of actual control on character deaths (or lives) or any real choices besides what certain characters feel about your player character, Lee, reflects a bit poorly on the whole "This game is custom designed for you the player." aspect that The Walking Dead was trying for. And the sad thing is both Alpha Protocol and Heavy Rain (the third comparable game) do the choice thing a lot better in my opinion.
Now, despite all of that, this is a great game... but nowhere near as good as my top three...
How could I mentioned a game of the year list without Dishonored being mentioned? How could anybody who thinks and loves video games? I loved this game. I loved every aspect about it. I can complain that there wasn't enough game... but that's kind of not a negative thing, is it? If that were the case every Portal game would get a very low score indeed. It's a game designed to be played more than once, a game that has a ton of wonderful things to explore and to do, and a game that is one of the single best original properties, not associated with any other franchise, I've seen in a few years. I love how it does the steampunk, the deiselpunk... the whatever you call whatever it does-punk. It does it so amazingly that I wonder if the creators knew what kind of perfect pitch they were hitting.
Yes, I've heard comparisons between this game and Bishock, but it's not even a good comparison. I didn't like Bioshock because it gave off the illusion of a lot of things... choices, horror, philosophy, and politics. It didn't really say or do anything different or new to me besides having the game look really good. Dishonored doesn't take that route. It is a very fat game, full of a ton of information, choices, horror, adventure, and everything else as well. It has a wonderful art style, but not realistic at all, a great and amazing world to explore and learn about, and some of the best characters I've seen in a non-RPG game. So, it's basically the exact opposite of the shallow Bioshock.
The silent protagonist of Corvo only adds to the game, making it better at every turn. The voice acting is wonderful. While the plot is standard, it absolutely works, and the characters are so well done and clever that it's hard to not fall in love with them all (or hate them).The choices I made in the game mattered to me. The high chaos choices lead to a chilling conversation with a little girl... one that sent shivers down my spine... and the low chaos choices are harder to achieve leading to a slightly better ending... even if it's not really more satisfying.
I loved this game so much. All I want is more. Seriously, give me DLC, give me another game... just don't dumb anything down. And always leave me wanting more.
This game was my best game for most of the year, and my actual best game only narrowly beat it out. For all intent purposes these games are basically tied, but it is very difficult to not see how hard it must have been to get my game of the year actually out on store shelves, which is why it has to win. Silent Hill: Downpour impressed and surprised me no matter what anybody else says. While never a genuinely terrifying experience, it unnerved me constantly, leaving me off guard and jittery. It was an experience of a game, one that I will play again and again because of how much I love the story, the characters, the scenes, and basically everything else about this game.
While it hasn't overtaken Silent Hill 2 as my favorite of the franchise, it is a close second tied with The Room. I loved this game from beginning to end, even though there were a few issues here and there. The choices are pretty shallow when you get to make them at all. The game doesn't really have the strongest ending(s), even if it is (they are) very good and a very new take on the Silent Hill series at the same time. The town of Silent Hill has never been as amazing to look at or as real as it looks here. No, it does not have the claustrophobia of the early games, but it works well in a very different way. No fog, but rain. And a very different feeling setting despite it all being the same place. I love it so much! I love the mystery, the inconsistency, the game itself!
I never found the game all that scary, unlike both Silent Hill 2 and The Room, but again, it was unnerving and thrilling. I wanted to see more of the story. I wanted to have it unfold before me. All I wanted was more and more and more. And it gave it all to me in the end, creating a game that is about as close to perfect as one of these psychological horror games can be. It is so well done, and I will continue finding time for this one for years to come.
Although Spec Ops: The Line came out earlier this year, I did not get a chance to play until a few days ago. It is the very best of gaming this year. Everyone involved in this game's development and production should be proud of themselves, proud of what they accomplished, and proud of this game. It is, in a single word, brilliant. It is more horrific than almost any other horror game out there today despite not actually being a horror game. It is a painful, systematic, and scathing deconstruction and criticism of the modern war games genre and of the people who play those games.
Also, if you like those modern war games, play this one. Please play it. It might change your perspective on some very important issues.
This game is tonally fascinating, starting out as nothing more than a regular third person gung-ho modern war shooter, then morphing into a very different game by the end. Somehow I never had the game spoiled for me, and for that I'm thankful. I will, in turn, not spoil this game for anybody else. All I say is that every game player should give this game a try and a chance. It is so well put together, so well thought out, and so amazing that it deserves the attention of every single person it can get.
I am disappointed it is not on more game of the year lists, as it really should be. Yes, The Walking Dead is very good, but calling it innovative would be disingenuous. It would be forgetting about other games that really should be remembered. Again, it's not a bad game, but it isn't this game. It doesn't say what this game says. It doesn't do what this game does. Yes, I was attached to the characters in that game, attached to the characters in Mass Effect 3 too, but there was never a moment in either of those games where my mouth hung open as I played the game with a migraine raging in my head, pain both in the game and in real life... and only wanting, desperately, to see where the game was going next, to see what would happen... to wonder if the hallucinations were real or in my head... to wonder if the tonally dissonant happy music playing was the game screwing with me or my own head screwing with me.
This isn't just a game. Don't think about it like that because if you do you'll be disappointed. The multiplayer should be avoided, and the gameplay is all over the place. It is an experience. It is one of the most depressing and disheartening experiences I've ever played through other than Silent Hill 2. The sense of failure, of reeking with not only a physical defeat but a mental one, is something I have never felt in a game before... and here... well, let's just say that this game is my game of the year because it is different, because it is brilliant, and because it is like a punch to the gut.
And those are my lists this year. Yup.