Taking every game that I played this year and narrowing the list down to produce one solitary winner that stands above the rest is no easy task. Granted, the scant amount of truly great games released in 2012 makes the task a little easier, but still… one puts a lot on the line when tossing everyone else’s favorites aside and saying “No, no… mine is clearly better than yours.”
So what exactly does a “Game of the Year” contender need to bring to the table, anyway? In my opinion, a GOTY hopeful should move you… You know, get something stirring on the inside. A truly worthy “Game of the Year” should be an ambitious endeavor that makes us stand back at the end of it all and say “Holy crap. That was great.” Hell, maybe even cause a tear or two to drop.
Sure Halo 4, Borderlands 2 and Dishonored were great titles, but that’s a given. Every Joe writing for a gaming website is gonna throw GOTY honors at those heavy hitters (whether a publisher pays them off or not.) I really wanted to see Diablo 3 at the top of my list for GOTY at the end of 2012, but we all know that dream fizzled out and died earlier this year. There were a few other games on my radar though. One being Guild Wars 2. Of course it has its problems, but it’s a refreshing departure from the average MMO and no one can deny that the world ArenaNet created is breathtakingly beautiful, and a joy to play in with others. Legend of Grimrock is also high up on the list for me with its nostalgic nod to classic dungeon crawlers that I knew and loved as a kid. And let’s not forget Hawken; a game that’s incredibly addictive and fun to play based not only on its gameplay alone, but also its sound direction and artistic style. And as a racing fan, Codemasters’ most recent entry in the open-wheeled racing genre was also a huge hit for me, with F1 2012 being one of the best F1 titles, if not best all-around racing titles I’ve played it quite some time. Compared to recent licensed F1 games released over the past few years, F1 2012 delivers numerous small yet effective improvements over previous entries to make for a solid, sophisticated racing sim.
Those were some of the frontrunners for me, but at the end of the day I can only pick one. That game, for me, is SpecOps: The Line.
Over the past 10 to 15 years, I’ve played through countless hours of shooters. Quake, Counter-Strike, Halo, Battlefield, Unreal, Medal of Honor… God knows shooters are where I spent the better part of my teenage years. Over these past several years though, they’ve really all sort of melded into one huge subgenre of “modern military shoot ’em up,” haven’t they? They’re a dime a dozen and they all revolve around mindlessly blowing sh*t up and conditioning every new wave of gamer-bro initiates to be completely okay with nonchalantly slaughtering countless others while consuming their limited edition Doritos and/or cans of Mountain Dew. And let’s be honest… few games venture beyond these bounds for fear of missing out millions and millions of dollars shelled out by the masses who thrive on that sort of thing year after year.
And if that’s your bag, I’ve got nothing against it… but in my opinion, the state of shooters is a very bland and stale affair. I think that’s why SpecOps: The Line interested me so much. It takes place in a ruined Dubai, and you’d expect things to be extremely bland and boring, given the desert setting. However, the developers’ rendition of Dubai-in-ruins is actually pretty inspiring. The environmental design is some of the most believable I’ve seen in any game, taking the once pristine landscape of Dubai and transforming it with sweeping dunes and sandy canyons into a treacherous yet beautiful wasteland. Trapped by an apocalyptic sandstorm that left the city in ruins, citizens are forced to create makeshift shelters among what’s left of the towering skyscrapers and infrastructure, improvising with settlements of shantys built within the luxurious wreckage. This dynamic creates a perfect juxtaposition of makeshift walls and dirty sheets cast on a backdrop of beautiful statues and luxurious mosaics.
The game does have some obviously clunky shortcomings in the gameplay and cover department, but the real selling point is the story. The Line’s presentation is outstanding, with voice acting that’s solid from the get-go, and there are quite a few memorable characters whose personalities develop as the game progresses. Another great element that deserves a nod is the musical score. It definitely adds to the feel and emotion of the story with some well-placed tracks at key points in the campaign.
I’ve got no interest in ruining the story for you with spoilers, and to be completely honest, the campaign deserves to be played in order to be fully appreciated. But without giving too much away, the guys at Yager/2K really nailed it. SpecOps: The Line is a tale of heroism caught up in a web of clouded morality, and while it does sort of force your hand to make “choices” that ultimately don’t change the brutal outcome, at the end of the day it manages to stick it to the military shooter genre in a very powerful and provocative way. Some of the themes in this game are what I’d expect from a big-time motion picture… not a modern military shooter. Not in a million years.
It isn’t the most polished looking game this year, but SpecOps: The Line is a genuinely moving and emotional experience that has a clear message and actually does a phenomenal job at delivering it. It changed the way I’ll look at military shooters forever, and that’s why it gets my pick for Game of the Year.
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Today’s Giveaway: Dead Space!