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Sore Thumbs

The Top Five Games of 2012

12/26/2012

SORE THUMBS journey21.) ‘JOURNEY’ (E)

Sony Computer Entertainment

PlayStation Network

The best game of the year can be finished in a single sitting. In fact, it has to be. You don’t get to kill anything, and nothing you encounter can kill you. You never learn the name of your avatar or the true identities of any of your co-op partners whose anonymous avatars assist you in your quest. Nevertheless, “Journey” winds up being a visually stunning and emotionally rousing experiment in minimalist storytelling and the single most compelling argument for video games being a legitimate art form since “Shadow of the Colossus.”

You guide your mysterious cloaked figure across a shimmering desert landscape, encountering ruins and hieroglyphics that hint at the backstory of a fallen civilization. You have no heads-up display, and apart from the word “Journey,” you are shown no text until the end credits roll. Your only onscreen prompt is a distant mountain that beckons you to approach, and as you do, you quickly work out the game’s intuitive controls. Along the way, you meet another player with whom you can communicate only in a simple musical chirp, and from that point on, the experience is different for everyone. You may part ways immediately. Or you might take him under your wing, and show him how to solve the game’s plaforming puzzles. Or he might lead you to the game’s many hidden secrets. But whichever way you choose to reach the mountain’s summit and the game’s transcendent finale, it’s sure to be a surprising and unforgettable journey.

 

SORE THUMBS dishonoredbox2.) ‘DISHONORED’

Bethesda Softworks

Xbox 360

With “Bioshock Infinite” delayed until 2013, nothing helps fill the void quite like “Dishonored.” Like the city of Rapture, the world of “Dishonored” blends elements of different eras into a volatile steampunk cocktail of societal decay. Then it gives you cool weapons to blow it all to pieces. Whether you take the challenging and bloodless stealth approach or task yourself to find increasingly imaginative ways to turn your adversaries into rat food, you’re sure to have a rollicking good time.

 

SORE THUMBS massbox3.) ‘MASS EFFECT 3’

Electronic Arts

Xbox 360

Regardless of what you may have thought of the controversial endings (or the backpedalling of the “Extended Cut” ending), Bioware’s “Mass Effect” series remains a stunning achievement in epic RPG gameplay driven by player choice. That fans had such wildly emotional responses to the fates of Commander Shepard and his crew only emphasizes how successful these games are in making us care about the characters right up until the bitter end.

 

SORE THUMBS fezbox4.) ‘FEZ’

Trapdoor

Xbox Live Arcade

Part 2D platformer, part 3D puzzle and part M. C. Escher-style optical illusion, the gameplay is like nothing you’ve experienced before. It forces you to think in mindbending new ways as you guide Gomez, your primitive 8-bit avatar, through his simplistic 2D world before suddenly breaking the rules of that world by rotating it in three dimensions, giving Gomez access to paths and secrets normally hidden from the perspective of a two-dimensional sprite.

 

SORE THUMBS halobox5.) ‘HALO 4’

Microsoft Game Studios

Xbox 360

After a handful of missteps and spin-offs, Master Chief is back in the Top 5, where he belongs. Simultaneously comfortably familiar and excitingly fresh, its luxuriant production values show us that some problems really can be solved simply by burying them in piles of money. Microsoft seems to have spared no expense on the graphics engine, the story, the voice acting, the sound design and the gameplay, and it all combines to form the ultimate sci-fi/action epic. CV

Barmuda