This being the end of the year, 2012 wrap-ups are in full swing across the Internet and "Game of the Year" lists are no different. This year, the Bay Area's Telltale Games features highly on many of those lists, and with good reason. The Walking Dead game has been well-loved, but considered too different for mainstream awards. Released in 5 episodes, the game resembles an interactive, animated TV show more than many video games. It consists of conversations, real-time events and tense drama, but no real fighting or leveling up. Instead of riding through wave after wave of shambling zombies, it focuses on an almost literary pace and detailed storytelling.
The Walking Dead game has none of the sprawling adventure of Skyrim, which topped many lists from 2011 or the guns-blazing, heart-pounding action of Mass Effect 2 from 2010. Its brilliance comes in its dependance on the players' emotional interactions with the characters as it forces us to make tough decisions with little or no time.
The Walking Dead game was even praised on The Psychology Of Video Games as a clear example of game makers utilizing realistic facial expressions in characters to activate mirror neurons and generate genuine empathy during play. This is precisely why few game enthusiasts thought it was a contender for "Game of the Year," a title usually reserved for big name, big money titles. It's a welcome change to have such powerfully emotional games produced and commended for their accomplishments by the gaming community.
While The Walking Dead certainly deserves to be named "Game of the Year," the best bang-for-your-buck title would have to go to Borderlands 2. A quirky, first-person shooter that doesn't take itself too seriously, Borderlands 2 offers hardcore, heart-pounding gun fights against a fleet of unique and powerful enemies. Whether you want to fight pirate ninjas that attack with ship anchors or super badass construction robots that create new enemies as you frantically try to destroy them, Borderlands 2 is the game for you. The sheer volume of content, built-in re-playability, and yet-to-be-released extras make it a great value for the money and a joy to play.
Those two games aside, and for players more inclined to puzzles and platforming, Fez was this year's shining star, rising to the top of the indie field. While it is a cheerful, nostalgia-drenched platformer, Fez is a surprising, deeply layered game with codes and secrets concealed behind every level of its warm, retro 8-bit facade.
With a new understanding of emotional buy-in developing in the field, as well as a newly booming indie market, 2013 promises to be a great year for games.
Funding for KQED Arts is provided by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
Support is also provided by Yogen and Peggy Dalal, Diane B. Wilsey, the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Helen Sarah Steyer, the William and Gretchen Kimball Fund, and the members of KQED