Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 - The Highlights (EHeroFlareNeos)

With 2012 coming to a close, this is the time to look back at what came out this year and reflect on how we felt. While not all of it was great, there are still some things that deserve mention. Below, in no particular order, is my personal list of the top games, movies and disappointments of the year, plus a special new category (that hopefully I will never feel the need to use again).

Top Movies of 2012

The Avengers
As the culmination of Phase 1 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Avengers combines humor with action and well-written characters to create the ultimate comic book movie. While Joss Whedon isn't reason enough to fall in love with this movie, his hand in it cannot be denied, for he shares both writing and directing credits. The Avengers is one of those movies that I would be willing to watch over and over again, having seen it three times already, and this small space cannot do it enough justice. This is simply a movie to see without question.

Wreck-It Ralph
Video game movies have always been the butt of jokes across industries, with complaints that aren't that unfounded. However, Wreck-It Ralph has managed to prove that not only can they not suck, they can be worth repeat viewings. Though it can be compared with Toy Story in some aspects, the different spin it has on its genre is rather unique and sends its message across in a way that doesn't talk down to anyone or appeal to a single niche audience. Although there is some fan service of sorts for avid video game players, there is enough to satisfy even complete outsiders.

The Expendables 2
Let me be honest here, The Expendables 2 isn't the greatest movie ever made, nor is it something I'm going to immediately watch again on DVD. However, I placed it on this list for its ability to not only advertise exactly what it was going to do, but also sticking with it and staying true to itself. It establishes early on that there will be badass moments of awesome and it delivers badass moments of awesome. It's a true action movie through and through and I have no regrets watching it.

Top Video Games of 2012

Asura's Wrath
In a realm of gaming where God of War and Devil May Cry clones (and Bayonetta) run rampant, it's nice to see a game that manages to stand apart and take everyone else by storm. Asura's Wrath operates like an interactive anime, but it weaves an epic tale of a Deity named Asura, betrayed by his own kind and ripped away from his daughter. His resulting feats reach a status that exceeds its ilk and reaches beyond the heavens to deliver a very memorable experience.

Sometimes what doesn't really matter is the destination, but rather the journey. This is the tenet that Journey is built upon, drawing out the player's sense of isolation in a way that firmly establishes that video games can indeed be works of art. It may only last a couple of hours, but what truly matters is the experience it creates and that you may find yourself wanting to go on that journey again and again.

Penny Arcade's On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3
It may be better for fans of Penny Arcade like myself, but OTRSPOD 3 is a game that I liked well enough to put on this list. The painful wait and change of developers proved to be well worth it, thanks to the unique approach to gameplay and tidal wave of humorous lines and references to Penny Arcade's entire webcomic run up to that point. Plus, the plot surrounding the Four Below takes a darker turn and knows when to generate genuine suspense. Also, it's only $5 (this cannot be stressed enough).

Assassin's Creed III
As I played the Ezio Trilogy, I was really waiting for a fresh new assassin to join the ranks and give me something new to do. Thankfully, Assassin's Creed III does just that, shifting the focus to the assassin Connor and changing the setting to the American Revolution. Though Brotherhood and Revelations are still required reading, so to speak, this entry is when things really kick into high gear and the framing device actually becomes interesting. As the conclusion to a long build-up, Assassin's Creed III is not a game to miss. Plus, it has some significance to me thanks to some of my ancestors being involved in the American Revolution.

Top Disappointments of 2012

After Cars 2, I feel that Pixar has really started to let themselves go. Brave is an improvement, but that doesn't change that this seems like the point where Pixar has lost some of their luster; having already achieved their earlier visions, they have now become more of a regular movie studio. The characters in Brave aren't as engaging, the plot has some holes and unusual anachronisms and there just seemed to be an overall lack of effort to make me want to rewatch this mother-daughter bonding tale. But hey, kids and die hard fans seem to like it.

The Amazing Spider-Man
In the wake of the successful Marvel Studios movies, Sony created a reboot of their successful Spider-Man trilogy in order to maintain their grasp on the franchise. Unfortunately the result isn't as great as the Sam Raimi films, with a darker tinge to try and compete with Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, a plot that leaves several threads dangling (pun intended) and the revelation that being bitten by a radioactive spider actually gives you just Spider Sense and the ability to perform spider-based parkour. I wasn't impressed, but I won't challenge anyone for genuinely enjoying it (just don't say "because it was dark like Batman"). Hopefully the inevitable sequel will be better.

I Am Alive
This is an example of a game stuck in development hell and managing to come out, but as a different entity. I Am Alive originally had a very brilliant premise and gameplay ideas, but somewhere along the way it turned into a survival horror with only a few fleeting remnants of the original vision intact, thanks in part to the new setting being deemed "more realistic." I don't entirely regret finally playing I Am Alive after its seeming disappearance from the fabric of space, but in hindsight I'm still waiting to play the game that I got excited for.

Assassin's Creed III
I admit that it's weird to see Assassin's Creed III take up a slot on two contradictory lists, but just hear me out for a minute. The story was handled very well and there are plenty of improvements to the gameplay systems that make Connor one of the best assassins in gaming. However, the game also failed to recapture the addiction I felt when playing Assassin's Creed II for the first time and the mission structure just isn't up to par. While some bugs and annoyances have been fixed in a patch, what I played wasn't enough to keep me occupied for days on end. I'll play the sequel, but I hope Ubisoft actually puts more time into that installment than this.

Worst Video Game of 2012

Ever since the day I decided to play NeverDead, I have spent every day since regretting that awful two days of my life. Bryce Boltzmann is not a hero I can get behind, the gameplay is absolutely abysmal, the story falls flat on its face and the enemies are relentless so as to make the game a possible way to turn into The Hulk. Not even Megadeth's amazing contribution could bring this game up from being nothing more than a plastic container full of urine.

Honorable Mentions of 2012 (Not reviewed, but worth bringing up)

SoulCalibur V
It may be the game I exchanged NeverDead for, but I had a really great time with this game. This installment in the series manages to fix what was wrong with SoulCalibur IV and improve upon such things as story, art style and combat. It's a well-balanced fighting game that I think fighting game fans would appreciate, even if they are fresh to the series. Plus, you get to be Ezio Auditore, so what's not to like?

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