Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Game of the Year 2012: D. Bethel

In what was, for me, a profound year in general, Bioware's Mass Effect 3 exemplifies why this year was especially profound for my gaming.  Like a few other titles, Mass Effect 3 inspired me to play through it at least three times––something I cannot say I've done since my PS2 days; but, even then, with games like Shadow of the Colossus and Metal Gear Solid 3, my repeated play-throughs came with extended stretches between them.  Like no year before, many of the games I played in 2012 were so inspired and fun that, immediately upon their completion, I started a new play-through, repeating this until I got worn out or a new game came along.  Though Mass Effect 3 was not the first game I looped this year (that honor goes to the damaged but brilliant I Am Alive), the multifaceted draw of ME3 makes it the most compelling example.

I'm sure I stand in opposition to the other contributors to this site when I say that ME3 is the pinnacle of the trilogy.  On a gameplay level, this entry balanced out the extremes that the first and second installments went to.  It had an appropriate level of RPG complexity with regard to its inventory and leveling systems that streamlined the tedious system of the first game but had much more depth than the over-simplified sequel.  It kept the much improved combat of ME2 while opening up the ground game to wider exploration as found in ME1 (I'm thinking of examples like the vast difference of Citadel square-footage between ME1 and ME2).  Most importantly, the story was engaging and organic––the latter of which I felt ME2 lacked (until its DLC).  With Mass Effect 3, I felt that my Shepards were the same ones I brought through two expansive, battle-worn installments and were finally bringing the whole thing to a close.  The sense of finality that Mass Effect 3 brings is tangible––something I know other contributors can attest to––and when I made those final decisions atop the Citadel, I felt as if the choice my Shepards were making were the actual choice he and she would make, and weren't just made out of the hope to nab the "good" ending that motivated me so much in my youth.

That ending, of course, cannot be ignored.  I've already discussed it at length, so I'll just get to the meat of it here.  The controversy this game kicked up led me to think about video games––especially video game narratives––in analytic and academic ways, something I peacefully avoided until then.  The release of the extended cut only deepened the argument and its analysis, too, for all its faults and strengths.  (Don't even get me started on Leviathan).

Bioware's Mass Effect 3 is a seminal work of digitaliterature––a word I hope I just made up (probably not).  I'm sure I'll return to this wonderful game again down the road, but I realize I will only be chasing the memory of its––and many other games'––profound entrapment of my time during 2012.

Runners Up:
-Klei's Mark of the Ninja
-Bethesda's Skyrim: Dragonborn (I mean, it's basically a game unto itself, right?)

D. Bethel never has time, but when he does, he makes
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  1. I agree with everything here, except for ME3 being the pinnacle of the series. ME2's campaign was far more enjoyable for me personally. I found 3 to be hurtling towards an inevitable conclusion, one which was clearly road-signed early in the series. 2 felt organic, and I was continually impressed with the depth of lore written for seemingly inconsequential characters.

  2. ME3 had very great moments like the genophage with Mordin, and the Geth and Quarians at Rannoch. Some of the best moments in the series. Didn't like the original ending, but the controlling reaper extended cut ending made me cringe even more.

    I still find ME 1 the pinnacle of the series, because it was the plot was more focused, and gave a great sense of exploration.

  3. ME1's gameplay is frustratingly archaic when you go back to it now, though.

  4. ME2 will always be my favorite of the series. The gameplay was more refined, the story was dark without being overbearing, and the characters, both new and returning, were just top notch.