It was a relatively quiet year for video games, but there were some real gems. These five games suggested by gaming columnist M. Brandon Robbins will make fine additions to your shelf or public access computers, as they offer superior game play that challenges gamers’ strategic and creative-thinking skills and are shining examples of exemplary game design. And, most important, they are all kinds of fun.
Best All-Ages Game
Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes. Playstation 3, Xbox 360, PC. Published by WB Games
This game might come across as simple, fun fare for kids, but upon closer inspection it really has something for everyone. While the cast of familiar DC Comics heroes and villains as Lego characters will delight comic fans young and old, the challenging puzzles, engaging level design, and open world exploration will satisfy gamers requiring depth and complexity. With unlockable characters and a bounty of hidden secrets, this game offers lots of replay value. What’s more, it provides some good old-fashioned co-op play that doesn’t require an Internet connection, so kids and parents can play together.
Best Strategy Game
FTL: Faster Than Light. PC. Published by Subset Games
FTL is not a game for novices. It makes no apologies for demanding that gamers be on their toes. Within a deceptively simple interface, gamers take on the role of a starship captain on a critical mission to deliver vital intelligence before rebel forces overtake the ship. Combining resource management, strategic combat, and role-playing, this product offers some of the gaming world’s most satisfying challenges yet. Victories are hard won, the sense of danger and exploration is real, and it’s never the same game twice. (See LJ 1/13, p. 59, for an in-depth review.)
Best Action Game
Mark of the Ninja. Xbox 360 (Xbox Live Arcade), PC. Published by Microsoft Game Studios
Everybody loves ninjas, and this game delivers what may be the best ninja experience yet. While in most stealth-based games, cover and concealment are tools for defense, Mark of the Ninja gives players more control over their surroundings—a ninja can use the shadows to hide from enemies and avoid obstacles, but he can also use stealth tactics to instill fear in his opponents and become a swift and terrible creature of darkness. With a variety of tools, a clean interface that offers extensive information, and pick-up-and-play controls, this game satisfies puzzle and action fans alike: they can even earn points for making it through each level without killing any guards, adding a new kind of challenge and a completely different take on the way of the ninja.
Best Game for Readers
Assassin’s Creed III. Xbox 360, Playstation 3. Published by Ubisoft
While the “Assassin’s Creed” series has always offered solid game play with lots of replay value and some truly thrilling experiences—swan-diving off 100′-high ledges into a nearby haystack to escape guards never gets old—the true lure of this series is the rich fiction surrounding it. The conflict between two ancient orders—the Templars and the Assassins—over the mysterious Pieces of Eden is accomplished through layers and layers of conspiracy, adventure, and intrigue all wrapped up in a historical setting with strong sf elements. This series is a testament to the power of video games to excel as artistic media, on par with the best books, creating a rich world with amazing visuals, memorable characters, and engrossing stories. This game continues the tradition by bringing the epic to the American Revolution and placing the gamer in the role of Connor Kenway, a half British/half Native American man caught between two cultures and on a mission to keep the Templars from seizing the power to rule the world.
Game of the Year
Dishonored. Xbox 360, Playstation 3. Published by Bethesda Softworks
The best games offer lots of choices: weapons and gadgets to use, strategies for conflicts, and the capacity to develop the main character as desired. Dishonored delivers on all fronts and manages to be aesthetically pleasing while offering the opportunity to gain technical proficiency as well. Taking on the role of a bodyguard framed for the murder of the very person he was to protect, the main character completes missions to clear his name and seek revenge. Gamers who enjoy lots of combat and action can play aggressively, engaging enemies directly. Those who prefer a more subtle approach can use stealth and trickery. Nothing ever feels forced, allowing players to develop their own strategies and approaches. Dishonored asks participants to use their imagination and critical thinking skills; a fine example of the best that video games have to offer.