2012 was in my opinion the year of indie games. What was once somewhat of a niche has now been shoved into mainstream PC gaming full force, with the help of entities such as Humble Bundle, prominent YouTube lets players, and the mass appeal of existing indie juggernauts such as Minecraft and Super Meat Boy.
Heres some games I liked this year:
FTL (Faster Than Light) - $10 indie roguelike
This was the type of game Ive always dreamed of since childhood; a space combat sim where you control a crew and ship functions to fight off random encounters. Everyone who grew up watching Star Trek can probably relate. The joy this game brings to me comes purely from a gameplay aspect. While the visuals may not be impressive, and the encounter variation may be slightly lacking, the game to its very core is designed to play extremely fun. The amount of control and management options built into this rogue-like RPG are streamlined and unparalleled. Due to the rock solid foundation of this game, it will surely live on with a cult status for years to come due to modding.
Hotline Miami - $10 indie twin stick
I have to admit I went into this game skeptical at best. The trailer was awesome, but the whole vibe made me feel like it was ripping off from recent box office hit Drive. However once I hooked up my 360 gamepad and booted this up, I lost all preconceptions and got lost in mindless gory fun. Like FTL, this game has a very basic visual style, and makes up for this with absolutely stellar gameplay mechanics. Playing the game reminds me of previous indie mega-hit, Super Meat Boy. The similarity lies in the fact that levels are meant to be tried in constant succession until you can beat it. As soon as you die you are instantly back at the beginning of the stage to put your skills (or luck) to the test again. And unlike SMB, dying isnt as frustrating, because the gameplay involved in killing enemies is so fun you probably wont mind playing the same level countless times.
Legend of Grimrock - $15 indie rpg
While I havent gotten too far into this game yet, I have played enough to form a (good) opinion of it. Its a turn based dungeon crawler / puzzler with again, EXCELLENT gameplay. But this one has top notch graphics to boot. Its squad management, where you control 4 heroes in a square formation. The combat of course involves micromanaging that grid of heroes effectively, and other genre staples such as leveling up and equipping gear. A neat aspect is the puzzles, which are needed to progress through the dungeon as well as to unlock doors to special gear. Its simple enough to jump right into after a 2 minute tutorial, but complex enough to offer a challenge and keep you interested.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown - $50 AAA strategy
XCOM is a turn based squad management strategy game, which has a delightful RPG meta-game where you can research tech and gear, construct facilities to gain game-wide advantages, equip and level up soldiers, and even choose missions, as a few major examples. I was a sucker for RPGs growing up, so this light roleplaying touch where we get some choices really spices this game up. But at its core it is most definitely a strategy game. The combat is somewhat reminiscent of recent Fallout reboots, in that you use guns to get turn based percentile shots on your opponents. The meta-game can factor into those percentages, as well as terrain based aspects, such as elevation, cover, and line-of-sight. You could easily get lost in this game for an entire day (and possibly the impending night as well). Its just great.
Saints Row: The Third - $50 3rd Person shooter
I dont really know what I expected from this, since I had not played any of the previous games, and had heard bad things about the PC port for SR2. Nevertheless, I am a huge fan of the GTA series, and this looked like a homage or parody to that, and the lets plays looked fun. I was blown away. This must be one of the goofiest mainstream games ever created, but its done so well! I was floored by the production and finesse this game has. It takes anything tedious from GTA 4 and makes it fun. The gameplay is phenomenal. The missions are so well varied, and are a BLAST to play, and will keep you wanting more until its over. The game is witty when one might expect simply nonsense. Surprise hit of the year, for sure.
Games still on my to-play list from 2012:
Far Cry 3
Mass Effect 3
...and a ton of other single player games that are time sinks which I have yet to muster the attention span for