So, I play a lot of games. I wanted to make a list of the best games I played this year, mainly because this year was one of the best gaming years I remember. One note before I start is that I work in the industry, namely at DICE in Stockholm, which is a part of EA and that I was credited on games this year (Medal of Honor: Warfighter and Battlefield Premium). I’ll leave EA games out of this mix because of that. However this was not the year of the big name publisher. This was the year of indie games and smaller studios doing excellent stuff. We’ll take this wave back next year for sure! Also of note is that I haven’t played some games or played enough of them to evaluate….namely Mark of the Ninja, Far Cry 3, Endless Swan, Halo 4 and Black Ops II.
10. Super Hexagon
Terry Cavanagh made the perfect mobile game. Extremely difficult but you can still get 50 or so satisfying games in on a short bus ride. Awesome music.
I loved Machinarium but I loved Botanicula more! I don’t know why it works, it’s so childish in its humour but it’s so well crafted that it comes together in a feelgood explosion. Great art style and great music.
8. Dear Esther
An interactive poem? I was ready to put Dear Esther in its place when I started playing. I thought before hand I had figured out exactly what it was, but I was wrong. What I got was 2 hours of some of the smartest narrative I’ve ever seen in gaming. Dear Esther really evolved gaming to another place by introducing something new.
7. Endless Space
I like 4X games but there hasn’t been a space one that really rivals Civilization. Sure GalCiv does it well, but Endless Space does it in a way that makes the genre very accessible. It’s basically the Master of Orion III we all wanted.
A perfect example of designing a small scope for a game and sticking to that vision. FTL works because the scope is small in a way that makes it take 1 minute to learn but hours to master. I’ve always wanted a game where I can manage my own spaceship on a great trek through the universe. FTL didn’t do the long term persistence but rather did 10-30 minute short games where you ended up with some epic stories of survival after each playthrough. Awesome music and art style!
5. Xcom: Enemy Unknown
Finally the best PC game of all time got its proper sequel. Xcom got everything right and was accessible while doing it. Best part was how attached you would get to your squad. I still can’t imagine playing through that game without “Nightmare”, my pretty blonde alien killing sniper heroine.
Thief 2 was until this year my high watermark for stealth games. Dishonored was basically the evolution of Thief 2…with magic! I loved the dark steampunk setting and I loved that you could go through the whole game without any killing. The special abilities were so fun to play with. I hope the Thief 4 team is taking notes….and really the Assassins Creed team should to.
The most perfect 2-3 hours of gaming you will ever find. Everything about it was gorgeous and everyone with even just a passing interest in gaming should play it. It’s kinda amazing that there were games this year I felt were better..
Fez is a gorgeous 2D game. The most interesting thing about it are its exploration (there are no enemies) and the fact that its optional puzzles are really quite different, breaking the 4th wall between the game world and the actual world on occasions. This game was an obsession for cryptography fans and the internet had to attack it with all its brainpower in the end to complete the last puzzles, but it still took time. Also it was just a soothing and fun experience. I still haven’t gone beyond the 32 cubes into total craziness but I absolutely plan to. The soundtrack sounded like 8-Bit Boards of Canada and was just as good as that description implies.
1. Hotline Miami
Nothing about Hotline Miami seen from the outside seemed like it was for me. It looked a hyper violent and vile mess of a game. Yet there was no game this year I obsessed over as much as this one and the adrenalin rush it gave was something that is very rare in gaming. Almost a puzzle game by nature and a very difficult game…but never unfair because it all felt like it was by design. The gameplay was great but it wouldn’t work as well without the amazing music and great story. It was more than a little inspired by the movie Drive in theme and tone and it had a dark and disturbed vision it carried out flawlessly. No game this year made me get so lost in it as Hotline Miami and for the 10 hours it took me to finish it I was absolutely obsessed with it. Also in a year of amazing gaming soundtracks (Fez, FTL, Super Hexagon, Dear Esther) the Hotline Miami soundtrack was the best one. Play it!
In no particular order. I’m excluding Icelandic music for a separate post.
Just a list of my top 10 favorite songs of 2012 for your enjoyment or criticism 🙂
The XX – Angels
For some reason I didn’t expect the XX to follow up their gorgeous debut with anything of similar quality. Gladly I was very wrong…their second album far outclasses the debut and this song is just one big goosebump moment.
Gonjasufi – Nickels and Dimes
Gonjasufi is so different from anything else. His music is just so compelling and I love how I can’t put a finger on why. This album wasn’t as good as Sufi and a Killer but this is in my opinion the best song he has released so far.
Mark Lanegan – Gravedigger’s Song
It’s an undisbutable fact that Lanegan is the best living rock singer. That’s just the way it is. That voice!! This song is his best since Screaming Trees. No contest. Great to see him in top form.
Grizzly Bear – Yet Again
This is how you secure your place as indie legends. After 2 great albums came the masterpiece.
Perfume Genius – Hood
For 2-3 months this year I didn’t really listen to anything else. It’s a gorgeous album and seeing him live at a small club here in Stockholm in the middle of summer was just beautiful. My song of the year.
Metz – Rats
My album of the year. Came out of nowhere and pretty much the best punk/noise rock I have heard. The key is the amazing production here, similar to Steve Albini’s In Utero production. Drums and guitars up front and vocals in the back. Hits hard and just simply cool!
Neil Young – Ramada Inn
Neil is one of my top 5 favorite musicians of all time (The others are My Bloody Valentine, Radiohead, Boards of Canada and Tom Waits btw for those that are interested :)) and this was his best form in a long time. 16 minute epic full of feedback and minor chords! Not that he’s been bad last decade… this is just his best possible form. I really, really want to see him live again this tour!
Beach House – Myth
I don’t really know what to say about this one. It just grabs you. Such a gorgeous song!
Niki and the Dove – DJ, Ease my mind
Swedish hipster pop. My weakness! Taking the best elements from Robyn and The Knife. Great album and they are really good live with plenty of improvisation, which was fun to see.
The Shins – Simple Song
I just love The Shins. Mercer is one of the greatest classic songwriters this generation without a doubt. It’s just the best kind of happy feelgood music. I also think this new Shins lineup is better live than the old one. A really solid concert in Stockholm last winter.
Other notables (I will update this list as I remember more and more that I’ve forgotten):
Just simple. Some old music that is amazing. I actually hope you haven’t heard any of these before because then you’re in luck! I wish I was hearing them for the first time because it’s mindblowing stuff.
Blind Willie Johnson – Dark Was the Night, Cold was the Ground
85 year old music that sounds like nothing else. Nobody plays guitar like this anymore..and the vocals feel otherworldlyand beyond time almost. Incredible song.
Son House – Don’t you Mind People Grinning in Your Face
Another incredible song. Simple and doesn’t even need instruments. Just one man clapping and singing about the difference between true and fake people. This is Jack White’s favorite song of all time and he covered another Son House, Death Letter, with his band The White Stripes….arguably their best live song.
Mississippi John Hurt – Spike Driver Hurt
One for guitar players. Incredible guitar player but there’s also just something really smooth about all his songs overall. His style is just really calm and flows really well. One of a million songs about the rebel railroad worker hero John Henry, but this one may be my favorite of them all.
Leadbelly – Where Did You Sleep Last Night
Well this one it is very likely you have heard… covered by Nirvana. It’s a great song and Leadbelly was a great musician. He was a real tough guy though and a criminal, but you can’t take anything from the quality of his music.
Woody Guthrie – Tear the Fascist Down
Woody is a personal favorite. I went through a long period of listening to all his stuff and I love all of it. Woody was a poor worker born out of the great depression and the over farmed wastes of the Midwest of the US that lead to terrible dust storms and massive movement of people to the west coast of America. It’s a fascinating period and I highly recommend people read John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath to learn more about it. It’s also a period that sounds like we imagine apocalyptic fiction to be today…but it’s also a period that is frighteningly close to us…only 70-80 years back. Woody was a worker hero and his songs mostly revolve around the duststorm migrations. worker rights and the fight against fascists. There would be no Bob Dylan without Woody Guthrie. Dylan himself has said that many times and when Dylan was young and starting out he visited Woody often, then in his later years. Great musician and a fitting end to this post 🙂
So last year (2011) I challenged myself to end the year having seen 230 of the movies in the IMDb 250 list, a constantly updated list voted by the internet for the last 15 years or so. I started the year at 178 and ended at 226, but I did watch around 50-60 new movies in total since they move a lot at the bottom of the list, plus they changed the criteria for inclusion late in the year. All in all I highly recommend doing this! As a more casual film geek I wasn’t likely to go pick up Wages of Fear or Smultronstället up on a whim and this challenge made me watch these great movies, among many others.
Since I had seen most of the major ones before I started the challenge (a healthy 71% of the whole list) it was basically only the obscure entries, non-American or pre-60’s movies on my todo list and while they are still fresh in my head I thought I’d pick out the movies I like the most. I’ll be skipping the Blade Runners, Godfathers and 2001’s because you should know to see those. I’ll be sticking to the ones you are less likely to pick up…but should!
The Third Man (1949 – IMDb)
Ok, this one isn’t really that obscure and is really a stable in all lists that list the best movies of all time. However it’s not a movie that a lot of people have actually seen, including myself before 2011. It was my clear favorite from all the movies I watched during my challenge and it really is amazing. It’s a strange, almost dreamlike, noir movie where dark shadows are mirrored in dark European alleyways. It starts out slowly but it isn’t until the great twist that the movie really starts to fly and nothing about it really feels old nor outdated at all. It’s a masterpiece and one of the best movies ever made, with one of the greatest supporting performances I’ve ever seen. Plus it looks absolutely gorgeous. A perfect movie.. See it!
The Wages of Fear (1953 – IMDb)
Now here’s a movie I would never have picked up if it weren’t for the list. It’s a 160 minute french action thriller about desperate men stuck in South America who see a way out by gaining quick money for transferring nitroglycerin across rough terrain in trucks. Strange premise but the movie is full of suspense throughout and in many ways it’s noted as being one of the most revolutionary and influential action movies ever made. Don’t get discouraged by the slow start (although I really liked that part) …the movie has lost none of it’s suspense. The director, Clouzot, also has another movie on the top 250 list….Les Diaboliques, which also stars his gorgeous wife Vera, and I highly recommend people see that movie as well. That one is a Hitchcock style movie which I actually prefer over most of his work (with the exception of Rear Window, which is my favorite Hitchcock).
In the Mood for Love (2000 – IMDb)
This was the first Wong Kar Wai movie I ever saw and so far it’s my favorite of his. Wong Kar Wai has a very unique style and his movies are quite often more an exercise in setting a mood than telling a clear story. In this movie and also in Chungking Express he really succeeds in setting a mood that sticks with you. If you’ve ever read a Murakami book then Wong Kar Wai has a similar style…strange western influences intermingled with magic realism and a strange mood. It’s not really arty, but it’s also clearly not for everyone. If you want to check this style out then your first stop should be In the Mood for Love. It’s an absolutely wonderful movie and one I think I’ll be watching quite often in the future…just to be able to inhabit that world again. I couldn’t really blog about that movie though without including this scene…like the top youtube comment says “Only Wong Kar Wai could make buying porridge look epic”:
One more in my series of linking to 5 songs that are awesome. This time they are from films! This is music that really stands on it’s own and I tried to pick something that is a little more obscure. My favorite soundtracks are by they way Blade Runner by Vangelis, Amélie by Yann Tiersen, Good the Bad and the Ugly by Ennio Morricone, Koyaanisqatsi by Philip Glass and Tron Legacy by Daft Punk. I stay clear of those this time around.
There is a theme here. I would call it a somber but epic mood if I wanted to be pretentious. I think I’d also call it that if I was not being pretentious ..but whatever I’m rambling. On to the great music!
The Proposition – Nick Cave and Warren Ellis – The Proposition #1
Kundun – Philip Glass – Escape to India
The Tree of Life – Alexandre Desplat – Awakening
The Fountain – Clint Mansell – Together we will live forever
Solaris – Cliff Martinez – First Sleep