RPS Time Capsule: the games worth saving from 2012
We list our favourite games from 2012, and why they deserve to be preserved above everything else
Welcome to the latest edition of The RPS Time Capsule, where members of the RPS Treehouse each pick one game from a given year to save from extinction while all other games fizzle and die on the big digital griddle in the sky before blinking out of existence. This time, we're turning our preservation mitts on the year 2012, a year absolutely stacked with some pretty stellar releases. But which ones will make the cut and be safely ensconced inside our cosy capsule for future generations? Come on down to find out.
As with previous Time Capsules, these aren't necessarily the definitive best games of the year we've picked. Rather, they're the games we hold dear to our hearts, and those that (hopefully) hold some important lesson that's worth preserving for the game developers of the future. We're including games based on the year they came out on PC, and ideally, it's this particular version of the game we're recommending (even if you technically can't physically buy that in any actual storefront anymore). We have, admittedly, been a bit lax about this particular rule in recent capsules, but please don't hold that against us. Some years have been real sparse, lately.
But! As with all great lists, there are bound to be a lot of good games here that we've missed, so why not tell us about the one game from 2012 you'd save from the eternal hellfires of an exploded Earth in the comments below?
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Katharine: I'm inevitably going to end up breaking my own rules when we eventually get to 2016 and XCOM 2 comes around, but gosh darn it, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is just too good, and too important, to not be Capsuled. Not only was it a phenomenal reboot of the classic strategy game series, but its effects on the genre are still being felt today, with several game developers citing it as a key influence on games being made right now. It's a remarkable achievement, and absolutely deserves its place alongside its even better sequel as a masterclass in tactical brilliance.
As you work to defend Earth from an alien invasion, you'll need to make tough decisions on not just where to deploy your limited troops and resources, but also make sure they don't all absolutely biff it in the process, because man alive, when one of your soldiers dies in XCOM, it's like your own limbs have been severed from your husk of a body. Death hurts in XCOM, and it's why missions can stretch well past the hour mark as you carefully weigh up each and every move. More than that, though, it's the stories of those soldiers that stick with you well past the point you stop playing - the heroic victories, the impossible shots, the utter disbelief of missing a honking great shotgun blast when you're standing 5cm away from a punk-ass sectoid... XCOM: Enemy Unknown is as much about the bonds you form with the boots on the ground as it is the mental gymnastics you perform trying to keep them all alive. It's a stonkingly good game, and into the Time Capsule it goes.
FTL: Faster Than Light
Ollie: Whenever Katharine tells us that it's time for another Time Capsule and gives us the year, there's always this moment of fear where we all jump onto Metacritic to find out what PC games came out there, and whether there's a single good game among them. Imagine the relief when I saw FTL.
FTL: Faster Than Light is one of an extremely small number of absolutely perfect games. It's a lightweight roguelite spaceship captain simulator where you need to jump between various sectors, fending off enemy ships, building your crew, and upgrading your ship in an epic race back to the Federation homeworld to save it from the evil(?) Rebel fleet. It's an extremely challenging game, and one of the best story generators in my Steam Library. And unlike its main competitors in that category (Rimworld, Dwarf Fortress), FTL is very easy to get to grips with, so you can quickly get to the really juicy bits about killer spiders and pirate boarding parties, mind control abilities, and what I like to call "deoxygenation shenanigans".
FTL is still one of the best games you can play today in 2023. If you haven't played it already, your sole excuse can be that you were only recently born. And even then I might still judge you.
Rachel: I wonder if The Chinese Room knew what a fuss Dear Esther would make when it first released. Is it a game? Is it not a game? What do you do in it? How do you play it? Deary me, what a whole buncha palaver. The game that birthed the "walking sim" (affectionately or not), Dear Esther certainly made an impression back in 2012, and it’s a game whose ripples can be seen in modern game design today. Sure, it’s made a mark on history, but I also think it’s just a great game regardless.
Wandering around a gloomy Scottish island guided by the words of a man reading his dead wife’s letters isn’t exactly my idea of a good time, but Dear Esther is quietly poetic in a way that’s still super refreshing. I’ve always loved the closeness you develop with the island, a feeling that’s heightened due to the game’s minimal design. Like seriously, all you do is walk and listen, that’s it. It sort of forces you to be present in the environment, without distracting mission icons, mini-maps, HP bars and the rest. It’s peaceful and spacious, letting you take your time but also still having a story to engage with if you wish. Lovely stuff.
Mass Effect 3
Alice Bee: Mass Effect 3 isn't my favourite Mass Effect (as previously outlined many, many times, that honour goes to Mass Effect 2, as is the case with all right-thinking people), but it is, probably, the most culturally significant Mass Effect. It's a good game as well, to be clear. In ME3, the fight against huge space-alien insectoid robots has arrived on our solar system's doorstep, with Earth besieged and the home planets of other alien species not far behind. The whole thing has this air of a doomed last stand. It's very WWI, but without any heartwarming football matches that can later be used to advertise Sainsbury's chocolate. You, as Commander Shepherd, have to zip around through all this trying to put together the weapon that can finally defeat the enemy.
I remember Mass Effect 3 not just for being the capper on an epic sci-fi RPG series, but for two other things. Firstly, it was the last game where I remember people making a huge fuss about unlockable DLC. There was a frog-alien companion who you could only get if you paid for him – but he was on the disc when it shipped. How dare they! Nobody cares about that any more, of course. We barely have discs these days. By far the biggest fuss was the ending. It was a big moral choice 'em up, and the nerds hated the available options so much that they raged, raged against the dying of the light for so long, and so loudly, that BioWare caved and changed it. They patched their story! That's bananas! I don't think anyone has done that since, and I hope they never do. But it makes ME3 a definite cultural artifact, even if it's an embarrassing one.
The Walking Dead: Season One
Hayden: While the wider franchise has largely become a rotten husk in recent years, Telltale’s The Walking Dead debut still stands out as one of few shining moments that’s as riveting now as the day it dropped. Undoubtedly, that’s thanks to leading duo Lee and Clementine. An escaped convict and isolated infant forced together for safety, the pair don’t succumb to a dreary relationship filled with sarcastic jabs and grunted insults as Joel and Ellie did a year later. Lee and Clementine are compassionate and caring, and it’s immediately heartwarming stuff.
Of course, the wider context is the opposite of cosy. It’s an apocalypse, so the pair don’t bond by making pancakes together. Instead, Lee must figure out how to keep Clem hopeful while she faces the possibility that her parents are dead. As the reality of their situation becomes clear, the focus shifts from preserving innocence to preserving life, and you can choose to pass on invaluable survival skills that Clem might need in the future. Settling on the right words to use in these moments is tough, and while the story is largely the same regardless, choosing how to flavour the drama makes it feel incredibly personal. As their relationship slowly creeps from heart-warming to heart-breaking, it tees up an emotional gut-punch of an ending that I’m still reeling from now. The strength of that ending, though, is proof of just how engrossing the adventure is, making The Walking Dead an obvious Time Capsule pick.
Rebecca: I don't especially like stealth games usually, and I'm not typically a big fan of high fantasy either, so I hope it carries some weight that I'd nevertheless choose Dishonored as my one game from pretty-good-year 2012 to save from extinction. I know it's beyond clichéd to say that a fictional world feels "alive", but I can't think of a better way to describe the Empire of the Isles. Dishonored manages to pull off an incredibly rare trick: inventing a world with a history and culture that feel fully fleshed-out beyond the narrow borders of what you actually see, and at the same time populating it with characters who make sense in that context but still feel like people; not just real people but ordinary ones. Yes, even the ones who are ageless trickster demi-gods. Perhaps especially them.
I'll be honest in that I only picked up Dishonored in the first place because I'd just rinsed the BioShock series for all it was worth, and this was the next immersive sim I stumbled across that looked like it might scratch some of the same itches. And it did, but did I expect it to also serve up some of the most gut-punching emotional moments I've ever experienced in a game? No, it threw those in as a bonus. Oh, and if this preserved copy doesn't already include the two absolutely essential story DLCs, then we're turning this spaceship around and heading right back to the imploding planet to pick them up. I take a very firm stance on this.
Max Payne 3
Liam: I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never actually played either the original Max Payne or its sequel. I know, I know. It’s a huge blind spot for me, and a fact that is all but guaranteed to be my eventual downfall. Still, this didn’t stop me from picking up a copy of Max Payne 3 the day it was released. Developed by Rockstar rather than series creators Remedy, it was this connection that had me desperate to finally see what all the fuss was about. In 2012 we were still firmly within Rockstar’s 360 golden era, memories of GTA 4, LA Noire and Red Dead Redemption fresh in our collective minds. After a trio as strong as those, why would anyone skip their next release?
I think the general consensus is that Max Payne 3 is too up its own arse. Bloated. A world away from the original duo in terms of tone, characters and locations. This is all, I suspect, true. But without context, I can’t help but love Max’s trip to South America. This is a particularly grim game, even by Rockstar’s standards. It can be a hard thing to stomach. Unless, of course, you click with the combat. The combat in Max Payne 3 is sensational. Bullet time has never been so cinematic, allowing Max to soar through the air with reckless abandon at any given moment. Shooting dudes to the thumping techno beats of HEALTH’s wonderful soundtrack never gets old. Will we ever see a Max Payne 4? I highly doubt it, but with Remedy’s own Max Payne remakes on the horizon, now is as good a time as any to revisit Rockstar’s 2012 curio.
James: Apologies, but I am misappropriating this Time Capsule to not simply preserve something dear to me, but to save it from certain death. I am Mr. Freeze cryogenically suspending his wife, if indeed his wife was a hyper-kinetic competitive FPS.
God, I miss Tribes: Ascend. I’ve long been a sucker for movement shooters, but nothing, outside of other, older Tribes games, has ever been as fast. See, everyone in this game has legs, but if you actually use them, you’re a mug. The only real way to move around Ascend’s vast battlefields is skiing: using jetpacks and friction-defying jetboots to fling yourself up and down slopes, then riding the momentum to zip around at electrifyingly high speeds. Oh the fun we had, tearing around like armed mosquitos, hearts racing from the best Capture the Flag chases in any game where you captured flags.
Alas, it was all tragically short-lived. Updates ceased in 2013 (save for a few surprise patches in 2015 and 2016), and it’s only playable today if you a) bought it before it went off sale, and b) can mod your way past the decommissioned login server. Tribes: Ascend should therefore be preserved not for any widespread cultural impact, but so that people of the future can experience it as it was in 2012: vibrant, almost constantly thrilling FPS brilliance.
Dark Souls: Prepare To Die Edition
Ed: Many argue that Dark Souls: Remastered is bestest version of the classic. They'd argue that you don't need to mod it with DSFix to run nicely. They'd say that it runs at 60fps, and that much of the online community has shifted over from the original. It has lots of little improvements to make things more convenient, too. And those are all great points! But hey, it's not Prepare To Die.
Yes, I get that PTDE first launched on Games for Windows Live - I get it. To me, though, the game shouldn't be forgotten or passed off as inferior. It's fitting that it was once inconvenient and obtuse, both to own and play. I didn't even know about DSFix at the time, so I soaked up the game's visuals and bugs without any modded garnish. Honestly? I think the original captures FromSoft's vision far better than the remaster. Everything is coated in a dreamy gloss and has a rough edge. It really is the Dark Souls of Dark Souls.