Happy 2014, everyone! I hope you all had fun breaking bread with the family and unwrapping presents left under the tree by fat men. As for me, December was always the time to create easily arguable lists of pieces of entertainment that you enjoyed over the course of the year. 2013 was a bummer year in general, and the world of video games wasn’t immune to that. It was a year of transition, full of filler games meant to hold gamers over until the new consoles came out. Then the new generation hit and, shock of all shocks, the launch games weren’t the greatest. Truly though, the Xbox One and PS4 will have their time next year. Or at least, everyone hopes they will.
So what was left for 2013 was two sides warring over the very soul of games. There were many creators this year who released projects that attempted to shift games, to emotionally consume players and cash in on some of that sweet Walking Dead money. On the other side, there were game developers who took the logical steps forward in their genres and created fun to play games. There is room for both in the industry, but it has become clear to me that games are becoming mature enough as a medium to develop their own “Oscar bait”. As evidenced by the videos embedded below, you will not find many of those games here.
However, you will find the ten games that I had the most fun playing in 2013. Also included for those who are less reading inclined is a visual demonstration of the level of my appreciation for each game as represented by scenes from action movies. Let’s get started!
Here’s a title that a lot of people overlooked, but I’m a sucker for your Tetrises and your Puzzle Fighters, so a relatively new spin on the falling block puzzle game was automatically going to be on my radar. Put out by Adult Swim Games in a year peppered with their excellent output, Puzzle Platformer stands out because of its grand retro aesthetic. Its soundtrack is an instant classic all on its own with music that is right up there with anything from the SNES/Genesis area of chiptune greatness. Its gameplay has that same “simple to learn, hard to master” vibe as the best among this genre, and the direct control you have running around the board with your character instead of controlling the board’s layout adds a layer of stress that tops even the highest levels of Tetris play. If you have ever enjoyed a puzzle game or you need a game to pull out at parties, Super Puzzle Platformer Deluxe is certainly one to consider, and it was easily the most fun I had puzzling this year.
tl;dr Action Scene from 1991’s Out for Justice
Typing of the Dead: Overkill‘s development history is one of the most uplifting things I’ve read about in 2013. Giant Bomb did an excellent writeup of it here, but simply put, this game shouldn’t exist at all. So I’m all the more pleased that it does, and I got the chance to type zombies to death inside of the world of grindhouse cinema. I’m not a huge fan of the House of the Dead’s style of on-rails shooting, but I loved Overkill‘s overwhelming cheese when it came out a few years ago. Fast forward to October and this surprise release was an instant purchase. Filled with unnecessary cursing, blatant exploitation and the stupid humor that can only come from typing bosses to death, Overkill is a blast that is easily recommendable to anyone with a taste for awful movies and anyone who hasn’t gotten tired of fighting the undead.
tl;dr Action Scene from 1992’s Army of Darkness
WB Montreal had their work cut out for them in creating the next game in the Arkham universe, the first without series creator Rocksteady at the helm. Many assumed that Origins would just be another one of those aforementioned “filler” games, easily skippable for all but the biggest fans of those franchises. I’m certainly not one of those, I hated Arkham City‘s open world with its lack of fast travel points and arcane Riddler puzzles around every corner. However, WB Montreal has taken the best parts of that game, toned down the more annoying sandbox elements, stripped out the unnecessary Catwoman missions, and brought back a lot more of the linearity that made Arkham Asylum one of the best games of this past generation. Considering that The Joker won’t be in future Arkham games, Origins allows one last look at this version of the character and some of his scenes rank above anything else in a Batman video game for me. It’s not perfect, but it was miles ahead of Arkham City and I hope Rocksteady pays attention to the improvements that Origins made on the formula when they cap off their own Arkham trilogy in the future.
tl;dr Action Scene from 2008’s The Dark Knight
Oh Bioshock Infinite. Everyone had high hopes for you, and everyone should have expected that not even the team behind Big Daddies and Rapture was immune to the sophomore slump. Bioshock Infinite earns a slot on my list for its immaculate world building and its mind twisting storylines, both some of the best of their ilk in this or any year. The way it plays with alternate dimensions is right up my alley, and I dug every hour it took reading over audio diaries and blog posts to understand the ending fully. The gameplay was fun at the time for what it was, but ultimately unfulfilling when compared to the complex systems and variety of powers found in its predecessors. I still love Irrational’s output (DLC not included sadly), but it’s hard not to be nervous when considering some of the simplified systems at play in Infinite. Maybe it’s time for something from them that isn’t a successor to System Shock 2.
tl;dr Action Scene from 1989’s Back to the Future 2
No, not the classic game that was remade this year, this is the 2013 first person shooter with full HD graphics. It’s been a year full of clarifying which Shadow Warrior I was praising, but enough about its confusing name. Shadow Warrior is an excellent FPS, combing the hidden secrets and mazes of the older game with an improved melee system that lets it stand among its modern contemporaries. This is the game you imagined Red Steel would be at the beginning of this generation, and you might find yourself going into battle more with its katana than with its array of upgradable firearms. Combine that with a sense of humor and nostalgia appropriate for a classic franchise, and you have a quality first person shooter that I assume many will pick up in future Steam sales, enjoy, and then wonder where it came from.
tl;dr Action Scene from 1986’s Big Trouble in Little China
Ever since I was 1o years old and first ventured into Kanto, I’ve been waiting for this game. Sort of. I was actually waiting for a console version of Pokémon, but somehow Nintendo has let that opportunity slip by again and again. Nevertheless, handhelds have finally reached a point where a fully polygonal take on Pocket Monsters is achievable, and it certainly didn’t let me down. At this point, you know what you’re getting with a mainline Pokémon game, and Pokémon X/Y isn’t going to convince you if you still have no idea why people like me spend hundreds of hours hatching eggs, super training, and hunting for shinies. The Internet functionality presented here was incredible, allowing even those who generally don’t ride the bus and StreetPass very often to interact, trade, and give powers to random strangers. It has been on the Internet for a few generations, but this is the first game in the series to truly feel global. And even though I’m still waiting on Pokémon Bank, there was more than enough in the main game to keep my excitement going for at least another couple of spin offs. And a stadium game. Yeah, I’m still going to keep buying these.
tl;dr Action Scene from 2013’s Pokemon Origins
As expressed in my previous review of the title, it’s hard to write straight up about The Stanley Parable without ruining what makes it such an amazing experience. It seems like there is an ending for everyone, no matter your level of obsessiveness with games or media in general. You can guide Stanley through expected endings, you can find yourself completely lost, you can even trick yourself into thinking that your input matters at all. If you care about the medium of games at all, this is an experience that you must wrap your head around, for it has a lot to say about where games have been, where they’re going, and who it is that plays them. Best of all, it’s short enough that even the busiest among us has enough time to devote to it. Also, it’s worth noting again that the demo is totally original content, so if you’re not convinced, just go play that and have some fun.
tl;dr Action Scene from 2012’s The Cabin in the Woods
Prior to Awakening, I had a love/hate relationship with Fire Emblem. I absolutely loved the variety of units I got to play with on the battlefield, the legendary weapons they wielded and the complex character interactions they had through their excellent dialogue. However, I’m not a fan of the permadeath aspect of the game, wherein players have to choose between losing their units (and story beats involving those units) and spending another hour playing through a level you’ve already mastered. Awakening has solved this issue with a Casual mode that takes out the permadeath. It’s not the most popular opinion, but this is the only way to play the game. Without constantly worrying about surprise critical hits, you can instead bathe in the exciting music and visuals that the 3DS provides the series and you can actually use the half of the roster that is underpowered compared to the rest without certain death befalling them. I hope beyond hope that this mode survives into the next game in the series as well or I might just have to replay this game in its place.
tl;dr Action Scene from 2002’s LOTR: The Two Towers
My thoughts on this game have been pretty well summarized already. It’s just more Saints Row. More ever expanding ridiculousness, more nonsensical plotting, more fourth wall shattering, more wanton murder and destruction, more of everything I love about games. It’s a project designed to inspire nothing but joy in its audience in a way that is impossible in other mediums, and it’s part of the best open world series going today. Unless you like walking your dog or playing tennis I guess. It’s going to be a damn shame when Volition has to find something else to do, but after being the President of the United States and fighting off an alien invasion, there is only so much more ground to cover before the series hits Dragon Ball Z levels of ridiculousness. Although, in my heart of hearts, I know I’m going to be proven wrong, and I can’t wait. Kind of wish they would get their act together when it comes to DLC that isn’t over in the blink of an eye though.
tl;dr Action Scene from 2012’s Abraham Lincoln vs Zombies
Saints Row came very close, but it couldn’t top this. This is a game I knew would be #1 since I first played it in May. Then again in August. Then again last month. I also picked it up sometime in the last few weeks to start another playthrough. Hell, after a few playthroughs, it cracked my top 10 games of all time, duking it out with Halo 1 and Timesplitters 2. I love Blood Dragon as much as a man can love a piece of media. The neon lighting, the laser spewing animals, the shotgun from T2, the pistol from Robocop, the dialogue, the retro cut-scenes, I could go on and on. Blood Dragon hits every entry on my checklist for entertainment, and then invents new ones to check off with a laser sword. It presents a world where Nirvana never hit it big and the ’80s raged on for an eternity. In that world, this is what AAA gaming looks like, and it’s beautiful. If you haven’t played this masterpiece and you weren’t put off of this list already, you owe it to yourself to experience what real art in gaming looks like.
tl;dr Action Scene from 2013’s Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
That’ll do it. 2014 can’t come soon enough.