2013 was a pretty freaking huge year in gaming. We saw the release of many large, multi-year games that blew us out of the water, such as The Last of Us, Bioshock Infinite, Tomb Raider, and GTA V as well as many innovations in the indie scene, such as Gone Home and Papers, Please. Here are my picks for the most awesome things of the year in the video gaming realm, as well as the worst news of the industry.
Unfortunately, I have been unable to buy into the next generation and so haven’t played many of the Fall releases, although I really look forward to playing Battlefield 4 and Assassin’s Creed 4.
Papers, Please is the biggest (and as far as I know, only) border-checkpoint simulator – and goddamn is it terrifying. Taking place in the glorious nation of Arstotzka, a little Communist People’s Republic in Eastern Europe, Papers, Please tells the tale of a poor citizen of Arstotzka winning the job lottery and becoming the new border guard, trying to perform his job correctly and feed his family. The game presents you with many ethical quandaries: should you deny entry to a properly accredited Arstotzkan citizen because a person who came through earlier claimed he was sex slaver and risk getting your pay docked, or will you let him through to make that extra $5 to feed your family? Will you help or turn away the rebellious elements? How far will you go to keep Kolechian terrorists out of the country? These are the questions this depressing, thought provoking game has to ask, and they cut deep.
Moving on from the mildly depressing to the maniacally happy, my 9th place is Bit.Trip Presents: Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien. While most runner-type games, like Canabalt and I Must Run rely on their random map generation and simple controls to create a challenging, even meditative experience, the people at Gaijin Games eschewed simplicity in favor of a hardcore platformer that just happens to take the name of Runner. The fun music, challenging but not impossible level design, and high replay value secure Runner 2’s place on this list.
The Cave was one of my surprise hits of 2013. I’d not heard or seen a thing about the game until the day it showed up as a Playstation Plus “free” game. Being the cheap-ass that I am, I instantly jumped on the freebie, not knowing at all what it was. I was pleasantly surprised to find that The Cave was an entertaining puzzle/platformer full of the signature Double Fine charm. The real selling point on this game to me, though, were the small storylines presented for each character. The protagonists are all dicks, and it was hilarious to watch them all do their things. Additionally, the character of the Cave itself was snarky and fun to listen to, and sealed the game as an amusing adventure into the depths of the human heart.
There’s not much to say here: I play a LOT of Magic, so a digital version (that isn’t MtG Online, because I buy way too many cards IRL to pay for them again online) is exactly what I like to see when I haven’t played in a while. I’ve played far too much of the latest installment, grinding through the 30 games required to unlock all the cards for 7 decks and playing with the rest quite a bit for it to not be on this list.
To be honest, Telltale Games is probably one of my favorite developers right now. The first season of The Walking Dead was amazing and even their freaking poker simulator was a lot of fun, so I took it on blind faith that their new game, based on a comic I’d never even heard of, would be good. While there is only one episode of the game out at the time of this writing, that one episode has me hooked with Telltale’s signature mix of beautiful voice acting and animation that makes you care about it’s characters in a way no other studio can.
The Tomb Raider franchise had been dying a slow death until this year’s fantastic reboot. I had an incredible amount of fun exploring the island of Yamatai. The puzzles, platforming, and shooting all kept me coming back for more after each session. Another element worthy of note is the sheer brutality of the game. There are many ways to die on Yamatai, and none of the are pleasant. Mess up just once and you may find yourself impaled on a branch or falling into a canyon. Hell, the game starts with Lara falling onto a piece of rusty rebar in the middle of a charnel house. I also like the cover-shooter elements and the weapon upgrading. The shooting doesn’t bring much new to the table, but it’s expertly integrated, and the stealth and platforming components make it more fun than your run of the mill shooter.
- I did not expect to like GTA V as much as I did. GTA IV’s slow start of running errands and saving Nico’s dumbass cousin bored me to figurative tears, and I could never get past the first hour. Because of this, I went into the fifth installment with no small amount of trepidation. I was pleasantly surprised, then, when Grand Theft Auto V was not only a lot of fun to play but also had one of the most fun characters this year: Trevor Phillips, the craziest video-gaming protagonist since God of War’s Kratos. While often violent and unbalanced, Trevor’s clear devotion to his friends and entrepreneurial spirit made me love him despite all his flaws. On top of that, the heists were incredibly fun. The Union Depository heist, especially, wowed me with its sheer ludicrosity.
I had long considered the Sly Cooper series, one of the best “mascot” games on the PS2, to be dead and gone, until its announced revival in 2011. Sanzaru Games exceeded my expectations with their first entry into the series after taking it over from Sucker Punch and delivered a great experience that stayed true to the past entries. While there were some problems (*cough*minigames*cough*) the game still largely maintained the great platforming and stealth elements that made the old games unique. I also loved that the story was a bit more mature and complex while still being safe for the E10+ audience; Sanzaru recognized that Sly’s old audience are all eight years older and wrote a story that worked for us as well. Thieves in Time blew me out of the water, and I can’t wait to see more.
The Last of Us has been called the capstone of the last generation, and I couldn’t agree more. The Last of Us expertly combined many of the biggest trends of the last generation: Naughty Dog beautifully integrated its story into the gameplay, while creating one of the best realized post-apocalyptic worlds seen in gaming. As a frequent consumer of post-apocalyptic media, I love what Naughty Dog accomplished, showing a world that was once ours to command being reclaimed by nature. The survivor’s notes you find peppered throughout the world paint a picture of a world gone to shit and they were some of the few collectibles in gaming that I actually enjoyed rooting out. The the combination of stealth and shooter elements was also really well-done, ratcheting up the tension to the point that each encounter was an edge-of-your-seat experience that demanded your concentration. Finally, the growth of Ellie and Joel’s relationship as the story unfolded was one of the most believable and heartfelt performances of the year.
While there were many awesome games this year, Bioshock Infinite was my favorite. The time and dimension-spanning story was confusingly complex in a thoroughly enjoyable way. keeping track of all the alternate timelines kept me intrigued throughout the latter half of the game, as well as fighting through a bona fide social revolution kept the part of me with a history degree fascinated. I loved the application of early-1900s Progressive/moralistic thought to an entire society and found the whole thing too believable for comfort, based on my knowledge of the era. Booker’s partnership with leading lady Elizabeth was also really fun to experience. I loved the lengths the developers went to make sure that the game-long escort mission was as unobtrusive as possible, making your escortee charming, well-acted, and incredibly useful in combat. The addition of dimensional rifts, skyrails, and better gun handling into Bioshock’s tried and true superpower-infused shooter formula also made combat incredibly fun. Finally, the ending is amazingly awesome, providing a clear resolution to the story while also making some interesting points on the nature of gaming. For all of these reasons, Bioshock Infinite easily takes the title of my Game of the Year.
Looking Forward: 2014 and Beyond
Guys. Guys. Did you know there’s a new Star Wars: Battlefront on the way? There totally is, and it’s going to be fucking awesome. DICE bringing its considerable experience and skill to the Star Wars universe is probably the best thing to happen to gaming this whole goddamn year. Screw The Last of Us. Toss Bioshock out the window. We’re getting more Battlefront. It’s a damn shame that LucasArts won’t be around to see their franchises come back to life in the next gen.
What were YOUR favorite games of 2013? Let us know in the comments below!