My Thirteen Favourite Games of 2013
While everyone was looking ahead with (justified) excitement to the launch of Sony and Microsoft’s next-generation consoles, they might have missed out on an absolutely fantastic year in gaming. While nothing world-changing has come out on the Xbox One or PlayStation 4 so far, their predecessors had a fantastic year with some amazing games released over the last twelve months.
Since the end of the year is upon us, I think it’s only appropriate that I get in on the listing action and give you my list of my favourite games of 2013. They may not be the best games of 2013 but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t love playing them.
The Last of Us
Coming into 2013, I would have thought that Naughty Dog had undertaken a near impossible task with The Last of Us. It would have to live up to the quality of the much-loved and critically acclaimed Uncharted franchise while entering the saturated zombie genre. Not only did The Last of Us live up to its Naughty Dog predecessors and the genre competition but it quickly cemented itself as one of the best games of the year and this console generation.
As we’ve come to expect from Naughty Dog over this generation, the visuals and audio are absolutely amazing. The graphics are probably the best we’ve seen on a home console during this generation. Given that they had just about maximized the resources of the PS3 in the Uncharted series, this was a massive achievement. The voice acting was spectacular (and award-winning) and the soundtrack was hauntingly beautiful.
The gameplay is definitely worth mentioning since Joel was the opposite of Nathan Drake. While Drake was a one-man army with regenerating health and epic climbing skills, Joel was shaky firing guns, didn’t have regenerating health and had to rely on stealth rather than a frontal assault. The fact that I often found that more than three or four enemies was often a sign of impending massive trouble was probably a sign of well-designed combat. It’s certainly not Left 4 Dead style combat.
The best part of The Last of Us was the narrative. Naughty Dog is very good at writing an interesting story but The Last of Us seemed to find another level. The game was just emotionally compelling the whole way through and done so well that it could convey feelings even when the action is muted. Even if all the parts of the narrative seems familiar, the execution is so spectacular that it feels lightyears ahead of everything else. Maybe that’s because The Last of Us is just light years ahead of everything else.
For my money, Gunpoint is probably the best indie game of the year. Gunpoint may have not had any voiceovers but the dialogue was still the best of any game in 2013. It wasn’t a sandbox game but the freedom to approach levels in any way you want gave it tonnes of replay value.
Gunpoint was simply the most enjoyable experience I’ve had gaming all year. A laugh a minute and smartly designed gameplay made this about as close as I’ve ever come to scoring a game a 10/10. That includes the Mass Effect trilogy. Sure, it was a little short but when that’s your only complaint about a game, can you really call it a complaint?
In the months since it’s come out, it’s become popular to start bashing BioShock Infinite. Maybe that’s the inevitable backlash against extremely popular games. It could be because it was followed up by a couple of even better games. However, the fact remains that BioShock Infinite was one of the top games of the year.
The long and short of it is that the game was well acted, the art design was epic and the ending brain-wrinklingly awesome. While I would tend to agree that the actual gunplay might have been one of the weak points of the game (I’m not a fan of the two guns and regenerating health system that’s so popular in console shooters), the fact is that you’re going to be playing a BioShock game for the story.
The original BioShock might have been a sort of metanarrative about the illusion of choice in video games, this one could have been a sort of metanarrative about modern society. Whether the cessession of Columbia was intended to be a commentary on Americans who threaten to leave the country over Obamacare or President Obama or just happened to be a coincidence, it works. There’s also racism, religious fanaticism and gun violence permeating through the culture of Columbia that you see everyday. When people complain about the inclusion of those in a game, it almost seems like a societal metacriticism given how prominent things like racism and religious fanaticism and ideological (political) fanaticism and gun violence are in everyday life. Perhaps I’m just overthinking things, though.
Oh, and the ending was fantastic.
When you started the year, did you think that a paperwork simulator would be among the best games of 2013? And, yet, here we are talking about Papers, Please. That’s because this game could have stopped at being a game where you manned a border post and decided whether people were allowed into the glorious nation of Arstotzka but it was so much more.
Beyond the changing of admission rules every in-game day, Papers, Please wove a story around the paperwork that saw an authoritarian regime under attack from a well-intentioned rebel group and a foreign terrorist organization. All the while, you’re dealing with everyone else’s sob stories and trying to balance everyone else’s needs with that of feeding your family. This game had a far more powerful story than it had any right to have and for that deserves a spot on a list of the best games of 2013.
While roguelike and roguelite games have made a resurgeance over the last year or so, Rogue Legacy took the roguelike elements we’re seeing a lot of like procedural generation and permadeath, added metroidvania hack-and-slash gameplay and through in a genealogical RPG-like progression system. The combination allowed for the replayability of a roguelike without all the frustration that tends to come with permadeath.
While Rogue Legacy might not have done anything particularly new or special in the individual components of the game, the combination itself was something that we hadn’t really seen before. The combination of the roguelike, metroidvania and RPG elements in perfect harmony made for an excellent game.
Well, after the first six or so chapters of the game, I was ready to give it an eight or a nine and throw it out as the top new multiplatform IP of the year. The disjointed back half of the game that dropped the idea that Nilin was troubled by the ethics of rewriting people’s memories and their personalities was a disappointment. With so much of the universe’s lore written, teased and then dropped, this game could have been so much better if they stretched it by a couple of hours to dig into Nilin’s past, her associates and that all important issue of messing with people’s minds. It would have been nice if they had looked at the cult of technology angle more.
Still, while Remember Me will be a disappointment for its untapped potential, there’s always a chance that Capcom could try making a sequel. If they see the error of their ways, they could make Remember Me 2 (or Too) a fantastic and award-worthy game.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
If you don’t mind when your games don’t take themselves seriously, then Blood Dragon is the game for you. The standalone Far Cry 3 spinoff is a bit of a rarity from a triple-A studio. Ubisoft Montreal took the engine and assets from Far Cry 3, streamlined the open-world mechanics and released it for a quarter of the price of the original game Blood Dragon was based on.
Blood Dragon is a parody of the classic 80’s sci-fi movies that envisions a dystopian early 21st century Earth. That premise sets the tone for the whole game. It’s a parody and love letter to classic 80s sci-fi wrapped around a Far Cry 3 game. When you start a game with a solid foundation, it’s probably going to turn out good. When you make a game that’s designed to just be a fun romp and it executes, you have a great game.
StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm
I only discovered StarCraft II this year. Sure, I’ve heard of it before because of the massive following that the game has in Korea and the fact that it’s an iconic RTS franchise. But RTS games never appealed to me. They looked far too confusing. As Bob Cole would say, everything is happening. So after catching a few tournaments earlier in the year, I decided to pick up the game to learn a bit more about it.
I’m not very good at SC2 but I do enjoy playing it. The story to Wings of Liberty may have been better than HOTS and I thought WoL was more difficult at times but the addition of all the tutorial and practice modes is critical. Given that SC2’s multiplayer is more popular than the campaign, adding that was certainly much-needed for awful RTS players like me.
Given all that you read this year on this blog, how many people thought that I would actually have the latest entry into an annual wrestling game franchise? Put your hands down. I didn’t even think this game was making the list until I started writing the list.
While I’m sure that this game wasn’t particularly special to the folks who pick up the WWE franchise every year or those who didn’t grow up in the Hulkamania era, as someone who hasn’t played a WWE game since the first Smackdown vs. Raw and grew up watching the Hogans, Savages, Harts and Austins, this was almost everything I ever wanted from a wrestling video game. The only thing that could be added is a booker mode that let’s you easily craft matches and storylines and gets graded on it.
As you may have guessed, nostalgia played a massive part in why I liked this game so much. Getting a chance to play as some of the greatest wrestlers of all-time, recreate iconic Wrestlemania moments and then being able to bring these legends into the Universe mode keeps me coming back to this mode months later. I don’t particularly like sports games (or fighting games) but this was the only one for years that I’ve found compelling.
And as I am wont to do on these list, here are a few more great games in 2013 that I haven’t played but certainly plan to as soon as possible.
Grand Theft Auto V
I didn’t play GTA5 because I’d much rather play it on PC but the visual were some of the very best we’ve seen on this generation of console. It’s amazing that the detail and draw distances were so good considering that we’re looking at seven and eight-year-old hardware that the game is played on. It makes you wonder what the game would look like on a modern gaming PC.
The fact that Rockstar North seems to have gone out of their way to try to create something that veers closer to being a life simulator rather than a crime simulator excites me too. To have a whole world full of side quests, minigames and general sandbox carnage to occupy yourself with outside of the main story certainly makes it much deeper and much more interesting to me than Vice City and San Andreas (the two GTA games I’ve played). When this gets to PC, I’m hoping that Rockstar sends a copy this way. This game looks absolutely fantastic.
The Stanley Parable
There were two indie games this year that I didn’t get a chance to play but the critics have shortlisted for game of the year. The Stanley Parable is a game that Jim Sterling says would be spoiled if he likened it to any other game or movie so it’s probably a good thing that I’ve managed to avoid spoilers thus far. If it’s worthy of this much praise, I think I made the right call in picking it up on sale this weekend. So expect that review in January.
Can something called a video game still be a game if it doesn’t have much anything in the way of gamey elements? Gone Home is an indie experiment in storytelling in games. The comparisons this game often gets are Thirty Flights of Loving, Proteus and Dear Esther, all of which aren’t what you would call traditional games. Gone Home is all about the story and exploration which are things that I like in games. I would hope that this one appeals to me too when I pick it up.
Anyway, Tearaway is the current killer Vita app du jour (yes, there’s a redundancy in that sentence). From the talented folks at Media Molecule, Tearaway uses all the different tricks at the Vita’s disposal in the gameplay without making the controls obtuse. Combined with the usual MM creativity, solid platforming and unique puzzles, the critics absolutely adored this game. It looks like this is a must-own game if you have a Vita. People own Vitas right?