2013-12-22

My Top 13 of 2013

Here's a list of my top 13 games of this year. I'll also decide which one is my Game of the Year. Here it goes!

January 31, 2013 - Antichamber (PC) (Metascore: 82)

Antichamber is a first-person puzzle game where space isn't consistent and things aren't always what they seem. The designer also interweaves philosophy and metaphors into the puzzles and level design.


Antichamber's environments are mind-boggling

Surrealism is explored in most art forms, and video games are no exception. The non-Euclidian environments are mind-boggling and challenge the player's perception of space. The player must often think outside of the box to solve Antichamber's many riddles and puzzles. At times, the game space can be physically impossible, and the solutions often defy spatial logic. This may make the game sound unfair, but there are always written clues that hint to the solution. There are also more conventional puzzles that you must solve with unlockable tools.

Why Antichamber is on this list: There's not much more I can say about Antichamber. It's a unique game that you have to experience to understand. If you're into weird experimental stuff, definitely check it out. It's cheap, original, and impressive. It shows that if you can imagine something, no matter how weird or illogical, you can probably program it.

Non-euclidean space

March 26, 2013 - BioShock Infinite (Multi-platform) (Metascore: 94)

BioShock Infinite is a first-person shooter that tackles interesting themes and weaves a complex plot. As soon as I saw my first glimpse of Columbia's vibrant city streets, I was hooked. Ken Levine's team has a knack for creating some of the best settings in video game history.

Columbia

I had a blast playing the game, but once the excitement faded and I discussed and read up on the game, lots of little problems started coming up. Also, ever since playing last year's Spec Ops: The Line, I can't help but be critical of shooters and the tropes that come with the genre. Why are there so many cops in Columbia? Why don't they use the free super powers found across the city? Also, while the genetic powers were important in the story and world of the first BioShock, they seem forced into Infinite.

The Skyhook system is a blast
Why BioShock Infinite is on this list: It mostly succeeds in being a smart, fun shooter that deals with bold themes, like racism and American exceptionalism. Columbia is as beautiful as it is interesting. Infinite has one of the most ambitious storylines in a shooter, ever. This is an intense experience I won't soon forget.


May 30, 2013 - The Swapper (PC) (Metascore: 87)

The Swapper is an interesting 2D puzzle game set in space. The excellent tone and structure of the game are reminiscent of Super Metroid. I've written a blog post about the game. Check it out for more details!

Super Metroid-esque
The Swapper is a perfect example of how both satisfying gameplay and an intriguing plot can coexist in harmony. The titular Swapper device lets you create clones of yourself and switch your consciousness from one clone to another. This switching concept is the primary gameplay mechanic as well as the central theme of the story.


Why The Swapper is on this list: The game's puzzles are the best I've played since Portal. The narrative and atmosphere are great. Unfortunately, this indie gem sort of flew in under the radar. Don't miss out on this amazing game!

The Swapper

June 14, 2013 - Last of Us  (PS3) (Metascore: 95)

On the surface, The Last of Us seems like a generic gritty post-apocalyptic action game, but there's more to it: good character development!

Image from screwattack.com
Joel and Elie's relationship takes the center stage in TLoU. The player watches the bond grow between these two characters, primarily through dialogue and cutscenes. Naughty Dog has taken full advantage of Sony's cutting-edge motion capture studio to bring Joel and Elie to life. This is the first time I've seen a video game focus so much on believable character development.

The gameplay itself is just good, not great. The initial E3 announcement video made the gameplay look amazing, but the actual game is nowhere near as awesome. Many features that were shown are absent in the finished product, and the enemy AI is significantly less good than we were lead to believe.

Another thing that bothers me is the fact that the character development in TLoU doesn't harness its video game-ness. The game delivers an interesting and touching story, just don't expect to have any say in it. All the player can do is passively watch as the story unfolds. I hope the rumors surrounding a movie adaptation are true. It would make a great movie!

Image from naughtydog.com
All criticism aside, I appreciated The Last of Us, although I was kind of disappointed when I first finished the game. I immediately spent a lot of time reading up on it, and I know that I'd enjoy a second playthrough. By obsessing over plot, I think I sort of missed the point: it's not the story details or twists that matter, but the emotional growth of the characters.

Why The Last of Us is on this list: not many games attempt emotional depth in characters, so I wasn't used to looking for it in games. TLoU has made me more in tune to this side of storytelling. In retrospect, The Last of Us succeeds in delivering genuine emotional themes, a task most video games fail to achieve.


June 27, 2013 - Rogue Legacy (PC) (Metascore: 85)

It's no secret that I love roguelikes. A few good ones were released this year, but my favorite was Rogue Legacy. Here's the premise: you explore an ancient castle, but each time you die, the interior layout changes.

Rogue Legacy
When you die, you choose an heir amongst your children. Each potential heir has different abilities, classes, and traits. The traits sometimes affect gameplay (such as size, weaknesses, or abilities) or aesthetics (such as colorblindness, vertigo, or insanity). The fact that you play as different characters and that the castle changes makes each run unique and interesting. There are also global RPG elements (upgrades, unlockable classes, etc.) that carry over, making the game even more addictive.

Rogue Legacy - Upgrades
The gameplay is a side-scrolling action game reminiscent of Ghosts n' Goblins or Castlevania. Like most roguelikes, the game is crushingly difficult at first, and making any progress is really rewarding. But no matter how good you become, the game makes sure you're always challenged.

Carnival!!!
Why Rogue Legacy is on this list: Rogue Legacy is challenging yet rewarding, brutal yet satisfying, accessible yet deep. Once you get into it, you won't want to stop. Also, I wanted to have at least one rogue-like on the list, and RL was my favourite.


August 8, 2013 - Papers, Please (PC) (Metascore: 85)

Papers Please is a ''dystopian document thriller''. You play as a border guard between eastern European countries in political conflict.

Border security simulator
This is a good example of a game delivering an experience that isn't ''fun'', but is still engaging as hell. During your job as border guard, you have to follow an increasing number of rules. But, just like in real life, unexpected conditions come up often and you must make tough choices.

For example, a husband comes to the border checkpoint with all proper documentation, but his wife's passport is expired. Do you let her pass? If so, you might getting fined, which is a risky since you struggle to keep your family housed, heated and fed. Do you coldly deny her entry? I did, and it made me think of all the times I was denied by strict and inhuman bureaucratic procedures. It also made me think of what the heck the couple did afterwards and of the effects of my choice.

Exceptions and moral dilemmas are a plenty
Why Papers, Please is on this list: this game is unique in the themes it explores.  Papers, Please offers a gripping, bleak, and novel experience that proves that a game doesn't have to be "fun" to be great. While playing, I felt stress, grief, frustration, sadness, fright. There's no other game like it. Also, there are 20 endings. Your actions matter!



August 15, 2013 - Gone Home (PC) (Metascore: 86)

In Gone Home, you play as an older sibling returning home after a year abroad. During your absence, your family has inherited and moved into an old manor. So the playable character, just like the player, is entering this house for the first time. But for some reason, no one seems to be home. What happened? Where is everybody? Better start looking around.

Gone Home - Kitchen
The entire game consists of exploring the house and discovering the story at your own pace. Gone Home lets you enter one family's personal space and uncover their lives. This may sound boring, and that would be true if this were your average video game house, but the environment in Gone Home is so damn detailed and, well, real. Each corner contains stuff to examine. You'll find notes, drawings, or various objects in drawers, underneath beds, everywhere.

This unprecedented realism is also present in the story. Things that would seem boring in your typical bro game, like childhood friendship, coming of age, or marital problems, are abundant in Gone Home. This game has some top notch character development despite the fact that all you do is rummage around a house. You can’t help but be interested in the lives of this family. It’s so much more real than any other game.

Mr. Greenbriar's brainstorming
Gone Home also plays with your expectations, only to poke fun at them. For example, early in the game, I was rummaging through a bathroom cupboard in search of clues, weapons, health, anything. Why else would I be able to look in the cupboards? Yet all I found was toilet paper and other bathroom objects, and I found that incredibly weird. But why? Why would I expect to find anything other than toilet paper in a bathroom cupboard? Because games have trained me to think a certain way, to expect certain things. I never knew just how many video game tropes and conventions I’d come to accept until Gone Home made fun of me for them.

Toilet paper? Toilet paper.

Why Gone Home is on this list: it’s the very best in environmental storytelling. It delivers a bold, expertly executed experience unlike anything else. The fact that each player pieces the plot together in his or her own way encourages discussion. I've easily spent more time discussing the game than playing it.



September 17, 2013 - Grand Theft Auto V (Multi-platform) (Metascore: 97)

It's impossible to deny the colossus which is GTAV. It's had record-setting sales and a huge marketing campaign. It recently won the VGX 2013 Game of the Year award.

3 playable characters (image from vg247.com)
I don’t own the game, but I've had fun playing it with friends and at parties. It offers an unbelievably detailed sandbox world to play around in. While I haven't played any missions, I can tell they've put a lot of effort into fleshing out the personalities of the three playable protagonists. The way the player switches between the characters is novel and impressive. All these additions make the GTA world feel more alive than ever.

Still, things that bothered me in past GTA games are still present. From what I've read and seen, the story missions are still über-restrictive. It's odd that a game promising open-ended gameplay forces you down a tight, limited scenarios during story missions. 

GTAV is massive (image from rockstargames.com)

Why GTA V on this list: Rockstar games’ latest is a massive technical feat brimming with personality and satire. Even with the arrival of the next generation of consoles, GTAV will undoubtedly remain the standard for "realistic" sandbox games for some time.


October 12, 2013 - Pokemon X and Y (3DS) (Metascore: 88)

It’s hard to talk about Pokémon without nostalgia influencing my opinion. And I’m sure I’m not alone!

Since I hadn't played a new Pokémon in years, I decided to give Pokémon Y a go. The biggest noticeable change is the graphics: everything is now in 3D. For a game about collecting cute little monsters, the 3D models help convey their personality and charm much better than the old 2D sprites. The world of Pokémon has never felt so alive.

Pokemon in 3D! (image from vg247.com)
Aesthetic changes aside, there are a few notable additions. There’s a new Pokémon type, Fairy, two new (but minor) battle types, and new mini-game features to interact with your Pokémon. But the most significant additions are the awesome online features: you can now battle, trade, and more with anyone at anytime over the internet.

Besides those changes, I was surprised at how similar the bulk of the experience is to the old Pokémon games I played as a kid. Reviews and friends told me that X and Y were a big step for the franchise, but I found that even in comparison to the Game Boy Color games I used to play, not a whole lot has changed.

The new Pokémon Amie feature
(image from geekedoutnation.com)
Continuing the trend of recent Nintendo games, X and Y are also much easier than past Pokémon games. With EXP share unlocked from the start, I plowed through every trainer and gym leader, never losing once during my 60 hours of play. On the plus side, the fact that you start with EXP Share removes a lot of the grinding. Most legendaries were laughably easy to capture. Also, I find it funny that the much-discussed post-game was much stronger in Pokémon Gold and Silver, released in thirteen years ago. But still, the easiness doesn't detract from the fun of exploring the world and filling your pokédex.

Sylveon is Eevee's Fairy-type evolution
(image from polygon.com)
Why Pokémon Y is on this list: despite being too familiar, it’s the most old-fashioned fun I've had with a game this year. I was thrown into a blissful nostalgia coma for a good two weeks. Nintendo might be playing it safe, but you can always rely on them to deliver a high quality game.


October 17, 2013 - The Stanley Parable (PC) (Metascore: 89)

The Stanley Parable is one of those games that's best played without knowing anything about it. If you plan on playing it, you might want to skip the rest of this text. If you've already played, read on.

Image from stanleyparable.com
If you haven’t played The Stanley Parable and my recommendation alone isn't enough, then read on for more details. But seriously, go into it blind. It’s worth it!

Okay, so here it goes: The Stanley Parable is a first-person story-driven game that plays with your expectations about video games. The player and the narrator work together or against each other as the plot develops.

The game is funny, weird, and full of surprises. The game is self-aware. The game examines narratives in video games and of the relationship between the designer and the player. The game makes you laugh as much as it makes you think.



Why The Stanley Parable is on this list: the game comically examines the player-developer relationship. I love it when developers use games to examine aspects of video game philosophy. Also, it’s rare that I frequently laugh out loud while playing a game.


October 17, 2013 - Device 6 (iOS) (Metascore: 92)

Device 6 is an interactive experience that incorporates written, visual, audio and puzzle elements. This mash-up of forms works surprisingly well.

Writing is your path in Device 6

The player travels the landscape by scrolling through text and must solve puzzles with clues given by the words, images, videos or sound. This quick description doesn't do the game justice, though. The text is well-written and formatted in creative ways. It’s a really unique and slick-looking experience that makes good use of the iOS touch controls.

The story is very interesting, too. There's more to it than first meets the eye. I had a blast figuring out what was happening and what my role was as the player.


Why Device 6 is on this list: Device 6 stylishly marries writing and interactivity. You've got to respect this experimental, multi-medium game. The story is original, surprising, and unsettling. It’s a challenging interactive experience that really deserves your time.


November 22, 2013 - Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS) (Metascore: 91)

I've been a Zelda fan since as long as I can remember. While I preferred the 3D Zelda games while growing up, I really enjoyed playing A Link to the Past when I got around to it. Now, twelve years later, Nintendo has released a direct sequel to ALTTP called A Link Between Worlds.

The core gameplay returns from ALTTP: as Link, you explore Hyrule and raid dungeons with your trusty sword and shield as well as an arsenal of equipment. This time, you don't find a new item in each dungeon. Instead, most items are available for rent from the get-go. This means you can complete most dungeons in any order. The game feels much more open-ended than recent Zelda games.

Ravio's rental store (image from giantbomb.com)
The overworld map is mostly the same as it was in ALTTP. Nintendo knows that their fans run on nostalgia, and they deliver truck loads of it in ALBW. Yet with the open-world design and the addition of new features, the game still feels like a new game. Link's coolest new ability is definitely his "merge" power: when next to a wall, Link can merge with it and become a painting.

Link's merge ability (image from pcmag.com)
This merging mechanic is used throughout the game and adds another dimension to puzzles and exploration.

Why A Link Between Worlds is on this list: As I mentioned with Pokemon X and Y, even though Nintendo tends to play it safe nowadays, their games are top quality and lots of fun. The newest Zelda blends classic ideas with new features, striking a near-perfect balance between familiarity and novelty.


November 22, 2013 - Super Mario 3D World (WiiU) (Metascore: 94)

Super Mario 3D World is the next game in the 3D Mario series that started on the N64 with the classic Super Mario 64. Following the stellar Super Mario Galaxy games and the recent Super Mario 3D Land, this game has a lot to live up to.

4-player fun (image from gaming-age.com)
Just like New Super Mario Bros. Wii was the first 2D Mario game to have simultaneous multiplayer, SM3DWorld introduces 4-player co-op to 3D Mario games. Does it work? Hell yes. Just like in 2D, the addition of multiplayer in 3D is a hoot. It's fast, funny, and busy. To help stoke the flames of friendly competition, the player with the highest score at the end of a stage receives a crown on his character in the next level.

Feline frenzy! (image from spike.com)
Even though things can get chaotic in multiplayer, this is still a classic Mario game filled with classic Mario things. Each level has a ton of secrets and collectibles waiting to be discovered. There are new power-ups, like the cat suit and the double cherry. Both are a blast to use and change up the gameplay. There are also lots of fun mini-game-esque levels that add variety. I've only played co-op, but I'm itching to play through the game alone to be able to explore on my own time.

It's taken a while, but Nintendo has finally entered HD gaming with the WiiU. Mario has never looked so good. The surreal and vibrant world of Mario looks crisp and beautiful in high definition.

One of the awesome mini-game levels (image from wiiudaily.com)
Why Super Mario 3D World is on this list: core Mario games are still a staple of excellent game design. When it comes to good old-fashioned fun, Nintendo does it best. SM3DW is the best WiiU game to date and lives up to its legacy.

Honourable mentions: Monaco, Don't Starve, Ridiculous Fishing,
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, Ni no Kuni, Fire Emblem: Awakening
(Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons would probably be on the list had I played it in 2013)

My Game of the Year

I’ve made this list, so I may as well declare a winner! My decision process is this: the winner should be a game I feel is important to play. It must be an engaging, high-quality experience that pushes boundaries and challenges conventions. In my opinion, it is the essential game to play this year.

So, if you only play one new game this year, make it Gone Home. It's a modern masterpiece.

The $20 price tag is a deal-breaker for many, but it's totally worth it. Don't let the pervasive consumer-based view on game prices keep you away from this gem. I've really enjoyed discussing it and piecing together clues with friends. It's easily one of my favorite games ever.

Kate from thisindiegameblog wrote a detailed article about why she liked the game so much. Check it out for more details!

Thanks for reading! So, what were your favorite games released in 2013? What's your Game of the Year? I'd like to know! Leave a comment and we'll discuss.

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