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Eric Pope's Top 10 Games of 2013

Pope Eric takes time out of his busy Poping schedule to bless ten video games released this year.

Eric Pope is a product manager at Harmonix, currently working on a secret project that's probably not a new Rock Band game. You can harangue him on Twitter, if that's something you would like to do with your time.

“Whatever satisfies the soul is truth.”- Walt Whitman, on the Giant Bomb message boards, defending his GOTY picks.

It’s not been a great year. In our world at large, I mean, not talking of video games. 2013, in my estimation, took a lot more from us than it imparted. I’m referring, of course, to the untimely death of the dog from Family Guy. That hit us all hard, obviously… And so, for me at least, I leaned a little harder into the escapism of movies and video games this year than I have in the past. While some more intimate game experiences did make my list, what stuck with me most were a lot of the big blockbusters. Or maybe I should put “blockbusters” in quotes, as we see less and less of these huge titles hitting the sales projections made for them. Anyhow, I’m honored to contribute to the GOTY festivities this year, and I look forward to your thoughts in the comments below.

10. BioShock Infinite

More has been written about this game than perhaps any other in 2013. After years of impossible hype, Irrational finally delivered its follow-up to the groundbreaking original BioShock. I was not much enamored with the game’s combat systems or its insistence I check every hot dog-filled trash can for RPG ammo. But, in retrospect, none of that matters enough to me to outweigh the impressive world building and storytelling done by Irrational’s narrative team.

I wanted to soak up every one of Columbia’s painstakingly crafted details. The scope of the storytelling is so much more than we’ve become accustomed to in most video games. Not many can claim to take on a concept as lofty as American exceptionalism in even the vaguest terms, but BioShock Infinite attacks it headlong. That kind of point of view is rare in these large titles, likely for audience concerns, but I hope Infinite will encourage more studios to take such risks.

9. Rocksmith 2014

Credit where it is due. Rocksmith 2014 is the most fun I’ve had playing a music game since Rock Band Blitz. Of course, Rocksmith is more a learning tool than it is a game, but that’s where its true accomplishment lies. The game teaches you to play guitar (or bass) through a dizzying number of tutorials and a decent song list of notable rock songs. I’m perhaps the perfect demographic for Rocksmith: a music gamer who enjoys playing guitar, but is patently terrible at it, and too cheap and lazy to spring for lessons.

The way the game smartly ramps the difficulty up as you learn each song is commendable for maintaining a healthy focus on fun. For example: If it detects that you aren’t doing great with playing bends, Rocksmith recommends one of its arcade mini-games (Temple of the Bends) for you to play to beef up your skills. I haven’t had this much fun playing guitar since we put that ska band together for the Bomb bros’ 2012 PAX East panel.

8. Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Blacklist

I’m the guy who likes stealth games. Sorry! I know it’s fallen out of favor as more and more non-stealth titles force stealth mechanics where they don’t fit, but Splinter Cell is one of the good ones. I’ve always been a fan of Sam Fisher’s exploits and revel in the chance to play the ultimate badass; choking out the world’s terrorists and shimmying up the most deadly of drainpipes. The global scope of these stories is always fun, too, and with Blacklist the stakes are as high as ever. You and your crack team are all that stands between multiple terror attacks in the United States.

But what matters most is how cool you feel while playing. The stealth systems pioneered by the previous entries in the series have been honed and polished here. Every level has various paths you can take, with multiple tactics you can employ at any given encounter. Successfully executing a strategy of your own design always feels greatly rewarding, but part of the fun is making mistakes and adapting your plans. If you’ve never played a Splinter Cell game, this feels like the perfect one to begin with.

7. Papers, Please

Papers, Please struck an unexpected chord with me. On the one hand, its series of ever more complicated bureaucratic rules piling up on each other make for a uniquely challenging gameplay experience. Stamping passports is surprisingly very fun! But on the other hand it has a serious story to tell about fascism and the role of the individual in the machinations of an oppressive state. Detaining innocent citizens for kickbacks from the guards so you can feed your sick family is also surprisingly fun, it turns out!

The depth of Papers, Please is one of its biggest surprises. With 20 different endings playing out across 30 or so days, there are a lot of choices to be made from your vantage point in that cold border station. It’s sort of like The Oregon Trail, but with the American Dream replaced with an Eastern Bloc nightmare.

6. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

Brothers represents my ideal for a console indie experience. Its unique, yet simple, mechanics require a controller, and you can complete the entire game in a single setting. The creativity of the level design charmed me throughout, with one standout section requiring the brothers to navigate through a valley of felled giants. The story is a surprisingly heavy tale of family and loss. In fact, this is one of the few games from this year where my memories of playing it are mostly of emotions. I don’t generally get a lot of “feelings” from playing games, so this makes Brothers rather special.

5. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

Way over on the other end of the emotional spectrum from Brothers, we have the reference-soaked throwback to '80s sci-fi action cinema that is Blood Dragon. This game is one of those rare moments where a dev team was given a long leash to build out a full game based on what has to have been a joke pitch. I still can’t believe this ridiculous thing was greenlit by such a business-minded company as Ubisoft. I am so thankful it was, though.

It doesn’t hurt that this game builds on the outstanding open world engine of Far Cry 3, either. From the soundtrack, to the neon aesthetics, to the 16-bit cutscenes, this self-aware romp isn’t something we should expect to see often. It would be all too easy for the joke to wear out its welcome in lesser hands. Keeping that in mind helped me savor my time with Blood Dragon all the more.

4. Tomb Raider

Confession: I had never played a Tomb Raider game before this one. So I jumped at the chance to play a reboot of the franchise and get my feet wet as Lara Croft. I could tell from the marketing materials that it was going to be a good looking game, but man! Man, that is a gorgeous game. The gameplay, narrative, and voice acting is all very compelling too, resulting in a product that rivals the Uncharted series in every possible way.

I spoke before of Sam Fisher making the player feel like a total badass, but next to Lara Croft, Sam’s kind of a sneaky baby. In Tomb Raider, Lara is starting from scratch and you get to tag along for her rise from a greenhorn adventurer to a bow-wielding asskicker. I found that process really endeared the character to me in ways Nathan Drake or Sam Fisher never really have.

3. The Last of Us

I burnt out on zombie stuff a couple years ago, roughly around the time I realized that, in fact, it is we who are the true walking dead. Ok sorry, I couldn’t resist. But really, it’s been so overused in games and movies in recent years, to far diminishing returns. That makes the good ones, the exceptions to the rule, stand out even more. Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us builds on all the lessons learned from three amazing Uncharted games and delivers one of the best games of the entire console generation.

Firstly, it looks tremendous. I bet we’ll see a lot of next-gen titles that don’t even come close visually. Unlike BioShock Infinite, in this game every bit of time spent scavenging for ammo or crafting gear felt completely worthwhile and essential to my own survival. Also, I liked that the game casts you as Joel, who is kind of an asshole. Of course, we’re shown all the reasons why he is the way he is, but I appreciate that the choices Naughty Dog made with the character pay off truthfully with the game’s ending. It feels real.

2. Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag

Assassin’s Creed is possibly my favorite game franchise. I’m a history nerd and I’m even all in on its meta sci-fi story arc. But I was disappointed in Assassin’s Creed III. Maybe I over-hyped myself on all the colonial Boston, Revolutionary War stuff, but somewhere in there I fell out of love. Probably around that Midnight Ride mission where the annoying as hell Paul Revere shouts directions at you from your shared horse. So with a heavy trepidation I jacked in to AC4. Is that what they say with the Animus? Jacking in? It should be.

What I found was a huge open world pirate simulation game with all my favorite parts of the previous AC titles there if I wanted them. The game encourages exploration. Where in AC3 everything revolves around its main storyline, in AC4 you could spend a dozen hours at sea, waging battles, capturing forts, upgrading your ship, and managing your fleet without hardly touching the mainline narrative. The naval stuff is fun, the underwater shipwreck exploration is fun, the game economy is meaningful, and the upgrades matter. I even liked the Abstergo Entertainment stuff! Black Flag is a true return to form, and perhaps the best entry in the entire series. If you checked out of the series last year, you have to go back, Jack!

1. Metro: Last Light

If you asked me a year ago about the Metro 2033 franchise, I would have replied with a long, blank stare. It’s that utter, complete curveball of a surprise that makes this game so special to me; it seemingly came out of nowhere. It was hearing Klepek talk about meeting this crazy Russian novelist at the Deep Silver booth that piqued my interest. Despite it being common practice in film, there actually aren’t that many games based on books. So that grabbed me. Then hearing that you play as a keeper of the peace between the factions of survivors (Communists, Nazis, Capitalists) living in the tunnels below nuclear winter Moscow, I had to check it out.

Last Light, in my opinion, accomplishes the same things BioShock Infinite does well, as well as everything that game didn’t. It is stunningly pretty, despite the dark, harsh world. The setting is as fully realized and deep as Infinite’s. The story is captivating, playing each faction off each other for maximum intrigue. The combat feels natural and responsive, allowing you to alternate between sneaky attacks and head-on assaults at your whims. The weapons are customizable and varied. It’s, for me, the total package, and I have found myself evangelizing Last Light to all my friends since playing it earlier this year. If there’s another one coming, I’ll be first in line to pre-order.

68 Comments
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Posted by Seriousface

Probably the only dude allowed to wear a fedora

Edited by Video_Game_King

*hopes Pandora's Tower shows up on at least one of these damn lists*

Posted by SirOptimusPrime

The Popeman cometh. I'm loving all the love for Papers, Please. I guess I have to play it now, huh?

I however don't understand the love for the new Tomb Raider, but oh well. Video games, etc.

Posted by Domineeto

Great picks, Pope!

Posted by ChunkyGerbil

Probably the only dude allowed to wear a fedora

Nah, even he shouldn't. Decent list though.

Posted by Fredchuckdave

Pope with the best list, well done sir.

Posted by jiggajoe14

I wasn't fond of the main character's story in Metro LL but I was really fond of the environment's story (if that makes any sense). Worthy #1 feature.

Also, I love all these confessions lol.

Posted by Coafi

Woah, I forgot Metro: Last Light came out this year. Great list, Mr. Pope!

Posted by Mr. Kamikaze

I loved Tomb Raider, im glad it isn't just being forgotten in favor of the other great games this year. Awesome list.

Posted by dr_mantas

That's a pretty cool list.

You're a cool guy, Mr. Pope!

Props for Tomb Raider and Papers, Please.

Posted by PimblyCharles

Thanks Eric for not making me feel crazy that Metro Last Light is my GOTY too. I've said it plenty on the site, but I'll say it one more time:

Metro Last Light affected me in a way I never thought possible from a video game. I've been battling against overcoming my arachnophobia for most of my life, and Metro LL helped tremendously to overcome it. Fighting those spider-like monsters was absolutely terrifying at first; we're talking sweats and chills while playing those parts. I could have turned the game off then, but I battled through and after finishing the game, was astounded to see the effect it had on that fear.

The combination of those effects, the amazing continuation of the story, much better combat and beautiful engine/graphics makes Last Light the easy choice for GOTY.

Also, remember this part?

Yup that part was intense.

Posted by SockLobster

shave

Posted by RazielCuts
Posted by Video_Game_King

@razielcuts:

It came out in 2013 for America, and that's the version I played (out of convenience).

Posted by AMyggen

Metro at no. 1 makes everything okay.

Posted by Winternet

The Pope says, the other follows.

Good list, Mr. Pope.

Posted by MetalBaofu

@video_game_king: That came out last year.

Not in NA. Pandora's Tower came out in April. I tried playing it, but just couldn't get through it. I really wanted to see what happened in the story, but the actual act of playing it was not enjoyable to me at all.

Posted by GunsAreDrawn

Didn't expect to see Blood Dragon on anyone's list as everyone seems to have forgotten about it by now. It was the only game I actually liked this year, but I'll get to try Black Flag in a few days.

Posted by SatelliteOfLove

Pope Eric takes time out of his busy Poping schedule to bless ten video games released this year.

Almost read that as "pooping".

Edited by LarryDavis

Reppin Tomb Raider, Blacklist, and Metro? Eric Pope, you wonderful bastard.

Posted by Colourful_Hippie

Probably the only recognition that Metro is ever going to get on this site. Nice list, Pope.

Posted by SeanFoster

Lots of crossover with my own personal top 10!

Edited by darkest4

Good list, RIP BRyan.

Posted by SpudBug

Hey, that tomb raider screenshot looks familiar! Haha what a fantastic game. I had a lot of fun taking screenshots on ultra settings.

Posted by HellknightLeon

Love it. Pope... you so crazy. XD

Posted by Vod_Crack

Nice to see someone else liking Blacklist.

Edited by Milkman

Good list and R.I.P. Brian. He will be missed.

Posted by DukesT3

I'm really digging Splinter Cell Blacklist right now, I think it might be one of the underrated games for this year.

Posted by Brodehouse

I'm playing through Metro right now and it's pretty good. Being based on a book, the setting feels thick and real as opposed to something like Gears, where the setting feels like a paper thin excuse to have army mens chainsawing monsters.

Edited by Atom

I love RS and RS2014, but I always wished Harmonix had come up with the Rocksmith tech/concept insted of Ubi. It's a fun training tool, but compared to Rock Band, it's soulless.

Anyway, great list, Pope.

Posted by lacke

Did not expect that I would agree so much with this list. Granted, I haven't given GOTY 2013 a single thought before today so I don't really know what else is released this year but the order of this list is very sound to me, except for Bioshock Infinite which I would rank a little bit higher and I would not include Papers Please.

Anyway, like I said. From what I've heard and seen of Mr Pope on this site, I did not expect to agree with his list as much as I do.

Edited by TheManWithNoPlan

Pope's list is dope!

Posted by TheSouthernDandy

Great list Pope. Love seeing Metro at the top of your list, that game was killer.

Posted by Spoonman671

YES LAST LIGHT!

I almost wrote a blog about how Metro: Last Light is Bioshock Infinite if Bioshock Infinite were actually any good. If Pope sees it too, then I can't be completely insane.

Posted by Krabonq

Good list, with actual GAMES on it !

Good to see somebody not forgetting about Blood Dragon.

Edited by SamitSarkar

Pope Francis is pretty alright, but he ain't got shit on my man Eric.

Posted by TheHumanDove

Pope is the list master

Posted by TheHT

Blood Dragon was that weird moment where you suddenly envision a long joyous path for the industry to go down where big companies put out stupid fun games downloadable games using their AAA tech for cheap.

I really hope it's not just a one-off! A self-aware (though I guess AC4 sorta has that covered) and insanely over-the-top Assassin's Creed game would be amazing.

Edited by ProfessorEss

@pope Biggest let down of 2013? No new Dance Central announcement!

Seriously jerks, git on that shit. :)

Posted by forteexe21

Rocksmith 2014 is better than Rock Band as it has Muse songs on it! *still bitter*

Edited by Nekroskop

Rocksmith 2014 is better than Rock Band as it has Muse songs on it! *still bitter*

It's better because you actually play the music with a real instrument.

Edited by chocolaterhinovampire

His write up of Bioshock was fantastic!!!

Posted by forteexe21

@forteexe21 said:

Rocksmith 2014 is better than Rock Band as it has Muse songs on it! *still bitter*

It's better because you actually play the music with a real instrument.

Well, not really as I am more of a drum player in Rock Band and having pro drums is really good.

Posted by Dixavd

I bet I'd get LOST in AC4 too... hahahahaha.

Posted by Crembaw

ERIC POPE IS NOW OFFICIALLY MY MAIN G.

Edited by JZ

Who would have thought that'd have the same taste in game as pope.

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