Games are still a safe place for me. They are my tree in the woods that I can climb and hide from the world, even if just for awhile. Maybe hiding is the wrong word. I can go there to see new things too, it can be a place of discovery, but most of all its main purpose is to lift and remove me from whatever turbulence is shaking my world at the moment. Sometimes it even allows me time and perspective to clear my senses when all I see and hear is noise. This year had too much of that and I found myself needing to climb higher and higher and demanding more of my time with my favorite past time. Here are the top ten games that didn’t let me down.
As communities continue to debate, and fail to define, what a game is or is not The Stanley Parable and I joined hands and drove off the cliff. We laughed the whole way down. I’m pretty sure at one point Parable flipped the bird. We lived happily ever after.
09. Dead Rising 3
Dead Rising 3 is probably the only game that even resembles a next-generation title to me. Technically, it’s by no means perfect, but as I wade into the hordes of on-screen zombies and my internal frame-rate organ begins to spasm Dead Rising 3 more often than not keeps up and it feels pretty magical. So magical in fact, that I spent the majority of my time mowing them down instead of moving the plot forward. There are a bunch of other tweaks to the Dead Rising recipe, but you know what? Thumbs up for getting a ton of zombies on the damn screen, you did it!
I’m a pretty easy target for a third-person action game. Honestly, Tomb Raider was a hair’s breadth from making this list but is instead surrounded by great friends in the number 11 spot. DmC sits here because of how relentless it is. Be it level designs, characters, pacing, or that sweet “stylish action” it never backed down and neither did I, completing it in just a few, and increasingly rare, extended play sessions.
Saying GTA V is here mostly because it is another solid Grand Theft Auto game might seems like a slight, and in a way maybe it is. To me, it doesn’t really improve on the formula but the formula is still working for me. The fresh characters were a treat and a majority of the missions had enough of an interesting story hook to keep me going until completion. At times the game can seem too in love with itself and its amazing rendering of Los Santos, but it’s a navel gazing I can put up with. The pedestrians are the real victims here as I’m forced to apply my amazing driving skills over and over again between missions.
06. Saints Row IV
It didn’t have the impact on me that Saints Row: The Third did, but I still found Saints Row IV to be dumb enough in smart ways to keep me going. The story beats are fun, if a little hit and miss this time around, but I found the pace to be fast and rewarding enough that I was always moving onto the next thing. There’s enough backstory and exposition packed in to make for a surprisingly insightful addition to the fiction. I’m not sure if we’ll see more full installments of the Saints, but if we must say farewell then this is as good a sendoff as any.
I honestly thought the dream was over for me. The Assassin’s Creed series has really captured me over the years. While I didn’t hate the last game it felt like we just weren’t having fun or connecting anymore. It’s like the series had gone off to college, made new friends who were way into Rilke and Baudrillard, and all I wanted to do was talk about the good times you, me, and Ezio used to have stabbing fools. Well, I’m glad to see my old friend is back in action and remembering it’s not such a sin to have a little fun while you’re making the world your slaughterhouse / playground. Heck, I’ll even admit that I really enjoy their crazy story, both inside and outside the animus.
I didn’t love the combat in Infinite, but that doesn’t mean I hated it. It just wasn’t my favorite part. The story and characters were great and delivered on everything I wanted out of the series. The atmosphere and realization of its rich world is so thick that it’s hard not to poke around every nook and cranny hoping to uncover a secret that will fill in even more narrative. Sure, finding recorded audio logs might be passé and clunky, but if that’s how Daddy needs to get his sugar, so be it. At some point you reach the crest of the hill and the narrative roller coaster starts roaring towards the credits. You hit some major loops, maybe even go off the rails for a bit, but by the time you settle and take off your seatbelt your head will be spinning and you won’t even remember all that tedious time standing in the line.
03. Gone Home
Remember back at number ten when I mentioned people like debating what a game is and is not? Well, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. It’s kind of a big one, but feel free to share it. All games are art. It’s true! But that’s not the secret. The secret is… all art is not good. You can have bad art. So while all games might be art, that doesn’t mean all of them are good or succeed. Gone Home succeeds. Gone Home has a strong message and narrative and marries that to its gameplay. It’s one of the very unique things that only games can do. It’s also one of the reasons I hate when people bemoan the lack of “good story compared to movies.” Comparing a game to a movie is like comparing a painting to a book. They have to go about their business in different ways. Gone Home is one of my favorite examples of how games can stand tall among other mediums and hopefully broaden the understanding of how special their story-telling can be.
02. The Last of Us
If Gone Home is my coffee bar dissertation on how we need to think differently about how games tell stories, The Last of Us is my summer blockbuster that you’ll enjoy as much as anything Hollywood has put out this year. While I found some of the gameplay repetitive, especially near the end, the narrative just did not quit. It’s a grim, dark tale that tells a very human story. You may not agree with all of the actions your surrogate in the world will take but, sadly, you’ll understand the motivations. It’s a world that deals in greys where the sun never really seems to shine through. It’s masterful storytelling that seems epic in scale but is really a very personal journey shared between two fantastic characters.
The only Zelda game I really didn’t enjoy was Skyward Sword. Maybe I finally got tired of the formula, or maybe I got tired of being treated like it was my first Zelda game. Either way, I found it to be more tedious than fun. A Link Between Worlds builds on the foundation of an already great game in A Link to the Past, arguably just giving the entire thing a modern facelift, but in my eyes that doesn’t make the final product any less exciting or enjoyable. My terrible memory might help with my wonderment over every rearranged piece of music my little 3DS was kicking out. Sure, the melody might not be completely original but the tune is familiar enough while being novel and entertaining. Really, that’s what I want out of a Zelda. Just enough of a familiar melody embedded in a creative, new composition. I can’t deny that that there is nostalgia at play here, but is it so wrong to make me feel like a kid again?