By Foxillusion 0 Comments
10. Year Walk
Year Walk isn't a horror game. Not really. But it's atmospheric in a way no other iOS game has ever done for me. It's easy to play this game alone and, after a good while, feel like there's someone else there with you, watching what you're doing. There aren't any cheap scares (though there are some scares, so you never quite feel safe), it's all an unsettling blend of emptiness/loneliness.
The other winning piece of this is the puzzles, which often require you to write logic down on a piece of paper or even use another app on a phone to try and solve them. I was completely into it the whole way. (Special shoutout to their more recent game, Device 6, for doing the same stuff.)
9. Pikmin 3
I bought a Wii U like many of you. And like many of you, I spent a lot of time thinking about the tablet, going "what is this thing even for". ZombiU (and later, Wind Waker HD) was a neat answer to the question, though the idea of a separate inventory/map wasn't enough to convince me of its practicality.
But then Pikmin 3 came along and stole my heart. The tablet didn't feel gimmicky anymore, it felt like an essential tool. Using it for multitasking, and sending multiple characters around the map and giving orders, felt natural and when I nailed it down, I found myself ripping through the game at a hilarious pace. Even at the midpoint where they hit you with an unexpected obstacle, I didn't ever feel like I was struggling to keep up. It had its quirks, but no other game has used the tablet that well as far as I'm concerned. I hope Nintendo keeps running with that example.
The sound design is second to none, and exploring and re-exploring the colourful island is a joy to me. But. The real reason I picked this game spoils it a bit, so probably don't read beyond this paragraph if you don't want that.
Still with me? Cool. (Also remember, like any piece of art, this is just my interpretation, so take that as you will.)
Proteus deals with the ideas of life and death in a progressive way. The changing seasons, from birth and discovery in spring, to the vivid life of summer, to weary decay of fall, to the stillness and finality of winter, perfectly reflect a human life. But it's the circle of statues that took my interest. They're out of place, and your reaction to them differs by season. They seem odd and distant during spring, but during fall and winter, they seem more and more scary. But by winter, they aren't scary at all any more. The game reacts to them neutrally again. To me it feels like a reaction to the idea of death during that period of your life.
So, OK. I should be more direct: I played this during a year in which I saw several deaths - the one that affected me most was one I'm sure you shared, since you're on this website too. It was during a time of quiet and reflection, and it brought me comfort.
That sort of game is pretty special to me, that's all.
I don't need to talk about the reasons why I love the style of Beyond, much like any David Cage game. (They're often the same reasons other people can't stand it!) But, I think I had the ideal experience playing this game for the first time. Let me tell you about it.
I played it with a friend. She controlled Jodie, and I controlled Aiden. Most people I spoke to played the game solo, but it was from splitting up this way that I think we had the best experience.
As either character you can hand off control, but you can't take it back again until the other player gives it back.
This led to situations where she, as Jodie, would walk out of the birthday party without exacting revenge, and I'd be furious that she didn't turn around and teach them a lesson. Or, during other scenes with Aiden, I refused to let up and would often end up killing characters and making her furious that I didn't stop attacking. It could get really frustrating for both of us, but that's exactly the relationship that Jodie and Aiden had. It could also be more tender, and when we did cooperate, it was way more satisfying.
It brought us closer to the characters and once you're that lost in a story, it doesn't matter that the writing isn't that stellar or animations can get clunky. We were in it all the way.
I play horror games. I am addicted to them. I am so used to playing them, that I'm serious, I didn't think after Dark Descent that a game could scare me that much again. I was wrong, twice. This is the first game that did it.
It's more about a rush of adrenaline than anything else. Horrible things would happen and it wouldn't let up or give you a chance to recover. It would take that moment to hit you with a jumpscare and send you sprinting from some other horrible thing.
The best scene in the game goes to the surgeon/doctor character halfway through the game. Absolutely mortifying character that made me actually yell in fear, at this game, alone in my own empty house. I enjoyed the whole experience more as a haunted house than as a story, but it delivers on the former. Hard.
5. Gone Home
It is very clear that some of the folks that worked on Minerva's Den worked on this game. It hits the two same highs that I get the most excited about: storytelling and atmosphere building. It creates some of the most interesting, well thought out characters of the whole year, and it does it without you ever even seeing a single one of them. And the house itself feels so big, yawning and empty, that it makes you afraid to open the next door or feel around the walls for the next light switch, even though you know there's nothing waiting for you in there. (Probably.)
I think I was always going to love this game. It is a nice short experience, but do yourself a favour and take your time exploring the house. You'll discover so many more things about those people and their lives than you thought possible with a few scraps of paper and well placed VO.
And here's the other horror game I never saw coming. What's so scary about it?
It might be the polar opposite of Outlast in how it tries to scare you. Instead of running on your adrenaline and ruining your sanity by screaming at you every few minutes, it quietly taps away at some very common anxieties, and waits for your imagination to fill in the rest.
It's not the sort of trick that works on everyone, but boy, did it ever work on me.
It blended the idea of being awake and asleep together, so you constantly question what's real and what's not. It forced you to go out and explore the house while keeping your eyes closed. But mostly, it feeds you spine-chilling text that permeates the actual game and starts weaving its way into your own brain, and the room you're playing in. Every time I put it down I couldn't sleep. I lost hours just lying awake in bed.I have no idea why I enjoy doing these things to myself. But, here we are.
Speaking of playing on someone's anxieties.
I didn't even love this game for the video game trope commentary (though that was funny too). I could put people in front of the game that never play any video games, and they took away just as much from it, from its commentary on narrative structure.
But it scared me too. Big time.
Think about the countdown ending. It's a three minute scene that mocks game design concepts like environmental cues and player expectations. While it's very cute in how it does this, it's for that very reason that I can't stand playing it, and also why it's probably the most resonant thing I've played this year. It's given me nightmares and stuck with me in times I'm not even thinking about games. The reason it does all those things is that it's playing on a really strong anxiety of mine, one of control (or a lack of). It leaves you helpless to a horrible fate and laughs at you the entire time it's doing it, making you feel pretty helpless. I hit a point of resignation at about 30 seconds to go the first time I played it and, thinking about it later, had no idea how it even managed to do that.
Any game that can trigger that kind of an emotional response is worth recognizing, I think.
I wish there was more recognition for game actors/voice actors at times like this.
Don't get me wrong, Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson get no shortage of press and praise. But, every member of the cast had an absolutely solid performance, from the host of voice acting they had to do, to the entire motion capture setup required for every single shot. They work their butts off just as much as any film star does, and they all knocked it out of the park.
It's easy to make a game filled with bullets and explosions and lose the actual characters in the midst of it all. Last of Us makes them into real, tangible people, that you care about and root for. It doesn't even just kill them off as often as it could to tug at the heartstrings (usually it comes up with something even worse).
I only played this game once, but only out of pure stress. I can't wait to pick it up again (after a good long break). (A very long break.)
I don't want to go on and on about infinite because that's all been done before. I just didn't get rocked any harder by any other game this year, that's all there is to it.
Bioshock was one of my favourite games of all time. I always need a pretty good reason to put a sequel on a list like this, but Infinite earned its place in spades. It was just fun. I just didn't have more fun with any other title all year.
No matter what other games were out or not out during 2013, or if I was feeling blue, or down, I could always just go play Infinite again. Starting from the beginning. And I would have just as much fun every time, trying new weapons, finding new audio logs, combining every vigor. Clash in the Clouds let me do that even faster, and that's not even to speak of the DLC, one of the best short-story followups I've ever seen to a big budget game like this.
I don't usually pick big-budget A-list games for these lists, but. This time I just had to.
That's it! There were so many more I wanted to talk about. These were the most heartbreaking to cut:
- SCII: Heart of the Swarm
- Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
- Rayman Legends
- Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons
See you again next year when I'll probably be talking about these 2014 releases: