By Gamer_152 1 Comments
Note: The following post contains spoilers for all games listed.
I’m a broke-ass man and consequently I never have the opportunity to play all the big new releases in any given year, so I’m not going to pretend to be able to weigh up all the great games released in 2013, instead as GoTY is always a personal event, I’m going to do something a bit more personal with this list. So in no particular order, here are my top 10 games I played for the first time in 2013.
The Walking Dead
Despite being draped in a cartoonish art style and taking place in a zombie-ravaged wasteland that seems fantastical and alien to us, The Walking Dead is in many ways a very down-to-Earth and relatable game. The characters may not be rendered with stunningly realistic textures or rigged with mind-blowingly life-like animations, but in every sentence they speak and every reaction to the world around them they seem human to the core, and that’s what makes it so difficult to see them suffer.
The Walking Dead is able to make us sympathise with characters even when they’re not doing the right thing, show how us how it’s easy to make poor decisions even when you’re trying to do good, and demonstrate that simple endeavours can quickly become muddied with inter-group politics and unforeseen circumstances. Ultimately, it’s a game that teaches that it’s easy to be cold-hearted and judgemental when we’re looking in from an outside perspective, but when we’re the ones making the decisions, it’s a very different case.
Grand Theft Auto V
With so many developers over the past generation trying their hand at creating open-world games and putting so many different spins on the basic concept, it’s impressive that Rockstar can still create a very straight-up-and-down crime sandbox like GTA V and have it stand out as distinctively as it does. Not only is GTA V’s map crazily expansive, but it’s impressive just how much of it is dominated by the city of Los Santos, an urban jungle so large I still don’t know my way around most of it even after spending countless hours driving its streets. None of it feels compromised by its size either, with every little inch of that urban sprawl furnished with its own unique buildings and decorations. The game is teeming with tasks and challenges for the dedicated player and the use of three different interlocking character storylines adds a further dash of choice and layering to the way you experience it. Even the Online mode, which I have rather mixed feelings about, has provided me with some some gratifying moments.
After finishing Bioshock Infinite it was hard for me to look back at the game the same way I did when I first rocketed into the sunny skies of Columbia, but that’s one of the truly special things about it. There’s this great sense that you really are going on a journey as the environments, tone, and the characters hit these stark changes as the story progresses. Elizabeth’s story arc is heart-breakingly tragic, taking a girl who romanticises the outside world she’s never known and revealing to her that world she idealises is actually harsh and deterministic. She starts off as someone full of wonder and optimism, but endures revolution, torture, indoctrination, and eventually having to kill her only friend. Of course that would be nothing if we didn’t feel so much empathy towards her, a merit of the game that is owed to the talented animation, writing, and voice work behind it. I’ve seen the gameplay of Infinite garner some flack, but while it may not be on par with the most delicately designed FPSs, the shooting remains solid and the inclusion of the Skyhook and the Vapors really help spice up the fights. The experience of Infinite is one that’s stuck closely with me and has refused to leave my head long after I’ve finished the game.
The Stanley Parable
The Stanley Parable is such an unusual piece of media that sometimes it’s hard to know how to fully assess it, but one of my favourite qualities of it is that you can indulge in it on two levels. If you want to enjoy The Stanley Parable as an adventure in atypical humor and a playful back-and-forth between you and its God-like narrator, you can, and if you want to enjoy it as a multi-faceted exploration of the way games handle player agency and the flaws of choices as they’re presented in the medium, you can absolutely do that as well. Even having played the Source mod on which the game is based first, I was tickled and enthralled by the bizarre escapades of Stanley.
There’s a track on Hotline Miami’s OST called “Crystals”. It’s fun and trippy but has an odd air of seriousness about it. At about the 45 second mark the quick, synthetic blips of the track are joined by these longer, darker tones that if you weren’t paying attention, you might not notice the first time round. For me, this is oddly representative of Hotline Miami itself. What initially seems like a fairly standard video game killing spree pulls back to reveal something more bizarre and critical of the player than it first lets on. The gameplay and audio-visual experience are the real crowning jewels however.
It’s one of those games in which the levels are a constant chain of moments where you’re slowly scoping out the rooms ahead and then bringing your speed and precision together to try and drop your enemies in the blink of an eye. Hotline is made both tense and thrilling by there often being a split-second between getting the drop on some unsuspecting mobster and ending up splattered over the brightly-coloured carpet. Not only does the game have one of the best soundtracks out there, but its top-down view, surreal fever of colours, and highly-pixelated bloodbaths are entrancing and yet make you feel oddly detached from the violence. My biggest disappointment with Hotline Miami is simply that there wasn’t more of it, because it’s such a captivating game.
The Sims 3
I’ve always found something compelling about The Sims, from the slow trickle of simple tasks the game constantly feeds you, to the way that it remains a comparatively true reflection of the lives we live every day without getting boring. I was ready for The Sims 3 to be a light incrementation on The Sims 2 with no substantial changes, and at first glance that may be what The Sims 3 looks like, but while the game isn’t by any means a full reworking for the series, it does come with a number of smart alterations to the traditional formula which make it a joy to play. The new array of traits you can give your characters during the creation process make them feel like more of an individual, both as a person and in gameplay; the “moodlets” add some variety to the mix and make the daily experiences of your Sim feel more true-to-life; and the ability to switch instantaneously between the individual lots and a larger view of the town gives the whole experience a gratifying seamlessness. This third installation in the series has kept me once again glued to my computer screen, savouring every minute with my virtual families.
Thomas Was Alone
We’re all familiar with science-fiction tales of programmers accidentally creating artificial intelligence which gets out of their control and pursues its own motives. These are almost always narratives about malevolent and genius computer programs who are hostile to their human progenitors, but Thomas Was Alone has a bit of a different take. What if instead of being insidious masterminds, the first AI were more like our own children: innocent but loveable? The game paints a very pure picture of a group of friends coming together to overcome adversity and each others shortcomings by showing us a delightful cast of characters and a series of puzzles which have us stack them together and use them to help each other reach places they’d otherwise never be able to go. This is all delivered to us in the trappings of a minimalist cyberspace which leaves the game wonderfully encapsulating the idea of being beautiful through simplicity.
Injustice: Gods Among Us
One of the biggest strengths of Injustice is not in what it does do, as much as what it doesn’t do. What could have easily been Mortal Kombat with DC characters in it instead turned out to be a fresh and exciting fighting title in its own right. The mechanics are finely tuned and have all the depth you would expect of a NetherRealm game, but never feel convoluted or impenetrable to people like me who aren’t going to invest a couple of hundred hours to master all the tactics and their execution. The stage destruction, transitions, and special moves make it one of the most brilliantly over-the-top fighting games ever committed to disc, and overall the huge respect NetherRealm had for the game they were creating shines through clearly.
Spec Ops: The Line
I love an upbeat, positive Game of the Year list, but it’s impossible to talk about Spec Ops: The Line without talking about its critique of a certain type of game. I’m not “Too Cool for CoD”, I’m not going to claim I don’t enjoy Battlefield, but there is something that does bother me about modern military shooters. I think there’s something to be questioned in the way games treat violence and war in general, but it becomes particularly uncomfortable for me when games turn the kind of wars people are fighting and dying in today into objects of shallow enjoyment. The Line addresses that completely.
It’s not a fun game to play, but then it couldn’t be, not if it wanted to avoid the pitfalls of the same games its criticising and the ideas it’s subverting. It’s plain throughout that there’s something thoroughly wrong in what you’re doing and that showing up to a foreign country and just trying to shoot your way to a safer, more stable world doesn’t work, is not pleasant, and does not make you a hero. For taking what was otherwise destined to be a bargain bin FPS and turning it into something altogether more meaningful, YAGER deserve some serious kudos.
Homes are naturally very personal places and Gone Home is very much a game about people, giving us snapshots of moments both important and trivial of all the characters involved to build an intimate picture of one family’s lives. A lot of the game seems to be about regressing us to a younger state and bringing out the emotions that accompanied that time in our own lives. The house feels enormous and creepy without our family there with us, the classic VHS tapes and games littered around the residence evoke a gleeful nostalgia, there’s a pleasing familiarity in Samantha’s teenage punk rock phase, and there’s a touching relatability in the tale of her finding young love.
The sections involving Sam and Lonnie are written with particular care; they could have easily been made one-dimensional characters defined by their sexual orientation, but instead the game treats them as fully formed human-beings. It doesn’t present them as simply being in a “gay relationship”, but instead displays their relationship as one exactly like any other, with all the same emotions and little moments of growth, but just happening to be between two women. Together they face serious difficulty, not just because they’re homosexual, but also because that’s the nature of relationships. Gone Home hit so hard with me because it talks to you like a human being, about human beings.
And those are the games I most loved in 2013. Honourable mentions go to Antichamber, Cookie Clicker, Dear Esther, Depression Quest, and Don’t Starve. Here’s to hoping 2014 will be as good as 2013. Thanks for reading.