By StarvingGamer 27 Comments
Between the down and dirtiest brawl we've ever seen leading up to a console release and so many flagrant misuses of the word "misogyny" that Merriam-Webster and Oxford are literally going to have to update their dictionaries, 2013 has been an incredibly topsy-turvy year in the world of video games. Thankfully, it hasn't all been controversy and knife-fights, as 2013 has also been one of the best years for video game releases, and I got to play quite a few of them.
2013's 2012 Game of the Year Presented By PC Ports
No one is more surprised about this than me. Last year, my experience with RE6 on PS3 was so negative that I wrote a blog post breaking down all the mechanical failings of the game, and subsequently named it my "Biggest Disappointment" of 2012. They had ruined the perfect balance of Resident Evil 5 by trying to make it play more like a shooter and, as everyone knows, shooters suck with a controller.
You know what shooters don't suck with? A mouse and keyboard. It was with this in mind that I felt compelled to pick up the game again on PC, at a significant discount of course. And let me tell you, the increased fidelity made such a difference it was like night and early evening.
Yes, the game still straddles genre lines in all the wrong ways, but being able to reliably snap headshots and melee enemies down without burning all my stamina on quick shots changes the gameplay from an exercise in frustration into an activity that is kinda maybe sorta fun. Of course I continue to be 100% bought in to the dumb-ass fiction of that universe and all of its unintentional camp, and the interwoven storylines are handled in interestingly, rather than being another instance of dumb Capcom recycling assets in that dumb Capcom way (*cough* Devil May Cry 4 *cough*)
It doesn't excel at much of anything, but like all games Resident Evil, RE6 manages to provide a decidedly unique experience. I'm glad I was finally able to play it.
Runner-up: Dust: An Elysian Tail
Best Sexy(ist?) Surprise
As one of the games responsible for launching us into this dark age of video games "journalism", thanks in no small part to the developers going out of their way to cram as many feet into their mouths as possible during every interview, Tomb Raider quickly fell off my radar of games to care about in 2013. But a conspiracy of 33% off coupons and my loyalty to Rhianna Pratchett via her father convinced me to pick it up anyway.
And wow, what an excellent game from top to bottom. Sure, ludonarrative dissonance. Okay, she should probably put a coat on. But none of those things take away from what is, top-to-bottom, an incredibly fun action game in the Metroidlike style. The combat is crisp and varied, and the various travel tools doled out throughout the game make exploring the well-crafted environments consistently fun. The story succeeds in giving an origin story to this more relatable, more human Lara Croft (gameplay conceits aside).
Whether or not the developers actually understood what they were making, they succeeded in modernizing Lara in all the right ways, transforming her from a caricature to a character and providing me with one of my favorite experiences of the year.
P.S. If you own a 3DS, you really should pick up Attack of the Friday Monsters! I can't think of any game that does such a good job of capturing the joyful innocence of childhood. Just press play, alright?
EDIT: Embedding is broken for some reason. Linky instead.
Best Digital Card Game that is Embarrassingly Better Than Magic: The Gathering Online
MTGO is not a good game, or rather is a good game saddled with horribly broken technology. It's a sad state of affairs when the first online experience of one of your top players is so poor, they immediately declare it to be their last. So the timing couldn't be better for the various DCG's that have entered the market in varying levels of release, and right now the cream-of-the-crop is SolForge.
It may not have the production value of Hearthstone or the sweeping ambition of Hex, but it is the only game on the market to take full advantage of the digital format by creating something wholly unique from the more traditional ways of playing with cards. The draw five/play two structure means that there will always be meaningful decisions to be made, whether you're on turn one or turn twenty. And with a fully implemented tournament system, it is the best place for players looking for high-level constructed and draft play.
I've spent hundreds of hours on SolForge in 2013, and once I get an iPhone I'll be sure to spend thousands more in 2014, probably while driving.
Let me preface this by saying that I do not hate SimCity. I have actually been able to eke out something in the area of a hundred hours of play time that I genuinely enjoyed.
Unfortunately, that doesn't change the fact that the SimCity I got was not the SimCity I wanted, and those hundred hours can't fill the shoes of a game that I would have eagerly played for a thousand more. I'm sure I'll check back in on SimCity from time to time, but it will always be underscored by thoughts of what could have been.
The Amazon.com Game to Pay Full-Price For and Not Play of the Year
I was so excited for this game since I first heard about it who knows how long ago on the 8-4 Play podcast. The team up of Level-5, one of my favorite developers, and Studio Ghibli, makers of Whisper of the Heart, sounded like a dream come true. But when it finally came around to release time, I had just bought DmC and was still hurting in the wallet a bit from the holidays and thought, well, maybe I don't actually need this game.
Then came the Quicklook and I was immediately sold. The quality of the voice work and animation blew me away and I just knew I needed to be in this world. So I put my order in to Amazon and by the end of the week, the game was in my greedy little hands.
It's hard to remember now, whether I was on the tail end of DmC or something else was pulling my attention, but I was only able to make it through the prologue into the first instance of actual gameplay before I put the game down to play Fire Emblem: Awakening. That held me until March happened and I never looked back.
Right now it's sitting at the top of my to-do list, right behind Final Fantasy XIII-2. Just a couple 60+ hour JRPG's. No sweat.
Game of the Year
What happens when you take all the best bits of a long and storied franchise and cram them into a single game? You get something singularly amazing, and that's exactly how I would describe Fire Emblem: Awakening.
Fire Emblem: Awakening is not only the best game to come out in the TRPG genre since 1998, it is easily one of my favorite games of all time. The well written story provides just enough intrigue to keep things moving without getting in the way of the incredibly designed battle system. The gameplay is the perfect balance of breadth and depth, not too intimidating for genre neophytes but complex enough to keep the most dedicated min/maxers entertained for hundreds of hours.
Runners-up: 2. The Last of Us 3. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies 4. Beyond: Two Souls 5. SolForge 6. BioShock Infinite 7. Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm 8. DmC Devil May Cry 9. Remember Me 10. Gone Home