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Will Smith's Top 10 Games of 2013

Somewhere between the rigors of fatherhood and testing things for Internet science, our man Will Smith played 10 games he liked. Here they all are.

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Will is one of the editors of Tested. He doesn’t like writing about himself in the third person and doesn’t believe in putting things in numerical order. You can find him on Twitter. He sat in the commander’s seat of the real Space Shuttle trainer in Houston.

The Stanley Parable

I haven’t finished The Stanley Parable. I’m not sure what the titular parable regarding Stanley is. I take that back. I’m not even sure that I haven’t finished the game. I may have finished the game multiple times. For that matter, I’m not even sure The Stanley Parable is a game. Lets just say that it’s a thing that may or may not be a game that you should probably experience if you like to laugh at a bunch of jokes that I thought were pretty clever, but may actually be very dumb.

You play as a guy named Stanley, who wakes up in what is presumably his office. There’s no combat, no other characters, and nothing really to do, except make choices. Except you don’t even really make choices, because the narrator, perfectly voiced by Kevan Brighting, tells you what to do. Or you can not follow his instructions and he chats about that for a bit too.

I’m sure The Stanley Parable is one of my favorite games of the year. That’s pretty much all I’m sure of.

Call of Juarez: Gunslinger

Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is one of my favorite games from this year, but I’m surprised that it was. Yes, it’s mechanically sound, with a good bullet-time system and a skill tree that lets you specialize in the types of weapons you prefer. But the Call of Juarez franchise fits squarely in that middle-tier of games that’s being squeezed out by ever-increasing budgets of big titles on one side and the rise of free-to-play games and indies at the other. I’m really glad that Gunslinger wasn’t squeezed out.

Why? Gunslinger sports the best framework story I’ve ever seen in a game. Framework stories are tricky things, but Gunslinger pulls it off perfectly. As other characters interject and the narrator corrects or embellishes the versions of the tale being told, the game literally reshapes the world you are in to reflect changes in the story told by the narrator.

On top of the framework story, the game is lean. It’s 4 or 5 dense hours, packed full of action with very little filler between missions. While it would have been easy to pad out the game with a few more hours of fluff or by jacking up the difficulty ramp so they could charge $60 for it, the publisher left the game dense and charged a more than reasonable $15 for it. While I dislike silly metrics like dollars per hours of gameplay, I really love the idea of tightly designed games like this one priced at $15 or $20.

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The Last of Us

Every person who wrote one of these lists and played it probably included The Last of Us. This is one of the best-written video games I’ve ever played. The main characters feel real, they’re complex, with real motivations and behavior that makes sense, both in the context of the world and the human condition. The supporting cast is memorable, with knowing references to zombie movie tropes that don’t feel trope-y. The dialog and voiceovers even passed the wife test, as in, she sat on the couch listening to me play the game without laughing or groaning. By the end, she was almost as invested in the characters as I was.

Yes, The Last of Us is almost totally linear, an on-rails game that just requires you follow the critical path and either shoot or sneak past the baddies. While the plot arc is linear, the majority of combat scenarios in the game are open ended. You need to apply the appropriate tactics for your situation when you choose to fight, sneak, or distract your way past the humans or zombies. And unlike most stealth games, hauling ass to escape an encounter gone awry is almost always the right answer.

The Last of Us was thought-provoking, both in the context of a zombie apocalypse and about the nature of game design. Over the last few years, I’ve grown disenchanted with the kind of linear on-rails fun-house ride that games like The Last of Us represent. However, Naughty Dog paced this game almost perfectly, switching between zombie and human encounters to build and release tension perfectly. The Last of Us takes too long to get started, but it rewards your perseverance with the kind of emotional experience that you don’t typically get in video games.

Rogue Legacy

Rogue Legacy is a roguelike with enough crutches that an old fucker like me can play it. Rogue Legacy softens the still brutal difficulty curve by adding a skill progression that’s based on generational carryover and equipment and magic that’s passed down from parent to child. The ability to replay the same randomly generated dungeon multiple times and bosses that stay defeated between lives smooth a few more of the game’s sharper edges so that the game is accessible for someone with limited time to play games. Rogue Legacy lacks the utter maliciousness that feels baked into Spelunky, but I’m not sure if that is a good thing or not.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

Finally, someone at Nintendo looked at one of the franchises they churn out every few years and asked “What would happen if we pretended other developers had continued improving game design after the N64 came out? What would happen if we smooth all the rough mechanical edges, fix the crappy user interfaces, and reduce annoyances for players by adding fast-travel and adding a non-linear path through the game?” The result is a Zelda game that takes the familiar old tropes and mixes them up into something that is familiar and new at the same time.

I’ll be honest though. Part of me wants to really hate A Link Between Worlds. How amazing would one of the 3D Zelda games like Twilight Princess or Skyward Sword have been if Nintendo had been willing to tweak the core Zelda formula so that those incredible worlds had the same opportunity to shine?

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Super Mario 3D World

Finally, someone at Nintendo looked at one of the franchises they churn out every few years and asked “What would happen if we made this game REALLY FUCKING GOOD?” Mission accomplished, guys. Mission accomplished.

This is a 3D Mario game, and it is really fucking good. You can play with your friends, which is fun and annoying and horrible and great in all the same ways it is with the New Super Mario Brothers games. While the early levels accommodate that multiplayer requirement well, the game really ratchets up the difficulty at the midway point. Even then, Super Mario 3D World isn’t difficult in the same way Super Meat Boy is, but it is hard enough to challenge someone who has been playing Mario Brothers games for 25 years.

If you just watch trailers, it would be easy to think this is just another rehash of the Mario Galaxy games, but 3D World stays fresh as far as I’ve gotten to play (just past the midway point, if I am guessing correctly). I love the one-off elements in levels and the new powerups, like the cat suit, add some needed verticality to Mario’s world.

Rymdkapsel

I like controlling worlds full of tiny people. Rymdkapsel lets me control tiny spacemen who live inside my iPhone and iPad. Your goal is to build a station by placing tetramino-shaped rooms and assigning workers to them. In addition to mining resources, expanding your base, and growing more tiny spacemen, you have to defend your base from regular alien attacks. Rymdkapsel is simple and stripped down in all the right ways. My only complaint is that the game is over too soon, and there isn’t really an option for endless play as it is now.

Antichamber

Antichamber’s non-Euclidiean world is one massive puzzle for you to solve. Just like that big first-person puzzler franchise that starts with P and rhymes with “ortal”, Antichamber rides the perfect line between frustrating and satisfying. When you finally manage to solve a tough room, the endorphins flow and the experience is wonderful.

I liked this game so much that I played it in one sitting, late at night, when I had a 3-week-old baby at home. It’s so good that I knew continuing to play would make the next three to five days awful and I did it anyway. It’s that good.

Plus, exploring non-Euclidian space in a videogame is every bit as weird and awesome as I hoped it would be.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

This game is really good. I don’t think I can talk about what makes it awesome without ruining it, but the game uses a gimmicky mechanic to great ultimate effect. It took me a while to get the knack of using one stick to control one brother and the other to control the other, and the penalty for failure was consistently low, but the payoff was completely worth it. In a few short hours, Brothers managed to evoke a real emotional reaction from me.

It’s also worth mentioning that Brothers is probably the best looking Xbox 360 game ever.

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Grand Theft Auto V

As a general rule, I haven’t liked GTA games. I always end up buying them and playing about half of the game. My problem with the games is that the disconnect between the lead character’s actions in cutscenes and my portrayal of said character in-game make it difficult to take the story beats and dialog seriously. In that past, I’ve stopped playing GTA games when the mechanics start getting stale. I found that I didn’t have this problem playing as Trevor.

Trevor’s the perfect kind of psychopath for a GTA game. Whether he’s driving and mowing down pedestrians, shooting out the rear window of a car that’s blocking his lane, or just tossing live grenades at street signs as he drives by, I feel like Trevor is the perfect proxy for the way I play GTA. I even found myself paying attention to cutscenes and dialog.

Pairing Trevor with a much better driving model and none of the annoying side missions that felt nify in GTA III and have been tedious ever since, I ended up playing almost three-quarters of GTA V before I abandoned it for another game.

Other games I enjoyed, but didn’t put on this list: Tomb Raider, Thomas Was Alone, Gunpoint, Spelunky w/ Daily Challenges, Euro Truck Simulator 2, Dead Rising 3, Resogun, Guacamelee!, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, Batman: Arkham Origins, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Picross e1-3, Candy Box, Dishonored, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD

Games I wanted to play, but didn’t get to for a variety of reasons that aren’t particularly germane to the conversation: Gone Home, The Novelist, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Persona 4 Golden

Games that I tried to play, but couldn’t really get into because they were too fucking grim: Papers Please, Cart Life