2013 GOTY

2013 was a pretty crazy year for videogames, right? We saw the side-effects of a overly long generation in the form of games that certainly shouldn’t exist in franchises that have probably outstayed their welcome like Gears of War . It has certainly be underwhelming in the realm for high-budget game design in terms of lack of releases and shoddy launches like Battlefield 4.

With that, the lackluster big business side of the industry has virtually given the entire playing field for independent game developers. With titles like Rogue Legacy and Gone Home, we saw the culmination of ideas that couldn't exist in a pre-Xbox 360 era.

We’ve grown dependent on small-budget games like Papers, Please to deliver interesting mechanics that otherwise wouldn’t be appropriate for a larger title, and games like Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and The Walking Dead to allow us to have a deeper emotional connection.

The type of connection that has been promised from the beginning that only videogames are capable of doing. If 2013 has proven anything, great games come in all sizes and from all corners of the industrialized world. Now more than ever can videogames truly take people on journeys and command emotional responses.

Games can commentate on serious ideas, deliver higher nuanced narratives, interlace mechanics and story telling, or just deliver us dumb fun in the form of a Dub-Step Gun.

Of course this year we saw the untimely passing of Ryan Davis just days after his wedding. He has been an inspiration to me over the years since first listening to GameSpot’s podcast back when I was in Middle School. We had similar taste in games and the way he can academically critique something in a serious manner and immediately switch to goofy fun is a personality trait I can only dream of nailing down so finely.

I wasn’t an intern long at Giant Bomb thanks to my unexpected deployment to Afghanistan. But he treated me with respect and was a constant professional. He appreciated the coffee pot never went dry while I was in the office. He even sent me and my platoon a package overseas containing over 100 hours of Giant Bomb material and even offered up some games and clothing. He’s the kind of person that made everything simply better when he participated and he will be missed.

Here are my favorite 10 games of the year in order from 1-10. Thanks for reading!

Love,

@stevenbeynon

List items

  • The Last of Us did the impossible and took a rote setting and transformed it into something great. Like the Walking Dead, The Last of Us merely utilizes the apocalypse as a backdrop to tell a greater story. It told this incredible tale of Ellie, Joel, and the powerful bond that develops between them. These two characters developed one of the most believable friendships I’ve seen in any fiction, if nonetheless the most memorable.

    At first you would believe the young female would be reliant on the older, stronger male lead. Instead, it was his reliance on her and the parallel she gave him of a world before, and gives him a touchstone to his daughter that was tragically taken away during the game’s opening. This dependency led to the game’s expertly paced and tone-consistent ending which was hard-hitting and stays with me to this day.

    Ellie was positioned as a Christ-like figure, sacrificing herself to give humanity a key to survival. She wanted to be sacrificed, however, Joel’s actions in saving a child was grey on its own yet it was clearly for selfish reasons. It’s open to interpretation whether or not he loved Ellie, but it was clear he couldn’t part from another person, even if she could end the apocalyptic virus. She is the key to his sanity, Joel even admits the only way to survive is “to find something worth fighting for”.

    The Last of Us isn’t only my favorite game of 2013, it can be argued that it’s the best in several categories. It was this generation’s swan song, the PS3’s last great game, and represents so much of the evolution this industry has went through technically, artistically, and scope since 2005. Virtually the only encompassing negative criticism I have against The Last of Us is some of the videogameness and technical aspirations seem torn between generations. Naughty Dog delivered not only a standout title, but gave life to the promise on what games can be.

  • Bioshock Infinite is an easy game to pick apart. This game is easily one of the most critiqued and analysed releases, ever. Just a month into release, everyone was closely examining every minor detail academically and in editorial. Like any multiverse or time travel plot trick, Bioshock doesn’t hold up under a microscope. I just went for the ride and was more than satisfied with the game’s ending, and it was all more exciting to be a part of the greater discussion that followed.

    Elizabeth’s animated Disney Princess-like motif complimented the fantastical nature of the colorful world. Like the first game, Infinite crafts a world that originally only would appear to be an artist’s concept art fantasy. This world tells a story. While some elements like racial and economic divides creating culture clashes sorta don’t get the attention they deserve, Bioshock Infinite still delivers a great combat system that is expertly intertwined with the kind of jaw-dropping moments that still have people talking almost a year later.

  • I’ve always been on the outside looking in when it comes to fighting games. It’s accurate to say I’ve tried every major fighting game over the past ten years, but I can’t ever seem to wrap my head around them. That combined with my lack of interest in truly investing in all the mechanics have always made penetrating this genre impossible for my playing style.

    Divekick is synonymous with PAX to me. It had this amazing community appeal. Tens of thousands of people were at that show and everyone couldn’t stop talking about Divekick. That sense of community made this game really strike a chord with me, and combine that with its low barrier of entry made this the game I’ve been dreaming about since Tekken 3.

    Divekick retains all the fundamentals of a fighting game and even has some interesting depth, but cuts out all the bullshit of learning long combos and focuses on what’s fun. This game truly is “The Last 10 Seconds of Every Good Fighting Game Match: The Videogame”.

    I mean, it isn’t like I’m going to play Smash Bros. seriously.

  • The Stanley Parable is the Scream of videogames. Like Scream is with horror, you couldn’t necessarily hand this game to someone that doesn’t have a lot of videogame experience and them enjoy it as intended.

    This game is essentially a giant parody of videogames and has a lot of winks and nods to videogame tropes and rules. The Stanley Parable virtually demands you go off the beaten path and challenge the game itself. It wants you to ask questions, it wants you to try and break the immersion, and every time you think you’ve outsmarted the malevolent narrator the game just laughs in your face and challenges you to try again. I’ve never really had a game fuck with me before, and for that I tip my hat.

    Its commentary on videogames and the people that play them is both depressing and intriguing. This may not be my favorite game of the year, but it surely was the most unique. I’m still not sure if I’ve “completed” The Stanley Parable, so maybe I should go back to see what seems like an endless supply of jokes and endings.

    This game is reminiscent of a choose your own adventure Goosebumps book. Every turn has its own twist and says something different about the grand story being told. And like those old books, have an endless amount of increasingly dark ways for your journey to end.

  • I don't like games that are hard for the sake of being hard. I don’t like dying over and over. I don’t like repetition. I rarely get into 2D indie games with pixel art as well. On the surface, Rogue Legacy captures qualities in games I typically avoid.

    However, this game somehow ended up running on my PC and demanded about 20 hours of my free time. Maybe it was the item and leveling system hooks that gave me enough momentum to motivate me to push forward or the tight controls and goofy character options that really made an impression on me.

    Regardless, Rogue Legacy has a special personality that borders on malevolent and charm that often juxtapose one another in a game world full of danger and weird narrative quirks.

  • Devil May Cry is puerile, adolescent, and more often isn’t as sassy as it thinks it is. Yet there’s enough goofy one-liners and has some element of a tongue-in-cheek attitude towards its content that gives it a flavor of fun insanity that overshadows the overindulgence of juvenile tropes.

    The creative bizarro worlds commanded attention and allowed the game to go absolute ape-shit with anything it chose to do so. With that, this game is just fun. The creative boss fights, most importantly the Fox News inspired News anchor, are engaging and memorable in ways that I miss major encounters being in videogames.I appreciate the goofyness. DMC seems like a 12 year old’s fantasy come true after discovering his older brother’s Heavy Metal collection. The game has the kind of audacity I can appreciate and welcome with open arms.

  • This is for 400 Days.

    I’ve always had a fascination with short stories, specifically horror. Most games are intimidatingly too long to begin sometimes. There are dozens of great releases every year, a lot of those are 20+ hour experiences. It seems like for years we’ve been yearning for the short and sweet game, arguably that concept got popular with Portal.

    400 Days encapsulates the fundamentals of The Walking Dead. We get abbreviated moments from different and mostly unrelated characters that ultimately surround a specific situation. Despite the entire game being 90 minutes and hosting several chapters, we get enough of an idea on who each of the characters and their respective struggles for the drama to matter.

    It’s short and sweet, something I’d like to see more of in the future across most franchises.

  • Look at the original Saints Row and where the franchise is today. This franchise started off as a semi-serious crime story and now we’re jumping over buildings as the President of the United States and shooting aliens with a Dub-Step gun. It’s the same kind of juxtaposition when you look at the original scary horror classic, Friday the 13th and Jason X.

    Saints Row IV celebrates everything that is fun about videogames. I agree with Jeff Gerstmann in that this is the true sequel to Crackdown we all really wanted.

  • I grew up on Pokemon, and like many fell off the train after Gold/Silver. Maybe it was just me growing out of it, or the franchise not evolving with me. Regardless, I have the kind of nostalgia for first generation Pokemon that a lot of folks have for older Nintendo classics. I’m obsessed with creating the perfect team, I can still remember all the old Red/Blue gym fights and my satisfaction when I obtained all the legendaries including Mew.

    I made a deal with myself. I would shut myself away from all the Pokemon bullshit until the franchise went full 3D. Or whenever there was a major step forward. Well, this was the year. I was shocked to discover there are OVER 700 GODDAMN POKEMON! Not to mentioned there are new types like Fairy, and they’re including dual types. I mean, a Psychic Pokemon can ALSO be a fighter! That’s insanity.

    Despite it being almost 10 years later, the basic cadence of a Pokemon is virtually intact. It’s the same game as it was on the Gameboy and that was all I needed to tickle some nostalgia. I’m only building a team of first generation Pokemon, too. That being viable makes this game totally rad in my book.

    It’s the same song and dance. Pokemon X/Y isn’t going to pull any new people in. Your nostalgia for the franchise is directly relevant to your enjoyment of it today.

  • Battlefield 4 is one of the most fucked up launches in recent big-budget history. I originally couldn’t even get into a game during the PS4’s launch.

    Now, despite a long list of bugs still in the game, I am having a great time with the game and have had a stable experience. If it wasn’t for the game’s rocky launch, this would certainly be higher on my list.