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10 Games from 2013 I Thought Were Cool! (aka my GOTY 2013)

Even though I'm busy trying to finish my Computer Engineering BS degree and commission as a 2nd Lt in USAF next Spring, I still somehow played enough video games this year to totally have a legitimate, sincere list of "10 Games from 2013 I Thought Were Cool," which is essentially just my GOTY 2013.

Christine Love definitely approves this list, I think? She could have possibly have been on this list herself if only I actually played Hate Plus, but I will definitely get to it some time soon, along with other great games I've missed this year. (Thanks @yoshimitz707 for taking this picture on my camera back during this year's PAX Prime <3)

I actually had a lot of fun playing video games this year. I mean I always have fun playing video games, but I really appreciated the volume and variety of games I was able to enjoy throughout the year. I laughed, winced, killed people and broke things, screamed in horror, *almost* cried once or twice, and contemplated deeply about life and the human condition. There's a good mix of blockbusters and indie games on this list, which is remarkable and speaks to how I thought about the overall quality and state of video games this year. There's even more games that might have been on this list if I only had time to get to them, which I'll mention before the actual list.

Games I *would've*/*might've* thought were cool if I actually got to play them in 2013:

Antichamber, the Stanley Parable, Tomb Raider (really sorry I never got to it!), The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Ni no Kuni (never got to finish it yet), Rogue Legacy, Fire Emblem: Awakening etc. (there may have been a few other big ones I missed but these I think would've been fighting for a place on this list if I played them, based on what I've seen of them)

Games I really wanted to put on this list: Animal Crossing: New Leaf (I don't want to know how much time I spent on it this year, but I can say for certain it was too much. This was also my first exposure to the series.)

Should have been on my GOTY 2012 list: Long Live the Queen (curse you for actually having been released last year and only being released on Steam this year!) This game is basically if Crusader Kings 2, the most Japanese visual novel you can think of, and a rogue-like like had a threesome. I love all of the above, so I especially found Long Live the Queen charming as hell. I'll probably give it an *actual* review on this site because I liked it so much.

In fact, I'm giving Elodie a place in the list before the list even starts! So HAH.

Heir Apparent of 2012-2013

(I admit I haven't actually gotten her to coronation yet because I've had my hands tied trying to not get her killed, so I can't necessarily give her "Queen of the Year." She won a Civil War decisively, though!):

Elodie from Long Live the Queen

No Caption Provided

All that aside and without further ado, here's my actual Top 10 list. First I'll actually list them 10-1 (to build suspense I guess?) and then use the actual List Feature for Giant Bomb (since that forces it to list from 1-10) to explain them:

10. Papers, Please

9. Don't Starve

8. Far Cry 3 - Blood Dragon

7. Gone Home

6. Arma 3

5. Saints Row IV

4. Grand Theft Auto V

3. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

2. BioShock Infinite

1. The Last of Us

And now my explanations:

WARNING: My explanations for The Last of Us and BioShock Infinite contain some spoilers, read those particular explanations at your own risk!

List items

  • “Swear to me that everything you said […] was true.” “I swear.” “Okay…” I shot and killed the doctors in cold blood. I think Joel would’ve, too. I’ll confess, I’ve actually never been able to play any of the Uncharted games (I probably would really like them, too). Regardless of whether or not I’ve had any exposure to Naughty Dog beyond Crash Bandicoot, The Last of Us is my Game of the Year 2013. I can definitely say for me it was the best video game spin on the zombie post-apocalypse to speak to the human condition ever, arguably even more so than Telltale’s The Walking Dead, which also was a Game of the Year for me at some point. With characters that are truly human in the best and worst ways possible in a situation as hopeless as The Last of Us, you can really appreciate their motivations and development. In a sense, I hate Joel’s guts, but I can’t hate what Joel does. He’d by my anti-hero of the generation, even more so than morally questionable but kind-of-a-badass Booker DeWitt. Beyond its ending, there’s a variety of memorable moments (Ellie and David’s encounters leading up to what finally happens at the end of that arc, Salt Lake City, the sewer) scattered throughout the story, and even hidden stories that unfold (Ish’s story arc) inside of the microcosm of Ellie and Joel’s odyssey across the United States. Even in the gameplay (I played it in the most difficult setting) you can get a great sense of the desperation and harsh reality of the setting of the Last of Us, and I’d say the Last of Us also had the best, most satisfying gameplay of all the blockbuster-tier games I’ve played this year. I appreciated how the story arcs and overall structure were broken by season, which was an extremely clever touch to represent the overall progression of the narrative, and that ending was the one of the best but hardest to swallow I’ve experienced with a game and a story of this caliber. As such, The Last of Us is my Game of the Year 2013, no contest!

  • “There is always a lighthouse, there's always a man, there's always a city." I was already extremely excited to enter the world of Columbia before I even picked up the controller, but I never would’ve imagined how deeply woven its narrative would’ve turned out by its absolutely stunning conclusion! (And I was already coming in expecting crazy knowing the previous BioShock’s; I’ll never forget “Would you kindly”) While I admit the gameplay does get near-unbearable at certain points (that damn witch), I still, overall, thoroughly enjoyed BioShock Infinite’s mechanics. I more especially, however, completely fell in love with the story and characters. The Lutece Twins are among my favorite of this generation; their backstory and encounters are some of the most smartly executed I can remember! Also, the revelations regarding Booker’s past and Elizabeth’s past were all mind-blowing, and I don’t even remember if was able to “call it” or not. On top of that, BioShock Infinite goes deep into its own universe unlike I’ve seen any game of its kind accomplish during its concluding arc. Ending up in Rapture for the Songbird’s resting place was a great touch. In addition, the overall atmosphere and the setting of Columbia featuring charming, anachronistic visuals and sounds was probably the most lovably quirky I’ve experienced this year. I’ll never forget, William R. Foreman’s kinetoscopes, especially the one when he falls to his death while trying to capture the waterfalls of Battleship Bay. I also won’t forget the early rendition of “God Only Knows.” In spite of the flak BioShock Infinite has gotten throughout the year, I can’t help but look back and remember everything I loved about it, so it definitely deserves second place on my list. I remember finishing BioShock Infinite and thinking that this is going to be a good year in video games! Seeing that I actually do have a Top 10 of games I can legitimately sing praises for, I can’t say I was wrong. I never usually get to do this!

  • For a simple three-hour game without actual scripted dialogue, there was so much about Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons that made it the third best game of the year for me. First of all, I thought the mechanics of controlling and interacting between the Brothers was genius. While there was a brief moment when I thought: ”This would’ve been a really good co-op game, too, wouldn’t it have been?” I played a little more into it and I realized that its set-up was quite deliberate. While I’d still like to revisit this game and essentially split the controls with a buddy to see how that’d be like (and also introduce the game to a friend), I think experiencing it on my own led to some of the most surprisingly touching moments to reflect on. As such, I’d also say it was the closest I got to crying this year (I’d like to think I’ve never actually cried in reaction to video game but it’s hard to say from what I remember of some really good games, I think?) this year, joining a small list of poignant classics such as “To the Moon,” and “Persona 3.” With smart, clever gameplay; memorable, touching moments; and beautiful, fantastical settings, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons deserves to be my third favorite game of the year!

  • I love the Grand Theft Auto franchise so much. There’s not a console game in this franchise I didn’t love, and Grand Theft Auto V completely blew me away. The triumvirate of protagonists featured was definitely one of the most risky but rewarding elements I’ve encountered in open-world narratives: I loved how their fates were intertwined and how their story arcs overlapped, eventually becoming one. I loved the beautifully redone Los Santos. I even appreciated the soundtrack! And you know what? I actually liked Grand Theft Auto Online, too! I was lucky to start my GTA:O experience after the whole shaky start with their servers going bonkers, but I actually did end up sinking several of hours just bumming around in Los Santos, grinding certain missions, grinding races with buddies, and selling a certain bike over and over again when that part was still broken. I only regret I never got to play it all the way to when heists were available missions; real life commitments got me to put down the controller and I haven’t been able to play it since. Also the biggest part that made GTA:O fun for me, the people I had been playing with in the Giant Bomb gang, probably aren’t playing anymore, but I digress! Overall, I could not have asked for a better return of the franchise than Grand Theft Auto V, and it beats out Saints Row IV in principle as there was not one activity in Grand Theft Auto V during which I felt fatigued (there was a point when I should’ve just stopped doing activities in Saints Row IV as far as I remember) and I was completely engrossed in its story (Saints Row IV was lovable but the sheer insanity of its story can’t edge out how Grand Theft Auto V ended up for me). I am very much happy with how Rockstar delivered, and I’m excited to see what they have to bring to the table in the future.

  • Having been someone who played (and actually liked) the original Saints Row when it first came out on the Xbox 360, I never would’ve guessed that we would’ve ended up here. I never played Saints Row II, and it took me some time to finally appreciate Saints Row the Third (which I was completely enamored with after I spent enough time with it); at the end of the day, however, Saints Row IV turned out to be an absolutely amazing ride and I loved how it kind of (ridiculously) tied together this insane franchise! While at the end of the day the setting is basically same ol’ Steelport, everything surrounding the ridiculous narrative and gameplay elements (holy crap those powers) of Saints Row IV made this one of the most enjoyable experiences of the year for me.

  • The amazing thing about Arma 3 is that, in spite of it technically being an “open world tactical shooter,” it can really be anything you want: from co-op multiplayer action to a really awkward cops vs. robbers RPG server. For me, it was many things: at some point I downloaded this really awesome single-player scenario in which you were an infantry commander trying to take over a heavily contested town, and even more amazingly I stumbled across this other scenario that let you procedurally create an *entire campaign* for taking over the entire island of Altis, allowing you to recruit your own squad and featuring unlockable “kill-streak”-esque supports such as calling in a supply drop or carpet bombing of an area, and there’s even a fast-travel helicopter taxi! I thought it super remarkable and spent several of hours immersing myself in this military simulator. Being someone entering the military myself and having experience with Bohemia-created military simulators, they have definitely come a long way in improving their flagship series’ visuals and overall playability while reducing the learning curve. ARMA 3 definitely deserved a spot on my list, this year.

  • Gone Home was a very pleasant surprise for me this year, and it hit home for me (that pun was completely unintentional, I swear) in some ways I didn’t even expect: for example, Lonnie being a JROTC cadet (I don’t think this is much of a spoiler since there’s a picture of her in uniform very early on) kind of made it real for me: coming out of JROTC myself in high school, I was especially drawn to her side of the story as it unfolded especially given what we find out about her past and her situation. The very little spoken dialogue was effective and touching, and even though you could tell in which direction the narrative arc was going, you could never tell where *exactly* it would end up. Also finding out about the nature of the house and its past was definitely a revelation inciting a lot of discomfort in me, but I really appreciated the subtle approach taken in bringing it all to light. Finally, the ending was especially poignant and unexpected for me (I had a bad feeling in my stomach going into it; glad to be wrong about my hunch), and I loved it!

  • Everything about it was ridiculous and over-the-top, but I loved every minute of it. I really liked Far Cry 3 last year, but I never would’ve imagined how I absolutely loved Far Cry 3 – Blood Dragon! The campiness and nostalgia evoked by the setting and story in addition to the gameplay mechanics that I thoroughly enjoyed from Far Cry 3 all blended in amazing way that demanded the number 8 spot on my list.

  • Don’t Starve gets a lot of things right: the visual design, the survival horror elements, and even the tone of the characters all resonate in a charming (Wendy is so dismal it’s the cutest – she even quotes Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” in one of her “examine” action quotes) and addicting way that allowed me to sink a lot more hours into it than I probably should have.

  • Glory to Artstozka! The tone and atmosphere of this game... absolutely amazing! It truly deserves the self-assigned descriptor “Dystopian Document Thriller,” and it definitely gets as overpoweringly desperate and bleak as something with that kind of description, trying to do a terrible job that hardly even makes ends meet. Who knew checking documents at a border would be this engaging! I haven’t gotten to play more of it as I would’ve liked, but I’ve played enough to remember to buy it on Steam a while after it was green-lit and enough to put it on this list, and I’m definitely playing more! If I played it more before I published this, it might’ve been higher on the list.