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Game of the Year 2013

Here's my go at a top ten games of the year list. I haven't been able to come up with a good justification for why I'm doing this yet; it's currently oscillating between "because I can" and "I like to shout my opinions into the cold, uncaring void". Anyways, that obviously hasn't stopped me, so here it is!

Games that I played, but didn't quite make it:

Sid Meier's Civilization V: Brave New World - For its revitalization - no, that's not quite right, it didn't restore the game so much as finally make it whole and complete, something that can stand its ground against past series greats - of Civ V; ultimately, it got pushed off the bottom of the list by newer, shinier things.

The Swapper - I tried, I really did! I loved the atmosphere, the aesthetics, the story - but I fear the puzzle mechanics were too much for my easily confused, short-fuse vacation-mind. A lovely game either way.

The Last of Us - There's something about this game that makes it slide off of me like oil on water. I love Naughty Dog's incredible attention to detail and their interesting, well-developed characters, but something about the game just made it... Physically repulsive to me, in a way. Maybe it's the dour, zombie-infested post-apocalyptic setting, but I had to force myself to sit down and play through the first few hours of it before realizing that forcing myself to play a video game was a really dumb thing and I put in Assassin's Creed instead. Maybe when I'm in a better place, with more free time (ha!), I'll come back to it and work out my differences.

XCOM: Enemy Within - For much the same reasons as Brave New World, actually. Solid expansion pack that adds incredible depths and width to the original game - but just not enough to push it into my top 10. Mech suits are baller.

Battlefield 4 - The best modern Battlefield game, but the combination of more of the same and technical issues prevent it from breaching my top 10 for the year. Still worth buying and playing, though!

List items

  • Yeah, it's Dota. I'm sorry - except I'm not sorry. Dota 2 is the culmination of years of design, starting from the Warcraft III mod and ending in the slick, polished free-to-play game Valve is offering today. It's incredibly dense, and so layered, that after hundreds of hours in it (and hundreds of hours in a very similar predecessor, Heroes of Newerth) I still find little things in the game that I wasn't aware of. On top of that, it's a game in perpetual flux, constantly updating, iterating, improving. It's also become the de facto face of eSports, rising from the corpse of Starcraft II along with its sibling League of Legends to create something incredible; whether or not they're "athletes", watching people who are good at this game play it is just as much of a spectacle.

    Of course, this is all some abstract stuff that doesn't relate too much to this particular game's position on this particular list. All I can say is that I've spent more time in it than every other game on my list - probably every other game combined. People who aren't "into this sort of thing" will probably make a face at this and blame some sort of mind-control ray and then mutter about how "MOBAs are ruining games", but those who have put time into Dota will know that once you start it's nigh impossible to stop. It's responsible for some of the greatest highs (and greatest lows) of this year, and after playing the same map with the same mechanics and the same heroes for years now, I'm ready for years *more*. How many games can you say that about?

  • This game kind of caught me by surprise. I debated whether or not to put it on this list at all (only episodes 1 and 2 out of a planned 5 are out), but my gut instinct was to do so, so here it is (it'll be off next year's list, assuming it finishes up next year).

    I suspected I'd like it when I first set eyes on it, despite the fact I'm not a huge fan of adventure-style games. Something about this one, though, hooked me from the very first frame. I scoffed at its insistence it was modern-day "magic realism", but that's just what it is; I played every minute of it in the dead of night, which just doubled down on the strange, dream-like nature of the game. The art is at once sharp and ethereal, it use of contrast and perspective one of the most brilliant I've seen this year - possibly even in recent memory. The writing is lovely as well, the strange build-your-own-narrative styling of it just adding to the wonderful strangeness; one of the best parts of the game are the roadside stops that are sprinkled through the game, little text-only adventures that paint little spine-chilling tableaus of otherworldly Americana. Highly recommended for everyone.

  • I'm not sure what to say about this game ("game"? "Piece of interactive fiction"?) that hasn't been said a million different times other places, so I'll just say that it was one of the most intensely personal and moving experiences I've had this year. The world-building and characterization are so subtle, so minimalist, but that makes them hit all the harder when they do; in my opinion, the real triumph of this game is in proving how much you can do with so little. A house full of objects, and some voice-overs; that's all it takes. A singular thought dominated my mind by the end of Gone Home: 'We need more games like Gone Home'.

  • Those of you who know me probably just cracked a grin (or a sigh); for those of you who don't, let me enlighten you.

    Wargame: ALB is a real-time strategy game set in the Cold War, and the sequel to Wargame: European Escalation, itself an attempt by developer Eugen Systems' previous (gimmicky but competent) game, RUSE, into something more modern and fleshed out.

    The result is a game that's simple yet brutally difficult; there's a wide variety of units (several hundred, in fact, all lovingly detailed Cold War hardware) but relatively few mechanics, making for something that's fairly easy to pick up but devilishly hard to master. I found myself spending idle hours in the force composition screen, creating dozens of armies as I tried to perfect my various strategies. Though the campaign is frustratingly simple (a Risk-style overland map linking together random skirmishes) the multiplayer is where it really shines, from comp-stomps to massive, glorious 10v10 conflicts.

    As a refinement of European Escalation it's great, but just as a real-time strategy game I don't think you can do much better this year.

  • This was probably my most anticipated game going into the early months of 2013. The sense of excitement and wonder that suffused my playthrough remain with me even today, months later; though they do little to smooth over the various flaws in the game, I can't deny that I loved nearly every moment of this roller coaster ride from start to end. Except for the graveyard fight, of course! UGH.

  • I'm not going to lie; this was almost The Swapper, until I realized I liked Telegitch for every reason I like that, plus more. Also, the Steam version (Die More Edition) came out this year, and that's what I mostly played!

    Teleglitch is an incredible top-down roguelike; think Nethack meets Hotline Miami (meets Quake). It has a fantastic low-fi aesthetic and sound design that give it a surprisingly creepy atmosphere; add onto that a fascinating line-of-light vision system and you have a game where every corner, every cluttered room is an anxiety attack as you creep around corners, just hoping whatever will inevitably jump you won't be too bad. It has a fantastic crafting system as well, one of the most slick I've ever used in a video game; you press C, then select the combination you want, and then press enter. Discovering new combinations is half the fun of the game as well, and nothing feels better than duct-taping your motley assortment of goods into a face-melting minigun or a device that revives you for free.

    This is also one of the only games where I feel like my emotional state really affects my in-game character. At the start of a run it's all cool efficiency, kiting backwards and popping zombies in the head with your nine millimeter. Four stages in and you're clinging to life, white-knuckled and wide-eyed, down to the last bullet in the last gun in your inventory. You see something charge you out of the corner, and you turn quickly - BANG. The shot goes wide, bouncing off the wall next to the creature because you didn't take the time to line up the shot properly.

    Teleglitch is one of those games I just won't shut up about. It's such a perfect combination of aesthetics and gameplay that I couldn't imagine leaving off a year-end list. If you haven't checked it out on Steam yet, you owe it to yourself.

  • I don't want to be 'that guy', but I was one of the people who were breathless about the mod when it came out a few years ago. The standalone game delivers so perfectly on the concept put forth by the mod, managing to be at once both incredibly funny and, in a way, a profound criticism of modern game design. Another fantastic example of a game that doesn't overstay it's welcome; just as the gimmick starts to get old, you're done with it!

  • Gunpoint is what happens when one man has a vision, and then doesn't stop until it's realized in just the way he imagined it. It's so slick on every level, from the smooth-as-butter gameplay to the witty dialogue. The way the ending plays out, specifically, is an amazing thing that needs to be plagiarized immediately.

  • This year was the year I got really, really into Paradox games, and EU4 provided the perfect outlet for that desire. It's a wonderful mix of historical flavor and solid gameplay systems - though not without flaw, I kept coming back for more despite frustrating random events and infuriating AI. Multiplayer has been especially fun; I ended up wasting entire days with a friend as we built up our ideal empires, only to watch them collapse in a series of shouts and sighs. If you're looking for an entry point into grand strategy games, look no further.

  • A surprise last entry; I only got around to playing it this week. I neither hated nor loved AC3, but Black Flag ended up being a surprising delight nonetheless; I was expecting a quick cash-in with an interesting setting and a focus on the naval missions that were my favorite part of 3 - and what I got was a completely overhaul of AC3's systems and a game chock-full of content, feeling at once vast and yet incredibly dense, and a main character with more flavor than you can shake an Ezio at. Even the out of the Animus stuff is significantly better this time; I've fallen hard for the fourth-wall meta-commentary that fills that part of the game. Though it may still only be a refinement on the AC2 lineage of gameplay mechanics (with the exception of the naval stuff, which is admittedly a large part of the game), it's an incredible package that I haven't been able to put down once I picked it up.