GOTY 2013

And here we go again. Another year, another list of cool games to share with the GB community and @thatfrood's cool data-scrubbing wizardry. Here goes nothing.

List items

  • I normally seek some semblance of artistry for my GOTYs and tend to reject pure gameplay artifacts. Can't do that this year. Rogue Legacy is the game I've put more hours into in a very long time, and that's entirely down to how well it plays. Perfect balance on a procedural game is hard. More so if you slap a levelling system on top of it. And a New Game + mode. And non-linear Metroid-like exploration. And multiple classes. And equippable gear. And...

    That Rogue Legacy works at all is a massive feat. The fact that it puts Spelunky to shame and is one of the best platformers of the year on top of everything else is astonishing. I don't know how you go from something called "Don't Shit Your Pants" to this, but I want to know what's next.

  • Bioshock Infinite was interesting when it was a game, but as a demonstration of gaming's herd mentality it's fascinating. Universally (and I mean universally) praised by critics, it caused amazing amounts of blatant, unapologetic backtracking when well-regarded figures of gaming's budding academia panned it for fairly debatable reasons, which were then taken at face value by the same community that had gushed about the game for a couple of months. It makes a free-thinker rather sad, honestly.

    The game itself doesn't, though. Brilliantly conceived and depicted with unparalleled artistry, Bioshock Infinite isn't just about politics, it's about game design as well. A fairly marxist illustration of power structures somehow also connected to an artist's reflection on thematic consistency, and all of that wrapped into an expertly resolved "mindfuck" plot and a more than competent shooter.

    Oh, and it IS more than competent, by the way. I know "the gameplay was so-so" became the go-to complaint for many, but do you remember what the original Bioshock *actually* played like? Because maybe you should go check for a bit.

  • Nintendo had a great year in their ongoing attempt to upgrade and streamline every single franchise they've ever released. Animal Crossing, Zelda, Mario, Pokémon... even third party mainstays like Phoenix Wright and Professor Layton made it to the 3DS. Fire Emblem was the best update by far, though.

    While it's still "just" Fire Emblem, and I wish they finally found a way of handling their perma-death that doesn't lead to repeated reboots, Awakening was the perfect follow-up to last year's GOTY XCOM Enemy Unknown and easily the best entry on the series. It may not be the most original game on this list, but it's definitely one of the best.

  • Poor Ninja Theory. They consistently make great games that come just short of commercial success due to less-than-perfect gameplay and when they finally nail the interactive bits as well as the storytelling they end up having to contend with a gang of rabid fanboys unwilling to listen to reason on account of a haircut. It has really been a weird year for mainstream panning of great games, hasn't it?

    Ew. Well, here I am to tell you that DMC is one of the best games of the year. More cohesive than Metal Gear Revengeance, less muddled than Bayonetta, better produced than DMC 4, more earnest than God of War Ascension. It's a fantastic game, only let down by a somewhat shallow, stereotypical treatment of its female characters.

    Oh, and the last boss fight in this is the best boss fight this year and beyond. I was sad that I won because I didn't want the cool stuff to end. How many action games get to make that claim?

  • Gone Home sold me on audio journals in games. I used to find the device boring and uninspired, a cheap resource to pad out shooters. Turns out, you can build an entire game around them and make it a compelling, enlightening experience that still feels interactive. Gone Home isn't the meatiest game, or the meatiest novella, but it's kind, heartfelt, earnest and well written. A genuine surprise.

  • Much like Fire Emblem, Pikmin 3 was refinement rather than revolution, but in the case of Pikmin, that was well overdue. Pikmin 1 and 2 were upgraded as Wii games, and playing them with a pointing device was worth a revisit, but Pikmin 3's HD visuals and Wiimote-first controls proved that the Wii U doesn't need to rely on the touchscreen to make great games. I could watch minimap replays of Pikmin stages while I hear juice being squeezed out of grapefruits all day, and those were just the non-game bits in this charming, fantastic sequel.

  • Papers, Please could have been more meaningful than it is if it had embraced being a bit more ambiguous. The unabashed evil of its fictitious communist republic encourages players to rebel for cheap warm and fuzzies, but the situations it depicts happen daily around the western world, where our self-assuredness that we are the "good guys" makes them that much more interesting.

    Regardless, Papers, Please is a great game, finding entertaining gameplay in "soft" puzzle-solving and repetitive tasks in a way that would be remarkable even without the thematic depth.

  • Critical consensus on the 360 and PS3 version of 2K14 was the usual sports game tirade about "not enough changing", so I initially didn't get this game. Then I saw the PC version for cheap and I've never felt more outraged at a critical misrepresentation of a game. NBA 2K14 is a massive improvement over 2K13. Shots all over the court are balanced now, controls are better and more responsive, gameplay is faster... it is a great, great game this year in a way it hasn't been for a couple of iterations. At least the mistake got partially corrected with the positive response to the next-gen version, but it still put the media's ability to evaluate gameplay improvements over visuals and game modes to shame.

  • I almost skipped The Last of Us for this list but, damn, that ending. I mean, taking zombie tropes seriously worked for The Walking Dead last year, so revisiting many of their beats made The Last of US feel artificial at times, while the gameplay got repetitive before the game was over.

    The Last of Us is saved by triumphing where The Walking Dead faltered, though, and where Telltale took the cheap way out, providing shock by involving kids in violence repeatedly, The Last of Us goes for a genuine, morally ambiguous resolution that speaks about the characters, rather than blatantly attempting to push the player's buttons. I have forgiven more for less in this list, so there you go. Naughty Dog obviously has more than Amy Hennig in their roster.

  • It's been a prolific year for Diablo clones, including actual Diablo, Path of Exile and others, but for my money, Van Helsing is the best one of those released yet. Its sense of humour can be hit and miss, but strong graphics and the same penchant for crunchy enemy hordes from the best moments of Diablo 2 make Van Helsing a deliciously compulsive game. With some added cleverness in the form of tower defense missions, some puzzles and an upgraded spin on Torchlight's pet features, this surprised even me by getting a spot on the list. Off-brand Diablo from unknown developers really isn't meant to be this good, guys.