It’s the end of the year. 2014 is upon us, but before we make the leap into the New Year, I want to take a moment to look over some of the best games I played this year; games that I think deserve some special recognition. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been deliberating what games deserve to be in this list, and after some extremely last minute decisions, I have a list that I’m satisfied with.
2013 has been fantastic, but not every game will make the cut. For example, you will not be seeing BioShock Infinite on this list. While it’s a pretty game, I think it’s a fairly mediocre monotonous shooter that depends too much on the first and last 20 minutes to wow the audience, if you want to hear a proper critique of that game and not the gushing praise the press seems to be giving it then you can do so here.
I will be doing 3 categories. Games of the Past will include my favorite games that were released in past years but which I only got around to playing in 2013. Honorable Mentions will include games I think deserve some credit but for some reason or other weren’t included in the top 10, and finally My Top 10 Games of the Year will include what I found to be my favorite 10 games of the year — Pretty self explanatory.
There are some exclusions that couldn’t make the list. I don’t own any ‘next generation’ consoles – Wii U, Xbox One, or PS4 – so any of those games won’t be making the cut. With so many games coming out every year, some are also lost in the fray. If I had the resources, time and money, to play all the great games out this year, Rayman Legends would have probably been able to breach the top 10. It’s seems almost criminal that I didn’t manage to play it or pick it up on Black Friday, seeing as Rayman Origins was one of the best platformers this generation, but alas maybe it will be featured next year in the Games of the Past category.
Games of the Past:
Xenoblade Chronicles (2012)
I’ve had this sealed since it released in April 2012. Unfortunately, for one reason or another I never actually sat down to play it until April 2013. Xenoblade Chronicles is a JRPG set on the body of two giants. The open world setting and exploration from one giant to the next is not only a technical feat for the wii hardware, but it’s gorgeous in the various color pallets and enemy designs that are found throughout the game. The combat system is Final Fantasy XII-esque while also streamlining some of the more annoying elements of JRPGs. HP regenerates after battles, Special attacks have a cool down time instead of using MP, EXP is given through quests and finding new locations, Side Quests are completed upon obtaining the item – there is no need to walk back and forth between NPCs in most cases. All of this streamlining makes the game better and progresses the genre, unlike Ni No Kuni which is hampered down by old mechanics, pacing, and combat. This isn’t just one of the best games I’ve played this year; it’s one of the best games I’ve played this generation.
Botanicula is a Point & Click Adenture-lite game brought to you by Aminata Games, the makers of Machinarium. The player follows five little plant like creatures as they interact with the environment and try to save their home from these dark spider-like creatures. There aren’t many puzzles and they are not difficult either, but it’s an extremely quirky and fun little experience – it takes about 2-3 hours to finish. The beautiful visuals and jovial music really help bring the package together. Those Czechs have some truly surreal art..
Deadly Premonition (2010)
After watching all of Twin Peaks this summer, my girlfriend surprised me with this little diamond in the ruff. Make no mistake that Deadly Premonition is a shit game. The shooting mechanics are terrible, the map can never be fully seen although it’s an open world, no marker can be place to help you drive to your destination, the graphics, physics, and hit detection are from the PS2 era or worse, the controls are clunky, the voice acting and sound effects are bad. The characters and story are absurd, but this is the saving grace of Deadly Premonition. The story is so absurd so awful that after a point it becomes amazing. A lot of the characters and plot points were ripped straight from Twin Peaks. This is Twin Peaks the game, and if for nothing else that deserves some praising.
Grand Theft Auto V
While I found the ‘satire’ too over the top and too in your face to enjoy for more than 4 hours, the three main characters to be one dimensional, and the story to sort of dissolve half way through, I thought it is only fair to give recognition to the technical achievement that was GTA V. The open world is filled to the brim with things to do. Jumping out of a plane and landing in the ocean only to find that bodies of water have elaborate coral reefs and insular shelves to explore is amazing. Unfortunately, while it was leaps and bounds better than GTA IV, I had more fun watching my friends cause destruction and mayhem then actually playing it myself. I ended up burning out on the missions which is why this only gets an Honorable mission from me although I do hope to go back into the World of Los Santos and just dick around.
Don’t Starve is a Rouge-like game – you might’ve been hearing that word a lot, and it might come up again – where you have one goal, survival. You’re thrown into a wilderness full of dreadful creatures, and you collect materials to build technology to help you better survive. At night, you must light a fire to keep safe. If you die from hunger, predators, or some other reason then the game restarts at the beginning. The longer you survive the more experience you get which can be used to unlock new character. I never got really far into the game, but from what I played, about 7 hours or so, it was had a mild sense of humor that I found enjoyable, and collecting grasses and logs along with other material was fun. I think they’ve added a story mode challenge and some other additions to the game since the initial release. I’ll probably be heading back to this world for a more in depth look in 2014.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds falls into a weird category. There is enough to distinguish it from its predecessor A Link to the Past, but it takes so much from A Link to the Past that it relies almost too much on it. I’m not trying to knock A Link Between Worlds or say it’s a rehash, but it walks a very thin line in my opinion. That being said there are some really great features that distinguish ALBW from ALTTP. The merge mechanic, which allows Link to turn into a painting and walk around walls, makes for some interesting puzzles, and you’re given almost all items from the start. ALBW much like ALTTP allows you to complete most of the dungeons in any order you want giving much more freedom to the player than in more recent entries. Eventually I got use to the aesthetics of the game, but I still felt dungeons looked rather drab compared to other entries in the series; the dungeons are also rather short, a couple are only 2 floors, and don’t take much work in terms of puzzle solving. It’s a very good Zelda game, a Zelda game that I felt I’ve played before, but an extremely good one, mostly due to the fact that ALTTP is the best Zelda. It would be a number one recommendation for anyone who wants to relive A Link to the Past or who hasn’t experienced A Link to the Past.
My Top 10 Games of 2013:
10. Killer is Dead
Does Killer is Dead have technical problems? Sure. Does Killer is Dead have segments that don’t do the game any favors? Yeah. Is Killer is Dead an original over the top, nonsensical, action game that has a certain style and doesn’t apologize for it? Yes. This is why Killer is Dead makes number 10. The game was panned by critics for combat that lacked any finesse, weird gigolo side-missions that do nothing for the game, an incoherent story, screen tearing issues, etc., and while all of these things were true, I still had a blast with Killer is Dead. It’s oozing with style. It’s true it doesn’t make much sense. Why is there a Unicorn? I don’t really give a shit; I don’t go into a Grasshopper Manufacturer – the makers of Killer 7, No More Heroes, Shadows of the Damned and Lollipop chainsaw – game expecting no technical problems; I go in looking for a weird, stylish game that is a fun romp through. The game deserves a little recognition which it won’t be getting from general media outlets, so it’s getting a spot on my list. It may not have the depth of Bayonetta, DmC, or Metal Gear Rising, but I found it to be just as fun.
9. Pokemon X/Y
There are three main reasons this is my number 9. The first is the fact that the game is rendered fully in 3D. I was a little skeptical about this when first announced. I knew it had to happen eventually, but I didn’t want to lose the beautiful sprites of past pokemon games in favor of ugly models reminiscent of Pokemon Stadium or Colosseum. Luckily, GameFreak knew what they were doing. The 3D models look like neither Stadium nor Colosseum, instead GameFreak opted for a cel-shaded look that keeps the spirit of older games while completely revamping the engine. Not only can you now see veteran favorites in full 3D like you’ve never seen them before, but they’ve drastically improved older Pokemon by a new mechanic, Mega-Evolution. Mega-Evolutions are not permanent, but they power up the final evolutions of older Pokemon and update their appearance, and believe it or not, most of the mega evolutions are an improvement. Finally, there is Malamar, a new squid Pokemon that has become my favorite. Pokemon X/Y isn’t higher on my list because they’ve left obvious features out for the inevitable third game, and it’s extremely linear and easy. I clocked in beating the E4 at 20-25 hours, a record for Pokemon games. Also Pokemon Bank got delayed which is a shame.
8. Papers, Please
Papers, Please is a game about choice. I found it to have one of the best morality systems in a game. While games like BioShock stick an obvious moral option in front of you, i.e. Save little sister or kill little sister, Papers, Please just tells you to do your job as a border guard for the made up country of Arstotzka – there is obvious soviet union parallels. You must accept people into the country who have the required paper work, and you must deny people who do not. Often times people will try to forge papers, and the player can choose to detain, deny or accept access into the country. Where does morality fit in with this? Take for example a husband who comes up with his papers, he thanks you for letting him into the country and says his wife is right behind him. The wife comes up, but she does not have the correct papers. You point this out to her, and she begs you to let her in. She says if you deny her entry she will be shot upon returning to her country. Do you allow her to enter and accept the penalty of docked pay which in turn hurts your family, or do you deny her entry separating a family and sending her to her death? This is one of the many scenarios that happen in Papers, Please. It’s a monotonous job being a border guard, but as rules get stack each day, it becomes oddly compelling to be comparing papers to check for discrepancies, especially when you’re racing against the clock to get as much people through with correct paper work to increase your pay.
7. The Swapper
Forget Dead Space 3 ever happened this year. There is a game with just as eerie of an atmosphere, mixing that Aliens style space station claustrophobia, environmental puzzles, and metroidvania-esque level design. The Swapper is an ingenious game that offers up ideas on consciousness, identity, and individuality. Maybe the most impressive feat in The Swapper outside of the ingenious environmental puzzles which use the ‘Swapper device’ is that the game was made entirely out of clay and real world objects. It’s absolutely beautiful.
6. Fire Emblem: Awakening
My 3DS activity app says there have been 100 hours logged into Fire Emblem Awakening. While I’ve only played 20 hours, my girlfriend has logged in the other 80 during multiple playthroughs on a variety of difficulty. She is a Fire Emblem veteran. She loves it. I find the game engrossing as well. The game becomes a balancing act with perma-death turned on. Each unit has a story behind them, so death is never welcomed – and it’s not accepted. If one of my units die, I turn the 3DS off and restart the stage – Summer 2013 I played Advance Wars Dual Strike, but Fire Emblem takes the strategy to a whole new level. Units can level up, a variety of equipment can be used all with weaknesses and strengths, the number of unit types is much greater, and the strategies behind battles just seem deeper.
5. Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Animal Crossing: New Leaf takes Animal Crossing and puts it back on the portable platform where it belongs. It also adds a ton of features which includes diving for sea creatures, an island full of minigames, new shops, new types of fruit, clothing and furniture, new neighbors, brings back Holidays – absent in Wild World – and most importantly allows you to become the mayor. As the mayor you can enact changes to the landscape, ordinances that allow shops to open earlier or later, and a variety of other things. It also streamlines some of the more tedious features, fruit can be stacked although not indefinitely, Blathers doesn’t talk as much when donating to the museum, and multiple items can be sold off all at once. My 3DS activity tracker says I put 100 hours into the game this year that number was all me. It’s a game I can still see myself coming back to at least once a week for an hour or two to maintain upkeep of my town over the lifespan of the 3DS.
4. Rogue Legacy
Rouge Legacy is a castlevania-esque game where you’re sent into a randomly generated castle each time you play and try to progress as far as you can while collecting gold, treasure and defeating bosses. When you die, the castle is reshuffled and you start out on your journey again. In this sense Rouge Legacy is in the Rougelike genre, but just barely. Unlike other Rougelikes Rouge Legacy always gives you a sense of progression and improvement. As one knight is defeated the plyer chooses a next of kin to proceed. This next of kin can use any gold collected on the previous play through to upgrade abilities and armor through a skill tree, each upgrade is considered one level. Upgrades aren’t the only things that carry over, defeated bosses remain defeated, and armor and weapons remained unlocked. Best of all are the genetic defects in the lineage of knights. You can pick from a range of color-blind, stereo blindness, dwarfism, IBS, gigantism and a slew of others.
Antichamber tests every notion you might have about the way the world works. Pathways can appear where they weren’t a second ago, staircases can lead to an endless loop, walking back the way you came doesn’t always lead to the same place. This is the labyrinth that is Antichamber. Everything is meant to disorient the player including the graphics which are mostly just plain white walls which are occasionally replaced with a psychedelic collage of colors. It’s one of the most non-conventional puzzle games I’ve played, and it works phenomenally. Eventually a block-laying gun and various upgrades are used to solve puzzles as well. After the end of each puzzle is a tile that shows a little picture and a statement about not only the solved puzzle, but about life in general. These tiles all seem very personal as if we’re getting a look inside the developer’s inner thoughts and memories, but they are also very relatable.
2. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
Although extremely short, clocking in at approx. 3 hours, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons has a powerful lasting effect. From the uniqueness of controlling both brothers at the same time to the magical environments and creatures present to the shocking ending, Brothers was an experience that everyone should see through. Brothers isn’t a hard game and it doesn’t contain complex mechanics by any means. There are only two buttons and the analog sticks that you have to worry about, but controlling the older brother with one analog stick and the younger brother with the other is an amazing experience, and it manages to take these mechanics and merge them with the story flawlessly. The story takes you through whimsical adventuring, nervousness and stressful exploring, and a deep sense of loss and regret. There’s an Owl-griffin for crying out loud.
1. The Last of Us
Naughty Dog has proven time and time again that they can leave an old franchise and start another franchise with even higher quality than the last. The Last of Us is better than the Uncharted series, a series that most people consider to be the pinnacle of the generation. While the gunplay is reminiscent of the Uncharted series, it feels distinctly it’s own. The brutality of skirmishes made me both uneasy due to the violence and tense due to limited resources and health. Scavenging the dilapidated environment looking for essentials in order to create makeshift equipment is tense for a variety of reasons. Items are scarce in the world, especially on harder difficulties and resource management is key. The soundtrack is beautiful and simple – composed by Gustavo Alfredo Santaolalla who is famous for the music in Brokeback Mountain and Into the Wild – and sets the atmosphere, but the most breathtaking part of the game is the attention to detail in the various environments. It’s an amazing feat to pack so much debris and personal items into each environment. I spent quite a bit of time just looking around the house in the prologue; it felt lived in. Between the motion capture, voice acting, and relationship between the various characters, The Last Last of Us tells a believable story. It may not be a little cliché at times, but that didn’t stopped me from almost shedding a tear at the prologue. As someone who was growing tired of the cinematic genre of games and who wasn’t that big a fan of Uncharted 3, The Last of Us made me realize that it’s perfectly fine to go this route if it ends up being as high quality and fun as The Last of Us.
So there you have it, a couple of the games I enjoyed most during 2013. It’s been an amazing year. Hopefully 2014 will be just as amazing. I’ll post some plans on the 1st of what I want to accomplish in the new year and how I plan to do it, and a couple of the games I’m looking forward to the most in 2014.