Looks like I have the honor of putting the final nail in last year’s coffin. Video game historians will probably remember 2013 as a year of the new technology, with a news cycle was dominated by PS4s, Xbox Ones, 2DSs, Ouyas, Steam Machines, Occulous Rifts, and more. For a lot of people, myself included, the PC had become the dominant platform over the last few years, as a tired console generation led to fewer exclusives and PC ports that were straight-up better than the console versions. But the knowledge that this would be the last year people really cared about their PS3s and 360s did let some developers cash in on some awesome ideas while everyone was started focusing their attention on the future. Let me show you some of my favorite games from last year.
As far as honorable mentions go, there’s a lot that I still haven’t played that I’d like to – these lists would be way easier to do in like early March. So Tearaway, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Forza Motorsport 5, Shadow Warrior, Ni No Kuni, Metro: Last Light, The Wonderful 101, and Fire Emblem Awakening, I’m sorry I either didn’t play you or didn’t play you nearly enough to really know how I feel. There were also two really terrific series relaunches early last year that I thought were great; DmC and Tomb Raider. Oh, and two sequels caught me off guard with their quality, Dead Rising 3 and Dead Space 3. Those sure sound like video games, don’t they?
2013 was so good to the 3DS that I ended up upgrading to a 3DS XL. Entering 2013, I hadn’t bought a 3DS game since 2011 and I hadn’t even bothered to update the console so I could get StreetPasses. By the end of the year I had purchased four games that were very close to making this list. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds was maybe the most surprising of the four, since I haven’t cared about Zelda for a few games now, especially portable Zelda games. I’m not even one of those people that considers A Link to the Past the greatest game of all time. But A Link Between Worlds is so smartly made I found it hard to put down. By designing all the game’s dungeons around one mechanic – the ability to go 2D – and giving the player freedom to do them in any order with whatever gear they want, this adventure seem more personal and each puzzle solved all the more rewarding. If you don’t have a 3DS yet, what are you doing?
Papers, Please puts you in the role of an immigration officer in a fictional communist country tasked with deciding who is allowed into the country. All you have to do is look at forms and decide which stamp to use. But things get more complicated as you’re handed down new orders every day about who to let in, are approached by guards who’d like to bribe you and a terrorist group who want your help, and forced to balance the greater good between your personal well-being and your family’s safety. It’s surprisingly powerful and became nerve-wracking as I went on. I think it’s a little too long, but Papers, Please is easily one of the most memorable games from last year for me.
I had so much fun playing Super Mario 3D World with my friends that I haven’t been able to get in what might be the better platformer of 2013, Rayman: Legends, because I want to save it for them. Games like this are so much more fun in a group, and Nintendo, who has been aware of this since New Super Mario Bros. hit the Wii, finally found a way to make it more about teamwork than competition in Super Mario 3D World. It’s a masterfully designed game, and probably fun on your own. But with four people in cat suits? Yes please.
I got so sucked into the world of Pokémon X & Y that every time I saw its name while working on this list, I thought I should probably boot that game up again. And it’s not even all the visual improvements, or gameplay changes that did it for me. It’s the improved online integration. On top of building the ultimate team, I wanted to see how far I could get on my Pokédex, and that means a lot of trading. This game makes it so easy to arrange trades, which is great. But more importantly, it lets you randomly exchange Pokémon with strangers anywhere in the world. It’s like gambling! As if this needed to be more addictive! I might need help.
I’ve heard people say that Saints Row has become the Fast and Furious of game franchises, and that’s not far off. Both started as bad gangster stories that improved over time thanks to a willingness to embrace fun and the power of family. Saints Row IV just wants you to have a good time, and it gives you so much power in the pursuit of that goal. You’re the boss of the saints, you’re the president, you’re a super hero. It amps everything up just about as far as it could possibly go. And I love it for it. The game’s pretty funny too.
Starbreeze has a strong record in the world of first person shooters, I remember particularly liking 2012’s Syndicate. I didn’t expect them to make a game like Brothers. This is a dialogue-free, emotional journey brought to us in part by Swedish director Josef Fares. The idea of a single player coop game is a weird one, but it really pays off. To say any more would be a spoiler, but the game fully takes advantage of its mechanics to drive home the impact of the story. It puts you into the shoes of its characters better than any game I can think of… And it really makes me wonder what it was like when John and Autumn played through it. Like, who played which brother? I’d love to hear the spoilers of their unique take on the game.
GTA Online really soured the taste of Grand Theft Auto V for me. The botched rollout, followed by constant issues and the generally disappointing nature of the mode bummed me out, I thought for sure this was something we’d all be playing for the last few months of 2013. But then I went back and watched some of Lamar Davis’ best quotes and it all came rushing back. Not only did GTA V tell the best, most scathing story in the series so far, it was also really fun. It’s hard to imagine another open world game filling itself with so many fun missions to complete – I had a blast the entire way through this story. And those heists, my god! More of those please.
I’ve felt guilty all year for really liking Bioshock Infinite. Right after I reviewed the game, I started reading other people’s impressions, and a lot of them really hated the combat. And I thought back and remembered that two sections of the game did give me trouble and I really started to doubt myself. But fuck it, the game was a roller coaster ride through an amazing, outlandish world and I had a lot of fun. I enjoyed experimenting with weapon and power combinations and whizzing through the areas on my sky-hook. And I surely don’t have any problems with the crazy ending, I’d rather be intrigued by something out of left field than disappointed by another crappy boss fight. That’s right, I’m calling out Bioshock the first.
Here’s a game built around one mechanic that anyone who played Bioshock Infinite will recognize: storytelling through found objects. You play as Kaity, who returns from a year abroad to her family’s new Oregon home. It appears that no one’s in the house, so it’s up to you to look around and find out what exactly is going on. It’s an exciting game that tells a story unlike any I have seen in this medium before. I came into this game so skeptical, so sure that everyone was being hyperbolic about how affecting it would be. But damn it, it made me feel things. Damn the liberal gaming media.
Oh, and if you want something kind of like this, but way funnier and more interested in critiquing game design, check out The Stanley Parable. It’s really good.
Naughty Dog has been making more and more adult games as they have gone on, and The Last of Us is maybe the most grown-up game I’ve ever played. Like Brothers, it uses its gameplay to express the story and the nature of its characters. Like Grand Theft Auto V it is impeccably produced and structured. Like Bioshock Infinite, it has so much more to say than just its central story; it has thoughts on the character of humanity, the use of violence, the spirit of survival, the importance of truth and the greater good. Like Gone Home it all hinges on making you feel a deep, personal connection with its characters. And that relationship between Joel and Ellie, and the places it took them, and that ending, will stick with me for a while. There were a ton of great games last year, I think this one might be the best. At least, it’s my favorite.
And that’s it! Unless John wants to do a video game, which I doubt. So, goodbye 2013, I am tired of writing that number. Now I’m gonna go catch up on Peggle 2, that game is crazy!