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I had a damn fine 2013. As with every year, there were lows, but the highs were spectacular. I entered the magical world of PC gaming, my first semester of Real College™ happened, I was on a podcast with one of my heroes, and my friends and I put together this pretty cool website. Thanks, Luigi. This year was A-OK. Here’s to the expansion of chooch.biz and a great 2014 for videogames.
Speaking of, these are the videogames I liked the most in 2013!
10. Hate Plus
If you’re anything like me, there’s a good chance you’ve spent hours in games like Mass Effect and Deus Ex: Human Revolution pouring over every text log, searching for the tiniest scrap of new information that would help flesh out the universe. Now imagine a whole game of just that. Yeah, there’s a lot of reading, but it’s all really well written stuff, with individual story arcs and characters that do an excellent job of fleshing out this really interesting world. It successfully plays off Western and modern sensibilities to form something alien yet recognizable, all while fixing the pretty sizable mechanical issues of its predecessor. It’s a little hard for me to recommend the game to a certain group or even pin it down critically, so I’d say you should just suck it up and buy Analogue and Hate Plus. You won’t regret it.
9. DmC: Devil May Cry
Character action has never been my genre, I’ll cop to that. But it seems like something I could enjoy, so when one comes along that I can approach, I relish it. DmC: Devil May Cry is one such game. Stupid reboot name aside, DmC is an engrossingly ridiculous, well-paced ride. It’s what the Underworld movies should have been. The demons are fun, visually unique monsters, Limbo has some of the most visually inventive level design I’ve seen all year, and the combat is smooth and flashy. It’s certainly not the most involved combat system I’ve ever seen, but when the reward is doing ridiculous stuff in a game where everything is ridiculous, it all adds up to a really satisfying experience.
8. Assassin’s Creed IV
The first nasty comment I ever received on a review was for Assassin’s Creed III. I gave that game a 3/5, and would’ve given a worse score if not for the series’ consistently great multiplayer. It was a mediocre score in a sea of praise. Now, one year out, it feels like more and more people agree with me in retrospect. Let me set your minds at ease, fellow Connor haters: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is rad. A brand new development team is just what this clunky series needed. For once, the abundance of mechanics available in an Assassin’s Creed game make sense, and work together to create systems that inform the overall game. Let me put it this way: you need money for once. The solid core of the series remains intact, and the really meta present-day stuff is fun, but it’s nice to worry about resources in this series for once.
7. Metro: Last Light
Every time I reached a new settlement in Metro: Last Light, I spent hours exploring every last inch, listening to conversations and poking about to see what I could find. The world it creates is so rich with detail and memorable side characters that I forgot about all the niggling issues off to the side. Like that awful sex scene that comes right out of nowhere or the poorly implemented morality system, for example. The game would be much higher without those. And hey, it’s got Pavel in it; one of the most interesting characters I’ve seen all year. I relished just about every second I spent in the dingy Russian underground. Even the part with those spiders.
6. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
I don’t know why Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons didn’t get a bigger marketing push, because this game came out of nowhere with an engaging Germanic fairytale world, a super interesting central mechanic, and some of the best visuals I’ve seen all year. The way it seamlessly moves from fantasy landscape to fantasy landscape is sublime, and the quiet tutorialization speaks volumes to the level of trust it places in the player. And the way Brothers ties its mechanics to its story just works. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is 2013’s Journey; succinct, jaw-droppingly gorgeous, brilliant, unforgettable, and only $15.
5. The Last of Us
I kept coming back to The Last of Us throughout the many iterations of this list, but I couldn’t remember why for the longest time. I got bored with the combat pretty close to the game’s ending. And then I remembered the giraffe. The facial animations. The really smart way Ellie develops, and the way Joel deals with his state of arrested development. The art direction. The music. Everything in Winter. That sucker punch of an ending. Yeah, the combat scenarios are hit and miss, but all the other really great things about The Last of Us add up quickly, resulting in the basest definition of a fantastic experience.
4. Gone Home
Gone Home made me happy. All I knew going in was that it wasn’t a horror game, so maybe I didn’t have the same experience most of you did. Sure, I jumped when I strolled around the corner and saw all those red lights, but I wasn’t constantly expecting the game to suddenly become Amnesia but in the 90s. I found Gone Home’s story very touching, but the subtle way it presents each character’s individual arc is a stellar example of this medium at its best. More like this, please!
3. BioShock Infinite
Okay, okay, okay okay okay. The way BioShock Infinite handles the oppressed overthrowing their oppressors is problematic and the amount of important stuff it hides in audio logs is ridiculous. I can totally agree with that. But — and this is probably a result of me being a straight white dude who loves him some audiologs — that didn’t bother me. As a fan of swashbuckling action and verticality, I really enjoyed the combat. I liked the super meta sci-fi yarn that narrowed and narrowed until it was simultaneously both a commentary on game design and also a story about the relationship between these two people. The game looks simply fantastic as well, and in a year dominated by worlds you wanted to get lost in, Columbia stood out amongst the crowd.
If you want to debate the merits of BioShock Infinite, that’s cool! Please don’t do it here! By the time you read this, I will have probably had what I hope is the last very long argument about Infinite that I will ever have. But I really like what this game does. There’s really no ludonarrative dissonance, it totally is way up its own ass (I love that), and the light way it handles race from the outset feels like an intentional subversion of what you would expect from a BioShock game. I think the fact that both the pro-Infinite and anti-Infinite sides of this debate both have enough ammo for some excellent conversation speaks volumes about how thematically dense this game is. And damnit, I like jumping off the rails and shooting the guy!
2. Saints Row 4
It would appear the Saints Row franchise is developing a pattern not dissimilar to Star Trek: the even-numbered games are the best. Saints Row: The Third was a disappointing follow-up to a wonderful crime sandbox game, but with Saints Row IV, it feels like Volition is back on track in a big way. 2013 was the year I discovered that I like verticality, emergent gameplay, and smooth movement systems. Guess what? Saints Row IV has all of those. For the first time in years, I actively looked forward to getting around an open world. When a destination marker popped up with an absurdly high number below it, I practically giggled with joy. I then ignored said market and spent far too long jumping along the rooftops, collecting data clusters, then speeding to my destination; a path of hilarious destruction in my wake. Put simply, Saints Row IV is just fun to play. And that’s not even before you count the music cues or the delightfully silly writing. Forget about “the Citizen Kane of games,” because that doesn’t matter any more. Gaming has found its Last Action Hero, which I’d argue is just as important.
When I wasn’t playing Gunpoint, all I could think about was playing Gunpoint. Besides the length, I could not find a single flaw with this game. Does that mean it’s perfect? No, probably not. I’m sure if you took a fine-tooth comb to this game all sorts of nits would jump out. The highs I experienced playing Gunpoint were not unmatched by the other games I played this year, but Gunpoint’s highs were massive and consistent. There was no mechanic in 2013 that grabbed my imagination quite like Crosswiring; there was certainly no other mechanic as well executed.
I never stopped enjoying myself, not for a second, and I would gladly pay full price to be Richard Conway for just a few more hours. Gunpoint’s sharp writing, cool sci-fi noir world, and incredible soundtrack only add to an already impeccable package. It’s my Game of 2013, and I’m almost sorry to say it wasn’t even a contest.