A lot of fantastic games came out in 2013, in many ways it was hard to list just 10. However, I am pretty happy with these ten games below and am in the wonderful position where I can share my love of 10 really awesome games with you. I hope you enjoy reading…
10. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
I love Metal Gear. I just love it. Revengeance gave me more metal gear, but it also gave me something completely new that was excellent from beginning to end in a way few games are. Something amazing is always happening in Revengeance, every five minutes you see something which may be the greatest thing you ever see in a video game, and the flow to the action is so enthralling. The pace never slows, it’s a game that encourages you to stay on the somewhat on the defensive, but it’s a game which makes the defensive offensive. The very deliberate parrying system keeps you paying attention and keeps combat reactive rather than passive. Also the ability to cut fools up at any angle and crush their spines for health builds the momentum to a crazy extent. Everything is built with fluidity in mind, and the bosses and set pieces were just wonderful. I think the tutorialising is awful, and the story is ham fisted (but so fun!), but few games thrilled me this year in the way Revengeance did. What a game.
Tomb Raider consistently surprised me with just how excellent it was. Giving me that Uncharted style experience but something more on top of that. It borrows from other titles liberally, but in a way that results with a unique blend. The real joy of Tomb Raider though was just playing it, interacting with its world. It feels sublime. Movement is perfect and the shooting is satisfying throughout. On top of this, exploration was encouraged and superbly implemented, showing off consistently brilliant level design. It’s just a completely solid game that gets so much right, a proper adventure that demonstrates how good action games can be.
8. Saints Row IV
I liked this game so much more than I thought I would. I think Saints Row the Third is incredible, and concluded early on that IV just wouldn’t match it. The third was just too novel and rebellious; it was so good because it was so unexpected. Well I was right, IV wasn’t as good. However, IV was still fantastic. It never wanted to stop me from having fun, or restrain me at all. It respected its characters and displayed a great warmth and affection to everything. It’s crude and violent, but it’s also so positive and lovely. It’s this all inclusive love fest where enemies become friends and joy ultimately wins out. Saints Row IV loves itself, loves games, loves its characters and loves you. It’s a powerful combination and it comes off as completely genuine, the end result being a completely mutual love fest between you and the game.
7. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
I adore the first two Assassin’s Creed games, but after that point the series went stale and then went bad. Brotherhood was refined but somewhat uninteresting, however nothing since two has inspired love for the series in me.
AC4 changed that, I love this game so much and I haven’t even finished it yet. I feel guilty about this last bit, I want to have beaten it but I haven’t had the time. I’ve put in what must be upwards of 50 hours (thankfully uplay doesn’t keep track of time), but so much of that has been side content. I kind of don’t care that it has a story, the real joy is taking to the open sea and pirating. Sinking ships and finding islands. It’s a game with such freedom and one that I find completely immersive. It’s very mechanically focused but I do feel like a pirate. It’s just a superbly made game that you can lose days to. I not only want to play more, I need to play more.
6. Papers, Please
Papers, Please is the most stressful, tense and frankly unsettling game I’ve played all year. It’s oddly satisfying whilst being pretty disturbing. It mixes the appeal of completing a goal in a game with a little slice of reality to great effect. You do something right because you have learnt the systems, the thing you did was complicated, the game is going to give you a reward also. Then you realise that the thing you did was detaining something because of an out of date passport… Ouch.
The balance between doing your job and supporting your family is also fantastic. It pushed you to rush and pass people through, because the more you do the more money you get. Things get more complex, and you get more incentives to be a tad immoral to get money. It really makes you empathise with a position, and is just a superb example of a video game expertly conveying something that wouldn’t be as effective in another medium. This game has a real effect on me and I think it’s pretty darn important. For those reasons, and so many more, it makes this list.
Glory to Arstotzka.
5. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
I love it when a game understands how you can use the medium. I love it when a game works because it is a game, when its greatest achievements wouldn’t work in a film, a book or on television. A game should necessarily be a game.
Brothers understands what is unique about this art form, and it uses it expertly. It works because it is a game and is so powerful because of this. The act of control is as important as anything else; your inputs themselves are involved in the storytelling and cement the themes. It’s a highly emotional experience, one that elicits emotion due to its coherence. Every element is necessary and thought out, it is like it is for a reason and is contributing to the overall. Brothers is a unique experience that shows what interactivity can add to a story. It’s short but completely focused, with no fat or baggage. It’s heartbreaking and uplifting, wonderfully intelligent and incredibly meaningful. You owe it to yourself to play this game.
4. The Stanley Parable
The Stanley Parable is a really funny game. Stupendously funny. It’s funny enough that it being funny is enough to get it highly placed in any top 10. However, the Stanley Parable is more than this. Why this game excels is because it is so damn clever, and because it is one of the finest pieces of video game commentary every made.
This game has a message and an agenda; it’s like a really entertaining thesis on choice in video games. It totally understands the medium and properly critiques it. Not in the way of pure criticism, but in a loving way. It understands the problems with conventional games, but it understands the joys. It loves games and it knows why you love games, it also understands where games fail and wants to talk to you about it. You don’t have to listen though, and if you don’t you get this wonderful game which reacts to the player one-hundred percent. An experience which embraces player freedom by totally predicting every move you make. You can toy with it and try and break it, but it will keep rewarding you and reminding you that in the end you didn’t make a choice, you are just following another set path.
3. Grand Theft Auto V
I hate Grand Theft Auto IV. I think it is fundamentally bad on almost every level. I’ve probably lost the respect of a lot of you now, my opinion will be discounted by most but I feel the need to say this to accentuate how much I like GTAV. With IV I played through both DLCs and the main game just so I could be sure I hated them. I made myself see the whole of it so that I could talk knowledgeably about all that was wrong with it, rather than having to admit that I didn’t finish it and that maybe it got better or somehow all fell into place. This was a stupid thing to do, but I did it.
GTAV was wonderful though. It knew what it was and this allowed it to make more sense. The world was more intricate, the gameplay felt up to date and the story was really engrossing. They didn’t want me to sympathise with hateful people anymore, forgive them or understand them; they presented interesting characters and let me like them as characters. It was fun in ways IV just wasn’t. The world was full of opportunities and every aspect took advantage of them. I spent hours just enjoying being in the world, poking at it and interacting with it. It’s such a well put together product and I’m still slightly in awe of it. It’s a genuinely important game that deserves the celebration is has achieved.
I hated GTA Online though…
2. Gone Home
Video game story telling doesn’t get better than in Gone Home. Though people disparage it as being somehow less of a game, or not a proper game, Gone Home perfectly understands its medium. It tells a story through an environment, through perfect pacing and through creating a sense of place and time. It immerses you totally in a single structure; it rewards you for paying attention to things and respects your intelligence. Importantly though, Gone Home deals with reality. It works on a smaller scale than most video games, but is so much more impactful and dramatic. It’s about real human emotions and real human drama. It’s utterly relatable and simply wonderful. It’s written perfectly and precisely captures a time and place. It’s short, but it does the most with its time. It takes as much time as it needs to and gives you everything you need.
1. The Last of Us
The Last of Us is really something special. It’s one of the bravest and most interesting games I’ve ever played, and it marries story and gameplay wonderfully to ensure a cohesive tone throughout. Its mature and contemplative, it meanders and it takes its time. It knows when to take things slow, and it knows when and how to shock you. It’s a desperate, harrowing and lonely experience littered with singular moments of joy and hope. Frantic encounters encourage improvisation and wild tactics, creating a dynamism to combat but also cementing the theme that you get by any way you can. It even knows when to frustrate you, making you bang your head against a single encounter before you finally make it through and the characters remark on how lucky they were to make it. It’s a statement that feels genuine, the odds were against you and in every other possible life you failed here. It wasn’t pretty but you made it through, in spite of everything. Couple this all with a superb central relationship between two interesting individuals, a bond that is the best and worst for everybody involved, and you have something outstanding.
Life in The Last of Us isn’t neat and tidy. Things don’t always work out and you may not be a hero. It’s a desperate struggle through an unfair world that’s completely engrossing. It’s a gift to spend time with the game’s protagonists and to see their journey. It goes to such interesting places and is full of singular moments that will stand the test of time. The Last of Us is a true achievement and one of the finest games ever made. Game of the year? No question.