Listening to gaming podcasts I am reminded that there is a diversity of opinions about the games of 2013. I played quite a few and was pleasantly surprised that the year was so innovative. I’m of the opinion that one should get to know critics and then figure out when you agree with them and when you don’t. A few that I follow pretty closely are Justin McElroy, Jeff Cannata, and John Davison. With all that said, here’s my list.
These games aren’t in any particular order, other than the one I thought of them. I find that ranking games is subjective and akin to comparing your vanilla and chocolate, so I’m not going to do that. These are the experiences I’d wholeheartedly recommend to just about anyone who isn’t turned off by their particular flavor.
I lived in Poland for a year and experienced the country about 10 years after the iron curtain fell. This game evoked the height of the cold war, and the experience of living in a totalitarian state. The art style brought me back to days long gone when I stared at a green screen with a matte cover to prevent glare, and I am cool with the limited graphical style. Where this game separated itself is story. I reveled in being able to participate in corruption or revolution or repression and in the arcane idiotic rules surrounding the minutia of entry visas. I work a bit with this a bit in my professional capacity and I think this game does get at some of the idiocy I’ve seen the US post-9/11 and that commentary really works for me.
I went to college in the 90’s and I must admit was a bit of a homophobe at the time. This game takes me back to that time in the role of a sibling coming home from time abroad. That’s something I can personally relate to on many levels. I won’t say much about the story other than that it’s quite strong. There is a bit of a puzzle mechanic in figuring out your family secrets, but really this is a narrative game where you’re getting to know your parents and sister as human beings. The music in this game is superb. I read Marisha Pessl’s novel Night Flim this year and was struck by the great list of media referenced in the work. This game is able to produce at least the songs that it references and it’s just a joy. Gone Home gave me hope for games as a media to give an experience just as rich as a novel, if not quite as deep.
Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag
I had very low expectations going into this experience. I really enjoyed several of the other games in this series, and this is very much in the “more of the same” camp. The mechanic with the pirate ship brought in elements that reminded me of the classic C64 game that was remade about 10 years ago, Sid Meier’s Pirates. The ship-to-ship combat is quite satisfying, and there is an enjoyable mechanic that compels one to explore the world in search of collectibles. This game received lots of exposure, and likely you know if you like it or not from reading this. Perhaps what I enjoyed most about this game though was that it was when I fell in love with the PS4’s controller. Everything else here was played on the PC using either mouse or an Xbox 360 controller. It was hard for me to go back as that PS4 controller is something else, so that may have reflected well on Assassin’s Creed 4.
The Wolf Among Us, Episode 1
I didn’t think that Telltale could improve on the formula they introduced in The Walking Dead. They learned lessons from some of the problematic “game” elements of that success, and fixed them here. The next episode is reportedly coming out this month, and I can’t wait. The story in this dark fairy tale is compelling and rich. I can’t wait to see where this investigation takes our hero Bigby, and you’re missing out if you don’t give this one a chance.
Xcom: Enemy Within
I loved Xcom: Enemy Unknown. Truth time: I was in the chess club in elementary school. I played Battle Chess on my Apple IIgs as a kid. Enemy Unknown is a combination of chess and playing with those little green army men with aliens thrown in. What’s not to love, right?! Enemy Within brought this to the next level and added increased complexity and plot twists to this experience. I love that I’ll be able to replay that story and enjoy that strategic experience again and again. Animation and mechanics are strong and stakes are quite high as your troops, whom you develop from recruits to officers, sometimes need to be sacrificed. And they’re dead. Forever. Some sadistic sods on the internet have named their Xcom soldiers after friends and family. You can even alter the appearance of your troops to make them look like them. But in Enemy Within, you’re going to need to cut off some of their arms and legs so they can be meldings of Man & machine. I just can’t do that to Mom. Anyway, this is a superb experience.
This is another turn-based game, but it has stronger character progression (so-called “RPG”) mechanics. It’s kind of a sci-fi Dungeons and Dragons style experience. I didn’t think they made games like this any more. Well, I guess I was right, but then this came around on Kickstarter and I was on board. I was reminded of Icewind Dale or Planescape: Torment when playing through this gem. It wasn’t quite as deep or polished, but it brought me back to a genre that I am excited to see more of in the new year. The upcoming Berlin expansion and Wasteland 2 have me stoked for more indie retro experiences in 2014.
Backlog of things I really need to play:
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
Kentucky Route Zero
Civilization V: Brave New World
Much to my embarrassment, I own all of these games except Steamworld Dig.