Most people have written about the games they played in 2013. Many have tried to rank them, assigning some game “Game of the Year.” Everyone has limited themselves to games that were also released in 2013. But it wouldn’t be a me-piece if I didn’t do things a bit differently, now, would it?
Instead of writing about the 2013 games that I played, I’m going to just write about the games I played—the games I think you might enjoy playing, regardless of the year they were produced and released.
Here we go.
Doc vs 2013.
I only beat 41 games in 2013. A few of those I didn’t even ‘beat,’ so much as decided they weren’t for me. This was the year that, yes, I decided that I wouldn’t simply grin and bear gaming experiences I didn’t like. Additionally, I completed 17 pieces of DLC. My backlog, unfortunately, grew—go go gadget indie bundles, amirite? When you want, say, Shelter, and it’s in a $4 bundle including half a dozen other games, it’s hard not to pull the trigger. Plus, I received some games for free due to exploiting various rewards programs, and, of course, there were the games I received from friends. I gave up on updating my backlog. That will be resolved, eventually.
Before I started writing this, I’d toyed with the idea of writing about some of the games I played this year that I didn’t enjoy, but as I sit here thinking about it, I’d like to go ahead and just focus on the games I think you’d enjoy. There were plenty. Honestly, just avoid Hitman: Absolution and Assassin’s Creed Revelations. They’re interesting games wrapped up in poor execution.
I’m not going to list games in any particular order, so don’t think you can suss out any sort of “Game of the Year” selection from the way I’ve chosen to write about these games. I’ve randomized my selection. Besides, it should be fairly evident which game I think was the best thing I played all year.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (PC) was the last game I played in 2013. Normally, I don’t like it when games are four or five hours long, but Brothers was inexpensive, and I’d heard good things. Plus, it was from the developers of The Darkness, a game with one of the most profoundly affecting emotional moments I’ve ever experienced in a game. In The Darkness, a first-person shooter, you meet your girlfriend. The two of you sit on a couch. This is all in-game, by the way, not a cutscene or anything. You watch a movie—To Kill a Mockingbird—and eventually, she falls asleep on you. It’s really a very touching, striking moment.
Now, you may be wondering ‘hey, why is he spoiling The Darkness and not Brothers?’ Well, that’s simple: The Darkness is old, and most people know about it or don’t care enough to go find a copy and play. Brothers, conversely, hasn’t been out all that long, and you really must play it to understand it. Better, I think, to describe a game with a similar feeling made by the same devs than to spoil any of the emotional moments in Brothers.
The controls are… odd. To be honest, I’m not sure whether I liked them or not, but it doesn’t matter, because it all comes together in the end of the game. It works, even though it’s a bit hard to appreciate it until the game’s been completed. The visuals are breathtaking, and they work very hard to create this sense that you and the Brothers really are going on an epic journey, even if it only takes a few hours to complete. Stare with awe at the ruins of some giant’s home, laugh with joy while riding a glider through a gorge, gasp when a whale breaches the ocean ahead of you, nearly landing on top of your boat. This is a game that tells a lot without resorting to exposition: just why is there a valley full of dead giants in battle armor? They look the same, so who were they fighting? How did a citadel come to be abandoned, when its attackers were frozen instantly—some turned to ice on the ladder they were climbing, which itself froze in mid-air as it fell towards the citadel’s walls. This is a game where you can save a man just as he hangs himself; a game where you can help a lonely rabbit play with its comrades who have been shunning it.
Brothers is a game of rich mystery and emotion. It’s a game that has no excessive padding, no pointless XP systems. It is a game that is pure and wonderful. I’m glad I played it, even though I shed tears at its climax, and once again at its finale. It’s a wonderful emotional journey. Just, uh… make sure you play it with a 360 controller.
Thirty Flights of Loving (PC) is a first-person game where you spend less time shooting (that is to say, no time shooting) and more time shoving geese into a lake, peeling oranges, and trying to save a deeply wounded friend. It’s a short game—shorter than Brothers, weighing it at a mere fifteen minutes or so, but I’ve replayed it time and time again.
Where most games utilize cinematic tropes to simply make people go “wow, that looked very nice,” Thirty Flights of Loving toys with something quite differently: it cuts. Instead of bothering with swinging camera shots or anything of that nature, Thirty Flights of Loving is a story told entirely in first-person. It’s a game that makes use of the perspective—you are who you are playing as. Treat it like a memory transplant, and try not to reject it. The cuts are like skips in your memory. You jump from moment to moment. Things change, adapt, reshape themselves as your memory does. Move from one moment to the next because it’s associated. This game is a part of you. Play it like the present, but realized it happened in the past.
Nothing you do can change that fact.
There comes a moment in the game when this is readily abundant. You flash back to a place you were before, but in a slightly different location. The game’s level design—which is very clever throughout, by the way—encourages you to return to the spot you were previously, but when you walk towards it, knowing what you’re going to see, simply because you’ve already been there… you’re suddenly whisked away to a different time and place.
It’s a game I love showing to other people, and a game they all seem fascinated in watching. It’s a game we talk about afterwards. What it meant. What it did. How incredible it is. It’s a game that ends on a moment so perfect, I never want it to end, and indeed, as far as I know, it doesn’t have to, except for the fact that I know I’ve got to move on. Got to go do other things.
Like I said, it feels like a memory. Good and bad, I suppose. Bittersweet.
Plus, it comes with Gravity Bone, the ‘prequel.’ It shares a character with Thirty Flights of Loving, so I’d highly recommend you play it first. The attitude’s a bit more playful and happy than TFL, which has this beautiful melancholy going for it, but both games work well together. I love them both, and replay them frequently, just to experience it all over again.
Thirty Flights is immensely beautiful. Please play it.
Far Cry 3 (PC) is a Ubisoft game, moreso than the ever-interesting, totally-not-ready-for-launch Far Cry 2. You can tell it’s a Ubisoft game because it features a lot of systems that have you doing a lot of extremely repetitive behaviors (like climbing towers to reveal more of the map!) in an open world environment for XP and unlocks and things. Also, there are random things to collect for no real reason other than to pad the length of the game, or give you something to do. Like other Ubisoft games, most notably, Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry 3 has a crafting system, and, again, like other Ubisoft games, it’s all very shallow. Also, it has really bad writing, by the way, full of those tedious and pathetic Alice in Wonderland references. The game’s writing is so bad that it reached the point where an interview with the lead writer convinced me that nobody on that game had any idea what they were talking about. Some of the characters are quite enjoyable, however.
Far Cry 3 is, despite this, a really good game.
If you didn’t like Far Cry 2, you might actually like Far Cry 3. No Malaria, no respawning checkpoints, no guns breaking down. You get to carry four guns, rather than three, the world’s more fun to explore, you have a WINGSUIT that makes jumping off tall objects quite enjoyable, the guns are neater, you can customize them… and then there’s the camera.
Far Cry 3 has the best camera in any first-person shooter. It’s the subtle things—the way the camera tilts slightly when you move, or the way the WEAPONS bounce up and down and side to side, rather than the camera. It’s the way that your camera rolls forward as you jump from up high, perfectly replicating that sense that you’re there and you’re jumping and you just have to look at the ground. When you dive into water, you sink for a few seconds before regaining control, like you would in real life. When you slide—because, yes, this game lets you slide, and it’s amazing—the camera just… it’s right.
As you play, you become increasingly lethal. New skills let you stab a man from below water, or chain a series of machete and knife kills. You get faster, tougher, more awesome. When combined with your weapons (which includes a grenade launcher and the second-best bow and arrow in video game history), you feel like a ninja. The game encourages stealth, but it’s by no means required. Go quiet, go loud. Do whatever suits your play style.
That’s really where Far Cry 3 excels: it’s a first-person shooter that takes delight in being a first-person shooter. It has some of the best shooter-feel there is. Even more awesome? I recently discovered the game’s co-op mode with fellow Team Orphan Meat players Xavus and Neryl. We’ve been murdering our way through some intense, varied, and fun co-op.
If you want a game with rock-solid game feel, Far Cry 3 will sate that need. Would that the AI was more complex, the world more engaging, the crafting system more in-depth, and the writing less crappy. This game could only be better if it were… set in a grim, dark future where cyborgs fight monsters, and better written.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon (PC) is like Far Cry 3, but set in a grim, dark future where cyborgs fight monsters, and is better-written than Far Cry 3. Oh, and you’re a cyborg, so after a while, you can literally charge at an enemy Cybersoldier (BECAUSE WHY HAVE REGULAR SOLDIERS WHEN THEY COULD BE CYBER SOLDIERS?), leap into the air above him, and come crashing down, stabbing him in the throat. You are a super lethal cyborg murderbot voiced by Michael Biehn. You say things like “guess he was… heartless” when you rip out a Cybersoldier’s cyberheart with your cyberfist.
Blood Dragon doesn’t live up to the series potential found in Far Cry 2, but who cares? It’s got the richness and polish of Far Cry 3, in a brand new world with new enemies, strategies, weapons, and stuff to do. It’s lengthy, for a game that launched at $15. The only reason I’m not talking about it more is because it’s got a rich overlap with Far Cry 3, so everything good I said about that applies here.
Tomb Raider (PC) is the game for people who like using arrows to kill things. When I said Far Cry 3 had the second-best bow in video game history, I said that because Tomb Raider’s is the best. In Far Cry 3, it’s merely an instrument for killing people. In Tomb Raider, it’s not just an implement for amazing amounts of murder, it’s also a tool like Batman’s grappling hook and zipline. It feels right to use. And Lara? Lara feels right too. She’s nice and light, but doesn’t feel stiff or delicate. A strong contender in the game feel department, Tomb Raider’s a blast to play. Even something as simple as climbing feels richer and more engaging than it did in Uncharted.
Speaking of Uncharted, Tomb Raider’s the better game by far, despite its lack of any sense of humor. Instead of saying “hey, you, I want you to look at this thing we’re showing you that isn’t really that interesting,” Tomb Raider lets you play it. Something about being Lara zipping down ziplines and crashing through mountain streams and stumbling out onto a massive beach full of ruined ships just feels way more engaging than any moment in Uncharted.
The puzzles are better too, though most of them are easily solved. Me, I’m honestly not that big of a puzzle fan, so having to put up with Uncharted’s stupid, artificial puzzles just isn’t as fun as having to deal with believable environmental hazards in Tomb Raider and solve them logically. Instead of random pattern recognition things used to open doors or trigger cutscenes, it’s all ‘how can I use the wind to move this platform to the right height and carry me somewhere else?’ or stuff like that.
As an origin story, it’s enjoyable, though the side characters aren’t particularly great. Not the most amazing story ever, but it does have a great moment where Lara goes from being the victim to a person willing to take charge. She goes from a person who hates tombs to a person who conquers them. There’s actual character growth in here that’s really only hampered by weak relationships.
Back on the gameplay for a moment, the game actively encourages (through enemies who charge you, throw dynamite, and level design) you to keep on your toes, dashing about and stabbing people in the face with arrows. There’s way more movement encouraged in Tomb Raider than any other game I’ve experienced.
Tomb Raider was great fun. It took a lot of mechanics I don’t like all that much and makes them inoffensive at worst, fun at best. Honestly, the only things I actively found myself troubled by was the game’s obsession with gore and the QTEs that were often connected to that. Seriously, there is a lot of gore in the game, especially if you fail certain QTEs.
It’s a solid, fun game with some enjoyable, if fluffy writing. I’ll gladly check out the inevitable sequel.
The Witcher 2 (Iorveth’s Path) (PC) is a game I want to hate, on account of my latent racism against elves. Seriously, I hate them. They’re so arrogant and pointy-eared and ‘waaaaah, waaaaahh, we were immortal and perfect and amazing and had this great culture, and you lesser beings felled us, waaaaaah!” I hate ‘em. The problem is that The Witcher 2 is one of the best RPGs I’ve had the pleasure of playing, so even though I was helping the elves out, I was still having fun. I first beat The Witcher 2 upon its launch, with my DRM-free GOG version, siding with Roche, the cool human bro who was totally not an elf and therefore awesome.
Iorveth’s path is different. Its quests are actually… dare I say, better constructed, even though Roche’s path has the better story (and I do mean that; despite my irrational dislike for elves, Roche’s adventure is much more personal and emotionally satisfying). There’s more variety here. It’s worth playing the game through twice just to check out both paths.
The game’s significantly better than it was on launch. There’s a new arena mode, the initial level isn’t nearly as hard, Geralt doesn’t suffer from excessive input lag, etc. I still had a lot of trouble in one of the major early boss fights, but overall, the game responded much more quickly, and as such, the experience was less laggy. Getting a new graphics card—I had been using a five year-old GTX 260—really sped up the game, made things even easier. My only outstanding complaint is that the inventory UI is pretty bad in comparison to the first game, which did helpful things like tell you which books you’d already read/owned.
As RPGs go, The Witcher 2 is just fantastic. It presents a morally grey story, but instead of saying “nothing is black and white, merely shades of grey, and that shade of grey is black, because I’m hip and like quoting Monkees lyrics,” The Witcher 2 actually just kinda… presents a world that feels real. Real people have real hopes and fears and prejudices and likes and dislikes and wants and needs and you, Geralt, are faced with many of these. You make choices, and instead of getting a different cutscene based on things you do, The Witcher 2 does… well, drastic things. Choices you make at the start of the game that are seemingly innocent can lead to whole quests that you might not have experienced otherwise. Then, of course, there’s the choice that leads to you going to an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT CITY based on what you choose.
The story is deeply engaging, the choice and consequence revealing RPG companies like Obsidian, Bioware, and Bethesda as mere pretenders to the throne. The world is gorgeous, the art design unique, the sound beyond fantastic. My second playthrough of the game was so different in the second and third acts of the game, I almost felt like I was playing another game in the series, rather than the same game I’d played in 2010.
If you want a game that respects your time and choices, go with The Witcher 2. It’s a true RPG—something that values the decisions you make more than the kit you’re wearing. You can’t get a much richer, in-depth experience than this.
Payday 2 (PC) is my second-favorite co-op game, closely following Payday: The Heist, even though, on a mechanical level, it’s a lot better, especially because it makes stealth a viable option of play. This is a game about living out your bank robber fantasies. It’s a game that’s received constant love and care (on the PC; console patching takes forever ‘cause of the QA process), and as a result, it’s improved steadily as time goes on. Do I have my complaints? Sure. But at its heart, it’s a rich, fantastic co-op experience with a nice variety of missions, some fantastic gun sounds, a great selection of masks to wear and customize, and some of the coolest takes on normal guns I’ve ever played. I love blasting someone with the Eagle rifle, dueling a sniper with my revolver, taking out a man with a smack to the back of the head. I like cooking meth while the cops try to attack. There’s something thrilling about being the last man alive and managing to revive your entire team.
Adjustments to the health and movement speed of the game mean that instead of simply sitting one spot and shooting cops, you’re moving around, tying up hostages, taking cops down, filling people full of lead. This is truly a co-op game, by the way: you can play it solo, but the most fun is going to be had while voice chatting with a bunch of friends.
When it comes to the new progression system, I’m not sure I like it, because it encourages people to use one specific play style and pick certain missions based not on how much fun the missions are, but how much XP and cash they’ll get. People will ignore the money bundle mechanic because it’s not profitable enough, instead grinding the same mission over and over again. Likewise, the missions are a bit samey: go to X, bag item Y, take it to Z, complete. Contrasted with the variety of missions in Payday 1: opening the bonus vault in Diamond Heist, doing Overdrill in First World Bank, trying to subdue multiple hostages in Counterfeit, then securing water and electricity to blow open the safe… Payday 2’s formula gets a little stale.
Still, it’s a better stealth game, the gun feel is better, the in-mission UI is awesome. I love it. Both the free and paid DLC have been as much of a blast as the game. I eagerly await the next time I get to accompany friends into Payday 2.
Saints Row IV (PC) blew my mind. I’m a big Saints Row 2 fan—so big, in fact, that I enjoyed the PC version, despite how awful the port was. Then along came Saints Row: The Third, which I beat and enjoyed, but it felt too… silly. Killing off Johnny Gat didn’t help matters any. I felt, in a way, that the Saints Row I was playing wasn’t the Saints Row I loved.
Then along comes Saints Row IV, which is the zaniest, craziest version of the game yet, and there’s, like, no way I’m going to fall in love with this, right? THQ, the original publisher, had died, the game didn’t seem to be taking things seriously… honestly, I wasn’t really happy with the way things were going. So when Saints Row IV exceeded my expectations by being a trip through all the Saints Row games, bringing back fan favorite characters, killing off useless ones, and, in one case, duplicating a character (though, sadly, without the original voice actress, and not replacing her Saints Row 3 portrayal with her Saints Row 2 portrayal…), I was ecstastic. The jokes were better, the story wasn’t butchered the way it had been in The Third (apparently, THQ felt it was ‘too dark’)… everything just felt right. Plus, Zinyak? Best villain since The Director of HARM from No One Lives Forever. One of his worst (best) deeds is to accompany you and Pierce when you’re singing along to Biz Markie, ruining the mood.
The gunplay, sadly, isn’t exactly BETTER than it was, but the guns are more interesting; I’m sure everyone will mention the dubstep gun, so there’s not really a lot to say there beyond “it’s fantastic.” Even better, of course, are the superpowers, which are an absolute riot to use. Super speed is now my favorite traversal in the game. Sure, some people might complain about it, because it renders cars useless, but who cares about cars when you can run so fast you explode them?
It’s not Saints Row 2. It’s unlike any video game I’ve ever played, except Mass Effect, which it parodies a lot. Saints Row IV is something new, and I love it to pieces. I was mildly disappointed by the (very short, content-free) DLC, though the whole “King of the Dinosaurs” segment is easily the series’ high water mark.
Kentucky Route Zero (Acts I and II, as well as the demos from the website) (PC) was great.Y'know, when all was said and done, Kentucky Route Zero almost managed to be my game of the year, and, unless Tropico 5 fails to live up to expectations, I’m not really seeing any games that could topple its upcoming episodes in the near future. I couldn't tell you exactly why. The game's trippy, mysterious. Gorgeous. I could stare at this game for hours, but, of course, the mystery drives me on—because this is a real mystery, not some generic 'who murdered whom?' It's far more than that. I want to know who Julian is, what significance the mine has, how the barn ended up in a museum, and why the museum's occupants... why does the museum have occupants? Kentucky Route Zero is a mystery, a real mystery. I want to know more—I must know more!
And yet... the more I know, the less I understand. This is less of a traditional point and click adventure game, and more of... well, some sort of adventure. There's one point in Chapter 2 where my mouth dropped open, though I was looking at nothing more than inky blackness and a 2D map sketched in white lines.
This game looks good, but it sounds even better. The experience is practically made by sound. Oh, sure, the strange figures that appear if you shut off the lights in the mine are frightening, but something about it is way more compelling when you've got those headphones plugged in. Immersing yourself in this game's aural landscape is like taking a bath. Soothing. Gentle. Calm.
And yet... something there is unsettling, always unsettling. This is a room with a Bureau in an old cathedral, an abandoned storage facility that used to be a church, a floor occupied entirely by bears. This is a game that unnerved me with a simple phrase and a sound effect. This game... this game... it's something you, and everyone you know, ought to try.
As games I tried in 2013 go, Kentucky Route Zero was moving, mysterious, engrossing, and over all too quickly. For now. The first two chapters have released, and the game will be updated with three more in the future. I can't wait.
I loved every second of it, and I'm sure you will too. Much love to General McFist for gifting me a copy.
Metro: Last Light (PC), like the original game, is extremely linear. Seriously. I can’t even begin to express how linear the game is. At first, I hated that, my frustrations assuaged only because the game’s so astonishingly beautiful that it’s hard not to be distracted. I’m not actually sure there are games more graphically potent than Metro: Last Light. Seriously, if you are into graphics, Metro: Last Light, has all of them. Sure, you might think that the artistic aesthetics of other games are superior, but it’s pretty hard to argue that any other game flexes as much sheer technical muscle as Last Light does on the PC.
So, linear-linear-linear. Do everything the game tells you. Yaddah yaddah. Oh, so pretty. Everything Doc hates about games, right? WRONG. Because, suddenly, a story bit happens, and you’re all alone. The linearity conditions you not to think, but to do as your told, so when you’re robbed of that, there’s this sense of unease and panic. Like, “oh no! I forgot how to think!” And you have to put everything back together, to reassemble what you know.
In doing this, the game keeps you off your toes. When you’re alone, you feel really lonely, because before, you always had someone accompanying to you, talking to you, telling you what to do. So when it comes time to partner up with… well, someone new, you’re happy with the company, even if you’re normally feel extremely uneasy about the whole thing.
Last Light is dreamlike, wonderful, and the only game I've ever played that actively justifies its linearity by robbing you of it to enhance your emotions.
Call of Juarez: Gunslinger (PC) was the coolest experiment of 2013, in my mind. Ubisoft calls it “Mini-AAA.” Give it the production value of an AAA game, make it a robust experience with plenty of replay value, sell it for $15, and you’ve got a Mini-AAA. Call of Juarez has always been an odd series. The first game was hardly anything great, though it was unusually memorable, an early-generation experiment that did a lot of things, none of them particularly well. The second game, which came for free with Gunslinger for preorder customers like myself, is, I’ve been told (I’ve yet to play) a neat little game. The modern edition of the series was, as everyone but Ubisoft’s errant marketing staff predicted, nothing less than a horrific disaster.
Gunslinger's a game about a liar, or maybe he's just an old man. It's an arcade shooter. It reuses content. It lets you shoot pumpkins, throw dynamite at people, take down the toughest, meanest legends of the Wild West... at times, it's even pretty trippy. The game feels good, with rock-solid feedback, a great selection of weapons, and awesome enemy body explosions.
It's a rip-roarding, easily-replayable adventure that, for the $15 it launched at, was perfect. I hope they release more like this. If Techland could reinvent Dead Island the way they've reinvented Call of Juarez, they could do amazing things.
XCOM: Enemy Within (PC) is the kind of game that everyone should be making. I don't mean isometric. I definitely don't mean turn-based. Or strategy, for that matter. I mean ridiculously good. Let's put it this way: Enemy Within is so good, I streamed a bit a while ago, and someone fell in love with it to the point that they went out and bought it. This was a person who didn't even like turn-based games.
I, too, am a turn-based hater. I don't like 'em. Turn-based games, in my opinion, are largely for dumb people, 'cause they have plenty of time to make decisions. More time to think means the game's easier, and thus, requiring of less intelligence. That's boring and wholly unengaging. It's why I prefer my RPGs pause n' play; sometimes, I need to slow things up to manage my units, but it also dumbs down the game a lot for me.
But... well, holy crap, something about XCOM is just right. Enemy Unknown was good, but Within just... polishes the whole experience, bringing it to a new level. It could have been a sequel. They could have made a full game, and bless 'em, instead, they made an expansion. A new main enemy to fight, a new resource, new enemies, and new units to field.
I'm no convert to turn-based games, but XCOM has won me over. Enemy Unknown was a fantastic expansion to one of the best games of 2012. It's a reminder of the days before DLCs edged out expansion packs, delivering a couple hours of disconnected content or horse armor. It's a new game within a great game that enhances it in every way, shape, and form.
You might not like turn-based games either, but XCOM... well, let's just say that chances are high it'll be a hit with you.
Shadow Warrior (PC) is my Game of the Year. Yeah, I know, I tried hard not to give that title to any one game, but you know what? Shadow Warrior was such a profoundly beautiful experience that I find it hard to avoid giving it my personal GOTY. It’s a game that foreshadows and establishes, then gutpunches you with a tragedy that seems inevitable. Instead of simply forcing you into a ‘tragic’ situation that could have easily been avoided, it carefully establishes the rules of its universe and behaviors of its characters, so when the game comes to its fantastic climax, everything makes sense.
As far as the gameplay goes, it’s awesome. A friend said something to me earlier about how the current state of FPSes kinda made her forget how good linear FPSes like Shadow Warrior could be, and I’m inclined to agree: this game makes up for all the missteps of the developer’s previous game, Hard Reset. It’s got a cool magic system, dodging, guns, upgrades, and a Bulletstorm-like point system. While not the most polished game in the universe, on both a technical and gameplay, Hard Reset is still a blast to play. Honestly, I feel like Bethesda could learn a lot from Shadow Warrior, which implements its crossbows, swords, and magic better than The Elder Scrolls ever has.
The game’s well-written, though paced a bit oddly. For much of the first half, it’s silly, and the main character’s something of an arrogant ass. He starts off singing Stan Bush’s The Touch. He makes jokes. But… the game excels in the way it inverts a lot of tropes. See those women in skintight leather outfits? Well, A) you’re wearing a skintight leather outfit too, and B) they seem to hate you as much as you hate them, and C) your ghost pal sidekick expresses a desire to be like them, because he likes bossing you around as much as they do. When playing it, I felt this honest sense of rivalry that’s… it’s something I’ve never felt in a game before. I honestly wanted to beat them at their own game, and when I did, I felt awesome. Shadow Warrior’s writing is top-notch, but it’s almost all done in-gameplay, instead of trying to clumsily ape a movie the way that Bioware or Naughty Dog attempts.
Some better polish and balance would have been nice, but I had a blast with what I got, and that ending made me feel… well, much like Brothers and Thirty Flights of Loving, bittersweet. Shadow Warrior was a roller coaster, and an excellent one at that. Of all the games on this list, this is the one I hope you play the most.
There you have it! The games I played in 2013 that I think everyone should play.
So, I started this piece out, listing the platform. You might have noticed that every game ends up being "(PC)." My thinking was that I’d have console and PC games to list. As it turns out, I do not. There are no console games on this list. Maybe The Last of Us and Grand Theft Auto V would have been there, if I’d been able to afford them. Maybe if I’d completed Journey, it’d be on here. Forza 4 would have been if I’d managed to beat it, as would Forza Horizon, based on what I’ve played. At the end of the day… I just… didn’t really care about most of the console games I played. I beat a few—like Forza 3—but I dunno. They just weren’t all that compelling on consoles. The most interesting game I beat on a console, Assassin’s Creed III, is getting its own article. I can’t afford a 3DS, hence my not picking up Animal Crossing or Fire Emblem or Pokemon.
I’d like to try all of these games. Even beat them and write about them. But, hey, I’m not made of money. To be honest, things are actually pretty bad right now. Which is why I’ve finally listened to the advice of friends and set up a Patreon account. Think of it like an ongoing Kickstarter; you pledge, like, a dollar, and at the end of the month, I get a dollar from you. I want to write these articles. If you feel like tossing something my way, I’d appreciate it. If you have any requests you’d like me to play, let me know.
- Dishonored: The Knife of Dunwall/The Brigmore Witches might be the best DLC package I’ve ever played. There’s still something off about Dishonored’s formula, something that keeps me at arm’s length, but it’s undeniably great DLC.
- A strong contender for best DLC of the year was Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep, the only Borderlands 2 DLC that was honestly any good. It’s got all the gameplay problems in Borderlands 2, though, fortunately, not the level design problems found in Scarlett or Hammerlock’s Hunt, which were apparently outsourced to different developers. The story, which basically works to allow a child to deal with the death of someone she cares about is genuinely moving. “I KNOW!” she says, at the climax, “but this is my story!” Awesome stuff.
- All the Tropico 4 DLC was awesome. Tropico 5, which releases in April, is literally the most excited I have been for a video game since Alan Wake.
- Painkiller: Hell & Damnation (hahaha, HD) was surprisingly fun; even moreso than the original game, though I couldn’t tell you exactly why. It’s not quite Serious Sam, but I do want to obtain all of the DLC when I can.
- Gears of War: Judgement was disappointing, and easily the worst story in the series (think what you will of Tom Bissell, but he’s clearly not a good writer of fiction), but the bonus campaign actually felt like more Gears of War 3, and I liked that. If you see it for like… $10 or something, give it a try.
- Game Dev Tycoon is literally the most ripoffy thing I have ever played, and I feel ashamed for having listened to people who praised it for having a clever anti-piracy scheme. Game Dev Story may not LOOK as nice, or be on Steam, but it’s got everything Game Dev Tycoon copied and so much more. Don’t support talentless devs who clone things. Support Kairosoft.
- Homefront is as bad as everyone said. Neat idea, bad game focused on making sure you wait for other people to say things at or around you.
- Crysis 3 seems to address all the complaints everyone had about Crysis 2, but somehow, it’s still… not good. A friend on Twitter pointed out that Crysis and Crysis Warhead felt more like simulations (thus, more PC-like) than Crysis 3, and I’m inclined to agree. Oh well, that compound bow was really good.
- Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen isn’t on my list because I haven’t beaten it, but it’s one of the most remarkable games I’ve ever played. It’s also the best Japanese game I’ve ever played. The combat system is rich and deep, the character customization actually lets me build a cute, badass female brawler type, and the game’s tough, but fair. This is a game where you learn through failure, and it makes you better at playing the game. It’s like a Japanese version of STALKER. It’s also would have been the only console game on my list, had I beat it. I love it a lot. Can’t wait to spend more quality time playing.
- The rest of the Borderlands 2 DLC has been a disappointment. I kinda enjoyed bits and pieces, and the writing’s a hoot, but… the level design and most of the quests make it all feel like padded nonsense that just isn’t super fun. Plus, Borderlands 2 overall just has bad loot rates.
- Rymdkapsel is really great, and it’s awesome to see Stephen Totilo stick it on his list of his top 2013 games. My only complaint is that, whenever I play, I feel like I have to sit down and give it an hour of my time (which is how long it takes for me to die, on average). It’s such a compelling experience. I got it in a recent Humble Bundle, but I’ll pick it up again on Steam, if/when it hits.
- Ridiculous Fishing is as good as everyone says. Too bad my Samsung Galaxy Player is getting long in the tooth and starting to have trouble playing it. If I had the $400 I’d need to get a new, modern Android device, I’d do it in a heartbeat. Vlambeer just can’t make a bad game, it seems, which is probably why people copy them so much. Luftrausers is upcoming on Steam, Gun Godz can be downloaded here, and Serious Sam: The Random Encounter was fantastic.
- Age of Empires II HD didn't make it onto the list simply because I didn't beat it. One of the best RTSes of all time, and I've sunk like fifty hours into it, but I am not done, and as such, it'll end up being on my Doc vs 2014 list, no question. Absolutely amazing accomplishment. Can't wait to give the DLC a try.
- I’ll complete Gone Home this year, but I’ve got some serious reservations about it, based on what I’ve played and what was spoiled to me.
- I wrote a lot on Bioshock Infinite (if you want to comment, here’s the Kotaku link). I’ll probably write more on it. I think it’s a betrayal of the ideals that define the ‘Shock’ games, a weak shooter, and a muddled mess of philosophy that doesn’t really know what it’s trying to say.
- Syndicate’s co-op is some of the best I’ve ever played, and I really want to play more of it. Too bad it relies on Origin for connections. Everyone I’ve played it with has loved it, when it works.
- Strike Suit Zero was a neat idea that ultimately felt unfinished. More of a prototype than a full game. But, y’know what? I had fun with both it and Infinity. I’d love to try more.
What’s next in 2014?
Shadowrun’s almost beaten, Gone Home and Shelter shouldn’t take me too long, I just finished Assassin’s Creed III, I’m well on my way through Forza 5, Age of Empires II HD’s normal campaign’s been beat and I’m finishing up The Conquerors, at which point I’ll take on the DLC—the first new content for Age of Empires II since… what, 2002? I’ve heard from Craig Hubbard (he of FEAR, Aliens vs Predator 2 (2001), and No One Lives Forever fame) that Betrayer may be releasing soon. My hope is that Gearbox drops Homeworld 1 HD fairly soon, and Thirty Flights of Loving dev Brendon Chung finishes up his next game, Quadrilateral Cowboy. I’m finishing up Skyrim, eagerly anticipating Wolfenstein and Tropico 4, recently started Outlast, and am currently replaying FEAR…
There’s a lot out there.
Gaming is awesome right now.
What did you think was awesome in 2013? Find anything on my list horrible? You’ve got comments. Go use ‘em! :D
As usual, you can hit me up on Twitter, check out my Tumblr, read my reviews on Steam, and comment on my stuff using the DocTalk tag on Kotaku. And, like I said above, I’ve set up a Patreon account, so, y’know, if there’s a game you really want me to write about, you could always consider a donation. I hope to be writing at least four substantial articles a month, every month, for the rest of the year. I’ll also be working on an indie game—if you’ve got skills other than ‘writing,’ and you’d like to help, we will be selling it, and those who help will get paid once we do. Maybe sooner if we can get some funding. Oh, and on top of that, I’m doing film school/journalism school, so I’ll be writing screenplays and stuff; that’ll eat up my time.