Games of 2013: The Best, And The Rest

Some Of The Rest Of The Games Of 2013

As eluded to in the last post – which was a month ago – this series was perhaps doomed this year. It is hard to want to write about games when there are still so many to play.

That said, I still want to call out the remainder of the games I was going to write-up (I do try to plan this out), as well as the handful of games I was going to include in the “The Rest” compendium at the end of the series.

I need closure. Bear with me as we whiplash through about 40 games in rapid succession.

The Best

Surgeon Simulator 2013 (PC/Mac) was perhaps the best surprise of the year; not since QWOP have janky controls lead to such perverse hilarity. It’s one of the few games I got 100% completion on – until they added the expansion levels, at least. (I am still waiting for an eSports league specific to the game, even though my skills are a bit rusty.)

It was a good year for unique storytelling. Blackbar (iOS) brought us into dystopia through redacted text; Papers, Please (PC) showed us a different utopia through the bureaucracy of immigration. Gone Home (PC/Mac) had us exploring an strange empty house with a sense of dread. And, in an experience that isn’t over yet, Kentucky Route Zero (PC/Mac) helped re-invent the point and click adventure. (The way to best enjoy KRZ: pour a glass of iced tea, add a shot of whiskey, turn out the lights, and let the game take it from there.)

In the first game to ever make this list twice, a remade and revamped version of The Stanley Parable (PC/Mac) came out. Absolutely can’t miss for people who love narrative structure and the tweaking of video game conventions.

Trading card games made a pretty huge leap this year, as everyone seemed to be making one. Scrolls (Mac/PC) seems promising from the bit I’ve played of it, and Hearthstone from Blizzard will undoubtedly be huge. Other upstarts like Ironclad Tactics (PC/Mac) and HEX (PC) are filling the niche as well. Yet weirdly, it was a little simple card game called Lil Alchemist (iOS) that stole my heart and a solid month of gaming during my daily commute to work.

Spurred on somewhat by The Binding Of Isaac, the roguelike formula crept into more action games this year. Super House Of Dead Ninjas (PC) is frantic, tense, and addictive as hell. Rogue Legacy isn’t quite as frantic but controls great and has some fantastic metagame elements. Risk Of Rain did so much right, including bringing multiplayer into the equation. And Spelunky (PC/PS3/Vita) freed itself from the clutches of Xbox exclusivity to be an instant Steam classic.

The beta finally hit at the end of the year, but no matter: Starbound is exactly what I wanted it to be when I pre-ordered it. Once the last character wipe happens, there goes my free time.

I gave top honors to Sleep No More in 2011, and while it’s not the top spot in 2013, Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man is, like its predecessor, a must-experience. I was lucky enough to make two trips during the week we spent in London; it is in many ways what I wanted SNM to be. The set dressing is immense, the soundtrack perfectly picked, and the cast is devastatingly talented. The run’s been extended, so if you find yourself in London, don’t hesitate – just go.

Valve finally pushed DotA 2 to 1.0 status in 2013. As someone who has dabbled in MOBA games before, and who was overwhelmed with DotA when I tried the earlier beta, I wasn’t sure the hook would ever come. The point it did turned out to be during The International, the massively hyped tournament that becomes oddly compelling television. I remain pretty poor at the game as a whole, but I’m having fun, and I suppose that’s what counts.

And thus, with the rest of the major candidates out of the way, my Game Of 2013 is Bioshock Infinite. It is by no means perfect, or flawless, or without its detractors. But the ambition connected more times than I could have ever expected, the storytelling hit all the right notes, and I left Columbia feeling wholly satisfied. More than any other game I played in 2013, it had a lasting sense of place and atmosphere, one that I can still feel 9 months removed from playing through the first time.

The Rest

And now, the speed round for everything I didn’t play enough of (or didn’t love or hate enough) to warrant inclusion in the larger list.

868-HACK – a quirky roguelike on iOS. Fun, challenging, but not quite the same infectious hook of other roguelikes.

The Last Of Us – in what I’m sure is a criminal act, I only got a few hours in, and lost interest given other titles that came calling. I hope to get back to it sometime this year.

Dragon’s Crown – a glorious side scrolling beat’em’up that I pray gets a PS4 port so I can play on the big screen.

Intake – a hidden gem on Steam that kind of mixes Ikaruga and skillful clicking. Really addictive but not so deep.

Tearaway – the reason to own a Vita. Delightful 3D platformer from the Media Molecule team. If you can play it, do so.

GTA V – another casualty of too many games coming out this year. Certainly loved it, but GTA games require an absurd time commitment to truly wrap your hands around them.

Super Motherlode – a surprisingly fun driller/exploration title available on PSN at the PS4 launch. Really needs network play, though.

Need For Speed: Rivals – a really well executed racer, ruined by an over the top plot about authoritarian cops and the racers they chase. Criterion, please go back to making Burnout games.

Antichamber – a first-person puzzle that’s just going to make your head hurt. Worth a look if you loved Portal.

Super Amazing Wagon Adventure – Oregon Trail meets a side scrolling shooter on acid. An acquired taste, I suppose.

Gunpoint – a very well done action puzzler, full of intrigue and jumping great distances to kill people.

PAYDAY 2 – I liked the concept of the first PAYDAY, but didn’t like the execution. Problem solved in the sequel – if only I wasn’t so many levels behind everyone else.

Mercenary Kings – still in Early Access mode, this Kickstarter-funded title feels like the second coming of Contra. Will be incredible when the final version releaes.

Saints Row IV – after loving Saints Row 2 and 3, I actually felt let down by 4. The Saints finally overextended, and it felt repetitive and played out.

The Secret World – probably the only MMO I’ve enjoyed in a good long while. Weird, but good.

La Mulana – the indie darling finally hit Steam and made me acknowledge once more how terrible I am at video games.

Call of Juarez: Gunslinger – a Western FPS that, besides being well executed, does some fun things with the storytelling. Surprisingly worthwhile.

Shadowrun Returns – needs more of my time and love, but as someone who clocked way too many hours on the SNES Shadowrun game, I can’t not love this.

Tomb Raider – the least offensive Lara Croft game in years. Have not gotten far and may be compelled to dip for the PS4 remake coming out next week.

The Wolf Among Us – Telltale’s latest is much more appealing to me than The Walking Dead, especially the gorgeous art style.

Games of 2013: Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2013 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I have been doing in recent history, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting about one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2013 posts.

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag

Those who tend to hone in on this series over December may have noticed that an entire week went by without a post. There’s an understandable reason.

Besides work, life, and the standard holiday crazies, this is the first time since I started doing this end of year series that we’ve actively hit a new console generation – one that started just a month before I was due to start writing. This has lead to an unfortunate crash of priorities: do I write about games, or do I play them?

While both the PS4 and the Xbox One are not exactly killing it with exclusive launch titles, there are some excellent multiplats that joined the generation, and the one that’s struck me the most is Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, or as some have opted to refer to it, Pirate’s Creed.

AC has been one of those series for years that I’ve wanted to like much more than I actually ever ended up did. The first one was an exercise in janky framerates. The second was stronger, but followed by two not-entirely-necessary followups. The third game was a step backwards.

But Black Flag finally shatters the cement wall of apathy for three key reasons, which are occasionally helped by being on next gen platforms:

First, the framerate is finally stable and playable.

Second, they’ve created a plot that is stripped down in the right places (the endless modern day drama with Desmond Miles is replaced with you being a nameless Abstergo employee) and scaled up in others (the West Indies is your playground for a pirate adventure).

Lastly, building on the pirate setting, the game is just *damn* fun. Whether you’re exploring random islands, taking down naval forts, harpooning sharks, or just terrorizing any boat that comes anywhere near you, you’ve got a wide array of activities at your disposal.

It’s still flawed, with the main plot line including a number of painful stealth missions and the combat still being a clumsy ballet. But when you’re drifting over the waves in the Jackdaw, it’s easy to forget the jinxed pedigree of the series, and feel like you’re playing something entirely new. That’s quite the accomplishment for Ubisoft.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is available on most every modern platform. My experiences were with the PS4 version.

Games of 2013: Divekick

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2013 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I have been doing in recent history, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting about one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2013 posts.

Divekick

In the twenty years that fighting games have been a integral part of the gaming landscape, I’ve learned one very important thing: I’m terrible at them.

It’s not for the lack of trying. the Street Fighters, the Mortal Kombats, the Samurai Showdowns, the Tekkens, the Soul Caliburs, the Brand X vs. Brand Y, Guilty Gear, Virtua Fighter, King of Fighters, Dead Or Alive…I’ve tried them all. I love the pure competition of fighting games, but I just don’t have the precision muscle memory (or countless hours to burn) to really excel.

Enter Divekick. Strip everything you know about fighting games and reduce it to two buttons: Dive, and Kick. (There’s no joystick.) First hit wins the round. First to five rounds wins the match.

In that simplicity, the genre boils down to something very pure, endless psych outs and feints. There’s still special moves and meters, sure, but without solid diving/kicking technique, you’re going to set off the fraud detection.

Some intentionally goofy characters and story lines round out what many ruled as a “joke game”. And while there wasn’t a ton of competition in 2013, it’s easily the best fighting game of the year.

Divekick is available for PS3, PS Vita, and PC. I spent time with all three versions.