[Ed. Note: The only game I played this year was swtor but I did see much of Dr Musacha's game play so I will be playing the role of peanut gallery. Ye be warned!]
#10 - Dead Island
Combining all of the originality of first person shooters and zombies, Dead Island doesn’t make a great first impression. The game also has balance issues (some characters are much stronger than others) and suffers from a number of glitches. On the other hand, it’s a new property (tired of sequels/prequels/reboots in the movie theater? Try gaming!), it features some solid quest and character building mechanics, and the entire campaign can be completed with friends. Plus if you squint hard you can just make out a hint of a social commentary about the ills of vapid consumerism (though George Romero this is not).
[Ed. Note: Everything is a weapon in this game. And I mean EVERYTHING!]
#9 - Limbo
No, this is not a party game for the Kinect. It’s actually a small independently-produced platformer that features some interesting physics based puzzles. What really caught my attention here was the minimalist black-and-white art style that complements the idea of a person caught in a never-ending state of “limbo.”
[Ed. Note: The art style is so interesting that this game is oodles of fun to watch even if you don't know what the shit is going on.]
#8 - Dragon Age II
This title didn’t get a lot of critical praise and it definitely isn’t up to the standard of the original. Of particular annoyance is the way it recycles indoor environments, making the entire world feel like one big “copy-paste” application. But I have to admit that I found the story pretty compelling, with overarching themes exploring how far a society should go to protect itself from people born with potentially deadly power but who have not committed any wrong-doing. It’s one of those “no easy answers” stories that inspires additional consideration even after I’m finished.
[Ed. Note: No mention of Nicholas Boulton???? WTF????]
#7 - Bioshock 2
This game got even less critical praise than the previous entry, and I can certainly understand why. The original Bioshock combined novel gameplay mechanics with an eerie, fully-developed setting and layered the entire work with an interesting story that examined what might happen if a society was founded on the principles of “Ayn Rand”ian objectivism (spoiler alert: it doesn’t end well). The sequel is exactly the same as the original, except it turns its focus to Karl Marx instead (spoiler alert: it still doesn’t end well). So it’s not terribly original, but it’s still a polished and enjoyable game with a few new innovations to set it apart from the original.
#6 - Dishonored
“Revenge solves everything!” That’s the tagline of Dishonored, and it’s purposely misleading. You play Corvo, the royal bodyguard (and heavily implied consort) of the empress, who is murdered in the opening scene. The perpetrators kidnap her daughter Emily and frame you for both crimes, seizing power over the empire for themselves. After escaping prison, you end up embroiled in a political conspiracy to overthrow the traitors and rescue Emily, returning her to the throne. But what kind of empress will she be? Emily may grow to be a compassionate or tyrannical ruler, depending on how you take your revenge. What’s really interesting about Dishonored is that the game gives you a lot of methods to exact bloody, violent revenge against your enemies (example, you can summon packs of ravenous rats to devour people), but if you want the game to end well you need to AVOID using all those fun toys and instead accomplish your missions with stealth and non-violent solutions. Do you want Emily to lead a good life in a peaceful kingdom, or do you want REVENGE?
#5 - Sleeping Dogs
This feels like cheating because I’m not totally done with this one, so maybe it will end terribly. But so far I’m a big fan of Sleeping Dogs. At first blush, it looks like a Grand Theft Auto clone (blech). However, it quickly breaks the mold of that series and many other games by taking advantage of a unique setting (Hong Kong) and protagonist (My gosh! Not a white American male- how will I identify with this person?). The main character, Wei Shen, is an undercover police officer infiltrating a criminal organization to gather evidence. As Wei gets deeper and deeper into his cover, though, he starts to lose his objectivity and sympathize with the criminals that have accepted him like family. Sleeping Dogs is a fascinating look into the dynamics that attract young people to gangs and criminal behavior, and I found some of the scripted scenes to be gut-wrenching to watch.
[Ed. Note: I love how every time Wei is fighting I keep mistaking it for a tournament. His opponents so kindly wait in a circle for him to dispatch them one by one.]
#4 - Bastion
Another little independent game that I really enjoyed, Bastion looks for all the world like a simple hack and slash game with an odd gimmick - the game is narrated to you as you’re playing it. But beneath the surface, Bastion is a game about regret and negative cycles. It essentially asks the question: is there value in doing something over again even if you already know that inevitably it will turn out terribly? It’s a short game with well-balanced gameplay, and while I found the ending decision a bit abrupt, I still enjoyed Bastion.
[Ed. Note: This game was played in my house? I must have been out riding horses or reading on the couch instead of in my recliner.]
#3 - Saints Row the Third
Saints Row is just a bizarre series. While so many games try to be serious and meaningful, Saints Row is trying to be over the top wacky and fun. And I have to admit, this game succeeds. It’s incoherent, its story is totally superfluous to the gameplay, and more than one person would probably find it offensive, but it’s certainly entertaining!
[Ed. Note: But what is more entertaining? The 'sex appeal' option when personalizing your character or the helicopter physics?]
#2 - XCOM: Enemy Unknown
I loved the XCOM games when they were PC titles a decade ago, and Firaxis did a first class job of bringing the series into the new console era. The basic idea of XCOM is that you’re running a secret international agency that investigates hostile alien activity on Earth. It’s a strategy game, in which you need to capture aliens for study, research and design new equipment, and engage in tactical combat with invading alien forces. With a slow pace that’s more reminiscent of chess than a standard shooter, it won’t be everyone’s favorite. But in 2013 it was almost mine…
[Ed. Note: As a hater of tactics style games even I was really caught up in this little gem.]
#1 - Spec Ops: The Line
…if it wasn’t for this game.
One of the new realities of video games is that we’re starting to understand that games don’t need to be “fun” to be worthwhile experiences. Games (like movies, books, etc.) can be fun, but they can also be scary, or moving, or educational, or a lot of other possibilities. Spec Ops: The Line is NOT fun. It is anti-fun. I would call it “harrowing.” It starts as a paint-by-numbers shooter - you’re leading a small team of soldiers into a foreign city in turmoil to gather intelligence. But that’s just a ruse, a trick to draw you in so the game can catch you off guard. I won’t spoil what follows, but I will say that Spec Ops: The Line represents a harsh condemnation on the entire genre of military shooters. This game holds up a mirror to those rah-rah, kill the bad guys, 'hooray for democracy' style games (and to those that play them) and shows you just how twisted and ugly the reflection can be. I don’t know that I’ve ever been as tense and agitated playing a game as I was with this one. Spec Ops: The Line was not fun, but it was definitely the best game I played in 2013.
[Ed. Note: No mention of the taunting? :) This game was actually pretty affecting even for a passive viewer. One of its subtle choices was the physical transformation of Walker over the course of the game. Very cool to see.]
And the worst game I played in 2013 - Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
I couldn’t even begin to detail the number of ways this game is flawed. [Ed. Note: Actually, he's about to do just that.] It’s boring. It’s badly animated. The environments are nothing but identical narrow corridors (the Wordy One asked at one point if I was still in the same room even though a half hour had passed…no, they just all look the same!). The story is based on a terrible comic book movie (ok, I should have expected that). The game will only save your progress if you fully complete an Act, meaning that if you have to quit early you lose all of your progress (hope you don’t have anything else going on in your life!). It’s often unclear what you’re supposed to be doing to progress, or even which direction to go. [Ed. Note: See? Told ya!]
Just terrible, this is one of the worst games I’ve ever experienced.