2013 was defined by a number of great games, my favorites oftentimes consisting of ones with a unique vision. But before we get to those…
Matthew’s Top 5 Other Things of 2013
5. Getting an Interest in Music
Prior to 2013 I’d barely listened to music (outside of a Weird Al Yankovic kick in my middle school years), so 2013 had a wealth of material for me to turn over. And even after spending a full year turning over albums, I’ve barely scratched the surface of what I want to listen to. Music can be as experimental, and is through its nature generally much more abstract than anything in film, so it’s been a continually intriguing experience for me. I’d also suggest people check out a genre they’re currently averse to; there’s likely an exception out there that might make you more interested in it.
4. The World’s End
I didn’t see as many films as I would of liked to this year, but I was fortunate enough to catch Edgar Wright’s last film in the so-called Cornetto Trilogy. The World’s End impressively takes elements of what made Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz so fun to watch (rapid-fire wit, quick editing, a clever genre homage), and combines it with a surprising degree of pathos. Simon Pegg plays Gary King as someone who inhabits the darker side of being an eternal man-child, but The World’s End acknowledgement of the pitfalls of adulthood ensure it never turns into a simplistic coming-of-age story. It’s also (with the possible exceptions of This is the End and The Wolf of Wall Street) the source of some the biggest laughs I’ve had all year. Here’s hoping Edgar Wright swings by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s doors’ sometime for another pint; I don’t want this trilogy to end just yet.
3. The End of Breaking Bad
Breaking Bad‘s final eight episodes weren’t without issue, but they still largely showcased the show towards the top of its game. Watching Walter White’s already tenuous hold of his situation gradually slip away from him was at worst gripping to watch, and at its best incredibly emotional and insightful. “Ozymandias” in particular is among the top episodes of TV I’ve ever seen, culminating in an absolutely gut-wrenching piece of acting from Bryan Cranston and Anna Gunn. As one of my favorite shows, it was great watching Breaking Bad come to a mostly fitting end. Now lets hope Better Call Saul can hold a candle to it.
2. Seeing Nine Inch Nails Live
Nine Inch Nails is my favorite band, so it was an absolute joy to catch them in Orlando this past Halloween. I’d never been to a live show before, so I don’t have a lot to compare it too, but it was an immensely experience on its own. Trent Reznor has been known for his forward-thinking production in the studio, and he brings that attitude to the live setting with an insane amount of cutting-edge technology. The show used a combination of three LED screens, one of which was transparent and in front of the band, to pull off some pretty eye-catching visuals. In “Disappointed“, for example, there’s some pretty ingeniously deployed 3D effects that sort of blew my mind when I saw it. The band was at the top of their game that night, and the addition of some backup singers brought some unique versions of songs old and new. For a twenty-five year old band, Nine Inch Nails shows few signs of slowing down.
1. Orange is the New Black
Orange is the New Black is great TV, using its source material as a springboard to delve into loads of interesting social issues. The reason it’s on the list though is its status as a proof of concept for Netflix’s new original series. While House of Cards and Arrested Development premiered prior to Orange is the New Black, the former was rather unambitious while the latter got a little too caught up in the potential of the new format. Orange is the New Black strikes me as something that could have appeared on HBO or Showtime, with its dedication to world and character development over rapidly moving plots, and releasing the whole season at once made it all the more enjoyable to view. It’s something of a new format for TV, and I’m excited to see what Orange is the New Black and others like it will do in the future.
And now for what you’re really here for…
Matthew’s Top 10 Games of 2013
10. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies
Dual Destinies sees the Ace Attorney series at the height of it’s high-octane courtroom drama capabilities. The five-year break in between main entries has done the series a lot of good; a number of elements have been streamlined (you can only search certain areas in the investigation segments now) and added (the new “Mood Matrix” system is an enjoyable addition, and the chat log is incredibly useful in the courtroom). There’s also just more variety in the character-work; you only play as Phoenix for a slight majority of the time, with Apollo Justice and newcomer Athena Cykes bringing some of their own unique flavors to the various cases. On top of this, the localization remains excellent and the introspection into the courtroom system is occasionally quite interesting. What’s not to like?
9. Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto V injects some much-needed fun back into the series, but is now fully aware of how dark and destructive that “fun” can really be. This is no more evident than with Trevor, a protagonist that proves hilarious, revolting, and crazy in equal measure. He’s essentially the way people play grand theft auto games given sentience, and the result is as captivating as you might imagine. It’s also one of the most appealing open-world titles I’ve played in a while, with it’s protagonist-switching gambit occasionally paying off in spades. Sure, it’s satire is largely pretty bad, but the majority of Grand Theft Auto V is so, so right.
Gunpoint is the most fun I’ve had moving around in a game this year. Jumping feels more akin to launching yourself out of a catapult than the real thing, but it feels good enough to probably sustain a short platforming game. But that’s not what Gunpoint is; it’s a sort of homage to Noir that sees you hacking into electronic systems to pull off a number of ridiculous feats (connecting a guard’s gun to an elevator can provide an easy escape route, for instance). Indeed, the only thing twistier in Gunpoint is its plot, that sees you making alliances and betrayals until you arrive at the remarkably adaptive conclusion. Above all, it’s a rather inspiring transition from Tom Francis, former writer for PC Gamer, and I’m excited to see what he puts out next.
7. Gone Home
Gone Home, perhaps more than any other game on this list, feels a bit like a culmination of this generation, specifically it’s razor-sharp focus on environmental storytelling. Gone Home‘s inherent boldness, and the way it makes you work for its narrative, enhances every aspect of it’s tale, and creates a wonderful sense of place at the same time. It’s also, by its nature, impressively reflexive based on the player; you get as much out of the story of Gone Home as you’d like to put in. Oftentimes transfixing, wholly unique, Gone Home is among the most rewarding experiments of 2013.
6. The Swapper
The way The Swapper intertwines each element of itself into a cohesive, moving whole kind of blows my mind. The clone-creation, and soul-swapping puzzles, while well designed and occasionally quite mind-bending, wouldn’t have quite as much impact if it wasn’t for its philosophical narrative. And the narrative takes on a whole new perspective when you consider The Swapper‘s odd claymation/diorama aesthetic; it makes your body swapping feel all the more cold and removed. And underneath it all, the somber pianos underline the whole experience. Any particular element of The Swapper can stand on its own, but it would lose uniquely unnerving feeling The Swapper creates as a whole.
5. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
Brothers grew on me roughly proportionate to how well I could actually control it. When the game opens, you’re given two brothers that are controlled at the same time, with one analog stick and button for each. I initially had trouble with some of the simpler mechanics, but my mastery improved as Brothers‘ puzzles became increasingly more involved. And at the moment when I finally had no trouble with the game, the older brother is killed, and one half of my inputs disappeared. I found the moment incredibly smart and powerful, and I don’t think I’ve ever experienced something quite like it. And the actual ending itself builds on this in a perfect and bittersweet fashion. The whole journey through Brothers is a joy, and I can’t wait to see what Starbreeze can cook up next.
At its core, The Stanley Parable is about the relationship between game developers and players. How can the developer create a work that the player will consume exactly as intended? Is this a worthwhile goal? What’s the deal with achievements? The Stanley Parable asks this and more in a riotously funny journey through an office complex (and perhaps even…Minecraft?). Each one of the myriad of The Stanley Parable‘s endings addresses, or at least rubs up against, some valuable topic of interest. When it comes to the struggle between developers and players, The Stanley Parable might just be the perfect compromise.
3. The Last of Us
I’m sick of third-person cover shooters. I’ve shot nameless goons behind cover more times than I could possibly count. So I was a little taken a back by how much I enjoyed The Last of Us, particularly considering how little I’ve cared for the Uncharted series. The Last of Us avoids the rampant problems of ludonarrative dissonance in that franchise by largely using its gameplay as a way to set the mood. And what a mood it is; the rough, grisly actions you take on other survivors of the post-apocalypse are pretty unnerving, and complement the gripping and moving narrative. Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson both turn in Oscar-worthy voice roles here, and it all ends on a note of ambiguity I really appreciated. Maybe third-person shooters aren’t so bad after all.
2. Papers, Please
In Papers, Please, evil becomes boring. Through the hours of diligently checking passports, entry permits, and many, many more documents, the constant violations of human rights becomes routine. And what’s worse, it’s your only choice if you want want to barely keep your family members from dying. There are no “good” choices in Papers, Please, just a lot of consequences; so many consequences, in fact, that there’s a whole 20 different ways you can finish Papers, Please over its thirty-two day narrative. The banal paper-shifting gameplay becomes sort of mesmerizing after a while, and the dark (not to mention relevant) tale it creates is worth experiencing.
I still don’t fully know what to make of Anodyne. If I had to sum it up, it’s a sort of mashup of Earthbound‘s humor with Fez‘s labyrinthine attitude by way of a Zelda clone. I use other games to explicitly describe Anodyne because that’s exactly its intention; Anodyne feels like so many other games I’ve played, yet none of them feel like Anodyne. Through it’s rather modern land, Anodyne explores the idea of video game addiction, and the sort of effects that can have on people. Even the protagonist’s name, “Young”, feels like a wink at this idea. It culminates in an ending that embodies what I’ve mentioned; it starts traditionally enough, but concludes with a moment that I’m honestly still not sure what to think of. The word “Anodyne” might be synonymous with homogeneity, but Anodyne is anything but. It’s my favorite game of 2013.