I played 107 games to completion in 2013. Of those 107, 62 released in 2013 and are eligible for my list. I now have to choose 10 of those games that I think are my favorites of the year.
Memory is a funny thing. I played more games this year than I think I have in any year previous. Compiling a list of ten games from the numerous games I played this year was an effort in remembering greatness when it happened. I had a short list of about 25 games that I thought could be on my top ten and each of them stayed on that list for an entirely different reason, but all of them made it on that list because I remembered how amazing, emotional, affecting, or different they were than games I normally play. This was a year of a lot of mediocrity when it came to the big AAA releases, but also a year of innovation and refinement from a lot of different places. But before we get to that main event, I’d like to recognize five other pieces of media that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this year or is something that will stick with me for a long time to come.
Clint’s Top 5 Other Stuff of 2013
5. Sleepy Hollow
It’s weird how a show can come out of nowhere that you have low expectations for and be really good. But I completely dismissed Sleepy Hollow as a dumb fairy tale cash-in show from FOX that would be easily cancelled in a few short weeks. I got bored one night and watched the pilot on Hulu. I was totally wrong in my initial judgment of this show. Sleepy Hollow does everything a serialized sci-fi drama should do right. There’s a fun fish-out-of-water element to Ichabod Crane and his past is clouded in mystery. The monster designs are legitimately eerie and sometimes actually scary, made mostly out of practical effects which only adds to the atmosphere of the show. Sleepy Hollow at its best reminds me of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with equal parts comedy and drama. It’s a well-written popcorn show that has become one of my most anticipated each week.
4. Before Sunrise/Before Sunset/Before Midnight
These are absolutely fantastic movies. Watch them. They all say something about love and relationships and, viewed as a whole like I did, form a complete picture on the different sides to relationships and how love develops the more you know someone. They are expertly directed and brilliantly acted. I cannot recommend them highly enough.
3. Black Mirror
This show goes all out and becomes the best satire on entertainment and social media I’ve ever seen. Episodes like The Entire History of You made me re-evaluate how I view my memories and what I latch onto in conversations. Fifteen Million Merits, my absolute favorite episode, examines the role media plays in our lives and how nothing else seems to matter to a lot of people but watching the next episode of American Idol or playing some dumb video game. Really makes you put things in perspective as I sound entirely hypocritical considering how much I love and consume media.
I watched all of Hannibal season one in one night. It was powerful and striking from a writing standpoint, but visually interesting in a way cop dramas just aren’t. There was beauty and majesty in death and some outright grotesque and cringe-worthy imagery. But the relationship between Hannibal and Will Graham is so enthralling I couldn’t look away. I highly recommend seeking this show out and giving it all the love you can. The fact that it is getting a second season based on the first’s ratings is a miracle in itself. Trust me. It’s brilliant.
1. (Forever) Persona 4 Golden
There’s no other place to put this. It came out last year and we didn’t include it in our award categories because it was a remake of a PS2 game and no one but Evan had played it. But I beat Persona 4 Golden at the very beginning of 2013 and it is, by far, my favorite game of all time. I wrote so much about it, crafted a hashtag around it (and hashtags are dumb, you guys), bought figures, watched the anime multiple times, and could not get it out of my head through this entire year. It got so bad that I started playing it again on the exact day I started playing it back in 2012, and I’m on track to finish it again soon. I am just as intrigued by the story and how it is crafted as I was the first time, some of the social links are actually packing a bigger punch now that I know how much they change over the course of the year. They are a group of best friends fighting monsters inside of a television and they do it all with a wink, a smile, and some really depressing thoughts too. Persona 4 Golden is the perfect mix of so many emotions, causing me to laugh out loud in one moment and be incredibly sad in the next. There’s no way any of these games following can top it, but I guess they’ll try. Persona 4 Golden is my Game of the Forever until, inconceivably, some game tops it. Good luck.
With that out of the way, here are ten other games that I guess are pretty good too.
Clint’s Top Ten Games of 2013
10. Year Walk
I remember Year Walk. We all played it at the very beginning of the year and it is one of the only games in that first three month bunch I have a distinct memory from playing. I was collecting ghosts for the dead horse-man in the river and I had to pull really hard at the screen to find one of the illusive spirits. This is a game that proved two things: it created an intimacy from its mechanics that I think can only work on a touchscreen and that horror is legitimately possible on a platform mostly known for its angry birds. The story it tells through the actual game and the companion app is eerie in and of itself, but the fact that an iPad game could make me jump and scream is a real achievement.
9. Fire Emblem: Awakening
Last year I put XCOM: Enemy Unknown on my list and said “I don’t like strategy games.” I was hesitant to try Fire Emblem because I didn’t know if this new-found love was just a one-time deal. But I picked it up and almost immediately fell in love with it. The combat is fast-paced and just as brutal as XCOM. The story was genuinely intriguing and the relationship building mechanics forced me to constantly try new things in battles. I don’t know, maybe I’m embracing a new love of the strategy game genre, but all my time with Fire Emblem: Awakening was totally fun and engaging.
I played through all of Gunpoint twice. I’ll probably play it a third time. The music is great, the story is pretty fun, and everything about solving the puzzles and taking out guards is a delight. Putting together an intricate solution only to have the door slam in my face instead of the enemy’s was hilarious. I felt like I was actively creating the puzzle solution rather than following a strict set of rules laid out by the designer. Plus the pants make you jump really high. That’s too cool.
At first I didn’t have Antichamber on my top ten. It was in the long list of games I was considering, but for some reason my eyes kept glazing over it. But I started to remember my experience with Antichamber and how much I loved helping Evan battle his way through it for the review, then getting to the exact same puzzle in my own playthrough and have absolutely no clue how to deal with it. All of the puzzles in Antichamber confused and tormented my understanding of the game’s physics and logic. But it was always consistent. It was always smart. It always gave me that special “Aha!” Moment that keeps bringing me back for more. It drove me crazy, but I loved every minute of it.
6. The Last of Us
Okay, calm down, let me explain. The Last of Us has been an incredibly divisive game for me over the year. It was actually the hardest game for me to placed on this list. At first I loved it, then as I played more I started to sour on it. The story was the one constantly good thing for me. My review was less than glowing, focusing on a lot of the problems I had with the game (most of which I still have, just to varying lesser degrees). I thought that would be it. About a month ago I decided to play The Last of Us again — why exactly I don’t know. I told Ryan and he suggested I play on Hard. I reluctantly agreed, not thinking that changing the difficulty would really matter all that much, but once I got out of Boston everything clicked. The combat was tense and hard to deal with; finding crafting items was more important and meaningful. Even the story that I loved so immensely had a greater impact because I was constantly low on supplies and struggling to get by. I don’t know what happen, but my opinion changed pretty drastically because of Ryan’s suggestion. The Last of Us was originally number ten on this list for story alone, and now after long internal debates with myself and conversations with Ryan, some flip-flopping on its placement I settled on it being the sixth best game of the year. I’m as surprised as you.
5. GTA V
No one does open worlds better than Rockstar. Los Santos is so fully realized and amazingly detailed I veered into cars and buildings just looking at everything. The combat is their best effort yet and the driving has never been better in a GTA game. The story is crazy, funny, and way over the top, with some great voice acting that really sells the stupidity and drama of Los Santos. Switching between protagonists is a wonderful innovation in mission design to always keep you doing awesome stuff. But most of all I remember how story missions always added a new wrinkle into the game. You fly a crop duster into a cargo plane, mop floors while undercover, engage in some of the coolest heist missions ever in a video game, skydive to the ground while on on hallucinogenic drugs your douchey son gives you, motorcycle jump onto a moving train, STEAL A TRAIN, and so much more. GTA V is really goddamn impressive. I never played much GTA Online and didn’t really like what I played, but whatever, the base game is more than enough of a good time for me to put it this high on my list.
4. The Stanley Parable
The funniest and most clever game of 2013, hands down. It is a criticism on choice in games and game development as much as it is a critic on the people who play them. There’s an achievement that forced me to go all around the office clicking on things until the narrator is satisfied I did enough clicking to be rewarded. I felt bad for doing it afterwards. What was I really getting out of clicking on different doors? All of the different endings have something to say, whether it be profound or just funny, and they all move fast enough that I wanted to immediately load up the game and find a new one.
3. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
I love Zelda games. Zelda is probably my favorite game series, or at least right up there at the top. A Link to the Past is absolutely one of my favorite games of all time. When they announced A Link Between Worlds I thought there was no way it could be any good, being a sequel to one of the best games. But it is incredibly fun, really clever in a lot of ways, and the orchestrated music is absolutely phenomenal. I plowed through the game for my review in probably one or two sittings, then immediately went back in to get all of the collectibles I had missed. Everything just clicked in a way I was not expecting. Nostalgic synapses were firing off in my brain, but it became more than just a retread through Hyrule. Things I remembered about the world changed just enough to be new and exciting. One of the coolest and most clever parts of A Link Between Worlds isn’t the early fast travel, or the new way to obtain items, or the way the dungeons are presented to you — even though all of those things are utterly fantastic — but a very simple re-imagining of an enemy, the Wall Master. He scared the shit out of me when I first entered the forest dungeon, but soon my worst enemy was being used as an actual puzzle solving mechanic. It’s that kind of nostalgia-warping and world-re-imagining that makes A Link Between Worlds such a great game.
2. Bioshock Infinite
After the stunningly beautiful opening scene of Booker discovering Columbia for the first time, I plowed through the game in practically one sitting. The combat is enjoyably frantic and fun, with wide open areas and skylines at the ready for you to zip around at any moment. Booker and Elizabeth are fantastic characters and the story really clicked with me, even when it went metaphysical. I could not believe how gorgeous Columbia looked, and how as everything gets more dire the world breaks down and begins crumbling as well. It deals with themes most games won’t ever try to touch and the world feels more alive because of it. The subtle hints to where the story was heading (I mean look at the above image. She is literally hitting you over the head with quantum mechanics!) at the end made for some phenomenal discoveries like a barbershop quartet singing “God Only Knows” — hell, all of that re-imagined licensed music was fantastic — or the fact that every time you die, Booker emerges from his office as if it were a different Booker making it one step further on the journey. It’s a game that brought about numerous discussions that I enjoyed reading, even if the opinions didn’t mirror my own.
1. Gone Home
The team at The Fullbright Company have created something truly special with Gone Home. It’s a game that removes anything but the bare essentials and takes you on a seemingly mundane story in the world of video games. There are no aliens or monsters or zombies to fight, it is the simple story of a girl discovering herself and her sexuality. Along the way you learn more about the family and their own problems dealing with Sam and other family relationships. It’s beautiful, emotional, and incredibly well-written. Gone Home manipulates players into feeling like someone is watching you as you move around the house, being a different kind of voyeur entirely. There’s never anything making noise or a monster in the closet, but you feel that way because the game places you in the shoes of a 19-year old girl coming home to an empty and unfamiliar place. Each room had its own distinct feel, as if one member of the family used it more than the others. You could see places where family members spent time together, or parts of the house they claimed as their own. In a game where you never see any of the characters you interact with, Gone Home lets you understand them on a level above any other game this year. Walking around the house was at times like rediscovering parts of myself. I connected with Gone Home in such a personal way that it could be no other spot but number one.