Papers, Please is one of those games that manages to convey a lot through a very simple, small game and I do mean small; it’s only 34 megabytes and was developed entirely by one person. There’s really not much gameplay to talk about, you work as an immigration officer in the communist country of Arstotzka and with a very simple UI you enter the fast paced and exciting world of… reviewing paper work.
This sounds boring and it honestly might have been if not for things. First, you’re paid based on how many people you process, not amazing but the requirements to get into Arstotzka increase as the game goes on and it doesn’t take long before it feels like you’re reviewing potentially entrants’ autobiographies for discrepancies. Secondly, and more importantly the reason why making money matters in the first place is you have a family to feed. This is what really brought the game home, the context of the situation already made the game a little tense but this took it further. It’s not enough that you’re there involuntarily from ‘winning’ the labor lottery. It’s not enough that Arstotzka is very picky about who the let in and have hefty requirements for those they do. It’s not even enough that you’re constantly surrounded by heavily armed border guards but you also need to do your job quickly so that your family doesn’t starve or freeze to death.
Throughout the game the monotony is broken up by events, some scripted and some random the choices you make during them will determine which ending you get. Moreover, these events are the real decision making points in the game for you as a person: I once found myself turning someone who claimed she’d be killed if I didn’t let her in and she was forced to go back home but I obviously couldn’t verify that story nor could I afford the penalty of letting in someone who didn’t belong because my son was sick and needed medicine.
Papers, Please became available on steam through Greenlight, a service which has brought so many indie games to market which might have otherwise not even ever been released so I’m happy to call Papers, Please a success story. On a final note since I rarely ever hear anyone mention this, I like the portrayal of civil servants in this game; in a lot of media they’re portrayed as either sniveling cowards or smug jerks worthy only of our contempt and I like seeing them in the much more realistic role of just people trying to slog through their job every day. Papers, Please exceeded my expectations of what you could do with a game about an immigration officer and certainly deserves its place among the best games of the year. Glory to Arstotzka!
While I did play quite a few games that interested me over the year, deciding my favorite really just came down to two releases coming from opposite ends of the industry spectrum. One was commercial; the other was independant. One (Bioshock Infinite)was a retail project; the other was released as freeware. One benefitted from a sizeable development team and hefty budget; the other was made by some guy in Japan. One held a captivating narrative with customizable action; the other was a puzzle game based on just two available inputs (moving left and right). While I ultimately have a lot to say about both these games; my nod goes to the latter for taking the most simplistic of goals (match the colors), and turning it into one of the most diabolical learning experiences ever devised.
Have you ever faced a puzzle you instantly knew how to solve? For video games, it's perhaps more common than it should be. One look at a layout may tell you you'll need to wall-jump here, or begin the maze there; or perhaps a single glance at a boss's giant eye will immediately clue you in to their weakpoint. For some games, the difficulty curve of these "puzzles" is bypassed by introducing newer controls to the player's fingertips along the way, but for a brave few, attention to level design and mastery of the existing mechanics inherent to the layout can allow for a difficulty curve that is devilishly complex, yet always fair, since the player's moveset and controls have never changed. Such is the challenge of Jelly no Puzzle; a gravity-based block pushing game that will have you thinking twice, revising your course of action, and possibly screaming at your monitor, all within the first few levels. It only picks up from there with even more complex layouts accompanied by zero filler...well, except for Level 30; that one's just a gift.
Jelly no Puzzle offers a string of 40 logic puzzles all surrounding the same basic mechanics (although new components are introduced that are outside the player's direct control) that share many similarities to the physical iron link and wooden block puzzles of yore. Each puzzle solution is the result of a pre-defined series of required actions, often containing a unique 'twist' to the order that's outside of the player's initial comprehension. Layouts continuously appear impossible at the outset, with blocks unable to pass through others or push across gaps without falling down, but after one or two "A-HA!" moments, some reverse engineering, and perhaps after a quick nap to mull things over in your head, you'll eventually discover the intended sequence, feeling like a bonafide genius in the process... until reality sets in and you're smacked in the face with the next layout.
Crucial to Jelly no Puzzle's success is how players learn by interaction instead of instruction. A few text messages pop up every now and then to recap what you're learning, but never without a concrete first-hand demonstration to get you acquainted with what can be achieved. This is a game where playing and learning to play are one and the same, and it never gets tiresome or frustrating; rather, it grows more and more fulfilling as you continue.
Jelly no Puzzle is the sophomore effort of Tatsunami (under the developer name Qrostar), and is the follow-up to his 2011 puzzle game Hanano Puzzle (also a challenging puzzle game, though not as simplistic in its execution). It came out of beta in March 2013, although later in the year it was ported by the "Jelly Crew" on to the Android market for use with a touchscreen interface (they also added a few more introductory levels which, to be honest, aren't as creative). Jelly no Puzzle was first and foremost a freeware PC game, but whatever the platform, it's worth your time to see just how far a single set of inputs and a linear method of level progression can go when in the right development hands.
The Last of Us is, for my money, the best game of the seventh console generation and one of the best of all time. It's a once-in-a-generation transcendent game that goes beyond simply checking off the usual boxes of gameplay, story, characters, plot, atmosphere, etc. The Last of Us is a beautifully created masterpiece that starts from a basic central premise and naturally, organically grows every element of its design. Most games write their various components separately; one person writes the plot, another determines the gameplay, another writes the script, and so on, and as a result most games, even while fun, seem a little disjoint. There is often a lack of connection between the plot and the gameplay, the atmosphere and the mechanics, or the characters and the combat.
That's not the case in The Last of Us, and that's what makes the game not only very fun to place, but also an artistic masterpiece. Starting from a fundamental question of scarcity in a zombie apocalypse, the creators clearly asked themselves how that issue would actually manifest in this world. They did not enter with a preconceived notion of the combat or the story they wanted, but rather let it all flow from this natural underlying idea. The scarcity of a post-apocalyptic world would mean ammunition would be at a premium, thus meaning that conserving ammo through stealth combat would be natural. This world would be very open-ended and so even while levels were self-contained and linear, ample attention was paid to making them feel like part of a larger world. The characters would be amateurs, not trained professionals, and so chaos and improvisation should be the rule of the gameplay, not the last resort.
Every element of the game fits together perfectly, and that is what makes The Last of Us one of the greatest games ever created. Everything flows from a natural, foundational idea, creating a game that feels so effortlessly natural that you almost forget that it was deliberately created in the first place. Big honorable mention, though, goes to Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, my second choice that unfortunately didn't make this list, for rescuing that series and giving an experience that could have taken my Game of the Year honors from me for any year in this console generation, except this one.
First of all, let's get the predictable comparison over with: this game is a lot like Diablo II. I think for a lot of people, it provided a new Diablo II-style experience that wasn't delivered by Diablo III at all. You control one character (with options to make a party online) and run through randomly-generated worlds where monsters drop plenty of randomly-generated loot and you assign actions to hotkeys and mouse to engage in fast-paced combat with big ol' crowds of villains and monsters. Like Diablo II, it's not terribly long... but you'll just keep playing it with new characters, different people online and through several difficulties.
Besides some inspiration from Diablo II, the skill gem system and socketed items are very reminiscent of Final Fantasy VII's materia system and the passive skill tree probably feels pretty familiar to you if you've played Final Fantasy X. The game really borrows perhaps the very best gameplay aspects of three utterly legendary roleplaying games, and brings a nice, simple plotline and lots of new ideas as well. Although the game features seven playable classes, none of the classes are really "locked in" to any stats, abilities or builds. With all of this freedom in how you develop your character you just really get to figure things out, and that's part of the fun.
Some people might give this game credit for being an indie release, being completely free-to-play and not pay-to-win, for being successfully crowdfunded, and for the many great post-release free content updates. Personally, I think those are nice, but it does not earn my appreciation for any of those reasons. My first time playing Path of Exile was for 12 consecutive hours (without a bathroom break) during a pseudo-LAN party. I used a ranger with a hammer (because I wanted to be called "ham arranger"). We just couldn't stop playing until we beat the first difficulty. After that we kept playing anyway until 6:30 AM which, as a parent, I hadn't done in years. My wife didn't get it.
To summarize, let's just say that Path of Exile totally ruined my weekend, and that I have forgiven it because it's that good.
You are Giselle, a knight and second daughter of the famed hero George. You bravely journey into the castle to find glory and treasure. You fight skeletons and bats, while avoiding numerous traps. Then you are killed by a glowing eye. Thus ends your story.
Now you are Erik, a miner and first son of the brave knight Giselle. Using the treasure earned by your late mother, you buy a new sword and brave the castle where she died. You fight new creatures and avoid different traps, eventually getting killed by some spikes. Thus ends your story.
Now you are Roger, a barbarian and third son of the reckless miner Erik. And so on and so on and so on. Rogue Legacy is a brilliant side scrolling game where you die a lot. But each death earns you money which can be spent on improvements to the next generation of your character. Eventually these improvements are enough to allow you to defeat a boss or enter new areas of the castle. If you don’t like dying, this is not the game for you. But, if you enjoy steady growth towards a goal, this 2013 release is the perfect game for recreating the feel of the original Rogue in a unique and enjoyable manner.
Editor's Note:This seems as good a place as any to remind you that entries are not ranked, but listed alphabetically by author
Maybe this year I’m not so qualified to write about the best game of the year. I could not manage to play many games I might have chosen instead of this one. I couldn’t play The Last of Us, which is selected by DDJ and you can read his entry, or Beyond: Two Souls which received lukewarm reviews but I might have loved it nevertheless, or GTA V or Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance which I decided to wait for their PC release. I have recently learned of Papers, Please and I haven’t played it yet. I played The Stanley Parable and Tomb Raider (both appearing on this list) which I liked but I found them both a bit overrated. 2013 wasn’t such a great years for me, gaming-wise. I liked DmC, Amnesia: a Machine for Pigs, and Saints Row IV as well but none of those games is “Game of the Year” material to me. Ultimately, I had only two candidates for GOY, Bioshock Infinite and Path of Exile.All those games I have not played might have made my list a bit longer.
However, I am sure that I will not regret choosing Bioshock Infinite. I mean, I might end up saying that The Last of Us or GTA V were better choices when I finally play them, but I’m certain I would never consider Bioshock Infinite a bad choice. So instead of refraining from writing this year I made my choice as our now 4 year tradition at GameFAQs dictates.
Why Bioshock Infinite is worthy of the title or in another word, a masterpiece? I could go on about its deep and puzzling story and its impressive level design and its gameplay which is still relatable after two installments in the franchise, but you all already know about that. There are many articles on the web, touching every subject on the game deeply. The website Kotaku has many of them. One of the best, if not the best, articles on Bioshock Infinite was written by our own BGH about the relationship between choice and fatalism in the game. Many writers criticized the game for its violence or the perceived disarray between its gameplay and its narrative. My point is this: no other game caused the gamers to think so hard this year. People were made conscious of many questions, and chief among them was the nature of video games as an art form.
In my humble opinion, Bioshock Infinite has all the great features of other great games of the year in one package: like The Stanley Parable it uses art to ask great questions about art, and while doing so, it tells an engaging deep story with greatly written characters, like The Last of Us [I’ve heard], and it also has a great engaging gameplay, and it’s a triple A release with mass appeal. It is mainstream and avant-garde at the same time, and I believe neither mainstream nor avant-garde can truly claim superiority, because each has its own merits. Greatness belongs to a work of art which has the merits of both.
When the economy is taking forever to get back on its feet, sometimes you need to take a few desperate measures to put food on the table. So get your friends and grab those old Halloween masks from the attic, you have some banks to knock over! Payday 2 offers up one of the best multiplayer experiences that I have seen in quite a long time, not to mention a different take on the first person genre without sacrificing the core elements of it or the just flat out fun that a game like this can and does bring.
To start off, this game puts you in the shoes of one of four professional heisters, Hoxton, Dallas, Chains, and Wolf, to work together with either the AI or other players to pull off various heists. From the obvious bank heists to knocking over small shops, the game gives you quite a few different scenarios to tackle in this game in order to earn your payday. The interesting part of getting that paper and making it rain in some of the ladies of the night establishments in celebration is how you decide to pull of the heist in question. You have to make various decisions based not only on your skills, but the skills of your team, the execution method, and even the random factors that this game will throw at you.
The mechanics of this game work spectacularly. Even though playing the same heists may seem boring at first glance, one of the key factors of this game is its huge unpredictability that it throws at you. All maps randomly place its security measures and goals differently each time you load the heist. Not only that, but you are offered various ways to complete the tasks at hand. Do you go in guns blazing and face the full force of law enforcement and try your hand at breaking through the security measures in place, or do you use patience, guile, and strategy to quietly sneak into the area without even alerting a single civilian to your presence while making off like a bandit with everyone’s money and valuables?
Whatever your choice, you build your own self up to take on the play style you wish to do with diverse skills, weapons, and equipment that could make or break the heist. Not having the right skills or equipment could make your attempts to getting your money a bit more stressful than need be. Still though, there’s no denying that whatever your choices are, you are going to feel a sense of accomplishment when you reach the end of your heist, especially the bigger ones where you manage to get away with all the loot available on the map, even more so on the hardest of difficulties.
I won’t deny that this game doesn’t have its share of negative aspects, but the experience that you are offered here is so unique, rewarding and downright enjoyable, that I will say I am looking forward to see more of what the makers will offer us with DLC and updates to the game. So bust out the papier-mâché and get that personal mask of yours made, because I got a lead on a huge payday waiting for us if you’re willing to take the risks for the reward; Payday 2 is my choice as one of the best games of 2013. Now if you’ll excuse me, I got some gold bars with my name on it sitting in someone else’s apartment.
The Stanley Parable is many things. It’s comedy, it’s horror, it’s commentary, it’s entertainment, and most ironically, it’s indescribable. To explain why it is any of these things is to ruin the experience. If it absolutely must be defined, it would be considered an art game – closest in form to Dear Esther – where minimal gameplay is used to usher the player through the world and the focus is on immersing and enlightening, rather than necessarily entertaining. But, thanks to the divisive and somewhat deserved reputation of art games, that would be woefully underselling the experience. In short, The Stanley Parable is not just an art game; it’s the new standard for games as art, and it does it all without sacrificing the player’s enjoyment or resorting to pretentious ambiguity. It’s a masterpiece of psychological game design, brilliant aesthetics, and relevant storytelling.
If you still aren’t convinced that you need to play this game right now, let me see if I can convey the experience a different way. Remember those eye-opening plot twists from BioShock, Metal Gear Solid 2, and Spec Ops: The Line? Those moments that completely shattered everything you thought you knew about not only the in-game plot, but also the relationship between you, the player, and the game and its protagonist? Well, The Stanley Parable is all of those moments (plus about four other mind-blowing demonstrations for good measure) condensed and distilled into a digestible experience, and backed up by an inimitable sense of humour and some of the most astoundingly memorable writing and voice acting in gaming. This game will be talked about for years to come, and it is, without question, my choice for 2013’s Game of the Year.
I've been a Nintendo fanboy since I was a wee kelp frond. I grew up with the Super Nintendo and original, 4 double-A battery-taking Game Boy. Zelda, Mario, Donkey Kong, Metroid, Star Fox, F-zero... I loved them all. Even as I moved through the console and handheld generations, one Nintendo IP always eluded my possession - Animal Crossing. I read about it and heard about its sequels over the years, but I just never got around to playing any of them, even though I knew I'd enjoy the games.
Fast-forward to 2013 - Animal Crossing: New Leaf had been announced, and I knew it was finally time for me to see what I'd been missing out on for so long. I stayed up late June 8th for the midnight release, and as soon as the date rolled over, I hit the eShop and paid for the digital download, making AC:NL the only title I've ever purchased on the release day. 8 hours of sleep later, and I was on a train to my new town...
To say AC:NL captured my imagination would be an understatement. It freakin' entranced me. No longer was I a seasoned, veteran gamer with literally two decades of experience under his belt - I was a little kid as soon as I stepped off that train. Maybe even before. Everything about the entire game screamed "FUN!" at me at every turn. From the bright colors, the cute villagers, the catchy and melodic music, and the sheer visual depth the 3D added had me giggling out loud as I wrote lengthy letters to my animal neighbors about how my day was. Dr. Shrunk's cheesy (at best) jokes and accompanying emotes to learn, the records to collect, the fossils to dig up, the fish and bugs to catch, the house to expand, the public works to undertake, the coffee to serve, the furniture to display, the badges to earn, the medals to win, the flowers to breed, the trees to grow, the fruit to pick... there was so much to do!
And do it I did. I did it all. For hours and hours. Over 500 hours, in fact. And I'm still playing. The game encourages you to keep coming back for more - the clock is in real-time, so each season, each holiday, even each time of day, has different stuff available to do. It hasn't even been a full year since the game came out, so if you're not a time-traveling loser, then you must be looking forward to the events that haven't happened yet as much as I am.
There were tons of other great games that came out in 2013, such as The Cave, StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm, Gears of War: Judgment, Retro City Rampage, Antichamber, BattleBlock Theater, Fez, Rogue Legacy, Mario and Luigi: Dream Team, BioShock Infinite, Batman: Arkham Origins, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, and The Walking Dead Season 2, just to name literally a few of the top-notch titles (and I would have named more, but, y'know, space limitations), but for being the title with excessive amounts of playability and the one that provided the most fun on the most basic level, Animal Crossing: New Leaf gets my pick as best game of 2013.
Editor's Note: Don't forget; this list is alphabetical by author!
It seems commonplace that A-list developers give their waning franchises a much-needed makeover. In recent years, we’ve encountered our fair share of reboots, so it was no surprise when Crystal Dynamics announced that its Tomb Raider franchise was being reborn.
Spanning nearly two decades, the Tomb Raider series provided a gaming generation with demanding adventures, which saw its leading heroine, Lara Croft, excavate ruins filled with difficult puzzles, devious traps and tricky controls. Lara fast became one of the most iconic video game heroines of the nineties, and offered women a sense of liberation from their secondary roles as sidekicks, or distressed damsels looking to men for salvation (Sorry, Peach). As such, Lara proved that women, too, could be leading material, despite being overly sexualised in the process.
In 2008, Dynamics teamed with Enix with a vision. They didn’t want to simply create another standard adventure, modify the stale underbelly of the franchise, or even give it a HD remake; they wanted a complete overhaul, from the ground up, giving the gaming community a completely new perspective of Lara, as the greenhorn archaeologist. Zipping to 2013, after five years of production, the remake was finally here and wowed critics and gamers alike. Having won over forty awards, the Tomb Raider reboot showed it was no one-trick pony, proving that when done right, new life can be breathed into even the stalest of franchises, resulting in a stellar experience for all generations of gamer.
In the case of this reboot, it was all about taking two leaps forwards and no steps backwards. Everything that felt clunky or sluggish about its predecessors was improved upon. Lara now moves smoothly and freely with a flick of the analogue. The camera is less rigid and the environments are brighter and easier to traverse. Add to the mixture, a combination of stunning photography, overblown cinematic, a thoughtful narrative and stellar voice acting that push the 360 to its limits, and you have enough cherries to cover a whole cake. Gone are the difficult puzzles (for better or worse) and exploration takes the back seat in favour of survival and action, with tombs becoming side quests to the main adventure. This new vision perfectly matches the fast-paced gameplay generally appreciated by contemporary gamers, and for me at least, offers an adventure that kept my eyes on stalks until the very end.
Why is Tomb Raider my game of the year? Simple. Dynamics took its great, albeit struggling, franchise and transformed it, making it, once again, into a mainstream competitor. Although highly anticipated when first announced, I wonder how many people actually thought Tomb Raider was going to turn out as good as it did, let alone blow most of this year’s competition out of the water. As far as reboots go, Tomb Raider is easily one of the best, showing developers how remakes should be made. Tomb Raider and Lara have always been at the forefront, and it’s good to see them back where they belong: At the top, and looking good in the process. Its tagline, ‘A survivor is born’, is a just summation for a franchise that has become a true survivor in a cutthroat generation of video gaming.
As mentioned before, this list isn't a ranked set of games, but a list of 10 games favored by an individual author (the order was just alphabetical - they're really all #1)! Each game listed here has at least one person who thought it was the greatest game they'd played all year.
You've also seen a few honorable mentions along the way; here they are again, along with a few other great releases that entertained us during 2013:
Amnesia: a Machine for Pigs, Antichamber, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, Batman: Arkham Origins, BattleBlock Theater, DmC, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, Gears of War: Judgment, Gone Home, Grand Theft Auto V, Guacamelee, Mario and Luigi: Dream Team, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Ni No Kuni, Pokemon Y, Rayman Legends, Retro City Rampage, Rune Factory 4, Saints Row IV, StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm, The Cave, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, The Walking Dead Season 2, Wonderful 101
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Thanks for Reading!
List by BlueGunstarHero (02/05/2014)
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