I really don’t know how these people pick top 10 or top 20 lists for the year. It’s not that I don’t play a lot of new releases (though there was a lot I didn’t play this year). Maybe I’m just bad at ranking things in large groups in general. Last year I could barely come up with a top three, but I’d like to think it has a bit more to do with quality.
Maybe those people doing top 10s and 20s are rating the whole quality scale. When talking about GOTY lists I pretty much only even think about the games that I feel are legitimately excellent. I’m talking about the games that actually kept me coming back and were the hardest for me to put down. Those are the games I want to remember and the games I want to be remembered. Luckily this year I was able to scrape together a top five.
Major 2013 games I didn’t get to play yet, or play enough:
Super Mario 3D World
Call of Duty Ghosts
Assassin’s Creed IV
Splinter Cell Blacklist
The Wonderful 101
Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate
Shin Megami Tensei IV
Pokémon X and Y
Number 5: Gunpoint
Last time, I talked about Gunpoint’s main gameplay hook and how well the game utilizes this. Good utilization of a unique gameplay hook always makes for a great game in my opinion. Here though I want to talk about just how well-rounded Gunpoint is overall. Considering it came from essentially one guy taking his first shot at game development, Gunpoint is a surprisingly complete package.
For starters, due to its mechanic letting you manipulate the security system of a whole structure at once, Gunpoint makes me feel like I’m truly toying with the environment and with enemies in a really fun way. Each level feels like a toy I can pull at while solving a complex puzzle. This is why I want more people to buy Gunpoint and become exposed to its level editor, which really needs to get on Steam Workshop. If it were up to me Gunpoint would get a custom map community as big as the one that grew around Duke Nukem 3D.
On top of that though, Gunpoint handles its storytelling with tact, both in terms of content and methods. The way dialogue plays out like an IM service is a really smart choice for an indie developer who can’t afford voice actors or the time to do cut scenes. That, plus the way the whole game’s menu interface plays out on the main character’s tablet, makes for a very complete experience. The story itself is a decent intrigue-laden mystery with a charming comedic slant. I really do think Gunpiont offers one of the best storylines of a game I played all year, and that’s with people talking about BioShock Infinite and The Last of Us.
Number 4: Metal Gear Rising
I like Platinum Games. I really do. I think that studio is one of the last bastions of high-quality Japanese arcade game design: Good- honest level design, systems that feel good to interact with (Platinum’s designers have said exactly this in interviews which I love), and healthy amounts of content not locked behind microtransactions (okay MGR has DLC but it’s all free now). MGR has all this and really does feel like an upper-tier action game that can stand up to some of the classics. It’s one of the only recent Japanese console games that feels like the classics.
I talked about the combat system, enemy design, and Zandatsu last time, but here let me summarize that by talking about the bosses. Games these days don’t throw bosses at you who’ll kick your ass if you don’t actually try to learn their patterns and learn what counterattacks to use to beat them. Games these days don’t put you in a straight up battle of attrition after you’ve learned this and make you feel perpetually on the edge of defeat. The fights in MGR feel like real fights you have to man up to.
Oh, and then there’s the music which contributes to the whole “crazy Japanese action game,” feel. Yeah the rocked-out boss themes are cheesy but in the context of those fights they fit perfectly. The first time I heard the game shout “Rules of Nature!” while I was running up and down a Metal Gear, I knew what I was in for. When you’re in the thick of it and the guitar’s blaring away in the background, you know what this game feels like? It feels like Mega Man X. MGR to me is basically the modern Mega Man X.
Number 3: The Legend of Zelda A Link Between Worlds
Yeah yeah the new Zelda get’s in, but man, it’s still a legitimately great example of game design. Once again Nintendo nails all the fundamentals: a great sense of tactile feedback at the game’s foundation, plenty of things to do with those mechanics that feel so good to use. What ALBW adds is a sense of openness that makes Zelda’s exploration more intriguing, and a sense of mystery I haven’t felt in a Zelda game at least since Wind Waker.
For starters, knowing I can explore the dungeons and find this game’s gear in any order means I can basically carve out my own adventure and discover things at my own pace. This feature alone turns Hyrule and Lorule into malleable places. Instead of linear paths through open lands with extra stuff thrown about, the whole quest of ALBW is your own exploration of the land. Now combine this with traditionally good Nintendo game design.
And I don’t know precisely why, but ALBW has been able to keep its secrets from me better than any Zelda game in a decade. In recent entries like Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword all the secrets and paths in the story are pretty apparent to anyone who pays even a little attention. Most console games these days throw them in your face. ALBW is a game where I actually had to ask about things on MiiVerse like how I used to discuss Ocarina of Time’s secrets with friends at school. Through reading MiiVerse I even found out about items and things in ALBW I had no idea were there. I really miss games that make you ask questions about where things are or what’s hidden over there.
Number 2: Rogue Legacy
Rogue Legacy has legitimately shocked me for how well-rounded a game it is and the depth to which it nails its design. It simultaneously forces you think about your character loadout and honing your twitch gaming skill. That, for me, is what sets it apart from all the other randomly-generated roguelike games.
There are a lot of those out now: Rogue Legacy, Risk of Rain, Spelunky, Eldritch, Delver, FTL, and those are just the well-known ones. It seems like almost every game is doing that randomly-generated permadeath thing (let mention Chasm again too). I get the appeal of the gametype. Not only is it refreshingly hardcore, but randomly generating the next level each time you restart the game ensures the game refreshes itself possibly infinitely. In that way it will never get old, which instantly multiples its replay value. In that style though, a few games have managed to stand out amid the saturation of this subgenere, and in 2013 my choice was Rogue Legacy.
A lot of indie games I play these days feel very accommodating, very welcoming in contrast to AAA games that feel like it and the player have to be a certain way. If they are challenging, many of them feel like they’re hard just to be hard. I guess Rogue Legacy is accommodating at the outset too, but it at least asks you to have some freaking skill. Learning enemy patterns here feels as deep as learning patterns in Castlevania or Metroid, and you could probably spend many hours just speccing your character. Rogue Legacy is probably the 2013 that makes me feel the most like I could keep playing throughout 2014.
Number 1: Grand Theft Auto V
Man I really hope you aren’t just looking at the titles of the games I chose and assuming why I’m choosing each game. I might do that when I skim IGN’s or GameSpot’s GOTY awards because those are usually about the standard critic line about each game. I say this here because I have a very unique reason for liking Grand Theft Auto V as much as I do.
Oh I agree with everyone else that this game feels like next level of sandbox gaming. The level to which Rockstar polished San Andreas in GTA V goes beyond any sandbox game I’ve played until now. The feel of walking into building interiors that finally feel like the interiors of non-sandbox games, and then looking out at a city where everything just “works” makes it all feel like one massive world. It feels like the world of any linear game, just with the size of a GTA game.
It gives me a feeling similar to the first time I played Ocarina of Time — like video game worlds had just become more alive with this achievement. It’s really the sense of scale, both outward and inward, that puts GTA V on the next level. It’s on this list because in the midst of a console transition, GTA V is the only game I played this year I felt actually pushed game making forward a little bit. I feel like every sandbox game that’s made here on out is living in a post-GTA V world.
But the unique reason I immensely enjoy GTA V is because it’s the first GTA game I can actually play. It’s the first one where the controls don’t feel like an unplayable mess to me. The mountain of small annoyances that made GTA IV incredibly frustrating and the PS2 games intolerable for me are almost all gone. I can actually drive. I can actually survive a gun fight. I don’t have to go through a lot of reload and resupply crap every time I die. In my experience V is the first GTA game that “just works.” That by itself opens me to the enjoyment of everything else people have praised about GTA games up until now, but it’s like I’m enjoying those things for the first time. Really, this is like my first GTA game.
Looking back, like 2012 I think 2013 was kind of a slow year for big-budget retail console games, seeing as only two retail console games even made my list. A lot of people probably disagree because of BioShock Infinite and Last of Us. I won’t go deep into why those games aren’t up there since that would probably a whole post of its own. Let me just say that while I feel both games are solid in their own ways, they didn’t keep me coming back and didn’t feel impossible to put down. Their gameplay didn’t grip me the way the above games did.
All five of the above are games I definitely intend to keep playing throughout 2014. They are almost the only 2013 games I feel could remain staples of my library forever.