Game of the Year 2013: 20-11
The year is over, all of the games have been released and we’re feeling reflective about the past twelve months. 2013 was undoubtedly a fantastic year for gaming, with many of our favourite franchises seeing new releases, not to mention a tide of new titles and a new generation of consoles. As is the tradition at this time of year, we’ve put together a list of the top 20 games of 2013, of which this is the first part.
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Proteus stands out as a personal best not for what it does mechanically, but for the feelings it conjured. My short time on the mysterious island brought back emotions that had rarely been triggered since gaming as a youngster. There was a sense of awe and surprise, a child-like bliss and warm, welcoming trance. Taken back to a time when videogame’s innocence and indulgence of joy was seen and believed, the giant, cold industry cogs hidden from younger eyes. Intellectually, the voiceless exploration of morality was akin to a child’s picture book in simplicity. Its simplicity allowing each visitor to take away their own interpretation. Less is certainly more here.
19th. Metro: Last Light
Returning to the fiction of Russian sci-fi author Dmitri Glukhovsky was one of the few treats in 2013 for fans of shooters with stories. As FPSs have become increasingly linear, bombastic and multiplayer-centric, Metro: Last Light carried the story-driven torch of titles like Half-Life, relying on an uncompromising effort to build atmosphere and character. Developer 4A Games wants you to feel for the Metro, and to feel for its protagonist, Artyom, who is the unsuspecting link between what the Metro has been and what it may become. Though Last Light felt a bit safer than the underrated 2033, it is still a testament to the importance of world building, and one of the most memorable fictitious places I visited in the past year.
18th. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn
A Realm Reborn has no reason being as good as it is. Originally launching in 2012, Final Fantasy XIV was met with such heavy criticism that Square Enix opted to pull it offline a mere two months after release. During the following years, a reshuffled developer team took on the daunting task of shaping the flawed, original code into something fresh, memorable and fun. The re-release, dubbed A Realm Reborn, fixed much of what was wrong with version 1.0, and brought an influx of players that caught Square Enix so off-guard that digital sales had to be halted and character creation severely restricted for nearly a month after launch. Nowadays, thousands of happy gamers are enjoying themselves in a chocobo-filled, Final Fantasy lore-infused MMO that is one of the strongest newcomers to the genre in the past few years.
17th. Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
In a generation largely starved of large, sweeping Japanese role-playing games (at least on consoles), Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch was nearly a revelation by default. Its gorgeous-yet-simple Studio Ghibli aesthetic lulled unsuspecting players into its grasp. From there, Level-5 applied the tough love of a real-time combat engine you’ll more likely come to accept than love. The dichotomy rarely worked in Ni no Kuni‘s favor and the amount of times you’ll curse your AI partners’ incompetence will be numerous, but players willing to stick Ni no Kuni‘s 50 hour campaign out were treated to a whimsical world ripe for exploration and nostalgia. For all its blemishes, Ni no Kuni was the rare experience that evoked that sense of child-like wonder, and in today’s AAA gaming world, that is an achievement indeed.
Perhaps the biggest reason why this year is significant are the console launches. Exciting new tech has allowed new ideas and properties to flourish after a generation where they have largely stagnated. The new consoles are also hot and Resogun stands as the premier launch title of the bunch. It’s a finely polished shmup that tops its source inspiration, shaping the Defender mould into something alluring for the modern day. It distills fun down into tightly bound mechanics that express the mechanical reason for playing videogames. It’s also high on partical effects, which seems to be the best current representation for the new gen difference.
15th. BIT.TRIP Presents… Runner2
While the auto-running genre becomes increasingly crowded and ever more stale, Gaijin Games’ flagship title continues to push forward. Gaijin knows the limitations, so Runner2 iterates on a myriad of seemingly small details to create a huge, nuanced experience. It’s charming and surprisingly considered, delivering an experience designed for reflexes of all ages. It is the most fun I had with any game this year, and it’s now occurring to me how long I’ve been away from Commander Video.
14th. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
Black Flag is basically the Assassin’s Creed game everybody wanted. AC III‘s excellent ship combat is back and more addictive than ever, lead character Edward Kenway couldn’t give a gnat’s chuff about Assassins or Templars and is a hundred times more likeable because of it, and boring Desmond is nowhere to be seen. Ubisoft’s recreation of the 18th century pirate-infested Caribbean is a sun-drenched playground, stuffed to the gills with places to explore and treasures to loot. Lively, colourful and packed with ideas, Black Flag radiated a sense of fun that was sorely lacking in the two previous games in the series. A few too many tedious stalking missions and that familiar dodgy stealth system hold the game back from joining the real cream of 2013, but Black Flag proves there’s plenty of life left in the Assassin’s Creed franchise yet.
13th. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
For all of its regurgitation, the Zelda franchise has been searching for a refreshing idea for over a decade, having experimented with everything from an oceanic over world to the implementation of motion controls. Yet despite all of these attempts to rejuvenate an ageing formula, Nintendo have consistently failed to address the biggest issue that’s been progressively eroding the series’ appeal – that of its overly controlled structure, or more precisely, a lack of player freedom.
A Link Between Worlds does away with the lengthy tutorials, linearisation and overly-structured design of its most recent predecessors, and gives you a level of freedom to explore that the series hasn’t afforded since its originating incarnation, and in doing so it harkens back to what made Zelda so special in the first place – the excitement of simply going on an adventure without knowing what is going to happen.
12th. Rogue Legacy
There were few 2D games in 2013 with controls quite as tight and responsive as Rogue Legacy. And you needed that pinpoint precision as you ventured through its gargantuan castle for the hundredth time, ready to tackle the myriad enemies and environmental hazards waiting inside. You were never quite sure what to expect, not only because of its randomised levels but also because of the random character generation which gave you a new combination of wacky traits each time you made a run through the castle. Whether you were a flatulent giant or a colour-blind barbarian with alektorophobia, every run felt unique. The persistent unlocks may have defied the real Rouge-likes it alludes to in its title, but the gold-collecting path to unlocking them was just another aspect that made its addictive gameplay loop oh so satisfying.
11th. Rayman Legends
Lost amid the Rayman Legends conversation, which seemed to consist solely of great Wii U GamePad functionality, and then that it was no longer a Wii U exlusive, was the mere fact that it was yet another fun game from the eccentric mind of Michel Ancel. Stripped of its signature feature, which it more or less is on anything other than Wii U, Legends is still the sort of hilarious and irreverent experience we’d expect from the limbless one. Classic platforming mechanics are seamlessly blended with the world of classical animation, where squash and stretch reign supreme and clever use of audio, both through sound effects and music, really underscore the action. It all illustrates a thorough understanding of what makes well-realized 2D art still an incredibly powerful medium, and an ideal place to bust a few heads via well-timed jumps.