My Games of 2013 – James
As far as gaming in 2013 went, this year went pretty well for me. I played a surprisingly good amount of new games, and managed to cover a good bit of my backlog too. It’s December, so like many other places and people, it’s time to reflect on the games I enjoyed the most in 2013.
Of course, one of the big debates going into 2013 was the clash of the open-world crime games, and whether Saints Row IV could possibly match the lofty ambitions of Grand Theft Auto V. Lo and behold, it did not, but regardless, both games make it onto my Best Of 2013 list by virtue of the fact that Saints Row IV never actually intended to do battle with GTA in the first place.
Saints Row has gone in a drastically different direction than the first two games of the series, and followed on more from the zaniness of The Third, and decided to ape the sci-fi genre and just go all-out to make a ridiculously fun game. It’s so different from the game to which it’s so often compared that it stands well out on its own as being the finest parody game of the year, nay, the generation. Its sandbox, while remaining consistent from The Third, is tons of fun to sprint around with hyper speed, and leaping over buildings to deliver a diving attack on some aliens from above never feels tiresome. The game goes out of its way in its progression to make you feel overpowered towards the end game.
Grand Theft Auto V is an entirely different beast, again opting to go down the “Hollywood blockbuster” route, and to rousing success, both critically and financially, as the fastest-selling and highest-grossing videogame of all time. With a well-written story, great variety of side-activities, and a huge map to explore, as well as a giant MMO-like that now has user-created missions, races and other content added on a daily basis, it serves as a fantastic send-off to the current generation of consoles, as we move forward and into the PS4/Xbox One generation.
One that I played just a few days ago, that kind of surprised me, was Gone Home. As it’d recently picked up the VGX Indie Game of the Year Award, amongst tons of other accolades, I decided to have a look at it and I was pleasantly surprised by the whole thing. It’s a quick game to get through, but the delivery and pacing of the story is fantastic, and I’m still at a loss for words over how to accurately talk about it without giving away the story, which is pretty much all there is to this game. It’s raised a lot of discussions over whether or not it should be classified as a game, but its way of scattering the story around in dribs and drabs, making you piece together what’s happened for yourself, should probably qualify it as such. That’s a different story for another day.
Talking of stories, another story-driven game that I really enjoyed this year, albeit for different reasons, was The Stanley Parable. It takes a hell of a lot of work to take something monotonous such as walking through an office building with no obvious purpose, and making things exciting simply through the narration – of which Kevan Brighting does a fantastic job, I must add – but The Stanley Parable does it in such a way that nothing ever turns out quite how you expected. It’s very fun for a few quick hours of “choose-your-own-adventure”-ing.
2013 was a good year for strategy games to come my way, as I’d found myself playing Civilization V for the first time, as well as Europa Universalis IV and Crusader Kings II. Even though I’ve not played the Brave New World expansion for Civ V yet, I know that it’s changed the game a whole ton regarding diplomatic and cultural decisions, as well as the first playable city-state, Venice; and I can’t wait to play that next year, but I first started playing under Gods and Kings this year and I found it fantastic. It’s a great slow-burn game to just relax to, and it runs good on older machines as well, which makes it a good travelling companion if you remember to set Steam to load into Offline mode before you go. While I can also recommend Europa Universalis IV and Crusader Kings II, I’ve not played either a sufficient amount to be able to comment on their intricacies. Maybe next year.
This year was also fantastic for the world of eSports, with big prize pools for major competitions in StarCraft 2, League of Legends, DOTA 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and the League of Legends Championship Series selling out the Staples Center was a real landmark for legitimizing the concept of “watching other people play videogames”. I’ll be honest though, I didn’t expect to be writing about eSports in this rundown, much less actually sit and watch them, but having watched some competitive DOTA 2 and Counter-Strike, I can totally understand the appeal of these games as spectator sports now, and have a newfound appreciation of the skill level needed to perform at such a high level, no different than any other competitive sport or activity. I’ve not played them enough to comment on them on their own, but from just watching them being played, they’ve sparked my interest in possibly picking them up in 2014 and refining my own skills a little.
I’ve also enjoyed my time with Guild Wars 2 this year, and it’s been a real pleasure having new Living World stories to discover and play through every month, from the Flame & Frost saga in the early parts of the year, the addition of Southsun Cove, the Fractals of the Mists, and much much more, it’s a game I’ve enjoyed coming back to time and time again, and will continue to play going into 2014.
Lastly, and just in under the gun, an honorable mention to The Swapper. I’ve played maybe 2 hours of the game, but the atmosphere and visuals here are just astounding. It’s very Metroid-esque level design-wise, and the puzzles, while challenging initially, aren’t taxing enough that cause them to be a detriment to the experience. I’ve not completed it yet, but I’m looking forward to learning more of its universe and figuring out what happens next.
Going into 2014, I still have lots to look forward to personally, with Watch_Dogs, Lego The Hobbit, Super Smash Bros 3DS and Bravely Default all on my 2014 radar, as well as perhaps picking up one of the new consoles too. Despite gaming’s propensity for taking the negativity ball and running with it, there’s probably never been a better time to be a gamer than now, and the future’s looking fantastic from here.