Apparently October and November were in a real rush to get out of here because it is already a week into December. But that means just one thing: LISTS! Lists and lists about lists. This list will be about my personal favorite games of the year. Perhaps favorite is not very apt, maybe I should call them my most noteworthy games of the year. When looking back at what I played in 2013, these games really stood out. I was going to include games that I played this year but did not necessarily release this year. However, my list happens to include only games that actually DID release this year, so forget I mentioned it. Good. On to that list!
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn
I already made mention of this once before, but it is worth repeating. Since my initial time with the game I have progressed quite a bit and the game still holds up. As I mentioned in my other article, this is my first MMO. And I gather that it is probably one of the best MMOs to start with. The game at times plays very much like a console style JRPG but with some multiplayer instances sprinkled in. This is particularly evident in its masterful controller support. Having dabbled a bit in the keyboard and mouse setup, I can comfortably say that the controller scheme is for me. I would argue it is even superior in some ways, but that may just be my own failings with a keyboard setup talking. From my now more extensive experience, I can say it is of little consequence to pull off important tasks in a pinch. Switching hotbars, marking targets, changing target filters and cycling between targets all while moving works like a dream. As a level 50 Paladin about to embark on the tough endgame content I feel very well equipped to do so with a controller at my side. In fact, I find the game so compelling that I have an alt character on another server that I play solo so I can enjoy the game’s story at my own pace. And that all goes without mentioning the phenomenal soundtrack. After listening to it regularly during gameplay I assumed I would be weary of it, but not at all. FF14 really is a complete package of story, gameplay, visual effects, longevity, and audio.
The Last of Us
Another game I mentioned in a previous article, The Last of Us was a real standout thanks to its stellar story. The gameplay was also quite to my liking since it mixed well with the light survival horror and stealth elements of the game. But the story is what I remember when I think back on this game. The game’s ability to get me to care about Joel and Ellie is helped immensely by the game’s stunning visuals and facial animations. At key points the game changes up the relationship between these two characters and these changes were greatly affecting to me because of the amazing ground work built between them in the beginning. The ending of the game came as a slight weak point to me. It almost felt as if the developers were unsure as to how they wanted to finish the game. But it was not enough to spoil the the experience, especially since it took so long. Something AAA games are trending toward is a shorter campaign, and The Last of Us stands in opposition to that trend. As well, it features a very technical and unique multiplayer mode that avoids being just another third person shooter deathmatch. I only spent a limited amount of time with it, but it was clear that the focus was always meant to be on the single player mode.
This is a game I seem to care less and less about as time goes on, and yet here it sits on my list for games of the year. Though the game’s flaws, and there are many, only seem more apparent as time goes by I feel obligated to give it a spot on this list because of how I felt while playing it. Simply put, the game is a visual roller coaster. And a really impressive roller coaster at that. From the intense opening at the lighthouse, the picturesque scenes of Columbia in the clouds, and then the creeping eeriness of a recently abandoned utopia, Infinite offers a wide array of stunning visuals that had me just stop and stare. I found myself intentionally taking the time to just watch the world before I carried on with my tasks, even though those tasks were continually prodding at me most of the time. The faults of the game, however, become the only things I initially recall when thinking back it. The story once again happens everywhere BUT where the player is as I constantly came upon captured or dead NPCs and found recordings of interesting events happening elsewhere or at other times. The Bioshock trope of an implausibly built city wears thin at the sight of Columbia being blatantly diametric to Rapture with the story and logistics seemingly filled in later. The Songbird is Rapture’s Big Daddies all rolled into one just as Elizabeth is the Little Sisters in a more attractive package. The story’s odd twist, and for the uninitiated it is VERY odd, adds a nice wow factor by the end but it seems to overshadow the nature of Columbia in a way Rapture’s nature and purpose were not overshadowed by Bioshock‘s own twist. So, too, does this entry seem to foretell of a trend that includes an outlandish locale, a blank everyman protagonist, a female to protect or rescue, and a big plot twist or deception at the end. That was a lot of awful to write about a game I put on a list like this, but I really did enjoy myself at the time. I promise!
The Stanley Parable
Much fuss had been made about this game, with claims like “do not listen to anything, just buy it.” Well, after more than a few sources made this claim I decided to buy the game with very little foreknowledge. The result? I am not disappointing. In fact I have never played a game like it. The biggest problem with the game is how to recommend it because going in completely blind likely is the best way to experience it. Yet I can picture a few people I know not enjoying it for what it is. I would stop reading here if I had any intentions of getting this game, but to explain the premise simply: the player is a man who is directed by a disembodied voice to do specific tasks for odd and unclear reasons and the player can choose to obey or disobey those directions intermittently to some comedic result. There is very little beyond walking to do in the game. No jumping, no running, no weapons, no HUD or menus are in the game at all. In many ways it is a kind of critique on the choices players make in games as well as game design itself and in other ways it is just a fun ride narrated amusingly by British actor Kevan Brighting. At a budget price that has been discounted a few times already on Steam, I think the game is well worth a spin. Even after reading this and diving in with some expectations I would wager it to still be worth the plunge.
Honorable mention should also go to Fire Emblem Awakening for being another fine installment in the series as well as one of the key reasons I bought a 3DS XL (my first handheld system since the Game Boy Color). As well I should mention Rogue Legacy for being a very competent indie platformer with RPG and roguelike qualities that kept me hooked all the way through.
So what games did you enjoy this year? They need not have released this year. For instance, if you had only gotten into Borderlands 2 this year then that would make a fine example. Let me know what games really made you take notice this year right down there in the ol’ comments.