Thursday, December 19, 2013

Games of the Year 2013

It's year in review time, but for the first time in many years, I didn't play enough games to make a best-of list. I did play a fair number of games, most from this year, but not all. Rather than a traditional round-up, here's a list of all the games I can remember playing this year, more or less chronologically in order of when I played them.

The Cave (2013)

Reviewed this for Paste.

Far Cry 3 (2012)

As a charter member of the Far Cry 2 appreciation club, I find it best to take Far Cry 3 on its own terms. It's at once sillier and more controlled than its predecessor, and also, quite honestly, more successful on some counts. Far Cry 3 definitely embraces its gaminess. The entire notion of skinning animals to build bigger wallets so you can carry more money is ridiculous for almost more reasons than you can count, and yet it follows a certain internal logic and is fun to do. Why pick nits? I really enjoyed this game.

Metro 2033 (2010)

Started a fresh playthrough in 2013 after starting one a few years ago and abandoning it a few hours in. This time, I played on easy mode, which is a common theme for me these days. I just don't have the time or the interest to master games. I want to get through them and see what there is to see. There's plenty to see in Metro 2033, and I agreed with a lot of the praise I read for it when it came out. It's a great setting and a well-done storyline that doesn't rely on cutscenes to move the plot forward.

It's a short game, and each chapter is brief and to-the-point. Each focuses on some different wrinkle of gameplay. Some are based on stealth, some on action. There are turret sequences, but they don't feel gratuitous here -- they feel like a different way of experiencing the game world. Sometimes your primary concern is finding enough gas mask filters to survive in poisoned air. It's always different, always unexpected. And if you don't like the way a certain chapter is designed, at least you won't have to repeat it.

Ridiculous Fishing (2013)

I got this right after the baby was born and I needed something I could play with one hand while I was holding him. I don't understand why everyone likes this game so much. Maybe I'm associating it with a traumatic event.

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon (2013)

Reviewed this for Paste.

System Shock 2 (1999)

Quite simply one of the best games ever made. I had played it before, maybe in 2001 or so, but found that I had retained less than I thought, so it felt like I was playing for the first time. What an amazing experience. An incredible sense of place. Terrifying survival horror-style gameplay combined with deep (and, to be fair, occasionally inscrutable) RPG systems. Astounding audio design. Ambitious, unwieldy, magnificent.

Also, I played on easy mode and with a walkthrough.

Torchlight (2009)
Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 (2012)

I got both of these games because they were being given away. In both cases, I played for an hour or two, had an okay enough time, and then needed to decide whether I was willing to devote any more time to them. In both cases, the answer was no.

Tomb Raider (2013)

This was a spectacular action-adventure game whose main flaw was pretending to be something other than a spectacular action-adventure game. I loved the Metroidvania-style design, and the realistic nature of Lara's power-ups. Loved the environments and the platforming. Didn't so much love the shooting, but put up with it (tried to roleplay a little and stick to bow-and-arrow and melee attacks).

But Tomb Raider kept promising something different than what it delivered. So much was made of Lara's taking a life for the first time, but then her kill count almost immediately rocketed to "Arnold at the end of Commando" levels of ludicrousness. Among her first objectives are finding something to eat and building a fire, which set up expectations of a more robust survival mechanic than what the game actually delivers (which is none, other than trying not to get shot). And for as much as the storyline is supposed to be about the birth of a survivor, it's really about the birth of a killer, and at any rate Lara's death scenes are so graphic and so numerous that not only do they belie her status as a survivor, they cross the line into brutalization more often than not.

I wanted the kills to matter more. I wanted about 1/50 as many enemies, but longer and more meaningful combat engagements. I wanted to have to hunt and survive in a way the game never demanded me to do after the first five minutes. Overall, I found myself in the odd position of truly enjoying the game I was playing, all the while wishing I were playing the game Tomb Raider pretended it wanted to be.

Just Cause 2 (2010)

I found this to be basically unplayable with a keyboard and mouse.

Gunpoint (2013)

This might have been the first game I've played in which I enjoyed the cutscenes more than the gameplay. Not that I didn't enjoy the rewiring puzzles -- just didn't flip out for them. I loved Gunpoint's approach to saving and re-loading, and then hated how it abandoned that approach in the last mission. As a result I never actually finished the last mission. Was worth the price during the Steam sale, though.

Monaco: What's Yours Is Mine (2013)

I played this for five minutes and had no idea wtf was going on.

Dishonored (2012)

My second-favorite game I played this year. I wrote about it a bit already in the post "Verbs." Nothing else to add.

BioShock Infinite (2013)

This game is such a drag. I've read some pretty well-considered takes on the problematic aspects of its story, but I can't even get to that level of scrutiny myself because I find it unpleasant to play. It brings me no joy to say this. Whether it's the way the game treats me like an idiot, still giving me onscreen reminders about everything even several hours in, or the general Potemkin village nature of the game world, it seems like a game built to keep players from getting lost in it. And it's just not fun. It is a rote, uninteresting shooter, aside from questions of story or gameworld. What a weird and unfortunate arc that has taken Irrational Games from System Shock 2 to this.

Battlefield 4 (2013)

Reviewed this for Paste. I'll add that I was a little hesitant to spend so much time harping on the bugs and crashes, especially because I thought they would be resolved quickly. Suffice it to say that ensuing events have made me feel more than vindicated. That said, I still enjoy the game quite a bit and have continued to play it when I've been able to. 

Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign (2013)

Reviewed this for Paste. This is the game that has at last displaced Fairway Solitaire as my daily dumper.

Games I acquired and didn't play:

Deus Ex
Fallout 1
Fallout 2

Surely, there will be plenty of time for Future Mitch to play these.