Our personal top tens continue with the 2013 favourites of our Editor-in-Chief, Matt “HalfBeard” Broitman. He does the majority of the reviewing and video coverage around here so he had a wide view of the games that came out in 2013 making his list quite varied. You’ll be able to see exactly what that meant to the debate process for our GOTY awards when they go up tomorrow but for today we have his list of personal 2013 recommendations, so sit back and enjoy.
10. Rayman Legends
It’s no secret that I absolutely loved Rayman Origins and I am so happy that its sequel did not disappoint. While the game is clearly designed for a specific platform (the Wii U) , all the versions are very playable and it’s a lot of fun no matter where you experience it. An upgraded version of the Ubiart engine shows that even 2D games can be visually improved upon and made to look slick as all hell. While it may not innovate too much gameplay-wise, it polishes its tried and true formula to a mirror sheen and makes the beautiful precision of platforming feel equivalent to skillfully playing an instrument, quite literally in the case of its musical levels.
9. Pikmin 3
As far as I’m concerned, this was the reason to get a Wii U in 2013, for the return of one of Nintendo’s strangest but most interesting franchises. While it is still very much the same game overall as Pikmin 1 & 2 were, it’s been so long since those games came out that I have absolutely no problem with that similarity. This isn’t just a simple remix of those prior games though; the new fruit collecting mechanic adds a nice sense of urgency to the story while the two new types of pikmin are used extensively and to great effect. Add onto that a great and surprisingly dark story and you have a fantastic reason to dust off your Wii U.
8. The Stanley Parable
This is a game I really did not expect to like as I generally can’t stand these walking simulator style adventure games where you just putter your ass around an environment while a story is told to you. The Stanley Parable ends up being so much more though, it is not a tale you’re being told or a story you experience, instead it is both. This is a game that tries to tell you a story but lets you disobey that narrative at any turn and adjusts itself when you makes those changes, The ever-present narrator goes beyond being a simple framing device and ends up becoming more of a character than Stanley, filling the role of friend, antagonist, and sometimes even protagonist depending on what the story requires. While there isn’t really much “game” here, The Stanley Parable sets a new precedent for video game storytelling and what can be done with the medium in terms of writing.
7. Sang-Froid: A Tale of Werewolves
I’ll admit that I have a degree of personal bias with this one, I am a very proud Canadian and it always pains me that more games aren’t set up here in the Great White North. That said though, Sang-Froid is a unique and special game that deserves attention and admiration regardless. It tells a story steeped in history and perfectly reflecting the culture of its late 1800’s Quebec setting and the folksy region accurate music and strong visual style give it a unique flavour. The fantastic mix of strategy, action, and resource management its gameplay provides makes for a fast-paced but thoughtful experience and honestly, in what other game do you get to be lumberjack who murders werewolves with a blessed wood axe.
6. Metro: Last Light
It feels like a god damn shame THQ fell apart when it did because if it had lasted maybe just a little bit longer, games like Metro: Last Light could have saved it. In addition to having a great story filled with well written characters, Last Light uses the shiny crazy tech we see in games like COD and Battlefield to set up an atmosphere in ways no other game has done. God rays and insane dust particle are used to show the absolute desolation and age of the decaying metros. Jiggle physics are used to give the last burlesque show on earth a feeling of hopeful desperation as the masses clamber into a ruined theater to escape the utter depression of living underground. Everything on display in Last Light matters to the scene and helps to tell the story underneath the story. Combined with vastly improved but still unique combat mechanics, Last Light is a perfect example of how single player story based shooters are the future of the FPS genre.
5. Risk of Rain
When Brutal Legend came out, it was the video game equivalent of a Heavy Metal album cover, Risk of Rain is that but for trippy experimental prog rock. At its heart you have the fairly simple concept of combining an action platformer with roguelike sensibilities but it quickly extends past that. The game showers you with items, each with their own unique game changing effect, and with every bauble you collect the visual craziness amps up to a crescendo of explosions and enemies that is almost visually incomprehensible. The build up is paced perfectly though and the dreamy music and beautiful pixel imagery help gel all the disparate craziness together. No run of Risk of Rain is the same and the changes in each run are drastic enough to keep you playing forever.
4. Fire Emblem: Awakening
I’ve been a die-hard fan of the Fire Emblem series since it first came over to our shores back in 2003 on the GBA and this latest outing, Fire Emblem: Awakening, may just be the best game in the series. It takes the strategy formula Fire Emblem has always used but refines it even further, opens it up for new audiences, and finds a way to combine its well-loved “support” system with its story in a way that will drive even the most casual of players to obsessive insanity. It’s a perfectly tuned SRPG experience with a compelling story and gameplay so deep you could drown in it.
3. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
While not every attempt Platinum made at character action this year was a winner in my books, they knocked it right the fuck out of the park with Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. It’s a lightning fast game of insane combos and surprising precision which drops you into situations so insane that you can’t help but titter with glee. They perfectly mixed the MGS traditions of heavy-handed philosophy, over-the-top bosses, and unprecedented levels of wacko dialogue with high-flying stylish combat, precision destruction, and a robot dog sidekick who regularly talks down to you. The game is just one jaw dropping spectacle after another and navigating its intricate combat system just feels plain good.
2. Call of Juarez: Gunslinger
I’m just as surprised as you are that a “Call of Juarez” game of all things has found its way this far up my personal top ten, but god damn if they didn’t earn it with what may just be the best western game of all time. It’s a solid FPS that plays to all the western tropes you could think to live out and it scores you well for doing such things; it also has a balls-hard dueling mechanic that makes for some deeply tense moments that would make Sergio Leone proud. The real reason it earns my adoration though is for its deeply layered and slightly comedic story. You see rather than playing through events as they happened, you’re actually playing through the protagonist’s retelling of these events to the patrons of a dusty saloon, and as they start to call him out on his bullshit he backpedals, and the entire game adjusts itself accordingly. It’s a masterstroke of video game storytelling and it meshes perfectly with the dichotomy that is the Wild West’s legendary reputation and it’s more subdued reality.
1. Bioshock Infinite
The thing about Bioshock Infinite is that it’s exactly what you make of it. If you go in dead set on simply getting through it, using just a single tried and true weapon/tonic combo and taking the story straight, you’ll have a bad time. However if you go into it with the idea of exploring a world, making the effort to experiment with every option the game gives you, and spending lots of time pondering the story and it’s meaning, it becomes a deeply enjoyable and philosophical experience. Playing with the various tonics, guns, and the combinations therein is incredibly engaging; I’ve played through it twice now and each time I found myself switching things up constantly, finding new depth in each method of death. Similarly the story is one that lends itself to multiple playthroughs and deep consideration as the choices and observations you make not only define the story and the world but the protagonist. Is Booker a scumbag merc who happily slaughters innocents for money or is he a man ashamed of his coloured past and forced into terrible decisions while only looking for redemption? The answer is both and it depends upon your interpretation of the choices you make for him; it’s just another cog in the wonderful multiverse narrative Irrational has formed here. The decision of what is true and what is not falls as much on the player as it does the writer, once again showing the merit of video games as a platform for amazing storytelling.