Calendar years are becoming an annual gauntlet of deciding whether to sweep everything under the great carpet of constant current releases, or giving in to games that finally feel ready to play. This lead to me skipping a lot of cool stuff this year, and is the main culprit for leaving out games I gave high review scores to which have shown up on lists elsewhere. It also lead to our take on a GOTY list not being restricted to only 2013 releases, which if you haven't concluded on your own, was my idea. At least I work with a handful of people who let me be selfish.
Far Cry 3 (PC, PS3, Xbox 360 – 2012)
This game isn't as special as I want it to be, but what it was lucky to procure was a few months of unemployment time between my significant other and I, so that the matter of playing it was more of a shared experience. Keeping a handwritten list of animals and supplies needed to upgrade equipment, liberating those little command stations, filling out completion across the island, and plowing through the campaign became a ritual that was easy to play and fun to watch. Many people used this game as a form of escapism, but I perverted it with the tethering of a real-world bonding experience that further discounts Far Cry 3's merits. This game could have been anything, but it turned out to be Far Cry 3.
999 (DS – 2010)
I used to like anime a lot, and while there's a redeeming show every now and then, they're almost always riddled with off-putting things such as a protagonist oblivious to their love interest, sophomoric humor, falling prey to routine dialog, and a variety of other small annoyances. 999 has a lot of this, but what makes it worth getting past is one of the most clever text-based stories in a long time. Aside from some thoughtful use of the DS's screens, it's really a feat to have accomplished making everyone want to play what is essentially a digital book.
The Last of Us (PS3 – 2013)
If we were talking about The Last of Us as a game then it wouldn't have any place on this list. The mechanics are solid, but for what game? Horror? Third person shooting? Or maybe it's the same type of adventure game that Naughty Dog seems to have trapped themselves under since 2007. Fortunately for them, they've also got arguably the strongest character-driven narrative team in North America delivering a story that puts most TV serials to shame, and from a studio capable of bringing that world to life.
Tearaway (PS Vita – 2013)
I can't believe how close I came to not playing this. There are 7 billion of us on this planet, 800,000 people in the SF bay area, and every one of us lucky to exist. Everything about our lives is a miracle, and Media Molecule have decided to tap into the splendor of existence in the most lighthearted, yet heartfelt, way that a developer ever has. This game is a constant hug, and while there are hundreds of thousands of things to play, there's only ever going to be one Tearaway. Upon completion, I noticed a touch of melancholy in that there's nothing this fantastical on the Vita or elsewhere, so I went back in to romp around some more.
The Swapper (PC – 2013)
I wrote about this when I played it earlier in the year and still feel like this game is a masterstroke not so much in design, but in using mechanics to tell a story. Since the only way to find out what that means is to play it, I reckon that you all have some work to do.
Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (GBA – 2002)
I've played this game countless times, but never to completion. This was the year I finished it, or at least beat the last boss. Whatever magic Konami was spinning at the time of this game's release was in full force, because this Castlevania inherently clicks with me. It's probably the dashing forward and backwards that does it, or the heightened arcade feel of the graphics and character movement.
Hotline Miami (PC, OSX, PS3, PS Vita – 2012/2013)
Just after the Steam winter sales, I had finally decided to sit down and play this game. It's buggy, it's inconsistent, and that's just the first five minutes. After some first follies, I found my footing and learned that there's no planning in Hotline Miami. There's only steady breathing, knee-jerk reactions, a swath of violence, and soundtrack to fuel it all. What settled my mind about this game having reached special heights is how replaying any level feels like flying after what once was a stumbling leap. Now that it's on Vita, there's even more reason to murder.
Here's a game that never gave a shit about divorcing itself from certain aspects of a stale franchise, and it was all the better for it. Apparently Dante isn't a cool anime dude anymore, having been switched out for a douchebag, but it sounds like Ninja theory were smart enough to figure out what a winning formula looks like, how style should be embraced and level design intertwined with it, and what kind of wacky writing should prop up a game this off-the-wall. It's not nearly as tightly wound as Bayonetta, but it's a wild ride and on the more creative side of games from 2013.
Risk of Rain (PC – 2013)
I never wanted to like this game. I'm still not sure if I do, but it's sucked 13 hours out of last week and I only discovered it on New Year's Eve. Risk of Rain is really only around 1.5 hours long, but all the learning, death, and luck that it takes to wrap up a full play-through will have you grinding away with the mettle of your Super Meat Boy days. It's hugely flawed, could use a way more competent networking system, and holds its fair share of bugs, but the soundtrack and constant challenge of reaching the finish line have suckered me into thinking about it when I'm not playing.
Persona 4 (PS2 – 2008)
This is a cheat, I admit. I haven't actually finished Persona 4. In fact, I'm 48 hours in and played probably 22 of those hours just in this year, having started in 2010. Even worse– I'm not sure if I'll finish it in the coming year. I did, however, buy Persona 4 The Golden twice (physical, then digital) this year, and owe it to P4 and P3 for changing the way that I expect JRPGs to operate forever and ever. If you can beat that, then let me know what should replace this in the best games I played all year. Go ahead, give it a shot.
The Witcher (PC – 2007)
The person I date ended up playing this game for a specific reason. In surrogate to her experience, I ended up re-opening, restarting, and reliving the entire 40-hour quest of the original Witcher game. Many hate it, but I actually love the passive combat system, prefer its soundtrack over the sequel, and really adored the twist in its finale. This is also the only third-person action RPG that you can play easier with a trackpad than a mouse.
Dustforce (PC – 2013)
This game came out almost exactly a year ago, everyone forgot it, remembered briefly, and then glossed over it again. What they missed was a loving combination of 2D platforming and the sensation of navigating through environments in a fluidity only mirrored in the recent Rayman games. Warm visuals and soundtrack are a cherry and butterfinger crumbles on top of the cake.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf (3DS – 2013)
This game is adorable poison, now refined to awaken our addictive inner 8 year-olds who give too much of a shit about everything a single game has to offer. Mostly though, in my case, it has three months of winter, and that's bitchin'. I also taught a villager to say "wink, wink" after everything, and now he's the funniest game character ever written.