Favorite Games of 2013

A new year is upon us and that means it’s time to hand out meaningless accolades to various media properties because making lists is fun!

I am quite intentionally calling these “favorite” lists rather than “best of” lists because there’s a lot of games, movies, and music I didn’t experience in 2013 which no doubt deserve attention and praise, but I can’t consume everything in a year. With that in mind, I am limiting my lists to a Top 3 with possible honorable and dishonorable mentions.

3. The Stanley Parable

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This game deserves and will receive its own post. It’s interesting, funny, and unique. Unfortunately, it’s also best experienced when you don’t know anything about it ahead of time.

I won’t tell you what the Stanley Parable is about. I’ll only say that does what it’s trying to do very effectively. It’s one of the funnier games I have played, but it does more than make you laugh. The game probes and prods human psychology to make its points.

It may not be extremely replayable or lengthy, but it is memorable and different. That accounts for a lot more in my book.

2. BioShock Infinite

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You know when I complained about 2013 having no good sci-fi movies? BioShock Infinite is functionally the year’s best sci-fi movie.

The original BioShock was already a modern classic. It had a great introduction but bumbled around for most of the rest of the game until that pivotal scene happened after which it bumbled around some more and finished with a disappointingly trite and out-of place face off against a big boss.

Its spiritual successor, BioShock Infinite is in some ways a regression in gameplay, but an advancement nearly everywhere else. The pacing, story, and ending are all much improved this time around. Animation, characters, voice acting, and environment design are breathtaking to behold throughout the game.

While it isn’t as smart as it would like to be, the game does an excellent job of being cinematic without resorting to a lot of cutscenes that rip control from the player or relying on big, dumb set pieces with gratuitous explosions.

The ending is a separator of people. I like it. I liked it more the second time around. In fact,  this game warrants a second playthrough in much the same way a Christopher Nolan movie requires a second viewing to glean

It’s not perfect. There are one or two areas that should have been cut and some subplots that aren’t very strong. The story-based DLC “Burial at Sea, Part 1” left a bad taste in my mouth after playing it. But in the end, BioShock Infinite is an impressive package.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s nice to see something both intelligent and well-polished; big budget and heartfelt.

1. The Last of Us

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Partially for personal reasons and partially because of excellent execution, I found The Last of Us to be the most affecting game I experienced all year. Much like 2012’s The Walking Dead, this game uses the zombie apocalypse as a backdrop for an emotionally engaging, character-driven story. Neither game is really about killing zombies – they’re both about protecting the people that you love in a harsh, indifferent world.

The Last of Us shares some thematic threads with The Walking Dead and some superficial similarities with BioShock Infinite. I find it odd how all three games feature an older male protagonist with a younger female companion and they all turned out pretty great. What’s really funny is that BioShock Infinite and The Last of Us both star voice actor (he also does motion capture in Last of Us) Troy Baker who also replaced Mark Hamill as the Joker in Batman: Arkham Origins. 2013 was quite a year for Mr. Baker, but I digress…

While BioShock Infinite is smart and well-written for a big budget game. The Last of Us is just plan smart and well-written. I have to give Naughty Dog props for the restraint they showed in this story. I guess after you’ve made big, loud set piece driven games like Uncharted for years you want to do something with a bit of a different tone.

The Last of Us features some of the best acting, visuals, and direction I’ve seen in video games. The script is thematically resonant starring two beautifully realized main characters who show themselves to be complex and sympathetic individuals. It also deserves the title of Best Name for Anything I’ve Heard of in Ages.

Those are all things I might praise about a movie. The Last of Us basically is a movie and, I confess, that’s how I experienced it. I don’t own a PS3 and I’m not likely to ever own one. But having been interested in the game ever since the original E3 trailer, I decided to watch it just to see what it was like. Maybe that makes it a bogus pick for my favorite game. I don’t care.

I do think that gameplay is an important part of games and should play a big part in determining their quality. But I play games primarily for story. And the story of The Last of Us connected with me while impressing me with its presentation. So maybe The Last of Us is just as much movie as game, but you know what? It was the best movie I saw in 2013.

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THAT ENDING

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