10. Fire Emblem: Awakening
I really enjoy Fire Emblem games. The combination of tactical strategy gameplay, RPG systems and anime-ass fantasy visual novel storytelling hit all of the right notes with me, not to mention the massive casts of interesting and often bizarre characters. Awakening takes the previous formula of Fire Emblem games and cranks it up to a whole new level, giving the relationships you form between your characters a whole new significance, and a rather dramatic gameplay system that I enjoyed a lot. It looks fantastic, other than the fact that nobody has feet (seriously, their legs just… end. It’s creepy.) and sounds amazing.
Despite that, I only played maybe a third of it before putting it down and just never getting around to picking it up again. Why? No idea, I know I really liked it, and I still mean to go back to it. Even still, the small amount I played was enough to plant it safely within my top 10 games of 2013.
9. Tomb Raider
I’ve never been overly fond of the Tomb Raider franchise. Lara has always been a bit of an embarrassment to me, more famous for her tiny shorts and massive breasts than anything to do with her character or the games she appears in. Still, I’m always intrigued by mainstream action games that feature female protagonists, and despite some very discouraging comments from the 2013 reboot’s developers, I decided to try it. Aside from a few issues, I found myself pleasantly surprised.
Visually, Lara is at least wearing pants for the whole game, but she never does get around to covering up that tank top, even when she is literally in danger of freezing to death. You just killed like eighty dudes, take a fucking jacket from one of them, dammit. Some of the death animations are unnecessarily gruesome and, frankly, gratuitous, and you see quite a few of them several times as you fail the same sequence over and over again. That aside, Tomb Raider is a very well designed action adventure game with just enough Metroid in it to keep me invested in the tool and weapon upgrade systems, and the combat was mostly pretty fun to engage in (as someone who generally does not enjoy combat systems in most games). Lara proved to be a competent and sympathetic hero to the story, maybe not a perfect example of how to write women in games, but a damn sight better than what we’re used to. Lara has always been a bit of an embarrassment to me, more famous for her tiny shorts and massive breasts than anything to do with her character or the games she appears in. Still, I’m always intrigued by mainstream action games that feature female protagonists, and despite some very discouraging comments from the 2013 reboot’s developers, I decided to try it. Aside from a few issues, I found myself pleasantly surprised.
8. Bioshock Infinite
Let me tell you a secret about myself. I am a huge sucker for sci-fi stories involving parallel worlds and alternate dimensions, and if nothing else, Bioshock Infinite delivers that in abundance. It has a story that’s just convoluted enough to keep you interested without ever really making sense, but you’re too distracted by the rather stunning scenery to notice half the time. The other half of the time, you’re engaged in some very violent, very dynamic combat that I was surprised to find myself actually enjoying. Again, combat is not a particular strength of mine, but I found that Bioshock offered enough variety in arena layouts and versatile powers that it turned most combat sequences into more of a puzzle than a fight, at least to my brain.
You spend most of the game with a companion, Elizabeth, who is at once the most capable person in the entire game, capable of literally tearing reality at will, and also the most helpless, as she can’t even so much as pick up a gun to help you fight. She will throw you ammo though, so that’s… yeah. She spends most of her time opening doors, finding stuff to throw at you (usually helpfully) and oh yeah, getting kidnapped by giant mechanical birds. Still, her personality is interesting and she’s very pleasant company to have in the quiet moments, where the focus is on the world and the story taking place in it, and those were the things I cared about the most.
7. Beyond: Two Souls
You know, for someone who professes to enjoy story content over game systems, you’d think I’d enjoy the games put out by Quantic Dream a whole lot more than I do. I tried to love you, Heavy Rain, but you just kept letting me down. Beyond was, to me, the first time they came close to living up to their lofty ambitions, and believe you me, that still left them with a long way to go.
From a gameplay perspective, Beyond is incredibly simple. You walk around a world and occasionally press a button to interact with stuff, and cutscenes occur and you move the stick to make things happen or not happen during those cutscenes. In video games, we call this a quick time event, and it’s usually considered pretty cheap and lazy, but Quantic Dream have basically made a living out of building entire games off of them. The result is games that focus far more on story than a lot of gamers seem comfortable with, but I definitely appreciate what they’re trying to do. And unlike Heavy Rain, I at least enjoyed (mostly) interacting with Beyond, and I did feel like I was taking part in the story.
Beyond tells a very fragmented story, given to you entirely out of order, jumping around the life of Jodie, a girl with a constant ghost companion, Aidan. Aidan floats through walls and tells her stuff, knocks stuff over, occasionally fucks people’s shit up. It’s really not the compelling part of the story. What is compelling are some of the smaller stories that happen within the context of the larger plot. From awkward teenage parties to a life of homelessness, contemplating suicide, to CIA black ops to a small child being told by her parents she’s a monster and they don’t want her, Beyond tells so many heartfelt and beautifully conveyed little stories that it more than makes up for the fact that as an overall package, it falls painfully short of what the developer wanted to achieve. It might not have been perfect, but Beyond resonated with me on so many different emotional levels I couldn’t possible leave it off a list like this.
6. Thomas Was Alone
I heard that Thomas Was Alone was a somewhat interesting puzzle game with a quirky story, so I decided it was worth checking out. As it turned out, that’s exactly what it was, but that’s not all it was.
Thomas Was Alone is the story of… blocks, basically. The characters are all simple geometric shapes, squares and rectangles, with varying properties such as how high they can jump, whether or not they can float, and of course how big they are. They work in tandem to solve puzzles, coordinating to get from one end of a level to another. The premise is that they are all AI programs who have suddenly discovered free will, and the lot of them are some of the best characters I’ve seen in a game this year.
All of them are voiced by the narrator, so they have the same exact voice. No parts of their visual design informs their personality, and yet, through the strength of the writing (and in many ways, the puzzle design), each and every one of them takes on a life of their own, and becomes a likable personality that you can’t help but want to help succeed.
As a puzzle game, Thomas Was Alone is clever, well designed and jut the right level of devious. It looks fantastic and sounds great, and has some of the best writing you’ll find in any game this year.
PS Sorry about some of the weird formatting with the images. I don’t know why they did that but I’m too lazy to fix it. 2013