Numbered lists are for jerks. Below you will find a load of games we enjoyed this year, in alphabetical order, that we think you should consider playing too if you haven't already.
Note that our actual Game of the Year isn't here. That'll come later, although if you've paid any attention to the site over the last 12 months, you can probably figure it out.
We've talked at length on the podcast before about how JRPGs are something you really only have time for when you're a teenager. The things are fucking 60 hours long, man!
It's for this reason that I've not been able to take the genre seriously since Final Fantasy X, which I only managed to finish while working nights on a boring security job when I was 18.
Enter Bravely Default, a game that single-handedly revived my interest in a genre I had long thought dead to me. Turns out it doesn't take much, you just have to come up with a clever battle system and pace the bloody thing so that I'm actually having to think about stuff on a regular basis.
The game's Brave/Default system is brilliant, allowing players to use several turns in one go, or store them for later use. Then you've got the Final Fantasy Tactics-esque job system that gives players the freedom to experiment by combining different sets of abilities; of course, the developers have foreseen and designed every single possible combination, but you still feel like a massive genius when you figure out rad combinations that give you a huge advantage in battle.
The story is largely unremarkable (at least, it has been so far in my 25 hours with it), but it does a fine job of making you instantly give a shit about each of the main characters. Of particular note is Ringabel, an amnesiac whose only possession is a stranger's journal that details the future exploits of the group. And once Ringabel joins the party, you can just read the whole sodding thing. It is as confusing and terrifying as it sounds.
Oh, and it's the nicest-looking game ever made.
I bloody love this game, man.
Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons
A brilliantly clever puzzle game inspired by Nordic folklore, Brothers is the story of two boys who set off to find a magical cure for their dying father. You control each brother with one stick on the controller, and the bulk of the experience is essentially a test of co-ordination between your two hands. Only it’s a lot more fun and interesting than it sounds.
What really sets it apart, though, is its brilliant use of its systems and controls to emphasise the emotional weight of certain narrative elements. It is for this reason that I am proud to present Brothers with the official Midnight Resistance award for Most Depressing Controller Vibration 2013.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror Of Fate
Absolute winner of 2013’s most needlessly overlong title, but also deserves to be right up there in consideration for top 3DS game, on what might be the single strongest year for software any machine has had, ever. High praise. Mirror of Fate takes the combat from the Xbox/PC/PS3 version and sticks it into something that better resembles the classic, exploration-based Castlevania games, and tweaks it ever so slightly so that it is still deep and rewarding, but simple and forgiving enough that you don’t toss your 3DS in frustration. It’s also got a proper downer of a story, which is a breath of fresh air in a lineup that is full of brilliant but cheerful Nintendo games.
A Dark Room
We've seen a lot of lo-fi browser games go viral this year, but A Dark Room was the only one I played that turned out to be actually really good. There's very little to go off when you first start playing, but it does (eventually) reveal an interesting story, and can be completed in about half a day while slacking off at work. Play it here: http://adarkroom.doublespeakgames.com/
A Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style browser game in which you play as a young adult living with depression - juggling work and relationships while managing your mood. I wrote a big thing about this earlier in the year which I don't want to rehash here; all I want to say is that it's short and excellent and free and I urge you to go through it at least once. Play it here: http://www.depressionquest.com/
Farming out a typically Japanese-developed series to a Western developer is usually a sure-fire sign that it's being thrown, knowingly or not, to the dogs. Christ, just look at Front Mission or Lost Planet. So it's sort of understandable that we all shat one when we heard that Capcom were letting Ninja Theory handle a new Devil May Cry, never mind the fact that suddenly Dante's a wee boy now. Say what you like about the fairly brilliant Enslaved, but precision combat wasn't its main strength. And Dante has black hair now! Didn't Capcom tell Ninja Theory that Dante's entire character is 'cunt with white hair'?
But hey, good news: we're all idiots and should shut up, because DmC turned out to be an absolutely astonishing brawler that easily deserves to rub shoulders with the series' highest points. Although if it was to climb on DMC3's shoulders shouting "I'M THE BEST, I'M THE BEST" we might tell it to settle down.
It looks amazing, it's snappy as fuck and its mid-combo weapon-switching is an absolute joy to master. And you nearly see Dante's dick in it!
The most compelling game to emerge from Dulljam 2013 was also one of the shortest - Nicholas Treen's Eye Moistener, a game about deciding whether or not to blink. It's difficult to talk about without spoiling the plot, but I really love the increasingly vivid language used to describe your situation. Play it online here: http://midnightresistance.co.uk/sites/all/files/eyemoistener.html
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
AKA the game Far Cry 3 should’ve been, if it wasn’t going to be Far Cry 2: 2. They were clearly having a right laugh with this, which takes the best parts of Far Cry 3 (the freedom of combat) and sacks off all the awful rubbish (the plot, the characters, that Skrillex song, the fact that the game far outstays its welcome, the Ubisoft patented ‘Assassin’s Creed’ system of progression) and replaces it with an 80s’ sci-fi action movie setting starring Michael Biehn, who seemed to be getting paid per Predator reference. There’s also a button to flip the bird and I have the sense of humour of a 14 year old boy. You can actually feel the fun the developers must’ve had making this game in every minute of gameplay - trimmed of all the fat and the best aspects blown up to illogical extremes. Can we ‘Blood Dragon’ all of your major franchises, Ubisoft? Please?
Fire Emblem: Awakening
A tight little tactics RPG with a really well-written cast of characters and a brilliantly weird relationship system which can change (minor elements of) the storyline depending on how you team your characters up in combat. Includes a load of new options that address all the things I didn't like about previous Fire Emblem games. Likely to remain the best strategy game on the 3DS until they release a new Advance Wars.
As someone who played BioShock Infinite and liked it but sort of wished he could just wander around looking at things, I was contractually obliged to adore Gone Home.
It's a game about a place and the people who've been in it. You walk around a house and look at things, and as you do so a touching story about your family's activities in your absence unfolds.
It doesn't do anything particularly new, but it does successfully pull a bunch of existing ideas in in-game narrative together with brilliant effect, and serves as the poster child for the Piecing Together A Story From Abandoned Notes And Stuff genre. It's a lot more coherent than Dear Esther, for example, and beautifully paced. Sure, you're choosing when to look at things and in what order, but each element of the story emerges with such perfect timing that you'd be forgiven for thinking the developers are guiding your every move. They probably are, of course, but in ways that are a bit more subtle than AND NOW A CUTSCENE PLAYS.
Some found the asking price a bit steep, but it's a regular in Steam sales and the like. Give it a look if you're not a stupid arsehole.
Grand Theft Auto V
Probably the most remarkable thing about GTA V is that all those cool guys who crept out of the woodwork a few months after GTA IV's release to declare that it was Actually Rubbish and we'd Got It Wrong, are yet to say the same things about GTA V. Almost as if it is a better game!
Now, we're all guilty of riding the hype train from time to time and allowing ourselves to get all jazzed up about new games that then turn out to be, y'know, alright. And all the warning signs were there with GTA V, so bold were the claims made by the game's marketing. A stupidly vast world, aeroplanes, submarines, fucking GOLF. It all seemed too good to be true.
And yet, for once, we got almost everything we were promised. They refined everything about GTA IV whilst also expanding it to match the vision of GTA: San Andreas. It's an astonishing achievement that it even hangs together at all, never mind the fact that it's actually brilliant fun.
And the golf and tennis aren't shite! And it looks amazing! And it's quite funny! And you can get you and your mates to have a fist-fight on the back of a flatbed truck while someone else drives it around so you keep falling over then someone else brings a helicopter and you all get in it and fly as high as you can and then jump out and try and land in the truck!
I could've lived without that torture scene, mind.
I’ve got a soft spot for anything that falls into the awfully titled sub-genre ‘Metroidvania’, and Guacamelee! is very much a classic example of the genre. It wears its influences on its sleeve, with some pretty un-subtle nods to Super Metroid and Megaman throughout. What it brings to the table is some fantastic combat and platforming, which assumes immediately after a brief tutorial that you’re not an idiot and allows for some genuinely challenging but never frustrating gameplay right from the start. As you pick up more abilities, they don’t just allow you to progress to previously unreachable areas and such, but also flesh out the acrobatic platforming and hard-hitting combo system. There’s something satisfying about besting a room full of enemies, using all your skills and not being hit, or making your way through a particularly testing platforming sequence, that relies on you to use every ability in your arsenal to reach the end.
The Last Of Us
For the first couple of hours, I thought we had another Bioshock Infinite on my hands. I had seen the review scores, read the pages of absolute praise for The Last of Us that convinced me that this was to be a truly breathtaking experience and, well, it felt far from that. However, once the game took its training wheels off, and the opportunities to approach the various situations became more varied and in my control, the game began to deliver on the massive amount of hype. Great characters - in terms of both development and performance - turn an otherwise fairly cliche story into something memorable, while the gameplay ends up being something you could fairly say is a better sequel to Resident Evil 4 than any of the recent Resident Evil games. The HIGHEST praise.
The Legend Of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
I’ll admit, I was a bit cautious going into this one. The setting - a sequel to the SNES masterpiece A Link To The Past - was obviously awesome, but the whole ‘renting items instead of finding them in a dungeon’ thing made me wary. Turns out, Nintendo proves doubters to be idiots, yet again. It is a genius idea, allowing for the most freeform and varied Zelda game in ages. Possibly ever. Ever. Because the entire world is essentially accessible to you from the moment you can rent all the items, you’re encouraged not just to explore, but to make your own choices as to how you want to proceed through the game. There’s also the new mechanic that allows Link to merge into walls and move along them, like a living drawing, which adds a whole literal dimension to the puzzle solving. This isn’t just another brilliant Zelda game - it is a brilliant, fresh Zelda game. That’s about as good as it gets.
It is a bit weird when it becomes apparent that a developer is studying your thoughts and making videogames aimed squarely at you. When Tribute Games put out the Scott Pilgrim game, combining one of my favourite comics, bands and graphic artists, I was a bit suspicious. Then they’re all over Kickstarter, giving it ‘oh yeah we’re gonna make a game that combines Metal Slug and Monster Hunter’.
Get out of my mind, Tribute.
As well the core concept being entirely ace, the weapon customisation is also worth a shout. Imagine the guns in Borderlands if they weren’t randomly-generated and you were actually heading out on missions to gather parts and build your guns piece-by-piece. It’s a fascinating system that takes Monster Hunter’s (now abandoned) custom bowguns to a new level, and there’s a genuine pride in being able to strut about in multiplayer games with your ludicrous creations.
Wait until it leaves Steam Early Access if you absolutely must, but even in its current state it is easily one of this year’s highlights.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
Experience life as a cyborg ninja mercenary as you barrel from one overblown boss fight to the next while cutting dudes up in slow motion and ripping out their spines with your bare hands! The story is a cyberpunk political thriller worthy of its Metal Gear Solid heritage (make of that what you will), while the gameplay builds on Bayonetta's combat system with seamless shifts in tempo as you go from frantic brawling to precision dismemberment, and back. One of the best action games ever made, just like ALL OF PLATINUM'S OTHER GAMES.
Mount Your Friends
So obviously I’m a bit biased here, because a mate of ours held a Mount Your Friends tournament and I ended up winning and the whole arrangement looked WELL suspicious. But the truth is this: I succeeded in the tournament because I got past ‘ha ha look at the men’s cocks swinging about’ and ended up appreciating the game for what it really was; an incredibly technical and nuanced competitive game.
The fact that it’s done so well despite currently only being available on Xbox Live Indie Games at a time when Microsoft appear to be actively holding a pillow to its face speaks volumes. Expect it to explode when it finally lands on Steam in 2014.
A late entry to the list, but one that is absolutely worthy of its place. NES Remix is a weird, downloadable only cross between Warioware’s 9-Volt levels and ROM CHECK FAIL. You’ve got a selection of classic NES titles - Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong Jr., Balloon Fight, among others - and you have to pass a series of challenges from those games, earning up to three stars depending on your performance. Collect the coins! Stamp on 10 enemies! Reach the finish! Once you’ve collected enough stars you unlock one of the ‘Remix’ stages, which is where the game really gets strange. Characters are switched around, gameplay mechanics tweaked and even changed completely and classic gaming moments are turned completely on their head. It’s brilliant fun, and for those of you lamenting the dreadful Game and Wario earlier this year, well worth your attention.
I've had a lot of run-ins with dour immigration officials since moving to India two years ago, and if we're going to talk about ways in which childrens computer games have changed our perspectives on the world, then Papers, Please absolutely deserves a thumbs up for making the soulless rubber-stampers who routinely flick through my pile of perfectly legit paperwork and
treat me as if I've just washed up on a beach seem almost like normal human beings trapped in a monotonous job filled with uncertainty.
Once in every generation a game comes along that redefines everything you thought you knew about videogames, and life. Pissman by Dave Woollard is a transcendental voyage into, through and beyond the human condition that will leave you gasping for breath.
I went back and forth a lot on whether to include this or not. It's fundamentally the same as every other Pokémon game ever, which can be a bit tiring if you've played a lot of them... but at the same time, you can see they've made a lot of small changes in this one to make the main single-player game easier and more child-friendly. It's probably the best Pokémon game to date, and an excellent starting point for new players, but series veterans may be left feeling uncomfortably aware of their age.
Rayman Fiesta Run
You may find this to be absolutely blasphemous but I actually prefer the mobile ‘Rayman Run’ games over the brilliant Origins and Legends. Rayman starts his run through the level and all you can do is jump, punch and hover your way through them. Trying to collect all of the Lums en route is where the real fun lies, as you’re made to try and work out some fiendish platform puzzles as well as reacting to the situation almost on instinct. If you mess up, you can restart the stage almost instantly and go again. It also looks fantastic, running on the same UbiArt engine that powers its console brethren and at no point ever asks you for any more money. A near perfect mobile phone game.
Risk Of Rain
So it turns out there is a way to combine elements from most game genres you’ve ever heard of and make an absolutely outstanding game instead of just a pooey-brown mess.
On the surface, Risk of Rain is a 2D platformer. You run and jump around and shoot aliens. But it also has permadeath, and each run through the game is pretty short, even if you actually make it to the end. Plus you find random items that give you new abilities or boost your stats. So it’s kind of a roguelike, too. And there are different classes to play as, each with their own set of abilities which you have to understand and use carefully, making sure you watch their cooldowns at all times. Which has been neatly nicked from MMOs/MOBAs and reappropriated here for a type of videogame that’s actually fun.
The game’s got its own ideas, too. You only progress to the next level when you choose to, so the temptation at all times is to spend as long as possible on each level in order to net more experience points and gather as many rad items as possible before moving on. Thing is, the longer you spend playing the game, the harder it gets. Hanging around on the first level for half an hour is a brilliant way to get yourself slaughtered the moment you progress to level two, so you’ve got to fight the urge to stay put, and continuously push yourself further into the game’s later levels for which you’ll always feel ill-prepared. A fascinating mechanic in an already outstanding game.
Everyone’s favourite slightly-ableist roguelike-like of 2013! Rogue Legacy has you cutting about a randomly generated castle, looking for treasure and trying to best the various bosses hidden within. If you die, you get to spend your haul on upgrades that give you stat boosts and different abilities to use on future attempts, and then you try again - the castle being very different to the last one you entered. The unique thing is every time it rolls you a new hero, they have some somewhat dubious genetic ‘traits’ passed on to them that affect gameplay. For instance, a colourblind hero sees the game in black and white, a short-sighted hero has to fight his or her way through a castle that is blurry outside of the immediate distance to them, a hero suffering from hypergonadism can hit harder and is bigger than others… you get the idea. Rogue Legacy is tremendously addictive, once I picked it up, I played very little else until I was completely and utterly burned out on it. I couldn’t go an evening without having a few goes on it. The Vita version is going to be a killer.
Originally released on the 3DS and now enjoying a fair bit of success on the PC, Steamworld Dig is about a little robot who goes digging and discovers a load of rad new abilities, valuable metals and some INCREDIBLY DARK SHIT.
The guy is an instant joy to control, being incredibly agile and perfectly responsive in such a way that allows you to navigate the game's mines with ease. And thus begins the perfect loop of digging further into the mine, returning to the surface to cash in any minerals you've found and piss it away on upgrades, using those upgrades to dig further, going back to the surface again, and so on.
It'd be compelling enough in and of itself, but the fact that the game tells a disturbing little story via a few environmental cues really helps it to feel greater than the sum of its parts.
It's pretty much perfect as a handheld game, but people seem to be enjoying the PC version too so WHATEVER.
Super Mario 3D World
Another laboured, workmanlike Mario game by Nintendo that trades on name value and is little more than an HD upgrade of the 3DS Mario 3D Land game. Of course it fucking isn’t. Super Mario 3D World is a game that takes the ‘3D Land’ base and throws unmatched levels of inventiveness at it. It gives you a few levels to get to grips with the perfect controls and some of the new features, and then throws everything at you. Brilliant ideas, some worthy of being main gameplay mechanics in a lesser title, are used once, milked for all the fun you can have and discarded to make way for the next one. It looks incredible, the multiplayer is hilarious carnage and the new power-ups - the cat suit and the double cherry - are equally the best and most ridiculous to appear in a Mario game for some time. Nintendo are embarrassing almost all their competition with games like this. Nobody does it better.
Hooray! MediaMolecule finally ditched that LittleBigPlanet rubbish and made the proper videogame we always knew they were capable of.
That’s just me being an arsehole, like. I appreciate what LittleBigPlanet does, I just managed to repeatedly bounce right off it with every single iteration in the series. Tearaway, on the other hand, has got its papery tendrils right inside my head and I am loving every second of it.
I’d convinced myself that the Vita TV was a great idea when it was announced, since it looked like all the games I wanted to play on the Vita gained little from being portable. I now have a proper Vita, and a copy of Tearaway, and it turns out the Vita TV can take a fucking hike. Tearaway’s an ace platformer in its own right, but its constant inventive use of all the Vita’s gimmicky bullshit - they found a fun use for the rear touch panel! - is an absolute joy.
And they released it at twenty quid, too! TWENTY POUNDS. If the Vita’s library was still as crap as it was this time last year, and it was still screaming for a ‘killer app’, whatever that is, Tearaway would absolutely be it.
There Ought To Be A Word
An autobiographical game written by Jeremy Penner as part of the Pulse Pounding Heart Stopping Dating Sim Jam, There Ought To Be A Word explores the world of dating through the eyes of a young man who is separated from his wife, but not divorced, but looking for a new relationship, but not really sure what he wants. There aren't many games out there that go all-in for creating a sense of deep personal uncertainty, which is probably why this simple Twine entry feels so fresh. Play it online here: http://www.glorioustrainwrecks.com/node/5207
Lara Croft and Tomb Raider had become dirty words in recent times. Dull games, a tired old formula trading on a name value that went out of fashion with the Spice Girls. A reinvention was in dire need, and man, it got one. Lifting gameplay heavily from Uncharted with a few nods to some classic survival horror meant that Lara returned as a real action hero, gritty and tough - a survivor in any circumstances. Mixing spectacle, tension and action together to create an excellent base for the series to be rebuilt upon. It isn’t the longest or the deepest of experiences, but Tomb Raider grabs you by the scruff of the neck and drags you along on an thrilling adventure that entertains from start to finish.
The Wonderful 101
A Platinum-developed game on the Wii U was always going to tick a load of my ‘wilfully niche dickhead’ boxes, but The Wonderful 101 really is an astonishing piece of work.
It once again displays Platinum’s penchant for games that look utterly daft but rank among the most sophisticated and finely-tuned games ever made. In W101 you control a group of superheroes who join together to make giant weapons, each with their own strengths and weaknesses against certain enemy types. As a result, you’re repeatedly thrown into huge battles that force you to switch weapons constantly, alongside ordering some of your team to break formation and form their own autonomous weapons for a short period of time.
It starts off looking like Pikmin: The Action Game, but as you progress it quickly becomes clear that it’s a brawler that’s every bit as accomplished as Platinum’s previous work, but with a fresh set of ideas and systems to get your head around.
It is brilliant and you can be a man with a toilet for a head in it.
Horror games over the past few years have either become crap action games (see Resident Evil and Silent Hill) or jump scare, YouTube reaction video Pacman clones like Slender and its ilk. Year Walk is a short iOS puzzle game that tells a haunting little tale, but also is an absolute masterclass in creating a chilling horror atmosphere. Its really short (it took me an hour or so first time through, but a second playthrough can take literally fifteen minutes, once you know the puzzles) but it’ll stay with you long after you’ve finished it. Be sure to grab the accompanying app, which not only adds a load of flavour to the world of Year Walk, but also has a few secrets all of its own.