When I first put together my top 10 games of 2013 I thought my list would end up being run-of-the-mill (how could anyone else’s opinions differ from mine own?) I never expected my list to look so radically different from my peers — holy smokes folks, we had some damn great games!
Outlast is a horror-stealth game that puts all of its eggs in the imagination basket. It’s got about as much focus on methodical sneaking as a Skyrim dungeon, and is every bit as immersive as the best parts of one too. But what I really love about Outlast as a horror game is that it lets you get close and personal with the residents of the asylum, and unlike other ‘what is it?’ creatures, the evil of Mount Massive is way more twisted once you get to know it. Red Barrel sidesteps the disappointment of revelation by never hiding what you’re supposed to be afraid of and it makes for an overall great survival horror.
9. The Stanley Parable
It is really hard to put The Stanley Parable down. I expect I’ll be showing this game off to company more than any other game on this list. It’s clever and funny, smart and satirical, but it’s also bite-sized and brimming with discovery. The Stanley Parable was all too willing to surprise me, and having played the mod it came from I was positive I knew what to expect. I didn’t, you don’t, go play.
Experiencing for the first time is like being dropped straight through the looking glass into wonderland. It’s a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a video game. I wouldn’t want to spoil too much about how the game plays out, but the first time you turn around and you aren’t where you thought you were is all too exciting. Meanwhile, the game is riddled with literal writing on the wall, which is constantly handing out metaphorical life advice that’s only vaguely relevant to your actions in the game — and this pseudo narration really brings the world to life by convoluting your every move. The whole game is about touching and experimenting with your unstable surroundings and it’s really satisfying to take part.
7. Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Ni No Kuni almost perfectly encapsulates my childhood memories of playing a story-based video game for the first time. So many of the game’s art and design choices feel tailor-made to reminisce about Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy, or what you remember Pokemon being. Walking around the world map, learning there’s more to your party than meets the eye, and basking in Joe Hasashi’s phenomenal score really hit the mark for me. I have no qualms saying it’s the best JRPG of the generation — and really the best I’ve played in the genre, that I’ve played, since Dragon Quest VIII. The disappointments for me were the stingy use of Studio Ghibli’s gorgeous hand drawn cut-scenes, and the minimum of voice acting that went into the English localization.
6. The Last of Us
The Last of Us is the most recommendable game of 2013. It’s a poster child for the type of games that were popular this generation: the story is a cut above the typical action romp, the gameplay is solid — if not long in the tooth— and the game’s production value is through the roof. The only real ‘issue’ I had while playing it was not being able to shake the the feeling that the gameplay was irrelevant to the game’s most interesting sections. Oh, and if you’ve already finished the game, make a point of seeing its alternate ending.
5. Super Mario 3D World
What can I say, Mario is my jam. Just like the 3DS romp in 2011, Super Mario 3D World had me worried. It starts off a little too easy, and doesn’t have the visual excess of Super Mario Galaxy, but the game is so chalked full of pure unadulterated joy it’s hard not to love it. I’m still not a fan of having more than two people playing at once, but playing it with people close to me delivered the exact kind of deja vu you hope a Nintendo game would — an instant Nintendo classic.
4. Bioshock Infinite
I never thought this would end up being a controversial pick, because Bioshock Infinite is incredible. I’ve got a near laundry-list of complaints go along with its many accolades, but it’s the sort of passion and nitpickiness that stems from something so clearly worth obsessing over. I wish video games didn’t feature killing so prominently, but I can’t pretend mowing down thousands of mobs detracted from how riveted I was exploring the city of Columbia. Bioshock Infinite has high highs and low lows, but what I love here is cut from the cloth of my favourite stuff in games.
3. Kentucky Route Zero
I find it really difficult to describe why these types of stories appeal to me, because I understand so readily why someone wouldn’t like them at all. If you don’t have the patience for watching 20 minutes of monkeys at the start of 2001: A Space Odyssey, or if you roll your eyes during Mulholland Dr. you’re not going to find anything to love along route zero, but if you’re like me and were afraid to blink watching either of these movies, then let me present you with one of your new favourite games: Kentucky Route Zero. It’s the most striking game of the year and probably the most unlike anything else on this list. The real triumph here is in the game’s ability to wrap a story around your choices and not impose choices on a narrative; it’s super duper great.
2. Saints Row IV
And then there’s Saints Row IV. This is the game that’s screaming “Play me, play me” from a pile of games that look just like it, and come hell or high water it is gonna leave you satisfied. It’s a video game that’s making sure you’re having fun, and if it catches you glancing at your phone it’s liable to scream, drop its pants, and start dancing around for your own amusement. No other game this year had me bursting out laughing through gameplay alone. Oh you’re escaping a giant death facility, how bout you do it to ‘What is Love?’ Is this building bothering you? Let’s just jump right over that. Looking for love? Don’t worry YOUR ENTIRE PARTY is down to clown with the president of the United States of America, because this is Saints Row, dammit, and we’re having a good goddamn time!
1. Gone Home
Gone Home is the kind of game that proves what we’re doing here is worthwhile. It’s a grown-up video game. The kind of entertainment that uses our medium to make something worth passing on. It’s a game, make no mistake, it’s a video, game. You play with it. But it’s so much more than another tired example of how games are art; it’s an encapsulation of a distinct culture in time, it marries game to cinematic storytelling, and it does it without using cutscenes. It’s a realization of how much more the medium is capable of and if you don’t get around to playing, expect to be surprised when your kids are learning about it as an important lesson in design evolution: from Super Metroid to Gone Home environmental storytelling 101. It’s my game of the year.
- Gone Home
- Saint's Row IV
- Kentucky Route Zero
- Bioshock Infinite
- Super Mario 3D World
- The Last of Us
- Ni No Kuni: The Wrath of the White Witch
- The Stanley Parable
Don't forget to check back on Friday to see Castle Couch's overall Game of the Year, and listen to our 5+ hour deliberation podcast.
Visit our 'canon' page to see how 2014 looked compared to years past.