2013 was a year of surprises. A few sure bets like The Last of Us were well worth the hype, but it was the smaller, unexpected games that really made this year special. My personal favourite was Papers, Please, a simulation title that overcomes the rather dry trappings of its genre to become one of the most emotionally exhausting and enriching videogames to date. A close second is Gone Home. Exploring the rooms of a virtual house for an hour or two doesn’t sound particularly exciting either, but Gone Home‘s wonderfully paced examination of a family in turmoil was so excellently presented and generally captivating that it ended up being one of the most memorable experiences of the year.
The ongoing Kentucky Route Zero has also been great. Despite a molasses slow release schedule that makes waiting for new episodes a painful test of patience, each new act in Cardboard Computer’s aesthetically astounding southern gothic is well worth the wait. I’m excited to see where the Lynchian story goes next, not just because the plot and characters are terrific, but because Kentucky Route Zero‘s environments are some of the most creative I’ve ever seen. (Pro tip: they also make great desktop wallpapers.)
Honourable mentions: the incredibly joyful Tearaway, intellectually haunting Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, and the beautifully orchestrated chaos of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and DmC: Devil May Cry.
Worst of 2013
Luckily, I didn’t spend a lot of time playing truly awful games in 2013. This means that the titles I’d qualify as this year’s “worst” are actually more like my biggest disappointments. For this reason I’d single out the highly anticipated Grand Theft Auto V. While GTAV looks great and provides a wonderfully realized setting to explore, its story and mission structure were incredibly uninventive. The trio of main characters all had the potential to be interesting, but the narrative they were a part of felt meandering and half-baked. I’ve come to expect more from Rockstar than the competent, unexciting Grand Theft Auto V offered.
Beyond: Two Souls was another letdown. As a Heavy Rain apologist, I really believed that the introduction of talented actors like Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe and a willingness to learn from the mistakes of David Cage’s past games could make the game something special. Instead, Beyond seemed even more tone deaf than its predecessors. While several of the game’s chapters display a lot of promise (the birthday party and apartment date come to mind), Cage continues to include offensive stereotypes and hackneyed plot twists that make it hard to appreciate the good parts of his team’s work.
Dishonourable mentions: the well realized yet overly repetitive Soul Sacrifice, unexpectedly boring The Cave, and just plain crummy Contrast.