2013 has been quite a year. In the world of video games 2013 saw the launch of two new
While each of those topics could warrant multiple articles, today we’re here mainly to look at the last on that list. But, before we begin, it is worth noting a few things. The following is but a collection of opinions, and as with any set of opinions not everyone has to agree with them (heck, even I don’t agree fully with the list). Taste is subjective, and one should recognise that. It’s also worth noting that all of us are but humble students. Not everyone has near-limitless money or time, so for the games we missed out on, we ask that you be understanding.
Regardless, join us as we remember some of the best games that 2013 had to offer!
I still remember the first time I was shown The Stanley Parable: I’d been almost physically dragged before it by in a somewhat drunken state and forced to give it a try. Even then, in my hardly sober state of mind, I was rather sceptical about the whole thing. After all, my friend had refused to give any context to the game. He wouldn’t tell me anything about it other than the fact that it was both about, and not about, a man named Stanley. Admittedly this was back when The Stanley Parable was but a simple Source mod, using basic assets from Half Life 2. Yet, despite my initial misgivings, I quickly fell in love with the game and appreciated what it was trying to do. It wasn’t very soon before I was repeating the cycle, dragging anyone with basic hand-eye coordination and a free half-hour to come play it.
I’m not quite sure why it was then that I ended up being just as sceptical for its 2013 re-release. Perhaps I was worried that it would end up being very much the same game, with most of its charm and appeal lost on someone who had seen it all before. Regardless, I decided to once again give it the benefit of the doubt, and I’m happy to say that I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, the game almost seems better for someone who has seen it before, playing off your expectations in a surprisingly fun way.
For those who may have noticed that I haven’t actually explained what the game is, that is deliberate. The Stanley Parable’s strengths come from its unpredictability, its charm, and its humour, all of which are far more effective when experienced fresh. All you need to know is that while a very basic game, The Stanley Parable is a very special one. It manages to balance its self-awareness with the appropriate tone, never coming across as pompous to the player. For as much as the experience is improved by having an understanding of games culture and its tropes, it isn’t reliant on it, with a wittiness that should be open to all. The end result is a game that you just want to make others experience, and if I manage to accomplish that even once with this piece, I’ll be happy.
After experiencing the last two games in the series rather intimately (putting in over 200 hours), I was understandably excited for the release of Total War: Rome II, and I was not left disappointed. Rome II has benefited from a graphical update over previous games in the series, leaving the game looking nothing short of beautiful, with a smooth user interface that makes managing your settlements and commanding your vast armies laughably easy. Perhaps to an outsider Rome II is merely a remodelling of the original Rome, but to fans of the RTS genre it is clear to see that this game is more about, well, ‘Total War’ then any of its predecessors have been.
Settlement management, which for so long was a fine balance between happiness and rioting and offering a dizzying array of choices for building upgrades and such, has become so much more streamlined and also secondary to warfare. Battles have become more tactical, with players having to use specific troop types for specific roles, rather than in the past when sheer numbers would triumph over all. The range of factions and troop types is also nothing short of astounding; all the more so when you realise that more can be added via already released DLC, such as the Greek States pack. Other DLC such as the Blood and Gore add-on is also brilliant, giving battles that ‘Quentin Tarrantino feel’ and incoming add-ons, such as Caesar in Gaul, will hopefully add new dimensions to the game. Whilst the game did have initial teething problems, as it stands now, it is a fine addition to the series and one I will be playing for years to come.
A post-apocalyptic world following a zombie or similar outbreak with the main protagonists being a troubled middle-aged man and a younger girl is hardly a unique premise for a video game, yet despite this risk of similarity, The Last of Us stands above anything else I have played this year. The Last of Us tells an emotionally troubling story of Joel (a rugged survivor) trying to smuggle Ellie (a teenage girl with no memory of life before the apocalypse) across the United States, in a time where a fungus mutation has turned much of the population into infected, brain-dead monstrosities.
Even those left uninfected are willing to do anything they can to remain alive, primarily at your expense. This lays the foundation for tense and varied combat, either through suspenseful firefights with other survivors or nerve-wrecking survival horror sequences against the infected. This tension is exaggerated by the lack of supplies you have at any point on this 15-hour journey (you simply cannot afford to miss a shot when you only have 4 bullets left).
The game’s beautifully brutal, restless combat is expertly intertwined with the emotionally and ethically challenging narrative that illustrates humanity’s desperation to survive, creating an experience unlike anything else. This is made even better by the excellent technical aspects, with super looking environments and one of the best soundtracks I have heard. On top of this fantastic single player, The Last of Us also contains some of the most interesting multiplayer in recent years, with the nail-biting combat successfully carried over from the single player, only now against human opponents. As such, in a year of high profile releases, The Last of Us is my game of the year.
As one of the people who enjoyed and appreciated what GTA IV was trying to do, despite its mixed results, it was difficult to know what to expect from GTA V. What it delivered was fun in dumpster truck size quantities, the kind that only comes when every possible restraint has been cast off. The characters of the game are so utterly reprehensible that you cannot help but get swept away with the exuberance and energy the experience delivers. Yes, it’s a relentlessly bleak satire on Western society, but that’s not really the point. The point is how deliriously entertaining it is to be let loose amongst the worst excesses of pop culture and wreak havoc.
Not to mention that this dark mirror of a world is one of the most impressive yet seen in a game. The same problems of filler content and eventless areas sometimes plague it as they do every open world game, but the detail alone makes it a joy just to drive its roads and desert. And when the action does start, it’s the characters, the heist planning, and the unpredictability and fluid movement of the missions that elevates it above being a standard shooter. The Saints Row series may have mastered utter ridiculousness, but Grand Theft Auto has always kept at least a toe in realistic waters, and it gives a great cinematic quality to the action to complete the package. With an additional online mode that includes entirely new missions to play with up to fifteen other people, GTA V is a game that will and should be played well into 2014.
Certain game series have pedigree: whether it be consistently stunning visuals, great story-telling, a popular gameplay style, a particular aesthetic etc. Saints Row has a pedigree for fun: simple, unadulterated fun (plus it’s no slouch in the other departments, either). Saints Row IV unashamedly continues the tradition, in its insane, gleeful and masochistic manner. The Saints Row series has never failed to be fun, even when a certain other well-known sandbox series has struggled with the concept.
Saints Row IV ups the ante by throwing the player into a crazed Matrix-style sandbox to fight invading aliens whilst being tooled up with over the top weapons (such as the sublimely ridiculous and devastating dubstep gun) and superpowers! The superpowers add massive dynamism and scope to the game. Their seamless and simple controls contribute to heavily rewarding gameplay that allows the player to simply enjoy being a bad-ass.
All the typical features are there: activities, vehicle customisation, ‘homies’ (a ton of them), weapon customisations (with some very familiar weapon skins), ability unlocks and challenges. The superpowers do make vehicles a bit redundant, but the game still makes them a cool feature as always. But the strongest feature of the game is the potential customisation for everything from appearance, character voice, weapons, special abilities, vehicles, and even superpower upgrades. There is so much choice, so much that can be done to personalise the experience and give replay extra value, that it all simply makes the game more fun. For me, Saints Row IV never disappoints.