It’s customary at the end of any year when you talk about videogames to do some sort of ‘let’s talk about all the videogames in the previous year.’ This is because we’re apes that are reasonably good at pattern recognition and therefore associate the changing of seasons with some sort of greater, meaningful significance around which we structure our lives. Also because at the end of year, writers get really lazy but can’t pass up paying work.
I’m above such concerns, partly because I really actively enjoy talking about these things and also partly because my work is completely worthless in any kind of economic sense, but let us not let these burdens of reality weigh down the task at hand. What follows is going to be a short trip down memory lane for the games I reviewed on 2013, a double-check on how I feel about them, and what you should look forward to in the upcoming sales. What is worth your time and Christmas money.
I’m going to only talk about the games I’ve actually reviewed and I’m going to strive to be positive here. Trust me, I want to yell and shout angrily about some of the games I’ve played this year, out of the context of being Fair, but we’re not doing that. We’re running through games in some general groups, starting with…
Games To Finish
Plenty of games eat up a lot of time, but in my collection there’s a special place for videogames that can push a linear sequence of cause and effect. Some of them are cheap and small (Stealh Bastard) and some of them are long and slow (Dishonored), but they’re still built around a structured, linear narrative. Levels follow levels – from the earliest videogames, these are games which have some drive to complete. Typically, if you want to see a twist ending, or clever character construction, if you want to see horror, or the variance between different emotional states, this is where you’ll see them. I’d also figure that the best comedy games fit in this category. These games aren’t linear necessarily in their play experience, but there is a drive in the game to move you forwards and not necessarily let you move back.
Some of the games I’ve reviewed in this category have been really good. Gone Home, for example, or Dishonored. There’s also the enormous discussion point Bioshock Infinite, and smaller, more singular experiences like Gunpoint and Nightsky. For my money, though, the best game in this category, the one that most deserves to be played is Spec Ops: The Line. SOTL should be held up to game developers and game-narrative fans if only because its core game experience is fantastic at following a consistent, coherent line of cause and effect. This is in an exceptional category, though – and while SOTL was the best game at using its structure to build and define an emotional course for the player to experience, I’d be lying if I said it was the most fun of any games in this category I played this year. For that, the winning title was easily Dishonored. I was replaying Dishonored for months, and I’ve only played SOTL twice.
No, I wouldn’t put Walking Dead on this pile, and yeah, they’re both FPS-derived games, but fuck it, this is my list. I really liked those games because of how they used their tools.
Games To Get Lost In
Far and away, the videogames I put the most time into playing this year were all in this category. My Steam played time alone suggests that the most value for money lies in these games. Up here, in the reviewed games, we have things like Fallout: New Vegas, Far Cry 3, the Assassins Creed sequels, and the world-roamer Darksiders.
Now, it’s hard to say in this kind of game that proximity doesn’t have an impact. The weeks of my life where I rushed home from class because I was aching for a chance to dive back in the Mojave are far away, on the far side of so many other experiences, while after finishing Mass Effect 2 the second time two nights ago, I restarted it again! On the other hand, Far Cry 3, I reset the garrisons three times, and I restarted Fallout: New Vegas too – wanting to keep playing a game that had nothing for me but play.
These games are easily one of your best value for money experiences. They’re also the most moddable – while games like Stealth Bastard offer more levels, fine, you’re not going to find games that expand territory, change fundamental mechanics, add new weapons, new gear, new NPCs, fix major quests, show you dummied-out content, etcetera in those smaller experiences. So many of them are good enough – hell, if you play one or two hours a night of a videogame while you wind down from your job, based on my play experience, Fallout New Vegas will keep you entertained for three months.
Since I’m sticking to games I’ve reviewed and not games I’ve just played (otherwise we’d have Pokemon and Devil Survivor throwing down here and holy shit), I have to set Mass Effect 2 off this list. It’ll have its time in the sun when I truly dive into it and its brethren in the New Year. Which means, thanks to the dreadful sense of despair that is Default, the prize lands squarely upon Far Cry 3, which can be considered a shame because holy shit I really enjoyed Far Cry 3. A truly good first-person character-driven videogame with open-world elements has to have a narrative that makes the free-roaming elements feel like they’re both worth doing and not detracting you from something much, much more important. Far Cry 3 manages to make all of its gameplay elements and challenges feel about as important as one another, by making the world react to what you’re doing. It also knows when to stop asking you to do some things – you don’t need to mess around hunting animals after a certain point, and that’s fine.
Naming a runner-up is hard, because Fallout: New Vegas is the only other game in this category I can look back on fondly at this point – games like Borderlands and Assassins Creed Brotherhood feel more like actively bad games wearing very fancy clothes. Still, you can’t go wrong with that expansive worlds to run around lost in, and thanks to its age, system requirements are forgiving and expansion is plentiful. Far Cry 3 may not have any meaningful DLC or modding going on, but the core game experience is so fun and so varied, I can forgive it.
Join us tomorrow when we continue into other categories and I try to find ways to stop slobbering on Mass Effect 2, and instead try and find ways to give equal time to fluffing Christine Love’s ego while also espousing love of Hotline Miami.