Yes, I know we're well into 2014, and that pretty much anyone who had planned on writing one of these has done so already. But I've been wanting to put together this list for a couple of months, and I just haven't had a chance to until now. (Excuses, excuses.) Better late than never though, right? In general, I really want to keep better track of the things I play, mostly so I'll be able to compare things year to year and see how my tastes progress. Doing a wrap-up post like this is one way to keep the habit—although next time I hope to make it more timely.
Like many who play games, I have an insanely long backlog that never stops growing. You know, because of pesky adult responsibilities and all that. So, this past year I tried to invest as much time as I could into chipping away at it. While I didn't
play finish as many games as I would have liked, I still think the games I did play finish gave me enough satisfaction to not feel as though I missed out on something.
I would say that 2013 was the year that I got really into handheld gaming. I picked up a Vita at the end of 2012 (thanks, Black Friday!), but I didn't put it to good use until I started traveling a lot more for work. Then around summer time, convinced by lots of adorable Animal Crossing: New Leaf tweets, I decided to pick up a 3DS XL. With as many days and nights I spent in airports, airplanes, and hotels, these handhelds were the best things I could have invested my money into, because I most definitely had more time with my handhelds than I had with any of my consoles connected to my television at home.
But even though the amount of time I spent playing games on my portables far surpassed the time I spent on my home consoles, the games I played on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 still (mostly) captured me more strongly than the handheld games did in terms of what I'd rank as favorites. That's not to imply that games made for portables can't be as good as home consoles—my game of the year contradicts that idea. It just so happens that most of the games I connected with were those made for home consoles or PC, which meant I finished more of them.
So without further ado, here are the games I played this year, with emphasis on the ones that stood out to me (for better or for worse).
Games of the year
1. Tearaway – This was my game of the year, and was the only game I played in 2013 that made me want to go back and get 100 percent completion on every stage, mostly as a reason to keep playing, because I didn't want it to end. It's wonderfully charming and creepy in all the right ways, and every bit of the game beckoned me to keep exploring. You control one of two characters in a papercraft world, and you are a You, the strange face in the sky, the guiding light of either Atoi or Iota's world. It's psychadelic, charming, adorable and yet dark all at the same time, and the story is compelling, although vague enough to allow you to devise your own meaning. The game is well-designed, has a nice balance of challenge and pure fun, and at no point did any of the mechanics become tiresome. It's also the first game that I've played on Vita where the use of the rear touchpad felt like it belonged in the game, rather than feeling forced as an afterthought. I truly enjoyed every single aspect of Tearaway, and will likely revisit it again and again.
2. The Last Of Us – When I think of zombie games, I usually think of generic, first-person shooters with little to no character depth and too much violence—games that are void of emotion and are meant to be. But The Last Of Us is different. It's a survival story, but one that doesn't put its core focus on mindless killing. Instead, you embark on a journey about trust, growth and purpose. Unlike other games of similar genre, you actually care what happens to each person you encounter and go to great lengths to ensure their safety. The enemies react in such ways that you're forced to think more strategically about escape. Rather than rushing into situations, wrecklessly unloading rounds of ammunition, in this game you're more careful than that. You're particular about the choices you make because it's not just about you. There's more at stake than your survival. You're a protector and a partner, a hero and a friend. What The Last Of Us does that other games in the same category don't do is it makes you feel.
3. BioShock Infinite – I probably finished this game faster than any other game I played in 2013 simply because I couldn't put it down. Everything about the Disney-like world is so in-your-face fantastical, you can't help but want more. Sure, there's a lot of violence; it is, afterall, still a shooter. But as you get deeper into it, you almost forget that "shooter" is the type of game you're playing, because you, too, find yourself becoming a mechanical killing machine like many of the enemies throughout the game. And I find that to be an interesting twist in itself. There were hints of the puppetry and illusion of choice found in the original BioShock, only with more elaboration, and I appreciated this nod to its predecessor. I was intrigued by the inclusion of themes of extremeism, capitalism, racism and rebellion, and how I found myself constantly confused about which side I was supposed to be on—and how the game teased me for it. While many criticized the game for plot holes and unbelievability, I thought these gaps were intentional—designed in such a way to get people debating over things that aren't there and were never meant to be. From start to finish, I loved the vibrant, over-the-top floating city in the sky, and the brash mockery of a society we enable.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf – This was a game that I didn't expect to like as much as I did. Granted, I basically bought a 3DS XL just to play this game because of all the people in my Twitter feed posting adorable screenshots, but even with that in mind, I still didn't think I was going to end up clocking in over 100 hours in the first two months on this game. It really sunk it's teeth into me. Or, if I want to be more accurate about it, I got addicted to it like crack. And it's a game of chores for fuck's sake! But really, it's an easy game to dive in and out of. It's something you can play for 20 minutes or for two hours, and all those little sessions easily add up. It's great for playing on airplanes or during your commute or any other situation where you're away from home or have some time to pass. And it's just so damn charming that I, too, found myself uploading lots of screenshots to the Internet.
Gone Home – There was so much hype leading up to this game that it was one of those that I wanted to play immediately at release. And so I did. Sadly, all I got out of the game was disappointment. Innovative? Hardly. Deep, heartwarming story? No, it was painfully boring and cliché. Supposedly the game would give anyone who was young in the 90s, especially those who were teenagers at the time, strong feelings of nostalgia and connection. But maybe that's exactly why I thought the entire game was trite—many aspects of the game's setting were things I grew up with, and maybe because of that reason, this fictionalized rendition felt extremely shallow and void of any of the issues and deeper meanings of what it was like being involved in or around the riot grrrl scene, or heck, even as a teenager in general. The story involving the protagonist in Gone Home might be true-to-life in some ways, but the details were so surface-level that it felt as though it were written entirely based on a fantasy of stereotypes and nothing else. The punk rock love story is tired, one that's been so overplayed and misunderstood in real life that told as fiction it felt hollow and as though it were blatant attempt at pandering to a specific demographic. The only thing I enjoyed was the soundtrack.
Depression Quest – As someone who has suffered from depression, clinically, for most of my life, this was a tough game for me to play. It probably took me a lot longer to play through than the average person because of all the breakdowns and crying that happened with each scene. But even with the pain involved in playing it, I'm glad I did, and I think anyone who knows someone who sufferers from, or has suffered from depression should play this game, too. It's a very simple, text-based game built with Twine, but that doesn't make it any less impactful. If anything, it creates a better setting because you're forced to really place yourself into the situations described rather than relying on visuals to do the work for you. If you want to get a glimpse of what it's like to suffer from depression—and I put it this way because really knowing what it feels like to have depression is impossible unless you've experienced it yourself—then you need to play this game. Because it's short, you only need to set aside a small amount of time to play to the end, which makes it very accessible. Depression Quest is well done, and uses the perfect medium to get the message across.
Muramasa Rebirth – There's nothing particularly noteworthy about either storyline in this game (there are two different characters that you can play as, each with its own story), but it's just enough to keep the interest piqued. And besides, the art is beautiful, and it's a ton of fun to play. The game is not complicated at all, but that's part of what makes it so appealing. It's a simple hack and slash that let's you spend lots of time running through the gorgeous scenery and cooking recovery items in a cleverly presented way (one of my favorite parts of the game). So much of Muramasa Rebirth is sitting back and taking in the visuals. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Thomas Was Alone – I didn't think it was possible to care about two-dimensional squares and triangles, but Thomas Was Alone makes you do just that. It's a platformer that's deceptively simple on the outside, but incredibly heartwarming and surprising on the inside. Knowing nothing about the game before playing it (I actually had discovered its soundtrack first, which then led me to purchasing game), I was expecting a game that would be almost mindless—something that I could play as a time-waster. Boy was I wrong. Thomas Was Alone tells a wonderful story about friendship and comraderie, and delivers it through simple, faceless shapes that you grow increasingly attached to as you overcome each presented challenge. Well done.
Full play list
These are all the games I played in 2013 with the intention of completing. In other words, demos or games I only sampled don't get added to the list. The status of each game is noted next to the title. Some games were just so intolerable that I abandoned them (which I really don't like doing), and others I stopped playing—with the intention to pick up again—in favor of something else that caught my interest. Those labeled as 'revisited' are games that I've finished before but have come back to play again, either to see how they've held up over the years, or to play through different routes. Those labeled as 'ongoing' are games that don't really have an end, but that I haven't abandoned yet (such as MOBAs).
Blip Blup (abandoned)
The Golden Arrow (abandoned)
Juniper's Knot (abandoned)
Plague Inc. (abandoned)
Puzzle & Dragons (abandoned)
Quell Memento (unfinished)
Ridiculous Fishing (abandoned)
The Room (finished)
Skylanders Lost Islands (abandoned)
Super Hexagon (abandoned)
Wreck-it Ralph (abandoned)
Mac / PC / Steam
Don't Starve (unfinished)
Gone Home (finished)
Kerbal Space Program (unfinished)
FTL: Faster Then Light (revisited)
League of Legends (ongoing)
Starcraft 2 (unfinished)
System Shock 2 (revisited)
Animal Crossing: New Leaf (unfinished)
Pokemon X/Y (abandoned)
Demon's Souls (unfinished)
The Last of Us (finished)
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (unfinished)
Gravity Rush (unfinished)
Hatsune Miku Project DIVA f (unfinished)
Lumines Electronic Symphony (unfinished)
Muramasa Rebirth (finished)
PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale (unfinished)
Sine Mora (unfinished)
Thomas Was Alone (finished)
Kirby's Epic Yarn (unfinished)
Assassin's Creed (abandoned)
Assassin's Creed 2 (abandoned)
Beyond Good and Evil HD (unfinished)
BioShock 2 (finished)
BioShock 2: Minerva's Den DLC (finished)
BioShock Infinite (finished)
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (unfinished)
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon (unfinished)
Halo 4 (finished)
Nike+ Kinect Training (abandoned)
Portal 2 (revisited)
Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure (unfinished)
The UnderGarden (unfinished)
Viva Piñata (unfinished)
The Walking Dead (unfinished)