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The Best Bits of 2013 - Games

Rather than just serve up a neatly ranked list of best to worst, I'd rather just sum up some of my favorite games of the year in a few loose categories ...

The 'OMG that Ending!' Award ...



... is split between two of the big award season favorites. Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us both had fantastic final acts that resonated well after you had forgotten the niggles you had with their actual game-play. I loved the world building and characters in both. These games revolved around their narratives and had good enough game-play to urge you along to their next moment. 


They both end strongly, with utterly memorable final scenes, for very different reasons. Bioshock Infinite goes for the Usual Suspects type reveal that leaves you speechless for a moment, while it dawns on you what was going on all along ... The Last of Us also solicits a gasp, but has much more of a Soprano's ending feel to it, which was not to everyone's tastes, but for me it worked perfectly. I'd rather not know ...

The 'I Wish I had More time to play them' Award ...

... goes to both Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch and Assassins Creed Black Flag. These are both great games, despite the odd flaw, that I didn't get the chance to finish.



The wonderful Studio Ghibli art in Ni no Kuni was quite simply exquisite, and while I had some quibbles with the combat system and the overall pacing, it was still one of the most memorable gaming experiences of the year.  



The latest installment of the Assassins Creed franchise again managed to correct some of the missteps of its immediate predecessor, which seems to be a theme for this series. It's a game you can get lost in for sure, and gets back to putting the game-play before the narrative paths where it belongs.

The 'They Don't Make Them Like This Anymore' Award ...

... is shared between the kickstarter funded Shadowrun Returns, and the surprisingly addictive Card Hunter.


Shadowrun Returns was decidedly old-school. It might mean it isn't to modern tastes, but it harked back to the golden age of RPGs for me, evoking the likes of Baldurs Gate, Fallout, and Planescape, in a very pleasing way. Some dubious design decisions aside (I'm looking at you save system!) it was also great to see a kickstarter project execute successfully. 



To be honest I am surprised that Card Hunter hasn't been mentioned in more end of year lists. It's a great little turn based game, and has a brilliantly polished style and interface. Playing on the cliches of Dungeons and Dragons and the table-top genre, it pokes fun at your beloved geeky memories and uses it to frame a really solid and deep turn based squad arena game.

The 'I Really Don't Know How to Categorise These' Award ...

Goes to Papers, Please and Device 6, which were both unexpectedly brilliant in their own eccentric ways.

 

Papers Please was the hardest game for me on this list. The pressure really ramps up as you progress through this dystopian paperwork simulator. It makes you face up to hard choices, and tells an interesting tale as it asks you to play 'spot the difference' against increasingly challenging time limits. It shouldn't work, but it does.


Device 6 is the only iOS game that really blew me away this year (although the first part of Republique came close, but I'll reserve judgement on that one until the game is complete). It's a truly unique experience, part interactive text adventure, part puzzler. It will not be for everyone, but once you get what it's trying to do and roll with it, the story draws you in, and has you wanting to solve that next chapter. It's a touch on the short side, I'd have loved more of it, but I'd recommend it to anyone willing to give it a go!

The 'Ones I had the most Fun with' Award ...

... could be interpreted as my favorites on this list, and maybe they are. These two are the games that I most fondly remembered when thinking of games this year. These are the ones that just made me smile the most and enjoy the time I spent playing them.


Steamworld Dig first appeared on the 3DS and then arrived on the PC at the tail end of the year, and both versions are great. Its a partly procedural platformer with a mining mechanic that makes you dig your own routes down through the mines. The game has an appealingly cute aesthetic, complete with a series of western stemapunk robots voiced with some suitably nonsensical sim-speak style language. 

Considering the game is largely procedural it flows remarkably well, and feels like a fully crafted platform title start to boss fight finish. Dig, mine gems, sell gems, upgrade abilities and manage resources to complete the progression dungeon type parts. Rinse and repeat. It rewards exploration and experimentation, and is firmly a system game that gives you tools and let's you have fun with them. 
  
Gunpoint was a title I had been watching since the very early demos. Made almost entirely by a single developer it's another systems game that gives you a tool set, and lets you explore the best ways to deploy them.



The 8-bit styling worked for the game, and the possibilities were never obscured by the art. It also had an absolutely wicked sense of humour ... at least in a very British tradition, so it made me smile at least once in every conversation.  I might have liked a little more of it, but I treasured every screen in the game.

It all felt a little old school, while being thoroughly modern in the openness of its game-play. Another one that is very easy to recommend.

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