1. Starseed Pilgrim;
This is truly a gem! I have to be careful so to not spoil the game in the description as itís really a game of exploration and trial and error. The elevator pitch would be to describe it as a puzzler platformer game with emphasis on those eureka moments of discovery without any sort of hints. You solve it by playing it. Itís a Cosmic Digital Zen Garden sim. You tend to your garden, planting your seeds, each one with its special ability, trying to fill the space with beauty and escape decay. It was my go to game in the first half of the year and Iíll be revisiting it frequently for sure as I still am.
2. Spelunky HD;
Between the PC and the Vita versions I certainly have dozens of hours played. This game grabbed me, and my son, with its hooks. The procedurally generated dungeons and the rogue-like lite features tickled my brain just the right way. The quick pick up and play and almost instantly death/replay cycle also helped. But what really makes it the one of the greatest game I played this year are the details and depth. Iím still discovering some items, secrets, and new ways of playing to this day. I donít read wikis or watch streams/videos of other people playing it. I just want to discover the game by myself. And playing it co-op on PC with my son is a great experience that I urge everyone with children to try. On the most hard jumps you can just pick his/her character up and help him. And the hilarious deaths will make for a really fun playtime for both.
3. The Last of Us;
The narrative of this game felt restrained, bleak and somber for much of its duration, without any of the bombastic and jaw dropping set pieces of Uncharted or its larger than life characters, but the glimpses of humanity on some of the companions tales and the rapport built through the story between Ellie and Joel just illuminate the game all the same. This is the first game of Naughty Dog where the designers really made an effort to marry the game systems/mechanics with the narrative and in my opinion they hit the mark perfectly for the most part. There is a notable tendency of the game systems to push the player to privilege stealth, or melee combat to save ammo and stay silent. This is not a standard third person cover shooter, for the most part. One of those exceptions works very well, while the other not so much. The Tommyís Dam chapter itís the one exception that works great for me. Joel is not alone fighting well-armoured and well-trained military personnel as in the finale fight. He is fighting other ragtag groups of humans with similar equipment and training (or lack of thereof) so the fight feels plausible. That final fight though felt like a cop out. Itís Rambo on my The Road game. Naughty Dog showed such restraint through the game that that portion almost felt like a betrayal of the game for me and that is ultimately why I canít give TLOU GOTY for this year but still will be a game Iíll remember from 2013.
The Vita game that justifies all its different control schemes and features while keeping it charming and engaging. Never it felt gimmicky. Itís a feel-good game that played with children instantly turns into an interactive toy. The camera usage, the tactile nature of the mechanics and the simple jumping mechanics make this the perfect game to initiate a child on 3D navigation with a controller. Itís so great to watch my son getting better and better at spatial manoeuvring Iota through the beautiful crafted environments that Media Molecule created to this game. And I'm forever thankful to them for creating such a great experience for me and my son.
5. Brothers: A Tale of two sons;
What a surprise this was! It's a simple game. The challenge of the puzzles is just enough to elicit some interactivity from the player to move forward. But those puzzles and mechanics are so intimately connected to the brotherhood/cooperation theme that result in a fantastic sense of meaning and weight. Some environments I won't forget. The Giants battlefield is hauntingly beautiful even in its desolation. I just hope this director keeps creating games as he thoroughly surprised me with this first effort.
6. Battle of the Bulge;
This game had the highest praise from Three Moves Ahead so I knew going in it would be a great game. But I wasn't prepared for the polish and refined mechanics and presentation of an iOS wargame as good as BoB presents. Shenandoah Studios showed everyone how the iPad can be the de facto wargame platform of the future.
7. Desktop Dungeons;
I was an Alpha buyer in 2010. I had forgotten about the game already, but when I got my email announcing the release date I immediately revisited the original Alpha version and it hooked me again instantly. That version was on my 2010 GOTY list. My praise at the time:
Never played a roguelike before this one, and I have to thank NeoGAF for bringing this to my attention. Great game with very simple mechanics but that will change so dramatically every time I start a new dungeon that gives it almost infinite replayability value. And on top of that each dungeon takes just a few minutes to finish what makes it the best game to just burn 10-15 minutes with some rogue dungeon roaming. It was my gateway to the genre... and I'm thankful for that, because otherwise I would never give my time and attention to these games.
But now on top of this simple dungeon crawler rogue lite puzzler it has an over world system where the player can build and upgrade structures to gain access to new classes and abilities and also a series of quests that the player can take to upgrade its characters. The simple, bare bones 10-15 minutes puzzler got some meat to fill those bones. And itís delicious!
8. Company of Heroes 2;
For a few weeks I was immersed in WWII Eastern Front media. I read Anthony Beevor "Stalingrad" and Vassily Grossman "Life and Fate", I watched Soviet Storm, World at War and Russia's War documentaries and relistened to Dan Carlinís monumental series Ghosts of the Ostfront all the while I played one mission/chapter of COH2 every night. It delivered something I was starving for so long. A meaningful AAA single player campaign on a RTS. The horrors of the Eastern front were well depicted in some gameplay mechanics and features, and the ruthless snow and ice scenarios really made for an immersive experience. Suddenly I stopped playing it. Not the games fault though. I just over-saturated on the theme. I had nightmares about the horrors of the war, I day dreamed thinking of how could I overcome a difficult challenge in the game and just had to stop for a break and never came back. I will though, the game deserves that much.
Great subversive take on the Metroidvania framework with challenging platforming (in some special hidden levels almost soul crushingly difficult), good combat with varied set moves with a simple upgrade system and a great colour-coded attack/weakness system to keep the player on his toes. The art, soundtrack is great in setting the Luchadores theme and the lightness and humor permeating the whole game were very welcomed. This team is one to keep an eye on.
10. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon;
Ludonarrative Dissonance? AH! FC Blood Dragon shoots ludonarrative dissonance in the face and proceeds to crap down its neck hole. All of this while giving a wink wink nudge nudge to the player breaking the fourth wall. It overstretched it a bit though and ultimately beneath all the hilariously over-the-top 80s action hero reminiscent machismo bravado it was still Far Cry 3 with its idiosyncrasies beneath it. It was also a good experiment for Ubisoft to venture on smaller projects using assets from the gargantuan multi-continental projects giving those teams more room to be risky. Hopefully.
x. Expeditions: Conquistador
x. Device 6
x. Gone Home
x. The Swapper
x. Papers Please
Sorry for the WIP, but I'll be adding comments and images as soon as I can. Sorry in advance for some mistake in the text. These weeks have been a bit hectic.