It’s time for my most wonderful post of the year! That is, the one I have the most fun writing. As the year comes to a close, a lot of people choose a Game of the Year, but it’s hard for me to single out just one when there are so many amazing video games and, frankly, I haven’t had time to play every last one of them. Because that would be madness. But around this time of year, I always like to reflect back on my favorite games and reminisce about all the good times.
So, as I said when I did this post last year, rather than list my favorite games overall, I’ll post a round-up of what I loved in 2013’s video games. It’s my way honoring each of these games for what it gets right.
Best Gameplay Feature:
Fire Emblem: Awakening’s Marriage System
Yes, I love romance in games. But in Fire Emblem: Awakening, getting married is actually an integral part of your overall strategy. First, marriage gives you and your partner stat boosts when you’re coupled up on the battlefield. My girl married Gaius; they protected each other in battle, and she gave him all the candy. But more importantly, married characters have children who inherit certain traits depending on their parents’ classes, so the strategizing gets even more complex.
Having the fun of Fire Emblem’s tactics extend to marriage is awesome — and it’s something I’m still trying to master. But I just love how it can all come together to make your little fictional family a destructive force of nature on the battlefield.
Most Interesting New Mechanic:
Memory Remixing in Remember Me
Remember Me’s protagonsit Nilin is able to dive into people’s memories and remix them so their owners come out with different memories. Once you’re inside a memory, you can watch it play out, fast-forward it, or rewind it at any time, all while selecting objects to change the details of the scene. Once you alter the right combination of things in just the right order, the memory will play out in Nilin’s favor. It’s tricky but extremely rewarding.
The rest of Remember Me is touch-and-go. But considering these memory sequences are character-oriented, have built-in objectives, and are satisfying puzzlers, I wish they made up an entire game of their own. I would totally buy it.
BioShock Infinite’s Columbia
The grand city of Columbia floating in the clouds is one of the most stunning settings I’ve seen in any video game, ever. I already mentioned this in another post this year, but because I wanted to dust off every single corner of Columbia, I purposely checked my navigator to see which direction my quest was taking me… and then I went in the opposite direction first. That’s the way players explore this city. And because the game takes you through Columbia in more than one of its incarnations, you’re able to see it pristine and then torn apart, cheerful and then literally on fire, as you move from one district to the next. It’s so gorgeous that I’m actually replaying the game right now just to spend some more time there.
Most Nostalgic Moment:
BEYOND: Two Souls’ Snowball Fight
Even though I was disappointed in BEYOND: Two Souls in a lot of ways, the game has several memorable moments that it just nails. My favorite happens in the chapter called “My Imaginary Friend…” when the protagonist Jodie is a little girl and goes into the backyard to play in the snow for a few minutes. When she hears the neighbors having a snowball fight just beyond the fence, she and the spirit linked to her (Aiden) sneak out to join in the fun.
Playing the game, you have to press buttons (very simply) to pack the snowballs and throw them at the other kids. It felt like time was standing still so I could concentrate on this small activity, and it seemed like a way of recapturing a little tiny sliver of the simple bliss children feel when they play, blocking out everything else. For me, it was the most magical moment in the game.
Most Addictive Combat:
DmC: Devil May Cry’s Hack ‘n’ Slash Combat
I love the combat in Devil May Cry so hard. I still remember loading up my first DMC game well over a year ago and thinking, within the first few minutes, This is the coolest game ever. It’s tricky to master, but DMC’s unique brand of hack ‘n’ slash combat is extremely rewarding to practice.
This year’s reboot of the series, DmC: Devil May Cry, brings back all of the fast-paced, flashy action and makes it look more polished than ever. Things are a little different this time around — the lock-on feature is notably missing, for instance — but slashing through enemies feels just as smooth and satisfying as ever. My favorite thing about the combat is how easy it is to switch between weapons on the fly to crank up those combos and tackle enemies on the ground as well as in the air. For weeks after completing the game, I replayed the same gorgeous levels on higher and higher difficulty settings as my skills improved, and somehow I never got bored. Now, nearly a year later, I’m getting the itch to pick up Ebony and Ivory again. And mostly Osiris.
Michael De Santa in Grand Theft Auto V
I soooo want to preface this with a list of all the characters I liked this year, but I’m forcing myself not to do that. There were a lot of good characters. But of them all, the one I still think about is Michael De Santa from Grand Theft Auto V.
I talked a bit about why he’s my favorite character in the game here. He loves the 80’s. He’s self-absorbed. He does crazy things when he’s upset. He’s always trying to better himself, but in my world, he steals cars on the way to see his therapist. As he tells Franklin on one of their many man-dates, he goes after things, he gets them, and then he hates them. He wants to be the perfect family man, but he’s never truly satisfied there. He’s the conscience (and sometimes hypocrite) of the Grand Theft Auto series, and in spite of all of his flaws, I just love him.
Joel’s Choice in The Last of Us
I’ll admit I had every intention of making this one about BioShock Infinite’s amazing twist with parallel universes and a stolen baby — but then I finished The Last of Us last night, and it blew me away. If you haven’t played to the end of the game, stop reading now to avoid SPOILERS!
Just as you think Joel has let his guard down to accept Ellie almost as family, you realize their relationship may not be as healthy for him as you thought. When Ellie has a chance to sacrifice herself in order to create a cure — something she absolutely feels is right — Joel defies her wishes and quite possibly jeopardizes humanity’s future because he refuses to lose her. It’s a bittersweet awful thing, and it begs so many questions about why he did it and whether there was any logic behind it. It’s a perfect example of selfish love.
But the real magic of Joel’s choice in The Last of Us is that it confronts the very notion of a heroic ending. There’s a particularly amazing moment when Joel rushes into the operating room to save Ellie and kills innocent doctors to get to her. This was the moment I realized it doesn’t matter what the player wants or feels is right. Playing as Joel — no matter how uncomfortable it makes you — it’s now your job to play the cruel savior to the very end.