It was the best of times, it was the … well, mostly the best of times. This year proved that the video game industry could both innovate and wow us with extreme prejudice in a kaleidoscope of narratives running the gamut from fast-paced, bro-time shooters to thought-provoking, fedora-tipping stories. And the best part? We came along for the ride.
Face it — “best of 2013” lists are going to be inundated with talk about the Xbox One and the Playstation 4. Let’s not go there. Though they dropped this year, the full potential of these consoles won’t be realized until 2014, so until then, let’s talk titles.
Over the last several years, the propensity for big-name developers to follow in the suit of their indie counterparts has given us a flood of narrative-driven games. This year was no different.
Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us did what films and television haven’t been able to: created a condensed game with a story focused on the relationships developed by facing a terrible threat — in this case, a zombie-like plague of fungus munchers — and make it both entertaining and engaging.
Released in June, The Last of Us became an instant hit and spawned tears the likes of which haven’t been seen since Children of Men.
On the other end of the emotional spectrum was Bioshock Infinite, a bullet-and-electricity spewing monstrosity of anticipation. Driven by the kind of narrative that Phillip K. Dick probably imagined, the third installment in the Bioshock series must have made developers question their philosophical motives: Are games meant to be played or made to be pondered? Why not both?
Let’s not forget that this was the year of the Nintendo 2DS, the ax-shaped sequel to the 3DS (if sequels can be had from subtraction). Some laughed, a few mocked, but in the end the hand-held system won a place in the hearts of folk who just don’t care for 3-D (like myself, who, for whatever reason, can live in a 3-D world but will be induced to vomit if I am made to live within a rendered 3-D world).
On the not-so-fortunate side of things came the Ouya. Promised as a system to play Android-based games that were once stuck to the confines of your Android-based phone, the Ouya soared to reality via Kickstarter and then came crashing down when the developer’s promises proved to be a little too lofty (i.e., unobtainable).
Kickstarter had a brilliant year, though, spawning a number of indie developments, both digital and physical.
Consider local Ventura resident Stephen DeBaun’s Ars Victor, which met its funding goal in June. Ars Victor is a strategy war game involving two players, a whole mess of infantry and plenty of map building. With 265 backers, Ars Victor received more than $20,000 in crowd funds. Expect the finished product sometime in 2014.
Websites like Kotaku, IGN and Joystiq are going to have “best of” lists, if they don’t already, but we here at GNB deride “best of” lists. Instead, here are “superb choices” for the year 2013, with winners receiving a firm swat on the buttocks as if we were all athletic football stars.
The GNB Superb Choice for greatest gaming feat of 2013 goes to Lucas Pope’s Papers, Please, the little indie game that could.* (*Remind the Tea Party of what a real fascist state would look like). Papers, Please documents the trials of a lone border agent who must approve or deny entry to the dystopian country of Arstotzka. Migrants line up, attempt to fool you and try to pass into the country. It’s a real learning experience, and an eye opener, if your idea of fascism is universal health care.
The GNB Superb Choice for biggest letdown goes to none other than the SimCity reboot. Children of an era during which flushing a toilet in-game was the tiptop of technology had waited patiently for the next installment of the city-building simulator, whether to build a futuristic utopia or wreak havoc via tornado, earthquake or volcano, but when the product was launched, Electronic Arts completely bungled it. With no offline mode, SimCity became a $60 brick. To make matters worse, the entire fiasco opened up the wound of Digital Rights Management (DRM) and put the focus squarely on publishers who abuse the vast majority of customers to quell the actions of a few. Did the industry learn? Just ask the Xbox One’s always online “feature.”
But hey, 2013 is come and just about gone. All in all, the year was fun — we came, we saw, we played. The coming year will have a lot to live up to if it wants to produce any Superb Choices by December, or we’ll watch as it all comes crashing down. Enjoy!
Papers, Please can be found at papersplea.se and is available for the PC at $9.99.
Chris O’Neal is hoping a fairy drops off an Xbox One or PS4 for the New Year. Follow him on Twitter @agentoneal.