Game Front Staff’s 2013 Game of the Year
- Papers, Please
- Tomb Raider
- The Swapper
I have to say — it’s been a weird year. My Top Five Games of the Year is a nebulous, constantly shifting set of indie games, with titles shifting in and out depending on mood and memory — Gone Home was startling, beautiful and touching, but Antichamber was a mind-bending experience of shifting perspectives and a twisting, ever-changing world. I lost myself (and died) many times in the procedurally generated, top-down halls of Teleglitch’s Doom-like research station, but Outlast seems like it officially marks a trend of horror games in the mainstream that are willing to let players feel powerless, like its inspiration, Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Standing out from the triple-A crowd is Tomb Raider, which I didn’t expect to like and instead loved, with its phenomenal reimagining of Lara Croft that, for the first time, made me want to keep playing as her.
If I must choose just one Game of the Year, however, I think it must (just barely) be Papers, Please. The game ensnared me with a brief, productivity killing addiction, by being both mechanically satisfying — I got good at checking passports, guys — as well as wholly disconcerting and vaguely terrifying. It spurred empathy in me as I was forced to deny someone entry to my country because of a faulty passport, and yet satisfaction from knowing that I was stopping criminals and preventing terrorist attacks.
Papers, Please is powerful because it manages to do what only games, at their very best, are capable of: putting players in a situation and making them feel it, at least a little. I got why the bribes were enticing. I got why being a cog in a machine — a good cog, with good intentions, in a machine that’s less evil and more just banal — can be a way to lose yourself. I got from Papers, Please an empathetic experience I’ve never had before, conveyed through an interactive system. I don’t feel like I’ve climbed mountains or hunted mutants or run from deranged killers in 2013, but I do feel like I’ve stamped passports, and asked myself, “Can I let this one slide?”
- Saints Row IV
- The Swapper
- Rise of the Triad
- The Wolf Among Us
- Grand Theft Auto V / The Last of Us (tie)
As Phil Hornshaw and I went into in great detail, 2013 was somewhat of a disappointing year games-wise. That’s to say there weren’t some great releases, but in a year so full of sequels and hype, even the games that initially blew me away also left me with serious ambivalence. As a result, my game of the year isn’t necessarily the best, but it did end up being my personal favorite.
Having been initially conceived as a DLC expansion to Saints Row III, Saints Row IV still bears such close ties to that game that it almost feels impossible to consider on its own. But thanks to some very smart comedic writing and a commitment to fan service bordering on the ridiculous, Volition delivered one of the most enjoyable and satisfying experiences of 2013. Boasting excellent co-op, it’s equally fun for male and female gamers, overflowing with absurdity, full of references to everything from They Live to Mass Effect 3′s ending, and it’s consistently hilarious. But in a shocking twist, it also managed to bring an end to the Saints Row storyline in a way that felt honestly touching. Better, it did all this without losing the sociopathic violence, and making certain male and female gamers could get the same experience out of it.
Yes, it did finally make certain the series’ transition from tongue in cheek crime game to straight up parody, but that’s only a bad thing if you only played these games to pass the time in between Grand Theft Auto releases. If you love super powers, consequence-free violence and the destruction of whole planets, and you like the idea of doing these things with some of your best friends, you can’t ask for more than Saints Row IV.