2013 was a year. And video games were released. And many of them were played by millions. Some of them were enjoyed!
This what I theoretically write about, right?
So let’s talk 2013. In video games. Unfortunately, I didn’t play many terrible games this year. I managed to nail most of my selections, and then I spent some time dealing with serious family problems that repressed my desire to game. Also, I spent a lot of time playing Final Fantasy games. But I do have some thoughts on what happened this year… I’m going to hand out a couple of awards. I’m going to do a couple of lists. Listen, guys, I’m not always great with structure.
Five Games Not Enough People Played*, In No Particular Order
1. Skulls of the Shogun. Critically acclaimed (like, really acclaimed. With good reason) I’m still the only human being I know who has actually played this game. Unless some of you have been holding out on me.
2. Space Hulk. I promise, it’s not bad. Uhh… anymore.
3. Mechwarrior Online. Somehow, the Mechwarrior franchise is not dead… just dying and gasping for air. Still, you can play a real Battletech game for the first time in like 10 years.
4. GTA V! No, but seriously guys, did you play Rogue: Legacy? It’ll make you want to remove your own brain. Or you’ll really have fun. Or, probably both.
5. Saints Row 4. I don’t care how many people played it, there are people who didn’t. And that’s a shame.
*This figure was scientifically determined by a sampling of people I know personally. They represent all of you.
The Five Games I Enjoyed Most in 2013
Final Fantasy Mystic Quest Tomb Raider. I understand the criticisms that a) the characterization of Lara Croft is a little uneven. B) It’s uncomfortable to watch Lara become increasingly sneaky and (especially) brutal as the game goes along. No matter how much visceral pleasure one might gain from murdering crazy rapey cultists with a climbing pick. C) The puzzles which were the entire point of the series have been relegated to optional side-missions. I get all of that. I promise. This game was still really, really good, and it gave me hope that the Tomb Raider series is moving in a cool direction.
4. Grand Theft Auto V. The release of a Grand Theft Auto game is, basically, An Event. It’s not just another video game release. It’s Grand Theft Auto. It’s an institution. Everyone takes a couple days off work, buys a case of red bull/”Code Red” Mountain Dew/a couple grams of coke and a hundred hours simply disappear. Right? Well… GTA V definitely did a lot of things right. But as usual, I was left with the feeling that the game was working harder to impress me than to let me have fun. Consider me impressed. But I definitely wasn’t always having fun. And yes, I was deeply disturbed by the torture mission. And no, I’m not ignorant of the fact that it’s supposed to be biting satire.
3. Heart of the Swarm. The long (long, long, LONG) awaited sequel to StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, finally dropped this year. Only 4? 5? more years to go for the epic conclusion! Heart of the Swarm is basically a vast improvement over the original StarCraft II without really changing that much stuff. A couple new units, a very good new campaign (not that WoL’s was at all unenjoyable), and a consistent multiplayer experience. Just because I suck at the multiplayer does not mean it’s bad.
2. Payday 2. Just in terms of hours wasted, it’s hard not to rank this one #1. Or it would be, if the #1 slot wasn’t so preposterously clear that it doesn’t even merit discussion. Anyway, Payday 2 can be frustrating, still has a number of infuriating bugs, and occasionally feels like it doesn’t have nearly enough content. Plus, I’m tired of getting ‘The Jaw’ masks. Do you guys know how many ‘The Jaw’ masks I have? I don’t want to talk about it. Anyway, one of the great time wasters.
1. Saints Row IV.
A Game That Somehow Didn’t Make the Above List But I Want To Discuss
To: Magic: The Gathering Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014.
Quite a mouthful. I actually think it may just be ‘Magic 2014’ this time around. I think it’s okay for me to refer to it that way. This franchise has been putting out an excellent game every year for four years. It is not a replacement for MTG: Online if you’re looking for real constructed formats. This game is its own limited format, and if you don’t want that, then don’t buy it, you’ll hate it. 2014 incorporates all of the gripes I can remember people mentioning since the first (MTG:DTP, no year the first time around!) iteration dropped: You have full control over the 80 cards (or whatever it is) that can be unlocked for each deck. You have full control over the land in each deck. You can manually select which lands tap so the AI can’t cause you to “tap out” of a colour you still need. However, 2014 can’t make the top 5 list because it has some real problems with the balance of its constructed format (the top tier decks are too top tier) and the Steam version was totally assassinated by rampant cheating in the Sealed format early on. Rough year. Still, this is a franchise people should know about.
The Bethesda Softworks Award
For: Most inexcusably buggy release that still has serious problems after a couple major patches
To: Battlefield 4
This award was originally going to go to Space Hulk until I recently revisited it. Fortunately for Space Hulk, the major patches fixed all of the problems for me, at least! Fortunately for everyone, Dice’s Battlefield 4, while incredible in its recreation of a battlefield environment that I can drive an attack boat around and kill people in… is almost hilariously bugged out. A couple of major patches have seemed to create just as many problems as they have solved. And that’s on the (relatively) stable XBox 360 release. I am told that the releases for PS4 and XBox One did not go smoothly. I don’t own either of those consoles yet, so I can’t speak personally… but I have no reason to doubt my sources (they include everyone I know who has played BF4 on a new console). This is particularly infuriating for me because I really want to play and enjoy Battlefield 4. But if I’m the only person who can play it without their bullets shooting sideways and their save data being corrupted… uhh… I guess I don’t have much reason to play at all, under those conditions. Thanks for nothing, Dice.
The Blizzard Entertainment Award
For: Wait, HOW long has that been in development again?
To: Defense of the Ancients 2
This isn’t really fair, since Dota 2 has been in beta for much of the long development cycle, and thus people have been able to play it. Still, the game had been in playable beta for over two years before it ‘dropped’. That having been said, it’s free to play on Steam, so what the hell do I care?
Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Award
For: ‘HD’ remake, ‘updated’ version, or whatever, that I randomly enjoyed
To: Age of Empires II: HD Edition
I seriously think I enjoyed it more than I did when the game first dropped. Mercifully, while this HD version is nothing (so far as I could tell) then a new coat of paint slapped on an ancient game… it was a very pretty coat of paint. And the game runs stably on my 64x OS. And it’s fun! What more could I ask for, really?
Game of the Year
For: Game of the Year
To: Saints Row IV.
C’mon. If you’ve never dipped your toes into the franchise… Saint’s Row IV concludes the story of ‘The Boss’, the nameless player-avatar protagonist who rose from being a nothing street punk to the leader of the Third Street Saints, which then became a massive media empire, to becoming elected as the President of the United States. I believe the tagline for the game on Steam is: “Gloriously Stupid” “Stupidly Fun”. That’s about right, except I don’t know how ‘stupid’ it really is. Saints Row IV is deeply referential; it pays flippant homage to essentially the entire history of gaming. Many of the references range from shrewd to brilliant, and many of them are simultaneously hysterical. It doesn’t have the size or scope of Grand Theft Auto V, but it’s every bit as much fun to play (this is a lie: it’s like 90283048x more fun to play). The absurdity of the game may not be to all tastes, I suppose, but all video games are absurd in one way or another. Give it a chance. Let it win you over. Oh, the PC version has some bugs. I didn’t find that they dampened my gameplay experience too much, but they are there, and they do suck when they crop up. Stupid ports.