Since I totally missed the ‘Five Things Friday’ or my usual ‘Friday Playlist’ because I am doing a year-end music round-up, I figured I would do something a little different – a round-up of my favorite video games of 2013! For a bit of context, I generally play games on the Mac or PC, as well as iPad. I have never been a console gamer (though we have a Wii & X360), and I stopped playing much on my Sony PSP and Nintendo DS when the iPad games became worth playing.
In general I consider 2013 a pretty weak year in games, especially in genres and platforms I care about. There were few games that met expectations as the search for blockbusters and franchise entries far outstripped innovation. Also, the growth of content-based DLC for PC & console games, and the explosion of the in-app purchase model for mobile games has dramatically altered the focus of gaming from satisfying gamers to figuring out how to get them to click ‘buy now’ on that $0.99 item every hours or so.
But for smaller studios and so-called ‘indie’ games, I thought it was a pretty great year, which is why most of my favorite games come from those studios. I know I called this ‘Six Things’, but I am actually putting up seven – six for Mac & PC, and one for iPad. Here we go – no specific order, just a list of great games!
Bioshock Infinite: The Bioshock games are spiritual successors to System Shock 1 & 2, two of the all time greatest games (I replayed SS2 recently and it is still awesome). The first Bioshock broke ground with excellent story-telling narrative in a shooter, and while the sequel was rather lackluster, Bioshock Infinite is perhaps the best story-based shooter since System Shock 2! I have a massive review at GearDiary, where I say:
With Bioshock Infinite Ken Levine and Irrational are back, with the best story yet, a challenging shooter, great character, great customization of your character, and loads of intriguing twists and turns along the way. Not only that, but unlike way too many games it is highly polished with few crashes or bugs, works very well across platforms, and scales well on low – or high-end PCs. I see this as a strong ‘game of the year’ candidate.
Driftmoon: I thought I had completed a review for this, but apparently I never finished up my draft (embarrassed!), but this is a indie game from a small team that I’d never heard of that turned out to be one of my favorite games of the year! You get a classic ‘old school’ RPG with a fun yet intriguing story, top-down graphics that work well once you get used to them, and a bunch of enjoyable characters and locations to explore across the few dozen hours of gameplay. Since it is a RPG, you get to choose how to carry out your actions, what type of character to play and so on. For a small husband & wife team this is a very fun and effective RPG experience.
Drox Operative: Invasion of the Ancients I am currently working on the review for this, but in many ways it is like every other Soldak game, and in some ways completely different. It is an action RPG with choices, consequences, alliances and so on – but now you are controlling spaceships! The gameplay is satisfying, the depth is incredible, and the replayability is tremendous due to the variety of options and actions throughout the game. Soldak is an incredible developer and you should really check out all of their games!
Avadon 2 () The latest release from Spiderweb Software, who has been doing indie game development for 20 years now! I reviewed the Mac & PC release here, and there is an iPad version coming soon. The game contains all of the hallmarks of a Spiderweb game – great story, interesting characters, loads of side-quests, huge world to explore, challenging turn-based combat, and more. But one thing I appreciated was that my time as a gamer was valuable, so there was very little ‘grinding’. From my review:
In his personal blog Jeff Vogel reflects the values of loving gaming, but as a developer, husband, and parent he lacks the time to do all of the gaming he wants. I find that reflected in his development sensibilities – I never felt like he was wasting my time: by allowing me to enter regions from various points I don’t have to do excessive backtracking; by balancing the need for combat with the boredom of trash mobs my combat time felt well spent; and I never felt the need to go around bashing every barrel looking for gold nuggets like in Neverwinter Nights.
X-COM: Enemy Unknown I loved the original X-COM games and have been a fan of turn-based combat games since the early 80s. So I was deeply concerned what would happen with this reboot – but it turned out to contain the best of the old and modern gaming conventions. The levels are fun and tricky, characters are well done, missions are deep with surprises that make you plan every element, and your research and engineering at the home base require careful planning to succeed. The iPad game is an incredibly faithful port that is a great value for the price.
Metro Last Night Metro 2033 came from some of the developers of the STALKER series, which were hugely ambitious open-world shooter games with RPG elements. Metro was a tighter experience, but brought the best of the shooter elements. Now Metro Last Night comes along, taking us into a larger world with an even bleaker outlook. It is an easier game than Metro 2033, but you can compensate with a higher difficulty level. What is striking is how much better of a straight shooter it is, all while maintaining an intriguing narrative and tense environment.
The Shadow Sun (iPad/iPhone) I continue to be impressed with iOS gaming, from the G5 hidden object adventures to ports like X-COM and originals like Ravenmark … but my favorite iOS game this year was The Shadow Sun which released just before Christmas. I reviewed it at GearDiary on release day, and have replayed it since – it is a great action-RPG that combines interesting story and characters with fun combat and loads of choices to impact the flow of the game. More than a few years coming, this IS the RPG mobile gamers have been waiting for!
And that is it – what games have you enjoyed this year?