Finally, a ranked list for The Sketchys. There are ranked and unranked categories depending on what makes sense to me. Ranking games makes sense; ranking comics this year didn't. 2013 was a fantastic year for gaming. It really was. A few noteworthy titles that fall short of my list for various reasons include The Last of Us (great if your eyes are capable of seeing where to go in darkened FPS-level design), Long Live the Queen (frustrating but engaging interactive micromanaging visual novel), Luigi's Mansion (like the GameCube version, only prettier), Rogue Legacy (best played with a controller even though it was programmed for PC), and Antichamber (the mind-bending maze game with less replay value from 2013).
10: Paranormal (PC)
Paranormal is the scariest game I played in 2013 for a really simple reason: you cannot predict what happens next. Matthew C. Cohen based Paranormal on a Dynamic Haunting conceit: each time you play, the scares, plot points, and interactive elements change. Best of all, the game will have free DLC that adds in more campaigns, more scare elements, and more mechanics to uncover so long as the game is being developed.
In its purest form, the game is a first person shakycam horror film you make yourself. You play as an artist who has discovered his home is haunted. You wander through your darkened house and beyond, interacting with the environment to trigger haunted activity. Sometimes, you'll walk into the garage and your car goes wild; other times, you'll walk in the garage and nothing happens. There is some story about the previous tenants you uncover if you're lucky enough to survive the horror of your own home.
9: Pokemon X/Y (3DS)
What could Game Freak have done so differently with the first pure Pokemon game to come out on the 3DS? Enough to make it a must-play experience. I never realized how terrible some of the mechanics carried over from the Game Boy release were until I played Pokemon X/Y.
You still travel around the world (this time, it's Europe, tres chic) collecting wild monsters to battle with other children. The differences are huge. You can travel in any direction. Your default movement is faster than a terribly slow walk. You can drag and drop Pokemon in the computer storage system and the graphics are massively improved. The types are tweaked, the Mega Evolutions make for interesting strategy choices, and the new Fairy class is super kawaii. It's the most polished, expansive, and pure Pokemon experience in years.
8: no-one has to die (Web)
Browser games this well-made are hard to find. no-one has to die is a high stakes strategy game in an office building. You watch from a control room as a group of employees are trapped in the basement by a fire. Square by square, move by move, you have to decide which office worker has to die to save the rest.
If it was a one time playthrough, there wouldn't be much to it; it's not. You have to play the game many times through to get the whole story. The story changes radically depending on who you save, and you can save any combination of characters minus one in each stage. The mystery only becomes a mystery when you realize at the end of your first playthrough that something is terribly wrong at the office beyond the dangerous fire. It's just a fascinating game to play with excellent stories and characters.
Play no-one has to die.
7: BioShock Infinite (PC, Mac, PS3, XBOX360)
BioShock Infinite is a beautiful game. That's the first thing you'll realize while playing. And if you decide to just run through like a typical FPS, you'll think that's it. This is a game where you have to slow down and take the world in.
Find the Voxphones to hear the thoughts of citizens of the floating city of Columbia. Watch the propaganda films scattered throughout the world to learn the lore and...quirks of the city. Eavesdrop on the conversations, take in the parades, and watch the amazing barbershop quartet in a dirigible. The story of the False Prophet, the Lamb, and Comstock is fascinating with a smooth learning curve and interesting new gameplay elements for the series.
6: Gone Home (PC, Mac, Linux)
Speaking of story-driven games undervalued if you just rush through, Gone Home is an amazing adventure/exploration game. You play as a young woman returning from college in the middle of the night. No one is home. As you wander around the house, things start to come into focus.
There are many notes, letters, and objects from your sister scattered throughout the house. You have to dig through drawers, closets, and locked rooms to find out what you've missed while at school. Take your time, find everything you, and you won't soon shake off this amazing gaming experience.
5: Don't Starve (PC, Mac, Linux)
Don't Starve is a super stylish survival horror game, emphasis on survival. You play as a character randomly transported to an unimaginable world full of heavily inked, almost Edward Gorey/Charles Addams-esque, horrors. Your task is given to you by a dapper and disturbing man: find something to eat.
You don't just find food. You have to make fire or you'll be killed in the night. You have to maintain your sanity or you'll drop dead of fright. You have to scavenge supplies, build tools/weapons/science machines, and fend off all the threats to your life that increase on a daily basis. It's funny, scary, and super addictive. The free updates that alter the game every couple weeks with new characters, new monsters, and new environmental elements help a lot.
4: The Stanley Parable (PC, Mac)
Here's the other amazing must-play maze game from 2013. The Stanley Parable is an experiment in storytelling. You play as Stanley, a generic worker who discovers everyone else in his office has disappeared. His life is suddenly filled with a sarcastic narrator who says what he should do and comments on what he does wrong.
You wander through the office, altering the story in real time in ways you couldn't imagine. My first playthrough involved setting off a nuclear device that destroyed the world all because I pushed the wrong button. Other playthroughs are even wilder. Some are happy, some are sad. Some are funny, and some are soul-crushing. The Stanley Parable is a game unlike any other I've encountered.
3: Tomb Raider (PC, Mac, PS3, PS4, XBOX 360, XBOX One)
This is the part where the list became ridiculously hard. The top 3 games could have been put in any order and I would be gnashing my teeth over which was truly the best.
Tomb Raider is the incredible reboot of one of the most intriguing and frustrating game series. Lara Croft's adventures raiding tombs, fighting enemies, and dying repeatedly were always plagued with bad controls and the limits of much simpler consoles.
Not with the reboot. Gaming technology has finally advanced to the point that a young woman exploring ruins and fighting for survival (for the good of academia!) works. Tomb Raider takes us back to Lara's first expedition where everything went wrong. You learn how to survive on a real adventure, climbing trees to get the perfect branch for a bow or wading through underground caverns to avoid a crazed assailant. I could play this game over and over again just to explore the world and the various possibilities for survival.
2: 9.03m (PC)
9.03m is the most moving game experience I had in 2013. It is a simple adventure/exploration game much like Gone Home with a looser narrative based in the real world. It is a charity game inspired by the 2011 tsunami in Japan where proceeds go to children orphaned by the disaster.
You wander around the beach in San Francisco, following the shadows of people who are no longer living. When you reach someone, they turn into an object that has washed ashore on the other side of the ocean: a toy, a ring, a music box. You hold the object in your hands and spin it around, looking for the hidden butterfly that tells you just a little bit about the previous owner of the object. It's heartbreaking and beautiful.
1: Papers, Please (PC, Mac)
Papers, Please is the 2013 Game of the Year. This is a gripping thriller about Cold War politics that just happens to be told from the perspective of one border crossing agent in a fictional nation like the former USSR. The rules change everyday, but your objective is to scan passports and other official documentation to determine who can or can't cross the border into Arstotzka.
What makes Papers, Please so compelling is the personal element of the narrative. You have to reduce each potential traveler to a list of rules. If you focus too much on them, their drama, and their lives, you won't earn enough money to feed your family and keep them in a warm house. If you do reduce them just to a set of rules, you feel even worse when they insist on telling your their personal struggles when you accept or reject them. If you take sympathy, you're punished by the government and can be sent to jail for not doing your job. If you don't take sympathy, you're just as bad as the heartless government insisting on the ridiculous border control measures.
So those are my top 10 games of 2013. What are yours? Share them in the comments below.