Tom’s Top 10 Games of 2013
What a year for games! It’s easy to be cynical, especially when you’re website is defined by an angry avatar how supposedly rages at the currents state of the games industry. I don’t really even know what CalmDownTom is supposed to be, but I know that when you come here you’ll find committed, positive gamers who just want games to be better. And when we do find something we love, all we want to do is scream at the top of our lungs “YOU HAVE TO PLAY THIS GAME!!”. Or, you know, write about it on the internet.
This years CalmDownTom GOTY awards will be an amalgamation of all our separate writers list. So this one is purely personal.
Oh, but before we do that, I want to mention all the games that almost made it. Check them here.
Ok, done that? Great, then we can continue!
10. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
Evoking the likes of Ico and Journey, Brother’s is one of those games that wrenches at your heart from the opening moments. You know you’re going on a quest, that it will have it’s ups and downs, and that your ending will be bittersweet at best. While it’s innovative gameplay (wherein you have direct control of both Brothers) was original and compelling, it was the games atmosphere that made it a success. Full of both the excitement and danger of childhood, it was willing to let you have childish fun one moment, then confront you with stark terror the next. Best of all, it was short and punchy enough that by the end you had time to reflect on the game, without feeling worn out by the experience. A lovely, minimalist experience that told a simple story well.
I’m not a fan of puzzle games most of the time, but I am a fan of Antichamber. I get bored quickly when I get stuck, but Antichamber’s world is so weird and unnerving that I didn’t get tired of spending time there. In truth I ended up watching my girlfriend play this game more than I played it myself, but I enjoyed that experience too. For me, the puzzles were cleverer (and weirder) than the Portal games, or any other similar titles. Antichamber’s stark white world and the way it messes with reality has a way of getting into your brain, and no other puzzle game has intrigued me as much before or since.
8. State of Decay
It’s great to see something new in the zombie genre, and State of Decay is certainly unique. I still can’t decide what genre it is, but it blends item management, survival horror and simulation with RPG elements to make something completely new. It’s rough, buggy and confusing at first, but once you get the hang of it, there’s something compelling about the world it puts you into. Maybe its the permanence of character death that makes the game appealing to me, but State of Decay has that one thing missing in most modern games: consequence. One way or another, your actions have serious consequences in State of Decay, and your destiny is your own.
7. Bioshock Infinite
In the past year you couldn’t consider yourself a “serious games writer” if you didn’t write a scathing critique of Bioshock Infinite. In games narrative we very rarely get a clever story that credits the player with any level of intelligence. When we finally get one, every faux intellectual rushes to explain that one little detail they’ve spotted that no one else has. It’s an instant reaction of the gaming cognoscenti to slate any mainstream title with aspirations to explore political or social issues, meanwhile indie titles that do the same are free of such criticism. It’s a territorial, contrarian approach to games criticism, wherein writers feel clever games are “their thing”, and they feel threatened by popular games with mainstream success.
Sure, Bioshock Infinite had issues with its gameplay (which was a bit stiff and derivative for me) but it executed its narrative brilliantly, with a genuinely clever story that challenged the player to think deeply about what they had just experienced. Looking back at the year in retrospect, it was one of the most discussed games, and if the critics are honest with themselves, they’ll concede that it was also one of the best. And if you were thinking about playing Bioshock Infinite, don’t let anyone talk you out of exploring one of the most amazing game worlds ever created.
6. Tomb Raider
Another game that divided critics, Tomb Raider received good reviews followed by a bit of a backlash. It’s grimy, bloody heroine went through hell, and the death animations for Lara were like something you would see in an exploitation movie. The survival element that was showcased early in the development also turned out to be a bit of a red herring, with hunting and patching up your wounds never really becoming a major part of the game.
Still, Tomb Raider turned out to be an excellent adventure game with metroid-vania progression and a brilliantly designed hub level structure. While murdering thousands of enemies caused a bit of a disassociation between narrative and gameplay, the actual combat was loose and fun. The real star of the game was the island itself though. In many ways games haven’t moved far from their heritage of fire, snow and sewer levels, but the environment in Tomb Radier is convincing, bleak and absolutely beautiful.
5. Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut
What can I say about this game? Probably far, far too much. Probably it’s best you just play it.
This is the Directors Cut of the game (that I played on Vita but that you can also get on PC now). Technically Lone Survivor vanilla came out last year, but this reworked version includes more endings (that help fill out what the hell actually happened in the game) and some other new system that make the whole thing more fun.
If you like apocalyptic horror, psychological horror, retro games, games with amazing music, or just games in general, this is a must play. I’ve finished it and seen every ending, and I still think about the story and what it all means every single day.
4. The Last of Us
As you might have spotted in my previous picks (and in my number 1 below), if I have an immersive, expansive, beautiful world to explore, I’m pretty happy. For me, the best games take me to another place, and the more convincing and cohesive that world is, the more I allow myself to be sucked in. Few game worlds are as engaging or as frighteningly real as the one we see in The Last of Us.
When you also have two of the very best characters ever created in a game, with wholly believable character arcs and a murky, ambiguous morality, you have one of the best games of the year.
The combat wasn’t to everyones taste, but I really enjoyed it, and while the game limped a bit in the middle section, it accelerated over the finished line with a conclusion that was the opposite of fan service, yet rang true for everything that had come before. I would gladly play the whole thing again right now if I could. From start to finish.
It’s very hard to gauge the quality of launch titles. Those who have bought the console are already invested, hopelessly conflicted when it comes to measuring the quality of the new games they can play. As a result, when I heard the buzz about Resogun I was skeptical. I assumed eager PS4 early adopters were just clinging on to anything they could call their own.
In fact the opposite was true, and Resogun is an even better game than we all realised. Only with committed practice does the game open up, with high level play requiring practice and commitment if you want to explore the games deep but rewarding higher difficulty levels.
But that practice won’t feel like a chore, because from your first hour of Resogun to your 100th, you’ll be having fun the whole time. Its a brilliantly crafted game; it feels like a piece of well made wooden furniture that you can slide your hands over without ever feeling a snag or chip. Even when I died at a crucial point, I was glad to start all over again. And again.
There are more ambitious and more complex games on this list, but from moment to moment, none are more fun than Resogun.
2. Call of Juarez : Gunslinger
Well this was the surprise of the year, no doubt. No one would have expected a western FPS to be this good, and especially not one in the ailing Juarez series!
Effectively Juarez is a whistlestop tour of all the greatest moments of western history, complete with all the character like Pat Garret, Billy the Kid and Wyatt Earp, but with a twist for each. Real historians may balk, but it has so much fun with reinterpreting the past and referencing famous western movies that you can’t help but get carried along. Who doesn’t want to relive all the scenes from Tombstone or Young Guns?
And for all I enjoyed the shooting (which is almost perfect), I keep coming back to the narrative tricks that make Call of Juarez: Gunslinger stand out from the FPS crowd. I can’t stop thinking of the section where you come out into a sunny, balmy afternoon, and the narrator says that it was in fact a foggy, miserable day. The weather effects then change completely, pulling the rug out from under the player in the most surprising but delightful way. Suddenly the whole game world has changed at a moments notice based on the whim of the character who is telling the story. So often you play FPS game on autopilot, but these sudden changes are like Brechtian alienation devices. They wake the player up and force then to pay attention to the events that are occurring in the game.
And how many games reviews give you a chance to say “Brechtian alienation device”? Not enough!
Juarez is a tight, compact and enjoyable experience. There’s collectibles, arcade and dual modes and other accoutrements of modern shooters, but it’s the things that it does differently that make it stand out. It’s not the best looking game and it’s got a lot of rough edges, but if you’ve forgotten how much fun it can be to shoot people, Call of Juarez: Gunslinger will remind you. It’s my favourite western game of all time. No contest.
1. GTA 5
Look, I know you’re disappointed. I can see it in your eyes. But hear me out. I actually thought about this a lot. This might be a very predictable number 1, but I have reasons. Rationale. Criteria I consulted. I did the sums!
I already mentioned how much a convincing game world means to me. There has never EVER been a game world like San Andreas. Never.
If we imagine game design is like making a cocktail (bear with me), then GTA5 breaks all the rules. Games are technology, design and art blended together. If the glass that holds the cocktail is the technology, we blend together the art and gameplay. New consoles and better tech make the glass bigger. Better art and design make the cocktail more delicious.
Now Rockstar worked miracles with aging hardware. They crammed more art into a game than ever before. Seriously, there are more art assets in a single street in GTA5 than in most games. They somehow managed that on the PS3 and the 360. Effectively, they made a cocktail that refills itself, and I have no idea how they managed it.
And the art and design are both stunning achievements in their own right. Sure, the game is uneven and in its depiction of women it gets leering and creepy, showing a certain tone deafness from the Housers. But still, there is so much IN GTA5 that everyone can find something to love. Most importantly of all though, there’s that world. Even just driving around in it, watching it, breathing it in. There’s been nothing else like it. It’s a stunning accomplishment, and it makes GTA5 undoubtedly the biggest achievement of Rockstar to date and the best game of the year.
So that’s my list. But the big one is still to come. The CDT GOTY awards! Keep checking back over this festive period as we have lots more awards from our writing team, and most importantly of all….
HAVE A GREAT CHRISTMAS EVERYONE