2013 marks the first full year since IncGamers made the switch to exclusive PC coverage. I can’t say that change has altered my gaming habits a whole lot, though. Prior to that decision, I was already playing the majority of games on PC (with the occasional bit of Xbox 360 stuff.)
My person favourites of 2013 include three titles that only exist on PC, and are only ever likely to exist on PC (okay, yes, maybe Mac too.) Of the other pair, one is a title that’s made the rare jump from Nintendo’s Wii U (expanded and improved for PC,) and the other is a good old multiplatform affair that, inevitably, looks better and plays smoother on PC.
What I’m saying is hurrah for the PC.
Here then, in order of release date and nothing more, are the most excellent and special games of 2013. According to me, anyway.
Far Cry: Blood Dragon – Blood Dragon reused and subverted the game systems and structures from Far Cry 3, but it wasn’t mere DLC. Instead, it was a standalone title in which Rex “Power” Colt did neon battle against biker-helmet clad robo-foes and frolicking, laser firing dragons. Many mistakenly interpreted the game as a pure homage to 1980s/90s action films (and it does reference plenty of these,) but I believe it was really an attempt to recreate what might have happened if the directors of cinematic greats like Miami Connection and Future War had put their unique talents towards videogames instead.
In that sense, Blood Dragon seems like a game that shouldn’t really exist. A crazy amalgam of Cyborg dystopia, hyper-ridiculous American patriotism and, well, Far Cry 3, it managed to be what so few games are: funny. Best when it was revelling in its own earnest absurdity, worst when it was laughing at videogame conventions and then following those exact same conventions. Perhaps the most glowing comment I can make about Blood Dragon is that for weeks afterwards I was listening to endless hours of action flick mixtapes and enjoying them all. Unironically.
Expeditions: Conquistador – 2012 was the year in videogame crowdfunding went into overdrive, but 2013 gave us the first significant wave of releases brought to completion by the cash of interested patrons. Expeditions: Conquistador offered one of those unusual combinations that Kickstarter and similar programs are so good at bringing to fruition; an RPG-strategy game hybrid based around Spanish contact with the tribes and hardships of New World.
In lesser hands, that could’ve been a powder keg for pro-Imperialist guff and weird historical revisionism. Developers Logic Artists managed to handle it with sensitivity and just the right level of respect for historic inspiration. Conquistador doesn’t shy away from sticking a racist nun in your party, or making a militant, indigenous tribe deaf to your RPG-savvy offers of peace and friendship. Nor does it mind throwing in some alt-history for the enrichment of the game, like an expansive roster of women to recruit to your expedition, or a quest that concludes inside a volcano, with your party leader chatting to a bloodthirsty deity.
Expeditions: Conquistador was well written, offered multiple quest resolutions, and presented its own successful (albeit a little easy to ‘game’ when I played it) take on turn-based combat. In a year strangely barren for traditional, Western-style RPGs, this one was a surprise and a delight.
Toki Tori 2+ – Speaking of surprises, if you’d told me that “yet another indie puzzle-platformer with cute characters” was going to be one of my top games of 2013, I’d probably have forcibly jumped on your head and then used my time-rewind gimmick to do it again. Just to be sure.
Toki Tori 2+ is brilliant. Impeccably constructed, it leaves you, flightless yellow bird hero creature that you are, to fend for yourself in it’s brightly coloured world of winsome wildlife. The ‘tutorial’ for Toki Tori 2+ features no text prompts, no guidance and no dumbed-down hand-holding whatsoever. It makes the notoriously terse Dark Souls look like a jumbled word salad of exposition. Everything is left to player exploration, experimentation and intuition.
At first, the world seems linear and restrictive. Pathways are blocked off and traversal is tough. But gradually you begin to realise that the tricks and techniques the game is teaching you could have been accessed from the very first moment all along. The only thing ‘unlocked’ through play is knowledge.
Toki Tori 2+ is abundant with superb design. From challenging (but fair) puzzle construction, to the trust it places in innate player curiosity, examples of the care Two Tribes took in their composition can be found everywhere. Plus, it’s the only game I know that will make you feel elated after jamming a frog inside a pipe.
Europa Universalis IV – Paradox Development Studio has done an amazing thing. Initially with Crusader Kings II, and this year with Europa Universalis IV, they’ve made their grand strategy titles palatable to a far wider audience, without compromising the depth that makes these titles worth engaging with in the first place. One look at the slider-ridden interfaces of previous Europa Universalis titles should be demonstration enough of what an outstanding achievement that is. In contrast, IV’s multi-purpose ‘monarch points’ are an elegant revolution.
Crusader Kings II will probably have been the gateway Paradox drug for most. It promises Game of Thrones-like political intrigue on a majestic medieval stage, and offers murder, scheming and questionable babysitting choices galore. Europa Universalis IV elevates your position from guardian of a household bloodline, to that of national visionary. There’s just as much diplomatic maneuvering, but now it’s on the more abstract plain of country-to-country politicking.
In my current game of Europa Universalis IV, I’m attempting to wrest control of Beijing from the Ming dynasty and bring it under Manchurian control. Ming has about twenty billion more soliders than me, so rather than taking a direct approach I’m covertly funding a selection of disgruntled rebel groups. Soon enough, they’ll help tear the country apart for me. In the meantime, I’m expanding my grip on the region by beating up Korea.
That’s just one tale from a potential well of thousands that Paradox’s grand strategy titles can dredge up. It’s a magnificent global stage for player-centered intervention, and one which is set to rectify one of the few complaints I had about it (underdeveloped colonisation and the relative pointlessness of playing as a Native American tribe) with the upcoming Conquest of Paradise add-on. Huzzah.
Gone Home – A late entry to my favourites list, because I just played through it after picking it up cheap on Steam during Thanksgiving. I’d missed it at the time of release, because I was busy reviewing the game I just talked about above.
Gone Home isn’t a title that’ll benefit from me spoiling it all for you, so instead I’ll just say that it’s a short, exploratory game about FEELINGS and human stories. If you’re allergic to FEELINGS then you may break out in hives of indignation. But if you’re attracted to the voyeuristic thought of poking around a period-perfect 1990s Portland family mansion, and unravelling a narrative in a manner unique to videogames, do not hesitate.