It’s the end of the year, and you know that means: it’s time for Game of the Year! We decided to forego the usual route of side-wide awards, however, and instead simply post our own picks. Kicking things off is Gareth with his own set of awards to grant to his favorite (and not so favorite) games of the year. Take it away, Gareth!
Most Atmospheric Game
Best Independently-Developed Game
Papers, Please: Glory to Arstotzka! Papers, Please is unlike any game you will ever play. Indeed, you could easily say it isn’t a game because what you’re actually doing most of the time is bureaucratic busywork. For what it does, Papers, Please is a masterpiece. It is up there with DEFCON in how to create a unique atmosphere through sound effects and minimal graphical touches alone. In the unusual role of an immigration inspection you must stamp passports and analyse paperwork for a fictitious, totalitarian Eastern Bloc country. Over the course of 30 days you attempt to hold onto your job whilst dealing with the increasingly complicated rules issued by the Arstotzkan Ministry of Admissions. As a bureaucracy simulator, Papers, Please is unbeatable, and the story it creates with the atmosphere coupled in is incredible. Read my full review here.
Tomb Raider: I’ve never particularly liked Tomb Raider. The previous games in the series were interesting, but the act of playing them was often incredibly frustrating due to the large amount of complicated platforming and puzzle-solving. For the most part, the reboot throws all that out the window and starts afresh. Lara Croft has finally become a quite well-rounded character, and whilst she still proceeds to slaughter and island’s worth of henchmen, it is fun and satisfying to do so. As a result Tomb Raider is more of a third-person shooter than anything else, but it has an interesting plot and an almost Batman: Arkham Asylum method of dishing out new upgrades to Lara throughout the game. I’m interested to see where the series goes next.
Dishonored: The Knife of Dunwall/The Brigmore Witches: Dishonored was my Game of the Year for 2012, so inevitably a lot was riding on the DLC. Whilst the first instalment was merely a challenge-based collection of odds and ends, the following two instalments of The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches were a rewarding self-contained story following murderer of the Empress Daud. All in all they are excellent, smaller chunks of the core Dishonored experience which introduce a few new special powers alongside building the world of Dunwall even further. Fully recommended for anyone who enjoyed the original game. Read my full review of The Brigmore Witches here.
Surgeon Simulator 2013: Surgeon Simulator is as much a simulator as the board game of Operation is an accurate representation of surgery. You play the disembodied hand of a surgeon, and it is your job to slice, cut and jab you way through a variety of unsuspecting patients to resolve their heart or kidney transplants. From the incredible main menu where you can trash the surgeon’s office to the surgeries themselves, everything has a silly purpose that makes the whole game feel like a Monty Python sketch. Playing it is tough but rewarding, even if the physics do frequently freak out. Surgeon Simulator is gloriously stupid and definitely worthy of your time.
Gone Home: There is nothing else like Gone Home. Even the likes of other Walk-‘Em-Ups such as Dear Esther, Proteus or The Stanley Parable don’t come close. Gone Home, for what it is, remains a unique experience in both storytelling and character-building. Whilst your own player-character of Katie remains remarkable absent from any such development, the rest of her family are fleshed out in such believable, meaningful ways to make the entire experience quite incredible. Simply wandering around a house examining the contents has never been so insightful or emotive. If you care about story in video games you would do yourself a disservice by ignoring Gone Home. For a short game which probably doesn’t warrant a second-playthrough, it delivers an unforgettable, multi-faceted story. Read my full review here.
The Stanley Parable: If you like breaking the fourth wall, you’re going to love The Stanley Parable. The Stanley Parable is not afraid to break with convention; indeed it actively revels in it. Where you see tired gaming clichés, The Stanley Parable works to blow them apart. In the role of Stanley you explore your office and attempt to discover where everybody has gone… and at the same time, you don’t. The Narrator who voices the entire game has a story that he wants to tell, but it’s up to you whether you want to let him tell it. The Stanley Parable is magnificently funny and indeed I actually think the free demo which came before the game might be a better self-contained experience than the game itself. Read my full review here.
Proteus: I can’t imagine what it must be like to be on drugs and to be playing Proteus. I expect people never recover from the experience because it addles their brain too much. Save to say that whilst Proteus is devoid of any traditional gameplay, it is rich is sights and sounds to delight the child within you. Simply wandering across a colourful, pixelated island is remarkably charming, and the minimalist soundtrack reacts in real-time to your progress. After a couple of walks you’ll have seen all you can, but it is still a highly pleasant game to walk through.
Train Simulator 2014: If you were to purchase every bit of DLC for Train Simulator, you would spend upwards of several thousand dollars. Think about that for a moment. Several thousand. You can buy real-life cars for less money than that. These are all add-ons for what is in essence a one-button game where you navigate a train forward or backward along a pre-set route. Train Simulator itself is at best a mediocre simulation experience and the idea of ploughing thousands of pounds into it to purchase extra routes, trains and carriages is beyond reasonable comprehension.
Most Interesting Control Scheme
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons: Brothers impressed me for two things; its excellent art style and its fascinating control scheme. That said I didn’t actually enjoy using the control scheme per se. After holding the triggers on the gamepad constantly for several hours my fingers got incredibly tired, and I found myself messing up previously simple movements. Whilst the controls do in the end serve a narrative purpose, the story of Brothers is rather clichéd and didn’t particularly resonate with me. Nonetheless, the gorgeous world Brothers inhabits is a sight to see.
Game of the Year
BioShock Infinite: A man chooses, a slave obeys. BioShock Infinite is the sequel everyone was waiting for from Irrational Games, and it is good to say that they mostly succeeded. The ultra-nationalist floating city of Columbia is a fantastic location and the opening series of levels rivals Half-Life 2 in a master class of how to open a game in style. The opening truly gave me goosebumps and manages to convey such an amazing sense of wonder which is my high watermark for great games.
True, Infinite does not sustain its pace into the second act and is let down by some less interesting levels and less plot development, but it manages to actually finish with one of the best twists ever, certainly rivaling its predecessor. It is also true that if you go into it, the ending doesn’t make whole logical sense, but nonetheless it is so bombastic and fantastical that I felt happy to go along with it. This will definitely be the last game called BioShock because the way the universe(s) work has been explained, and it is a great way to see the series finish.