NG+ GOTY 2013 – Donald’s Top Five

January 8, 2014

This week, the New Game Plus cast and crew will be revealing their games of the year. Today, our newsman and indie correspondent Donald talks about his favourite five games of the year.

I completely understand why many consider 2013 an off year for gaming, but I also kind of disagree. Sure, it was filled with all manner of apologies, backflips and generally downbeat news, but it also brought us some memorable games, all of which encapsulate the progress that our little world has made in the past eight years. These games pushed the ways games can tell stories, evoke certain moods and look ever so lovely in the process.

And on a personal note, I got to fulfil a childhood dream and visit E3. That was pretty cool!

So with that, here are five(ish) games that left the biggest impression on me this year.

NGP GOTY - Don - Papers Rayman

[Watch New Game Plus’ Papers, Please review]
[Watch New Game Plus’ Rayman Legends review]

I couldn’t decide between Papers, Please and Rayman Legends. When I think about it, both titles have so much in common.

Both games feature focussed gameplay. Ultimately, you’re either only matching documents against a set of rules or running and jumping to the right, however both games make the most of their limited mechanics. Both games use their 2D visuals to great effect. Papers, Please’s dreary, pixelated art style sets an appropriately oppressive atmosphere. Rayman Legends’ bright, French cartoon style, on the other hand, is a joy to behold, and manages to improve on Rayman Origin’s still-impressive visuals.

The only contrast between the two games is the impressions they leave you with. Papers, Please is not a fun experience; you’re left deflated and defeated by the endless bureaucracy. It’s impossible to leave this game without a frown on your face. Conversely, Rayman Legends could not be any more unlike Papers, Please; it is unbound by logic and, as a result, is completely uplifting. It’s impossible to leave this game without a smile on your face.

Yes, it’s cheating to have two games here, but both games hit such relatively similar notes exceptionally well, you can see my conundrum. If I had to choose between the two, my decision might just depend on my mood.

NGP GOTY - Don - Stanley Parable

[Watch New Game Plus’ The Stanley Parable review (1:40)]

Games have long been able to conjure up unintentional hilarity; think of those moments when you unexpectedly break a game’s systems. Intentional hilarity, on the other hand, is something we seldom see in gaming — an even rarer sight is in-game comedy that is, y’know, actually funny. This is what makes The Stanley Parable such an achievement.

In what other game would you willingly spend whole minutes lingering in a featureless broom closet, or repeatedly throw yourself off a ledge just to spite the narrator? Indeed it is the narrator which made The Stanley Parable so absurdly hilarious. His snarkiness, confusion and frustration as you defy his instructions and break his Story is a delight, and the performance from voice-actor Kevan Brighting only enhances proceedings.

There’s even some salient commentary about modern gaming thrown in: The endless corridors, the use of base psychological techniques to influence players, the actual role of The Player in authoring a game’s narrative (i.e. almost none at all).

But this is gravy to the one simple fact behind The Stanley Parable: It made me laugh harder than any other game in recent years.

NGP GOTY - Don - Runner2

[Watch New Game Plus’ Bit.Trip Presents…Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien review (1:18)]

I enjoyed the living daylights out of the first Bit.Trip Runner, but the game’s deliberately harsh 8-bit art style prevented it from making a deeper impact. It often obfuscated proceedings, overwhelming the visuals to the point where it was impossible to see what obstacles were coming up, let alone act on them.

Runner2’s change in art style removed this impediment, allowing the series’ musically-influenced platforming to truly shine. The interplay between the soundtrack and the level design is incredibly tight — you almost feel like you could pass a level through pure reaction to the musical score. It’s fitting that the last time I felt this was with one of my favourite games of the past generation, Rock Band 3.

With this one change, Runner2 became a game that I spent more time with than I really should have.

NGP GOTY - Don - Last of Us

[Watch New Game Plus’ The Last of Us review]

Uncharted 2 was an achievement, it was going to be the Playstation 3 and Naughty Dog game we would look back on. And then The Last of Us came out.

So many of this game’s individual components can be held out as best in class. It’s highly crafted environments and character animations make it one of the best-looking games of the generation. Almost every encounter is a contender for The Most Intense Moment Of The Year — the only catharsis coming from the killing blows, which continued to be gruesome throughout the game.

But the thing that The Last of Us truly excelled at was its writing. In a single environmental detail or an innocuous conversation about, say, holidays, we found out so much about the world and, in particular, about Joel and Ellie: Their personalities, their histories and the state of their relationship, just to name a few. Indeed, it’s these quiet moments which add up to make the game’s final moments such an emotional kicker.

The Last of Us represents everything that’s good about modern gaming. It emphasises character, world building and writing as much as it does graphics and combat.

NGP GOTY - Don - Bioshock

[Watch New Game Plus’ Bioshock Infinite review]

As Booker ascended through the clouds and looked over Columbia, bursts of fireworks punctuating a pianola version of Hallelujah, Bioshock Infinite had my undivided attention. As I turned the corner to run into an anachronistic a capella rendition of The Beach Boys’ God Only Knows, I was in love.

The original Bioshock created a wondrous world in Rapture, and Bioshock Infinite does the same with Columbia. With its open blue skies, heavenly sunrays, mysteriously floating islands and towering idols, it is at once beautiful and terrifying, open and expansive yet completely closed-off. You can’t help but be completely absorbed by this weird, wonderful world.

It’s the open environments which also made the combat such a delight (and yes, I know I am the only one who holds this to be true). The large maps, skyhooks and crashing soundtrack gave combat encounters a level of energy and scope unlike any other FPS this year.

Just as boundless was the story. The cast of characters are incredibly memorable, particularly the Lutece twins, and the narrative leaves quite the impact. The ending is, let’s face it, bonkers, but it’s a brand of bonkers that I can completely get behind, in all its multidimensional glory; as did many people I know, with whom I spent hours with talking about this game, unwrapping its myriad mysteries.

If last year’s Game of the Year The Walking Dead was full of quiet, affecting moments, then Bioshock Infinite was full of grand, bombastic moments. All of them aim for the skies, and all of them hit the mark.

Of course, I have to mention Persona 4 Golden. I’ve said much about my adoration of Persona 4, so I won’t add too much, suffice to say that I greatly appreciated an opportunity to play this game all over again. And yes, everything that I held dear about Persona 4 was still present in this updated version.

Come back tomorrow for more games of the year from the NG+ cast and crew, or check out some of our other GOTY lists.

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