Games of the Year: 2013

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series Game of the Year Awards

1st Place Award RibbonAs promised, here is my list! As with last year, I’ve highlighted noteworthy achievements, as opposed to trying to single out favourites (so you will see some that I thought were more interesting than fun). I’ll kick off with what I thought were the year’s overarching themes:

 

Theme of the year I: march of the small games. Every year has its notable short and/or cheap indie games, such as FTL in 2012, and in 2013 these included Skulls of the Shogun, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Papers: Please, and Gone Home. However, the year also saw a large publisher, Ubisoft, throw its hat into the ring with Call of Juarez: Gunslinger and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. Ubisoft is set to continue this trend with Child of Light, and it’ll be interesting to see the extent to which other publishers follow – especially after Tomb Raider missed Square Enix’s expectations, sparking the latest bout of soul-searching about the future of AAA games.

 

Theme of the year II: iteration. In 2012, my favourite games (XCOM, Wargame: European Escalation, Analogue: A Hate Story), as well as other notable titles (FTL, Journey) were all quite novel. Even XCOM, while thematically faithful to the 1994 original, was mechanically unique. 2013, though, was more like 2011 in its preponderance of evolutionary rather than revolutionary games, from the big end of town (Assassin’s Creed IV) to the little guys (Dominions 4), plus expansion packs (Civilization V: Brave New World, XCOM: Enemy Within). That said, we’ll see exceptions below.

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Quick impressions: Papers, Please

PapersPlease

 

Papers, Please is an indie game by Lucas Pope, currently in beta, in which the player takes on the role of a 1980s border guard in a Communist country. On paper, the game is simple: read the papers of each traveller who approaches your checkpoint. Admit those who meet the official criteria (e.g. they are citizens of the correct country; they have a valid work permit and visa); deny those who don’t; and keep an eye out for discrepancies. In practice, it’s a bit more complicated: there are a fair few variables to keep track of, which requires the player to trade off thoroughness and speed. You are paid based on how many people you process, but make mistakes and your pay will be docked. Earn too little, and your family starves.

 

The real appeal of Papers, Please isn’t so much mechanical as psychological: this is a game that tries to put the player into the shoes of a minor, despised apparatchik upholding a corrupt regime in order to pay the bills. I might even go so far as to say the game turns you into a bureaucratic version of the mooks we normally mow down without a second thought. Not necessarily a “fun” game, but it’s an interesting thought experiment and worth checking out if you have a few minutes to burn.