Games of 2013 (4/10)
A few of the games we liked last year.
There were a lot of great games in 2013. Far too many, in our opinion, for a list of five or ten, or to declare one our definite champion. Even a list of fifty would not do them justice, but we compiled one anyway. Over the next two weeks we’ll be highlighting five games a day, Monday to Friday. No ranks or numbers, they are all equally close to our hearts.
Let me tell you what Payday 2 is about. It’s as if someone had picked up a copy of Left 4 Dead and said “What is this zombie cack? How about killing cops instead?”
No, no. You’re not looking at it in context. Payday 2 is the spiritual successor of They Stole a Million, Mafia and Kane and Lynch.
Whoa, whoa, whoa! You’re not saying Payday 2 is the son of Kane and Lynch? Tell that bullshit to your sociology professor. Even he’ll tell you to go fuck yourself.
Why did they change Hoxton anyway? I liked Hoxton.
Mafia hasn’t got shit on Payday 2. You don’t get ‘dozers going “I’m the Juggernaut, bitch!” on your ass in Mafia. It’s more like Killing Floor.
Which one is Killing Floor?
Killing Floor is the zombie thing they reel out every holiday with a fresh paint job. Shit, even I’ve got Killing Floor from the Steam sale.
Look asshole, I’ve got Killing Floor, I’m just asking how does shooting circus girls relate to bank robberies?
Hey, you’re making me lose my train of thought. What was I talking about?
Wasn’t just Hoxton. They got rid of Chains and Dallas.
Why was that?
They never said. I know Bane and Wolf actually work for them. Maybe because of the web series?
What the fuck was I talking about?
You were saying Payday 2 was Left 4 Dead with Cops, or maybe Killing Floor.
That was it. Payday 2 makes you feel like you’re there. You’re leaping counters, shooting cops, drilling SWATs, taking hostages and you don’t have to worry about no undead bullshit. It’s just dead, dead, dead, dead, dead.
How many dead cops is that?
And then, just when you think you’ve got everything locked down, it’ll throw some other shit at you. Sometimes you just stroll in, punch the safe and you’re out. Other times, someone blows the whistle and you’re fighting waves of cops
Hoxton isn’t even English anymore.
You can play online, which gets you the psycho motherfuckers that run in hosing cops. Fuck that. You get yourself a good group, people you can Skype with, and you’re there, man. You’re fucking living it. And you’re getting away with the whole stack.
I mean, why call him Hoxton if he’s not English?
Dallas is a Swede, so shut your damn mouth. It’s still a blast and it gets your blood flowing like no other game. Even when you’re grinding. Now, throw in a buck and pick it up.
Uh-uh, I don’t do Steam Sales.
That’s it. You’re history.
Mr. Pink has been voted off. Hold G to put on your mask.
Call of Juarez: Gunslinger
In a year-end podcast I joked that 2013 was the year that game narratives overstayed their welcome. The ham-fisted clusterfuck that is Beyond: Two Souls and the tired father/daughter plots of The Last of Us and BioShock Infinite left my palette in dire need of a deep cleanse. I hadn’t heard too many (good) things about the Call of Juarez series, but I decided to pick up the stand-alone short story that is Gunslinger, and it surprised me.
The game introduces an unreliable narrator named Silas Greaves who shares his heroic adventures in exchange for free whiskey at a saloon. Greaves talks about shootouts with legendary Western icons like Billy the Kid, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to name a few. As his stories progress, patrons start calling him out on his lies, which causes Greaves to backtrack and change the plot. In doing so, the game physically rewinds and the player is forced to take different routes.
These moments are hilarious: the progress players make is essentially trivial, and the narrative becomes the most prominent structure in the game. Gunslinger is not without its issues in terms of its treatment of Apache tribes to perpetuate the “mystic Native” trope, which soured some parts for me. Overall, there is a great amount of play with time and narrative, which makes the game a huge success.
The Last of Us
What do you get when you combine the intensity of Resident Evil 4 with the simple intimacy of Ico and a thick streak of McCarthy inspired human violence? The Last of Us is an exercise in restraint, an understated but deeply affecting epic on the morality of survival. But rather than the trite ideas of what are you willing to do to survive, it depicts survival as the fear of loss, of lying to someone you love, of selfishness and of the theft of agency. It’s a game about the collision course between the human and the barbaric, and every bit as terrifying as that sounds.
On top of the dense thematic resonance is a marvellously produced game. It’s achingly gorgeous, as nature retakes the desolate cities humans once lived in. The central performances are some of the most sophisticated and admirable seen in videogames. For an industry where blockbusters cost so much for so little, The Last of Us uses its high production values not for spectacle, but to bolster a story and a game that’s epic, heartfelt and poignant.
Europa Universalis IV
Old maps are delightful artifacts. They can encapsulate multi-faceted worldviews frozen in a single image that endures time. Unlike their modern counterparts, they still contain uncharted territories and blurry lines that create phantastical spaces for our playful minds. Color me surprised that I am still excited to stare at the same, relatively modern map for countless hours.
The grand strategy genre might seem impenetrable in its complexity and depth but Europa Universalis IV finally allowed a complete newcomer like me to indulge in its qualities without several magnitudes of overwhelming details and micromanagement. On the contrary, I’m amazed how simple it can be. There’s no investment of some extraordinary amount of brain power or strategic prowess necessary. It doesn’t take much time to learn about its systems, but predicting the consequences of your actions will require experience.
Europa Universalis IV contains a relatively approachable tutorial that will teach you the toolset needed to embark on its quest of controlling a nation. Additionally, the developers have added a handy mission system that will give a choice of three goals to choose from as soon as you enter the game proper. It’s a simple feature that helps aimless players and establishes early goals for those that might feel lost in the giant sandbox of the world map.
While Crusader Kings 2 features a much more personal approach focused on individual leaders and the many levels of feudal rule they acted in, Europa Universalis has always been a little more detached in its portrayal of the sweeping web of nations and relations between them. The level of abstraction might appear unrelatable. However, just like old maps, the concept of a nation through time allows for imagination through abstraction.
Natural charm is, in itself, a superpower. The smooth delivery of music and sound, the organic immersion in a well-crafted setting and the natural desire to progress is the mark of a good game beyond trappings of higher-minded criticism. It’s what makes the game a game at its core. Guacamelee manages to pin down the core of a game. Fun, fast-paced, playful and unconcerned with trying to be anything bigger.
The story is silly at best, and unapologetically so. Vibrant colors and mariachi-inspired sound explosions punctuate quest completions. Everyone is dressed like the set of a Mexican soap opera or a pay-per-view Lucha Libre special. Characters all speak in cheeseball Spanish, and live in villages plastered with luchador posters lampooning internet memes or other games. The entire game is filled to the brim with life and vibrance, utterly prepared to play as well as be played. Past the cheeseball aesthetic and jubilance is an energetically quick game. Combat is precise and varied, mechanics evolve as the story progresses, and the game never stalemates. Encounters are swift, the fights are high quality and the dungeons never overstay their welcome.
All of which translates to an experience tempered with a firey passion for play and a meticulously crafted cohesion. Guacamelee builds up to something altogether childlike in the best possible way: unrelenting fun communicated through supernatural luchadors. Which is all the charm it really needs.