We covered the best games of the year yesterday. Now we dig deeper. With a year this rich in video game media, it’s a disservice to not look at the great work that goes into video games.
The Last of Us (PS3)
Zombies are nothing new in video games. The Last of Us didn’t focus on them. It focused on a really fantastic story about a last ditch effort to stop the zombie apocalypse from a totally living perspective. A young girl named Ellie was attacked by zombies but didn’t transform at all. A group of revolutionaries ask Joel, a smuggler, to bring the girl to their research facilities so they can develop a possible cure.
That’s the premise. The story is much more expansive, moving, and thrilling than that. It would be a disservice to the gaming experience to say anymore. I did play this through to the end (months of gameplay because of my eyesight/depth perception issues) and it was worth it.
Get The Last of Us.
Gone Home (PC, Mac, Linux)
When a game is defined by interactive storytelling (rather than by action or clear objectives), the story needs to be rock solid. Gone Home is. The story of a young woman coming home and finding out what has happened since she left for college is note perfect. It’s a great mystery pulled together with beautiful visuals and world design.
The mid-90s aesthetic is perfect. So’s the dark and stormy night. You’re set up to expect the absolute worst–constant references to a murder house, bullying, and the emptiness of the house–and that draws you in further. The setting forces you to pay more attention to the world, which in turn leads you to the story elements you need to know to get the full experience of the game.
The Stanley Parable (PC, Mac)
The Stanley Parable doesn’t just tell one story; it tells many. As you guide Stanley through the newly abandoned office complex, your every choice takes you on a different path through the story of Stanley’s life in the office.
When you reach the end of that story, the game resets back to his office with some knowledge of the choices you already made. Some stories even depend on you realizing that the narrator describing your every move remembers every choice you’ve made and reacts to it. Hang out in the broom closet for a few minutes and see how the story changes.
Antichamber is a mind-bending maze game inspired by optical illusions and modern art. You have 90 minutes to wander through the various halls of the testing facility, reacting to color, light, sound, and platforming puzzles that will change the way you think about gaming.
Early on, you’ll reach a point where the previous main objective is declared a red herring. You’re not trying to reach the exit; you’re trying to see everything. Aside from the genius puzzles (there are optical illusions, for example, where you look at the room one way and reach a dead end, but look another and it opens up a new chunk of the map), the reset mechanic is fantastic. When you admit defeat, you are returned to the starting point where there is now a map. It shows you everywhere you were. You can choose to return to any of those room and try to find a new way around whatever obstacle held you up. It’s a really clever tactic to get you to dive back in and try again. After all, hitting the 90 minute mark means you start again from scratch. You need to make the most of the time you have.
Pokemon X/Y (3DS)
I cannot stress enough how much the new gameplay mechanics change the Pokemon experience. Not everything works, no (some wacky camera changes are annoying while traveling in certain cities), but what does work is revolutionary. Just being able to move in any direction is a huge difference.
For the first time in generations, the balance between types has been tweaked as well as the balance between the Pokemon themselves. It makes it a brand new experience. The new Fairy type means having to change the dynamics to account for all the new possible interactions between types. Mega Evolutions–a temporary in-battle step beyond a third evolution in certain Pokemon–add even more variety and strategy to the game. Game Freak threw everything into the first 3DS Pokemon game and opened up a new world of possibilities for the series.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes, a new mechanic and a tweak are enough. A Link Between Worlds, the closest we’ve come to A Link to the Past sequel, adds the wall art mechanic. You can transform into a piece of 2D art and travel on walls. Genius.
It’s also nice to play a Zelda game that doesn’t punish you for not doing everything in the right order. You can choose to go the “wrong” way and still be fine. That’s the tweak. I always choose the wrong path for Link (where having one object from another path will let you breeze through) and I didn’t feel like that was a real issue this time.