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Ted’s Top Ten Games of the Year 2013

A part of our The Top Games of the Year 2013 feature

Ted’s list is fighting game heavy, sure, but you’ll never guess his number 1.

Ted Polak

10. Divekick

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The excuse people use when criticizing fighting games is that they are too difficult to learn, and require too much memorization. What if a game were to throw all that away and try something completely different?

Divekick is a game that literally only uses two buttons. Nothing else is ever needed to play the game. Maybe the pause button, but that is besides the point. Holistically, there are only two moves in Divekick: The Dive button makes your character jump into the air, and the Kick button has them come down at an angle with a diving kick. Connecting with a kick wins the round.

There are characters with a bit more depth, and there are mechanics that are a bit more complex, but not much more than what I have already described. A character can be completely understood in about two minutes. The game therefore becomes a question of how to hit your opponent while avoiding being hit, which is the essence of all fighting games. The developers of Divekick understand these fundamentals well, and have created a minimalistic game to teach it.

Divekick also celebrates its heritage with humor and jokes curated from the Fighting Game Community. About 95% of it will go over your head, but for the 5% of us that get every reference, or laugh every time Jefailey’s head inflates when he wins a round because that is physically accurate, it truly is a celebration of everything in the community. Be on the lookout for a few of Sensei’s tips written by yours truly.

9. Injustice Gods Among Us

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After the success of the 2011 reboot of Mortal Kombat, Netherrealm Studios got to work on another fighting game. Perhaps influenced by their publisher, WB, Injustice: Gods Among Us takes place in one of the alternate universes that DC’s New 52 enabled. In this universe, Superman has suffered a tragic loss, and has become a megalomaniacal dictator of a one earth government.

While sharing many mechanical similarities with Mortal Kombat, Injustice isn’t afraid to try out some new things, including making different stages beneficial for certain characters with different interactable environments. Breaking a combo, for instance, results in a dramatic showdown between the two combatants, including some specific dialogue if the two fighters are related.

Injustice engages in a lovely bit of worldbuilding, with a story mode that surpasses anything before it. The quality and presentation are as if you were watching a DC animated special. I also love the prequel comic series, which can stand in and of itself without the video game. Characters fight accurately: Superman rushes down with a barrage of fists, and Batgirl uses her gadgets to bewilder and overwhelm foes. It’s a love letter to DC fans, while also being a great entry point to anyone who doesn’t know who Killer Frost or Black Adam are.

8. Battlefield 4

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Didn’t I give this 6 out of 10? For ruthless, critical bugs? And a really crappy story mode? Why yes, I did. So how does this game find itself on my top 10 of the year list? Because when the multiplayer works, it is amazing, and unlike anything else.

Yes, there are multiplayer modes that play similarly to Call of Duty. Quite frankly, when it comes to multiplayer in smaller, more intimate spaces, I think Call of Duty is the superior choice. But Battlefield 4 offers 64-player battles on maps that can take 10 minutes to walk across. Battlefield 4 separates itself in the use of vehicles. There’s something special about a skilled helicopter pilot keeping his bird steady while you motor on the chaingun, trying to mow down hapless infantry.

This year, Battlefield added some great integration with second-screen devices. You can modify your loadout from tablet and phone apps, and even find a multiplayer server to join. On tablets, the app can act as a minimap for your game, which is actually very helpful in large maps. I can remember seeing an incoming jeep on the minimap on my tablet, which was too far away on my game’s minimap to spot. I was able to take a defensive posture and repel the attack. It is moments like this that make me think, “only in Battlefield.”

Battlefield 4 also lets you join games as a Commander, able to affect the flow of battle by giving orders to squads, laying down radar and radar jammers, and even launching cruise missles at hardened targets. You can even play from your tablet, which feels extremely unique and addicting.

I feel like Battlefield 4 has a better unlock system than its predecessor. It’s more granular, and rewards you with unlocks closer to your playing style. There are more universal categories of guns, so any class can equip a DMR for example. Vehicles feel a little better to use, especially air vehicles. I also think Battlefield 4′s new maps have more points of interest. They’re not that difficult to learn, despite their size.

To say that Battlefield 4 has had a rocky launch is the understatement of the year. But it is getting better, and I can’t deny that despite the review scores and the metacritic hoopla, Battlefield 4 is basically pure fun, with a variety of modes to suit whatever mood you might be in.

7. Tearaway

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Tearaway wasn’t a game that was on my radar until E3 2013, when the rest of the Gamer Horizon staff told me I absolutely had to play it. While I own LittleBigPlanet, I’ve never been the biggest fan of it. I guess I just ever liked the way it controlled.

Tearaway is a much different title. I had seen from screenshots that the world was made of construction paper, but from playing the game, it feels like construction paper. Objects fold and crease as if they were made of paper. Quite frankly, it feels crunchy. It’s definitely different from anything I’ve ever felt. It’s also one of the few games to use all of the inputs on the Vita without feeling gratuitous (I see you, Assassin’s Creed). Back touch is used to great effect, along with the camera. You yourself are a character in this game, but rather than be subversive like a visual novel, Tearaway’s incusion of you is gentle and loving. And yet, you feel like you are a part of this adventure, or at least, it seems real and prescient enough that you are watching Atoi adventure to deliver his message to the sun.

Tearaway has already been put on sale a number of times for $20, which is alarming since it has been less than two months since the game’s release. Tearaway is a game that belongs on the Vita and thrives there, and I have concerns that this proves that the Vita truly is in trouble. There’s no reason that Tearaway shouldn’t be cleaning up at retail.

6. Super Mario 3D World

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There were two New Super Mario titles released in 2012. One was pretty good, and one wasn’t. If I had to sumarize the difference between the two, it would have to be level design. Super Mario 3D World has sublime level design that hearkens back to some of the classics, with secrets sometimes just out of reach, and sometimes hidden ala Donkey Kong Country, where you have to guess at the level designer’s intentions, and try to poke at their mischief.

As good as the Super Mario Galaxy games might be, I think the whole idea of going from planet to planet turned some people off. I think there’s a bunch of people who want the same experience as what they got from Super Mario 64 and I can’t blame them. Super Mario 3D Land gave everyone a taste of this style of gameplay, although the big difference was getting from point A to point B, unlike having a semi-open world to explore. Even so, it simply felt good to play.

Much hullabaloo has been made over the new cat power up, but every new Mario game these days has some kind of new power up. To me, these kinds of things just enable different motivations in level design. Now, the designers can make high walls to climb. I think the real innovation here is multiplayer. Not only that, but imbalanced multiplayer, in that each of the four (five) characters plays differently. You have to simultaneously complete objectives, and sometimes you’ll need to do it slightly differently. I truly wish this game had online multiplayer, because I think the co-op is sublime here, even as local and split-screen co-op is being phased out as more and more people expect online support in all things. Would it work? Honestly, I think it can. It’s entirely possible to replicate the social feeling of being next to each other with headsets, and the Wii U has a built in camera to facilitte video. Maybe the netcode would be an issue; precision would be key. It’s an issue that I don’t think has seriously been tackled before, as latency has been the domain of shooters, RTS, MOBAs, and fighting games. Nintendo’s yet to try an online Mario. They probably should, though. I really think that could broaden the appeal and penetration of Mario games, and it’s already a shame that more people won’t be experiencing Super Mario 3D World due to the lack of success of the Wii U.

5. Tekken Revolution

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Free to play games are nothing new. There are many successful free to play games; in fact League of Legends is the number one game in the entire world. As free to play games gain ground on consoles, it is only natural that games that normally stay on consoles try out this new business model.

Tekken Revolution is a free to play game that doesn’t sell power. You can increase stats for a character with currency you earn from playing the game, but this currency cannot be directly bought. There are ways to earn it faster, but as this falls under a convenience, it’s not pay to win. You can also spend money on costumes, attack effects, and unlocking characters early. If you haven’t noticed, this is the same business model as League of Legends so far.

However, there is one significant difference; one that enhances the game far more than I ever expected. The game uses an energy system. You can fight 5 times online before you have to wait. It takes half an hour to recharge energy, and you can store up to 5. Now, if you don’t want to wait, you can buy premium plays. You can buy four premium plays for a dollar. In other words, it costs 25 cents for a premium play. A quarter. There’s one other wrinkle, too. If you win, you keep your quarter.

This commerce element introduced a feeling of fear or dread that I haven’t felt since the height of the arcades; the fear of being knocked off the machine. To have to pay to play again. Some might see this as a bad thing, but me? I remember how it made me play in those arcade days, with a sense of urgency. Every fight matters. Now, there are ways to earn premium plays without paying, but even then you’re defending your premium ticket with everything you have. If you’re good enough, you might only give the game a dollar a month. Or less.

Tekken Revolution also makes some changes to gameplay. One of the most intimidating parts of Tekken are characters’ giant movelists. Revolution highlights 4 moves each character has which are their goto moves. These moves get special effects, and can even score random critical hits. One move for each character also becomes invincible; guaranteed to beat the opponent’s move, but if blocked or predicted, leaves you wide open to punishment.

Tekken Revolution launched with 8 playable characters and 4 unlockables, and adds more unlockables every month. Very soon in America, Eliza will be released, the first original character for the game. This development shows Namco is serious about Tekken Revolution. You should give it a try. After all, it’s free.

4. Grand Theft Auto V

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The thing that I think Grand Theft Auto does better than any other franchise is simulate a real world. You can stand around and listen to the people, and it almost makes sense. There are some idiosyncrasies to the dialog that make it clear this is all fake, but there’s a coherence to it, and Grand Theft Auto V takes this to new levels.

I am biased, too. I live in Los Angeles County, and there’s something special about seeing an alternate-world version of the place you live, with landmarks that are there, and look like the real thing, but don’t.

I also had some concern with Grand Theft Auto V releasing just two months before the next generation, but the power and detail that GTA V wrings out of machines that are 7 or 8 years old is mind boggling. This is definitely a showpiece for the last generation, and Rockstar has clearly shown how their hardware knowledge has grown since GTA 4.

More than anything, I can connect with this game’s plot more than previous games. It still feels surreal in that GTA way, but I really feel for Michael. As I get older, I find it easier to empathize with his situation. And of course, everybody loves Trevor. Guy’s nuts.

I have to admit, as well, I’m impressed with the scope Rockstar is trying to breach with GTA Online. Calling it a separate product has proven to not be a gimmick, as the title is big and only growing bigger. Obviously it’s had its bumps, but I find something special about being a fan of a product in its early phases, and to watch it grow and evolve.

3. The Last Of Us

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If The Last Of Us didn’t have the intro that it did, I don’t think I would have seen it at the stellar product that it is. What is it about those 20 minutes? Is it the personal feeling of attachment as you witness this terrible tragedy? Is it the feeling of dread and loss as you see the world as you are aware of it now being melted, burned away by this plague?

The twisted buildings you walk through, and how they have been reclaimed by nature; the humans who have been infected by the spores. A mix between the familiar and the natural, of human control and the lack of control. And in between it all, Joel and Ellie just trying to go home.

Well, not literally go home. The game manages to tell a story without ever saying a single word, to be honest. In the environments that our protagonists maneuver through, in the fear of trying to sneak around 4 clickers in a train station depot who can kill with one bite. It’s all just simple survival.

You know one interesting thing about The Last Of Us? There aren’t that many trophies, and the trophies aren’t exactly easy to get. It’s clearly a design decision. Don’t try to metagame this one, they say. Take your time; enjoy it. We have something we want to show you.

2. Bioshock Infinite

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Bioshock Infinite has two major things going for it that push it beyond the average into the sublime. It has a narrative that is slightly self aware and knows there was a previous Bioshock game, and it knows you know this too. It also has an AI companion who is less scripted than anything I’ve seen before.

Elizabeth doesn’t stand around idle when you go off and screw around and go whatever. She’ll lean against a wall, or she’ll look over a counter or under a desk. She is never standing still, and never feels like a programmed part of the game, something that’s just there.

I ended up really loving the gunplay and combat in Bioshock Infinite, even though I never really used vigor combinations, not discovering they really existed until I had beaten the game. It was definitely more violent and brutal with melee executions, but my limited array of weapons I was allowed to carry forced me to make more strategic decisions at each point. Hard mode was difficult, but 1999 was brutal. Bioshock Infinite was as hard as you wanted it to be.

It isn’t even over yet, with another part of Burial At Sea to come. Questions may have been answered, but there’s more to come. Does the universe begin and end with Booker DeWitt, or is there some other guiding force? I can’t wait to find out.

1. The Stanley Parable

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When I played Stanley Parable for the first time, I didn’t know how I felt about it. I still don’t; it may as well be beyond criticism. I don’t know how to review that product, and I don’t think that I could give it anything less than a 10. Likewise, I don’t know how to give this less than the top spot on my list. It subverts everything I know about how a video game works, knows how to play my expectations against themselves. I remember the line, “The only way to stop is to quit! Hit the escape key and leave before it’s too late!” The voice said to me, pleadingly.

It repeatedly begs the question, what kind of experience is this? Is it a first person narrative? What role do I, the player, have in this endeavor? The game’s achievements even have this subversive flavor, with one requiring the player to not play the game for five years.

I tried The Stanley Parable when it existed as just a mod for Half Life 2 and I loved the concept. One day it was announced it was being turned into a standalone product, and that was the last I heard about it for a while. But now it has reached its final form, with what feels like a more complete feature set, and an experience in interactive media that has to be felt, if only to try to get some insight, whatever is there to digest, of whatever this experience actually is.

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