Like most cornerstones of this time-worn hobby, deciding on one Game of the Year used to be a much simpler process. Even during the PS2’s reign, developers were still trying to prevent their titles from falling apart at the seams, and absolutely busted games like Enter the Matrix were closer to the rule than the exception. This nightmarish lack of quality assurance resulted in reviews that wouldn’t look out of place in an appliance magazine, applying artificial qualifications like “Fun Factor” and “Graphics” to artwork. Naturally, THE game that managed to earn the highest arbitrary score took home any number of Game of the Year titles from publications, and began the cycle anew.
But something funny happened during the last generation; for the most part, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 games just worked! Whether it was the rise of ubiquitous third-party engines like Unreal, increased costs for developing on stronger hardware (which might explain why the Wii aisle was a black hole of festering filth) or a higher level of standards, it was all but guaranteed that the game you brought home would work just fine on your hardware.
With this newfound level of ability, our standards have slowly raised accordingly. It’s no longer enough to make a game that pushes technical boundaries and has competent mechanics; we’re now judging aesthetics instead of the number of polygons pushed, and a third-person shooter won’t get far if it lifts Gears of War’s movement without adding their own tweak. Our Game of the Year critics have also developed a keener set of eyes, and work their hardest to pick winners amongst a greater variety of fantastic titles.
But 2013 might just be the year that permanently changes the purpose of Game of the Year and its significance. From beginning to end, the indie boom has been in full swing, and these smaller creators have buried us in an abundance of riches. From Spelunky to SpeedRunners, not a week has gone by without a truly exciting game. The breadth of unique experiences is also overwhelming; in just one year, I’ve performed heart surgery with the clumsiest doctor alive, used the corpses of my clones to collect artifacts, had a tense meet-up with a Swedish church grim and even went to Applebee’s (yes, we’re still talking about video games)!
I’ve probably played hundreds of games in this year alone (and I know I’ve likely missed hundreds of other lovely games), and even if you held me at Gunpoint, I could not name a definitive Game of the Year. However, I’m more than willing to present talk about ten of the games that really impacted me in 2013. This upcoming “Games of the Year “ feature is by no means all-inclusive, but at the very least, you’ll leave with some great recommendations and an inkling of why they meant so much to me.