So far, in my personal roundup of 2013, we’ve gone from the wild west to the east coast, then straight up to a city in the sky. You probably already think my decisions are stupid, but that’s entirely up to you.
Here are some more things you’ll probably disagree with.
Stealing its way into the second page, it’s…
#8 – Payday 2 (Xbox 360)
Originally described to me as ‘basically like Left 4 Dead with cops instead of zombies’, I might perhaps be forgiven for not rushing out and buying a copy immediately. However, when I started playing it with a friend, suddenly everything clicked into place. Payday 2 is, at its best, a complex multiplayer tactical shooter. At a high level, players must coordinate their strategies, skills and equipment in order to most effectively pull off increasingly risky – not to mention profitable – heists.
The depths to which you can specialise your role in the squad are very refreshing, especially to players coming out of L4D or similar co-op shooters. A friend and I once managed a nearly perfect stealth run of the mission set in the FBI offices. Rather than going in guns blazing, I stuck to the security cameras and kept watch whilst he crept through the building, using his Dominator ability to – I shit you not – force the entire staff of the FBI to lie down and handcuff themselves. Other special abilities include sneaky options like silent drills and proximity mines, whereas the less subtle end of the skill tree brings you things like a giant buzzsaw for cutting through doors and safety deposit boxes in an instant. Then again, when you’re frantically lobbing bags of coke onto a boat, and police bullets are whizzing over your head, you’ll be grateful for the guy who specialised in nothing more than bringing a really damn big gun.
Payday 2 is the kind of game that makes you want to keep playing it just to try new approaches, like a full-on stealth run of a bank, emptying the entire vault without firing a single shot. I’m sure its possible, if you’re good enough. And the guns themselves are robust enough that, when the shit does hit the fan, you’re not suddenly going to stop having fun.
In short, Payday 2 is what the multiplayer from Grand Theft Auto V should have been. It’s the best co-op experience this year. Get a few mates round, and get stuck in.
Coming back from an extended period underground, it’s…
#7 – Spelunky (PC)
This feels a bit like cheating. Spelunky is a game I played to absolute death on its first release in 2008, as a free PC game. I then played it to death again in 2012, when I bought a second-hand Xbox 360 more or less just so I could play the expanded, high resolution, re-graphicsified version. Then that very same version came out on PC this year, so I bought it, having already played the shit out of Spelunky twice over. But that didn’t stop me doing it all again.
The world, and everything within it, is randomly generated every time you die, meaning that no matter how many times you play it, you’re always looking at a fresh challenge, but the true genius of Spelunky is that it is entirely systems-led. Even though every situation is one you’ve never seen before, you know that the world will follow the same basic rules. The game then becomes less about exploration, and more about applying your knowledge of the game’s rules to the situation at hand. Add to that the existence of the daily challenge, which generates one game world which is shared with every player at once, is only available for 24 hours, and can only be played once. Then factor in the Spelunky Explorers Club, where you can watch other players making their attempts through said daily challenge, watching how other players, from the same starting position, dealt with the same issues as you did, and you may begin to understand why so many people are utterly obsessed with this game.
It’s unforgiving, it’s hard as balls, and you’ll probably feel a lot of frustration before you get any real joy out of it. But push through, and Spelunky is not only a great game experience, but a phenomenal spectator sport.
Things are quickly taking a turn for the emotional, with…
#6 – Gone Home (PC)
Well. This is difficult. I really don’t know how I can sum up this game to a satisfying level without ruining it for people who are yet to experience it, whilst still catering for those that have. Here is a game whose central mystery is the very genre it’s in – to begin with, you don’t even know if you’re being told a horror story, a thriller, a sci fi… Even listing some of the more important emotions the game makes you feel would probably be considered a spoiler, which is a warning that most games would not warrant. In Call Of Duty, you will feel excited, angry, and maybe a bit bored. In Spelunky, you will feel like you’re in danger literally all the time. In Gone Home, you’ll feel…
Nostalgia. Fear. Guilt. Curiosity. Hope.
Those are some of the lesser ones, anyway.
Gone Home is one of the best examples of thematic consistency and mature storytelling in any game to date. Many of the themes it tackles are beyond the realm of spoilers, but the general premise is that you, Katie, are coming home after an extended trip abroad. Your family have moved house, so you’re not at all familiar with the layout of the place, and upon your arrival you find that your entire family have gone missing. All you’ve got to go on is a cryptic message from your younger sister, warning you not to go looking for her. What follows is an intensely atmospheric exploration of both the house itself, and the lives of the people that live there. Gone Home isn’t afraid to tackle some fairly intense themes, and it certainly doesn’t pull its punches.
It’s also, hands down, the most faithful recreation of the 90’s as a decade I’ve ever seen. The attention to period detail is absolutely flawless. My favourite little point of interest is in Sam’s room. If you turn off the bedside lamp, you’ll see a small galaxy’s worth of glow-in-the-dark stars above the bed. These stars are the exact same ones I had above my bed, at exactly the same time. So did millions of other kids, but still.
I could write forever about Gone Home. Maybe I will one day. For now, all I can say is that if you’re interested in experiencing a truly human story, one that’ll run you through every emotional gear you’ve got, I can recommend nothing over this. Play it alone, with an alcoholic drink, and play it all the way through in one sitting.