Polly's Game Awards Thing 2013
For Games Not Necessarily Released In 2013: XTREME X-RATED VERSION!
by Polly

Well, it certainly has been a year since we did this last, hasn't it, folks? A year since I started last year's Game of the Year list with roughly the same kind of introduction and everything! In 2013, I think my love and interest in videogames was much higher than it's ever been, maybe even rivaling my childhood fondness for the medium. It feels like there wasn't a week that went by this year where I wasn't playing something new or replaying an old favorite. It's all thanks to ridiculous Steam and Amazon sales that over the last couple of years I've amassed quite the library of cheap PC and console games, and this was the year that I was determined to dig through as much of that backlog as I could, provided my interest didn't wane. With that determination, I managed to tear through over forty games this year, escaping with both my sanity and interest in playing games still intact. There's STILL quite a pile of untouched potential gaming joy or profound sadness left to be discovered in my entertainment center shelves and Steam library, so I head into 2014 fully-armed, with no need for your fancy pants new consoles. I got all I need already, and that library is only sure to grow as the next year wears on.

With that said, it's time to get this thing a-rollin'. This year, I've opted to go for more of a traditional style list rather than weird off-the-cuff categories, challenging myself to rank the games I enjoyed, with my 2013 Game of the Year being in the number one spot. As usual, my end of the year list isn't just about games that were released in 2013, but rather things I PLAYED in 2013. I always feel the need to reiterate that point because I STILL get email about it, even though it's right in the fucking title of the page...which kinda makes it really dumb of me to put it in an even smaller point font here since these people obviously can't read. Either way, that's the deal.



Honorable Mentions

Before we get to the main attraction though, I'd like to take a moment and say a little something about some games that didn't quite make the Top Ten. I enjoyed quite a lot this year and am a gigantic pussy that couldn't quite bring herself to cut some of the more interesting selections from the list because I felt they deserved some love too. So, let's get things started with some honorable mentions! The games I loved...just a tiiiiiiny bit less than those that made it into the Top Ten.


Bully: Scholarship Edition
"'Cause back in school we are the leaders of all."

As a dedicated fan of Giant Bomb and the Giant Bombcast, I've listened to those guys heap praise upon Bully for years and even snagged it up a long-ish time ago with the intent to play it someday, but never got around to it until this year. I remember Ryan Davis always being quite vocal about his love for the game, his enthusiasm always conjuring up the thought into my head to finally give it a whirl. Unfortunately, this past summer we lost Ryan Davis and some part of me felt that a great way to honor his memory would be to finally play through Bully and see if it could press the same buttons for me as it did him.

As someone who's usually not all that hot on open-world games, I found the smaller and more contained world of Bully to be immediately less intimidating than a lot of other games in the genre can be for me. The compact size of the world also meant that a lot more detail could be packed into Bulworth Academy and the surrounding city, and because of that, this game feels more "alive" to me than Rockstar's other PS2-era offerings because of its structure of juggling school life with social status and mission hopping.

The light-hearted and juvenile nature of the story and characters, though at times troubling, felt very genuine and charming. Though I was doing a lot of the same stuff you'd do any other open-world game, Bully kept me interested with its unique spin on open-world mission designs as well as the high-quality acting and writing. The story as a whole ends up feeling a little hollow by the end, but Bully gets by on a lot of heart, and in turn actually opened me back up to open-world sandboxy games as a whole.

Thanks, Ryan Davis!


Pid
"I was dropped from moonbeams and sailed on shooting stars."

A game I just didn't quite get around to last year, but promised myself I would, and boy am I ever glad I did.

Pid is a delight, top to bottom, and in my opinion (as well as Rhete's) criminally underrated like fucking whoa! The gameplay, mostly built around using a beam of light to work your way through devious obstacles and puzzles, felt refreshing for the genre, and the stages and bosses the designers constructed around the use of the beam (as well as a good handful of disposable items) always left me feeling encouraged to tackle whatever they had in store for me next. On top of the top-notch platforming, Pid is a goddamn treat to look at and listen to (there's a reason it won the "Best Soundtrack" award last year.) The soft airy visuals and low-key jazzy soundtrack paint a surreal world that's marvelous to play around in.

It's sad that Pid has essentially been banished to obscurity under the wave of "retro-style" indie platformers we've seen over the last few years, but trust me when I say that it's definitely one you should be giving a gander if you ever have the chance.


Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
"Wild and bereft, assassin is born."

Poor Raiden. Seems the guy could never quite catch a break since his debut in Metal Gear Solid 2. Panned as a pretty-boy whiner by most and mocked even by Kojima in trailers and in game during Metal Gear Solid 3, it was no real surprise that he was somehow an angsty robot ninja by the time Metal Gear Solid 4 rolled around. The supposed end of the MGS series was seemingly Raiden's final shot at redemption, so what better way could he go out than breakdancing, singlehandedly holding back the advance of a gigantic warship by impaling his own foot to the ground with his sword, cutting his own arm off, and fighting off a group of enemies with a sword in his mouth?

Raiden had become positively ridiculous, and when Metal Gear Rising was originally announced, it didn't really seem all that strange for him to be starring in his own Devil May Cry-like. Kojima Productions was ultimately unable to do much with the idea themselves and passed the idea onto Platinum, because if you're going to have someone create a GAME that depicts Raiden as batshit insane as he was in MGS4's cutscenes, you want the guys that did Vanquish and Bayonetta at the helm.

That decision couldn't have been more perfect. Rising is a fantastic game that fully embraces the absurdity of what Raiden's character had become, and is one of the few times where I've felt that I was just as much of a bad-ass in-game as I was in the cutscenes. Platinum somehow created a game where you can easily slice your foes into hundreds of itty-bitty pieces, rip their spines out, and STILL feel your skills pushed to the limits with a meaty and satisfying challenge. Rising is a game I didn't just want to finish, I wanted to keep getting better at it because the reward was more insanity.

If there had been a "Best contra Moment of 2013" entry on this year's list, the entirety of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance would have been the clear winner.


Gunpoint
"The same force that flows through every circuit. The juice that's spent every time you work it."

Despite Gunpoint's title, there's really not a whole lot of shooting or holding anybody at gunpoint that goes on. It's an all-too-short, but incredibly sweet slice of puzzle gaming steeped in noir aesthetics that manages to make you feel as crafty as any super spy with a set of hyper-powered trousers might feel.

Gunpoint's first main draw is the Bullfrog Trousers, which let you leap incredible distances both vertically and horizontally, hurl yourself like a projectile into enemies, and land safely from any fall. Bounding around and over buildings and into enemies is IMMEDIATELY fun, and the first time you dive tackle a guard through a window and pound him into the pavement you will poop your pants with delight! (I take no responsibility for your poopy drawers.)

The real fun comes when you're introduced to the Crosslink mechanic, which lets you rewire pretty much anything inside of a building at any time and from anywhere because why not. Rewiring is needed not only to take care of troublesome guards (who you'll also have to dupe into unwittingly helping you), but also to bypass the numerous security systems set in place to prohibit you from reaching your goals. The complex circuits and switches you'll have to set up to complete each mission and reach the hidden laptops can leave you scratching your head from time to time, but the fun is in experimentation, and if a plan doesn't quite pan out the way you want, it's not that hard to rethink your strategy or quickly reload an autosave and have another whack at it.

What are you waiting for, poopy pants? GO PLAY IT!


One-Finger Death Punch
"You got the touch. You got the power. "

One look at One Finger Death Punch's presentation may have you thinking, "Oh come on, Polly, that's a poopy iPhone game," and then, I'd appear right behind you and smack you upside your stupid head for questioning my choice. I'd then go on to tell you that One Finger Death Punch is a stupidly fun little game that's more than worth your time if you're looking to put those reflexes to the test.

Other than Divekick, there is no easier to pick up and play game that was released this year. You need only the left and right mouse buttons to begin painting your screen with the vital life fluids of your stick dude-ish foes. If enemies approach from the left, let them get in range and left click. If enemies approach from the right, let them get in range and right click. You honestly couldn't ask for anything more simple. As you progress, enemy types become more varied requiring more inputs and you'll unlock several equippable power-ups to bring into each stage with you. These small additions continue building throughout the game to create an experience that goes beyond its initially simple premise, but never becomes overwhelming or bogged down.

One Finger Death Punch is the kinda game that gives you the same feelings that something like Spelunky and Pac-Man Championship Edition DX might. That feeling of wanting to try one more stage or life, and when you finally look up, two hours have passed and you are most definitely going to be late for work tomorrow.


The Stanley Parable
"I think I used to have a purpose, but then again that might have been a dream."

I always feel weird talking at too much length about The Stanley Parable. Even in the context of a be-all, end-all Game of the Year list, it just feels like a game that gets its point across much better from having actually experienced it rather than hearing someone talk about it.

Put simply, the game is more or less an interactive essay on player agency, narrative, and choice in videogames as a whole. It uses a lot of clever visual gags and a humorous narrator to get the point across. There's not really a lot of "game" in The Stanley Parable, it's more about walking around an office building, making choices, exploring and poking at things, and seeing where you ultimately end up. There are many paths that lead to multiple endings and the humor of each bite-sized iteration of Stanley's story is the driving force that keeps you trying and trying again to see where the story goes.

That said, The Stanley Parable likely won't appeal to those wanting something a bit more "gamey," and it certainly won't appeal to those unfamiliar with how storytelling in videogames works. For me though, it's definitely the funniest game of the year, for sure.


Grand Theft Auto IV
"The future is not what it seems for the American Dream."

Never let it be said that the Polly isn't always 1800 years behind the times...

Fresh off of Bully and ready to give open-world games another shot, I decided to try and hurl myself into what I had perceived as the exact opposite of Bully and one of the most lauded games of last generation. Since its release, I've had several false starts when trying to play GTA IV. It just never clicked for lots of reasons. I'd watched people play it and it seemed fun, but for some reason it just didn't grab me when I took the controls until this year.

Once I was over the first few hours boring opening missions and finally able to firmly grasp the controversial weighty driving mechanics, I really started to feel myself connecting with the story, world, and characters. Niko Bellic, the game's protagonist, in particular really grew on me. His "stranger in a strange land" role at the beginning of the game, his awkwardness in dealing with people, his attitude toward the situations he ended up in, and the choices and actions that led him to Liberty City reminded me a lot of Mike Ehrmantraut from Breaking Bad in a way. Niko seemed beaten down by life, and when the opportunity to make a new start in America turned sour, he essentially accepted that he's dead inside and turns to what he knows best in order to exact revenge on those who'd wronged him in the past. There's no real redemption for him, but he doesn't wallow in that fact. GTA IV is essentially a game about bad people who know they're bad people and that's just how it's going to be. It's the writing that manages to keep Niko, Roman, and their small circle of friends likeable through some really shit situations.

What really surprised me most was how much I enjoyed actually playing a GTA game. I hadn't really enjoyed the series since GTA III, and even though GTA IV was still fairly behind the times in the gameplay department at the time of its release, the story mission structures and setpieces were a lot of fun to engage with and the side missions and activities with friends felt connected enough to the world that I ended up enjoying the package as a whole. In the next year, I hope to give the DLCs a shot before moving onto Red Dead Redemption and GTA V.



The Top Ten Games Polly Played in 2013!
(That You Should Play Too!)
(Ya know, if you want to. If not, that's cool.)


And here we are. The cream of the crop, the best of the best, the overused, needlessly exaggerated expression that portrays the finality of my opinion! The ten games that made me all happy inside and the reasons they did so are presented here to you! If you're in the need for some prime gaming funtimes and joy over the course of the next year, you'd definitely be doing yourself a favor by checking out any of the following...


THE TENTH:
Analogue: A Hate Story / Hate Plus

"Sometimes all I really want to feel is love. Sometimes I'm angry that I feel so angry."

I've been a fan of Christine Love's work since a friend nudged me into playing through Digital: A Love Story a while back, and have only gone on to enjoy all of her work ever since. With every project, she seems to improve her storytelling and writing ability, and her characters are always fascinating, well-written, and for the most part believable. I feel that the Analogue: A Hate Story and Hate Plus stories are the pinnacle of her writing achievements as of now, and should she continue pushing forward in this format, I can only expect even cooler things from whatever she decides to write in the future.

What's all this talk about writing, Polly, you ask? Well, yes. Analogue and Hate Plus were created in Ren'py, and are the only visual novels I'm aware of that made it onto Steam at the time that I grabbed them. There's not a lot of gameplay beyond clicking some things here and there, so get yourself a nice beverage, crank up the awesome tunes, and enjoy a story that's going to take you for a unique little ride.

Unlike most visual novels featuring a vast cast of on-screen characters and lots of PhotoShop filtered backgrounds, Analogue and Hate Plus have a more minimalist approach in which you only communicate with two very different AI programs, the sweet and cheerful *Hyun-ae, and the more stern and traditional *Mute. You progress the story by interacting with the two while reading an abandoned vessel's log files, which document the society which previously inhabited the place, and more importantly, elaborates on the pasts of your computerized companions. Each respective AI gives you their take on each situation, fleshing out their personalities even more with even a few bits of comedy sprinkled in here and there.

I'm purposefully being vague about the overall story because I think it's one that's worth reading and experiencing beginning to end for yourself. It's a story that's rich in Korean history (a lot of material is based on the Joseon-era Korea), but still manages to say a lot about society as it operates today as well. Love knows how to draw you to her characters and make you feel and understand their circumstances, which can often be uncomfortable and hard to want to read, but also makes them all the more real. When I started, I was unable to put down the first game until I'd completed every route, and when Hate Plus would only let me read a certain number of files per day it drove me nuts that I had to wait to learn more. The side stories and stories of the main characters make for a really great read and left many thoughts lingering for days once I'd finished.


THE NINTH:
Gone Home

"I'm walking into your house, 'cause I really wanna figure you out."

When Telltale's The Walking Dead cleaned up shop last year with accolades on many end-of-the-year lists throughout the industry, the entirely pointless debate on what qualifies as a game began to rage. This year, that perceived line only became more blurry as more narrative-focused titles or text-based Twine games began receiving larger amounts of attention and praise. Gone Home is a name you've no doubt already seen on many Game of the Year lists around the net, and with almost each mention you'll be able to find that same "is game/is not game" argument brewing in the comments, when the better idea would be to shut the fuck up and let people work within and enjoy the medium in any way they want. Stop being exclusionary and restrictive little twits.

When I went to write my entry for Gone Home, it turns out that everybody whose opinions I tend to respect in the industry had already written pretty much everything I feel I could ever say about it on their own end-of-the-year lists. Therefore, I will defer to Giant Bomb's Alex Navarro, who I feel best summed up my opinion on why Gone Home not only deserves to be on this list, but why it's something particularly special in the world of videogames.
"A lot of indie games flirt with the sensation of being personal experiences, but Gone Home is of the rare breed to completely envelop you in a character, a locale, a sense of space. The titular home is lovingly crafted to look precisely like the kind of house any of your friends growing up could have lived in. It's chock full of discoverable details that do nothing except make the place feel more lived-in. I wanted to walk in every room, touch every thing, try to cultivate a complete picture of this family's life, and it's to Steven Gaynor and his collaborators' credit that they were able to achieve this in a way that feels close to effortless. The tale it tells is a lovely one, and by the end of it I felt like I'd actually learned something about a person, versus some overwrought video game caricature of one."

THE EIGHTH:
Mass Effect 3

"One by one. We are together. We fall together."

That little ray of sunshine, ladies and gentlemen, is the savior of the entire galaxy, Miss Pollyanna Shepard. They'll write songs, movies, plays, and books about her exploits through the universe, the lives she touched in all kinds of good and bad ways, and how much of a total dickhole/badass she was to nearly everybody she met. Pollyanna Shepard is my Mass Effect legacy. We bummed around the galaxy together, doing whatever (and whoever, OH MY!) we pleased, ultimately defeating the Reapers and leaving a trail of destruction behind that will no doubt be as memorable as that of the Reapers themselves.

For three games, I wrote my own story. No do-overs, no save scumming, no guides. I wanted to see just how far the game would let me take it when it came to crafting the personality of my own Shepard, and save for some disappointment with the final twenty or so minutes of the game, BioWare let me have that.

My first and final visits to the Citadel are memorable, as are all of the little mini-stories in between. Off the top of my head, I can think of so many great individual moments throughout Pollyanna's three-game career that I felt tied a bit of my own creativity and attitude to her. Her actions in the story and the way I portrayed her felt like a great escape from the stress I was feeling in real life at the time, and that's why I feel that my Shepard's story is much more than a slightly botched ending sequence. She was my little ball of rage at the circumstances life had thrown at me, and the fun I had causing as much chaos as I could with her was not only a cathartic release, but a story of entertaining and emotional ups and downs that I felt genuinely connected to.

It's not just that though, it's the world and characters too. I grew very attached to characters like Wrex, Garrus, and Thane because they were so well written, and though the exploration of the elements of the series shrunk more and more as the series wore on, the Mass Effect universe still felt vast to me, and I'd always take the extra time to read codex and planetary data entries because I wanted to feel as attached to the world and its inhabitants as I could.

Even with its shortcomings, I feel I got everything I wanted out of Mass Effect 3 and its Citadel DLC. Absolutely a series worth experiencing and seeing to the end.


THE SEVENTH:
Dust: An Elysian Tail

"Change is coming through my shadow."

Alright, I'm cheating a bit with this one, because I originally played Dust last year when it was released on XBox 360, but this year saw its release on PC and Steam and to give the game its proper due (and because I really enjoyed playing it again), I'm giving it full honors on my Game of the Year list this year.

To me, damn near everything about Dust is goddamn beautiful. I mean, shit, just look at that screenshot. There's more color and personality in that one still image than anything that's been released by any AAA in the last five or so years. The color palette does a great job of giving you the overall tone of the game. It's charming, full of memorable, fantastically written and acted characters, with the right amount of hinting at something just a bit darker and more mysterious lurking beneath the surface. The colorful and nuanced presentation goes a goddamn long way toward what makes the game so rewarding to play through. It's a treat hacking and slashing your way through each area of the game just to get a gander at more of the amazingly detailed art.

At its heart, Dust is a combo-driven hack and slasher with a lot of influence from the more action-oriented games from Falcom. As is typical for a lot of games like this these days, progress means access to lots of swanky new power-ups that open up access to new areas. It's still a fairly linear experience, so don't go in expecting much Metroid-ish sequence breaking, but the power-ups go a long way toward making sure the simple take on gameplay never gets too dull.

As the sword-slinging titular character, you'll be slicing and dicing enemies to bits right from the get-go, easily racking up combos in the hundreds of hits, and actually completing a combo of that magnitude without dropping it makes you feel like a boss. The ease with which you command Dust's swordsmanship does tend to make the game fall a bit on the easy side, so I'd really suggest upping the difficulty to Tough or higher for a more satisfying challenge.

Dust: An Elysian Tail is largely the work of one very dedicated developer who went from knowing nothing about how to make a game to releasing this widely-acclaimed gem over the course of its five year development cycle. That kind of dedication and heart easily shine through in how fantastic Dust turned out, and also serves as a very inspiring story to anyone looking to get into game making.


THE SIXTH:
Rogue Legacy

"Tell tale of men all dressed in black, that most of them, not coming back."

This year, I learned that I really just don't like playing roguelikes much. Or maybe I'd actually like them a bit more if my luck didn't suck absolute dog turds when it came to them. Any roguelike I dared play this year, I found myself suddenly losing 10-12 hours of work over something completely random and that just didn't set well with me. That's really why I got into the idea Rogue Legacy puts forth as more of a "rogue-lite." Dying over and over in somewhat randomly generated areas and losing that character forever is actually part of the fun AND you get to carry the money you've earned and unlocked items over to your next character.

Yes, dying is progress. You spend inherited cash on your new family member to purchase and upgrade passive abilities like attack and health bonuses, unlock new character classes, and outfit yourself in new gear should you find the schematics to build it. Where Rogue Legacy makes things interesting is that nearly every next family member has some kind of unusual trait or birth defect that can subtly or drastically alter gameplay. Dwarfism and Gigantism alter your character's sprite side, and in turn your hitbox, meaning you have to approach enemies differently. Colorblindness only lets you see the world in back and white, which can be way trickier than it may initially sound. Vertigo flips the entire screen upside down making gameplay almost impossible to normal folk. I.B.S. lets you FART WHILE JUMPING AND DASHING AND IS THE BEST DAMN THING EVER I WANT IT ON EVERY CHARACTER PLEASE!

It's rare you'll ever get an heir that isn't blemished in some way, and that's all the fun in it. The random elements never feel like too much of a handicap and provide a great amount of humor and variety to what could otherwise be a fairly straightforward hack and slasher. With equipment and purchasable abilities, it's easy to customize your way around any supremely terrible traits you might end up with, and if you just end up with a set of all-bad heirs, go ahead and throw 'em off a cliff. Ol' Polly won't tell anyone.

This was basically THE game that demanded "just one more try" every time I swore I was going to quit for the evening when I died. It's a fairly easy game to nitpick here and there (the bosses are gaaaaarbage, and New Game+ just isn't that fun), but goddamn did it ever refuse to let go, and I was more than happy to be stuck in its clutches.


THE FIFTH:
Super Meat Boy

"Dickhead, fuckface, cock smoking motherfucker, asshole, dirty twat, waste of semen, I hope you die!"

Very few games these days can put me in a trance-like state where I no longer feel a gamepad in my hands, where the action happening on screen becomes more of an extension of my thoughts rather than any kind of physical input. A zen-like state where the 1's and 0's behind the images, sounds, and interactions I'm witnessing are all aligning perfectly, and I am some kind of mental gaming god...then twenty seconds later I'm machinegunning obscenities at the screen, fully aware that the poor gamepad in my hands is about to magically leap out of them and through my monitor as I wall jump too early and face-fuck-first into a buzzing saw. The anger quickly subsides when I immediately respawn at the stage's entrance, eyes once again glazing over as a sudden calm once again takes over. This is the Super Meat Boy cycle.

Super Meat Boy is goddamn fantastic, and it took me a long time to warm up to it. Like GTA IV, I took a lot of swings at since it came out, but it only really snagged me this year. It's like suddenly something just clicks and the ease of pulling off super death-defying leaps and bounds becomes nearly effortless thanks to the spot-on, intensely responsive controls. I found that the more I played the game, the less I stopped thinking about obstacles and hazards in front of me and instead learned to feel them. It was like a natural internal rhythm that set in and let me just KNOW how I was supposed to handle each new challenge and that's one of the most rewarding and satisfying feelings a game can give you. The difficulty curve and stage designs escalate brilliantly, and you'll always feel equipped to handle each new level since the game subtly teaches you its new tricks without having to throw intrusive tutorials in your face. That kind of teaching is on the level of Super Mario Bros. and it's nice that a game released these days respected my ability to learn and execute while still challenging me enough to want to want to smash EVERY SINGLE TESTICLE ON THE ENTIRE PLANET WITH A TIRE IRON.

(FUCK YOU, COTTON ALLEY! JUST FUCK YOU, AND FUCK YOU, YOU SON OF A B!)


THE FOURTH:
Divekick

"Oh! I'm the party starter. You might have a good time, but we party harder."

Ask me to name a game that was more fun to play with co-workers and friends online and real life and the only name that would cross my sweet, supple, and oh-so-kissable lips would have to be Divekick. Put simply, there was no better multiplayer experience this year than getting friends together to kick the absolute poopy-poo out of one another and enjoying the ensuing saltiness that would transpire.

Divekick works because of its innate simplicity. There is literally nobody alive that wouldn't be able to grasp the basic concepts of Dive button, Kick button, hit other guy once and you win. No prior fighting game knowledge is needed to immediately jump in and start enjoying everything Divekick has to offer. Just grab a gamepad or a keyboard and start pressin' dem buttons.

Once you've grasped the game's simplicity, you'll immediately begin to engage in Divekick's more satisfying psychological shenanigans as you learn the differences between each character and how to properly utilize their unique attributes and special moves (which are easily activated by pressing both Dive and Kick at the same time on the ground or in the air.) You'll soon be faking your opponents out and making them cringe and hurl obscenities once you've baited them into your perfectly laid trap, then follow it up with that immaculate headshot. Nothing is more satisfying than crafting a plan on the fly and having it work out, and nothing is more humbling when you go all-in and know you've already fucked up before your opponent has even reacted to your mistake. That's the true essence of Divekick's moment-to-moment gameplay loop.

The techniques one learns in Divekick can easily be the gateway toward understanding more complex fighting games. Learning proper spacing, knowing how to react, and being patient and unreadable are key skills to succeeding in more traditional fighters, and they're easily taught and picked up on in Divekick after as few as ten matches. It's a learning experience and a ridiculously fun one at that. TAKE THAT, SCHOOL! We don't need no books. Just a sick lookin' hoodie and some phat sneaks.

Divekick truly is the "one true game." Get bopped, son!


THE THIRD:
FEZ

"The world has turned and left me here..."

What kinda videogame makes you stop and think for a long time, have to get out some notebook paper, decipher a made up alphabet and number system, decipher coded messages that translate to button inputs, and somehow end up 2:00AM reading up on obscure geometric figures no one in their right mind has any business knowing about to solve a puzzle? FEZ does all of that while at the same time presenting a beautifully rendered cube world you're free to explore at your own leisure and one of the best new-age retro-inspired ambient soundtracks ever committed to a modern videogame. Fuck, go listen to the balls-out ridiculously good remix album too!

On its cubey, colorful, pixelated surface, FEZ may initially seem like a "another one of those indie platformers, " but the truth of what FEZ is couldn't be more divorced from that concept. It definitely has some referencing and subtle nods to old-school gaming, but ultimately it's a game about exploration and discovery. It's a game you boot up, take in its unique atmosphere, admire the expertly crafted world and structures, let yourself get lost in the dreamy soundscape, and just explore. There's no need to rush, no high score to beat, no achievements worth hunting, no enemies, and no consequence for falling off the world. There are simple and fun little platforming puzzles to solve here and there, but not much beyond that is needed to see the game through. And I can guarantee that there aren't as many commas as this paragraph has!

Playing through FEZ put me in a happy Polly place. The last game to truly put me in that kind of place was Kirby's Epic Yarn. While it only took me a couple of days to take in all the sights and sounds while collecting all but one of the cubes and anti-cubes (I refuse to look up the Black Monolith's answer), it was a happy little journey that stuck with me. A journey I wanted to continue talking about with others that were playing it, reading forums where others were playing for the first time and gently nudging them in the right direction. Though I wasn't there when FEZ originally launched on XBox 360, I still felt that with my little group of friends that we were experiencing the game as it was intended.

The sheer over-abundance of variety found in FEZ's world kept me excited all the way through. When I entered a new area, I wasn't worried if there were cubes to collect there or not, I spent a good amount of time spinning the world around and looking at everything not only for clues, but the finer details that make up the world. Then the moment finally hit when I "cracked the code," and immediately started looking at FEZ's world with a new set of eyes. The thing is, gathering those context clues is almost entirely optional. You can get however much you want to get out of FEZ's world, whether it be simply playing around or being a nutjob like me and trying to decrypt all the on-screen messages in the game in my own little journal to try and understand things a little more.

Unraveling FEZ's mysteries and enjoying all the sights and sounds of its world are enough to recommend on their own merits, but what made the game really shine was just how reflective it felt of its creator and the undeniable amount of hard work and heart that went into its creation. FEZ is a game that says a lot in a very unique and satisfying way and I do hope that someday we eventually do see FEZ II despite its cancellation.


THE SECOND:
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

"I walk beside you, wherever you are, whatever it takes, no matter how far."

Unlike a lot of reviewer-type people, I'm not gonna sit here and try to tell you that Brothers has the most awe-inspiring story in a videogame, capable of conjuring up a range of emotion never felt in the medium. In all honesty, Brothers' story is fairly predictable, and its silent narrative approach to storytelling has been done before by games like Ico and Super Metroid. That's not to say the game's story lacks any sort of emotional impact. In fact, I believe the reason it does have the power that it does over most that play it is because of its unique ability to transport you into its world by way of marrying its narrative directly to the in-game control scheme. The reason Brothers hit me as positively as it did is because it's a game that does something with storytelling that only a videogame can do: Make you a part of the story through your own interactions instead of "sit here and watch this" cutscenes.

In Brothers you control two siblings at once, each mapped directly to the left or right analog stick and a context sensitive shoulder button to perform various actions. I've shown this game to quite a few people since I played through it, and everybody starts the experience out bumbling around, unable to keep track of their brothers, and struggling to solve some earlier puzzles because of their disorientation. Even when I was fully familiar with the game, a sequence about halfway in damn near made my hands cramp with how I needed to manipulate the controls. This isn't a case of badly designed controls. It's done with the purpose of supplementing the narrative. To make you feel like a part of what's going on.

You see, in these instances where myself and friends struggled with the controls, the on-screen avatars were also struggling to do something like working together to maneuver a large metal beam through a narrow set of columns, or having one brother hold onto a ledge to support his own weight while the other, tethered to him via a rope, has to swing toward and grab the next ledge. It may sound a bit confusing, but once you experience what I'm talking about it'll make total sense. The latter portions of the game that play up this narrative-to-control connection start to hit a little harder and feel a lot more real than they would with any other control scheme. The emotional impact comes from you connecting to the pretty visuals and sounds coming out of your monitor and speakers and that little bit of stress and discomfort you may feel in your hands. It's something I've never experienced a game trying to do before and I can't help but think it's an ingenious and deliberate design decision meant to heighten the immersion and connection to these characters.

Tying it all together is a breathtaking presentation and sense of adventure that most modern games simply lack. The world of Brothers is deceptively large and incredibly varied, and the pacing feels like that of a two or three hour fantasy adventure. You move from set to set at a brisk pace, with the next location and its inhabitants being more fascinating than the last. It all leads up to a satisfying and emotional conclusion that, though predictable, still feels earned because of everything you and your brothers had to overcome to get there.

If you're gonna play this one, it's highly recommended that you do it in one sitting. It feels much more rewarding and the cinematic feel is even more pronounced when you can take it all in at once.


Polly S. Hate's Game of the Year 2013
Dark Souls: Prepare To Die Edition

"I've got a terminal future and it's time to write my will."

Ahh...Dark Souls...Or as I now lovingly refer to it, "The Best Damn Promise I Made To Myself Last Year and Actually Kept."

It's a ride I've wanted to take since the game's initial release, and one I even took a stab at last year but just couldn't find the drive and time between work and stress. A few months ago, thanks to Giant Bomb's "Load Our Last Souls" feature and goddamn EVERYBODY on my friends list playing the damn thing, the stars aligned and Gaben said unto me, "LET THERE BE DARK SOULS!" And there was much rejoicing...and cursing...and a little more rejoicing that got interrupted with a LOT more cursing...

Besides Rogue Legacy, Dark Souls is the only game I finished this year that, when it was over, I immediately started up a new character/class and prepared myself to die even more. I already knew most of the game by this point, but still felt there was much more for me to do and experience as a chosen undead. There are many ways to tackle Dark Souls, and though you'll get a real good look at how customized your experience can be your first time around, it feels like the next playthrough is the one where you finally understand all the potential you've had all along. It's the most balanced and satisfying experience I had all year, and even though we didn't always get along, I never once had the feeling that I was ever completely fucked or that something had happened wasn't entirely my fault. This isn't a game full of "GOTCHA!" moments, it's one of patience and awareness. It plays very purposefully on the worst habits you have playing videogames and you'll either break those habits, or Dark Souls is going to break you.

Dark Souls is a rarity in gaming these days in that yes, it's going to beat you to a bloody pulp the first few hours, but at the same time it respects your intelligence. It respects your ability to adapt, explore, and experiment. A common criticism of the game is that it doesn't explain itself at all. That's absolutely true, but the reason it doesn't is because the developers believe in you being able to function without the need for hand-holdy tutorials and being led around by the nose. DO SOMETHING! Don't just stand there waiting for the game to point you in the right direction. Take the initiative, because there isn't an NPC that's going to magically appear in front of you with a "FOLLOW" icon to show you the way.

Remember the opening screen in The Legend of Zelda? A cave to your north was the only real starting point you were given, and the rest of the world was yours to explore. Dark Souls does the very same thing once you've escaped the Undead Asylum. Why aren't you happy that you've been given this big, scary world to poke and prod at? Yeah, you might find yourself in over your head a few times and those first few bosses may feel impossible, but you can get out of those situations by practicing patience and awareness. Those bosses and tougher mini-boss enemies you'll accidentally run into can more often than not be felled by observing and reacting accordingly. It's rare that numbers and levels are the answer to any problem with how equipment is balanced. It's possible to play through the game in all the starting gear or finish it entirely naked! Don't let any Dark Souls vet or sideline lookie-loo try and tell you there's only one way. You can succeed in this game on your own terms, and for the most satisfying playthrough, that's exactly how you should do it. No guides, no wikis. Take your lumps and learn from them.

I could go on and on about the rewarding combat system, the imposing atmosphere, the incredible boss designs, and wealth of lore out there to explore for the game, but Dark Souls made me happy mostly because of how much it respected me as its player and the freedom of choice it gave me to succeed at it however I wanted to. It puts a lot of other RPGs to shame in just how little player progress is railroaded and how often it rewards smart thinking, preparation, and taking time to properly learn its various systems. If I had a gun to my head and had to choose right this very second, Dark Souls would probably easily be my Game of the Generation. For now, let's just call it Game of the Year 2013.

BRING ON DARK SOULS II, MOTHERFUCKERS!


And so, we close out another year of great gaming and hope that the next year is just as fruitful, if not more so.

Thanks for taking the time to read all my dumb talky-words and I hope you have a happy new year!






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