Well we are at the time of year again when a year's worth of games must be pitted against one another in an epic cage match of Metacritic scores, the winners to top best games lists the Internet wide. Yes Grand Theft Auto 5 is a great game that pulled off having three main characters with few hiccups, and Tomb Raider finally got its act together with their gritty and sensibly proportioned Lara Croft, but shouldn't there be more to these lists than just the vague quality of best? So here is a shamelessly biased list of the most interesting games of the year. It's an eclectic mix of big studio and indie titles, dashing adventures and exploratory stories, all with a little something to chew on.
Take Brothers -- A Tale of Two Sons in which you play a pair of brothers adventuring through a fantasy land full of magic and fantastical creatures. The game stands out for its unique merger of single player and co-op game play. The entire game is played alone, but as the player manages both brothers simultaneously a strangely co-operative experience arises. A story told not between a main character and AI driven companion, but an adventure you share with yourself, which is great because many AI companions, those tag along helpers controlled by the game, are certainly artificial but far from intelligent. That is until Bioshock broke the mold.
The newest game in the Bioshock empire is a glittering epic of a first person shooter. Set in Colombia, a floating city out of 1912, made not quite real but fantastically rich with a hideous combination of high saturation racism and engrossing story. But the best part of this game is Elizabeth, a companion unlike any other. Most game companions plague the player with repetitive sayings, clunky body language, and walking AI that manages to get in your way at every step (cough -- Skyrim -- cough). Elizabeth, complex, opinionated, lithe Elizabeth is so real, so fantastically detailed she makes the rest of the non-player characters in Colombia look drab and stilted in comparison.
But if drab and stilted is your thing, and hey we're not here to judge, you should definitely play Papers, Please. Set in 1982 in a Berlin wall-type border crossing, you play a customs agent sniffing out forged entry paperwork, and spotting mismatched dates or expired passports. This starts off simple with names and dates your primary concern, but soon things get more complicated, both mechanically with more and more data to track, but also ethically, with people carrying letters searching for family members or seeking refuge. Your sympathy, and not your aim, is tested as you steep in the mounting pressure of changing rules about who is and who is not allowed to pass. Not what you might think of as a fun game play, but Papers, Please works a subtle magic of stress and concentration on the player. Unless a suicide bombers runs your barricade and the border is closed, face after face of eager travelers sidle up to your desk, excuses, bribes, and pitiful stories in tow.
And when those travelers return home, you think, their families will be waiting for them. Or at least that's what Kaitlin Greenbriar, the main character in Gone Home thought when she walked up the front steps for her family's new home after a year-long European adventure. Instead she is met with a dark, empty house, a cryptic note from her little sister pinned to the door. The game is spent unraveling the story of the missing sister by collecting the it piece by piece as Kaitlin explores the empty house. The tenderness and authenticity of the story, strewn in details throughout the house, is deeply emotional and resonates with many a checkered family story. The experience feels whole in a way few games achieve.
Borderlands 2: Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep
But what if you're not looking for a whole game? What if you are in need of a DLC, an add-on to a pre-existing game? Well look no further than Borderlands 2: Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep. This add-on expands the story after the grand conclusion of the main storyline of Borderlands 2. So, if you're anti-spoiler, now is your chance to move along. Tiny Tina, a young girl with an affection for explosives, hosts her similarly violent buddies, the main characters from the game, to a little session of a Dungeons and Dragons-esque table top role playing game that she calls Bunkers and Badasses. It's a great metagame played to poke fun at Borderlands itself, but more interestingly the DLC acts out the stages of Tina's heartbreaking grief after Roland, a main character from both Borderlands 1 and 2, and Tina's mentor, dies. In a game that so cavalierly deals death to thousands of native wildlife, local bandits, and corporate employees, the raw face of Tina's denial at Roland's death changes the player's experience dramatically. Roland's previous infinitely regenerating lives had little meaning to the player other than the price for resurrection. But when confronted with Tina's grief, the DLC plants thoughts of value and permanence in a world where aim and shoot ruled all.