This year was one of singular experiences for me. Games can take upwards of 30 hours to complete, but most of my favorites have a standout moment that cemented the experience as a good one for me. XCOM: Enemy Within offers substantially more than MEC troopers, but when I saw my first one run off the ramp, I knew I was playing something special. 40 hours later, I still do. That MEC trooper died long ago (I’m not very good at XCOM), but every time I see one come down the ramp or jump down from the Skyranger without a rappelling line, I’m reminded of ‘Bolts’ in his bright pink MEC chassis and the first time he punched a Thin Man so hard that it died.
Traversal is not usually fun. In Guacamelee!, it is. Combat abilities and traversal abilities are the same, and it never gets old to use an uppercut instead of a super-jump. Crossing from the light world to the dark world is used for combat and traversal as well. Oh, and every handy move you have is taught by a goat. It’s ridiculous and fun and dumb in all the best ways that only games and cartoons can be.
If I could get any one gadget from a game, it’d be a crosslink. I once wired a motion camera to an elevator, which triggered a sound sensor, that activated a guards gun causing him to shoot another guard. I was nowhere near any of this when it happened, and it was amazing. The puzzle-solving abilities of the crosslink are absolutely wonderful, and it makes Gunpoint a joy to play.
8. Rogue Legacy
Rogue Legacy lets the player upgrade just about everything. Upgrading the castle unlocks new character classes, increases your critical chance, gives you more mana and a ton of other things. Visiting the blacksmith lets you craft new weapons, and the fortune teller slots runes into weapons and armors imbuing effects like double-jump and life-steal. There’s always something to upgrade, and it lends the whole experience a shot of “just one more run and that’s mine!”
7. Papers, Please
Papers, Please made me choose between my job and my conscience, made me proud for simply not screwing up my job, and managed to make the monotony of checking passports entertaining. You’ll be sad after playing it, but the questions asked are worth considering, and the introspection that comes after those decisions are a welcome surprise from a game.
6. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
The dual-control scheme is maddening at first, but it works wonderfully once you get the hang of it. You legitimately feel like you’re controlling two separate people, and those that are crying for multiplayer clearly haven’t played the entire game. I promise you, not only are the controls entirely functional, but they are integral to experience, and the way they fold into the story is nothing short of amazing.
5. Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus
Mr. Zurkon is now upgradeable to include an entire family of murderous bodyguard robots. Into the Nexus does plenty of things right, but that simple addition to a classic weapon makes me smile whenever I’m playing and haven’t run out of Zurkon ammunition. It’s a great addition in a welcome return to classic Ratchet gameplay.
4. BioShock Infinite
2K crafted a supremely interesting world. There’s a great story as well, but the big standout feature for me of BioShock Infinite is the world of Columbia. The anachronistic music, the voxophones that allude to shady goings-on, and the alternate history that led to Zachary Comstock’s floating city are all exceedingly interesting. Weapon combat is fun, but using vigors really shines. Using Undertow to throw combatants off of airships really showcases how the environment can inform the entirety of a game experience and make Columbia feel more like a character than just another setting.
3. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Vertical dungeons are usually terrible in Zelda games. A Link Between Worlds fixes that with the merge mechanic. Traversal is a puzzle now, and everything feels fresh because of it. All of the Link to the Past nostalgia is great, too. Recognizing screen layouts, enemy placements and classic sound effects works great here.
2. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
The crew of the Jackdaw regularly sings me “Spanish Ladies” while I ram unsuspecting low-level ships. I didn’t know that I wanted expanded naval combat coming out of Assassin’s Creed III, but now that I have it, I’m never giving it back. Ubisoft made the single best pirate game ever released, and it also happens to be a great Assassin’s Creed game to boot.
1. XCOM: Enemy Within
Enemy Unknown was already an amazing game. Now it’s more amazing thanks to ghost grenades, big stompy MEC troopers and human enemies in the newly-added EXALT faction. Enemy Within is the type of expansion pack that only Firaxis and Blizzard still seem to make, and this one lets me run Robocop (complete with metallic voice) up to that annoying Thin Man and punch him so hard that he slams into the car three tiles away.