Ah, 2013 is practically over with and we're all doing our proverbial “This was the best/worst thing ever of the year” stuff and giving gamers, readers, casuals and cores an opportunity to revel in lists made by people who think they know a thing or two about video games. This list is basically a highlight of the indie games that came in and took us by surprise by either doing something wildly different, staggeringly unique or completely off in left field. Find out which games made the list and why.
The Stanley Parable
What a fascinating game this game is. Or do we even call it a game? You don't actually play. Interaction is limited and the concept isn't actually about conquering or finishing – in the traditional sense that is – it's about exploring and discovery. The thing is, what you discover and how you explore can change each time you play, depending on how you play. The game's popularity isn't really in some ground breaking mechanic or massive plot twist (again, not in the traditional sense) but the popularity comes from the player's interaction with the narrator and the completely unforeseen results that are attached to the two mechanics of exploration and discovery. The Stanley Parable was definitely a surprising title to experience, especially given its caustic and existential commentary about our own social conveniences and vices.
What an insane game. Antichamber took a lot of gamers by complete surprise by being one of the most mind-melting first-person puzzle titles ever created. The stark contrast between minimalist colors against deep splashes of strongly saturated objects and structures helped pull players into a strange universe where it's basically like a dementia-ridden version of Portal that got stuck on an LSD trip while trying to solve a Rubik's cube. The puzzles don't always seem to make sense and the trippy environment is a sight to behold, assuming you can keep from falling out of your chair due to a strange sense of disorientation and vertigo. Still, Antichamber is a pure exercise in high-concept game design and it was nice to see it pay off with positive feedback and a good presence on digital distributors... now where did I leave that barf bag?
“Holy crap!” that's the sort of response that Papers, Please will illicit from anyone who sticks through the game from start to finish, in order to experience one of the game's many endings. It's amazing that such a small, seemingly simplistic title could be so surprisingly complex. Papers, Please isn't the sort of thing that would make it onto my "top 5” list for 2013, but it's a hard game to ignore given the deep narrative that follows an immigration worker (which is you, the player) in the fictional, impoverished country of Arstotzka. It's a place that hinges on the verge of being a military state and the game doesn't hide any of the violence and volatile states of humankind pushed to the limits while trying to survive in our “civilized” society. With a rather old and grimy art-style to mirror the game's bleak outlook and stark representation of this fictitious Eastern European country, Papers, Please is a surprising test of a player's will to either abandon or maintain their humanity for the sake of state or family.
Imagine Beyond: Two Souls condensed to a single household and stretched to the full length of a game and then centered around players having to make small but significant changes that would forever impact the outcome of a family. That description perfectly fits the tune that developer Kent Hudson sings with his game The Novelist. The title is about players inhabiting the role of a voyeuristic specter that observes, evaluates and directly impacts the lives of a writer, his wife and their son. Every decision that players influence (or projects) onto the family via invading their memories or reading their thoughts, changes the outcome in each chapter, hurdling the family toward success or ruin (and the many shades of gray in between). The slowed-down pace and unpredictable narrative gives the game a surprising twist of ingenuity and a fresh feeling of discovery rarely implemented into games. These obscure traits help The Novelist stand out as both a social commentary about the juggling of modern day family life against the backdrop of perceived success, and the many variables that go into the decision making to keep it all together.
Bientôt l’été isn't the easiest name to type out nor is it the easiest game to understand. Heck it's not even an easy game to play. Many players were baffled about how you played and what your purpose was, questioning in many threads on the Steam forums “On a scale of 1 to 2 deep 4 for u, how deep is this game?” the obvious answer was that – if you have to ask – it's too deep for you. The plot revolves around two people who are but aren't really in love (or are pretending to be, maybe?) and the gameplay is about traveling around, sort of, but not really. By all accounts it's an experimental game where the concept of playing it and discussing the experience is more of an experience itself than actually “playing” the game, if you actually want to call it playing. This game had to make the list because it's strangely beautiful and engrossing in a mysterious and captivating way, the only problem is that I can't tell you one bit of what's actually going on.