1. The Last of Us
So I know I’m behind, but I JUST got a PS3 (I know, I know, not even a PS4, but I can’t afford next gen stuff). And I mostly got it for The Last of Us and even if every other game I played on it sucked (which they haven’t), it would still be worth it.
Father/daughter stories aren’t usually my thing, probably because it rarely rings true for me (look, I have issues), but this got me in a way few things can. I connect better with games than I do a lot of other mediums in part because I am thrust directly in the place of the protagonist, and this one left me frequently weepy. It has a tremendous amount of emotion, brought to life with excellent writing, extraordinary voice acting, and beautiful graphics.
Twenty years after the zombie apocalypse started and his young daughter died, Joel is tasked with smuggling a young girl Ellie to a group called the Fireflies. Ellie has survived a zombie bite somehow and humanity’s best shot at a cure.
The Last of Us has a lot in common with typical zombie media, including Humans Are Worse Than the Zombies, but that emotional core of Joel and Ellie bonding that really makes it stand out. I cheered for them, I cried for them, I screamed incoherently at the screen for them, I had to stop playing and take a chill pill because I was starting to get stressed out, and by the time Joel finds Ellie after she’s killed [spoiler, you know, in the restaurant that’s on fire] and reassures her with, “Oh, baby girl. It’s okay.” I just completely fucking lost it.
It’s about losing and finding family, about letting people in, about how grief can blind us. And Ellie is the true hero of the story, this badass fourteen-year-old girl who has had to grow up very quickly and sees things so much clearer than Joel (THAT ENDING, OMG). I can’t wait for the possibly-in-development-sequel even though I will probably need to start saving my pennies now for a PS4.
2. Rise of the Tomb Raider.
C’mon, you knew it would be here.
Flashback to early 2013. I eagerly bought the Tomb Raider reboot new, a few days after release, and was not prepared for the awesomeness. I finished it over a couple of days and immediately said WHERE IS THE NEXT ONE?? And lo, here it is.
RotTR is the perfect continuation of the previous game. It builds on the plot, on Lara’s character, on the in game skills, so it never feels like a rehash of the previous game, nor does it feel like an entirely new game either. It’s a true continuation: this is the Lara of the end of the last game, more confident, more capable, but still finding who she is.
It’s also visually stunning. The gameplay is varied, the world is dense with a lot to do (instead of just big for the sake of big), and I just adore everything about it.
It also brought us this glorious new video/theme song:
(I listen to it on repeat a lot when I need reminding to rise.)
There are extra game modes and you can unlock packs of “cards” that you can select from to affect your gameplay in these other modes. Among the new DLC releases is Endurance Mode where you’re stuck in the Siberian wilderness and have to keep warm/fed while finding artifacts.
In this mode, I almost died in the tutorial because I refused to kill any animals for food.
So it turns out that it’s really hard to play as a vegetarian. I eventually compromised with eating the meat of already dead animals and of animals that attack me, until I found the best card ever: gaining food by melee stealth kills of people. This means that when Lara is hungry, she can sneak up on people and kill them for food, which makes her a cannibal to me and it is my favourite thing ever.
ALSO: if you retain any doubt about Lara being ridiculously sexualized like in the old games…just know that yes, she has unlockable outfits in this one, and instead of bikinis SHE GETS MOTHERFUCKING ARMOUR. <3
I have played RotTR all the way through three times already. I also have the season’s pass and am awaiting the next DLC packs. In the meantime, I am obsessively refreshing for news of the third game in the rebooted series.
3. Life Is Strange
This supernatural teen thriller is in serialized format, following student Max Caulfield as she discovers she can rewind time after saving a girl from being shot.
Against this backdrop of time travel and visions of an impending disaster, the game tackles bullying, rape culture, and other serious issues faced by kids. Occasionally the dialogue doesn’t quite hit the mark, but the voice acting is fabulous and the overall story is well done. The focus is on problem solving instead of punching things, which makes for a nice change of pace, and every action in the game has a consequence. At one point, only your observations in previous episodes will decide whether or not a character commits suicide; it’s an incredibly upsetting moment for a lot of gamers, which speaks to the storytelling power of this medium.
There are five episodes total, released last year about two months apart, and now the entire game is available. Admittedly, from the very first episode I was already certain who the killer was; by the second, I knew what the likely final choice Max would have to make. Even though I was right on both counts, I was still incredibly impressed that the writers had the ovaries to give the game the RIGHT ending instead of a traditional happy one, regardless of your character’s choice. It’s smart and thought-provoking and I’d love to see more people play it.
If you played LIS, please ping me and let me know what you thought–I’d love to discuss the ending choice with someone and why they went with what they did!
So that’s it for my lists. Tell me, what games did you play last year that you loved?