2013’s top five video games that take the genre to new levels

July 26, 2013 | 6:00 a.m.
Joel and Ellie in "The Last of Us." (Naughty Dog / SCEA)

Joel and Ellie in “The Last of Us.” (Naughty Dog / SCEA)

Games are expected to challenge, impress with their technology or engross players in an interactive narrative.

Though we’re only halfway through 2013, there are already a slew of games going above and beyond those expectations. They’re exploring personalities in “The Last of Us,” greed in “The Cave” and love among dragons in “Fire Emblem: Awakening.”

Other must-play titles include the Swedish fairy-tale horror story “Year Walk” for the iPhone, the Wii U’s police parody “Lego City Undercover,” the charming “Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon”  for  the 3DS, the hilarious puppet-like platformer “BattleBlock Theater” for the Xbox 360, the Day of the Dead-themed “Guacamelee!” for the PlayStation Vita and the PS3, and the mobile choose-your-own adventure “Sorcery!”

Overwhelmed? In a few weeks, there will be an onslaught of new titles for Sony PS4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One to make it worse. Where to start? By catching up here on my top five games of 2013 so far.

1.“Fire Emblem: Awakening” (Nintendo 3DS)

There's dragons, but love is more important in 'Fire Emblem: Awakening." (Intelligent Systems / Nintendo)

There are dragons, but love is more important in ‘Fire Emblem: Awakening.” (Intelligent Systems / Nintendo)

There are plenty of intense, turn-by-turn battles in “Fire Emblem: Awakening,” many of them featuring creatures and characters familiar to any Dungeons & Dragons or “Game of Thrones” fan. I’ve logged more than 70 hours with this game this year, but it has nothing to do with its drama-packed time-traveling plot and epic fantasy battles. No, it’s hearing one of the characters say these four words: “Will you marry me?”

The most intoxicating battles here are between hearts and not among sorcerers and wraiths. The fireballs are neat, but more fun is marrying off a pair. And no magic spells, apparently, can stop guys from uttering awkward pickup lines.

This is the rare game with dragons that isn’t about dragons at all but is focused on personalities. “Fire Emblem: Awakening” even subverts gender roles in games. Many power positions are held by women, and while there’s sadly no gay marriage, the bromances here are loud and proud.

2.“The Last Of Us” (PS3)

Ellie in "The Last of Us." (Naughty Dog / SCEA)

Ellie in “The Last of Us.” (Naughty Dog / SCEA)

Heading into 2013 I couldn’t have been less interested in “The Last of Us.” Mention the word “zombie” and I’m generally bored before the second syllable. So what a pleasant surprise it was to find that “The Last of Us” took cues not from countless sneak-and-shoot games before it and instead found inspiration in the more patient violence of the film work of the Coen brothers.

For much of the game, characters assume control of Joel, a down-on-his-luck smuggler given the task of escorting a 14-year-old girl, Ellie, who may or may not hold the key to ending the zombie apocalypse. Depending on how you play, one can go hours without a shot fired and focus rather on the telling conversations between the two.

Listen as Ellie pesters Joel with forlorn curiosity about what it was like to be alive before the zombie apocalypse. Did he frequent coffee shops? What kind of music did he listen to? The result is a game that gives us characters worth fighting for.

3.“The Cave” (Multi-platform download)

Ron Gilbert returned with "The Cave." (Double Fine / Sega)

Ron Gilbert returned with “The Cave.” (Double Fine / Sega)

Seven characters, all of them despicable. They’re gathered to explore a cave — a talking cave, that is. The cave tempts those who venture inside of it with their lifelong dreams. For one gap-toothed guy, it’s a girl, but this high-society lady is obviously out of the league of the shoeless, rural weirdo. For a mad scientist, it’s the key to the world’s weapons. For an archaeological-minded heroine, it’s chasing not academic glories but newsreel fame.

In the pursuit of each of these goals, characters disregard any long-held morals they may have once had. But this head-first dive into the depths of greed is equally accessible and charming, as famed game designer Ron Gilbert (“The Secret of Monkey Island”) emphasizes humor, simple platform exploration and borderline wacky puzzles.

4.“Gunpoint” (PC download)

Indie title "Gunpoint" was a svelte spy game. (Gunpoint)

Indie title “Gunpoint” was a svelte spy game. (Gunpoint)

Spy-for-hire Richard Conway doesn’t have much use for guns. Instead, he has what are essentially magic pants.

The man can soar — onto rooftops, through windows and straight down on top of unsuspecting guards. In this tightly constructed game — expect to spend between five and 10 hours  completing it — players are thrown into a noir-like world where guns in the U.S. are outlawed. If the game shies away from making a political statement, it’s clear how it feels about guns in games: They’re overused to the point of limiting innovation.

Players can’t blast their way through levels here, so Conway must use his wits (or borrow the players’ wits). The press of a button on the keyboard reveals an alternate view of each landscape, one in which electrical wires can be redirected to Conway’s advantage.

5.“Tomb Raider” (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)

Lara Croft received a new look in "Tomb Raider." (Square Enix)

Lara Croft received a new look in “Tomb Raider.” (Square Enix)

Men throughout this reboot of the famed Indiana Jones-inspired series are continually caught behaving badly. Though the plot ultimately dissolves into some silliness regarding a Sun Queen, much of “Tomb Raider” feels nothing short of brave.

Gone is the breast-first, weapons-later interpretation of Lara Croft, and in its place is a pants-wearing young woman who kills, yes, but only after her own life is threatened via sexual assault. Oh, she just happens to be trapped on an island with a male collective that routinely lusts after her, fears her and attempts to deceive her.

All parties involved in the game insist they weren’t making a “statement,” but the game makes quite a big one. As Lara fires an arrow into one bone-headed dude after another, one can’t help but feel she’s really taking aim at all the guns-and-boobs games of the last two decades.

— Todd Martens | @toddmartens

Follow us on Twitter: @LATHeroComplex


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15 Responses to 2013’s top five video games that take the genre to new levels

  1. dat jelly says:

    The last of Us has no zombies in it. Learn what it is. Tomb Raider was a terrible game only took 10 hours to complete with crap gameplay…they focused way too much on graphics.

  2. Retlaw says:

    Dat jjelly is a tard, tomb raider is a sick game.

  3. Duey Digital says:

    Tomb Raider does indeed feel as though it seems to take aim at the "guns-and-boobs" genre. The irony of it all however is that the original title of the same same only served to usher in that very element in gaming. Still, the focus on a more cinema-like experience is much appreciated. The same goes hold true for The Last of Us as well.

  4. Markus says:

    Sooooo…. Where's Persona 4 Golden?…

  5. Todd says:

    Why would the writer be sad that there is no gay marriage in a game? Does everything need to include gay marriage in order for the world to be well? Get a grip.

    • denheterofilemaske says:

      Fire emblem has it's anime fans. Anime fans love hatching, conspiring and in general planing out how characters will go together in their favorite series, be it men on men, women on women, or straight relationships. Including gay marriage in Fire Emblem would probably scratch an itch for A LOT of gamers.

    • Darkiway says:

      It's just sad because it keeps away from the immersion of being able to marry whoever you want as the character you create. I'm sure a few homosexuals out there were disappointed they could only marry Chrom or Gaius as a female, or in my friend's case, only marry Tharja as a male (despite her being VERY much into your avatar character, regardless of gender)

      Ultimately though, this would have screwed over the plot so I understand why they didn't go for it.

  6. @aichusyu says:

    Herocomplex is always a great read. :) I'm over the moon that Fire Emblem: Awakening is being regarded as a "videogame that take the genre to new levels". Turnbased as it may be, what makes each battle encounter awesome is the smooth combos + skill shots between players if you've cultivated their relationship well throughout the game, and the surprise critical hits (that make me wiggle a.k.a 'victory dance' when it happens) The game is very progressive. Herocomplex says, "The fireballs are neat, but more fun is marrying off a pair…" but they forgot the handing down of special skills to charachter offsprings, who then take up your cause and fight along side you with an even better skill list than ever. Cherry on top of the cake is the dialogue between characters which I always look forward to busting my sides :DD

  7. Aguindor says:

    Honestly, I'm surprised to see Awakening up there. As a long-time fan of the series who has completed at least most of every game, bar the original as it has been remade twice, I enjoyed the game, but generally felt that it fell flat relative to the Jugdral/Tellius Sagas and the two GBA games released in America. The characters were really more caricatures than anything else. While they got a few chuckles out of me, I never cared about them as people because they were too hard to see as real people. This is all ignoring the plot-centric characters, btw, who I found offensively bland, considering that this game has had many villains I either can't wait to kill or really wish I could save. Most FE lords are pretty boring, but Chrom and Lucina were especially so. And, despite this game having a strong emphasis on marriage, I never really could bring myself to care about the marriages for reasons other than gameplay. That's not even addressing the obscene amounts of fanservice (seriously, have you seen DLC Micaiah or the number of female mounted classes who bare their inner thighs?) and the terrible map design. Or Pair Up ranging from game breaking to necessary on Lunatic/Lunatic +, and Lunatic + being just a stupid way to achieve difficulty in the first place.

  8. Carter says:

    All Of The Games Listed Here Are Awesome Down To Good :)

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