This was the year I finally admitted that I can't play single-player shooter campaigns anymore, at least not of the military variety. Though Battlefield often eats up most of my time as a gamer, no quantity of multiplayer unlock treats could get me to hover my mouse over the browser button that would take me to that experience. BioShock Infinite became another story. It's important to distinguish being in Infinite rather than shooting in Infinite. Being in Infinite is the rare experience where a new world unfolds before you, and when you pull back the curtain, rather than staring at the mechanism, there's just more world there. There were lengthy office conversations long after the last shot had been fired.
This year also saw a resurgence of hard games. Hard feels like it has been missing from some of my favorite genres for a while. State of Decay gave you enough rope to hang yourself with, while Payday 2 made robbery an all-or-nothing proposal. The Last of Us multiplayer took a brutal world and perfectly translated it through mechanics into a gripping player-versus-player experience. In particular, having to craft items in the midst of combat was a fantastic decision. The indie game Receiver transformed the rote acts of operating a firearm into the laborious affair it often should be in a survival game. If there was ever a game that showed the rift between actual firearms and gaming guns, Receiver is it. Also surprisingly challenging was Defiance, which showed that a game with an ugly exterior could have a creamy filling worthy of a Borderlands title. Defiance did so much right as a massively multiplayer online game that it made Destiny announcements seem a little late to the game.
As for the unconventional nods this year, listing XCOM: Enemy Within may be cheating, since technically it's just an enhanced version of Unknown, but that combined with Enemy Unknown landing on tablet was the cause of many nearly missed bus stops. There were so many fantastic games this year, but I'd like to end on one that I previewed at E3 and know I'll be able to list someday. Eve: Valkyrie along with the Oculus Rift made the revitalization of the space sim genre seem all but assured. Sitting at your desk staring at a cockpit does not equal sitting in the cockpit of a space fighter jet--the latter is what I experienced. You can't really show someone with a YouTube clip the extra emotional impact of looking up at a real lock-on warning light flashing in front of your face and thinking, "S***, that's probably bad."