Road to Game of the Year 2013

No Budget, No Problem: 2013's Top Indie Titles

It's all about the ideas.

On December 9, GameSpot will officially unveil all of the nominees for its Game of the Year awards for 2013. But in the meantime, why not look back at what 2013 had to offer to see what games could possibly, maybe, make the nominee cut? This week, we've already looked at the year's best sequels and outstanding new IPs. Today, we're leaving the world of megabudgets and heading to the smaller, more-personal independent games space.

The huge worlds AAA games have shown us in 2013 may be dazzling in scope, but size isn't everything. Some of the best game experiences this year have come from smaller, more-personal games, or games created by small teams working with even smaller budgets. These teams of independent developers--working outside of the "mainstream" system and often without major publisher support--have shown it's not the size of the budget that counts, but the strength of the idea. Will any of these games be named as a GameSpot Game of the Year nominee?

Gone Home
Gone Home

Gone Home executes on its ambitions flawlessly.

GameSpot Editor Carolyn Petit

One of the best-reviewed games of the year is also one of the most intimate. To move through the Greenbriars' house in Gone Home is to experience the intricate, moving stories of what feels like a real family. Story-driven games that pack the emotional weight and authenticity of Gone Home are few and far between.

Check out our review of Gone Home.

Guacamelee
Guacamelee

Guacamelee is one of the strongest games on the PlayStation Network, period.

GameSpot Editor Peter Brown

Luchadores are fearsome and awesome fighters, and Guacamelee certainly landed with the impact of a luchadore executing a suicida when it was released on the PlayStation Network earlier this year. The game--created by DrinkBox Studios--topped the PSN charts in April, before eventually being released on the PC a few months later. This Metroidvania-style action platformer is fun, fast-paced, and more than a little goofy.

Check out our review of Guacamelee.

Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien
Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien

Runner 2 ensnares your emotions with an artful cocktail of music and gameplay, sweeping you along in its rhythm and lighting up a smile on your face.

GameSpot Editor Chris Watters

Music is central to Bit.Trip Presents...Runner 2 Future Legend of Rhythm Alien's very being (also, running). The game’s soundtrack responds to every obstacle you overcome, every item gathered, resulting in a blissful synesthesia as you become more masterful. Few games meld their aural and gameplay sides as seamlessly as Runner 2 does, making it a multisensory delight that’s also quite challenging. Plus, Runner 2 features a character called Reverse Merman, which is an amazing achievement in and of itself.

Check out our review for Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien.

Papers, Please
Papers, Please

Papers, Please will stress you out. At times it may even make you hate yourself. And while it's weird to call such an experience "enjoyable," the gameplay itself is not a miserable time.

GameSpot Reviewer Britton Peele

A game that lets you play as a low-level border-crossing customs official and whose main gameplay mechanic involves having to examine various pieces of paperwork hardly sounds like Game of the Year material. But in Papers, Please, the dull act of determining the veracity of documents is elevated to a nerve-racking, emotional experience. There are few sounds as stressful in games this year as the sound of Papers, Please's in-game dot matrix printer spooling out another infraction notice for a mistake made, knowing that mistake could have cost you the credits needed to buy medicine for your ailing son. Papers, Please is one of 2013's most unique game experiences.

Check out our review of Papers, Please.

Path of Exile
Path of Exile

Considering that Path of Exile costs you nothing beyond some Internet bandwidth, it provides an embarrassment of pleasures.

GameSpot Editor Kevin VanOrd

If any game this year exemplifies the fact that amazing, immersive games can be made outside of the mainstream video game system, it's Path of Exile. Made by a small team of developers based in New Zealand, Path of Exile out-Diablo's Diablo, presenting a complex and deep action role-playing experience with its own individual twists. Path of Exile also does free-to-play right: this may be a free-to-play PC game, but it's no pay-to-win; cosmetic changes are the only things requiring real-world cash. If Path of Exile is the future of free-to-play on the PC, then that future is looking assured.

Check out our review of Path of Exile.

The Stanley Parable
The Stanley Parable

It's exciting to play again and again, because the choices you make can take you down such wildly different paths.

GameSpot Editor Carolyn Petit

What is The Stanley Parable? The Stanley Parable is a game about the choices you make in games or, rather, the lack of choices you actually have. But if that sounds all too academic and boring, The Stanley Parable is also about standing inside a small cabinet and having an in-game narrator berate you for not moving the narrative forward. The Stanley Parable is also very, very funny, and is an often-surprising adventure.

Check out our review of The Stanley Parable.

Outlast
Outlast

From start to finish, it never loses sight of the "survival" component of survival horror, and in such a way that reminds us that few things on this earth can be as terrifying as our fellow human beings.

GameSpot Reviewer Leif Johnson

Survival horror used to be one of the most popular types of games, but its decline in recent years has left the genre in the hands of small independent developers like Red Barrels. And Red Barrels has produced one of the year's finest spooky experiences in Outlast, a game set in survival horror nirvana: an out-of-control mental asylum. In Outlast, you play as an investigative journalist who journeys into the aforementioned asylum armed with only a camcorder. So yeah, you play as a not-very-smart investigative journalist.

Check out our review of Outlast.

Rogue Legacy
Rogue Legacy

Rogue Legacy's few blemishes are easy to overlook when the game is so good at rewarding persistence. Rogue Legacy is simple yet deep, easy to pick up yet hard to master.

GameSpot Reviewer Britton Peele

In Rogue Legacy (as in other roguelikes), death is permanent. Progression, however, doesn't reset with the demise of your character, adding a compelling layer to this challenging action platformer. Each death results in new heroes that are born with interesting traits. A lot of your new heroes will feature useful abilities, and some will not (such as a hero with bad eyesight who makes the screen fuzzy), and the fun lies your gradual, constant progress as you grow stronger with each new generation of characters.

Check out our review for Rogue Legacy.

Antichamber
Antichamber

There are moments in Antichamber that remain with you long after you've uncovered your last clue and solved your last puzzle.

GameSpot Editor Mark Walton

Antichamber will hurt your brain as well as your innate sense of geometry. It's a puzzle game that breaks all the normal rules of logic while simultaneously presenting its own, forcing you to think and to experiment with its many puzzles. It's also an independent game in every sense, made by a one-person development team (Aussie Alexander Bruce) as a passion project over several years.

Check out our review of Antichamber.

What other independent games took up a lot of your gaming time in 2013? Tell us which indie games we may have missed in the comments below. And come back tomorrow for the final part of our Road to Game of the Year series, where we take a final look at some of the other possible contenders for Game of Year places.