4. The Stanley Parable
Defining Moment: The thing about Stanley Parable is that you can't talk about anything specific without spoiling something great, but there was one moment that made me smile and surprised me more than anything else I've played all year. Let's just any gamer will get one hell of a kick out of it.
The Stanley Parable may last only four or five hours but it's a one of a kind experience that will have you smiling, chuckling, laughing, confused, reeling from momentary shock and surprise in response to the myriad paths your choices will take you. It's a game tailor made for discussions and excited recollections of your favorite moments and discoveries. More than any other experience this year, it's a game for gamers, in the way it plays with, subverts, comments on the expectations and tropes of the medium. You need to play The Stanley Parable.
3. NEO Scavenger
Defining Moment: Suffering from infection, down to a glass shard, I attempt a desperate ambush on a pair of bandits. One goes down in the struggle, the other leaves for me dead in the rain with broken ribs and fractured skull. I don't last the night.
One of the few turn-based roguelikes I've enjoyed, and set in brutal gritty apocalyptic world where life is short and cheap, and death can come from any angle, from the raiders tracking your footsteps to the cold night air. The combat is my favorite aspect; it may be turn based but that doesn't stop every conflict from feeling as tense as something ripped from The Road. All those elements make NEO Scavenger one of the most intense and immersive experiences I've played in a while.
2. Outer Wilds
Defining Moment: That first launch from your landing pad, as you rise through the atmosphere, watch the ground shrink away and ascend into unexplored space for the first time.
I love exploration, and finding new vistas and areas to explore. While Mirrormoon appealed with its abstract environments, Outer Wilds awed by delivering an incredible and intriguing solar system to explore in its short play time. Each attempt offers a new opportunity to head off in a new direction, to practice zero gravity flight, fly a remote drone. To admire the beautiful planet and star filled sky. To land your craft on unexplored worlds, meet new species both friendly and hostile.
1. Project Zomboid
Defining Moment: Cooking rotting food on a campfire when a horde passes by, fleeing across the fields and forests into a nearby town, as night falls and visibility drops to near nothing, no time to fight back, only to run as long as my sick and weakened body could, before finally getting surrounded, and fighting off the undead horde before finally going down.
Once again technically, Project Zomboid's been out for a while, but the beta only released on Steam recently and I never had an opportunity to play it until this year. Other indies may have had better stories, better art styles. Maybe others were even better games overall. But as a gamer, what I love to experience most are those emergent moments, that can't be achieved by any other medium. And that's what Project Zomboid is, a story generator, providing tales of survival and foolish deaths, of desperate last stands and incredible moments that rival those seen in the best zombie fiction. I guess the same could be said for a game like NEO Scavenger, but as a huge fan of the genre, personally Project Zomboid has the edge. DayZ may represent the human on human violence of the genre better and The Walking Dead may have the emotional edge, but Project Zomboid offers the chance to be a survivor.