The Stanley Parable is about many things. It's about choice versus narrative, about player agency versus developer intent, about the gaming industry as a whole and even life beyond that. But mostly it's about being funny. Really, really funny.
It casts you as, shockingly, a man named Stanley, who is the subject of a story being told by an omnipotent narrator. Early on in the game you're given a choice of two doors to walk through, at which point the narrator states "Stanley walked through the door on his left." From here you can choose to obey or disobey as you will, and depending on your actions the consequences become increasingly amusing and ridiculous.
It's a very simple game of walking forward and picking a path, but what makes so captivating is the extent to which the developers have thought one step ahead of you. Virtually every action invokes some kind of response from the game, even when that action is doing nothing at all. It's short, sweet, touching, terrifying, clever, silly, and has a depth to it that you won't have fully explored even after your twentieth play-through.
Papers Please is one of the few high-concept indie games whose ideas and systems are balanced completely harmoniously. It places you in the shoes of a border-control officer in a newly-founded country, whose job it is to ensure that people with the appropriate paperwork are allowed past the border, while those without are kept out.
It seems simple at first, but becomes increasingly difficult as changing international politics means the paperwork becomes more and more convoluted. At the same time, you're paid based on the number of people you clear at the border, and you've got a family to look after. Go too slowly and you won't afford the rent, go too quickly and you might make too many mistakes and receive a fine, and you won't afford the rent.
Eventually, inevitably, you start to make calculated risks "Oh, I'll just send this person through. The day's nearly over and I can afford a warning if I get it wrong." Then it becomes more sinister. You can't let the woman who claims she'll be killed in her native country through because you've been lazy today and you're on your final warning and oh God you're a monster how did that happen?
Papers Please messes with both your mind and your morals in a devilishly smart fashion, but it's also very engaging as a game. Sorting through the paperwork and trying to locate discrepancies while the clock tick tick ticks away is surprisingly gripping. Papers Please proves that games don't need to spoon-feed the player a self-indulgent narrative to convey a message or an idea.
If you'd said to us in the run up to its release we'd be putting an Assassin's Creed game above something as magnificent as Papers Please, we would probably have urged you to visit some kind of head doctor. As it is, Black Flag is a brilliant game, rescuing the Assassin's Creed series from the jaws of mediocrity. And it manages this without really fixing that many of the problems that harried the previous games
Mechanically Black Flag still feels very much Assassin's Creed, which means slightly unpredictable climbing and free-running, clumsy counter-based combat and, despite having the word "Assassin" in the title, very haphazard stealth. But Black Flag manages to render these issues temporarily moot by bringing in a far more interesting lead character and setting, thrilling naval combat which adds a refreshing secondary layer to the experience, and an open world that cunningly encourages you to explore every nook and cranny of it.
It's the strongest game of the series, and the best pirate game ever made, and for that reason it occupies our number three spot.