Beyoncé's name took the form of a verb when she dropped her self-titled fifth album, without any notice whatsoever, in the final weeks of 2013.
Since that's the time of the year when people ritualistically weigh its best work, she swiftly became the hot topic based on recency alone — not to mention the high quality Beyoncé brings to almost everything she does, this album being no exception. It almost seemed unfair: Others were poised to rule 2013 on critics' lists and popular memory, and in saunters Queen Bey at the last moment. She locked up everyone's attention in a manner so novel, so peculiar, that it could take no other form than her name.
Music wasn't the only field that got Beyonced in 2013. In the world of video games, "The Last of Us" and "Grand Theft Auto" entered the year the favorites for game of the year and, in the minds of many, finished it that way. But two other games threatened to play surprise spoiler in the same effortless way Beyoncé did: "XCOM: Enemy Within" and "The Walking Dead: All That Remains."
Both came out in the waning months of 2013. Both were announced weeks ahead of their release dates — which, for games, is comparable to a no-notice album. And both had little to do but reprise the same excellent form that made "Enemy Unknown" and season one of "The Walking Dead" regular entries on 2012 game of the year lists.
"XCOM: Enemy Within": Firaxis remixes its fantastic extraterrestrial strategy game with a host of new additions in "Within." None alter the game's essential tile-trekking too much, except for the new expiring Meld canisters, which more cautious players will have to speed up to claim. If you're the type who hates exposing your soldiers to measly Thin Man and Sectoid fire, you may come up empty-handed once in a while.
You should covet the Meld because it's crucial to genetic and cybernetic augmentation, two new perks in "Enemy Within." The first simply opens up more helpful skills to your soldiers, like the ability for front-line soldiers to bleed a second heart and for snipers to jump two stories to their crow's nests.
Going cybernetic is a bit more drastic. The change removes the ability to take cover, so your robo-soldiers basically become walking tanks who push ever forward. Learning to get the most out of their firepower took a mission or two, but once I did, I was unstoppable, taking down aggressors with automatic reaction fire and melee-killing any aliens foolish enough to move in close.
That kind of ease was the story with "Enemy Within" as a whole. After "Unknown," whose basic plot structure "Within" follows, managing terror in the XCOM member nations felt a bit less tense. The covert operations that pit your squad against alien-sympathizing human enemies were somewhat of a pushover. With the missions' defense-oriented objectives, I could wipe out most waves with carefully arranged Overwatch crossfire. Add to that my genetic muscle and my deathly mechs, and there was plenty to warrant another "XCOM" run — but perhaps on a harder difficulty.
"The Walking Dead: All That Remains": Twice during this two-hour game my face sunk into a look of bewildered horror that I've never made in my life.
Telltale Games doesn't change its point-and-click formula much in the second season of my 2012 game of the year, but the results have yet to feel tired. That's partly because you now play as Clementine, the timid 8-year-old you protected and grew to cherish in season one as Lee. And in her tiny shoes, there are new depths of shock and loss to discover yet.
"All That Remains" takes Clem through a wooded wasteland where, true to Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard's comic series, the humans pose as much of a danger as the zombies. Still, Telltale Games manages to extract as much tension and surprise as ever from the young survivor's desperate journey to a new settlement. She may be older and steelier in "Season Two," but she's still vulnerable enough to make you gasp and grit your teeth with fatherly alarm when danger arises.
Detractors of Telltale's series will find the same problems with "All That Remains." The quick-time events and steady pacing of life-or-death situations don't change, nor does the stuttering that occurs as the game presumably computes how the six episodes of choices you've made provoke what happens next. These issues have never grated on me the way they have some gamers, though, so I can't say they sapped my sympathy for Clem in any noticeable way.
As her story unfolds over another four episodes, it'll likely pull in the characters of "400 Days" at some point. Another old face returns in the next episode, teased in its trailer by Clem's final words of "I thought you were dead." But for now, I'm just glad to be in her world again, more directly in control of her fate and ready to face the dangers of "The Walking Dead" together.