Welcome one and all to my list of favourite games from 2013. As I put the finishing touches to this article I’m a few hours away from heading out and celebrating the arrival of another 365-day cycle, so I’d like to wish you all a very, very happy New Year! No doubt you’ve already come up with a list of resolutions that you have zero intention of upholding, and are proceeding merrily down the path of bat-shit drunk.
Little explanation for this is really required since I’m pretty sure you all know how this sort of thing goes, after all every person and their dog writes and publishes one of these lists at the end of every year, partly because they’re fun and partly because they seem to draw a lot of attention. They tend to spark debate, which is a great thing when you’ve got intelligent people involved, but can, of course, always create heated arguments as well. If is the former then have fun, and if its the latter then you can find a wide variety of sharp weapons located within special “Teh Internetz” crates.
Still, there’s a few ground rules to cover before we get going:
– This is a list of my favorite games of the year, not a list of the “best” or highest scoring. That means this is a list of games that clicked with me on a personal level after I had taken off my slightly more objective reviewing helmet (+10 to pretentiousness.) Still, generally speaking the games on this list will have gotten pretty good scores from me, because ultimately all reviews are subjective. If I loved it personally, I said so in the review.
– I’m an Xbox 360/Xbox One and PC gamer primarily, with emphasis on the console. Ergo there’s going to be no Playstation or Nintendo exclusives on this list. Yes, that means no The Last Us, though I’m pretty sure it would have been on here.
– Only my absolute favorite game of the year is numbered. The other nine games are simply in random order as I found it nearly impossible to rank them. Therefore just because one game is higher or lower on the list does not mean I felt it was better or worse than another game.
– Only games I actually played are on this list. This might seem obvious, but it’s worth making clear. I play a lot of games, but there’s plenty I missed as well.
– This article contains some instances of swearing. You have been warned.
– Finally, this is my list. It’s my opinion and thus there will likely be some games you agree with and others you don’t. That’s fine, and I’m completely open to debate on each title, and would love seeing your own list. But if you sit there and rant about one game being missing or another being present, it’s probably just because I didn’t feel the same way.
Alright, so that covers the basics. Before we get going proper, here’s a few Honorable Mentions, games that didn’t quite manage to make my list for various reasons or that I felt deserving of some brief rambling:
When I first began playing Battlefield 4 on the Xbox 360 it was in strong contention for being one of my favorite games of the year, despite its lackluster campaign. The multiplayer hasn’t changed very much since Battlefield 3, but it’s still as awesome as ever, providing a playground of destruction that few other titles can match. Sadly I upgraded my Xbox 360 copy of the game to an Xbox One version and was suddenly plagued by problems. You know, small little things, like not being able to connect to a fucking match! When it works it’s amazing, but sadly it doesn’t work often enough. I’ve not fired it up for a week, so maybe the problems have been largely fixed.
Game Dev Tycoon:
A small indie title by an upcoming group named Greenheart Games, Game Dev Tycoon puts you in the shoes of a developer, challenging you to create and release new games, first in your basement and later using teams of people and massive sums of money. You can research new technology, build custom engines, deal with publishers and even create your own console, the ultimate goal being to become a vast company with a huge fanbase that pumps out quality titles.
It’s not a complex game by any means, relying on a series of sliders that players tweak to adjust how much time is poured into different aspects of the game they’re creating, but it is relaxing and highly enjoyable. It’s simple nature make it a great game to just fire up and play for fifteen minutes, and as such since its release I’ve put a significant amount of hours in to it.
Dead Rising 3:
Since getting hold of my Xbox One I’ve still not had that truly “next-gen” defining moment. Dead Rising 3 isn’t all that much different from its predecessor. In fact Dead Rising 3 could have easily been a last-gen title, the only thing the raw power of the Xbox One being used for is packing an arse-load of zombies on-screen.
But while it’s not a truly “next-gen” killing your way through the absurd numbers of zombies is a lot of stupid fun, and the darker, grimmer look of the game is contrasted nicely by the oddball moments of weirdness.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist:
There are many fantastic publishers and developers out there, but recently I began thinking about which of them had produced many of the games that end up on my top games of the year lists. While pondering this I came to the conclusion that Ubisoft would be among my favourite developers, purely because of the consistent quality of the titles they put out, and the sheer amount of games they release. Last year there were three Ubisoft titles in my list of top games, and the year before that there were two. This year there’s another three, with Blacklist getting an honorable mention. As for 2014 Ubisoft already have several titles like Watch Dogs, The Division, The Crew, Valiant Hearts and Child of Light. I salute you, Ubisoft.
Yes, while purist fans remain highly disappointed with Splinter Cell’s departure from pure stealth to more aggressive methods, I’m enjoying the change of direction. I’ve played every title in the Splinter Cell franchise, and while I was a fan of the challenge of the previous games and their focus on remaining undetected I also enjoy the more predatory nature of Blacklist. probably because I take a sadistic pleasure from quietly relieving every enemy in the area of the horrible burden of life. The levels feel nicely designed, encouraging me to play around with my toys, while the different ways I can tackle gave me plenty of reason to go back and play again.
But Sam Fisher is now the most generic bloke ever. Fuck.
Saints Row IV
How do you make Saints Row even more insane, especially after the utterly barmy third entry in the series? Simple, you add freaking super-powers! The humour in this open-world game is crude, crass and rude, and rarely failed to bring a smile to my face. While the gameplay itself is lacking in refinement, it makes up for this flaw by being over-the-top-fun, allowing you to fully indulge in your raw power however you see fit. By which I mean becoming a super-powered, mass murdering douche. Yay.
The fact that videogames have come so far in the subjects they can tackle and the quality of the narratives they can tell never ceases to amaze and delight me, but there’s something to be said for games like Saints Row IV as well, games that hark back to what this form of media has always been about at its very core: fun. Saints Row doesn’t tell a subtle tale. It doesn’t tackle hard subjects. It doesn’t have a deep message or a masterful script. But it is fun, pure and simple, revelling in destruction and its own brand of insanity.
Okay, so that’s the Honorable Mentions out of the way, it’s time to move on to my top games of the year, starting with:
GRAND THEFT AUTO V
Easily the most predictable choice on this entire list, GTA V is a fantastic game that will likely be competing with the Last of Us for top position on many people’s top ten. T0 be entirely truthful, though, I spent a lot of time working under the assumption that GTA V would not be on my top ten list, but instead appearing in the Honorable Mention sections. As highly as I reviewed it I wondered about whether I’d really enjoyed it more than all the other games I talk about here. After completing the game I spent a while thinking about my time with, and the more I thought about it the less sure I became of whether it was really that good.
But then I realised what part of the problem really was. Unlike regular player’s I had blasted through the game at breakneck speed in order to write the review, partially burning myself out in the process, and after finishing it I had moved on to the next review copy, abandoning Rockstar’s world. I never went back to GTA V to simply mess around, and hadn’t spent a huge amount of time simply dicking around for my own pleasure whilst playing it for review, either. I’ve still not touched the online side of things.
So I went back and messed around, happily throwing myself off cliffs, terrorising citizens and behaving like a complete arse. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t still some doubt in my mind: the story wasn’t all that great, failing to tie together into a cohesive whole. The characters were interesting but lacked any real development and the core shooting mechanics weren’t that good, either. Even the traditional Rockstar satire was a little weaker than before, riffing on familiar stuff. I think if I could I’d alter the score I gave it, dropping it down from the full 5 to a 4.5, or even a 4. It’s still a bloody great game, and after playing around for a dozen or so hours again I’m happy to whack it on my list.
It’s a flawed game, and I can’t put myself with those that view it as the pinnacle of the previous generation, but it’s still one of the best releases of the year, and a whole lot of fun. Now I just need to go delve into the online mode. But first there’s a few more people that need ran over.
DmC: Devil May Cry
Capcom’s bold decision to reboot their legendary Devil May Cry series caused a whirlwind of controversy and sparked bursts of pure hatred from the ravenous fanbase, including death threats. Sadly this storm obscured the fact that DmC: Devil May Cry was a damn good action game in its own right, offering up flowing, fluid, fast gameplay and a brilliant aesthetic.
And now for the bit that upsets the hardcore fans: I think DmC is also a good Devil May Cry game. I’ve been told numerous times, especially by those that read my review, that I’m not allowed to say that, that no true Devil May Cry fan would ever say such a terrible thing. Ergo I’m not a fan and clearly have idea what I’m talking about. Some even accused me off being paid off by Capcom. Bullshit.
I’ve played every game in the series, with Devil May Cry 3 being my absolute favorite. I’ve beaten them all, including the reboot, numerous times over on all difficulty settings. I like to think, therefore, that I’m a fan of the series. But the thing is I really felt ambivalent about a potential fifth game in the franchise. Devil May Cry 4 was fun, but it was missing a certain something, and while playing it I felt a little fatigued, despite the relatively large gaps between iterations. In the time between Devil May Cry 3 and 4 other actions games had arisen, and what Devil May Cry was doing wasn’t as special as it once was. I didn’t feel like they could take the series in its current form much farther, so a reboot…made sense. A reboot doesn’t somehow nullify the existence of the previous games and it would give Capcom the chance to do something different, rather than simply pumping out another game that was essentially just the same thing.
Let’s be clear, I appreciate why many fans simply can’t get on board with DmC. I appreciate that they don’t like the new Dante or how the lore has been reworked. I can also appreciate that they don’t find the combat system to be as deep or the challenge to be as significant, because both of those things are true in my view. What I struggle to appreciate is calling it a bad game, when it’s easily above the average hack and slash title. You may not appreciate it as a Devil May Cry game, but just calling it a bad game in general is kind of harsh.
So, I appreciate why many Devil May Cry fans chose not to purchase the reboot, even while I still recommend they do give it a shot. But to me the reboot maintains the essence of the series, which is to say it’s frantic and fluid combat. As for Dante, while his personality still needs work I actually quite liked him, and also saw enough of the classic Dante within him, which makes sense given that in DmC he’s just a young man, and may hopefully grow into a character who is both an homage to the original Dante while being his own, unique, new Dante.
Ultimately it boils down to the very simple fact that I enjoyed the hell out of DmC: Devil May Cry. I loved the flowing combat and the beautiful aesthetic design of the game. I loved how the world would rip apart and be reformed into a playground of blood and platforming. I loved how it parodied parts of our own very real world. I loved the section that takes place inside a news broadcast. I even enjoyed the story, even though I’ll be the first to admit that from a more objective standpoint it’s quite weak.
As a “true” fan I firmly believe that I should simply just tell you how I felt about the game, and that’s exactly what I did in my review. For me to have done anything else would have been dishonest. I hope it gets a sequel, but sadly the barrage it withstood resulted in fairly low sales, and thus the future of DmC remains unsure.
Bringing a trilogy of games to a close has proven to be one of the hardest things to get right this past generation, with numerous developers attempting it and failing, leaving gamers who have invested hours upon hours into the games feeling disappointed. Goodbye Deponia was the farewell to one of my favorite trilogies of all time, and while it also didn’t manage to quite deliver the ending that the series deserved it still went out with a bang.
Like the two games before it Goodbye Deponia does on occasion trip up and tumble into the chasms of absurd logic that have plagued the point and click genre from the very start, but on the whole it’s an incredibly funny game with great puzzles and a cast of characters I’ve come to love. Rufus remains a hard person for many gamers to connect with, but for me his selfish, cock-sure arrogance and absurd plans click my love of all things barmy.
I still can’t come completely to terms with the final hour of the game as it lacked the resolution that three games worth of character driven story needed, leaving me feeling sad that I’d never know what happened to these brilliant characters and their strange world, but everything up to that point was brilliant. I’m going to miss Rufus.
While shooters might dominate today’s gaming landscape there’s still room for some good old platforming action, and Rayman Legends is the very essence of what makes the genre so fantastic, proving in the process that it still has a place within the modern world.
The charm of Legends begins with the lush, vibrant graphics. Sure, it does not push the technical boundaries of the platforms it’s on, but that does not stop it from being a beautiful game brimming with amazing worlds to play through. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: a good aesthetic style can usually trump pure technical might. On top of these graphics you have outstanding level design and smooth, responsive controls, finally being finished off with fantastic music levels and plenty of content.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is how you make a platformer.
Call of Juarez: Gunslinger
This is a game you probably won’t find on the lists of professional game journalists, or even just regular old gamers, which is understandable given that it doesn’t do anything new or special. Gunslinger is a straight-up shooter with a lovely cell-shaded graphical style, enjoyable story, great gameplay and cool lead character. Most of all it’s fun. Lots and lots of fun packed into a small Arcade title.
The gunplay may not be innovative but it is smooth, featuring all the classic western weapons you’d expect, each one packing some serious wallop. My favorite was dual-wielding six-shooters to feel like a real bad-ass. The enemy AI wasn’t up to much, something which seems to be true of most shooters these days, but the core combat was seriously nice and unashamedly old-school in its feel. This was tied up in a great overall vibe, the cell-shaded aesthetic combining with the light-hearted nature of the story, a tale told by a grizzled veteran who claimed to have fought many of the most of the most notorious bandits in that period of time, like Butch Cassidy and Billy the Kid. As the old man tells his story his memory of events is used to change things on the fly, a neat feature that probably could have done with being utilised more.
The Call of Juarez series was in need of help after the disaster that was the Cartel, and in Gunslinger Ubisoft hit upon a truly awesome formula, one that worked so well I scored it a 4.5 from me. Why? Because it did what it set out to do fantastically: make me and everyone else who played have a bloody good time. It’s fantastic FPS action with a comedy flair in a perfectly sized package.
Note: there’s a damn good chance that Far Cry: Blood Dragon would have taken the place of Gunslinger in this list, or even been featured alongside, but sadly I’ve still not gotten around to playing it.
Though it treads a little too much into the action-adventure ground of titles like the Uncharted series with its dramatic but ultimately risk free platforming and focus on spectacle above all else, Tomb Raider was a fantastic reboot of a classic series that retains a place in my heart to this day, having been an integral part of my younger years. This reintroduced kick-ass Lara as a more vulnerable, more real and rounded person, rather than the simple pair of bouncing breasts that she once was, all while managing to keep her strong and proud. The overall plot wasn’t up to much, but the dialogue, acting and production values were top-notch, creating a compelling experience from start to finish. The developers also weren’t afraid to show Lara taking a punishing beating during her journey, putting her through a series of brutal physical injuries portrayed with such realism that I actually found myself wincing, something that I haven’t done since seeing the 2009 Mortal Kombat reboot’s X-ray moves. Because of this I grew even more attached to Lara, wanting to help her through this ordeal as best as I could. I was invested in her story, and the outstanding graphics and solid gameplay only served to reinforce that.
Unlike Bioshock Infinite Tomb Raider was rightfully accused of ludonarrative dissonance effecting it’s plot. The storyline fell apart a little when it attempted to reconcile the fact that Lara had never killed a human nor had much experience with weaponry with her supreme combat skills during regular gameplay. Her grief over taking a life didn’t feel very real, nor did her talent at using a bow to send arrows through throats with nary a blink of the eyes. Yet it was to the game’s credit that the rest of the storytelling and acting were so good that this dissonance stood out so much to players.
A graphically beautiful, thrilling adventure from start to finish Tomb Raider was a brilliant reboot of a beloved franchise.
The Stanley Parable
Arguably the Stanley Parable boasts the finest script of the year, razor-sharp writing in the Portal vain helping to make this one of my most enjoyed experiences of 2013. As a traditional videogame it’s lacking, but frankly I don’t really give a toss about that as my time with it is firmly lodged in the recesses of my brain. The Stanley Parable is satire at its core, ripping apart videogames and revelling in pointing out our beloved hobbies many limitations, flaws and stupidities, all while managing to present a narrative that changes based on the routes you take, leading you to one of well over a dozen different endings.
The Stanley Parable is a prime example of why I love the indie scene, and just one of many amazing titles that were released this year. While triple-A titles offer bombastic action, things like Papers Please, Gone Home and the Stanley Parable present unique experiences that don’t always fall into the category of traditional video games. Between these big-budget behemoths and these experimental, creative little titles we gamers get a bounty of awesomeness to feast upon.
Gone Home has featured on the lists of many people already, as has Papers Please, and both are entirely deserving, but for me it was the Stanley Parable that ultimately stuck in my head, perhaps due to my love of offbeat games. The humour of the Stanley Parable tickles the sweet spot in my warped brain, as does its design. Special mention must also go to the fantastic narrator, whose performance is simply perfect.
Release earlier this year Bioshock Infinite was utterly brilliant, although it’s currently getting a good beating at the hands of Popularity Syndrome, which dictates that anything which receives great amounts of praise and is very well known will become the victim of people who wish to make themselves stand out from the crowd by declaring it shit.
Alright, I’m not actually saying everyone that dislikes the game falls into this category. That would be a remarkably stupid thing to say, even by my standards. Many, many people have legitimate arguments against the game, but those people usually also concur that it’s still a good game, just one that they didn’t like personally and that it perhaps wasn’t deserving of the many maximum scores it got, rather than just trying to validate their dislike by declaring it to be terrible. Review are subjective, but it’s pretty damn hard to examine Infinite and come to the conclusion that it’s poorly made.
Infinite was also the victim of misinformation in the form of ludonarrative dissonance, a word that game journalists currently love to use, which is a problem because they also usually fail to explain what its usage was intended to be and therefore many gamers have associated it with intense violence within video games. People picked up the words and accused Infinite of being guilty of this apparently horrible crime, when in reality it wasn’t. Ludonarrative dissonance, in brief, is when the story tells you one thing, and the gameplay another, creating a void between the two that cannot be explained. A prime example would be the story telling you the lead character has never used a gun, but during gameplay he’s a bloody pro with an AK47. In the case of Infinite Booker is a violent person caught up in an equally violent and sadistic world which attempts to cover its own dark nature. There’s no ludonarrative dissonance there because a large part of the story is about violence, and the gameplay matches this. What does exist is a contrast between Booker and the veneer which covers up Columbia’s much darker nature.
I didn’t have a problem with the violence or how extreme it often was. My only big complaint was that the developers relied on combat too much when the core gunplay wasn’t strong enough to hold up the weight of so many firefights. I’d have liked to have seen more quiet moments where I could interact with the floating city’s population.
But enough of this bollox. I love the characters within Bioshock Infinite, the world of Columbia, the story and how it all comes together with the gameplay into one fantastic, cohesive whole. Playing through Bioshock Infinite was a memorable experience, one that I still think about today. Though it may not have come together perfectly the narrative was compelling, both on the surface and in its subtext, while Booker and Elizabeth were, to my mind, fascinating, though the “twins” take the award for most intriguing characters in the game. The combat wasn’t spectacular but it was still damn good fun.
One might expect me to have spent my time playing titles like Dead Rising 3, Battlefield 4, Forza 5 and Black Flag on my Xbox One, games that show of the power of the new consoles. But no, I’ve spent the majority of my time playing Peggle 2, a game that could never be described as demonstrating the raw strength of next-gen tech but that can certainly be described as ludicrously addictive.
The formula has not changed much from the original Peggle, and I can’t believe they didn’t include leaderboards, but the gameplay remains as satisfying as ever, while the vivid colors make it awesome to look at. The argument could be made that right now Peggle 2 is actually the best of the Xbox One’s limited exclusives.
Is that a compliment or an insult to Microsoft?
My Favorite Game Of 2013 Is ASSASSIN’S CREED IV: BLACK FLAG
My favorite game of the year was probably an obvious choice to anyone who read my glowing review of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. While the argument can be made that Black Flag somewhat fails at being an Assassin’s Creed title it sure as hell doesn’t fail at being a pirate game, and a bloody fun one at that. Sure, many of the core mechanics underpinning the Assassin’s Creed series are starting to creak and crack, but the simple truth is that I’ve not gotten so completely and utterly lose in enjoying a game in a long time.
Maybe it’s because I’m Scottish but Welshman Edward Kenway sits well with me. I find him an easy man to sympathise with and understand, and as such I cared about his story. His motivations make sense, as does his journey from simple pirate to something much more. Here was a man simply determined to make a better life for himself who found there was another way to do just that, one which didn’t require vast riches. The fact that both the Templars and Assassins took a backseat in the narrative annoyed so, but I liked the outside perspective it gave.
But most of all its just fun. At your fingertips is a gorgeous world full of tropical islands and beautiful vistas, the horizon bristling with sails that indicate ships just waiting to be taken by you and your crew. Ubisoft created a technical marvel on Xbox 360 and PS3 with a world nearly devoid of loading screens, one in which you could go from epic naval battles to exploring towns without interuption. I’m now on my second play through of the game, this time on the Xbox One edition, and freed of the constraints of attempting to review it I’ve been able to completely immerse myself in the world, and as a result I’ve pretty much forgotten the main storyline in favour of simply living the life of a pirate, sailing the seas, capturing ships and generally just goofing around. I’ve devoted hours upon hours to upgrading my beloved Jackdaw, engaging in intense and incredibly awesome naval battles to acquire the materials I need.
After the slip-up of Assassin’s Creed III Ubisoft made amends with this truly amazing game. It’s my favourite game of the year, rising above all else.
So there we have it, my favourite games of the year written down in black and white, raising the inevitable question of whether I consider 2013 a good gaming year. Having pondered it for a while I view 2013 as a solid year, neither great nor bad. 2012 had a larger amount of great games, while 2013 has had fewer titles, but several of them have been of exceptional quality.
But now we march forth into a new year with two brand new consoles, each a symbol of possibility, each a catalyst for new and exciting experiences, be they huge games developed with massive budgets or small, indie titles made by a small group of dedicated people. Over the past few years I’ve gained a more cynical edge and find that I’m rarely every really excited about upcoming games any more. Don’t take this the wrong way, I still love what I do, but I don’t gobble up every preview now and get literally jittery with excitement because of a game just a month or two away from release. Maybe it’s because I’m fed up of the artificially bloated hype-trains that can run for years at a time. But I’m genuinely looking forward to the coming year, looking forward to seeing what developers can do with this shiny new tech. At the moment, Titanfall is the big game for me. Fingers crossed.