2013 has probably seen one of the strangest years in gaming. Games were being kickstarted left and right, the indie scene continues it’s swelling resurgence, and big name publishers dropped the ball between console transitions. Nonetheless it was still a great year in gaming. This year forced me out of my comfort zone a bit (delightfully so, might I add). It gave me experiences I didn’t know I wanted. Also, with a console generation nearly a decade old, refinements to genres and franchises were ever more important to keep things fresh. A few titles hit their mark in this regard, while others missed completely. Here are the picks that made my personal cut for Top 10 in 2013.
Dead Rising 3
Yes, it was buggy as shit. The framerate dipped consistently. It’s not exactly the “next-gen experience” that should come with a new console launch. Likely, you may already have played this before on the 360 and PS3. But man… was it a shitload of stupid fun. To me it was the most playable Dead Rising game in the series, and the best. Largely, you’re running errands for stranded survivors and killing any hostile psychopaths in the way. While the tasks the game asks of you is menial; it is the moments between the objectives that are memorable. Like gunning down an army of the undead with a teddy bear that’s armed to the teeth as you make tough fashion choices. Do I go with the leather chaps and chainmail armor? Or do I go with the string bikini only made complete with a lightsaber? Decisions… decisions…nonsensical decisions…
DMC: Devil May Cry
DMC released at the top of the year much like Bayonetta did just a few years ago. Even now at the end of the year, I still think back to Ninja Theory’s take on DMC. At first it was met with unforgiving skepticism since it wasn’t the eastern developed, anime-inspired action title normally served by Capcom. Ninja Theory pulled off the impossible and gave the Devil May Cry franchise the shot in the arm it needed. Ninja Theory’s signature storytelling style and strong mocap created the kind of DMC we didn’t know we wanted. Think of it as Christopher Nolan’s video game version of the Batman reboot. At first, you winced at it, but you tried it anyway and now you can’t get enough. Ninja Theory’s vision of the DMC franchise was much darker, cooler (yes, cooler), and above all else bolder. They kept the fighting mechanics fast and flashy as it has always been. The climactic and memorable finale has yet to leave me and I’m left crossing my fingers for a Ninja Theory sequel.
Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition
Whoa whoa whoa… Okay before everyone pulls out torches and pitchforks, I do realize that Minecraft has been around for awhile on the PC and that the 360 downloadable version was available since last year. However, I didn’t pick it up until the boxed retail version came out for the 360 on June 4th, 2013. Yeah, 2013. Just saying. I was familiar with the concept behind Minecraft, but never indulged in it until I brought home a disc-based version of it. My binges were bad, awful, sad, and pathetic. But I didn’t care. Fuck no. My buddy and I played it from sunrise to sunset. We needed more materials, we needed more food, we needed better armor, we needed stronger weapons, we needed robust livestock, we needed plentiful crops, we needed a subterranean network of tunnels, we needed a sky bridge that connected our castles together from continents apart. Wherever there was a need, there was a goal. When that goal was achieved we found ourselves a new one immediately. There was always a carrot at the end of the stick. My splitscreen partner and I both hold full-time jobs, but through an unspoken understanding, almost through osmosis, he came over my place as soon as we were done work. I would turn on the Xbox and we would play Minecraft with little in terms of spoken dialogue. I became a Craft addict in 2013. Sue me.
Assasin’s Creed 4: Black Flag
With Watch Dogs delayed into sometime in 2014, I wasn’t left with too many games I wanted to buy with my PS4 besides Killzone: Shadowfall. I felt a bit dirty getting what can be considered a “current-gen” game on my shiny new PS4. After spending nearly a week straight playing AC4, I don’t regret one minute of it. Just as the Assassin’s Creed series was feeling stale (anything past Brotherhood in my opinion), Black Flag got enough of my attention to warrant a purchase. I still felt an undeniable reluctance at the main menu. The feeling quickly dissipated when I was in the game. For being a “cross-gen” game it looked great on the PS4 and at times defied any notion that it was also released on the 360 and PS3. It featured some of the best written characters this year. Edward Kenway was a flashy, opportunistic, and jovial pirate. Qualities that placed him in front of any other protagonist in the series. Behind his superficial greed, was a family man trying to do right by his family back home whether or not he knew he had one. His adventures and yours took you to the Caribbeans where you plundered treasure, engaged in explosive naval battles, went deep-sea diving, crafted armor, upgraded your ship, hunted, stalked, pick-pocketed and assassinated Templar leaders. The meta story took a bit of a backseat for the better since it served to highlight the story, not bring it to a halt. You spent more time “in the Animus”, playing a compelling character in the content-rich oceans of the Caribbeans. Also, best end credits crawl ever. This is the best Assassin’s Creed game in the series. Period. It will be the one for future installments to beat.
The original Bioshock was a masterpiece and rightfully legendary. For Irrational to even come close was a monolithic task in itself. Bioshock Infinite stayed true to the Bioshock formula. The early 20th century aesthetic hangs heavily in the air (which I absolutely adore) and the kind of in-world storytelling that only Irrational can give us go a long way to making you forget you’re playing a video game. Your supporting co-star and companion, Elizabeth, is a game design decision that compliments the core combat and story simultaneously. She’s helpful in throwing you ammo, health packs, and creating “tears” that open up new gameplay possibilities. She has a presence about her that is always compelling and useful, not intrusive and annoying. The entire package is peppered with great gameplay and story-driven moments. Bioshock Infinite certainly isn’t flawless, but as soon as it gets a tad long in the tooth, the final few hours are unforgettable and undoubtedly worthy of your commitment.
Metro: Last Light
It’s a shame that Metro: Last Light will fly under most gamer’s radars. It’s not just a solid shooter, but a fantastically gritty survival experience. You survive a post-fallout nuclear Russia as Artyom. The landscape is rife with radiation, mutants, Nazis, and… aliens? It sounds like every gaming cliche rolled into one, but it’s actually more cohesive than one would imagine. It’s not about getting through encounters by haphazardly unloading rounds in a virtual shooting gallery, but surviving them by being smart and conserving supplies. Players have to be mindful of ammo counts, because they may have enough for the next firefight, but quickly find themselves in a deficit for the one after because they decided to Rambo everything. The survival elements really hit home when players find themselves on the radiated surface. Gas masks need to be worn, air filters need to be scavenged and replaced, light is not always a readily available luxury, and health packs can be a checkpoint or two apart. The survival elements can be adjusted to be either accommodating or harsh. The presentation of the world is what brings Metro: Last Light to life. There’s still remaining political unrest from pre-nuclear life, light open-world exploration in some of Metro’s underground dusty cities yield unexpected (but welcome) adventures, and a dash of the supernatural make it one of the most unique shooters of the year (if not the generation). Metro is a genre-bending shooter that tells it’s story excessively well; enough for me to go out and read the books it is based off of. Gamers are always claiming to want something different, well here it is. I don’t know what else to tell you. Buy Metro: Last Light, play it, love it, thank me later.
There aren’t too many shooters like Battlefield 4. Yes, it’s a modern military shooter, but few can duplicate that inexplicably fun and chaotic 64 player combat in the same fashion DICE does. Call of Duty has seen better days with the release of Ghost (it sucked) and the Battlefield series has only grown. The Battlefield series has outpaced Call of Duty with Battlefield 4. Even with rough and, at times, flat-out broken multiplayer suite, it still sits in my Xbox One disc tray. Not only does the progression system keep you coming back for more, but also the massive fever-pitched 64 player battles; unhindered by the last-gen’s console player cap. The frenzy running at a smooth 60fps. It looks phenomenal. Even when you find yourself on the losing team, it’s still stupid fun losing with 31 other players. Oh and the single-player campaign was alright (whatever). Battlefield 4 is the must-play multiplayer experience in 2013 if you have a PS4, Xbox One, or PC. The multiplayer suite is a bit rough yet, but whatever frustrations you may have are quickly forgotten when you’re base jumping off a crumbling (exploding) skyscraper. Think of it as that drunk gal that digs on you, she can be annoying at first, but actually has some pretty interesting things to say once she’s sober. Na mean?
Grand Theft Auto 5
Truth be told, I don’t consider myself the biggest GTA fan. The series never really grabbed me until the GTA4, even then it wasn’t exactly the epiphany everyone made the series out to be. Although, Niko Bellic is one my favorite characters in gaming. GTA5 is the biggest leap forward for the open-world crime series. The three main character cast consisting of Michael, Trevor, and Franklin does a great job of injecting an unfathomable amount of mission variety and flavor into every moment in the game. The ludicrous list of supporting characters are rich in comedic relief and finely woven into the fabric of the main story our playable characters journey through. The city of Los Santos is finely embedded with stunning realism just as much as it is a mock portrait of American culture today. GTA5 is the devil on my shoulders. I feel a little dirty when I talk to non-gamers about enjoying GTA5 so much, but I cannot deny myself it’s boisterous parody on life as it stands. The witty dialogue and the actors that deliver them are fantastic ushers that present you with a crime drama that does not want to wake from it’s own comedic seizure. It’s just fun, funny, fucked up, and fantastic to play.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
I’ve never played anything quite like Brothers before. It is a puzzle-adventure game from Starbreeze. With that description alone, people will write it off. It is a game (and the word “game” is used loosely) that is a few hours long similar to Flower or Journey, but is much more of a “game” than those two. Players will control two brothers independently with each thumbstick and each trigger makes them interact with objects, people, and platforms. It’s simple at first, but soon enough the puzzles are a bit like rubbing your belly and tapping your head. The puzzles give you what you may call a “game”, but the events and story beats between the puzzles create some truly compelling moments, building to something greater than I anticipated. Without ruining too much, I can say that it starts in a village; where the game ends is something I will never ever forget. I beg you not to miss this. Brothers: A Tale of of Two Sons will be remembered as an important title.
The Last of Us
I went back and forth between The Last of Us and Brothers as my Game of the Year. It was tough, but I could not deny myself. The Last of Us is vicious and spellbinding. It’s story fills your heart with lead, the core combat forces you to tap into primal instincts you didn’t think you had, and that distinct Naughty Dog acting flair remains captivating as always. Joel and Ellie’s journey across the Cordyceps-laden America is relentlessly terrifying and heartbreaking. Their bond is an outline of a father-daughter relationship. They both give and take from each other as they travel the decaying landscape.The third-person gameplay is a mix of brutal melee combat, sweat-inducing stealth, cringe-worthy gunplay, and tense survival mechanics. The Last of Us is a series of tightly woven gameplay loops that never cannibalize each other. There are very few games (if any) where I will watch the cinematics in subsequent playthroughs, and I’ve been through it a handful of times already. Much like the Uncharted series, Naughty Dog imbues The Last of Us with breathtaking set pieces and gameplay moments. The Last of Us innately demands attention, drawing curiosity and thrills from anyone simply watching. The opening chapter sets the dark tone for the rest of the game and the expedition thereafter. It never stops and never forgives. It’s a game that disregards itself as such. The Last of Us is a title that you want to sit people in front of, or even better, have them play it. It is a gut-wrenching and strangely magnificent game that anyone with a PS3 should have no excuse not to own.