Insert Geek’s Top 10 Games of 2013

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.

#10

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…

Dead Rising 3

#9

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.

DMC

#8

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.

Minecraft

#7

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.

AC4

#6

Bioshock Infinite

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.

Bioshock Infinite


#5

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.

Metro Last Light


#4

Battlefield 4

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?

BF4

#3

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.

GTA5

#2

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.

Brothers

#1

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.

The Last of Us

Hands-on With the DualShock 4

With the PS4 making an appearance in homes across the world in just a couple of weeks, (I thought the day would never come), I thought it’d be a great time to talk about the DualShock 4. I think that it’s safe to make the argument that next-gen controllers themselves can be just as exciting, if not moreso, than the actual console itself. A console will always be some kind of box under your television. The controller is something that we will be interfacing with constantly throughout the console’s life cycle, so the controller plays a very intimate role in creating a relationship with our games. Think about it; I know a lot of people (including me) that hateĀ the GameCube controller. But if you were to ask us if we wanted to throw down in some Smash Bros. Melee or Brawl, fuck yeah give us the GameCube controller. Any day.

Dualshock 4

Part of Sony’s challenge in making the DualShock 4 was to keep the nearly 2 decade-long heritage of the DualShock intact while readying it for the games of tomorrow. It’s tough to sculpt a controller that fits the needs of all genres. Once I got my hands around the DualShock 4, I had an inexplicable feeling that it can handle whatever developers threw at it. Here’s just a tiny glimpse.

Size Matters

Brown suede couch not included.

Brown suede couch not included.

What is immediately noticeable is that the DS4 is bigger. When I say “big” don’t take it as “bulky”. It’s a bit… say… huskier in the handles. This gives your hands a bit more room to move. I found that my pinky was resting comfortably next to my ring finger, instead of being pushed off the bottom edges.

DS4 Side View

The underside has a raised surface, so it feels like you’ve got a solid grip when your fingers collapse around the triggers. It no longer has that (literal) super slick feeling. Which is great because sweaty palms come with the territory. What you’ll also notice in the picture above are the triggers L2 and R2, they’re longer and feel like what they are: triggers! Where the DualShock 3’s triggers felt kind of mushy, the DualShock 4 has a better throw. It feels a lot like those awesome triggers the 360 has, which is a damn good thing.

Clackity Click, Buttons and Sticks

As I held the DS4, my index fingers naturally gravitated to the L1 and R1 positions. When I rested them, they actually landed between both sets of shoulder buttons. It feels a lot more comfortable to play shooters. The controllers itself felt confident to play shooters. While playing shooters on the PS3 was very much doable and competent, I intend on using the newly designed triggers proper for PS4 FPS’s going forward. No more cross-console shoulder confusion! The wider housing on the DS4 allowed for my index fingers to rest right on the shoulder button chassis, not over them.

DS4 Front View

Not displayed: DualShock 4’s Glowingness

In the picture above you’ll immediately notice the height of the thumbsticks has been shortened on the DS4. This will allow for quicker, more responsive stick inputs. Which sounds absurd, but will likely be more apparent when playing a game. It’s a bit difficult to tell from the picture because of the shadows from my camera phone (my apologies, I’m not a professional photographer), but the face buttons are a bit more shallow. The feedback from pushing down on the buttons is immediate and certain. Speaking of which, lets take a closer look at the face.

Face!

DS4 Top View

Man… my Dualshock 3 is really beat up… I call em nerd scars

You’ll see that the d-pad and face buttons are grouped closer together on the DualShock 4. It looks like Sony tightened up the button real estate to lessen “transit” time between buttons presses. Trust me, it sounds just as dumb for me to say/type that, but I don’t doubt it will make a world of difference during gameplay. The thumbsticks now have a concave surface which makes for better sustained grips, pushes, and pulls. Looks like this will cut down on that momentum-killing need to reset your thumbs in games that have you pushing forward constantly (Mirror’s Edge, Assassin’s Creed, every Call of Duty ever). Why Sony placed those handy-dandy arrows around the d-pad is beyond me…

1995 felt like a lifetime ago. They grow up so fast... *sniff*

1995 felt like a lifetime ago. They grow up so fast… *sniff*

There are a few other features I didn’t quite cover because… well… I just don’t have a PS4 to test them out on yet. The touchpad feels like a touchpad (duh) and clicks into the controller, but I wouldn’t be able to tell you about how those actions feel in-game quite yet. There’s an input at the bottom of the controller for the headset that is included with the system. I would imagine it works the same way it does on the 360, thank God. Besides that, it looks like the DualShock 4 addresses all the issues of the DualShock 3. Which is a pretty daunting task in itself since the DualShock is already a legendary controller that survived us across 3 generations. The other refinements to the DualShock 4 is considered a luxury at this point. The true test comes once people start playing games with it (I mean, no shit right?). Can the DualShock 4’s new additions and refinements elevate it to legendary status? A design to follow for the Sony platforms to come?

We’ll see. We’ll play.

Playstation Vita Gets Some Love at TGS 2013

Shortly after Sony announced a price drop for the PS Vita, they managed to cook up some more exciting news at TGS for Playstation’s smallest sibling. The Vita will be getting (wait for it…) a slimmer model.

Sony stated that the newer model is roughly 20% thinner and 15% lighter. It has also switched out the OLED screen for an LCD one. This was done to reduce cost, but some techno purists may raise an eyebrow to this addition by subtraction. It also packs an extra hour of battery life – I’ll take it.

Interestingly enough the new Vita will have built-in 1 gig storage capacity. This will let users hit the ground running when it comes to save data, but hardly enough space for any significant full game downloads.

It is currently set for an October 10th release date in Japan, no word yet on if the revision will be making it’s way to the US or UK. All of this is made complete with five snazzy new colors.

PS Vita Slim


There also isn’t any shortage of accessories to compliment the new hardware. Sony will also be dishing out a new 64 gig memory stick for the Vita costing around 9,980 yen ($100 USD). Also Japan-only for now. But man… Sony doesn’t stop there.


Playstation Vita TV is a device about the size of most smartphones that allows connectivity between the Vita handheld and your television. Users will be able to play their Vita games on their high-def televisions with it’s dedicated PS Vita game slot. Using either a Dualshock 3 to play original PSP and PS1 titles or play PS4 games with the Dualshock 4 via Remote Play (with upcoming firmware update), the Vita is looking to increase it’s presence in every hardcore Sony fanboy’s living space. PS Vita TV will be launching on November 14th in Japan for 9,480 yen ($95 USD), no exact release date or pricing info for the US or UK… yet.

PS Vita TV

The naughty bits. HDMI is so hot

The naughty bits. HDMI is so hot

Looks like Sony is really throwing their weight behind the Vita, which is great news for owners. With Sony releasing the PS4 on November 15th, these additions to the PS Vita suite will be strengthening Sony’s gaming ecosystem. Lets cross our fingers for a western release!

Microsoft’s Backpedaling & Consumer Confidence

I was there on launch day for the original Xbox. I couldn’t even think straight in middle-school social studies and faked an illness to go home early for the day. To finally, FINALLY play Halo: Combat Evolved and really see what the unrelenting juggernaut of hype was all about.

Flash forward to my first year in college, I skipped my first week of class to get my hands on a white tower of entertainment called the Xbox 360. The 360 was my gateway drug to buying a high definition television and a sound system. I told myself I would never drop money on an Xbox Live membership, but with friends going to different schools it was my only means of staying connected through doing what we love: pwning fools. The online infrastructure was something never seen before on a gaming console. Xbox Live quickly established the gold standard in which other online console services were reaching for.

Now in the tail end of 2013…. what the fuck are you doing Microsoft?!

I feel as if a stranger is offering me candy...

I feel as if a stranger is offering me candy…

E3 2013 was like a fever dream. When Microsoft started their press briefing, things seemed pretty by the numbers as they showed off impressive demos of Ryse and Titanfall. Despite the crowd salivating over Microsoft’s promises, there was still a large elephant in the room. The details confusion of the Xbox One’s DRM policy still lingered. By the end of it, it was apparent that they were sticking to their guns to the dismay of many gamers. Perhaps this is the direction the industry is headed?

Leading Video Game Companies Hold News Conferences To Open E3

C’mon… you know you’re gonna buy it…

Sony removed all the white noise and said, “No DRM. Games can be borrowed and traded at will. PS4 is $400.” A WMD was unleashed that Microsoft’s PR failed to withstand.

All of a sudden the ball was back in Microsoft’s court just as quickly as it had left it.

A couple of weeks later Microsoft released a statement that they are returning to the old ways of game sharing. No DRM. Microsoft got caught biting their tongue and the bloodletting was profuse. Yes, this reversal of policy benefits the consumer. Yes, they addressed the concerns of their audience. But at what cost? In that moment many people had already hailed Sony as their new saviors. It was already too late, many would-be Xbox One owners have evangelized to Sony’s camp.

Since then the smoke has cleared a bit. However, Microsoft has just recently retreaded broken ground. They’ve announced that the included Kinect camera is no longer mandatory and does NOT need to be plugged into the Xbox One. Any initial relief is replaced with frustration and some amount of betrayal.

So… why am I paying $500 for a system that is bundled with something that I will never use? If I don’t have to use it, then there won’t be room made for it on my entertainment center. One already cluttered with an Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii U. Microsoft is essentially telling me to open up the Day One Edition, set up my Xbox One and leave the Kinect sensor in the box. Unless they decide to develop a SKU that contains just the console unit minus the Kinect for $400 to match speed with Sony. This is the ideal scenario although it is very unlikely this close to launch, but this may be Microsoft’s only safe out after dragging us through the mud. A possible last-minute change that gamers can get behind (as long as it doesn’t compromise the intended launch day, whatever that may be at this point).

Microsoft’s handling of Xbox One’s reveal and the details that followed are a total mess. Their PR campaign after the backlash at E3 never gave up any straight answers. Telling their loyal fans (like moi) that the Kinect isn’t mandatory, but force it down our necks is a slap in the face.

I still plan on picking up my Xbox One at launch and do intend to enjoy it. It’s not only been a rough ride for Microsoft but the eager fans holding on to their hard-earned cash. Whether or not there is internal communication issues at Redmond is impossible to determine. However, Microsoft still needs to unfuck themselves in order to instill any extent of confidence into the Xbox brand. This is especially critical when we’re within spitting distance of the Xbox One’s launch. I want them to make me feel the same way about the Xbox One as they did with their first two consoles.

Microsoft needs to tell a better story. Now.