Another year has almost passed us by, and what better way to celebrate than by throwing my “best of” list in the piles of posts and videos that you’re probably sick of by now. Still, even if I’m late to the game, I still like to share my lists each year.
In 2012, I was completely blown away by Mass Effect 3 but ended up awarding Game of the Year to something else (Dragon’s Dogma). I had a bit of deja vu this year when the time came to narrow it down to my top 5, especially considering that if I had made this list a week ago it would have ended differently.
I don’t want to drag this on any longer than necessary, so let’s jump in to the “awards” (using finger-quotes around that word since it’s more a term than an actual, physical award of sorts).
Biggest Surprise – Gone Home
After the premise and gameplay of Gone Home was explained to me, I had little to no interest in playing it. I kept seeing it pop up on “best of” lists for 2013 and, after doing some research, saw that it only lasted about 2 hours. I picked it up, put aside a few hours and jumped in, expecting to be disappointed almost immediately.
I entered Katie’s home, wondering why nobody was there to greet me after being abroad for a year. I checked a few drawers, read a few crumpled notes and e-mails and felt uneasy as I started digging in to the personal lives of my parents and the current state of their relationship and careers. The central focus of Gone Home is not Katie herself, but her family. For a game I was never really interested in playing, I still think about the storyline and just how much it really sucked to be a teenager.
Biggest Disappointment – Beyond: Two Souls
I’m not the biggest David Cage fan; never finishing either Heavy Rain or Indigo Prophecy. I was intrigued with Beyond: Two Souls, purely based on the interest of controlling her spectral companion Aiden, but that ended up being one of my biggest pet peeves.
Not only was the overall story extremely predictable, but the non-chronological presentation didn’t help matters. Choices never seemed to have any consequence and exploration was hampered by constant texture pop-in, horrid combat controls and frequent quicktime events. Aside from the solid voice acting and generally favorable character models, Beyond: Two Souls is a prime example that a big budget does not always create a good game.
Check out my full review of Beyond: Two Souls for an in-depth explanation of exactly why I loathed every minute of it.
Best Soundtrack – Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
The sounds of Blood Dragon mirror that of the greatest cyberpunk/sci-fi movies of the 80’s. I was constantly reminded of Blade Runner, Total Recall and Terminator, but what really sealed the deal was the song that played during the end credits. Just see for yourself below.
Best Game Played in 2013 that Came Out Last Year – Sleeping Dogs
Long award name aside, I picked up Sleeping Dogs for free off PSN this year and couldn’t put it down for weeks. Of all the sandbox, GTA-style heist games I’ve played, I currently consider this one the best (keeping in mind I still have yet to play GTA V or Saint’s Row IV).
The soundtrack was chock full of amazing artists, cars handled great, combat evolution was solid and upgrades felt noticeable. I always enjoyed jumping out of my apartment in a luchadore mask and boxer shorts, cramming fist fulls of pork buns in my mouth (to make me a whole man, of course) and crashing my scooter in the alley just so I could buy some new bed sheets. I’m also a sucker for mini-games and spent my fair share of time in the karaoke bars, betting on cock fights and getting frustrated with any street racing side-quest requiring the use of a motorcycle. Seriously, the Enduro race can go fuck the devil in hell.
What was most surprising about Sleeping Dogs was the storyline, albeit plagued with cliche power struggles and undercover work. As I took Wei Chen deeper in to the ranks of the Sun On Yee, I started to care for my gang family more than bringing justice to Wei’s deceased sister. Control of the Triad seemed to shift constantly and I was more than happy to deal out a little street justice in the name of the Sun On Yee and every dead friend along the way.
My 5 favorite games from 2013 are listed below, but keep in mind that favorite does not always mean best. The term “best” (much like “favorite”) is subjective and these are merely my own opinions.
#5 – DmC: Devil May Cry
This one is probably a surprise for many people, but I really enjoyed DmC for whatever reason. I liked the combat a lot, loved the boss battles and dug the level design/art style, but I can also recognize its flaws; the campy storyline, angel/demon-only enemies and horrid quality of DLC. It’s also rare for me to go back to a game after I’ve given it a thorough playthrough, but I ended up beating each chapter a few times to mop up some trophies and enjoyed the ending enough to drop some cash on the Vergil’s Downfall DLC.. although I wish I hadn’t.
#4 – Tomb Raider
I was late to the game with Tomb Raider, being one of the most current games I’ve finished this year. For being a game that didn’t really bring anything new to the table, it was a completely enjoyable experience from start to finish. I didn’t find it too linear & I really liked the exploration controls, slick auto-cover function and the upgrade system, but still felt the characters were paper-thin & cliche. The story was also a little hokey, but I like how it kept me guessing whether or not the cause of the storms were supernatural or not.
Check out my full review of Tomb Raider here.
#3 – Gone Home
Gone Home is a game that caused many a debate between gamers as to exactly what makes a game a game. It’s also a game that totally caught me off guard this year. As Katie, you return home after a year of traveling abroad, but find the house completely empty. It’s definitely not a game for everyone, but I ended my initial playthrough feeling as if I had overstepped my boundaries in snooping through my parent’s belongings or reading my sister’s diary in my attempt to be voyeuristic.
As a thirty-something adult who has been through his fair share of grief, misery, depression and loneliness, Gone Home lobbed a story at me that I could connect with (albeit being a heterosexual only child). It was a short experience, clocking in about 2 hours on my first playthrough, but the overall depth of each family member’s story and reason for being absent was as enjoyable as watching a great movie or getting lost in a book.
Read my full review of Gone Home here.
#2 – Bioshock Infinite
Bioshock Infinite is another game that released this year to critical acclaim, yet received its fair share of complaints. I can understand some of the complaints, but I enjoyed Bioshock Infinite immensely.. so much so, in fact, that I was 100% sure from the moment I played it until the end of 2013 that it would end up as my Game of the Year.
Columbia was on par with Rapture, as far as immersion goes, and the decision to make it a lively city instead of dreary forgotten world inhabited by crazy-folk was most welcome. Traversing Columbia and mauling enemies with the Skyhook sprinkled some much-needed flavor on the series, as did the added secondary functions for each of the spells. Elizabeth also set the bar pretty high for any future AI companion.
Some found the parallel universe plot cliche, but I enjoyed it. I know my review of Bioshock Infinite made it seem like I was putting this game on a pedestal, but I think the fact that I went in wanting to take it slow, soak everything up and not pick everything apart or try to find faults to complain about lead to a much more enjoyable experience. I still feel that Bioshock Infinite is the most complete game I’ve played this year, but there was one game that had just a bit more fun with.
See my full review of Bioshock Infinite here.
#1 – Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
Classic Konami-era cutscenes, 80’s pop culture references, campy voice acting, an amazing soundtrack, giant dragons smothered in Tron lights, cyborg sex scenes, piloting an inquisitive dinosaur that shoots lasers from its eyes and getting to use a sniper rifle that practically fires grenades? What in the ultimate fuck is going on here? Did I fail to mention the inclusion of the absolute best-slash-worst-slash-best again end-credit song in the history of video games with Friends (Forever)?
Blood Dragon took the foundation of Far Cry 3, simplified the leveling system, added a bunch of neon lights and blended it together with two scoops of sweet, sweet sex appeal. Putting Blood Dragon side-by-side with Bioshock Infinite, you can tell that a lot more TLC went in to Bioshock, but in the end I know I had more fun with Blood Dragon. It was an off-the-wall game where I could tell the developers had a lot of fun creating it, and I probably had just as much fun taking the Michael Beihn-voiced Sgt. Rex “Power” Colt along for the ride.
So there you have it! Another year has gone by and we were treated to some good stuff, but as a solo blogger I definitely missed out on some of the bigger titles this year. I never had a chance to buy or play The Last of Us, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, Grand Theft Auto V, Saints Row IV, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Guacamelee or Super Mario 3D World. I also still have The Stanley Parable, Rogue Legacy, Outlast & Papers, Please waiting on my desktop, Bit.Trip Runner 2 for the PS3 and Pandora’s Tower for the Wii sitting on my shelf, but with two out-of-state moves this year I just didn’t have enough time to get to any of it.
It’ll always be different strokes for different folks, so feel free to share your top games in the comments.