2013 has been a terrific year for gaming, with its share of must play titles driven by some well told stories. It took a bit of pondering to choose this list, and for myself scores alone do not a GOTY make (for what all goes into my personal decision for picking GOTY see my article “What Makes A Game Worthy of the Honor Game of the Year?”). So don’t be surprised if you see a higher scored game lower on my list. It wasn’t easy placing them in order, but I finally got it to where I’m reasonably happy. Before I get to my list, there were some games that I enjoyed but didn’t think for various reasons that they belonged in my top ten. So here are my honorable mentions:
Injustice:Gods Among Us, Guacamelee!, Metro: Last Light, Grand Theft Auto V, Batman: Arkham Origins, Puppeteer, Grid 2, Rayman Legends, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon.
Now on to my top 10. NOTE: All games on my list were played on the PS3.
10. Diablo III
Blizzard’s foray onto consoles, the first since Diablo appeared back on the PSOne, proved to be highly successful, and for many even outdid its PC counterpart. The dungeon crawler looked fantastic and played just as well, with the controls making a smooth transition from keyboard/mouse to console controller. The always online mandate was removed, as well as the auction house (which has now been removed from the PC version as well), and the amount of loot gained from enemies was increased, giving you items that were more useful and encouraging you to explore every nook and cranny of the game world. Even if you weren’t completely familiar with the Diablo series, the game provided enough information to get you invested in the story. With several classes of characters to choose from, this game was made for multiple playthroughs. (9/10)
9. Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Blacklist
Sam Fisher returns in this newest entry in the franchise. He sports a different look and a different voice, but he’s no less the capable agent that he’s always been. The game allows you for the most part to play according to your own style, be that super stealthy, all out action, or a mix of the two. Actions give you cash to upgrade your base (a nifty specially designed airliner), with upgrades giving you more options for mission load-outs. The voice cast is terrific, and the story grabs you from the opening cut scene. Controls are smooth and deaths are never cheap- if you fail, it’s your own mistake. Multiple ways through the lengthy missions with side objectives just add to the fun. In addition to the main story, there are missions that can be tackled co-op or solo, and the online multiplayer Spies vs. Mercs makes its return. The game is some of the most fun I’ve had playing a stealth/action title since MGS. (9/10)
8. Tales of Xillia
This was my second experience with the Tales series (Tales of Graces f was my first) and it just made me want more. A terrific JRPG, with two well defined main characters in Jude Mathis and Milla Maxwell. The story is well told, the graphics look fantastic, and it has some wonderful music to accompany you on your journey. You can choose either Jude or Milla to play through the game as, but in the end you’ll want to play it from both sides, as you do get a slightly different perspective. The controls are nice and smooth, making the combat system fun to play. It helps that the rest of the cast of characters are quite engaging in their own right, and has me eagerly looking forward to the sequel coming out next year. (9/10)
7. Beyond: Two Souls
Quantic Dream follows up Heavy Rain with another well done, story driven interactive experience. The story of Jodie Holmes (voiced excellently by Ellen Page) and the ghost Aiden who is her constant companion is a memorable one. It’s told out of sequence over a 15 year span (something that is nicely explained in the ending of the game), chronicling Jodie’s adventures and dealing with her “abilities”, from childhood on up to her stint with the CIA. It’s her ability to communicate with Aiden is what draws the interest of paranormal investigator Nathan Dawkins (a great Willem Dafoe), and the sequences range from the bit creepy to slightly amusing to a stealth/action mission. Along the way, Jodie meets a diverse group of characters, including a group of homeless people and a Navajo family. There are multiple endings that encourage you to play through more than once, though it isn’t a game for everyone’s tastes. For myself, it hooked me early on, controlled well, and was beautiful to look at. (9/10)
6. Tomb Raider
Lara Croft gets a reboot in this game from Crystal Dynamics and Square-Enix, and it gives the franchise a much needed shot in the arm. This is a younger Lara, not the capable heroine we’ve come to know over the years, though she certainly does become capable over the course of the game, driven to survive and trying to save her friends after they are shipwrecked on a mysterious island filled with pirates and cultists. There aren’t quite as many tombs to explore as one would expect (though there are a few in the game to find), but the island itself has plenty of nooks and crannies to poke into. Both the platforming and combat controls work extremely well, and Camilla Luddington brings a fresh voice to the favorite adventurous archaeologist. The story is well told and driven by a great accompanying score, and for the first time in a Tomb Raider game I actually felt afraid for Lara. Once she takes that first step though it isn’t long before she proves to be a formidable foe to the bad guys on the island. The fresh start has me looking forward to the next installment. (9.5/10)
5. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
This was a wonderful adventure game with a unique control system, where the left joystick and trigger button controlled one brother, while the right side controlled the other. It might seem awkward but it worked quite well, with some clever sequences where you had to move the brothers into position to help out the other. The game had no spoken dialogue beyond a nonsensical language, but it conveyed its emotion and story all the same, giving us both thrilling moments as well as emotionally touching scenes. The graphics are well suited to the game, making it like playing a fairy tale out of a book. There are some darker moments, but the ending is actually quite uplifting. It may be on the short side (a playthrough will take about 5 hours or so) but it’s well worth the time.
4. Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Studio Ghibli has provided us with some wonderful animated movies over the years, among them Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Princess Mononoke. So what could be better than playing a Studio Ghibli movie? That’s exactly what Ni no Kuni is, and Studio Ghibli, along with developer Level 5 deliver a wonderful JRPG with engaging characters, great controls, and a beautiful, bright world to explore. The story of Oliver trying to save his mother in a parallel world is very well told, by turns exciting, funny, and heart warming. The cast of characters Oliver meets are wonderful as well, especially Drippy, Lord High King of the Faeries. Add into the mix a Pokemon style of monster collecting that you can train and use in battle and you have an absolute joy of a game that will easily take you 60+ hours to play through. (10/10)
3. Bioshock Infinite
The third game in the series is indeed the charm, as the claustrophobic confines of Rapture are replaced with the more open air of the floating city of Columbia. Once again, the vision of a utopia has gone off the rails, though it’s not quite as apparent as when you first entered Rapture. The city is well detailed and vividly brought to life, and the game’s two main characters are among the best ever made for a videogame, in my opinion. Booker DeWitt may have a shady past, but he’s quite likeable, and the girl he’s sent to find, Elizabeth, is an absolute delight. She too has her secrets, and proves to be an able companion when you get into combat with various enemies, as the city is embroiled in a civil war. The gameplay is fast and furious and a bit chaotic at times, suiting both the environment and the situation our heroes find themselves in. That’s not to say Columbia is devoid of some of those creepier moments that are encountered in the first Bioshock game- it certainly has a few, especially in the latter stages. Plus, there’s the menace of Songbird, a fearsome creature who is supposed to watch over Elizabeth and pursues you when you try to take her away. The voice acting is top notch, with Troy Baker and Courtnee Draper giving excellent performances. Add to that an amazing ending that can be debated long after the game is over, and you have a masterpiece that matches the original. (10/10)
2. The Last of Us
Naughty Dog gave us an incredible, emotional journey through a post apocalyptic America with The Last of Us. Joel has suffered great loss at the onset of the plague that ravaged the nation, turning its victims into monsters, and becomes tasked with transporting what may be humanity’s last hope, a young girl named Ellie, across the country. The relationship between the two evolves naturally over the game, due in part to the fantastic performances by Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson. The musical score that accompanies their journey is haunting, and the gameplay varies nicely between puzzle solving, stealth, and outright combat. You have a nice amount of freedom in how you approach a given situation, and the controls work smoothly in that regard. The game is by turns thrilling, frightening, amusing, and poignant, and the cast of characters that Joel and Ellie meet along the way are well developed and voice acted. It was tough to make this my number two on the list, but it certainly deserves to be this high up in my opinion. The story is very well told, with plenty of memorable scenes. Another winner from the developer that gave us the outstanding Uncharted adventure series. (9.5/10)
And that brings us to the final game on my list. It was a tough choice, especially against two games I had given 10/10 scores and the emotional stories told by those games. In the end, I chose a game that not only had a good story, but was among the most fun I’ve had in a videogame all year. And so, without further ado, I give you my personal pick for Game of the Year.
1. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
The Assassin’s Creed series had begun to lag a little bit with its last outing, as Connor just didn’t seem to be as engaging a character as Ezio Auditore. So it was with a little hesitation that I approached Black Flag, considering it is a prequel to Connor’s story. Happily, it hooked me almost immediately, opening up in the midst of a raging battle at sea. The naval battles were some of my favorite parts from AC III, and Ubisoft did a nice job keeping the best of the franchise, while mostly getting rid of the bad (though they did keep the tailing missions). The modern day story was nicely done, letting us in on Desmond’s fate and making us the creator of the game that we are playing as an employee for Abstergo Entertainment. The modern day sequences, while interesting, are brief and few, allowing us to play in that historical part of the game that always was more fun. And what could be more fun than being a pirate in the Caribbean in the 18th century, during the Golden Age of Piracy? This game, for me, just had it all: an engaging story, a great main character in Edward Kenway, terrific supporting characters that included the likes of Anne Bonny and Blackbeard, a huge game world with plenty of places to explore, excellent controls for both exploration and combat, searching for treasure, hunting, harpooning whales and sharks, diving under the water to explore wrecks, having your own ship, the Jackdaw, to sail across the seas and upgrade as you saw fit, fun naval battles, both against other ships and waterfront forts, and having your crew sing sea shanties as you make your way across the high seas. Add to that a fun multiplayer (always a plus for me, as I’m not a big multiplayer person) and the game was just the complete package for me, and one I’m still not bored with. All of that makes it my personal GOTY for 2013. (9.5/10)
So there you have it. My personal top ten for 2013. Agree? Disagree? What are your favorite games of this year? Let us know in the comments below, and here’s looking forward to another great year of gaming in 2014!
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