2013 has proven to be another banner year for gamers. Two new consoles, the PS4 from Sony and the Xbox One from Microsoft, made their debut. Rockstar released a new title in its Grand Theft Auto franchise to huge hype and fanfare, and many bought into the hype, as GTA V made a billion dollars within three days, making it the fastest selling piece of software of all time. Indie developers made their voices heard in the wake of such stellar titles such as Journey from thatgamecompany and Telltale Games The Walking Dead: Season One garnering a huge amount of acclaim and being nominated for, and in some cases winning, Game of the Year. The Playstation Vita made strides, starting to show its promise as Sony’s handheld proved to be an actual contender for the handheld market. Nintendo still looks to have that well in hand, with its 3DS doing quite well and the introduction of the 2DS, for those who prefer not to game in 3D. The PC wasn’t left out in the cold either, with Diablo III, despite some controversy, still being a big seller for Blizzard and indie titles such as Gone Home, Papers, Please, and The Stanley Parable appearing on many top 10 lists.
But this article isn’t going to go into an in depth study into all things gaming released in 2013. Instead, this is about my own personal journey through games, both good and bad, over the past year. I’ve already published my picks for my personal top 10 of 2013, and I’ll touch on them again here, but this is also about some of the other games I’ve played and my thoughts on them. All of the games that will be mentioned have been played on the PS3, my console of choice, and as it stands currently, the only one I own. I do some gaming on PC, but not a whole lot. So bear that in mind while reading. Ready for the journey? Then here we go.
One of the biggest things that stands out for me personally about gaming in 2013 is that story telling in games was especially strong. There were stories of all types- big action spectacles like Call of Duty: Ghosts and Saints Row IV, those with mind blowing endings like Bioshock Infinite, tales of survival like Tomb Raider and The Last of Us, post apocalyptic nightmares (Metro: Last Light), hunted superheroes (Batman: Arkham Origins), and more emotional fare about young boys doing their best to aid parents (Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons). There were great characters that drove those stories- Booker and Elizabeth (Bioshock Infinite), Joel and Ellie (The Last of Us), Artyom (Metro: Last Light), Oliver and Drippy (Ni no Kuni), and the iconic Lara Croft (Tomb Raider). These characters, among others, became quite memorable and likeable as I took the journey along with them, across a wide variety of locales, be it a post apocalyptic America or Russia, the world of Xillia, deep in a cavern filled with treasures and danger, or on a mysterious island. The stories took me to familiar locales like San Andreas and Gotham City. The stories that struck me as the best were a combination of many things, being thrilling, frightening, heartfelt, and even comical at times. Not all were successful in proving to be memorable, however. Some just fell flat, or never lived up to the potential in the idea behind them. But even in those that didn’t work, it was their story that initially drew me into giving them a shot.
I generally try to play a variety of games, not content to settle on just one genre or type. I’ve played first-person shooters, platformers, action-adventure games, RPGs, and a bit more indies than I normally do (thanks in part to me finally going wireless with my router and getting a better internet connection). I’ve played in the past year one of my favorite fighting games, Injustice: Gods Among Us. It helped that this followed the last Mortal Kombat game (and was from the same developers) and featured characters from the DC universe, which just appealed to the comic book fan in me. Plus it too had a very good story, just adding to my overall enjoyable experience with the game. Another fighting game, Spartacus Legends, didn’t quite live up to the fun I had with Injustice. Don’t get me wrong- Spartacus Legends isn’t a bad game at all. I’ve had some fun with it, but it didn’t capture my attention in quite the same way that Injustice did.
The indie games provided a lot of enjoyment, hitting titles like The Cave and Guacamelee! which had a lot of humor, Contrast with its interesting platforming mechanics involving shadow, Terraria with its world building, and the terrific emotional trek through a fairy tale land in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. Downloadable titles from bigger developers like Ubisoft were also great, like the fun Western shooter Call of Juarez: Gunslinger and the ridiculous homage to 80s action flicks, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. Spelunky sucked me in, making me try just one more time as its mazes killed me over and over again. Dragon Fantasy Book 1 was a humorous take-off on old school RPGs. Stealth, Inc.-A Clone in the Dark was a clever platformer/puzzle game, trying to sneak passed various types of guards and security measures. Hotline Miami was a trip through over the top violence. Not every game was successful for me- Sacred Citadel proved to be an at times frustrating side scrolling beat ’em up, and Storm, which looked as though it could match Flower in its play mechanics, never lived up to its promise.
But Telltale Games did, even though some of the issues found in previous efforts, like frame rate drops, have yet to be corrected. But story telling is what the folks at Telltale Games do best, and they delivered again with the first episodes of the new series The Wolf Among Us, based on Bill Willingham’s Fables comics, and the second season of The Walking Dead, having us once again follow the adventures of young Clementine across a zombie infested landscape. Both episodes were strong and provided choices that took the stories in different directions. Bigby proved to be a great character as the wolf Sheriff investigating a murder, and giving us glimpses of familiar fairy tale characters like Snow White and Belle and placing them in a whole new light. Both series started off strong, making me look forwards to the rest of their respective series in 2014. Telltale is bringing some new titles as well, with Tales of the Borderlands and Game of Thrones. They’ve placed a lot on their plate, but I’m hoping they’ll pull it all off in the end.
My disappointments weren’t only with indie games. Some AAA titles fell very short of what they could have been. Aliens: Colonial Marines, despite getting the look and sounds of the sci-fi/horror franchise right, botched it with sloppy graphics, gameplay, and a weak story conveyed by some lackluster voice acting. Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time didn’t recapture the magic of the action platformer from its PS2 titles. God of War: Ascension told a mostly unnecessary story, marring its trademark action gameplay with some bad camera angles. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance proved disappointing with its cheap bosses and lack of good stealth mechanics, making Raiden’s solo effort from Platinum Games (who were great with action titles like Vanquish and Bayonetta) a less than worthy addition to the Metal Gear lore. Remember Me had a great premise in the manipulation of people’s memories, but sadly that mechanic was used sparingly in the actual game and the combat was marred by a camera that was less than helpful. And then there was the abomination that was Ride to Hell: Retribution, which gets my nod as 2013’s Worst Game of the Year. Horrible in just about every respect, save its decent soundtrack. If you’re looking for a good game dealing with motorcycle gangs, that ain’t it.
Thankfully, there were a bit more ups than downs for me in 2013. I did hit some low points, but there were more high points than low. My personal GOTY went to Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, which proved (at least to me) to be the best pirate game to date. Sailing on the high seas with my ship the Jackdaw, exploring the Caribbean in the 18th century, and engaging in various side quests in addition to a well told main story involving a memorable character in Edward Kenway was the most fun I had in an open world game this year, overriding the emotional stories in both The Last of Us, Ni no Kuni, and Bioshock Infinite. Beyond: Two Souls was another compelling game from Quantic Dream, with its great lead character in Jodie Holmes (voiced wonderfully by Ellen Page) and its interesting story that veered between sci-fi, horror, and spy thriller. GTA V may not have been the masterpiece for me as it was for many others, but it did have its moments, including a heist borrowed liberally from one of my favorite crime movies, Michael Mann’s incredible flick Heat that starred Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. The swapping mechanic between three characters was a good one, especially when the characters continued on with their lives when you were away from them. Franklin, Michael, and Trevor weren’t especially likeable or memorable for me compared to others, as I found them often drifting into caricature instead of being fully formed characters. San Andreas was certainly a large game world with a lot to do, but it had lots of empty space as well. I found the story to be more Tarantino wanna-be than actually matching Tarantino himself, as well as predictable and lacking in any weight. Perhaps I’ve just seen far too many crime movies over the years. Despite its flaws, I still enjoyed Rockstar’s juggernaut, as it made my top 20 of the year, though it fell short of being in the top 10.
All in all, it’s been a great year of gaming for me. I’ve played some brand new and unique titles like Puppeteer, an absolutely charming platformer with some unique mechanics and a wonderfully whimsical presentation as a play complete with a live audience that cheers, laughs, and gasps as you make your way through the tale. I’ve hit sequels from familiar franchises as well (Call of Duty: Ghosts, Splinter Cell: Blacklist, Bioshock Infinite), along with reboots (Tomb Raider, DmC: Devil May Cry), side-scrolling brawlers (Dragon’s Crown), and RPGs (Tales of Xillia). I’ve gotten some new favorites from this past year, and I’m looking forward to next year when hopefully I can make the jump to next gen (in the PS4) and handhelds (in the 3DS and the Vita). 2013 was one of my most memorable years since I’ve been gaming, and here’s looking forward to 2014 being even better yet.
So, how was your year in gaming? What were your high points, and what were your lows? Share with us if you will in the comments below.
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