I look back at previous years trying to determine if 2013 was a good year for games. It was, but I’m not convinced it will go down as one of the best. Still, the final year before two new consoles was filled with examples of what developers can do when they have time to get used to the hardware and put their best foot forward.
10. Grand Theft Auto V
It’s so rare that a game represents a specific part in the console life cycle. What better swan song could this generation have? I felt an excitement I hadn’t felt about an open-world game since Grand Theft Auto III, the PS2 classic that started it all. You could write a novel the size of the game’s script about all the things they do right, but my experience is best summed up when I was driving through the mountains at night. I get in a chopper and fly away. I see my car, parked. I see the road I drove up on. I glance ahead and see Los Angeles (er, Santos) at night. The lights of the city quietly await my murderous rage, or my relaxed exploring. I hadn’t decided yet.
9. Mega Man Unlimited
If there were an award for “game that made Henry swear the most,” it would be Mega Man Unlimited. A user named MegaPhilX created this stellar homage, perfectly emulating the controls from Mega Man 3, the look of all the NES Mega Man games and the best songs to ever grace a (not) Mega Man game. Jet Man’s and Yo-Yo Man’s themes are instant classics. Its terrifying difficulty led an easy mode to be added after the game’s launch, but the satisfaction of beating the stages and bosses can’t be denied. I’ll make special mention of Rainbow Man’s weapon, which fires a colorful bolt only to give the player the option to hit the fire button again, exploding the laser in a damaging radius.
8. Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
If the gameplay had come close to matching the audio and graphics, this would have been my game of the year. I’ve long been a Studio Ghibli fan, so to play through Ni no Kuni was like experiencing a reward for a lifetime of fandom. The seamless, charming graphics never get old. I’ve never panned the camera around more in my life. Sadly, the addition of the White Witch character felt like a tack-on, the final 15 percent of the game can’t match to the first 85 and the A.I. is heavy on the artificial and light on the intelligence. Still, it’s a must-play for all RPG fans and one of PS3’s best exclusives.
7. Tales of Xillia
Tales of Xillia nudges the quality of the series up another notch, albeit slightly. The graphics don’t scream next-gen, it’s filled with silly JRPG tropes and the gameplay feels very similar. That shouldn’t stop anybody from playing it, however; the soundtrack is great, the story is surprisingly interesting in parts and it has one of the best battle systems I’ve ever seen. They’ve taken the 3D battlefield to new heights. Fights are fast and frantic, and (I love this) it actually matters who is in your party. You’ll be switching members in and out to get trophies, acquire titles and see which Artes combinations prove the most useful in fights. Adding to this great feature is the fact that each member feels totally different from one another. I wasn’t prepared at how much slower (but more powerful) Alvin was than Jude, but once I got used to his Artes and his charge moves, I had a hard time going back. Now if we could do something about Teepo’s voice…
6. Typing of the Dead: Overkill
I was smiling so much during this game, my mouth hurt by the end. I’ve been dying to play a Typing of the Dead game for years and it finally came to fruition after a surprise Halloween release. I smiled when I bought it, I smiled when I booted it up and I laughed at the insanely-over-the-top presentation. The grindhouse feel fit perfectly with endowed women and cursing cop partners blasting away ghouls, demons and mutated beasts aplenty.
5. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
A lot of praise went to the indie hit Gone Home this year, but my favorite was Starbreeze’s gem of an adventure game, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. The pat your head, rub your belly control-scheme was a unique choice that required me to re-wire my brain a few times, but it worked. The greatest moment in the game occurs when the gameplay and story are tied together in so well, I’m hesitant to spoil it.
4. StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm
I got way too wrapped up in Wings of Liberty’s story. I bought Heart of the Swarm on day one, and was a bit disappointed to see that the story wasn’t up to par. Maybe Blizzard’s time as a premier developer has come and gone; what goes up must come down. However, a “bad” StarCraft game is still better than 99 percent of the choices out there, and I was thrilled to see that the satisfaction of overrunning a Terran outpost with an impossible amount of Zerglings and Hydralisks was still there. Kerrigan remains one of the more intriguing female characters in a story that might be getting too goofy for its own good.
3. BioShock Infinite
Will the circle be unbroken? The dedication to setting was a theme in 2013, and BioShock Infinite was one of the top examples. Within the first 20 minutes, I knew I wasn’t just playing another generic first-person shooter. As I entered Columbia and heard a beautiful song that was one part nativity, two parts cult, I was ready to be hooked. The seamless transitions are on par with Half-Life 2 and, as I walked down the water filled hallways towards a man spewing religious nonsense, I was converted. The painfully beautiful lighting effects highlighted an already-incredible world. Father Comstock is a fascinating villain, the story is almost as good as the original BioShock’s and Elizabeth is a technological leap in the realm of partner A.I.
2. Dota 2
Dota 2 could possibly the game I pour the most hours into since World of Warcraft. It’s heartless. It’s addicting. It’s mesmerizing. The amount of practice it takes to hone your skills to a level that’s slightly above embarrassingly bad is staggering, but the highs are so high it’s well worth the lows. It requires a crippling amount of mental energy to complete even one match. It’s draining, but after making a comeback victory from being down 15 kills to four in the first ten minutes, it’s all worth it. The most important thing to know is that you’ll find your own favorite heroes and item combinations. You’ll have your own history of wins and losses. You’ll have your own, personal journey of self-improvement and perseverance. Go find it.
1. The Last of Us
The Last of Us is the epitome of mature gaming: emotional storytelling combined with intertwined, realistic gameplay. No cheesy morale gauge, no real choices. You are playing Joel, in his story, in a gory post-apocalyptic world. You can’t change things. You will feel every brick you throw, every gunshot fired toward you and every house you scavenge in will feel as real as life. To cap it all off, the ending is a prime example of how endings should be; true to the characters and story. It’s not obvious, and instead unique and fulfilling. As I walked into the house on the ranch and saw the wide hallways and shimmering light come through the windows, I knew I’d been in this type of house before. I’d stood on those exact floors. I’d sat down and these kinds of tables and seen those kinds of household items before. So had the developers, and it’s so well done that I’ll have a hard time going back.