‘Game of the Year’ lists are boring. Trivial. Typical. Droll. Pedestrian.
GOTY lists are best described as the “asshole and opinion” article.
You know: Because everyone has them. Except for some folk out there with an awful handicap, in the case of the former.
My apologies to the colostomy bag community.
That was awkward. Let’s talk about my favorite–and best–video games of 2013.
Ground rules: In this list of my top five best games of 2013 I have made some stipulations. Only games that I have actually played a significant chunk of are to be included. I only played the first three hours of The Last of Us, and unlike other lists, I see no point in lying about that just so that my list is somehow “kosher” with the internet.
Stipulation the second: DLC counts. In a new age where DLC can drastically change how a game acts and reacts, such as X-Com Enemy Within or Bioshock 2‘s “Minerva’s Den,” it would be silly to not take updates and additional content into consideration.
With that out of the way, here is my arbitrary list of games of video in 2013.
5. Injustice: Gods Among Us
Fighting games in the modern era have a pesky issue with single player content. By that, I mean that said content is usually an afterthought, either due to following genre trends set by the likes of Capcom and Namco, or because developers and publishers assume that it’s less fun to mash on the punch button when pretty words are flying across the screen….emoting.
Netherealm Studios made the fact clear in 2011 with their reboot of Mortal Kombat that ignoring the story is not a path to be considered. The developer’s “story emphasis” approach was cemented with Injustice, a rare bird in the fighting game genre that cares not just for the punches being thrown, by who is throwing said blows, and why.
Injustice uses the strength of it’s DC Comics license to a superb advantage, bringing forth a compelling new universe wrapped in the comforting blanket of classic characters that everyone knows. Sometimes hokey in it’s plot devices, Injustice delivers a great single-player story mode experience, one that is further expanded on in the excellent Injustice Season 1 comic series by writer Tom Taylor.
Of course, the best story in the world can’t save you if your fighting engine is bad.
Injustice manages to find the best of worlds between Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, and everyone else along the way.
With an “easy to pick up” approach, Injustice eases newbies into the fold with multiple controller types, a great tutorial, and a game system where the punches and kicks thrown make sense. Fans of Mortal Kombat aren’t left in the cold with a new engine, and converts from Street Fighter IV, such as myself, find a combo-friendly system that takes the character archetypes everyone knows and loves and creates a system that is compelling.
Supported by a simple and intuitive tutorial mode, a bevy of online options, solid net code for online play, a well thought-out roster, and a silky smooth frame rate, Injustice is not only the best fighter of the year, but one of the best games to be found in 2013.
4. Civilization 5: Brave New World
“Krakow needs whales. Why would they need whales? There is absolutely no reason why a city near a river and a desert needs whales.
What are you talking about, dear?
Whales. KRAKOW NEEDS WHALES AND I CANNOT FIX THAT.”
The prior exchange was between my wife and I during one of my many Civ 5 marathon sessions this year. As the player you will find yourself babbling what seems to be nonsense. Civilization gets it’s talons in you like no other game in any other genre. The first expansion, ‘Gods and Kings,’ brought some nice changes to the table, but nothing earth-shattering.
Brave New World felt like a brand new day.
Including an explosion of new and unique civilizations, including my new favorite, Venice, a heaping helping of balance updates and menu fixes, Brand New Day includes some great updates and transitions to an already phenomenal game.
The greatest change comes in the form the updates to how Culture and commerce work, two facets of Civ game play that, in the past had little other to do than be represented by an arbitrary meter that, once full, would signal victory. Culture was now something to be used as a tool of war, dominating the people of another country, even if they are on the other side of the ocean. By using your own civilization’s cultural achievements, whether they be music, art, or religion, rebellion can be triggered in the populaces of opposing civilizations.
Brave New World makes the former mundane task of culture and transforms the mechanic into a powerful tool, giving players the ability to sway foreign leaders to your way of thinking via their own people’s hearts and minds.
Commerce and trade received a similar overhaul, making trade with city-states and nations a necessity instead of the optional early game boost it was previously. Trade routes can bring influence, treasure, requests from city states, and more.
Brave New World is easily the best DLC release of the year, and makes a three-year old game feel as fresh as day one.
3. Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto feels like Grand Theft Auto again. This may be the best thing anyone can say about the fifth iteration of the series, which sees a return to form for the series after the minor pratfall that was IV.
Not to say that the adventures of Nico Bellic in Liberty City were bad, mind you. IV is still a solid title.
The game never felt like Grand Theft Auto. IV was plagued by poor car handling, a messy-looking console release, odd choices in the soundtrack, and some egregious game developer hand-holding.
Grand Theft Auto V is everything I remember so fondly from the likes of Vice City and San Andreas: Smooth controls, an interesting world design, and most of all, characters I care about.
The choice to use three main characters was questionable at first, but Rockstar Games manages to give not one, but three compelling leads to a game that could have been a complete disaster. Each character represents some of the great crime story tropes of all time while still providing interesting opinions and voices in a world that feels alive.
Presentation is responsible for this feeling. When players switch between characters, you’re dropped into said character’s daily routine, zooming out from the city and back in like a voyeur spying on the worst cesspool of humanity ever founded. The city of San Andreas shines as bright as ever with a graphical design philosophy that screams “THIS IS THE WEST COAST. DEAL WITH IT.”
There’s something about that as a mid-westerner that I really love.
With a solid story that bounces seamlessly from funny and adventurous to downright uncomfortably violent, V offers the best story of the series, the most fleshed out characters, and a city that honestly feels like it never sleeps.
Just the way Grand Theft Auto should be.
2. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
I had no intention of including this game on my list. To be honest, until a week ago I had no urge to play the sequel to a long beloved Nintendo franchise that I have always been critical of.
Maybe I felt that Nintendo deserved a second chance. Many have argued that the house that Mario built have been too willing to rest on their laurels and release titles that are meant to be nostalgia trips. I see less of that in Nintendo and more of the fact that they are a company in transition, attempting to figure out what will work in this next generation of gaming and what their place in it is.
I am glad that I decided to give Nintendo a second chance. A Link Between Worlds is the finest game that the developer has created in years, a true evolution of the classic 2D adventure game, and one of the very best games of this year and any other.
For the first time since the Game Cube era, I feel as if Nintendo sat down and asked hard questions about their formerly tried-and-true game design philosophy. Going back to the well of classic 2D Zelda adventure comes with advantages and disadvantages in design, many of the latter never really being updated for the new age of gaming.
The biggest complaints of that style of Zelda game have always been the amount of wandering and the linear nature of the titles. I think everyone who has played an older 2D Zelda has had that moment where they have no urge to go back across the map for the third time because they forgot to talk to that guy who has the object to move past the thing so they can get the other object to go beat that giant thing.
A Link Between Worlds removes some of the largest barriers faced by previous titles in the series, adding in flight points to move around the world in a flash. Also a new addition is a shop where players can rent weapons that, in past titles would have been found in the dungeons and impeding progress, allowing players to tackle the 10 or so dungeons in pretty much any order they wish.
While the end result is always the same, I felt rejuvenated knowing that I could tackle Link’s quest in any order I chose to. This may seem like such a minor thing in an age where games offer multiple endings, numerous characters, and open-ended game play.
For the Legend of Zelda, this choice is a new lease on life.
A Link Between Worlds is a gorgeous game that takes advantage of the 3D capabilities of the 3DS in a way that never feels forced or gimmicky. I found that the game just looked and felt better with the 3D on. The world popped and had a vibrant glow.
With a grand adventure that brings back the best memories of classic Zelda, graphics that represent the best the 3DS has to offer, and game play that feels like Nintendo is looking at ways to change their own status quo, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is one of the best games to be found in 2013.
1. Bioshock Infinite
A man. A lighthouse. A city.
The narrative in Bioshock Infinite insists that these things are constant. There will always be a man, a lighthouse, and a city.
That is all well and good, but I found myself more intrigued, enraptured, captivated, in love with, and scared of the woman who makes all of this and more possible. Elizabeth is the soul of Bioshock, the lighthouse within a sanitized city hiding true horror, and the heart of a man whose terrible actions attempt to make way for the best of intentions.
Never in a game have I felt an NPC character to feel as alive and breathing as the heroine of this tale. Elizabeth is more than a goal of objective for the player. She isn’t the frail girl to be saved from a tower that Book believes her to be in the beginning of Infinite. Never once did I think any less of Elizabeth than I would any other focal point character in a game.
Chalk it up to the writing, the animation, or the excellent ways the character is used in game play and story alike. She brings life to a city of extreme contrasts, and a voice to a narrative that requires a strong emotional connection on part of the player in order to make the trek through this science fiction-heavy adventure.
I could talk about the game play, which is much improved from previous titles in the series and at it’s best in open areas where players can use the Sky Hook weapon to stay mobile and attack. I could also talk about the plot and ending, which had me replay a game multiple times for the first time in years.
I don’t need to. Elizabeth is enough of a selling point. She is the best female character in a game in ages, a wonderful companion on a compelling adventure, and has an emotional story arc that is exhilarating and terrifying to behold.
While Bioshock may always have a man, a lighthouse, and a city, I’ll take the girl every time.
Games that were strongly considered, in a sentence or less:
Rogue Legacy: Fixes the Metroid-vania genre with amazingly tight controls and a great sense of humor.
Dive Kick: The best and worst that competitive fighting games have, all wrapped into two buttons.
Guacamelee!: One of the best Vita games of the year, with a sense of style and sound that is unique and entertaining.
Don’t Starve: “OMG I CAN FORCE THE PIGS TO POOP HOW DID I MISS THIS” – My Wife.
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch: A Miazaki film as a JRPG. I don’t think anything more needs to be said to entice.
Games that were never considered, and why:
Tomb Raider: A mediocre game with great production values. I took no joy in playing “Hot girl murder death simulator 2013,” and there were far better franchise reboots this year than this game.
The Last of Us: I’ll get through the game soon, but for now, the first three hours were too depressing and I was too close to my wedding to deal with the emotional flak cannon that this game’s story is.
Brothers/Gone Home/Papers, Please: Honestly, I haven’t played them yet. I tend to avoid games that capture the Zeitgeist in a way that all of these did with the gaming journalism community, at least until after the fanfare. I look forward to playing them in 2014.
Pokemon X/Y: Still catching ’em all. BRB forever.