Call me cynical, but I want to say 2013 was a rather average year when it comes to games. 2008, 2010 and 2012 – in my opinion – were solid years in the amount of quality games that were released. This year? Not so much. Don’t get me wrong, there were still some absolutely amazing games which came out in 2013, but across the board, this year pumped out a whole lot more mediocre offerings than I care to think about. Big established franchises such as Dead Space, Crysis and Call of Duty all seem to have fallen on their swords, with this year’s titles being substantially more “meh” than previous efforts.
We also can’t forget about things like Aliens: Colonial Marines, The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct, Day One: Garry’s Incident and Ride to Hell: Retribution. All prime examples of how NOT to develop a game.
But let’s get away from all the negativity. In this piece, I will be highlighting five games that I would deem my favourites from the past 12 months. These are the titles I’ve had the most fun with, the ones that tell a compelling story or showcase great game design – or all three! Let’s get started at number five, shall we?
5. LEGO Marvel Super Heroes
This one is probably quite a surprise considering it only came out a few weeks ago, yet here it is in my top five, the only game I played on a next-gen system making an appearance in this list! LEGO Marvel Super Heroes was my surprise hit game of this year just as Spec Ops: The Line was last year. A game that I didn’t think I would spend much time with as I picked it up for cheap, but ultimately I’ve sunk a fair few hours into. I’ve never really been a huge fan of the LEGO games, the past few offerings have only hooked me slightly. LEGO Marvel Super Heroes on the other hand has hooked me entirely.
Combining a universe that I love with one of my favourite childhood toys was always going to be a recipe for success. The game might not be perfect – it’s got some dodgy camera and control issues, that’s for sure – but at the end of the day it was just plain simple fun, and that’s all I ever ask for in a game. I never got frustrated with it, I loved the childish humour, everyone’s favourite characters from the Marvel universe were present and it was an absolute joy to play. These past few weeks it’s been my game of choice for “wanting to play a game, but not wanting to play something serious “. The replay value to the game is incredible and you can bet I’ll be going back to try and achieve 100% completion.
4. Grand Theft Auto V
I’ve been a big fan of the Grand Theft Auto series for over a decade now – yes, my first experiences with GTA were when I’d barely hit puberty, but I’m not a psychotic menace to society like the news would have you think. Whilst the series has changed substantially since its early days, every game that is released offers a fresh yet somewhat familiar experience to indulge ourselves in. Grand Theft Auto V is the most refined game in the series yet and strikes the perfect balance between the wackiness of Grand Theft Auto III/Vice City/San Andreas and the seriousness of Grand Theft Auto IV. It’s Rockstar’s most ambitious game yet as they pushed the the power of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 to their absolute limits to create a their largest, living, breathing and dynamic open world ever.
The move to have three main playable protagonists could be seen as a risky one on Rockstar’s part, but they absolutely nailed it. Michael, Franklin and Trevor are all distinct in their personalities and offer a variety of gameplay changes depending on who you’re controlling. Trevor in particular is one of my favourite game characters from this year and is easily my favourite Grand Theft Auto character of all time.
After the rocky launch of Grand Theft Auto Online the game looks set to have a bright future ahead of it in 2014 with a whole host of updates planned to keep the game fresh and new. I can’t wait to see what Rockstar have in store for the franchise next.
3. Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Yes, I am a 21 year old man. Yes, I did play and enjoy the living crap out of Animal Crossing: New Leaf. After playing Animal Crossing: Wild World on the Nintendo DS back in 2006 and skipping Animal Crossing: City Folk on the Wii I was eager to see what Nintendo would do to revitalize the franchise. The answer to that question is make a game that sucks you in and refuses to let go of you. How did they go about this? Well it wasn’t about the story, because there isn’t one. Nintendo crafted a living world with adorable characters which you could simply escape to when you needed to relax, do some fishing or catch some insects. It’s the most stress free game in the world.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf wasn’t all just fun and games though. The game made you work for items you might want to decorate your in game house with by having its own little economy and was paced in such a way that you’d need to wait full, real life days to nab certain items – unless you’re a dirty cheat who changed the system time on your 3DS to get all the items right away! It’s also the first game in the series where you become the mayor of the town you live in, giving you the option to build new things and shape your town however you wanted. Combine that with the ability to visit your friend’s towns and see what they’d been up to and you had a game which allowed you to see people’s creative – or uncreative – sides. You might accuse it of not actually being a real game, but to you I say “Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!”.
2. Pokémon Y
When Pokémon Black and White were released in 2010 I ended up thinking to myself “these should have waited until the 3DS came out”. They were good, but they were missing something. The charm that made me fall in love with Pokémon back in the nineties.
But here we are in 2013 and Nintendo’s first fully 3D Pokémon game on a handheld is now here. Pokémon Y – and Pokémon X if you own it instead – is everything I could ever have wanted from a Pokémon game when I was growing up. It caters to new players and older ones alike and offers a whole lot more to do than previous games. Combine this with a graphical leap, improvements in the gameplay department – mainly in the form of the mega evolutions – and a mesmerizing soundtrack which still gives me chills to this day and you have the best Pokémon game ever released and one of the best games on the Nintendo 3DS.
As I said in my review of the game, Pokémon Y is in short, a love letter to the fans – and it’s a beautifully written letter at that.
If you’ve read this far you’re probably curious as to what my overall top game of the year is, aren’t you? Well, my game of the year is a bit of an oddball, to say the least. Like The Walking Dead last year, this was a game that made me question every moral fiber of my being. I know I’ll still be playing this game for years to come, but I had no idea it would potentially be my game of the year. But look at that I was wrong!
My overall top game of the year is…
1. Papers Please
What a time to live in when an indie game has earned the right to be called my Game of the Year. Whilst AAA games tended not to have much of an impact on me this year, indie games did. Papers Please is one of the most intense, soul crushing and story driven games I played in 2013 by a long shot. It offers a look into the life of a border control officer for the fictional country of Arstotzka. You are tasked with letting the right people into the country and keeping the riff-raff out. It’s a game where you throw all of your morals straight out the window, because on more than one occasion you’re going to have to screw over an innocent person just to get paid a little more money.
Papers Please is about as simplistic as a game can come, but underneath it’s so much more. This is a game about keeping your family alive on a tight budget – otherwise they’ll die – and you’ll literally do anything to earn a little extra money. The gameplay never stretches beyond the screen you see above. That screen IS Papers Please. You check people’s information and deem for yourself if they’re allowed into Arstotzka. Make one slightly wrong decision and you’ll get a citation and you’ll suffer for it and so will your family. The game ramps up in difficulty considerably as you play. You start out simply stamping people’s passports based on small tidbits of information and in due course you’ll eventually be given more and more documents to scrutinize and have tests to run on people such as security scans. The more people you accept/reject successfully, the more you’ll be paid. You have to learn to do this quickly though as you’re against the clock. That’s where things get hairy and you start making mistakes. It’s such a grueling and unforgiving game and I love it for that.
I like to compare Papers Please to Telltale’s The Walking Dead in the sense that it’s a game which made me feel regret and guilt for not doing something correctly and the game isn’t afraid to point it out to you. It’s a game that makes you feel human, you make decisions not everyone will agree with and you’ll make a lot of mistakes. Let’s not forget that this game was made by one man too, it’s a remarkable achievement and I admire it for everything it sets out to do and accomplishes. For this reason, it’s my Game of the Year.
Now, you may possibly be wondering where BioShock Infinite and a host of other games were in this list. Trust me, there were a lot of games I wanted to write about but narrowing them down wasn’t easy. At the end of the day, BioShock Infinite was very good but I had very little incentive to go back and play it once the credits rolled. The character of Elizabeth however is one of my all-time favourites, ever.
Other games I’d liked to have mentioned but didn’t play this year include the likes of The Last of Us, XCOM: Enemy Within, Super Mario 3D World and The Stanley Parable. Games I played but didn’t quite make the cut include Fire Emblem: Awakening, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Tomb Raider, Metal Gear Rising and Devil May Cry to name but a few. Not that any of these are bad games mind you!
If any one platform shined this year though, I would have to give that honour to the 3DS. With games such as Pokémon X/Y, Fire Emblem: Awakening, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Luigi’s Mansion 2, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D and Bravely Default, 2013 was a very good year to own a 3DS. The fortunes of Nintendo’s latest handheld have really changed for the better and I hope they can pull off a similar move with the Wii U. Nintendo released some very solid games this year and were at the top of the pile when it came to quality, I have high hopes for them in the future.
Speaking of the future, 2014 is gearing up to possibly be the best year in gaming yet. With the likes of Titanfall, Destiny, Metal Gear Solid V, Super Smash Bros. 4 and Watch_Dogs on the horizon, people have a lot to look forward to over the next 12 months. Whilst I may not think of 2013 as one of the best years for game releases I’ll look back on it fondly as the place where a new generation of gaming began and where the stage was set for many of the games to come. Here’s to 2014!