This year’s bulb is almost out, folks. And what a goddamn year it was! If it wasn’t enough that a high profile title hit market just about every other week, 2013 also saw fit to usher in a new generation of home consoles, bringing with it a wave of innovative, game-changing releases— Nah, I’m kidding. They just ported over some shooters and racing games.
See, despite the starter pistol having gone off for the next-gen race, 2013 belonged to the current-gen. Through years of strife and growth and learning, developers were able to forge some of the best games we’ve seen in a while, leaving gamers with a slew of graceful sendoffs to a generation in its twilight. Here are my favorite games of 2013 (that I got around to playing… really important to remember that).
10). FAR CRY 3: BLOOD DRAGON
There’s no logical tracing to be found between Far Cry 3, a game centered on a millennial do-nothing that has to transform into an island survivalist to save his friends, and its expansion Blood Dragon, the 80’s cocaine-powered, neon-apocalyptic Schwarzenegger movie that never happened yet somehow became an open-world video game. Starring Michael Fuckin’ Beihn as a one-liner spewing, arrow shooting cyborg.
However it came to be, it is brilliant. It’s the video game’s video game. If someone tells you that knifing Daft Punk-a-likes while gatling gunning down laser breathing dragons isn’t why we invented video games, be sure to meat-check them with a rocket launcher.
9). DEAD SPACE 3
Isaac Clarke, space engineer extraordinaire and part-time victim of Lovecraftian flesh-nightmares, returned to cold, unalive reaches of the void for (inexplicably) a third time this year.
While Isaac’s reasons to inflict this kind of torture on himself are… questionable, I’m glad he did. The desolate environments he trudges through are morbidly gorgeous and more open than its predecessors. There’s claustrophic corridors aplenty, sure. But slogging through the wide-open, snow buried expanses of Tau Volantis, unable to see more than a few feet ahead of you while being able to acutely hear something horrible circling you… There can be worse things than narrow hallways.
8). DIABLO III
Hey, the hell do you think you’re doing, Blizzard? This isn’t 2012. Ah, but wait, it appears old Blizzard re-entered the console fray this year. But, surely, a port shouldn’t make the cut? Doesn’t that just leave the door open to all those HD remakes (if you’re wondering, Kingdom Hearts was my favorite remaster this year)?
But Diablo III’s incarnation on home console is no mere port, it’s an improvement. Gone is the accursed auction house from the PC version and its constant need of an online connection. Added in is push-to-go stick controls and face button ass-wallopin’ that brings to mind Gauntlet. It isn’t easy to call the solidly crafted PC original “broken,” but it’s hard not to think of the 360 and PS3 editions as “fixed.” If this is the act Blizzard puts together in my living room, they’re welcome to crash on the couch indefinitely.
7). INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US
Even if ‘13 wasn’t disappointingly devoid of fighting games, Injustice would still be tops.
NetherRealm proved the versatility of their fighting engine by pushing it outside the confines of Outworld and into a universe much older and much easier to mishandle. But their representation of the DCU is splashed with as much love as the comics are in ink. Each character handled uniquely and were a joy to master, especially when your combo conquering evolves from Bread n’ Butter to World’s Finest.
The experimental Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe ended up a kitschy mess. Injustice, in contrast, delivers on its concept with deadly precision. And, damn, does it tell a DC worthy story to boot. Batman surviving even a flick from Supes? Ludicrous. But Injustice sells it. It has to murder the crap out of Lois Lane and half the DCU to do it, but it sells it.
6). LEGO MARVEL SUPER HEROES
If you took the groundwork for this game — from its fully navigable, open-world New York to its incredibly vast roster of Marvel heroes and villains featuring The Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and more — and took away the Lego theme, as charming as it may be, you would have the greatest Marvel Universe game in existence.
It still plays to the kids, yeah, but its use of Marvel’s storied mythos, both nods heavy and subtle, are enough to keep any comic book fan immersed for hours upon hours. It’s hilarious, fun, and layered with Marvel goodness. For as far as the Marvel branding reaches, very few video games do the comics justice. It’s amazing that it took Traveler’s Tales’ Lego-ifying to create a game this engrossing.
How many games can you go from cutting the skyline in Iron Man’s suit to controlling peoples’ minds with Jean Grey’s mental powers? If you can name some, how many of those don’t utterly suck? It may look like a kid’s game, but if you love Marvel, you owe it to yourself to play this.
5). TOMB RAIDER
I don’t know what it is about reboots having to gritty up the source material, but that fine layer of grit worked out well for a young Ms. Croft. Lara got Casino Royale’d, going from an infallible action hero to a much more relatable heroine. They illustrate this relatableness by siccing hordes of machine gun wielding pirates and etherreal temple monsters at and just generally beating the living hell out of her at every opportunity.
Tomb Raider doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but its generous mashup of gameplay conceits — like the close-circuited open-world of Batman, and the lonesome survivalist nature of Resident Evil 4, and the… everything of Uncharted — make for a Frankenstein milkshake of instant playability. Lara’s new journey is action packed, beautifully rendered, and an experience that sticks out in a title-thick franchise where releases started to blend into each other.
4). ASSASSIN’S CREED IV: BLACK FLAG
Six games into this series and Ubisoft still managed an extraordinary feat: they’ve made their best Assassin’s to date.
Edward Kenway is no Assassin and that’s precisely what makes him the most interesting character to don the hood yet. Living and fighting as a textbook pirate, you’re given a massive world to explore and plunder. You’re given unparalleled freedom to do whatever the hell you want: a design goal that should be the doctrine of every open-world title ever.
Ubisoft’s willingness to tinker with an established IP in the pursuit of an ephemeral gameplay experience shouldn’t just be applauded, it should be mimicked by every A-lister with a billion dollar franchise on their hands.
3). BIOSHOCK INFINITE
Bioshock Infinite’s story will stick to your bones.
Since the original Bioshock dropped everyone’s collective jaws in 2007, introducing the world to “the thinking man’s FPS,” a lot of its concepts and innovations have been borrowed, improved, or outright stolen in a number of titles. Infinite isn’t quite the genre upheaval its fore-bearer was, nor does it really concern itself with trying to be.
What it is is the perfect symphony of narrative and gameplay. Elizabeth and Booker’s quest to escape the floating city of Columbia is one that will rattle in your head for years to come. The performances here are astounding; Hollywood quality. The writing is sublime. The execution is gut wrenching. Bioshock Infinite is a haunting, beautiful piece of interactive art that won’t soon leave your mind. It’ll stick to your bones.
2). DmC: DEVIL MAY CRY
Whiners be damned. This is how you reboot the shit out of a property.
DmC may appear to be a drastically altered game from its Japanese counterparts, but Ninja Theory went to insane lengths to keep the two major tenants of Devil May Cry intact: a smartass, trash talking protagonist and a deep, lightning paced combat system.
The developer’s new contributions included a heavily stylized, garish nightmare world that openly fought you and a fantastically written, swear-laden story about a demon universe lurking just beneath ours that oppresses and controls humanity right under their noses like that one John Carpenter flick. Personally, I liked that the nonsensical, anime-esque over-the-topness from previous games were dropped in favor of something both grounded and out there all at once. And New Dante, his hair choices non-withstanding, is still a complete badass, and a likable one at that.
I loved the hell outta DmC. I really, truly did. As unlikely as it is, my hope is that the series continues in this direction. Ninja Theory laid the foundation for a dynamic, interesting incarnation of a franchise that, honestly, began to run out of tricks. Coming from a longstanding fan of Devil May Cry, I’ll gladly admit DmC is my favorite.
1). THE LAST OF US
A virtual ode to every apocalyptic piece of fiction under the sun, from Alas, Babylon to The Road, The Last of Us delivers big on everything it attempts. It’s one of the smoothest running, best looking third-person action games ever put to code. In the gameplay department, its an airtight package. I’m not much of a fan of its competitive multiplayer and yet I still cannot condemn a single design decision. I could receive an electric shock every time I hit a button and I’d still love it.
The centerpiece here is the gut punching story. Joel and Ellie’s quest through a ruined United States is tense, brutal, and emotionally charged. Benefited from an all motion-captured performance, every character you run across has a life of their own. Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson’s acting brings a gravity to game that very few titles can dream of touching.
Director Neil Druckmann admitted he feared The Last of Us wouldn’t resonate with audiences accustomed to the bullet-filled romp of Nathan Drake’s games – that it was just too dark and depressing. What a tragic world it’d be if him and Naughty Dog didn’t take that chance.
Favorite game of the year? Easily. But Naughty Dog’s vision of post-apocalyptic America covets a grander title than that. The Last of Us is my favorite game of this entire console generation.