2013 was a terrific year for games, even before the PlayStation 4 and its new whizz-bang graphics, voice controls and sharing features. We played a ton of excellent, high-quality titles in the last 12 months which made choosing our top 5 rather difficult, but we’re happy with our final choices. If you haven’t played any of these games yet, do yourself a favour and grab at least one during the holiday break – you won’t be disappointed.
Here’s to hoping 2014’s games will be even better. On to the games!
Square Enix’s reboot of the classic Tomb Raider franchise was pulled off extremely well. It brought high-quality voice acting, a plausible story and a re-made heroine that humanised the very idea of Lara Croft for the first time, rather than caricaturing her as a pair of mobile breasts with guns as the other games did.
The graphics, no matter your platform of choice, were superb, and the actual game was chock-full of some of the tightest third-person combat and exploration yet seen in a game. Glorious boss battles punctuated the action that were challenging but not stupidly so, and the tomb-raiding, even though it was more of a side activity than what you were actually doing all game long, really fit the franchise’s new direction.
Seeing Lara mature from a scared young girl stranded on an island into a young woman with determination and resolve gave players an inkling of how she became the tough woman we know it is her destiny to become. With any luck, this excellent reboot has set up sequels that will continue her story in much the same way, showing her growing into a stronger, better, even more mature version of the adult Lara Croft we’ve known from earlier games.
Tomb Raider was a surprise hit in 2013, and one we’re only too happy to add to our list of the Top 5 games of the year.
The third Bioshock game, which takes place on a city in the sky rather than one beneath the waves, does a great job of presenting an entire world founded on the philosophy of a man who disagrees with the rest of the world, just like the first two. Except this time it’s Christian dogma – albeit rather warped Christian dogma – that the game both presents and challenges, leaving the player to make up their own mind about it all.
But that’s also just background noise to the actual setting itself: a sprawling metropolis in the sky that brings in new gameplay mechanics, like being able to hop onto a sky rail using a unique hook thing attached to your hand and leaping off when you need to. Throw in the Vigors that give you magic-like abilities that freeze, roast and blast your enemies and you have a recipe for a unique, memorable and compelling game.
Bioshock Infinite is a stunningly-good game from beginning to end, and will leave you with your jaw on the floor when the credits roll. For that reason, it’s easily one of our top 5 games of 2013 that we are happy to recommend everyone pick up and play.
The Last of Us
If you don’t own a PlayStation 3 yet, go out and buy one just so you can play this game. We don’t only think it’s the best zombie-themed game ever made, we also think it has the best characterisation, voice acting and graphics you’re likely to see on the PS3, or any other platform for that matter. Yes, The Last of Us is that good.
The story is deceptively simple: you’re Joel, an ageing survivor of a zombie apocalypse who lost loved ones to the tragedy 20 years ago, and you’re tasked with escorting Ellie, a young girl across the zombie-infested badlands that exist outside of what remains of civilisation. In the course of the adventure, you’ll experience raw emotion as you fight to protect Ellie, watch Joel experience his own emotional trauma as he remembers his lost child, and get mad at the zombie hordes who have taken so much from you. The game truly is an astounding piece of videogame art.
It’s the clever take on zombies – they’re husks of people who are now controlled by a parasitic fungus – that really takes you in, showing just how much thought went into their creation, and that’s even before you’ve got to know Joel and Ellie, characters whose stories will stay with you long after the game is over.
The Last of Us is truly a once-in-a-generation kind of game that all fans of interactive fiction simply must play, and a strong contender for our overall Game of the Year.
Grand Theft Auto V
If you harbour secret fantasies of living a life of crime, but you’re too much of a pussy to actually go out there and shoot, stab, or run people over, then GTA V is the game for you. It’s pretty much a high-tech crime simulator that lets you run around the fictional state of Los Santos (loosely-based on real-world Southern California) stealing cars, pulling off multi-million dollar heists, running people over, shooting innocents, flying planes to deliver drugs and a lot more.
The game also introduces a three-man main character mechanic that has you playing as three different people, and switching between them at will. You’ll get to see through the eyes of Franklin, a gangsta, Michael, a retired ex-thief having a mid-life crisis and Trevor, a certifiable lunatic with some serious mental issues.
But what makes the game so good is the quality of the dialogue and voice acting, the size of the open world you can explore, and the sheer number of cool things you can do that aren’t related to the main story in any way. The heists are pretty cool, too, and the fact that you are part of the planning and execution of each is pretty darn special.
You might not remember the characters in GTA V like you will those in The Last of Us, but you will definitely remember all of the insane stunts, cool things and cop chases you’ll get in to for many years to come.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
The piratey goodness of AC4 simply can’t be overstated – it’s so good, in fact, that it even overshadows the stab-happy fun of being an assassin. It’s so much better exploring the Caribbean, attacking other ships and taking their stuff so that you can upgrade your firepower to take on even stronger ships than it is being a boring old assassin.
Fortunately, AC4 combines the many seemingly-disparate elements of this new game in a very pleasing manner, carefully balancing swashbuckling action with the assassinations and intrigue fans expect, while still using the old “you’re actually playing some long-dead person’s memories through the magic of Animus technology sometime in the near future” trope the AC series has employed since the beginning.
And it’s fun – a lot of fun. You can sail the seas as much as you like, only going ashore occasionally to kill someone, collect all the collectibles, climb an interesting vantage point or further the main storyline. You can also pop out of the simulation at any point to wander the high-tech hallways of Abstergo while hacking all terminals you pass for some unknown bad guy, giving you tons to keep you busy.
AC4’s perfect blend of piracy, assassinations, open-world adventuring, intrigue and top-notch visuals will keep you playing for many, many hours, making it one of the best games we’ve played this year.
And the game of the year goes to…
Our Game of the Year for 2013 is The Last of Us, and if you play only one game on our list, make it that one. Joel and Ellie’s story left such a strong impression on us, and millions of other gamers the world over thanks to developer Naughty Dog’s incredible writing that it deserves the title of Game of the Year. The other games are all good in their own right, but none of them advanced the art of digital storytelling quite like The Last of Us did.
Good job, Naughty Dog.