R.G. looks at the best in PC and console gaming this year.
2013 was a pretty good year for gaming. While there were some noteworthy stinkers like Ride to Hell: Retribution and Aliens: Colonial Marines, there were a lot of good games worth remembering, from new intellectual properties to returning franchises. This was the year when the eighth generation of gaming fully kicked off, with Sony and Microsoft going head-to-head with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, whilst Nintendo quietly sit in the back with a still-struggling WiiU. It’s not all bad news for Nintendo, though, as they have dominated with the 3DS, which is my console of the year thanks to consistent releases of solid first and second-party games.
Just to note, I haven’t played all of the major releases that came out this year, but I played enough to come up with ten games that I think are worth playing. Don’t get mad if a title you loved isn’t on the list, or a game is higher than another, as it is subjective and one list is always different from another. Nevertheless, if there is a game from 2013 that is worth picking up as a stocking filler or in the January sales, please comment and explain why.
So, the games that I really enjoyed this year…
Project X Zone (3DS)
A monotonous yet eye-pleasing tactical game. The strategic gameplay is not very deep but it is very enjoyable to see characters from different game companies do bombastic-looking attacks and combinations, showcasing very impressive sprite animations when in battle.
I see this game as both a pretentious love-letter from the developer to himself, and a very clever and unorthodox first-person puzzler. The latter are very unique and, depending on how smart you are, can result in self-satisfaction or frustration. They are mostly based on going against your nature of what you expect when playing a game, and for the most part, it is a very fascinating experience, albeit the occasional frustrations.
DMC: Devil May Cry (PC, Xbox 360, PS3)
Personally, I don’t think a reboot is really that necessary for the Devil May Cry series but this take is honestly quite fun. While the story and characters leave a lot to be desired, DMC shines through its hectic and complex hack-and-slash gameplay. This has more emphasis on platforming in comparison to the previous games, which was usually the weakest part of the previous Devil May Cry titles because of the fixed camera perspective. Thankfully, it is remedied on DMC as the camera is a lot more controllable.
Warframe (PC, PS4)
One of the countless free-to-play games that are quite fun. The controls need a little bit of getting used to, but when you get the gist of it, its a pretty solid third-person action game with a unique mix of stealth and parkour. As expected of a F2P game, progression is slow but thankfully the difficulty curve is balanced. This is a game that is better played with friends, so if you have a PC or a PS4, get your pals to download it.
Bravely Default (3DS)
Bravely Default is possibly the best Final Fantasy game in god knows how long. I know it’s called Bravely Default but it’s technically an FF title. This is definitely the Final Fantasy I’ve been waiting for. Even though it has the same frustrations as an old RPG, like grinding and difficulty spikes, it returns to the turn-based gameplay from the old days yet adds a very interesting mechanic to make it feel fresh in the form of the “Brave and Default” feature, which lets you have turn points allowing you to do many actions in one single turn. The graphics and environmental designs are reminiscent of the FF titles on the PSOne but it retains the grander nature that the high-definition releases have.
The Top 10
10. Injustice: Gods Among Us (WiiU, Xbox 360, PS3)
Seen as a letter of apology for Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, Injustice: Gods Among Us features the fun and brutal combat mechanics of Mortal Kombat (2011), and the novelty of your favourite DC Comic character beating the shit out of each other. While the story isn’t very impressive in terms of what DC usually offers, its solid fighting mechanics makes up for it. The game boasts characters with unique fighting styles, elaborate and destructible stages, and endless combo possibilities. It is still the strangest sight to see Joker going toe-to-toe with Superman, even with the plausible explanation in the story.
9. Tomb Raider (PC, Xbox 360, PS3)
A reboot for one of gaming’s most famous female characters, Crystal Dynamics did a good job revamping a franchise that has really needed fresh life. An origin story that gives birth to the heroine we all know, it is a gritty and unflinching narrative of survival, and it is a commendable thing that it portrays Lara Croft as a three-dimensional character instead of the usual sex symbol; a portrayal I hope they continue if there’s going to be sequels. It can be argued that its gameplay borrows a little bit too much from the Uncharted franchise, even though the latter was influenced by Tomb Raider, but it is for the better. Even if the disappointing nature of the survival aspect and a few annoying quick-time events bring down the immersion and authenticity, it all makes up for it with gorgeous environmental designs, fluent controls, a surprisingly dynamic camera, and a flowing combat system that eclipses the frustrations those other third-person shooters have.
8. Bit.Trip Presents Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien (PC, WiiU, Xbox 360, PS3, PSVita)
Runner 2 is one of the most frustrating yet exhilarating games I’ve played in 2013. This is a title that will test your hand-eye coordination, as well as your sense of rhythm. A sequel to the equally frustrating Bit.Trip Runner, Runner 2 transitions from the NES 8-bit style to a beautiful polygonal, high-definition graphical style whilst still retaining its signature rhythm-based, auto-running, 2D platforming. While the original only contained jumping over and sliding under obstacles, Runner 2 added many interesting mechanics such as blocking and attacking, which gave its level designs more personality and challenge, and gave the already-addictive gameplay a lot more depth.
7. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)
The second 3DS outing of Nintendo’s venerable franchise, A Link Between Worlds goes back to the series’ roots with the return of the top-down perspective. Its short length and predictable story can be easily forgiven as the game still has the same high quality as any Zelda title. It is one of the more unorthodox Zelda games in the series, as you can do most of the dungeons in any order with more emphasis on exploration, and most of the essential items can be obtained in the very beginning via an item renting system. The dungeons are very unique and incredibly well-designed, the over-world is dynamic, colourful, and full of secrets, the difficulty is challenging, and it is one of the few 3DS games that benefits from the console’s gimmicky 3D feature.
6. BioShock Infinite (PC, Xbox 360, PS3)
One of the most gorgeous-looking, head-splitting and narrative-driven games of 2013, BioShock Infinite was another thematic-heavy trip inside Irrational Game co-founder Ken Levine’s (arguably) twisted mind. While it is a more action-oriented game in comparison to the previous BioShock entries, with its combat focused on outmanoeuvring enemies by using sky rails, it retains the series’ knack of delving into fascinating and controversial subject matters like religion, racism, quantum physics, and multi-dimensional jumping. The story juggles and throws so much at you, in addition to a very complex ending, that you have to play it again to catch what you missed and appreciate it more. It also has Elizabeth, one of the most fascinating characters to ever be conceived in gaming. Seeing her throw weapons at you and open up dimensions in the heat of battle adds so much more to its already-fun gameplay. And the most important thing, for any AI companion, she never gets in your way…
5. Pokèmon X and Y (3DS)
The latest main entry of Nintendo’s ridiculously successful franchise is one of the most ambitious. Sporting fully-animated polygonal 3D battles (in the main series), and the ability to customise your own character, going back to the older, sprite-based games now would be quite jarring. This is easily the most accessible title in the series so far, with a fantastically streamlined online interface and features that makes grinding a lot easier as well as giving awareness to the competitive battling scene. With all these changes, it’s still Pokèmon. It is the fun, addictive, and time-consuming game that completely pulls you in with its deceptively complex battle mechanics, a vast roster of uniquely designed Pokèmon, and a near endless amount of content and replay value.
4. Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (PS3)
A game that plays like the glorious 16-bit JRPGs on the Super Nintendo? Co-developed with the legendary Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli? Count me 100% in. Ni No Kuni doesn’t have the level of complexity of other JRPG brethren like Final Fantasy or Persona, but it makes up for it by understanding the joy of being in an adventure. You are put into a fantasy world in a quest to save a loved one, encountering magical creatures, eccentric characters, and roaming a very beautiful and colourful world. It is as straightforward as it gets, but every minute of it is enjoyable thanks to its emotionally balanced story and a wonderful cast of characters. As I’ve said, this game feels like a 16-bit JRPG, with a big focus on grinding for experience points, over-world exploration, and a plethora of side quests. I love these things in an RPG and you will like this game if you feel the same way. Courtesy of Studio Ghibli’s trademark visual style, the game looks amazing, and I believe that its graphics will stand the test of time. The over-world and dungeons are varied and have enough secrets to make exploration fun and interesting, and the battle system contains a surprisingly complex and unique combination of using creatures/familiars as fellow combatants like in Pokèmon, and the free-roam, active-time battles from the Tales series.
3. Grand Theft Auto V (Xbox 360, PS3)
The most unsurprising entry on the list. Arguably the biggest, most-anticipated game of the year, Grand Theft Auto V is the definitive last hurrah of the seventh generation of gaming. Rockstar truly outdid themselves as the sequel is an amalgamation of what the company has been striving for in the last couple of years. As I said in my review, I always question if there’s really a point in critiquing a Grand Theft Auto game because, ever since Grand Theft Auto III, the series has always delivered on a high note, commercially and critically, and V is no different. The story isn’t the best in the series but it arguably has the best cast of characters. All three protagonists are very likeable and despicable in their own ways, and their actions point a spotlight on the hilariously satirical nature of the game. Gameplay-wise, this is a significant improvement over Grand Theft Auto IV in almost every way. Vehicles are tighter and easier to control, gunplay is a lot smoother, and the map is ridiculously huge – way bigger than the maps of IV and Red Dead Redemption combined. V’s main gameplay mechanic – the character switch – emphasises how big the map is, and can make missions a lot more cinematic. While the map is huge, its far from empty as it is one of the most vibrant in the series so far, with a living, breathing city and luscious environments. As expected of a GTA game, there is a lot to do and explore, all within the freedom of what it gives you.
As a side note, I apologise for not delivering on the promise of the GTA: Online review, so here’s a short summary of the feature. Though it was marred by an unstable launch and a bug-riddled first two weeks, as of now, it is a solid multiplayer game. Even after many patches, bugs are still prevalent though they are thankfully few and far between. Character creation is disappointingly shallow in contrast to what they advertised, so your chosen protagonist doesn’t really appear how you intended. Missions are somewhat varied but you will find yourself doing the same type of thing from time to time, especially in the beginning, which makes progression a tad tedious. It’s obviously better to play this with your friends as it is pretty cool and safer to roam around Los Santos with a group. Rockstar is doing a good job supporting it by giving free DLC and consistent patching, so you have more things to do and have as little trouble with the feature as possible.
2. Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS)
This is my 3DS title of 2013, a game that I played non-stop from the first time I purchased it. Fire Emblem: Awakening is one of the most emotionally satisfying games I’ve played this year. This was almost going to be the last in the series if it didn’t sell at least 250,000 copies. Thankfully, it sold more than that, and this highly underrated Nintendo franchise can keep delivering quality tactical role-playing titles. For a tactical release, I didn’t expect to have a story let alone a good one, but Awakening offers an enjoyably operatic and emotional narrative that involves the end of the world, a giant dragon, and time-travelling that, in the long run, feels quite inconsequential. Since Mass Effect 2, never have I felt such a strong attachment to a colourful and loveable cast of characters. All of them have distinct personalities, goals, and desires. A very enjoyable novelty with them is that some can get married and have children, which can be a deciding factor when you are making the perfect soldier for you army. Of course, behind the good story and wonderful characters, the game truly shines with its tactical combat, which consists of rock-paper-scissors weaponry, class advantages, and permanent death. What makes this game and the series in general so much fun is that every decision you make on the battlefield is absolutely essential, whether you are just moving a unit or attacking. And the fact that you’ve grown to know and love these characters makes it all the more heart-breaking and unacceptable if they fall…
1. The Last of Us (PS3)
You can say predictable, I can say inevitable. Nothing was more appropriate than defining the PlayStation 3 with an incredibly solid video game developed by the company that shines the brightest on the console. Naughty Dog leaves a lasting impression on Sony’s third home console with one of the most consistent video games I’ve played this year, and my pick for the game of 2013. An action/survival horror title that is an emotional and thought-provoking tale about loss and hope, The Last of Us pulls no punches when it comes to its storytelling. It’s harsh, unflinching, and at times very disturbing. While it isn’t a scary game, the whole focus is how a journey through a desolate, danger-filled wasteland affects two opposite souls, from their outlook on life to their relationship with one another. Thanks to Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson’s impeccable acting – some of the finest I’ve ever seen in a video game – it is easy to get behind Joel and Ellie as we follow their struggle to deliver a cure for the outbreak. In terms of gameplay, its a reasonably balanced mixture of action, stealth, and survival. It does take some time getting used to, especially with a fidgety melee system, but it flows well whenever you are fighting enemies or sneaking past them, and it is always satisfying whenever you kill the last enemy or sneak past without getting noticed. While it isn’t the best-looking PS3 game (Beyond: Two Souls takes that award), it is still one of the most graphically impressive games on the system. Environments are meticulously designed, and the character animations are near realistic. If you have a PlayStation 3 and you still don’t have this game, I implore you to give it a try.