Here it is, the time that everyone involved within the industry or at least, dabbling like myself, frets completely. Choosing the best games of the year is difficult, especially so is choosing a single in a sea of quality. Sure, Aliens: Colonial Marines came out, along with Ride to Hell and Dark but it seemed for every awful game, two amazing ones took its place. Two brand new consoles were released alongside this generations swan songs; Grand Theft Auto V, The Last Of Us, Bioshock Infinite, all are huge games that show how far we have come along since the 360 launched in 2005.
Dragons Dogma: Dark Arisen
I know I am cheating with this one but I didn’t play Dragons Dogma until this year. Luckily I played it alongside the massive and absolutely sublime Dark Arisen expansion. I spent well over a 100 hours in the world of Gran Soren, sure the characters are all stereotypes and the story is beyond silly, but it takes some strange and ultimately interesting turns and the world lets you tell a story of your own. Mixing the best elements of action RPGs like Dark Souls and Skyrim, morphing Western and Japanese design to create a beast of a game. Monsters are tough and intimidating, you have to prepare for battles and learn the nuances of the world but it never reaches Dark Souls levels of pain. Combat is visceral and satisfying, battles are epic, and climbing on massive creatures is awesome and challenging. The class system is the best in any RPG in recent memory, with multiple jobs that you can change at will. On top of all this it now combines the amazing base game content with the wonderful Dark Arisen expansion, making it the best sleeper game I played in a very long time.
The Last Of Us
I loved The Last Of Us, the story was wonderful, drawing from classic zombie lore and presenting it in a new light. With some of the best writing and voice acting ever done in a video game ( I would say the best but GTA also came out this year) and a destructively depressing world, it sucked you in and never let you go. Joel and Ellie have quickly become trademark characters and I found myself reaching for The Last Of Us whenever I wanted to convince others why games are worthwhile. The opening is devastating, the ending ambiguous in the best way and all the stuff in-between is gut wrenching and brutal like no other game. The Last Of Us is one of a kind and a landmark in storytelling and character design.
Grand Theft Auto V
Simply the best written and acted video game, GTA V is an achievement in design. Every element of the game is painstaking in its detail with an insanely beautiful world, filled with just plain fun things to do. The three main protagonists make up a story the likes of which have never been seen in a game, couple that with the amazing tech behind switching characters at will and GTA V is a sight to behold. Unlike The Last Of Us and Bioshock, GTA hits every note of design with equal aplomb. The game-play is refined and driving is a blast with the story jumping from serious to hilarious in an instant. Grand Theft Auto V is a true desert island game.
Dead Space 3
I love Dead Space. The series is easily one of the best, if not my personal favorite new IP from the last generation. The combination of incredible atmosphere, great sci-fi setting and interesting lore make for a world I hate to be in but also hate to leave. Dead Space 3 surprised me, based on the first demo and initial previews I was left unimpressed. It seemed they went too far into the realm of action but it turned out to be a natural progression from the second entry. The game was incredibly long and filled with interesting environments that begged to be explored despite their inhabitants and to date it is the only game to fulfill a full-on space walk fantasy. The story was insane in the best ways possible, taking unexpected turns and Carvers content in co-op was terrifying and fascinating. Crafting new weapons became an obsession, turning Dead Space 3 into the best loot grinding game nobody expected. Mixing Alien with John Carpenters The Thing, Dead Space 3 is a horror fans dream.
Bioshock: Infinite is a very special game. The story is astounding in its depth and complexity and the ending makes any other conclusion in a game this year pale by comparison. Where as The Last Of Us may have made one feel down, they knew exactly what happened and how to take it in. In Bioshock, the ending was discussed between my peers and I to no end, its religious themes and subtext, its comments on racism and multiple universes. Not only did it contain emotional depth far beyond its predecessor, it retained an incredible and one of a kind plot with twists that made the original Bioshock’s “would you kindly” look like child’s play in comparison. The mix of vigor’s and tightened shooting mechanics made for a much more satisfying experience than the original, couple that with the sky hook and the combat became a literal roller coaster ride. Infinite was one of a kind in a year filled with one of a kind games and will surely become a high point in gaming for time immemorial. On top of all this it has probably the best art in the industry.
Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag
Last years release of Assassins Creed 3 was a shot to my heart. One of my favorite series was all but dead to me, the story was strong but the pacing was beyond abysmal. Filled with glitches, poor game-play mechanics that offered no satisfying loop and a terrible misuse of a great setting made for one of the biggest flops I had the displeasure of playing through. Turn that on its head and you have Black flag. Brilliant in nearly every design aspect from sailing to combat to collecting shanty’s. Not one element isn’t part of a satisfying and rewarding loop, with each activity pertaining to another. The world is gorgeous and massive, containing the classic cities from the series but incorporating a huge open sea to explore and do battle on. Ships can be raided at will, customization options are endless, making it the quintessential pirate game. Basically removing itself from the shackles of series lore shows that Black Flag is a new start in what seemed to be a stagnant series and easily cements it as one of my favorite games this year and one of the best Assassin’s Creeds bar none. Black Flag is Wind Waker on drugs and that makes me love it all the more.
Company of Heroes 2
Incredibly challenging, insanely addicting and absolutely brilliant in its design, COH2 only elaborates on the perfect and genre defining original. The effects and battles are intense beyond reason, perfectly capturing the feel of the Russian front and the campaign is surprisingly fun in a genre filled with tepid and boring experiences. Visually stunning, aurally destroying and all around bombastic, COH2 is one of the best strategy games of the year for sure. Its only detracting factor is its astounding learning curve, with a limited tutorial and mind-boggling AI that seems to play at a superhuman level. A blemish on an otherwise adrenaline pumping experience, which is rare for a strategy game.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
Downright hilarious, containing many of the best moments of the year and the best soundtrack bar none; Blood Dragon may be a 15 dollar one-off title but it is one of the finest games of 2013. Far Cry 3 was already wonderful and refreshing last year, Blood Dragon only reminds us of why this was so. The story is short and sweet with some of the funniest dialogue and cut-scene’s in games and it retains the best elements of Far Cry 3 while cutting the fat. The Blood Dragons themselves make the game, with their insane power and lasers literally shooting out of their gaping maws, they are terrifying and hilarious. Offering a ton of content and a whole new island, Blood Dragon was the best 15 dollars I spent all year.
Total War: Rome 2
I played well over a hundred hours of Rome 2 in the first month, and only continue to do so. Once the game was cleaned up, it became the superb Total War it should have been all along. It may not have the storytelling cache that The Last Of Us, GTA V and Infinite had but the stories I created while playing online co-op campaigns easily outdid gaming’s finest. Whether it was my inappropriately named legions or the conversations my brother and I had while battling with Pontus and Egypt, Rome 2 made up the best gaming hours I had this year. The campaign was sublime, the visuals sumptuous and the content endless. I wouldn’t be surprised if I played Rome 2 for a 1000 more hours.