My Sorta “Game of the Year” 2013 List

(If this is your first time here I’d like to direct you to this page first so you can see where I’m coming from.)

2013 is almost over and as a player of video games, I love this time of year. Forget the glut of new games to play after the holiday release season, I love this time of the year because it’s Game of the Year season and to be more specific, it’s “talk about” Game of the Year time. I’ve been a fan of podcasts (specifically video game related) for a number of years. I started listening to the “1UP Radio Network” the year I decided to go back to college in order get out of the pig barn I was working in. I had to drive about 45 minutes one way to school which left a lot of time to for the various 1UP shows. I listened to the 1UP podcasts up until the 1UPocalypse when most of its staff (and character) was gutted and very little remained of its former greatness. I needed some new podcasts to listen to and I eventually discovered the charmingly garrulous Giant Bombcast (gawd, I miss Ryan Davis).

I think that most gaming-related websites have Game of the Year discussions at some point. What I love about Giant Bomb is that they record those deliberations and put them out as podcasts. Since finishing school at the end of 2009, I’ve normally had some time off between Christmas and New Year’s but my wife usually has to work during that time. As such, I’ve often been engaged in some kind of project around the house usually consisting of a minor home improvement or some simple painting. It’s the Holidays so I tend to not attack these projects aggressively. I take my time, get a warm drink and casually work away while listening to the Giant Bomb Game of the Year deliberations. It’s grown to become one of my favorite times of the year. I love listening to these very different people with very different tastes come up with some wonderfully obtuse categories and then fight over the big awards.

This year, I’d like to have a part in the overall Game of the Year conversation. My little post here will likely be read by very few people but I’m putting it out there mostly for my own benefit since I don’t have a lot of like-minded people around me to discuss this kind of thing. So just some upfront background: I pretty much only play games on PlayStation platforms. Over the last couple generations of hardware, that’s just where I’ve ended up. Their first party stuff resonates with me more than Microsoft or Nintendo and my PC doesn’t cut the mustard when it comes to playing games. You’ll also notice that for a PlayStation person, there will be some notable omissions – particularly with The Last of Us. TLoU came out right around E3 when all the real PS4 details were announced and I decided that if I want to play inFamous in the launch window that I would need to start saving for a console then so that I’d be ready for November. As such, I missed out on a lot of PS3 stuff that came out in the second half of the year. I have my fingers crossed for a “definitive edition” of TLoU on PS4 at some point because the chances of me going back to my PS3 for anything other than Netflix at this point are pretty slim.

So without further ado and in no particular order, here are the games that were my highlights of 2013.

Skyrim

In the past, Giant Bomb has given out awards like “2012’s 2011 Game of the Year” which would be a game from the previous year that kept offering more, either in terms of just being an experience worth returning to or one that gained new life through DLC or additional content. Skyrim is my “2013’s 2011 game of the year”. I don’t think I have too much more to say about Skyrim that hasn’t already been said on 100s of sites and blogs but I will say this: Skyrim is great. Yes, that’s a simplistic assessment and yes, I am saying that having played it on PS3. Sure, I didn’t put hundreds of hours into it but the 60 some I did put in – with about 10-15 being in 2013 – were rich, immersive and exciting and few other games create atmosphere like Skyrim does. I may not have accomplished anything earth-shattering in the game this year but there’s just something about it that drew me back in even after all this time.

Mass Effect Trilogy

Okay, so this wasn’t my first play-through of these games. I bought an Xbox 360 right before Mass Effect 2 came out and I picked up a copy of ME1 to give it a go, knowing the sequel was coming soon. Mass Effect was always one of the games that I wished I could play on my PS3 back then. I got my PS3 a year after launch and while I was very happy with it, there were some games on the 360 I had envy over (Fable 2, Mass Effect, Crackdown). I wrapped up ME1 the weekend before ME2 came out so I went right into the sequel and loved every minute of it. When ME2 eventually hit PlayStation, I said goodbye to my save file and started fresh on my system of preference and that’s where I finished the trilogy. At the end of 2012, ME1 finally came to PS3 and since I’d had a desire to go back through and play it again, it seemed like the PlayStation release was a perfect opportunity. I started yet another “boy scout” run through the series (pure paragon) and was quickly reminded about how rich that universe and its characters are. This was also an excuse to finally get to the Citadel and Leviathan DLC that I’d skipped out on the previous year.

I finished the playthrough in the Spring. My wife and I brought our little girl home from the hospital in January so I spent many a night with the baby in my arms, taking down Reaper forces and saving the galaxy while my wife was trying to get some sleep. That series remains one of my absolute favorite modern game franchises. To me, nothing else matches it in terms of its scope and how well realized that universe was from the very beginning. ME1’s world feels like it is from game 4 of the series not game 1, due to how rich and well developed the locations, races and lore are from the start. Despite the hubbub over the ending of ME3, I still found it to be one of the most satisfying conclusions to a video game story I’ve ever experienced and the Citadel DLC (and some extra details from Leviathan) were just icing on an already delicious cake. Sure, I would have liked some of my choices to matter more but seeing how certain major plot points wrapped up due to my actions made me feel more attached and involved in that story than any other game I’ve played in a long time. Here’s to you “2013’s 2007, 2010 and 2012 Game of the Year,” it was a great ride and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Hotline Miami

I’m not a violent person. I get squeamish at realistic depictions of blood and gore on TV and in movies. That all being said I absolutely loved Hotline Miami. LOVED. I’m not usually one for “trial and error” game-play but something about that game hooked me much more than any other game this past year. I think it may have something to do with an aspect that it shares with Skyrim in a sense: atmosphere. Sure, it’s presented in a very different manner but that pounding music, those Pavlovian response inducing audio cues just hooked me. Even after completing the plot of the game, I needed more which led me to go Trophy hunting. I like collecting Trophies on PSN but there are times where I’ll meticulously comb through a game to get them all and there are times where I don’t pay attention to them whatsoever. Hotline Miami became about the hunt, the thrill of the chase thanks in no small part to the A+ requirement on many of the levels and man, did my Vita get a workout. Sure, it doesn’t mean anything in reality but that Platinum will serve as a reminder of one of my most memorable experiences of 2013.

Grand Theft Auto V

Do I think GTAV is the best game of 2013? Not really. I do think that it’s the best GTA game I’ve ever played (note: PLAYED). Previously GTA games have brought better things to the table: Vice City oozed style, San Andreas was brimming with a crazy sense of variety and GTAIV despite some flaws, brought one of Rockstar’s most intense studies of “The American Dream” ever. You’re allowed to have your own preference and while I think GTAV is great, it may not be the best GTA game over all. Before I noted the word “played” and that was certainly intentional. I think GTAV might be the game in the series that’s the most fun to play on a moment-by-moment basis. Other games in the series do certain things better but I think as far as a well-rounded and refined experience, GTAV takes it. I really enjoyed the main characters themselves (despite being severely creeped out by Trevor on more than one occasion), the characters switching mechanic was great and I think that the general tone matched the game-play experience very well. Overall, I found it to be a solid and fun experience whereupon finally seeing the credits roll, all I wanted to do was get back into that world and have more fun. To me, that’s a hallmark of a good game.

Stealth Inc. A Clone in the Dark

I’m not going to say too much about this game other than the fact that I think you should play it. It’s a simple yet somewhat clever side-scrolling platform game that’s accessible enough for most people to get into yet offers a fair degree of challenge for those that are looking for it. The game is almost completely focused on the mechanics but there is a bit of a fun plot that runs through the background of the action (quite literally at times as it is told visually through the environment). That plot carries with it a twist akin to a light version of Portal with elements reminiscent of Metroid: Fusion in that your character is not alone in their adventure (and that’s all I will say about that). It’s not the greatest game ever but when I look back at what stood out to me this year, I find myself looking back at Stealth Inc. fondly and I would definitely recommend that others give it a shot.

Tearaway

Thanks to the pre-Christmas PSN “Flash Sale” I nabbed Tearaway at a fantastic price and I’ve come to realize that it would have been worth it at full retail. Tearaway is a special game. I’ve always admired Media Molecule’s unbridled creativity with the LittleBigPlanet games but when the rubber meets the road, their gameplay has never really matched that creativity. Tearaway fixes that with a game that’s not only adorable, charming and whimsical but one that’s also a great game to actually play. I won’t say anything more about the game itself as to not spoil its magic but if you have a Vita, buy this game.

I’m going to wrap this up with a few quick-fire highlights from the year:

Uncharted: Drakes Fortune – After much procrastination, I finally finished the first Uncharted this year. I had already played 2 and 3 when I started 1 so going back was a bit rough (particularly that finally encounter) but in the end, I really enjoyed this game. I don’t think it’s as good as the other two but definitely a game I’m glad I completed it this year.

Uncharted Golden Abyss – Thank you PlayStation Plus. This is a game that I may have passed on due to the reviews by the gaming press but I gave it a chance due to it being on Plus and I’m glad I did. Despite some of the seemingly tacked-on touch stuff, this game tells a great Nathan Drake story without the supernatural MacGuffin I’d come to expect from the other games. It’s fun with a good sense of humor and perfect in small bites on the Vita.

Spelunky – Speaking of small bites, holy cats Spelunky is a ton of fun. This is another style of game (brutal, unforgiving platforming) that doesn’t usually appeal to me but as someone who is always looking for Vita content, Spelunky was definitely worth checking out. Unapologetically challenging yet charming and adorable, this game has taken hours of my time and what do I have to show for it? Nothing. I can’t get through that darn Alien Spaceship, I can’t unlock that third shortcut in the ice area and I certainly can’t defeat Olmec let alone get myself to Hell but despite all that, I keep going back to it mostly because it’s so perfect as a delightful little gaming snack.

Guacamelee! – On the surface, a Mexican Luchador themed Metroid-vania didn’t really appeal to me but there was just too much positive buzz on this for me to pass up. Guacamelee! is challenging, nostalgic, cheeky and a whole lot of fun. Filled with references and homage, this game made me simultaneously laugh and want to pull my hair out. I had a blast with this game and due to it being cross-buy, I discovered the joy of a well-executed second screen as I played the game on my TV with my PS3 using the Vita as a controller displaying the map on that beautiful OLED screen.


To wrap up, I’ve recently been playing a lot of Resogun and Assassin’s Creed IV on my PS4 and both are great. Resogun scratches that twin-stick itch but its level progression and boss structure keeps it from being in my shooter/game-play nirvana realm that I’ve placed Geometry Wars 2 but it’s definitely fun. I’ve really been enjoying ACIV as but this is my first real Creed game and although I’m already 20 hours in, I don’t feel like I’ve played it enough to really get an idea for where it stands in my overall affections. It’s been a good year, mostly due to life circumstance outside of video games but the gaming part has been memorable nonetheless. Now I just need to finish up my shopping and plan my Christmas break project so that I’ll have an excuse to spend hours listening to the Bombcast. Hopefully I’ll get in some ACIV in while I’m off as well.

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