If you ask me, 2013 was one of the better gaming years in recent history. Yeah, there were some blunders as always – I’m looking at you, Microsoft and EA – but in terms of the games that were put out, there were a surprising number of releases that were not only fairly different from the competition, but were also fun to play. Then again, there were also games that, while not different per se, refined pre-existing formulas very well. Here are my picks for the best of the best from the past twelve months, regardless of which category they fall in.
Number five – Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
When I first heard of Metal Gear Rising, and how it was literally created from the scraps of a canceled game, I’ll admit I was skeptical for a while. However, during this past December, I played through the first four main Metal Gear Solid games, and then decided to give Rising a try for the heck of it… and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t pure, insane fun. The story is about as outrageous as you’ve come to expect from a Platinum-developed game, but perhaps unsurprisingly, it lends itself pretty well to the Metal Gear series. The gameplay, while not at all focused on stealth like other games in the series, is some of the best that I’ve played in an action game, with the cut-what-you-want mechanic being used in exhilarating ways during boss encounters. If you’re a fan of over-the-top action games, then you owe it to yourself to try this game, Metal Gear fan or not. I mean, come on, who doesn’t want to cut cyborgs into tiny pieces while dressed in a mariachi outfit?
Number four – Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
Assassin’s Creed used to be my favorite game series… and then Assassin’s Creed III happened. While I don’t think it was a bad game, it certainly wasn’t good, and the unfitting finale it gave to series protagonist Desmond Miles left a seriously awful taste in my mouth. On a whim, though, I decided to give Black Flag a try after its release just out of curiosity, and was surprised at how different the open-world pirate sim was from AC3, at least quality-wise. While the basic gameplay and controls mostly carried over from the previous game, they were put to use in far better ways, with more freedom given during missions and the naval combat expanded upon. There’s a ton to do in the game, with plenty of interesting Caribbean locations to explore… although to be fair, some of these things – finding Animus fragments, looting every single meaningless treasure chest, etc. – are essentially filler. It definitely helps that the story is pretty interesting though, including the modern-day portion, which makes the best of the mess that the writers made at the end of AC3. While I’m still skeptical about the series’ future, Black Flag surprised me in a good way, and has me hopeful that Ubisoft hasn’t totally lost sight of what makes its flagship series so great.
Number three – Tomb Raider
While some see Square Enix’s acquisition of Eidos as the death of some franchises (Namely Hitman, Tomb Raider, and Deus Ex), I personally have to disagree– I’d never enjoyed a Tomb Raider game more than when I played through this reboot during the late summer. The game completely ignores the events and ideas of previous titles, and takes Lara back in time to a younger age, when she is just at the beginning of her career in archaeology. This not only gave Crystal Dynamics a chance to tell a completely new story, but also develop the gaming icon as a deeper character. It also gave the team a chance to reinvent the series’ gameplay for a more modern age– while some may see it as an Uncharted clone, the game places more emphasis on legitimate exploration and puzzle solving, though it does let players fight back better than they ever could in previous games. While some may find fault with just how different the game is from older games in the series, when looked at just on its own merits, Tomb Raider is an excellent example of an action-adventure title done right.
Number two – The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
When it was announced last April, A Link Between Worlds didn’t impress a lot of people. Sure, it was touted as a sequel to the quintessential Super Nintendo title The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, but the game itself just didn’t look too good, with seemingly bland colors complementing a seemingly bland art direction. However, when I finally got a chance to play the game in November, I was surprised at how great I thought it looked; the visuals had been improved upon since the game’s initial unveiling, with vibrant colors making the game’s once-bland visual style pop out. However, as we all know, visuals don’t make a game– a game makes a game, and in that respect, A Link Between Worlds absolutely delivers. The game itself plays much like any other top-down Zelda title, but it makes just enough changes to feel refreshingly different, with the item shop and nonlinearity being a great departure from the formula often abused in games like Twilight Princess. The story isn’t quite as engaging as in previous Zelda titles, but it’s charming enough that it doesn’t feel like it’s bad. Anyone who has ever enjoyed a previous Zelda title, especially one of the top-down games, should absolutely play A Link Between Worlds. Even if you’re a newcomer to the series, chances are you’ll enjoy the game.
Number one – The Last of Us
There are so many games that are hyped up to be the greatest game of the year, the greatest game ever made by a certain developer, and hell, even the greatest game of a console generation. However, many of them don’t meet any of those things, let alone exceed them. Call me whatever you want for picking something so obvious, but in my opinion, The Last of Us can live up to all of these things and more. While many people said that the game looked like an Uncharted clone prior to its release, it’s anything but, as the game has you constantly managing your supplies and trying to sneak around enemies– one wrong move could be your last. This carries over into the game’s surprisingly great multiplayer mode, which requires that the player strategize and fight smartly against opposing players in order to ensure supplies for their clan. Even aside from the gameplay, though, The Last of Us has one of the best narratives I’ve ever experienced in a game, with the personal stories of characters such as Joel, Ellie, Tess, and Marlene really tugging at your heartstrings; as silly as it sounds, you be absolutely engaged in Joel and Ellie’s post-apocalyptic American journey long before the credits roll– and for once in a modern game, you get a satisfyingly definitive ending rather than a cliffhanger, though with that said, the game will likely leave you wanting more just because of how great it is. The Last of Us is one of the few games that I’ve played through multiple times so soon after its release, and it is absolutely worth it. This definitely is one of my favorite games of this generation.
So, those were my top five games of 2013. While these are the ones that I felt were the best of the best, there were also some other great titles– some of the others I had considered include BioShock Infinite and Animal Crossing: New Leaf. Which games were your favorites from the past twelve months? Let us know in the comments, or on the forums.
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