The Last of Us
By far my favorite game of 2013. Hot on the heels of 2012’s narrative darling The Walking Dead Naughty Dog unleashed their collective talent on a popular genre and set a new benchmark for storytelling in games. TLoU creates a compelling apocalypse. It’s far more plausible and personal than games like Fallout or Wasteland and did a better job of exploring the moral gray area of survival than any other game that came out this year. Obvious comparisons have been made to “The Road” by Cormack McCarthy that are justifiable.
The Last of Us also hails a new high water mark in the survival horror genre. Barring some missteps with telegraphed action sequences, the action is intense, brutally violent, and at times just downright pants-wettingly scary (first Clicker encounter). It also added an interesting crafting system to the mix that encouraged scavenging the ravaged set pieces, and carried that over to some interesting (if sadly unbalanced) multiplayer concepts.
Joel and Ellie’s journey is terrifying, violent, hopeful, heartbreaking, and sometimes humorous. It runs the gamut of emotions and Naughty Dog created characters that are relatable and humanly flawed. Everyone who owns a PS3 needs to play this game, and it will undoubtedly sit alongside exclusive masterpieces like Shadow of The Colossus that sang the swan song of a Sony console at the end of its life cycle.
Tomb Raider (2013)
Lara Croft’s reboot has been fraught with peril. If she wasn’t battling the elements, pirates or wolves this year, she was taking on allegations of misogyny and unrealistic sales expectations. All that aside, Tomb Raider is bar-none the best action-adventure game to be released in 2013, and a fantastic origin story for such a beloved character. Tomb Raider had everything you’d want in a video game: Gorgeous graphics, insane set pieces, and character evolution that spanned from “Please don’t make me kill you.” to “Now…it’s personal.”
This game did what so few do. It delivered EXACTLY what it promised on the box. Lara starts the game as an unsure young woman who is following in the footsteps of her father and peers, and evolves into an action hero by being put through a hellish gauntlet of physical and emotional trials. While it came in a close overall second to The Last of Us, TR actually contained my favorite moment of gaming this year. Lara’s snowy climb to the top of the radio tower was better than anything Uncharted has given us in the past five years. The tension and vertigo actually made my palms sweat, and when the scene finally reached its climax I felt like I was watching a major Hollywood adventure film.
Full of action, satisfying exploration and tons of little touches (like examining relics for extra details) Tomb Raider is a true evolution for the franchise, and -if played on PC- feels like it bridges the gap into “next gen” gaming with the quality of its visuals and sound. Now that you can get it for a song, you have no excuse not to go enjoy Tomb Raider on your platform of choice.
Rounding out my top picks is the “800 pound gorilla” of high expectations, Bioshock Infinite. To set the tone, Bioshock is arguably one of my favorite games of all time. It innovated the FPS in so many ways that it would be almost impossible for sequels to not stand in its shadow. Bioshock Infinite pulls into the 3rd spot in my GOTY picks based on my internal conflict over it. It’s an amazing story, but only a competent video game.
Irrational Games is a lot like Disney in that they create worlds. Rapture and Columbia are so detailed and complex that you can get lost simply exploring all the different things happening in them. They are fully realized with history, character and conflict. Columbia itself is the unspoken star of Bioshock Infinite and an incredible set to play out the narrative for Booker and Elizabeth. The game is filled with memorable characters like the Lutece Twins and touches on mature subjects like race, class, and metaphysics. These are things most AAA titles won’t touch with a ten-foot pole (likely for the best) and Bioshock Infinite did so intelligently and cleverly.
My gripe is that the gameplay felt very linear like you were just kind of along for the ride, and the combat and vigor system lacked the “wow factor” that plasmids in the original Bioshock gave everyone so many years ago. By no means a bad game, it just became a victim of the franchises own excellence, and I won’t weigh that against it too heavily. The story and characters more than make up for some unfortunately repetitive action sequences.
Honorable Mention – Fire Emblem:Awakening
The best strategy game I’ve played all year. Fire Emblem: Awakening is one of the deepest and most satisfying tactical RPG experiences I’ve had in ages, let alone on a handheld system. There is an insane amount of value in this cartridge, and if you own a 3DS it’s a must-have game.