2013 saw the end of the seventh generation of gaming. Out with the Xbox 360s and PlayStation 3s and in with new consoles offering more power and social networking features. The last days of a console cycle are always exciting because prolific developers tend to go out with a bang, to deliver the final swan song of their "old gen" career before moving onto the next. 2013 was a fun year for games and while I didn't get a chance to play every title released, there were few - six to be exact - that really stood out.
Favorite Game Released Before 2013, Played in 2013: Dark Souls
This year I accomplished what I thought to be the impossible. Dark Souls is a notoriously difficult game that pulls no punches, turning even the kindest, most warm hearted gamer into a wild, salivating, controller breaking beast. The game’s punishing and deliberately slow paced gameplay has been unable to break out from its niche of dedicated followers. I headed back into the grim and deadly world of Lordran and managed, with a great deal of pain and emotional suffering, to see it through the very end. The feeling of accomplishment that came from beating the game was second to none and without a doubt, served as one of my highlights of 2013.
5. The Last of Us
The Last of Us showed that there is so much more to Naughty Dog than treasure hunting, explosive set pieces and Nolan North. The studio’s zombie game is a shift in tone from the experiences we’ve come to expect from the developers of Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter. That Naughty Dog were able to pull off a game with a rich, yet oppressive atmosphere akin Cormac McCarthy’s The Road shows a mastery of storytelling, direction and character development. One of the most talked about moments in The Last of Us were not necessarily gameplay related but were the game’s cinematic opening and somewhat controversial ending. The gameplay was fine and functional, though it doesn’t measure up to the narrative’s emotional resonance.
4. Rayman Legends
Ubisoft created a little bit of a clusterfuck with Rayman Legends. Originally a Wii U exclusive slated for the console’s release, the publisher decided to break that exclusivity and porting it to additional consoles resulting in a number of cancelled Wii U system pre-orders. It all works out in the end because Rayman Legends is as delightful as its predecessor. This is one instance in which the Wii U version is superior because of the gamepad. Legends is just as creative - if not more so - than Origins, offering a large selection of artistic levels brimming with creativity. Legends is also stuffed to the gills with content including a host of remixed levels from Origins, giving the game a great deal of value. Its inspired level design and high quality animation once again make Rayman one of the best games no one played.
3. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
Assassin’s Creed II made up for the shortcomings of the original game, turning a repetitive and trying experience into a joyous one, largely because of a far more sympathetic protagonist and a richer, more fascinating playground. By focusing on the golden age of piracy in Assassin’s Creed IV, Ubisoft made the franchise fun again. Piloting the Jackdaw across the seas of the West Indies is just as fun as stabbing dudes in the face and neck, shank style (uh uh uh uh uh). It also helps that there is a great deal of things to do outside of the central plot. Sinking enemy ships, assaulting forts, searching for buried treasure, taking down massive sea animals, duking it out against massive frigates, Assassination missions, naval contracts, upgrading your ship and ransacking British and Spanish encampments while your crew sings through an extensive catalog of sea shanties makes the secondary content far more entertaining than the main game.
2. Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto V is a beautiful reimagining of my top favorite game in the series, GTA: San Andreas. Though limited to the city of Los Santos and Blaine County, there was still plenty to see and do within the sprawling map. Rockstar’s narrative experiment of switching between three different characters was a success, allowing for three very different personalities that benefited from excellent characterizations. Well, maybe not Franklin, but Michael and Trevor reign as the best characters in the entire franchise. If I had only one complaint, it’s that the game ended before I was done with it. With no missions to play, I was left to collect items and purchase property or jump into the decent multiplayer campaign. It feels selfish to complain about there not being enough to do, considering how substantial it is. The open ended nature of the single player experience lends itself easily to expansions through downloadable content, something I am far more excited about than the multiplayer content updates.
1. Saint’s Row IV
I agonized greatly over this choice. I loved Grand Theft Auto V and I also loved Saint’s Row IV, but which would get the top spot? In the end, it was Saint’s Row IV irreverent, over the top and self referential humor that awards Volition’s game my top spot for the year. Setting the story within a virtual world gave the team the opportunity to go nuts, creating levels without fear of realistic concepts like gravity or physics. Tromping around the virtual Steelport was fun thanks to the constantly evolving superpowers and the Homie missions go to places you’d never expect, such as rescuing Johnny Gat from a Streets of Rage-style brawler or chasing Keith David through a frighteningly accurate recreation of the climax from They Live. Saint’s Row IV also had a great soundtrack, even if most of the music didn’t stray too far from the 80s and 90s era of pop, rock and rap. It did have a knack for using perfect tracks for key moments, such as destruction of a nuclear missile to Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing” and turning the final boss encounter into a delicious Transformers: The Movie reference. What really pushes the experience over the top, however, is the performance by Nolan North. Saint’s Row IV gave the player an opportunity to hear the person responsible for Nathan Drake, Desmond Miles and The Penguin to operate without a filter. And the script was peppered with a healthy dose of self referential humor. Saint’s Row IV delivers on its wild ambitions and vision making it not only the best Saint’s Row experience but also the most entertaining gaming experiences I’ve had all year.
Honorable Mentions: Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken, LEGO City Undercover, BioShock Infinite, Surgeon Simulator 2013
Teen Services Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.