John K's Top 5 Games of 2013

2013 was another “bleh” year for gaming.  No doubt, it had its share of memorable titles, but the publishers on PC and home consoles mostly phoned it in this year.  The big budget releases were dominated by games with numbers above 2 in their title (Dead Space 3, Forza 5, Assassins Creed IV, Battlefied 4), and games that could have easily had numbers in their titles if they had wanted to (Batman: Arkham Origins, Sim City, Splinter Cell: Blacklist).  In most cases, these titles were mediocre, subpar entries into their series.  Both new consoles launched with a new, big budget IP (Knack and Ryse: Son of Rome), but neither game was good.  Crowd-funded games exploded in popularity and number, with mixed results.  The big budget new IP that I really wanted to play, Watchdogs, was delayed.  But, as I said, there were some high points.  The Playstation 3 had a very good year, and the WiiU welcomed some critically acclaimed titles, although I can’t comment on those because I don’t own a WiiU.  If you ask me, 2013 will be remembered for its bombshell news events, and not its games.  EA getting pummeled for its Sim City debacle, new consoles getting announced and released, Microsoft getting pummeled for their DRM policy, Microsoft reversing their DRM policy, Valve announcing hardware, Blizzard changing direction on the real money auction house, and the NCAA franchises getting killed off by the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit – all of these stories were huge and will have long term implications.  Our hobby suddenly looks a lot different than it did 365 days ago.

Favorite Game Released Before 2013, Played in 2013: Batman: Arkham City

This year I enjoyed a lot of backlog games, but none more than Batman: Arkham City.  I waited a while to play this game because of the somewhat mixed opinions that it received for its open world.  Many gamers who loved Arkham Asylum thought that Arkham City’s open world was too shallow and empty.  I can see where these complaints come from, but I still love everything about this game.  It is bigger and more content-packed than Arkham Asylum, but the size doesn’t come at the expense of quality and detail.  The villains are great and the graphics are stunning.  The combat is strong and the side quests, like The Riddler’s devious challenges, are excellent as well.  It was the best game of 2011 which was, in retrospect, a great year for games.

5. This Space is for Rent

I certainly played more than five games that I enjoyed in 2013, but I didn’t play five games that I loved.  This just was not a great year for games, I don’t own a WiiU, and I am waiting for the PC version of Grand Theft Auto V.  So, I am going to leave this space blank for now.  I hope that it gets filled next year.

4. Magrunner: Dark Pulse

Magrunner: Dark Pulse was a terrific first person puzzle game that ended up becoming one of this year’s undiscovered gems.  If you had told me that Valve had created this game, I would have believed you easily.  It looks like a Source engine game, rather than a typical Unreal engine game.  It feels like a game that was heavily play tested.  It takes a small handful of magnetism-themed game mechanics and combines them in all sorts of clever ways to build the most fascinating 3D levels that I saw this year.  For good measure, it throws in a campy and (accidentally?) entertaining Cthulu-themed horror story.  If you dismissed this game because if its surface similarities to the Portal series, then go back and give it a try.  The most important resemblance that it bears to Portal is its great puzzles.

3. Ratchet and Clank: Into the Nexus

After years of fumbling around with this license, Insomniac and Sony finally – I mean FINALLY –released another Ratchet and Clank adventure campaign.  I, like probably many fans of this series, wish that Ratchet and Clank: Into the Nexus had been a full $60 campaign that was twice the length.  With that said though, I was more than happy to settle for this short but sweet experience.  The levels were cavernously huge and the gadget-based puzzle solving was as strong as it has ever been.  The visuals were gorgeous – this game was as beautiful as any that I saw this year.  My only true complaint with the game is that the weapon selection was a little stale, but the combat was still fun.  I hope that this isn’t the last that we have seen of Ratchet and Clank.

2. Rayman: Legends

The experience that I had playing Rayman: Legends can be summed up with the words that I said to my son right after playing the “Black Betty” level for the first time – “Wow, that was awesome”.  Over and over again, Rayman: Legends hits you with the “wow” factor – the pure, untainted delight that comes from playing an immensely fun video game.  Instead of just iterating a little bit on Rayman: Origins, Rayman: Legends gives you an entirely new experience, throwing new game mechanics and all kinds of wacky levels at you.  Levels with birthday cake, an undersea Bioshock-themed level, and ingenious musical levels where all of your movements are timed perfectly to the music – these are but of a few of the experiences that you have playing Rayman: Legends.  Ubisoft even added some collectibles to the levels from Origins and tossed those levels in as unlockables.  Once again – wow.  I am still not a fan of the speed or chase sequences that rely heavily on trial and error, and I think that the controls aren’t as tight as they need to be in places.  In my opinion though, this game was easily the year’s best sequel.

1. The Last of Us

If this were a top 5 list for this console generation, then The Last of Us would be at or near the top of it.  I believe that in ten or fifteen years, we will view it as fondly as we do today.  It is hard to pick what The Last of Us does best, because it does just about everything well.  The shooting is intense and dangerous, like it should be.  Its combination of difficulty level and highly refined stealth-action gameplay makes it the best stealth-based came to come out in nearly ten years.  Despite being an entry into a genre that has become oversaturated, it feels fresh and unique, thanks to its excellent storytelling and presentation.  Its lengthy but wonderfully-paced campaign never bogs down in an area that lasts too long – it reminds me of Half-Life 2 in that regard.  For me, the Game of the Year is no contest.  It is The Last of Us in a runaway.

Honorable Mention:  Papers Please, Beyond: Two Souls