So the year has come to a close and it’s time for Game of the Year awards. I, like many others, have spent all year playing games, following hype trains and sometimes being disappointed — but I’ve also been surprised. For better or worse, the following twelve games are games that, to me, stood out the most in 2013. I hope you enjoy my list.
Biggest Surprise: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag - (PC, PS3, 360, WiiU)
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag does something I never thought any game would. Assassin’s Creed is a series I cast aside, never to return to after Brotherhood. The games were doing nothing for me — mindless, easy and with stories that couldn’t hold up to a childrens’ book. Ship Combat. That’s all it took to get my attention. But it’s not just the inclusion of ship combat that redeems it. The fact ship combat has become a major gameplay element changes things up from the mindless combat previous games touted, the question became “Can I engage them?” and not “Do I engage them?”. It became very likely that you could lose in the combat. While the land combat is much of the same, the ship combat added enough new elements to the game that it satisfied me.
Most Disappointing: Pokemon X/Y - (3DS)
Pokemon X/Y was a close runner-up for “Biggest Surprise”. I never did think there’d ever be a Pokemon game (main series) that I didn’t like. Pokemon is never know for having the best story, but they’re usually at least passable. X/Y had possibly the worst story of any game I have ever played. Many will cry “But Pokemon isn’t about the story”, well, to me, it is. I’ve always had enjoyment from the stories of Pokemon games and this one just didn’t cut it. X/Y also saw the addition of a large social aspect, which would’ve been great if it wasn’t at the expense of using the bottom screen for a map which isn’t possible in X/Y. There is also the fact the game runs horribly, 3D or not, there is significant frame dropping. I also spent the whole game using random moves because the battles up until the Pokemon League were so easy that I didn’t need to even think about it.
10. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate – (3DS, Wii-U)
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate expands upon both Monster Hunter Freedom Unite and Monster Hunter Tri, bringing the trademark weighty, animation-priority gameplay that I so love combined with the updated graphics and tutorial of Tri, and the sheer quantity of gear and missions from MHFU. It is by far the best title in the series and it’s only a shame that the 3DS version has no online mode.
9. Tales of Xillia - (PS3)
Tales of Xillia is the latest entry in the Tales series. It comes forth with the usual strong story and engaging gameplay. As always, the characters of the game are excellent and would be enough to hold the game up alone. The game also has the ability to play from the perspective of two characters, giving more replay value than most previous Tales games.
8. Volgarr The viking - (PC)
Volgarr The Viking is a game that will whisk you away, back in time, to a world where games were truly hard and unforgiving. Back in this time, players would have to endlessly repeat sections of a game just to pass them. Volgarr whisks you back to this time, but this time, it’s intentionally designed to be difficult. Volgarr’s difficulty is finely crafted with very few random elements, allowing any player to play it and complete it with enough time and effort. The tight gameplay truly made everything that went wrong your fault.
7. Shadowrun Returns – (PC, iOS, Droid)
Shadowrun Returns marks my second Shadowrun videogame, but also the closest I’ve ever been to the pen and paper game. I’ve always been curious about what was introduced to me as “Dungeons and Dragons in a Cyberpunk setting”. Shadowrun Returns lives up to my expectations. I’ve read a few campaigns from the game and while the whole “Dead Man’s Switch” story is often used, the execution in Shadowrun Returns made up for that completely. In terms of gameplay it was a well-balanced SRPG which had enough diversity to keep the engagements interesting. Its only folly was the lack of ability to save when you wanted (this is being fixed in the patch being released alongside Dragonfall).
6. No More Room In Hell - (PC)
No More Room In Hell holds a special place on my list. Yes, it is a mod. But it is a mod wholly deserving of its position on this list. No More Room In Hell is a blinder that came from nowhere to create the best zombie survival experience I have ever played. Melee attacks in the game are slow and weighty, take up a lot of stamina and require precision. The game completely hinges on co-op to survive, without friends, then zombies will grab you and kill you. In an environment where zombie games are about story or the players, No More Room In Hell puts focus on the stars of the show; the zombies. Each zombie in the game is an obstacle ot overcome and is just as likely to kill you as you are it.
5. Fire Emblem Awakening - (3DS)
Fire Emblem Awakening is the latest entry in the Fire Emblem series — a series I have long regarded as the best SRPG. Awakening is no exception. This game marks the first in the series with a low entry barrier, allowing perma-death to be turned off and the difficulty to be turned down. This eases any player into the wonderful world of Fire Emblem where you’ll develop feelings for the charactes rather than their stats; a world where you’ll learn how to think tactically or lose a friend. Players in Awakening create their own character and can even marry members of the cast, resulting in the player and said character having a child who will become a playable character. Systems like this is why Fire Emblem is so great. Not only does the gameplay feel balanced, the story compel you to move forward and the characters inspire you to protect them, you’ll be sucked completely into the world by the extra systems surrounding the core of the game.
4. Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine - (PC, 360)
Monaco is a mix of chaos and calculation, charging players with commiting robberies any way they please from a top-down perspective. Touting a surprisingly long and interesting story, I’d have been happy enough there, but the co-op play just ties up the game in a neat little ribbon of chaos that helps keep each playthrough unique. Not only is the game itself worth playing, but the soundtrack is also one of the best — if not the best — soundtrack this year.
3. Divinity: Dragon Commander – (PC)
Divinity: Dragon Commander mashes so many genres it was destined to fail. Except it didn’t. Dragon Commander managed to mix multiple genres and have enough depth in each that you’re left feeling completely satisfied. RPG, Turn-based Strategy, Real-time Strategy — and even a bit of romancing. Couple this with an interesting story and interesting characters and you’ve really got something. Touting a lengthy campaign, randomised campaigns and multiplayer, there’s plenty to keep one occupied.
2. Papers, Please - (PC)
Papers, Please is probably the first “art game” I’ve ever truly loved. The game is all about delivering a message about true human nature and it does that incredibly well. But to do this, it employed a very basic “match two pictures”-type game. The twists and additions it made to this game added so much depth, it’s almost unrecognisable. Turning one of the most basic gameplay systems into what it did was quite a feat alone, but what it did with that system — the way in which it pulled out your true nature, the way in which it sucked out your soul — is just as impressive. In the game, you are given a family and they hold heavy weight in all your decisions. This is what pulls out the ruthlessness in you and turns you into a monster.
1. Bravely Default - (3DS)
Bravely Default steps forth to redeem the Final Fantasy series, going back to the roots. A spiritual successor to the DS sleeper hit “Final Fantasy: Four Heroes of Light”, Bravely Default takes the idea of using classic JRPG styling with a bit of a modern twist to it. It does this using the “Bravely Default” system, which allows players to take extra turns now in exchange for not taking action for a few turns. This system really speeds up and fixes some of the issues classic JRPGs have had in the past. Beyond this it touts an interesting story, wonderful art style and being the first 3DS game I’ve ever felt looks better with the 3D on. Look at it normally and it’s a wonderfully hand-drawn world. Turn the 3D on and you’re whisked away into a pop-up book.