Everyone here really enjoyed the year of 2013 in games. There were some nice surprises along the way, great games that came out of nowhere, as well as some high-profile releases that lived up to, if not surpassed, our expectations. Games are great and we’re here to celebrate them. So, come with us on a little adventure…
This category isn’t about best or worst news, it is merely to acknowledge some really dumb headlines that have been posted over the past year, mostly because the news they represent is crazy or silly. The fact that the Year of Luigi is continuing in 2014 is both crazy and silly. Most of the games Luigi helmed none of us here really cared about, but Nintendo seems insistent that we should. You had your year, Luigi, please stop. [Editor’s Note: Thank you to Polygon and Gamespot for providing the news and headlines we used in this category]
2013’s 20-aught Game of the Year
Persona 4 Golden
Here we represent the game that didn’t come out this year, but all of us enjoyed so much it might have been included on at least our personal lists if it was released in 2013. No game represents this idea better than Persona 4 Golden, a remake of a PS2 game with smart changes to make a great game even better. The Marie Social Link and everything that follows her story is tied into the main story arc so well that we can’t see that game as complete without her; plus there’s a Social Link with Detective Adachi, which is surprisingly really good and fleshes out a character that maybe we didn’t get enough insight into in the original release. Fusing Personas also received a much-needed revamping, making it easier than ever before to fuse personas with the exact skills you desire. Persona 4 Golden is a favorite game for many of us, solidifying it’s spot on this list. #Personathon!
Runners-up: Zero Escape Vol. 2: Virtue’s Last Reward, Dark Souls
The reimagined licensed songs alone were enough for us to let Bioshock Infinite run away with this category. But the orchestral score is also fantastic. The way the music swells as Booker bursts through the clouds and sees Columbia for the first time or how the battle music gets more frantic as the city crumbles around you really makes the soundtrack an intrinsic part of the world. It is a soundtrack that is emotionally affecting as Booker sees Elizabeth for the first time and towards the end when things start to get crazy, the music stays with you and keeps you locked in for the wild ride.
Runners-up: The Last of Us, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Could this have been any other game this year? SimCity started off as a great promise for what was to come and actually implemented some good mechanics, like the new road building tool, to make city building the best it has been in a SimCity game. But the land sizes are much too small and the game forces you to interact with more than one city if you want yours to prosper. That wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if it weren’t for the numerous problems SimCity had with its launch. It has been a long nine months for SimCity and they just turned Cheetah Speed back on. Some of us really wanted to like SimCity but were immensely let down. Way to go SimCity. You won something.
Runners-up: Saints Row IV, Batman Arkham Origins Blackgate
The fact that Year Walk is a genuinely scary horror game on an iPad was enough to surprise us, but the creepy story it tells with all the strange Swedish folklore monsters is really compelling as well. More than anything, Year Walk commits to being an iPad game with puzzles that could only work on a touch screen. You’re lost most of the time as you wander the eerie woods, swiping left or right, hoping nothing will jump out at you. But that’s the great thing about Year Walk: it withholds those scares just long enough to ratchet up the tension and connect you to the world it presents.
Runners-up: Gunpoint, Anodyne
Last year we commended The Walking Dead for bringing game story further than it has before. Gone Home is an evolution of that spirit, with a mostly environmental story as you discover what the Greenbriar family has been up to over the past year. The tales presented in Gone Home are rich and the central story of Sam discovering her identity and sexuality is incredibly emotional and unlike anything in video games. Most of all we celebrate the fact that you wander around a house for 1-4 hours and never come face to face with another person, but you know and understand the characters in Gone Home better than pretty much any others this year.
Runners-up: The Last of Us, Bioshock Infinite
“There’s always a city, there’s always a lighthouse, there’s always a man.” This award was a tough one to crack, but ultimately we landed on the side of Bioshock Infinite for its crazy metaphysical ending that says just as much about the Bioshock series as it does video games at large. It is an expertly crafted sequence as you rediscover Rapture and explore the infinite number of lighthouses. It is the kind of ending that stuck with us through the year and brought up a number of discussions on its impact and the multiple meanings you can derive from it.
Runners-up: The Last of Us, Gone Home
The Prologue of The Last of Us
Talk about starting off with a bang. This moment was a no-contest winner in our minds. Naughty Dog somehow crafts an opening using most of the tropes in a zombie apocalypse, but overcomes them just in the powerful and emotional relationship between Joel and Sarah. Riding around in the car turning back and forth to see the chaos around you works because of Sarah’s hesitance in her animations. It is intense and concludes with one of the most brutal gut-punches a game has ever pulled. We’ll remember this moment for a long time to come.
Runners-up: Blowing up the Applebee’s in Bubsy Visits the James Turrell Retrospective, Suburbs in Anodyne
Trevor Phillips – Grand Theft Auto V
Trevor wins this category not just because he is insane, but because he is insane with a purpose. He’s smart and manipulative, gaining allies that should despise him but somehow tolerate him. Above all though, Trevor is the pure embodiment of the Grand Theft Auto player. He is that chaos and destruction that players want, and an acknowledgment on how detestable that kind of person can be. It’s the natural evolution of a video game protagonist who does things just because he can, and in a world where you do just about anything because because you can, isn’t that exactly what we all want?
Runners-up: Sam Greenbriar – Gone Home, Ellie – The Last of Us
Jackson Ellis – NBA 2K14 (Xbox One/PS4 Version)
Jackson Ellis is the best kind of antagonist because you immediately hate him. He’s cocky and he thinks he’s better than you. He’s not better than you, you’re going to rule the NBA and leave him in the dust. But he’ll still call you out in games or make fun of you on Social Media. In a basketball game with a sports story as cliched as it comes, Jackson Ellis is the fun kind of cliche. He’s the type of guy you love to hate, the one that keeps you going just so you can get another endorphin rush when you outscore him.
Runners-up: Comstock – Bioshock Infinite, The Brook Horse – Year Walk
Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto V takes that one great heist mission in Grand Theft Auto IV and makes it the crux of its entire game. The heist missions are some of the best video game missions this year and in between those, Grand Theft Auto V varies mission design so wildly that its crazy when you put the two games side by side. Not to mention the beautiful and well-realized open world Rockstar crafted. It’s the most improved iteration on what has come before and our best sequel of the year.
Runners-up: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Bioshock Infinite
Best Original Game
Antichamber is a puzzle game that hurts. It changes all of its rules at the drop of a hat and dares you to figure it out. The rules don’t make sense in our understanding of physics and reality, but they somehow make perfect sense in the world of Antichamber. When you start to understand the principles behind puzzles Antichamber becomes a delight in design. The world itself is beautiful in its lack of variety and only uses color when absolutely necessary. It’s crazy to think anyone could come up with such a different and unique style of puzzle solving, making this the best original game in our minds.
Runners-up: Papers, Please, Gone Home
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
This award used to be split into two categories: Best Looking 3D and Best Looking 2D, but in 2013 that distinction didn’t make as much sense, so we elected to make one category called Prettiest Game and award that to, you guessed it, the prettiest game. Ni no Kuni commits wholeheartedly to the Studio Ghibli art style. So much so when showing some editors the difference between in-game art and the Studio Ghibli animated cutscenes, we had difficulty figuring out exactly which was which. It is a wonderful world with beautiful and unique cities, each completely different than the last. There’s so much variety and detail in the locations, each more delightful than the last. We had to give this award to Ni no Kuni. It’s just so pretty.
Runners-up: Antichamber, Bioshock Infinite
Jank of the Year
Dead Island: Riptide
Why do we bother awarding a game with Jank of the Year? Is it to inspire those to be better, or to chastise those that think this is a “good enough” thing to release? We don’t exactly know, maybe it’s a little of both. Or maybe it’s just to call out a shitty thing when we see it. Dead Island: Riptide’s brand of jank was enough to send one of our editors into a frenzy over how many times his game froze, weapons disappeared, or quests wouldn’t spawn. The first Dead Island was janky in a pretty fun way, Riptide however elevates that jank to a near broken game. This is not an award to celebrate, but an award to point out how dumb it is a game can be released with such issues.
Runners-up: Star Trek, Dark
Best Next Gen Feature
Both the PS4 and Xbox One controllers are improvements over their predecessors in different ways. The Xbox One has a much better D-Pad and the rumble triggers offer good feedback for different systems in games. The PS4 controller is an all-around improvement from the pretty bad PS3 controller. The sticks are small and tight so your thumbs won’t touch as you push them together and the triggers are actually good for shooting. It’s a fantastic controller. They’re both great. You know that. We know that. But at the end of the day, what are those controllers being used for? Because so far most of those games don’t really add up to much. And so we’re left staring to the vast nothingness of an empty UI screen, wondering what it all means.
Runners-up: Twitch Sharing, Vague Existential Malaise
Best Open World
Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto V boasts one of the most well-realized and best looking open worlds a video game has ever created. Los Santos is shockingly similar to its real-world counterpart with a natural sectioning of the city from beach front properties to the parts of town with older buildings that have been left behind for the newer flasher kind. The Vinewood Hills give off an air of pretentiousness and a better-than-thou attitude. Out past the hills is an expansive desert with beautiful vistas and brilliant sunsets. There’s so much in Grand Theft Auto’s world that feels real and expertly crafted like no other open world this year.
Runners-up: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Batman: Arkham Origins
Gone Home is the culmination of environmental storytelling. It is the adventure of finding clues and piecing together the riddle of what happened to your family over the past year. Why did they move? What are their lives like? As far as adventure games go Gone Home is one that propels the genre forward. Dialogue options and quirky puzzles are one type of adventure, but Gone Home is something else entirely.
Runners-up: Papers, Please, Gunpoint
The Last of Us
No other game this year gave us battles as tense or controller-gripping as The Last of Us. You use all the options available to you to get out of sticky situations constantly. But you hold onto items as long as you can, because you know you’ll need them sooner or later. The infected make you play more slowly and cautiously, while the humans cause a different kind of tension entirely where you’re stealthy for as long as possible, then savagely brutal if you get caught. It is a game where you play cat and mouse with the enemies, but you’re never defined by only one of those roles.
Runners-up: Grand Theft Auto V, Bioshock Infinite
Best Role Playing Game
Shin Megami Tensei IV
Shin Megami Tensei IV is the one RPG that strives to say something about the nature of RPGs. The tug of war that happens between new and old ideas is a constant looming presence. The questions posed to the player are presented without a clear right answer, where your choices are black and white but you struggle to find the grey in between. In what other game can you barter items and money with demons and never know how they’re going to react? They may steal your stuff and run off, get angry and keep fighting you, or actually join your party; you’ll never fully figure out how a demon will react to your negotiations. It’s the most mechanically intensive and satisfying JRPG in quite some time and absolutely the best of the year.
Runners-up: Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, Pokemon X/Y
Best Next Generation Launch Title
NBA 2K14 (Xbox One/PS4 Version)
We don’t really want to keep playing many of the other launch games besides NBA 2K14. The story mode is genuinely enjoyable with its silly Mass Effect style dialogue choices, and actual basketball is pretty fun too. It’s the best basketball game this year, probably the best sports game this year, and most definitely the best looking next gen game so far. Which is crazy because none of us are really that big of sports game fans. We dabble from time to time, but none of us our hardcore sports game players. That’s an achievement in and of itself. Now excuse us while we go rub our wins in Jackson Ellis’ face.
Runners-up: Resogun, Dead Rising 3
Best Game Evan Doesn’t Like
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
The running joke seems to be that Evan doesn’t like a lot of games. It’s true sometimes his opinion differs from the norm, so we decided to craft an award around his hatred of all things great. Evan doesn’t like Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. He doesn’t think the mechanics are effective nor the story holds any weight. He didn’t care about the brothers and thought the puzzles were mindlessly boring once you got a handle on the controls. But he’s totally wrong, right? He just doesn’t get it, does he? Maybe one day he’ll learn to like things, but until that time we’ll just have to award what he doesn’t.
Runners-up: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Pokemon X/Y
Best Game Ryan Likes But No One Else Does
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
Ryan likes games that no other editor on staff really likes. He’s kind of the opposite of Evan where he’ll praise a game that everyone else finds much fault in. This year, though, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is the one game we can say is probably the most ambitious in scope, if not the best of the lot. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag feels like it’s made by people suffering from an identity crisis and not really wanting to make anymore Assassin’s Creed games. But we still don’t like it all that much. Ryan does, though. So good for him liking things.
Runners-up: Gears of War: Judgment, Pokemon X/Y
Worst Game of the Year
R.I.P.D.: The Game
This is the worst game of 2013. It’s a blatant reskinning of God Mode, a game the developers put out earlier the same year. R.I.P.D.: The Game is a broken pile of garbage where you replay the exact same maps over and over again so you can fill up a bar to get story beats that basically say “Good job, now go do all of that five more times over.” There’s more to be said about R.I.P.D.: The Game, but that’s giving the game far more acknowledgement than it deserves. It is a terrible horde-mode-style game with dreadfully boring combat and awful maps.
[Editor’s Note: I blame Ben Textor for asking me to play this downright atrocious game with him. I was going to review it back when it came out, but I couldn’t come up with anything except some downtrodden sighs and angry grunts. Fuck you, R.I.P.D.: The Game.]
Runners-up: DARK, Dead Island: Riptide
ERROR! NOT FOUND’S TOP TEN GAMES OF THE YEAR
Getting through one of The Stanley Parable’s multiple endings is fast and usually pretty funny. It attempts to ask players why they care about things like achievements or if you really care about a designers intentions. You want to see as many of the endings as you can just for another witty remark or statement on video games. It doesn’t succeed 100% of the time, but when it does The Stanley Parable is like nothing else out right now.
Say what you will about the changes A Link Between Worlds makes to the Zelda formula and whether they work, or could even be considered large enough changes to matter, but it is still a clever and joyous nostalgic trip that attempts to be something more than just A Link to the Past 2. Dungeons take on a whole different understanding when you can use just about any item for each situation, so the puzzle becomes not how the item you get in each dungeon is used, but which item or whether any need to be used at all.
Anodyne largely succeeds because it creates this vaguely unsettling atmosphere mostly through its music and bizarre locations. Around the midway point, it shows its hand as a sort of metaphorical view of Young’s subconscious and uses this intriguing character portrait as this jump off point to explore themes of video game addiction. It’s hard to fully place Anodyne because it meshes with so many different types of games, but the story it tells validates its spot on this list.
It’s the best RPG of the year and one of the best games of the year. Shin Megami Tensei IV‘s demon compendium is the foremost thus far, making it easier than ever to pull and fuse demons for battles. The story it tells, while on its face may seem a bit stale, if you peel back the layers is a more than capable story about the difference between old and new, black and white, and why we struggle to find the meaning in the grey muck in between.
Papers, Please might be the most mundane game on our list, but that’s really what makes it so mesmerizing. It is a long slog through various documents, visas, permits, and passports that start to get muddled and run together. We would constantly mess up and get a citation and hated our job. But we kept going because for some reason, after a certain point, the checking and stamping of passports becomes mildly enjoyable. We were captivated by the bleakness of the world and the intentionally muted color palette. Papers, Please is taxing exercise in tedium and that’s what makes it great.
We’ve already said so many great things about Grand Theft Auto V. It won our Best Protagonist and Open World categories, after all. But there’s something special about Grand Theft Auto V’s mission design that sets it apart from other games of its ilk. Grand Theft Auto V’s unique character switching mechanics allow players to always be where the action is at its most intense. A shootout becomes more engaging when you have the opportunity to switch characters and get the drop on your enemies from behind. The variety in missions created so many hilarious and tense moments we couldn’t stop talking about all the great moments in Grand Theft Auto V, which is why it deserves a spot on this list.
Antichamber does things that no other puzzle game has ever done before. There are puzzles that don’t make any sense, but utterly make sense. Antichamber is an abstract space with entirely different rules for reality and wrapping your mind around those rules is a puzzle unto itself. Nothing ever seems impossible in Antichamber, though. It’s a puzzle game with tons of new ideas and new interpretations on what a puzzle game can be, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Portal.
Bioshock Infinite is a pulpy science fiction story with a crazy metaphysical ending. It’s wonderfully beautiful with rich blue skies, fascinating architecture, and Disney-esque character designs and animation. It tackles intense themes of American exceptionalism, race, and religion like no other game ever could. Combining vigors and weapons to dispatch enemies is enjoyable and the skylines add a compelling open-endedness to the encounters. All of it combines to create an intensely immersive world filled with pockets of order and disorder. Bioshock Infinite firmly stands out of the shadow of the original Bioshock by creating a game just like it, only better.
Everything about The Last of Us feels like an answer to criticisms of Naughty Dog’s Uncharted franchise. The somber mood and brutal combat are the exact opposite of Nathan Drake’s charm and devil-may-care attitude. The Last of Us tells a bleak and heartbreaking story of two people crossing the country together and the relationship that grows between them with Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson giving two of the best performances this year in Joel and Ellie. It’s a wonderful game with top-notch storytelling and some of the most intense action of the year.
There was no argument on our game of the year, with Gone Home being one of the only unanimous decisions we made. We all thought it was a wonderfully moving and well-written story. Finding all of the objects that link together story threads and forming conclusions on what happened over the past year for the Greenbriar family is unlike anything else this year. Gone Home also has one of the best voiced characters in Sam, perfectly portrayed by Sarah Grayson. We can’t stop saying enough glowing things about Gone Home and the story it tells. It’s beautiful, moving, mysterious, and pretty damn close to perfect. It’s absolutely our game of the year for 2013.
That’s it. We did it. Another year has gone by and here we are at the start of 2014. I wonder if it’ll be nearly as interesting.