It may seem cliché to say this, but 2013 was a good year for gamers. This year was exceptional because of the unique titles that were released. These titles help highly some of the key purposes of videogames : to entertain, to distract and to reflect.
This year, we pay hommage to several remarquable games, because they were fun to play and because they each contributed something new to the videogame industry.
The Last of Us
It is no secret that dystopia stories are popular these days. From books (Hunger Games, Divergent) to movies (Oblivion, Elysium) to video games (Bioshock, Deus Ex), the topic of survival in a broken world has always fascinated society. Yet nothing could have prepared us for The Last of Us, a powerful story about the survival of a little girl and her keeper.
The people at Naughty Dogs Studios are well known for delivering thrilling stories in its Uncharted games. However, The Last of Us goes beyond the traditional action themes: it is a raw story about survival. Nothing in this game feel heroic, satisfaction is drawn for surviving a challenge, only to be followed closely by the dread of the next challenge. To elaborate on the story of the game would be to ruin the experience. However, the interactions between Ellie and Joel are true and honest, lending credibility to the game.
If you own a Playstation 3 and enjoy action games, you owe it to yourself to play this game.
Shooting games are rarely known for epic story telling. Played from a first-person perspective, it's difficult to relate to a character when you never see his face. An easy solution is to introduce cinematics from a 3rd party perspective, but these break up the flow of the game, removing the feeling of immersion.
It's amazing to see how Irrational Games break these conventions and tell a masterful story from a first-player perspective. As the story progress, you'll care more and more about the main characters, Booker and Elizabeth. This is one of those "just five more minutes" games that will keep you up for hours. The estethics are incredible, and the gameplay is finely tune. Bioshock is one of those must play games for shooting fans.
Note that experience with the previous Bioshock game is not needed to enjoy the game. I do encourage you to visit Bioshock 1 at a latter point if you enjoyed this game, but can't really encourage you to play Bioshock 2.
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
What happens when you combine one of Japan's premier videogame studio and with one of Japan's premier animation studio? You get a game that is also a work of art.
Ni no Kuni is an action RPG which follows the story of a little boy prophesied to same the world. Although the game could easily rest of the strengh of it's animation and story, Ni no Kuni turns out to be a good videogame in itself. Fans of Dragon Quest 8 will feel at home in the game's interface, while combat shift toward the more active route we are seeing in newer RPGs.
It easy to forget some of the fundamental reasons videogames are played. Big studios are more than happy then to repackage existing sucess, maximizing their return on investement.
Independant developers trive on bringing us something different. Ridiculus Fishing is the perfect example that different and powerful experiences can be crafted by small teams focusing on core values. The game is broken down into 4 steps: cast your lure deep as possible, catch as many fish as you can coming up, shoot the fish and buy upgrades. Such a simple concept, but it is executed wonderfully.
By far, Ridiculous Fishing is not the only indie game to check out this year. Might I suggest a quick visit to the Humble Bundle store?
Plants vs. Zombies 2: It's About Time
Unfortunately, not all inovations this year were positive. The follow up to a much beloved titled, Plant vs. Zombies 2 is a perfect example of how the freemium model can break a good game.
Don't get this wrong, there is nothing wrong with the freemium model. It is an essential component to the current game industry and an important evolution in the casual model. However, the freemium transformation of PvZ took the unique experiences of the first game and turned it into a hollow and grindy incarnation of its former self. Althought the masterful transformation of the title should be applauded from a design perspective, the player in me mourns the title when the same level is repeted a third time to collect stars, an essential progression component in the story.
Borderlands 2 : Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep
The concept of Downloadable Content (DLC) is subject to many controversies. In essence, DLC allows a developer to easily expand upon an existing game, bringing more content to the player. Unfortunately, DLC can also be used to reduce the amount of content initialy offered to the player, in an attempt to continuously access a player's wallet. Regardless, DLC are not considerer games themselves, but rather expansions. So why include a simple DLC in a list of top games of the year?
A better question would be: have you played Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep?
Tiny Tina's is one of Borderland's most lovable character, a slightly unstable 13-year-old girl who adores playing with explosives. In this DLC, you leave the known world of Pandora for a game of Bunkers and Badasses, Pandora's equivalent of Dungeons&Dragon. The game's fundamental mechanics are unchanged, but the environment is an aventure in itself. The story is hilarious, but grounded as you soon learn that this game is also Tina learning to cope with an important tragic moment from the main game.
If you have played Borderlands, you need to try this DLC out.
And many others ...
To say that this list is complete would be a lie. The year 2013 offered us many other great titles. There were no shortage of independant games: epic innovations like the Stanley Parable. Although few games came out on the Nintendo 3DS, it featured some of the best mobile gaming with Fire Emblem: Awakening, Pokemon x&Y and The Legend of Zelda, a Link to Two Worlds. Tomb Raider got a reboot, and Grand Theft Auto released its biggest sequel to date. Most important is the release f two next-gen console, although the jury is not out yet on the quality of the first releases.
The year 2013 was great for gaming, and 2014 is gearing up to be even better.