Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Steve's Best Games of 2013!

What needs to be said about 2013? Really? Well, seeing as how I'm a third of a geek-ridden Gaming podcast three-way (that sounds much more subjective than I meant it to, or does it?) I feel it's probably obligatory for me to wallow in pretentiousness as I present you, dear reader, with some manner of "Best of 2013" list.

Truth be told, I'm kinda bored with "Game of the Year" bullshit. I'm fed up with seeing the same five titles pop up ad nauseum while "big gaming" sites stroke their own sense of over-inflated importance while bombarding us with reasons why we should only have played five games (plus four incredibly obscure pretentious indie games) this past year. Nay, I say! Nay!

So here we go then, The "Blowin-Smoke" end of year list... I present:



Dead Space 3 - The first game oozed fear like no one's business, the second game showed us that there was more to Dead Space than jump scares and atmosphere, and Dead Space 3 took that world and cracked it wide open. Forget the hubub over the in game purchases and add ons, and whole "co-op action" controversy. Sit back, have a ritalin, and take the game for what it is; a stunning, atmospheric mix of suspense, story, and action that feels tighter than either of the games that came before. Much like Mass Effect 3, Dead Space 3 took a few strides toward the mainstream, while simultaneously holding onto its unique identity, and that deserves applause! On top of that, it's one hell of a ride! Is it the best of the series? In my own contrarian opinion? Yes!

Tomb Raider - Honestly, If someone had a gun planted squarely against my temple and ordered me to pick a "best game of 2013" (what kind of sicko would honestly do that?), My choice would quite possibly be Crystal Dynamics' daring reboot/reimagining of Tomb Raider. There were more "Holy shit!" moments in this game than just about anything I've played in the last few years. Lara Croft's newly minted character shines through a decidedly awesome narrative, some brilliant level design, and some of the most accomplished visuals of the 6th Console generation. I was truly enamored with this game; there were times my jaw was truely agape. It just never let up from the first time I pressed start until the closing credits. It truthfully out "derring-dos" the Uncharted series, and remains blissfully consistent throughout. I can't wait to do it all again on the PS4.

Grid 2 - I really like sim-racing. More accurately, I really like Sim-racing with a slightly arcade bent. Grid 2 is the full package, a well structred career mode that keeps you propelled forward, some awesome controls that are just ever so slightly tipped to the fantastical side of realistic, a smoking graphics engine, and some insane diffuclty that keeps you on your game without feeling cheated by the competition. The car selection doesn't quite rival Forza Motorsport or Gran Turismo... but what's there is pretty cool.

Defiance - If nothing else, Defiance gave me a huge open world to roam around and shoot things in. That, in and of itself is kinda cool. No, it ain't technically beautiful, and no, it doesn't really re-invent the wheel. What it does do, is present a pretty cool narrative in an awesome post-apocalyptic sci-fi setting and let you roam around a huge map with an LMG, weaving in or out of other players games as much as you want or see fit. There are some great ideas here, I love the visual design, and the TV show is a bit of fun as well. I really don't have to justify myself here, I had a ton of fun with this game. So there - the only "top whatever" list on the internet that features Defiance. Mission accomplished!

Remember Me - We here at Blast Processing are HUGE cyberpunk fans, I'm also immensely keen on studios who really attempt to build worlds when they create a game. Remember Me is pure cyberpunk 101, a tale that weaves revolution, utopia, and memory thieves upon the georgeous tapestry of a Utopian 21st century Paris that's been meticulously designed. The "beat-em-up" gameplay starts off a little stale, but once you start unlocking abilities, things get very cool. Sadly it's unlikely that anyone's gonna remember this one next week, let alone next year, and that's kinda sad. This really is quite the gem of a game. Sure, it's flawed, I'd have loved to actually roam around this beautiful world rather than be shoehorned through corridors, and there weren't nearly enough "memory remix" puzzles, but overall, this is one worth playing for anyone looking for something a little off the beaten path. Or indeed any fan of William Gibson, Phillip K. Dick, or their brand of paranoid dystopian sci-fi.

The Last of Us - OK, so everyone and their dog loves this game, and I'm no exception. What Naughty Dog have concocted here is a technical marvel, with some truly wonderful characters playing out their drama on a wonderfully realized stage. Joel and Ellie convey an incredible range of emotion, and the narrative does its best to convey the huma spirit as it simultaneously pummels with utter, total bleakness. Do I feel it goes on maybe just a smidge too long? Yes, I actually do, and by the end I found myself ground down by the constantly overwhelming fultility. There were also a few levels where I felt the gunplay was a little too front and center, and that made things a little boring, but overall, My god! What a great effort!

Shadowrun Returns - Shadowrun creator Jordan Wiseman was quick to dive into the Kickstarter waters immediately after Tim Schaefer made history with Double Fine Adventure, and the end result more than adequately lives up to the hype. Not only is the Blade Runner-meets-Dungeons and Dragons setting a slice of pure awesomecake, Shadowrun Returns is a brilliant little old school RPG that follows in the tradition of classics like Fallout. Beautiful artwork, a great story, and amazingly simple mechanics are bolstered with strategic depth and a metric ton of created content (on the PC version anyway). It plays great on either a PC or a tablet, and there's more incoming.

Tales of Xilia - Solid storytelling, great graphics and music, and some wonderful mechanics makes Tales of Xilia a standout JRPG at a time when standout JRPGs are very few and far between. Is it a classic in the truest sense? I'm inclined to say no, but at the same time, I found it wholly engaging, and it's one of my most played games of the past year... so that's something.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist - Sam Fisher took an extended hiatus until 2013, when Ubisoft brought us Blacklist. Think of Blacklist like James Bond, it reboots the series while simultaneously sticking to what came before, and succeeds brilliantly because of it. Rather than "hardcore" stealth, Blacklist combines elements of Ubi's most recent "Ghost Recon" outing, and a hub/headquarters that feels ripped right out of Mass Effect. Combine the fantastic stealth/action hybrid gameplay with a seamless and brilliantly integrated multiplayer suite, and a pretty fantastic storyline to boot, and you get not only the best damn game in the Splinter Cell series, but one of the very best titles of 2013.

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn - Unprecedented is a word I could use to describe Final Fantasy XIV's rebirth, triumphant also suits it well. Square-Enix did the unthinkable here, scrapping their abyssmal first offering in favor of a complete table flip. The end result is not only a game that rebuilds my faith in Square-Enix brick-by-brick, but does a damn fine job of being the best MMORPG to come along in YEARS. The deep systems in play are beautifully presented on both console and PC, and the game's design is a thing of sheer beauty. If you've been looking for an MMO pond to dip your feet into, this is the best one out there right now.

Bioshock Infinite - Oh Bioshock: Infinite... For about the first two thirds of the runtime, I was enamoured with your world. The music, the sights, the mystery slowly unfolding, those annoying Lautece twins. The first time my eyes opened on Columbia, complete with old timey music and early 1900's baptisms, I truly felt that I was witnessing one of the greatest games in history unfolding. Then I hit the final third, and Oh, Bioshock, how I wanted to rip that damn disc out of my drive and take a dump all over the medoicre shooter that you had become. Still, My god! That first two-thirds is unforgettable. Amazing stuff, even if the mere memory of that final third still confusticates and infuriates. I won't talk about the ending, suffice it to say I think it's brilliant, but also infuriating.

Diablo III - Take THAT PC Gamers! Blizzard slaved over a hot stove, attempting to boil the essence of Diablo into something palettable on your standard video game console, and the end result was a compltely new experience that, in truth, didn't really mimic the PC experience (click, click, click, click!) but rather expanded considerably upon it, improved it, perfected it. Diablo III on consoles is one of the most addictive, insanely fun things I have played. With two or three firends in the same room, it becomes such an incredible experience. Co-op gaming has never been better!

Grand Theft Auto V - What more really need be said about GTA V? Undoubtedly a masterpiece, mature storytelling, great characters, beautiful graphics, huge world, tons of side activities, and GTA Online... yes, this is an all encompassing package. It didn't quite have the staying power I was hoping for, personally, as I kind of got bored about halfway through the single player campaign. GTA Online also kinda blows, more because of the players than the concept, but yep, this is still a marvel of a game. Where else can you play a mission that involves Yoga, alien abduction, hallucinatory flights over a digital re-creation of Los Angeles (Los Santos, sorry) and a divorce letter? Nowhere.

Batman: Arkham Origins - There had always been something about the Arkham games that struck me as false. These "ultimate" Batman games never really felt like they were telling a true-to-form Batman tale to me, until Arkham Origins. Roaming around a deserted Gotham City while being hunted by 8 brutal killers is pure Batman, and the way they handle Batman's first outing with his arch nemesis is both fresh and brilliant! On top of that there's one of the greatest, most intense boss battles I've ever played in the battle royale against Deathstroke in the bowels of The Penguin's cargo freighter turned underground boxing den/arms bazaar. The game sometimes struggles to give the player things to do, but when you stick to script, it's overall a pretty rewarding entry in the franchise, even if it doesn't have the "OH CRAP!" ending that Arkham City had.

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag - In many ways, Assassin's Creed IV is rebelling against the tropes of the series up to this point; the "Animus" meta-game is more afterthought than crucial plot point, the main character, technically speaking, isn't even an assassin( spoilers!), but what it does, is take all of the great mechanics of what's probably been the greatest new franchise of the 6th generation, and throw it into a gigantic open world freaking PIRATE simulator! When you step into the ports and cities the gameplay becomes classic Creed, but when you set sail for open seas, Edward Kenway and his crew take on a whole new life. A beautifully realized life that is totally enthralling. It doesn't hurt that the writing is top drawer, and the game is a technical feat unlike anything else in the series. And we're talking a series that really took open world to the next level well before any of the competition. Ok, so maybe this OR Tomb Raider if someone has a gun to my head...

Killzone: Shadow Fall - It'd be easy to take one look at Killzone: Shadow Fall and dismiss it as 1st gen launch eye-candy, and sure enough, it's been heralded as the "must own" PS4 show-er-offer. Beneath all of the (very) pretty shinies however, beats the heart of a matured, assured first person shooter. Guerrila Games broke away from the "space marines" norm with this bad boy, creating a wholly unique feeling sci-fi take on Cold War Europe, and the mission variety isn't just simple bait n switch, but a rather drastic tonal shift from sneaking through forests and popping caps into Helghast shock troops to infiltrating a creepy as hell decrepit space station on a collision course with a nearby sun. DO NOT sell this one short, this is a world class shooter from an accomplished team, and a must play for fans of the last few games in the series.

Beyond: Two Souls - I absolutely adored "Heavy Rain", I'm just going to get that out of the way before I defend David Cage's divisive follow-up. Beyond: Two Souls doesn't have that same instant appeal, but what's here is a more diverse, fantastical narrative that hits the same dramatic highs, and indeed at times ratchets the tension even higher than Heavy Rain did. It's a wonderful experience in "interactive cinema" that's backed up by stellar performances and beautiful visuals. No, it isn't for everybody, but I feel it's a unique experience that deserves to be played.

Gran Turismo 6 - Finally! Something that stands up to the legacy of the series. GT6 is the real deal, and we can all now thankfully forget the half finished, unpolished mess that was GT 5. The series long running fetish for customization, both under the hood of your car and under the controller options menu returns in full force, making for an experience that's both real and fun. There's a ridiculous library of cars, a ton of tracks, and a huge career mode to fly through here, and while driver AI remains as oblivious as always, there've been some tweaks here and there to make things a little more exciting (purists be damned). Does it dethrone Forza Motorsport 4? In my book, No, probably not... but it's as close as anything has come yet, including Forza 5.

Ys: Memories of Celceta - The long running Ys series turned 25 this year, and what's amazing is that mainstream gaming scarcely knows of its existence. Memories of Celceta retells the take of the 4th game in the series, and brings all of the latest advancements made in Ys 6 and 7 to the table to make for the most polished, addictive, and accomplished game in the series. Ys seven on PSP was fantastic, and this sucker, on Sony's PS Vita is even better. If you're looking for some open-world action RPG antics, with a fast combat system, deep customization, and a solid tale to tell, it really doesn't get much better than this. I love that this little series keeps on trucking, and the mythology added in recent years, as well as the stellar localizations by Xseed, keeps it more relevant than ever.

Lost Planet 3 - Lost Planet 3 doesn't really bring much to the table in terms of innovation. It's solid; solid controls, solid graphics, solid mechanics. Where it gets me, however is in the tale that it tells, and the uncompromising fashion in which it tells it. This is a classic sci-fi yarn, with giant mining robots squaring off against giant insects while governments and rebels plot behind the scenes. It's kind of a striking game too, even if it's not the most technically accomplished, the art design is truly great stuff. If this were a movie, it'd be one of those GREAT si-fi flicks from the late '80s or early '90s t5hat followed in the wake of Cameron's Aliens. If that sounds cool to you, then you should play this game!

No comments: