2013 has been a standout year for games, with some of the best titles of the console generation abeing released and the top games on mobile.
To celebrate a great year, team Develop have each listed their top three games of 2013, and why they deserve attention and critical acclaim.
This game was heavily flawed. The combat was repetitive and relentless, the pacing of the story was a little mixed and while Rapture was beautifully coherent and plausible in its design, there were aspects of Columbia that just didn’t make sense. Where do they get enough water to fill Battleship Bay if it’s constantly cascading off the edge of the world?
But few games engrossed me this year as much as BioShock Infinite. It is always a pleasure to explore a fantastical world that’s unlike anything in ours, and the relationship between Booker and Elizabeth turned a character that could have been a typical damsel in distress into someone you genuinely wanted to protect.
The highlight, of course, was the final hours. From that fleeting glimpse of the future to the revelation that blew the entire BioShock series wide open, the quality of the finale’s writing and direction made me instantly forgive all of the shortcomings in the preceding ten hours.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
I’ve been an avid fan of the Zelda series since Ocarina of Time but with so many franchises evolving at a much faster rate, Link’s most recent adventures have felt a little lacking. Skyward Sword in particular left me with low hopes for future entries in the series, believing the formula had become so stagnant that Nintendo would be hard pressed to recreate the wonders of earlier games.
A Link Between Worlds is a huge step in the right direction. For something that quite clearly began life as a straight remake of A Link To The Past, it instantly proves that while progress is needed, Zelda shouldn’t stray too far from its roots. It also serves as a great reminder of Nintendo’s skill at design seemingly simple but devilishly intricate worlds, packed with secrets to discover.
The game also proves that the Zelda formula doesn’t need a full overhaul to be engaging again: subtler tweaks and smaller additions can make the series feel fresh without being unrecognisable as a Zelda game. The ability to rent all weapons from the beginning finally gives value to the rupees that Zelda fans are unavoidably hoard, and the threat of losing these weapons if you die adds a frustrating but oddly satisfying level of challenge to the game. And the ability to tackle the dungeons in any order you choose (or the order your self-defined inventory allows) breathes an air of freedom back into a series where discovery has always been a highlight.
Choosing Grand Theft Auto V as game of the year would have been too obvious a choice, and for good reason: Rockstar’s latest blockbuster is the pinnacle of the open-world sandbox title, allowing you to carve out a life for yourself in a wonderfully detailed fictional US state. But for me, the Online component is even more impressive.
We already knew that Rockstar can tell a great story in its giant virtual playgrounds, but to transform it into a seamless world for co-operative and competitive criminal antics is an impressive achievement. The atmosphere of GTA Online is very different to GTA V: while the latter feels like a film you progress through at your own pace, the multiplayer is your chance to tell your own story.
The wealth of missions available are far more engaging than the single-player story when played with friends, and aspects such as purchasing a safe house and even insuring your car give you a sense of ownership on Los Santos that GTA V doesn’t quite manage. And the inclusion of more than a dozen other players in the same world, either going about their own business or trying to stop you in yours brings a crime-ridden world to life.
I realise this game was only released last month, but I have spent nearly every available opportunity trying to break my high scores through nefarious tactics (such as human hoarding, which is IMPOSSIBLE) spotted on YouTube and other streaming sites, thanks to the PS4 share.
The game has even encouraged me to use the PS4’s new Twitch streaming options to broadcast some of my playthroughs to the one or two poor souls to have watch me fail. Whatever you think about this function, it is certainly a delight when people start watching your stream, and an element of ‘I better not mess this up then’.
Tight controls, relentless fun and bags of replayability, this is a must play.
Grand Theft Auto V
The most obvious pick, but that’s the reason it’s on my list. It’s a game where you can do almost anything, even if it’s just chilling and driving around and taking in the title’s beautiful scenery and colourful characters.
Perhaps the best element of the game are the stories you create unique for yourself that you can tell your friends about. I’ll never forget admiring my stylish new car, before it nearly got totalled by a criminal on the run from the police, sparking a ten minute chase through the streets.
Few other games can rival what Rockstar have done with GTA V in terms of scale and sheer ambition.
The Last of Us
I realise I haven’t been breaking new ground with this list (Need to broaden my tastes a lot more in 2014 – budget and time permitting! Hey, I’m only a poor journalist), but The Last of Us was a groundbreaking this game this year.
I love a great story (which rarely happens in games I feel), and became very involved in the story of Joel and Ellie as they make their way to Salt Lake City. The acting and scripting is always spot on. In fact, I’m ashamed to admit, one almost nonchalant scene nearly made me shed a tear, so immersed I was in the game. One of the best games of all time in my book.
Oh, and it’s fun to play, too.
The Last of Us
Proving the PlayStation 3 still has plenty of life yet in it was Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us. Emotional-charged and executed with a precision and grace that’s rarely seen in video games, the Santa Monica studio showed that the art form can indeed touch us in ways we’ve not felt. Zombie games have come and gone in their abundance, but few could have foreseen that TLOU, with its frightening mirror reflecting a world not too dissimilar from our own, would be so effecting. It helps too that every flinch, every footstep and every fall is realised with impeccable perfectionism. Without doubt one of the greatest games of our time.
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Life is too rich, too busy for RPGs. Hence why all my Final Fantasy games remain ceased and I continue to make excuses to my brother about why I still haven’t played Oblivion. But there was no way I could resist the lure of an interactive Studio Ghibli adventure, made by none other than Level-5 (Professor Layton, Rogue Galaxy). Ni no Kuni is your typical quest to save the world from eternal darkness, but it has that Studio Ghibli magic about it which makes it special. It’s a fantasy world you could lose yourself in for months.
With its emotive, stylistic animation, Rayman Legends brings back the fun of Saturday morning cartoons before the adventure even gets underway. Like Rayman Origins before it, this is a classic side-scrolling platformer that pushes your thumbs to the limit. It’s fast-paced animated treat to savour. I can only hope that Michel Ancel and the team at Ubisoft Montpellier can pull themselves away from the limbless hero, or else we may never see the release of a Beyond Good & Evil sequel.
What would you do for your family? I’d buy them all copies of Papers, Please so that this Christmas dinner can be spent sharing blissful memories of how we became corrupt Eastern European bureaucrats. Moral uncertainty is certainly a gift that keeps on giving.
Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians
If that fails to please I’d share the lovely Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians by German newcomer Threaks. It’s not without its share of problems, but the technical achievement of this adorable musical puzzler was probably my favorite surprise of the year, and I’m hoping a sequel will sort out the trouble spots.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
There’s one more I couldn’t resist sharing – the remarkable Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. It’s a beautiful game in so many ways: visuals, music, and the brilliant synthesis of narrative themes and the controls. It’s a unique bit of design where perhaps too-simple puzzles and twin-analogue input (one stick for each brother) reinforce the siblings’ connection as they journey through a dangerous fairytale landscape to cure their sick father. For a game where the dialogue is played out in mime and inflections, it creates a pleasing sense of crafted storytelling that lasts long after the game’s end.