March 2014: Buy, Try, or Die
[Update: Short List Added] A full release list for March, including Titanfall, MGS: Ground Zeroes, BioShock Infinite: Burial at Sea Part 2, and inFAMOUS: Second Son.
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While most people are winding down their yearly responsibilities in preparation for the holidays, we at GameRevolution take on the biggest, most difficult responsibility of all: honoring the best games released during the year. With such a mix of genre-blending, big budget, blockbuster retail releases, and the increasing quality found in digital-only titles, this task grows more challenging each year.
Despite this difficulty, we are humbled to have the opportunity to award games that brought us such enjoyment and emotion, and a means of escaping the everyday grind of life.
After much deliberation, plenty of polling and voting, and maybe even a few punches thrown, the GameRevolution staff has painstakingly narrowed down the very best of the best of 2013 to just one winner in each category. To view the winner of each individual category, scroll through our slideshow below. To listen to us discuss the awards process, listen to our Best of 2013 Podcast below. To see the full nominees in each category, select from the category list below the slideshow.
These are the best games of 2013 honored in GameRevolution’s Best of 2013 Awards.
Each year we say it, but no year is it more true than 2013: The competition for this category is the fiercest we’ve yet seen. With titles like the expansive and controversial Grand Theft Auto V and the narrative-driven BioShock Infinite, choosing The Last of Us was no easy task.
Or was it? When the GR staff sat down to have this discussion, there’s usually a lot more bickering and disagreement. But this year, we knew exactly who the nominees should be, then all just nodded our heads in unison—The Last of Us was it.
Not only is The Last of Us deserving of being call “Game of the Year”, it quite possibly could be the game of a generation. The writing, the pacing, the dialog, the world, the characters and their relationships—everything is as perfect as it can get. When the credits rolled, I didn’t have any questions. I didn’t need to play it again. I had my conclusion, and there it left me—shocked, emotional, and appreciative of the experience that Naughty Dog had created.
There are so many great games out there. More this year than any other. But there are none other like The Last of Us, and that is why it is Game of the Year.
The Stanley Parable - Best PC Exclusive 2013
The Stanley Parable, or as it is sometimes known “That Shitty Walking Simulator That’s Not Even a REAL GAME”, is a game in which you control a man who gets up from his desk one day to discover that his co-workers are curiously absent from his workplace. While on his way to discovering where they are, his every movement is described by the witty Narrator, who is equal measures charming and sociopathic. The whole game is driven by British actor Kevan Brighting’s performance, who provides the voiceover for the Narrator and who, in the game’s short runtime, easily and masterfully propels the character into the list of gaming’s all-time great antagonists, if you can really call him that—depending upon which path you choose to take through the game, the Narrator can either be your friendly storytelling chum, or a sneering and condescending authoritarian.
The Narrator’s amusing yet unsettling dialogue is a large portion of what makes The Stanley Parable our PC game of the year, but that it features in such an accomplished and thought-provoking narrative helps a lot, too. In a year where we were asked to wrap our heads around mind-boggling multiverse theories in BioShock Infinite, that The Stanley Parable is arguably the most philosophically challenging game of 2013 is no small feat. Player agency hasn’t been questioned so efficiently since, well, the original BioShock, but not only does it cause you to ponder your free will in video games, it leaves you questioning your freedom in reality, too. I’m unsure whether developer Galactic Café believes in determinism, but The Stanley Parable is one of the greatest examples of it in modern media, and its proposal that you are no more in control of your own life than you are pressing ‘W’ to move Stanley through a corridor makes The Stanley Parable a confrontational, engrossing experience.
Resogun - Best PS4 Exclusive 2013
At any console launch, the list of exclusive games is generally underwhelming and even the AAA titles can fall a bit flat. That’s why a stand-out title like RESOGUN deserves to be recognized as the best PS4 exclusive despite being download-only.
RESOGUN is a spiritual successor of Super Stardust HD, which still to this day is among the best digital titles the PS3 has to offer. Developer Housemarque added a new twist to the twin-stick shooter gameplay by sticking it on a cylindrical plane and turning up the intensity and action to max. Pair the stellar gameplay with a heart-pounding soundtrack and two-player online co-op, and there’s no denying that RESOGUN is currently the best experience available on the PS4 right now.
Dead Rising 3 - Best Xbox One Exclusive 2013
Compared to the PlayStation 4, the Xbox One has a surprising number of full-priced launch-day exclusive launch-day titles. Say what you will about Microsoft's business practices, but its lineup for Xbox One is impressive despite less than stellar reviews. Killer Instinct's trickle of DLC content and Ryse's QTE-based action weren't as well-received, Peggle 2 doesn't particularly fit best on a next-gen console, and Forza Motorsport 5 doesn't have much content compared to past installments.
Capcom's Dead Rising 3 may not be as graphically impressive as some of its compatriots, but its design is far more approachable than prior installments in the series, and the sheer number of zombies that can be on screen at once emphasizes the sheer "crap-tacity" of the apocalypse. Fans of the series can still face the challenge of meeting the tight deadlines in Nightmare mode, now made easier with the welcome addition of co-op. Though not by a wide margin, Dead Rising 3 is the best title in the Xbox One's launch.
Super Mario 3D World - Best Wii U Exclusive 2013
Super Mario 3D World is exactly what the Wii U has been needing since launch—a system seller. It hits all the hallmarks of what makes any Mario game great, then adds four-player multiplayer that’s co-operative with a touch of competitiveness.
You may not instantly recognize 3D World’s worth until you dig deep into the game and find both the variety and sheer amount of levels and challenges for you and friends can face. Even after the credits roll, there’s practically another game’s worth of more levels for you to enjoy… and curse out because they’re unforgiving in their difficulty—especially if you are trying to nab all three green stars and stamp in each level.
The time spent playing Super Mario 3D World with friends and family creates memories that’ll last beyond the Wii U console generation, and is exactly what made Super Mario Bros. and the original NES forever icons in the gaming universe.
The Last of Us - Best PS3 Exclusive 2013
Sony’s PlayStation 3 offerings in 2013 may not have hit the same highs fans will remember throughout the system’s life, but if one game will stick with us well beyond the console’s retirement it’s The Last of Us from Naughty Dog. Japanese RPGs, cinematic experiences, and even Gran Turismo couldn’t top the kind of white-knuckle intensity defined by The Last of Us, but the quiet moments shared between Joel, Ellie, and the player make up some of the most impressive narrative design in all of gaming. The two characters drew players in with quiet glances, one-word replies, and plenty of curiosity.
The Last of Us made strides to maintain the blockbuster roller-coaster style of Uncharted, but layered entertaining, challenging gameplay with resource management and fiercely intelligent enemy AI. No combat encounter ever played out the same way and the variety of weapons at the player’s disposal made Clicker clean-up so satisfying. The Last of Us held our hearts and minds hostage well after the credits.
BattleBlock Theater - Best Xbox 360 Exclusive 2013
Microsoft’s calendar of system-exclusive software seemed to wane in the dying light of their 2005 console, leaving downloadable titles and a new Gears of War to pick up the pieces and keep Xbox Live subscribers entertained while they waited for Xbox One’s release. Thankfully for longtime fans of the platform, an old friend arrived to make us laugh, make us curse, and make us knock our cooperative-minded loved ones onto a bed of spikes.
BattleBlock Theater took the same kind of zany-mashy chaos fans loved in Castle Crashers and brought it to a hardcore 2D platformer, complete with competitive modes, devious traps, and a level creator. The Behemoth proved themselves masters of downloadable gaming bliss and made Xbox Live Arcade relevant for a few weeks in a year where last generation’s favored online platform stumbled to the finish line.
Fire Emblem: Awakening - Best 3DS Exclusive 2013
The 3DS went on an unbelievable hot streak to prove portable gaming’s continued relevance in spite of iPhones and Androids, but the handheld’s lead-off home run allowed Nintendo to maintain absolute pressure for the rest of the year. Fire Emblem: Awakening didn’t just capitalize on renewed interest in strategy games, it made you more connected and invested in your characters than ever before thanks to the multi-generational lives they led. Pairing up less-than-noble farmhand Donnel with regal beast warrior Panne for an incredibly strong and viciously fast child sent remains one of my favorite moments in gaming in 2013.
Characters pass their stats on to children with varying classes, but watching the budding and often awkward romance that, years down the line, would result in your greatest asset on the battlefield made Fire Emblem: Awakening so engrossing. Second-to-none writing and localization from Nintendo’s Treehouse group and extensive DLC meant the latest adventure from Intelligent Systems never had to end, even after the hundredth hour.
Tearaway - Best PS Vita Exclusive
Play. Create. Tear. Media Molecule’s signature charm is all over Tearaway’s adorable characters, world, and tale of wonder. But where Tearaway really shines as a PlayStation Vita exclusive, is through how the player interacts with the world using the PlayStation Vita.
All of the various inputs on the Vita are used in unique ways, making the player a venerable God of a papercraft world of imagination. Fingers seemingly poke through the touchscreen and rear touch panel to manipulate objects and characters. Meanwhile, the front-facing camera is focused on you, super-imposing Godly grin into the Sun shining above the land. Tearaway is silly, cute, and it will no doubt make you smile again and again.
Plants Vs. Zombies 2: It's About Time - Best Mobile Game 2013
PopCap Games created one of the best tower defense style games in the past decade with Plants Vs Zombies—it was simple, yet deep; cute and entertaining. All the greatness was at risk the moment EA got involved, turning a full paid game into a microtransaction-based, revenue-generating machine.
Fortunately, PopCap and EA struck a delicate balance between making what is available for free memorable and what isn’t free tempting but totally unnecessary to get your enjoyment’s worth. The end result is a time-traveling adventure about a taco packed with new zombies, new plants, and tons of new strategy.
Plants Vs Zombies 2 and its microtransactions also brought along the added benefit of longevity, because if EA and PopCap want users to stay invested in the game and continue spending coins, new stages like the upcoming Far Future update will keep fans coming back again and again for the foreseeable… future.
Nintendo - Best Publisher 2013
You could make the argument that a struggling home console doesn’t make the year’s best publisher, but in light of the never-ending streak of 3DS software we’ve given Big N the nod. With six straight months of hardware chart domination by a portable gaming device, Nintendo’s heavy-hitters never really let up. Fire Emblem, Luigi’s Mansion, Donkey Kong, Animal Crossing, Mario & Luigi, Pokemon, and even Zelda titles all landed in 2013, but in this case Nintendo also takes the title thanks to smart third-party relationships.
Would Nintendo 3DS have put up the same numbers without Shin Megami Tensei IV and others from Atlus? What about Namco Bandai games and the never-gonna-make-it-to-America Project X Zone? Nintendo leveraged their handheld platform in almost every genre of gaming and proved that third-parties can still succeed on their platforms. Hopefully some of that magic will find its way to Wii U in 2014.
An honorable shout out goes to Sony who missed this award, but still impressed us with its attention to core gaming with the PS4—a demographic that carries the medium on its back.
Naughty Dog - Best Developer 2013
No other experience felt as refined, polished, or purposeful in 2013 as The Last of Us and it’s a testament to the caliber of work Naughty Dog can do with support from Sony. Sure, the studio behind Crash Bandicoot, Jak and Daxter, and Uncharted have clearly established a AAA-sized niche in highly cinematic, story-driven experiences but The Last of Us still felt like it stepped out of the shadow cast by the studio’s biggest franchises.
The Last of Us pushed for more interactivity, with some sequences forcing Naughty Dog to abandon its tried-and-true motion capture cinematics for interactivity, for meaningfully playable, less-than-scripted sequences. Without spoiling anything, I’m not sure any other studio could have presented the final sequence in The Last of Us in quite the same way, but Joel and Ellie’s final hours meant more to us just for the control we had over necessary violence and lingering questions.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag - Best Action-Adventure Game 2013
I almost wanted to create an "adventure-action" category this year, due to the sheer number of action adventure games and the fact that about half of them have more of an emphasis on open-world exploration. Hey, Saints Row IV almost didn't make it and that would have been a sin. What a superpowered sendoff that game was. Dead Rising 3 is among the best launch-day titles for Xbox One, A Link Between Worlds is a solid reboot and case for old-school Zelda, and Tomb Raider is a rightfully great reboot all its own, despite the lower number of sales.
While I've never been a fan of the whole hoodie-as-a-disguise in Assassin's Creed, Black Flag more than made up for these strange idiosyncrasies by being an awesome pirate game, perhaps the best one since Sid Meier's Pirates. Riding the high waters, seeing the waves crash against the hull of the Jackdaw, sailing around the numerous tropical islands, and plundering cargo ships of their gold and resources culminate into an experience that brings the best out of Assassin's Creed III and the series as a whole into the modern era. Having seen Black Flag's plans for DLC, I can already say that it's an incredible platform for the franchise. I simply pity the moment that Assassin's Creed has to return to the land.
Battlefield 4 - Best Shooter 2013
Despite a stumbling start on next-generation consoles where the fan response to full-blown 64-player online modes overwhelmed EA’s servers and developers alike, you can’t find a better shooter in 2013, certainly not on PC. DICE’s Frostbite 3 engine will put any graphics card through its paces, but a gripping single-player campaign and inspired Level-ution mechanics keep the franchise feeling fresh even after the lengthy journey players had with Battlefield 3’s Premium DLC.
Level-ution forces players to pay special attention to the heavy-handed destruction anyone on the map can dish out. You can’t bring a skyscraper crashing down to change paths and sight lines or fight it out underneath a giant satellite dish as it crashes down around you in any other game. That you can finally enjoy all that action with 63 other players on a console just might be the warning shot that signals Battlefield’s ascension to the throne of first-person shooters.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon - Best Downloadable Game 2013
This category presents sort of a conundrum since every darn game is "downloadable" now. For a console game, it's easier since we can limit it to games that are only available through download, but for PC titles, we tend to include indie titles that we haven't featured yet in our awards. So if you're wondering where some of the favorite downloadable games are on this list, they will likely be featured elsewhere in our awards more prominently.
That said, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is the most impressive among our nominees. Runner2 is an incredible sequel to the first bit.Trip Runner, The Swapper uses fantastic clay animations and voice-over narration, The Wolf Among Us carries Telltale's strength in storytelling, and Resogun is one of the finest launch-day titles for PlayStation 4. But Blood Dragon takes the foundation of Far Cry 3 and improves upon it with badass characters and environments, all while being an unapologetic homage to the power of the '80s. It could have easily been a cheesy game with more style than substance, but it manages to be better than Far Cry 3 and Ubisoft should be applauded for allowing the development team to create something as bold and daring as Blood Dragon.
Gone Home - Best Original Game 2013
It's no surprise to me that most of the original game nominees this year came from independent game developers. Every year major game companies give us an abundance of titles that rehash formulaic story lines, continue the saga of cash cows, and rarely every stray from what they think gamers expect to see. While we occasionally do get some unique triple-A titles from the mainstream most of the more significant games fall under the radar. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons was beautiful and innovative, Path of Exile lured us in with its Diablo-esque charm, and The Stanley Parable was so elusive that sometimes people wouldn't even know they had finished the game. True story; I've seen it happen.
Gone Home still wins out over all of these titles. It does an amazing job of making the player reflect on the choices they make throughout the game constantly, which I wasn't expecting. Every clue you find and every journal entry you read tells a beautiful story while never detracting from the ominous ambiance of being alone in a big empty house. Games don't usually have an emotional impact on me but this one did. If the twenty dollar price tag is the only thing keeping you from picking it up just wait for the next steam sale, this is a game you need to play. Your brain will thank you.
Injustice: Gods Among Us - Best Fighting Game 2013
NetherRealm’s highly successful Mortal Kombat reboot enjoyed this award back in 2011 for many of the same reasons Injustice: Gods Among Us earned this year’s nod: the combat is nearly flawless in its balancing, there are so many characters, special attacks, and combos to choose from, and the story mode reinvents how fighting game stories are told with its epic scale and presentation.
But Injustice: Gods Among Us has the one thing that Mortal Kombat is missing, and that’s recognition. While Scorpion and Sub-Zero may be gaming icons, they don’t transcend across various types of media the same way that Batman, Superman, and The Joker do. Through decades of comics, these characters also have a much more diverse and legendary story to be told.
Mass Effect 3: Citadel - Best DLC Add-On 2013
Quality DLC isn't always a easy thing to come by but this year some of our most beloved franchises proved that it's possible to make add-on content that actually expanded the games we love. Out of all of our nominees it may seem surprising to some that Mass Effect 3: Citadel won out but it really was one of the best things to come from that game. Although it doesn't add any closure to the main story it was able to provide levity to a fan-base who wanted more time with characters they loved. I've played a lot of Mass Effect in my lifetime and the Citadel DLC was still able to give me something I have never gotten in abundance from this franchise before. Humor.
There have been many funny moments through-out the trilogy but the dialog for the main mission in ME3: Citadel, possible scenarios with love interests, and Easter egg events scattered around each set piece made me laugh out loud more than ever. Then there's the added bonus of throwing a party for your crew, which was ingenious because who hasn't played an RPG and wondered when the hell they get to unwind with their fellow party-members. All work and no play makes character development a dull ploy. It's also the only DLC that actually added to the game post-mission, which was a main gripe of mine for Leviathan and Omega. With Citadel you get an entire new area to explore and countless chances to reconnect with your crew post-mission.
It's also the DLC that taught us one important fact. When all else fails, use a tooth brush.
NHL 14 - Best Sports Game 2013
For this year's best in sports title, the winner has shown it doesn't necessarily matter how much popularity the actual sport gains. Even year to year sales play little role. One year could mean a bad-mouthing around town, just for the next to be a chariot ride to the king's castle. With the usual suspects on this 2013 nominated list, it's been an open and interesting competition with every release.
The runners up include Madden NFL 25, FIFA 14, MLB 13: The Show, and NBA 2K14. It's partially surprising 2K didn’t come out on top. In terms of giving fans what they want, in short that's exactly what they did; playable features, game play/style, and total presentation. With NBA Live 14 arriving to the year's end best of party late, there was no consideration in the award, though it wouldn't have mattered any.
As this year's winner, NHL 14 has shown its resiliency. NHL 12 was probably one of the best sports games to be released in recent years but then the following year took a major step back; which brings us to the present. There was a simple trick EA used to bring its hockey franchise back to glory; violence. With their improved collision system and all new fight features, '14 couldn't be better. Solid game all-around, hence why it's this year's best.
Need for Speed Rivals - Best Racing Game 2013
In racing, speed is everything and Electronic Arts brought new developer Ghost Games up to speed for the latest in their arcade racing franchise, Need for Speed. Despite fears that Criterion’s move to a new project would hurt the franchise, Ghost Games took the most recent NFS titles for a test drive and brought all the best elements from 2010’s Hot Pursuit and 2012’s Most Wanted to a new location and a new online environment.
Need For Speed: Rivals introduced new “always-online” All Drive lobbies for up to six players and swaths of AI cops and racers to duel it out. While other racing games this year focused on delivering hardcore behind-the-wheel experiences, they’re also choked with micro transactions. Besides, we’re smitten with the emergent gameplay that hits the road in connected rivalries.
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch - Best RPG 2013
The classic RPG genre may have dried up in the last generation and been eclipsed by open-world Western RPGs, but that doesn't mean the genre is dead. In fact, all of our nominees are Japanese titles and four of them are for the Nintendo 3DS, which just goes to show how successful the handheld has been. Pokemon X/Y falls right in line with its predecessors, Shin Megami Tensei IV is a far more approachable SMT title, Animal Crossing received perfect marks from us this year, and Fire Emblem reigns as the best RPG on the 3DS on many official lists.
But Ni No Kuni: The Wrath of the White Witch hopefully marks the return of classic JRPGs on stand-up consoles. Though it didn't garner Namco Bandai too many sales, just about the million mark for both the console and handheld versions of the game, we should expect Ni No Kuni to have a sequel. It featured the journey of a boy wizard—a rarity in games—and the gorgeous, one-of-a-kind Studio Ghibli graphics. Ni No Kuni is the best console RPG I've played in the last five years.
Path of Exile - Most Surprising Game 2013
Where the hell did these amazing games come from? Every year, there's a slew of titles that hang below the radar and don't gain much attention until they're officially released much later in the year. The vast majority of them are indie titles or new IPs. Both Brothers and Blood Dragon came out of left field, amazing us in almost completely different ways. The Stanley Parable's existential twist on gameplay knock us off our laurels, and BandFuse was a more than legitimate answer to Ubisoft'sRocksmith series.
On top of the list, though, is Path of Exile. While it's been in development for many years, it fixes nearly everything that fans didn't like about the initial release of Diablo III, particularly its real-money auction system and lack of endgame content. It introduces innovative concepts from FF7 in its gem system, has a ridiculously expansive skill tree, supports the competitive community with a season of events, and effectively brings the gameplay from Diablo II that many hardcore fans wanted from a sequel in the first place. And it does this all while being free-to-play. From an indie developer in New Zealand, Path of Exile is an incredible feat and one of the best surprises this year.
SimCity - Biggest Disappointment 2013
There's always plenty of disappointment to go around during a year of new consoles. Knack received the brunt from critics for being laboriously repetitive and padded, while both God of War: Ascension and Gears of War: Judgment fell short of expectations as prequels to trilogies that were already complete. But since these games were all playable and even somewhat enjoyable, none of these compare to the problems with Grand Theft Auto Online and all the disconnections and the lack of heists. It is a single blemish on Grand Theft Auto V, no matter how much Rockstar would like to separate it from the main game, and though the online portion has largely been fixed and amended now, the effects still linger.
But even that doesn't compare to the reaction against SimCity, which despite its dynamic, highly-detailed gameplay, still requires always-online DRM and its cities are still cramped to the point that it might as well be called SimTown. Even with the Cities of Tomorrow expansion pack, the terraforming tools are still largely absent. The core game hasn't been fixed and until that happens, the ire of the fans will continue to prevent the series from making the lofty return it is meant to have.