So here we are, at the beginning of 2014, looking back on the accomplishments, good and bad, in gaming for the year 2013. The year saw the much awaited and discussed debuts of two new consoles, in Sony’s Playstation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One, both of which launched with a handful of upscaled ports and a couple of interesting exclusives each. Both titles launched to strong sales during their initial weeks of release, basically selling out within week of release across the world, though whether or not this will translate to strong long-term interest is a completely different question altogether. Nintendo’s Wii U, on the other hand, seems to have stalled out, having moved less than five million units worldwide at this point, and while there are still some strong titles lined up for release on the console in the next couple of years, Nintendo certainly has an uphill climb ahead of themselves at this point. On the current generation front, the Wii has essentially been put out to pasture, with production being halted in Japan and Europe, though the Wii Mini still seems to be around… and if this is the first time you’re hearing about the Wii Mini, well, that basically says everything it needs to. Sony had a strong year with the PS3, featuring several strong exclusives in the leadup to the PS4 launch, while Microsoft struggled, as the 360 saw only two significant exclusives in Gears of War: Judgment and State of Decay, and even then, the latter was only console exclusive, as it’s also available on PC. On the handheld front, the 3DS continued to ride high off of the amazing year it had in 2012 with several high quality exclusive releases, both by Nintendo and third parties, while the Vita saw some solid releases amidst its struggle to gain a market foothold, and with Sony having not released updated sales numbers (by all indications) in a year and a half, the battle does not seem to be going well. Meanwhile, the PSP, which seemed all but done for in the wake of the Vita launch, continued to chug along with a steady stream of releases this year, though its fortunes may change with the launch of the PS4 and its strong Vita functionality integration. Finally, the Nintendo DS also seems to be reaching the end of its lifespan, as very few exclusive releases (or releases at all for that matter) graced the console in 2013, and with little to nothing on the horizon for the system, it may be all but done for in the coming year.
On the release front, we continued the remake/re-release trend from the prior year, with games like Soul Hackers, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD and Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded, in addition to several releases through download services on consoles and PC. The sequel parade also continued in force, as expected, and several of the normal players showed off new releases this year, including Grant Theft Auto, Assassin’s Creed, Gears of War, Madden, Call of Duty and more. This year did see its fair share of new intellectual properties released, however, such as Ni No Kuni, The Cave and RESOGUN that managed to impress alongside the sequels and remakes of the day. What was most interesting, however, was the fact that this was the first year where crowd-funded games really started to take the stage as serious contenders for recognition and awards. Several crowdfunded games released this year, such as Shadowrun Returns, Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded and Mysterious Cities of Gold, many of which made it onto our Staff Commentary List for the year, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that these games also made it onto our end of the year awards in some form or fashion. With so many crowdfunded games aiming to release their final versions in 2014, it’ll be interesting to see how this trend continues, or even if it does at all, in the coming years.
When choosing our games to award this year, our thought process going in considers a few major points when doling out awards. Any game that’s considered for nomination needs to have been reviewed on the site itself going in, and while we love remade versions of our favorite games as much as the next person, remakes generally aren’t considered for “major” awards, as a category should be able to stand on its original releases, no matter how amazing a remake is. Like all awards, there are those that will most likely agree with us, those that will most likely disagree with us, and those that will display an amazing lack of maturity and respect for opinions other than their own. With that in mind, please remember that these are awards from the Diehard GameFAN staff. We all discussed what were the best possible choices, and in the end, these are the games that won. This is in no way shape or form saying that our opinions or picks are better than the list you have in your head… but this is our site, this is our list, and these games will go down as the official winners. We do hope that reading this makes you want to go out and try the award-winners you have yet to play. With that in mind, we present to you what we at Diehard GameFAN feel are the best games of 2013.
BEST SONY PLAYSTATION 3 EXCLUSIVE GAME
Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
A team up consisting of Studio Ghilbi (of Hayao Miyazaki and… lots of animated movies fame) and Level-5 (of Professor Layton and Dragon Quest 8 and 9 fame) sounds like it would be a dream collaboration. In terms of presentation, it certainly was. The world came alive through vividly colored characters and environments infused with the whimsical charm Studio Ghilbi’s art style is known for. The music complemented the overall feel of the game and the contexts they played in perfectly. The story and gameplay also did well in integrating the book and really making it feel like a vital part of the game (which was made even better if you got the Wizard’s Edition or the Japanese DS version with the physical book). The gameplay mostly consists of standard JRPG mechanics, but the battle system is fast paced and requires strategy (and being able to time blocks right) to make the most of it.
– Aileen Coe
BEST SONY PLAYSTATION 4 EXCLUSIVE GAME
Sony isn’t really known for their strong launch title releases; while the Vita had a couple of solid launch releases, the PS2 and PS3 launched with some of the worst launch libraries ever, so going in there wasn’t a high expectation that anything outside of maybe Killzone would be anything impressive. Well, Housemarque turned that impression on its head in a hurry with RESOGUN, a solid and reasonably innovative shooter that was not only completely awesome, but free if you signed up for PS Plus. Even without the free price tag, however, RESOGUN is absolutely worth the asking price based on its own merits. It’s visually stunning for a downloadable game, featuring impressive special effects and a thematically interesting environment, as well as gameplay that challenges you to “SAVE THE LAST HUMANS” while trying to obliterate everything that spawns into that interesting environment. Combine that with a pulse pounding soundtrack and an overall awesome presentation that takes advantage of some of the new PS4 functionality, as well as a scoring system that’s deep and structured toward encouraging repeat play, and RESOGUN is a must have for the PS4 at any point, and it’s easily the best game released on the PS4 this year, bar none.
– Mark B.
BEST SONY PLAYSTATION PORTABLE EXCLUSIVE GAME
Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection
Generation of Chaos: Pandora’s Reflection is an interesting Tactical RPG that puts a lot of weight on the player’s shoulders right from the start. With the goal being to eventually cure your sister, you’re pulled into a much deeper plot and meet some very different characters as you go through. The combat for this title was streamlined a bit, lends itself to the portable space well and works really well for the platform it was designed for. While it changes up the formula from previous games in the series, change isn’t always a bad thing, and while it isn’t brutal on newcomers to the series, it has depth that fans of Generation of Chaos can get into.
– Ashe Collins
BEST SONY PLAYSTATION VITA EXCLUSIVE GAME
Ys: Memories of Celceta
I bought a Vita with the intent that I would pick this up someday, and it was nice to see that all of the self-imposed hype payed off. Ys: Memories of Celceta‘s frantic action and rocking soundtrack really know how to make Adol’s map-making journey exciting, while the story told primarily through flashbacks ensures that you stay invested in the characters. The character swapping mechanic used to exploit enemy weaknesses is as good as it has ever been, and being able to dodge last second to send the whole game into slo-mo is a real treat. While I can’t tell you if it’s worth buying a Vita for, if you have one, definitely check out Ys.
– Sean Madson
BEST XBOX 360 EXCLUSIVE GAME
Gears of War: Judgment
The Xbox 360 was extremely lacking when it came to exclusives this year, but at least there was one Gears of War title to save the day, right? Sadly, Judgment is the least impressive game in the entire franchise, though the fact that the cover-based shooting gameplay is so addicting is what manages to keep it on top in 2013. Set before the events in the first game, you follow Baird, Cole, and the rest of Kilo squad as they stand trial for launching a lightmass missile and explain the journey that eventually led them to do it. The campaign is great co-op fodder, as are some of the other multiplayer modes, which puts it in the top spot for the console.
– Sean Madson
BEST XBOX ONE EXCLUSIVE GAME
Dead Rising 3
While Sony has had some difficulties with their console launches at times, Microsoft has generally managed to have at least one awesome launch title each console cycle, between Halo on the original Xbox and Condemned: Criminal Origins on the 360. Well, they’ve continued the trend into the Xbox One launch with Dead Rising 3, and while it’s debatable whether or not it’s the best game to come out across both launches, you’d be hard pressed to find a better game on the Xbox One at launch. Part of that comes from the technical performance of the game, as it makes good use of the Xbox One’s processing power to render a world that is absolutely stuffed to the brim with zombies, while still managing to convey a living (or formerly living anyway) world that’s full of personality and interesting sights. Part of that comes from the fact that the game improves on its predecessors in almost every way that matters, from the improved play mechanics to the expanded combination options to the difficulty changes that make the game more accessible to those who weren’t fond of the time limits of the original games. Mostly, however, it comes down to the fact that it’s an amazing amount of fun to craft a motorcycle steamroller, drive it into town, jump off of it, and rend zombies asunder with a flaming scythe that shoots fireworks. When you’re looking for an awesome next generation experience, there are few things that matter as much as “fun,” and Dead Rising 3 does all of them in spades.
– Mark B.
BEST PC EXCLUSIVE GAME
Every year, the PC gets more releases than every other option out there – combined. From Big Fish Game’s release of an indie game each freakin’ day to Steam, GoG and Desura giving gamers one-stop mini-malls of digital downloads, the options for PC gamers have never been greater. So for a game to win the PC Game of the Year award, it really has to stand out from the thousands of other options released in a year. What made Shadowrun Returns the obvious choice for this award? Quite simply, it blew everything else away. From a tightly crafted story that fits perfectly into the Second Edition version of the tabletop game, memorable characters, and two firsts for the SPRG subgenre (complete character customization and a game editor) to everything being offered at a budget price, Shadowrun Returns showed the world just that there is still a lot of innovation and creativity to be had in SRPGs and also gave the gaming public a title it has been clamoring for over twenty years. From the first truly successful crowdfunded release to reinvigorating the PC gaming community to a series of historical firsts for the industry – Shadowrun Returns really earned this award.
– Alexander Lucard
BEST NINTENDO WII EXCLUSIVE GAME
It would be easy to pass this off as “what did Pandora’s Tower really have to compete against?” but we wouldn’t have the award if the game didn’t earn it, so there you go. It’s a dark and disturbing tale about a knight whose loved one is inflicted with a curse, and he must scale a tower in order to retrieve and subsequently feed her the Master Flesh from the monsters within. It’s a simple tale, but one that ultimately lends weight to your journey as you constantly stop in and witness firsthand the transformation that Elena undergoes in your absence. The Oraclos chain alone is worth playing the game for, if only to discover all the possible applications for it.
– Sean Madson
BEST NINTENDO WII U EXCLUSIVE GAME
Pokémon Rumble U
In a year where the Wii U was dominated by some strong first party releases like Pikmin 3, Super Mario 3D World, The Wonderful 101 and more, you’re probably surprised we gave the Wii U GOTY award to a title you all but forgot existed. Well, after reading this, hopefully you’ll be inspired to pick up this game. Not only was Pokémon Rumble U released for a fraction of the price that other first party Wii U titles were saddled with, but it was a veritable steal compared to other interactive figure games like Disney Infinity and Skylanders, whose price tags can hit nearly $100 without even figuring in the ancillary purchases. Even better, the figures in Pokémon Rumble U were completely optional. You could play through the game and beat it without purchasing a single piece of plastic. Compare that to the games where entire sections are barred unless you purchased the right figure. If you did decide to buy a Pokémon, they were blind draws you could only get at Gamestop, but each figure was essentially the same in that you had complete customization and unlimited leveling up for them. All that differed was the appearance, name and type. Again, the fact they were completely optional in a day and age where we are being nickel and dimed for anything companies can think of turning into DLC is awesome. Add in the ability to catch every single Pokémon ever, and some pretty solid gameplay (and some often time challenging levels) and it’s hard to think of a game for the Wii U that was more innovative and genre-changing – especially with that under twenty dollar price tag. Pokémon Rumble U might not be the game you first think of when you reflect on this year’s Wii U releases, but once you pick it up or think about what a game changer it turned out to be, you’ll be in full agreement with our choice here.
– Alexander Lucard
BEST NINTENDO 3DS EXCLUSIVE GAME
Fire Emblem: Awakening
It seemed like the Fire Emblem series was on its last legs. The last FE game to be released before Awakening, Heroes of Light and Shadow (which was the sequel to Shadow Dragon) remained solely in Japan. Due to declining sales, Awakening was going to be the final game in the series unless it hit at least 250,000 copies. It did that – and more. Promotions (namely the Club Nintendo $30 eShop credit offer for registering Awakening and Shin Megami Tensei IV by a certain date) did play a part in bringing in those sales, but it also had solid mechanics, accessibility to newcomers (different difficulties and the option to turn off permadeath), and challenge for veterans of the series. It also brought back a generation system first introduced in Genealogy of the Holy War, which provided ample opportunities for character development, both story wise (through supports) and in gameplay with growths and passing down abilities. The ability to change classes also let you compose a team that was suited your style of play. Not only is this a solid entry in the series with plenty of content, but it also saved it from being permanently shelved.
– Aileen Coe
BEST MULTI-CONSOLE GAME
Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag
Just how good Assassins Creed IV is kind of came out of nowhere for me. After my experience with the last game, I was expecting a broken mess developed by ten teams across all seven continents with QA done in Antarctica. Sure, it looked like Black Flag was going to be cool, with pirates and naval battles and a new hero, but that’s what I thought about Assassins Creed 3 as well. Thankfully, Ubisoft really stepped up and knocked it out of the park. The whole Caribbean is your playground, with ships to be plundered and wrecks to be dived, and the assassin bits onshore haven’t been abandoned either. No sir, no shunting off to the corner for it. Havana fits right in with the majestic cities of the series. No Boston or New York here. They managed to not just do it on one system, either, as they pulled it off across all major platforms. PS4. Xbox One. PS3. Xbox 360. PC. Even the Wii U got a version, and all of them are done right. It’s quite the example of what can happen when developers put their minds to things.
– Michael O’Reilly
BEST SPORTS GAME
Madden NFL 25
It’s telling that Madden NFL 25 can legitimately be called out for being nothing more than a patched version of the previous game and still be called the best sports title of the year. The base of the franchise is so solid that it’s a contender every year. The seemingly minor improvements to this entry pushed it over the top. From being able to earn experience at a faster rate to a significant decrease in the number of awkward transition animations, this game just felt polished. Madden is still one of the best values in gaming, and an award for its silver anniversary seems more than fitting. Really, it falls to the other spots titles to reach this level of value.
– Aaron Sirois
BEST FIGHTING GAME
Injustice: Gods Among Us
NetherRealm Studios has proven that MK9 was no fluke. They really have found a way to reinvent their style in such a way as to become one of the best fighting game developers out there. Injustice is a hell of a good game, with a fun story mode, tons of bonus content, and a deep combat system that rewards skill and creativity. Each character feels unique and powerful, such that you can actually believe that Joker can take down Superman in a fair fight. Honestly, this is probably the best game made from the DC license apart from the first two Arkham games. Since they both took home prize for game of the year, I’d say that’s some pretty good company.
– Aaron Sirois
BEST ACTION ROLE-PLAYING GAME
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate
If you told me earlier in the year that a game about poaching unsuspecting creatures and stealing their innards to make weapons would be one of the best action RPG experiences of the year, I’d call you a liar. But being able to assemble a team and hunt down Rathlos for the millionth time still manages to be as exciting as the first time you do it. It doesn’t hurt that said encounters are usually just as difficult as the first time you do them, as character advancement comes in the form of marginally improving your gear and making sure you have the right tools for the job. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is one of the few games that make me okay with the idea of being slapped over the edge of a waterfull with something’s tail.
– Sean Madson
BEST TURN BASED ROLE-PLAYING GAME
Shin Megami Tensei IV
Shin Megami Tensei IV is the first numbered entry in the series since Nocturne, and it carries over the press turn system from that game. It both provided challenge to series veterans as well as accessibility for newcomers to the series in the form of being able to pay in Macca or Play Coins to be revived and offering an easy mode after dying once. The demon fusion and negotiation systems are also present, and since demons comprise the majority of your party, taking advantage of both are vital to advancing through the game. Dungeon exploration is rendered in full 3D and in third person view, and the 3D effects look rather nice. You can also customize your character’s appearance with equipment, as well as his stats and abilities (which you learn from demons your recruit). There’s also multiple endings, which provide good incentive to play through the game more than once. Even though this is a portable title, it’s just as much of a fulfilling experience as it would be on a console.
– Aileen Coe
BEST STRATEGY ROLE-PLAYING GAME
Set in the Shadowrun universe and fueled off the base set-up of the tabletop RPG with a few tweaks to make it their own, Harebrained Schemes not only brought Shadowrun back as an RPG to the computer gaming scene, as it should have been, but they managed to produce a Tactical RPG that takes some of the better elements from other games and puts a distinctly Shadowrun spin on things. Combat moved at a great pace and was brutally unforgiving if you didn’t at least make an effort to protect yourself or the people on the run with you. Shadowrun Returns brought us a game that harkened back to the original console releases on the SNES and the Genesis, but wasn’t so burdened by the past that they didn’t deliver a fantastic title in the process.
– Ashe Collins
BEST FIRST PERSON GAME
Metro: Last Light
We like a first person shooter that does things a little different these days. Battlefield and Call of Duty have their attractors, but when you can provide a follow-up experience like Metro: Last Light, we notice. Combining the shooting elements you find in most First Person Shooters with the Survival Horror genre and stealth elements while weaving a story set in the wasteland of post-apocalyptic Russia, Metro: Last Light delivers on the atmosphere and haunted feeling a place like that would have, while populating it with interesting characters and monsters all out just to survive in a world where you spend half of it scrambling for ammunition and refills for your air supply and the other trying not to get shot or disemboweled. It’s rare that a sequel builds on and excels the original, but Metro: Last Light pulled it off.
– Ashe Collins
BEST TRADITIONAL SHOOTER
It’s 2013 and we’re giving an award to a Sega Dreamcast game. Actually, I’m more surprised that this is the first year we have a Dreamcast game win this award, considering 2007 and 2009 had such strong releases in the genre for Sega’s last system. It’s a shame that new Dreamcast releases aren’t getting the attention they deserve, especially as they are so few and far between, but there’s no denying that Sturmwind was the best (only) game released for the Dreamcast this year, but it was also the best shoot ’em up as well. With graphics comparable to modern systems, two core modes of gameplay, a trophy system that unlocks new content, an amazing soundtrack and extremely solid gameplay, it’s a shame that more people haven’t experienced Sturmwind. The game boasts a very unique weapon management system and even now, eight months later, I find myself playing Sturmwind every now and then because it’s not just a wonderful game, but a shining example of the Dreamcast Homebrew community. Who knows, with Redux and Neo XYX being released in 2014, we just might see the Dreamcast take this award two years in a row. How crazy would that be? Somewhere one Bebito Jackson is smiling at the thought of this occurring…
– Alexander Lucard
BEST ACTION GAME
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, like many Zelda titles, keeps you on your toes with a range of enemies and ways to defeat them. Dodge attacks by merging with the wall, blocking with your shield or utilizing the tornado rod. You can freeze enemies with the ice rod, set them on fire with the fire rod, shoot them into the air with the sand rod, bring them toward you with the hookshot, and others, for a diverse experience. Almost every mini-boss and boss in the game has multiple ways you can defeat them, and the game manages to keep you engaged even as you’re simply exploring Hyrule and Lorule. Add that in with standby items as well as new features, and you have a recipe for success.
– Crystal Steltenpohl
BEST ADVENTURE GAME
2013 wasn’t the best year for classical adventure games, but there were some fine releases, most notably in the Visual Novel and Hidden Object sub-genres. In the end though, the best point and click experience definitely came from a game that tried to capture the feeling of the golden era of the genre while mixing it up with some more modern gameplay elements. The Cave, the brainchild of Ron Gilbert, is somewhat of a love letter to one of his earliest game, Maniac Mansion, in that you pick a team of three characters from a pool of potential protagonists and send them on a journey that is both laugh out loud funny and yet exceptionally dark and disturbing at the same time. The story is enthralling, even more so in that the mixing and matching of characters determines what you will see. The Cave also provides multiple endings (two) for each character, based on your in-game actions. That’s an amazing amount of replay value for a game of this genre, which is generally known as a “One and Done” experience. Add in some wonderful gameplay, a unique and entertaining narrator (the cave itself, no less) and some quirky puzzles, and The Cave becomes a game you can’t help falling in love with, especially if you grew up with the SCUMM Engine or games like Grim Fandango.
– Alexander Lucard
Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded
Four years ago, it seemed that the Leisure Suit Larry franchise was essentially a dead one, as we laid to rest Box Office Bust in so many articles and discussions on the site that it would take you the better part of a day to read them all. Let it never be said that a franchise is truly dead, no matter how powerful the death knell, however, for through the power of crowdfunding and dedication, Larry Laffer made his return to us this year in Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded, a game that deserves this award as much for what it is as because of what it represents. Reloaded, on its own, is a very good remake of the original Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards that manages to remain humorous despite the nearly three decade gap between the original (and over two decade gap for the first remake) and this release. It looks great, plays as well as it ever did, and is still hilarious to play through from start to finish, which is everything one could have possibly expected from the game going in. Reloaded, however, is also the first game in the franchise in years to bring its creator, Al Lowe, back into the development process, and playing this game alongside the prior two titles, it’s clear he was sorely missed. Further, it’s also an indication that no project is impossible; despite the fact that the franchise was all but dead and its name had been reduced to ruin, Replay Games took to Kickstarter to get the game made, and the fans more than delivered, funding what may ultimately be the last great game in the Leisure Suit Larry franchise. For everything the game represents as well as for everything the game is, Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded earned this award and then some, and even if it is the last in its line, it’s well worth picking up, if only to see a Larry Laffer game done right.
– Mark B.
Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien
The first Bit.Trip. Runner featured catchy music that got fuller as you got farther into a level and picked up power ups, which really helped in putting you into the groove of the game and made getting through the stages all the more addicting. Its sequel, Bit.Trip Presents Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien took the foundation its predecessor established and built on it. The 3D models are smoothly animated and look good, though there are also retro levels if you missed the retro 2D graphics. Checkpoints were also added, so you no longer had to go back to the beginning of a level if you get bonked. While it’s challenging, it also doesn’t heavily penalize failure, which encourages trying stages over and over until you get through them or to get a higher score.
– Aileen Coe
BEST HORROR GAME
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
2013 was a fine enough year for horror; while there weren’t any stand-out amazing horror games that dropped this year, a lot of good experiences, like Outlast, Dead Space 3 and Corpse Party: Book of Shadows popped up here and there to keep the genre going strong all year long without any real dry periods or massive failures. While Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is more of a dark horse pick for horror game of the year, it certainly stood alongside the aforementioned titles when it released this year, and it did so in a way that was refreshing. Gone were the inventory management puzzles that made its predecessor so renowned, as the game chose to focus more on setting the atmosphere and telling a story than forcing the player to find oil and flints to keep them out of the dark. The odd thing is, it worked; when not forced to keep track of inventory objects, the game managed to be creepy and terrifying in an entirely different way, as it forced the player to pay attention to the story going on behind the scenes, which was only helped by the fact that said story was a very good one to boot. Sure, the game used its share of jump scares to keep things moving, but it also paced itself well, told an interesting story, and created a thematically terrifying game world without forcing the player to fool with inventory contrivances, and at the end of the day, A Machine for Pigs was, hopefully, a strong message to the horror community that you don’t need batteries and oil to be scary, just a good idea and an ending that isn’t abysmal.
– Mark B.
BEST ALL-AGES GAME
Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Animal Crossing: New Leaf is a game that you can put literally hundreds of hours into, regardless of how old you are. New Leaf builds upon the charm the Animal Crossing franchise has built over the years and offers new ways to love the game. Despite the fact the game is safe for young players, this doesn’t mean that there is no appeal for older gamers. Collect items for your catalog, customize your house, get the perfect villagers, visit the island, open all the shops on Main Street, and visit friends in this game for a seriously great time.
– Crystal Steltenpohl
BEST RHYTHM GAME
Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F
It was a tight race between Hatsune Miku and KickBeat, but in the end Miku and company win out due to the sheer volume of content offered to players. There are dozens of songs to work though on multiple difficulties. On top of that, there are costumes to unlock, custom videos to create, and even presents to give to the vocaloids. This game is a love letter to fans, and a pretty darn good rhythm game to boot. Here’s hoping that we start seeing more of Miku and company over here in the states.
– Aaron Sirois
BEST DIGITAL/DOWNLOADABLE GAME
Digital only has started to become the wave of the future, with more and more titles going that route be it through Steam, the PSN or Live. This has been especially true with Kickstarter titles, and Shadowrun Returns was no exception. An excellent Tactical RPG that has a relatively small install size for an RPG and is set in the Shadowrun world, it manages to combine elements that computer gamers found lacking in the previous outing for Shadowrun, which turned it into a FPS. Returns combines the better parts of the outings on the Genesis and the SNES with a tabletop sensibility, while modernizing the tactical end a bit to play more like recent titles like XCOM Enemy Unknown. With editing tools to make your own adventures and more official expansions on the way, Shadowrun Returns showed up with an excellent release.
– Ashe Collins
BEST MULTIPLAYER GAME
Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate
While it sure would’ve been nice to be able to play online with the 3DS version, the fact remains that if you are able to get together in the same room with a bunch of 3DS systems or go online with the Wii U version, you’re in for a cooperative treat. Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate shines the most when you and three buddies can take on a large ferocious beast together and still survive. Teamwork is an absolute must, since the death count is shared amongst the party and one weak link can end the hunt early. The fact that the first time logging into the online servers displayed rooms that were nearly full is a testament to how much Monster Hunter fever has caught on. Here’s hoping that the fourth entry makes its way stateside as well.
– Sean Madson
BEST PUZZLE GAME
Mysterious Cities of Gold: Secret Paths
It’s kind of amazing to think that this game even made it stateside. After all, the original anime series it is based on has been off the air for THIRTY YEARS. The new series was produced just for France and is only getting translated into English now (mid Nov, 2013 to be exact). Yet fan support to see the anime and video game translated into English was over the top. Ynnis Interactive decided to see if fans were willing to put their money where their mouths were, and the end result was that not only was an English version of the game crowdfunded, but so were Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Swedish, Polish, Arabic and more! Now that’s an accomplishment. Best of all for supporters of Mysterious Cities of Gold: Secret Paths, it turned out to be a really great game. Everything about it was top notch. Some of the best looking cut scenes I’ve ever seen in a video game, great voice acting, and of course, some truly excellent puzzles to solve. Each level has you simultaneously playing as the three main characters from the cartoon, each with their own special ability, trying to navigate through a series of puzzles. You can replay levels to find items and/or beat your own score, or just to see what aspects you missed the first time around. All this for a budget price of $14.99 no less! Secret Paths is sure to put a smile on your face. I’ve never even watched the animated series, save for the opening theme song, and I just couldn’t put this game down. Imagine what diehard fans of the series will think of it. Secret Paths is currently available for the Wii U, PC and iOS with a 3DS version coming in 2014, and with its budget price tag, there’s no reason not to pick this one up.
– Alexander Lucard
XCOM: Enemy Within
Calling Enemy Within DLC is a bit of a stretch, but the game needed to win some awards, and after all, it would hardly be fair to give all of the awards to an expansion. Granted, that expansion was to our pick for game of the year of 2012. EW added a ton of content to the game. Between MECs, gene mods, EXALT missions, and Operation Progeny, the game was just bigger and better. The new content opened up the game substantially. MECs became effective tanks, snap shot snipers became useful with upgrades, and dealing with sectopods became even more terrifying. Honestly, I’d love to give this game of the year. It’s just that good.
– Aaron Sirois
WORST GAME OF THE YEAR
They say one thousand chimps with one hundred typewriters could write a bestselling book or something given enough time, which leads me to believe that Motorbike was developed by ten chimps with learning disabilities and a broken computer who made this game over a weekend. The menu is broken and will crash to the dashboard. The game doesn’t pause correctly. The level design doesn’t exist, and I often beat levels by going around how the level was designed. The frame rate is unstable, the controls are unpredictable, and it’s an all around piece of garbage that sort of resembles a video game. It’s the first video game I’ve ever reviewed that I though was so bad, I sent a message to PSN to have it delisted on the grounds that it was false advertising because the game was so broken. I hated it so much that I thought maybe I had grown out of video games.
There were some terrible games released in 2013. Star Trek, Aliens: Colonial Marines, Ride to Hell: Retribution, Zombie Blaster, and so on. All worthy contenders in any other year, but in 2013 Motorbike manages to out suck the competition and rise to the top of the crap pile.
– Matt Yaeger
CHARACTER OF THE YEAR
As amazing as it may seem, I come here not to bury Larry Laffer, but to praise him.
Four years ago, our unanimous choice for the Worst Game of the Year in our 2009 Video Game Awards was Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust, and I thought that if there was a just and merciful God, that this would be the last time we talked about the series ever again. The game itself was basically something of an unloved bastard child; originally developed under the Vivendi banner, the publisher jettisoned the title after its merger with Activision and Blizzard, leaving it to fall into the hands of Codemasters. Unsurprisingly, Codemasters wasn’t even too keen on the game, releasing it under their “Funsta” label at a budget price fully aware that the game wasn’t likely to win any awards from the gaming community (well, positive awards anyway), and at the time, it seemed this was likely the last we’d see of the franchise, or its true protagonist, ever again.
Color me (and everyone else) surprised when that didn’t end up being the case.
Larry Laffer, for all of his history and all of the laughs he’d given players for over a decade, deserved a better send-off than “awful movie mogul who looks like a foot,” and while it’s true that life certainly isn’t fair a lot of the time, it’s honestly astonishing and wonderful to see that the character at least got one last chance to shine brightly before retiring. Larry might be a bit stupid, and absolutely horrible with women, but it’s not hard to see that he’s mostly harmless and genuinely means well, even if he’s basically terrible at expressing that in any meaningful fashion. He’s blunt, overly direct, clueless, and completely horrible with the opposite sex, and if you can pretend that you haven’t been in that position a time or ten in your life you’re doing better than most of us. Larry, however, is interesting in that, despite the fact that his games are about sleeping with every woman you meet, he is not. He just wants to meet someone who can put up with the fact that he’s a lonely, old software programmer with not very much money and not very much brains, and every single game he stars in is a means to that end, even if they might involve wacky sexual hijinks along the way. Larry Laffer isn’t supposed to be a horny guy attempting to screw every woman on Earth or a drunken loser in a bar, he’s supposed to be, well, an awkward guy who’s just not very bright and isn’t any good with women, and if nothing else, it’s good that we got to see that Larry one more time, as the man who created him intended him to be.
God bless you Al Lowe, you magnificent bastard, and God bless your awkward, nerdy creation who is probably more like a lot of us than any of us would care to admit.
– Mark B
Dead Rising 3
Okay, before you raise your eyebrow in disgust and hit the back button, hear me out.
Capcom is not, by any possible stretch of the imagination, known for their imaginative or creative storytelling. It is in no way an exaggeration to say that the majority of their games are good in spite of their writing rather than because of it, and often the best thing you can say is that you can enjoy the plots to their games in a somewhat ironic fashion, sort of like watching Troll 2 or a Hulk Hogan movie. As Capcom has begun farming development work out to third parties, however, we’ve begun to see stories coming from the company that actually aren’t half bad, even if they still have the stink of their predecessors on them. Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City managed to tell an interesting enough story on its own merits, and DMC worked far better than anyone could have expected all things considered, for example, so it was only a matter of time before something came out that could be considered “good” in an unironic fashion.
Dead Rising 3 is pretty much that game.
The plot manages to straddle a very fine line between telling a semi-serious “zombies have taken over the town and we’re all going to die,” tale and acknowledging that it’s in on the joke, managing to hit enough of the grindhouse notes without actually being grindhouse to let the player know that it’s not taking itself too seriously either. However, it also manages to tell a story that not only creates a likable main character, Nick Ramos, who actually grows as a character as the game progresses instead of remaining the same weirdo he was when he started, but also manages to make a lot of sense out of the prior games and tie up a lot of the loose ends created in the other games. It calls back to events we long since assumed were never going to be resolved, features some surprisingly interesting late-game developments, and even features some reasonable villain motivations instead of the oddball motives we’re used to. Taken on its own merits, the story isn’t a modern classic or anything, but Dead Rising 3 not only managed to tell a surprisingly solid and engaging story, but it did so in a Capcom franchise full of bees that cause zombie infections, and if anything deserves a big pat on the back, it’s that.
– Mark B.
Dead Rising 3
On the visual front, however, you’ll be hard pressed to find anything that came out this year that looked better than Dead Rising 3, as while there might be games that had a slight artistic edge, few can claim to do so much with their technical aspects, and there’s also a lot of personality to spare here. On the artistic side of things, the game’s presentation is engaging, between the crazy vehicles and weapons you can wield, the high quality character and zombie models, the varied parts of the city that make it feel lived in and interesting, and the generally strong special effects that show their face every time you set something ablaze (which should probably be often). The technical side of things is where Dead Rising 3 really shines, however, because not only is it capable of handling several hundred zombies on screen at one time, and not only do those zombies generally look different enough from one another to make them feel like a real zombie horde, but it also does this with no slowdown and minimal loading times throughout the entire game. If you’re looking for an example of what the next gen is really capable of, Dead Rising 3 is that example, no contest, and the fact that it took home the award for best visuals this year was essentially a given because of that.
– Mark B.
Project X Zone
What do you get when you mix Capcom, Namco, and Sega franchises all in one game? Well, yes, an awesomely fun game is an acceptable answer. But also a soundtrack that mixes all of the best tunes from the represented games. Even the PxZ theme song is permanently ingrained into my memories. As you gather up new party members, using them during a turn in battle will queue up their particular theme song. So the Sakura Wars gang will have their respective themes go off when they lay waste to their opponents, and by the time Dante’s turn rolls around, some Devil May Cry hard rock will kick in. It truly is a greatest hits compilation of familiar video game music.
– Sean Madson
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
At first, the whole turn-into-a-painting thing might seem a bit gimmicky–but once you see how useful it is, it opens up a whole new world (no pun intended, promise) of possibilities for players as they figure out the clever puzzles in The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. Breaking the mold of many of the more recent titles, A Link Between Worlds allows players to move between dungeons as they please, and a majority of the items needed to explore those dungeons are available from the start of the game, with the option to upgrade. This game had many DHGF staffers hooked, and thus deserves Best Gameplay of 2013.
– Crystal Steltenpohl
SYSTEM OF THE YEAR
Once again, the 3DS has impressed the staff at DHGF with its release of so many strong titles this year, ranging from Shin Megami Tensei IV and Fire Emblem: Awakening to The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds and Animal Crossing: New Leaf. Basically, if you’re a fan of just about anything, there was a game released for it this year on the 3DS. In fact, almost everyone who has a 3DS on staff has at least two 3DS games in their top ten list for this year, and many have more than that. the 3DS had a great year, and if the past two are any indication, this will continue to be a strong handheld console.
– Crystal Steltenpohl
GAME OF THE YEAR
… and here we are. While Shadowrun Returns might not be your own personal choice for 2013’s Game of the Year, by the time you’re done reading this you’ll have no problem understanding why it’s the only real choice for us here at Diehard GameFAN.
For nigh on two decades, gamers have been begging, demanding and pleading for another Shadowrun game. In the 90’s Shadowrun spawned three very different, but extremely well made and beloved, video games – all bearing the same name. Whether the SNES, Sega Genesis or Sega CD version was your favorite didn’t matter, as they were all awesome and helped to cement Shadowrun as a major franchise in the annuals of gaming history. Then… nothing. Sure, we got a pretty lackluster co-op shooter for the 360 bearing the name several years ago, but I don’t think I need to waste anyone’s time with why that title was more than a little disappointing.
Flash forward to April 2012. Harebrained Schemes, complete with Jordan Weissman, the creator of Shadowrun, announced they would be creating a PC (and later tablet) based video game entitled Shadowrun Returns. Video gamers and Shadowrun tabletop fans everywhere pretty much freaked. The game would be crowdfunded by Kickstarter, and the end result was a success no one was really prepared for. In twenty-four days, 36,276 gamers raised over 1.8 MILLION dollars. Not bad for a project that was only looking to raise $400,000. Because of this whopping influx of cash, Harebrained Schemes was able to add more options, a deeper engine, a full Berlin based expansion that would come later, the class of Physical Adepts were added to the game, an anthology of stories featuring the best Shadowrun writers of past and present was solicited and so much more. Clearly, gamers still wanted to play a video game version of Shadowrun.
Of course, with all these new features and pieces of content came delays. Instead of being released in January of 2013 as originally expected, the game was pushed back into July. However, a six month delay just meant gamers were even more pumped when the game was released. At the same time, even with the delays, Shadowrun Returns would be the biggest crowdfunding success released up to that point (games that have raised more money won’t be out until 2014-15 at the latest). This meant all eyes were on the game, not just to see if Harebrained Schemes could deliver a quality game with all the money it raised, but it would become the litmus test for crowdfunding as a serious option for smaller dev companies everywhere.
Well, the fact Shadowrun Returns is sitting here with our 2013 Game of the Year award should tell you that it not only succeeded in all the ways Harebrained Schemes wanted it to, but also in all the ways crowdfunding sites and small little video game companies NEEDED it to. Where the Ouya, which also was a crowdfunded project released in 2013, became one of the biggest train wrecks in the history of gaming (Hey, it made people forget how bad the N-Gage was!) Shadowrun Returns cemented the legitimacy of crowdfunding as a way to make and release high quality games without having to grow through the usual publishers. Shadowrun Returns won a victory for the little guy and the underdog, which is something we can all get behind. Besides, what Shadowrun fan out there can’t appreciate sticking it to our reality’s version of the Megacorps, am I right?
Besides all the historical firsts involving crowdfunding, there’s the actual game itself. Man, what a terrific title. Now only was the core storyline an exciting and well written one, but it provided many multiple locations and characters while introducing a whole host of newcomers to the Sixth World’s version of the 2050s. You can turn on Shadowrun Returns without ever having been exposed to anything Shadowrun related and walk away having experienced a really great story without feeling like you needed to look anything up or devour a several hundred page hardcover core rule book to understand what just happened. For longtime Shadowrun fans though, the game was even more impressive. The storyline of Shadowrun returns fits seamlessly into Second Edition’s continuity. You can play this game and then pick something up like the old Bug City sourcebook or the novel Burning Bright by Tom Dowd and see exactly where the game fits in with the tabletop metaplot. That is amazing! Truly, Shadowrun Returns blends the tabletop game into electronic form better than even the previous games from the 16-bit era, and that’s saying something.
Shadowrun Returns isn’t just exceptional in terms of story. It has a wonderful soundtrack, some nice graphics for a SRPG (although SRPGs have never been contenders for any eye candy awards) and some of the most innovative and genre-changing mechanics to ever hit this sub-genre of SRPGs. That’s no small feat in a year where we saw SRPGS like Fire Emblem: Awakening, Project X Zone and Disgaea D2. Unlike previous SRPGs where you have limited control of your characters as their stats grow in a more or less predefined fashion, Shadowrun Returns allows you complete and utter character customization. From the beginning of the game to the very end, you decide what skills and stats grow and when. Do you want to make a spellcaster? Done. A Decker? Done. A Cyberwear enhanced Street Samurai? Done. Want to sit back and have your character attack via drones while they sit in relative safety? Done. Want to mix and match all of these together? You can! This is a first for the sub-genre and its importance cannot be overstated. You simply can’t find this level of customization in any previous SRPG. Besides that, you’ll find the combat engine to be exceptionally deep because of the sheer myriad of options open to each playable character (and enemy) in a battle. Although there are definitely longer SRPGs and ones with more battles, you won’t find a game that gives you this many options in terms of how you wipe out the opposing side. That too, is pretty impressive.
Of course, there’s also the Game Editor system. Now sure, there have been numerous products that let you create your own RPG. RPG Maker is almost a cottage industry unto itself as it lets many people create turn based RPGs and then sell them on the Internet on sites ranging from Desura to Big Fish Games. Note that all these previous options have been turn based RPGs though. Shadowrun Returns presents us with the first ever SRPG maker, which again is a first for the industry. Even more importantly, you get the game editor bundled together with the all too awesome core game experience – and all for a fraction of the price most games are released at these days.
When we speak of the Game Editor, we also have to speak of the Shadowrun Returns community spawned by it and the crowdfunding movement. Go onto Steam and see the sheer plethora of fan made adventures for the Shadowrun Returns engine have been made – all of which are free in a day and age where publishers try to nickel and dime gamers by turning everything from musical tracks to new costumes into paid DLC. These are people that are giving up dozens upon dozens of hours to make adventures for people they will never meet or talk to in any way –and where they will receive absolutely no financial compensation. All because they love Shadowrun Returns. No other RPG, this year or in any previous one, has spawned a community quite like the Shadowrun Returns one. Not only are they making full use of the Game Editor option, but they’ve also united multiple times to change the course of the game for the good of everyone. Case in point, during the Kickstarter campaign, Harebrained Schemes suggested making some Kickstarter backer exclusive content to reward backers. The community has a whole said they’d rather have that proposed content made free to everyone. Harebrained Schemes was both shocked and touched by this display of community and happily agreed to do so. Later on, when Microsoft came down with his proclamation that the game must be released with DRM even though Harebrained Schemes had told backers it would be DRM free, the community rallied together and made their case as to why the game should be DRM free. As part of the Kickstarter, Harebrained Schemes managed to convince Microsoft to drop the DRM for only those gamers who backed the program is said manner and only then if they downloadaed the game through a special link on Harebrained Schemes’ website. Everyone else would get DRM in the Sixth World experience. The community as a whole still championed the DRM free barrier and finally, months later, Harebrained Schemes announced that Microsoft had relented and would allow a DRM free version of the game to be sold to the general public as well. So now when you purchase Shadowrun Returns from GoG.com, you’re purchasing an example of what gamers can do when they are unified in a positive manner instead of sitting behind their computer typing out tirades of profanity and name calling because someone else prefers a different game or console. Plus, getting Microsoft to cave on DRM is like getting Aztechnology to say, “Well maybe that whole human sacrificing thing we get up to isn’t the best idea we’ve ever had.” Whether it was offering refunds to anyone upset by Microsoft’s attempts to enforce DRM on the game or even now where they are rewriting a bunch of the code so that people can save their game anywhere and at any time, Harebrained Schemes has really shown not only how to make a community come together for a video game but that a dev team will do their best to accommodate passionate requests for their fanbase.
So from all this we can see that Shadowrun Returns is a pretty important product historically speaking in addition to being one of the best made video games of 2013. Factor all of these things together with the fact it was released with a MSRP of less than twenty dollars at a time when publishers are releasing unfinished games to the general public with a promise that they’ll be patched AFTER people have spent sixty or so dollars on them, and it’s hard to think of a reason why Shadowrun Returns shouldn’t be getting this award from other sites as well. Is the game perfect? Well of course not. The core story line may be considered a bit short compared to some other RPGs. Like most SRPGs, it’s rather linear, and of course, the game currently only supports autosaving at specific times in true old school gaming fashion rather than letting you save whenever you want, wherever you want (but by request, Harebrained Schemes is developing a patch to let you do just that), but no game is perfect. How can it be? If there was such a thing, we’d all only play that game and the entire industry would collapse upon itself. What we can safely say is that Shadowrun Returns is our easy choice for game of the year because it’s as historically important to our industry as it is well made and/or as it is fun to play. It’s given us innovations in SRPG gaming that should have been introduced generations ago. It’s brought Shadowrun back to electronic format. It’s single-handedly proved that a crowd funded game can be as well made and successful as any game made by the big publishers who spend more money on advertising than a dozen or so indie dev teams ever see in their entire existence. Most of all, it’s an extremely well made game that provides a truly wonderful gaming experience regardless of your knowledge of the Sixth World. All of the above chummers is why Shadowrun Returns is our 2013 Game of the Year.
Of course, 2014 and 2015 are going to be even bigger years for the crowdfunding model. 2014 will see releases like Wasteland 2, Pillars of Eternity, Tides of Numenera, The Banner Saga, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, Broken Age and more. 2015 will see games like Project Phoenix, Mighty No. 9, Dreamfall Chapters, Obduction and other games that have yet to rear their head on sites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo. Will these games, many of which raised even more money than Shadowrun Returns manage to secure crowdfunding as a viable means to make high quality titles for a long time to come. We can only hope so. For now though, each and every one of them will have to live up to the lofty standard set by Shadowrun Returns. Who knows? Maybe Shadowrun Returns will merely be the first of many crowdfunded titles to win a Game of the Year. If so, that’s just another first is the litany of historical accolades Shadowrun Returns has already achieved.
– Alexander Lucard