Diehard GameFAN 2013 Year in Review Staff Commentaries

So here we are, a few days before the end of 2013. As usual, several of the Diehard GameFAN staff have sat down and written up their own personal “Top Ten Games of the Year” list. This gives you, the reader, a chance to see each of our own specific tastes and preferences. It also lets us touch on our own personal favorites that might not have earned a 2013 Gaming Award Nomination, due to only having been played by a few individuals, or perhaps they were the only one that actually liked it. Join us as we look back at the best of 2013, be they highly marketed games from large corporations or smaller easily missed independent excellence.

Aaron Sirois’ Top Ten
Staff Writer

1.) XCOM: Enemy Within
2.) Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
3.) Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F
4.) KickBeat
5.) Bioshock Ininite
6.) Injustice: Gods Among Us
7.) Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon
8.) The Last of Us
9.) Tomb Raider
10.) Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus

2013 was a great year for me, because I can honestly say that I have fallen in love with gaming all over again. I attribute that primarily to my top four choices, but it was a solid year throughout. I’ve played dozens and dozens of games this year, and found something to love about almost all of them. I even enjoyed bits of Star Trek, The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct, and Aliens: Colonial Marines, although Turbo Super Stunt Squad can go right to hell. Anyways, it was actually pretty difficult cutting this list down to ten, and I almost made a few ties as an excuse to throw more up there. This is a pretty good list I think, and each game is certainly worthy of a closer look.

I had all but given up hope on Ratchet & Clank after Fuse turned out so disastrously, but Into the Nexus was the perfect tonic to ease my troubled mind. It is quite possibly one of the best games in the entire series. The controls were spot on, the level design was exciting, the new gadgets opened the game up, and budget price made the whole package a steal. If you’re a fan of the series, and you haven’t played this game yet, I feel tremendous sorrow for you. You’re missing out on greatness.

I wasn’t expecting much from Tomb Raider and in some respects, I was right not to. The story is an absolute mess that fails on every conceivable level. Plot holes abound, it’s patronizing, and it might even be a bit sexist. However, the game itself was pretty darn fun to play. In particular, the combat just felt spot on for a third-person experience. Each weapon felt deadly, the bow was a brilliant tool for stealthy play, and there was just enough exploration to keep it from dragging on. If they can put out a sequel that doesn’t insult my intelligence in the story department, it would be a strong contender for game of the year.

There are many publications and players out there that would put The Last of Us as the top game of the year. I can’t say I really blame them. From a production standpoint, the game is hard to top, what with a fully realized post-apocalyptic world combined with the best voice acting in gaming history. On top of that, TLOU featured thoughtful gameplay that tailored to your style and allowed for dynamic situations. Things would get tense because of how you played. A stealthy player would get more tense as the finish line got ever closer in sight, while a more aggressive player could sweat bullets as supplies started to run out. It wasn’t a perfect game by any means, but it was incredibly interesting to work though.

I didn’t get to play Far Cry 3 until this year, so the high placement of Blood Dragon is partly a way to honor the hell of a time I had with it. However, Blood Dragon was inanely fun in its own right. It combined solid first-person action with an absolute love of 80’s culture to create an experience that left me slack jawed in amazement more often than not. In fact, the reason I even played FC3 was because of how much fun I had with Blood Dragon. That’s got to be the first time DLC has sold a game.

Mortal Kombat was one of my favorite games of 2011, so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the follow up. I wasn’t quite expecting the follow up to be a dark twist on the DC Universe. Injustice: Gods Among Us turned out to be the game I didn’t even know I wanted. It had the tight, combo based combat from MK, and combined that with a number of environmental mechanics that really allowed each character to shine as an individual. For example, Bane could toss that motorcycle at his opponent, while a lighter character like Green Arrow would simply drive over them. It was awesome. Plus, this game managed to get me to like Aquaman. That says a lot.

I initially had Bioshock:Infinite higher on this list, but the most recent DLC kind of left me with a sour taste in my mouth. Still, the main game was a heck of a lot of fun and had some truly memorable characters to boot. Heck, even the VGAs thought the Lutece Twins were the coolest people ever. Personally, I think I might have had even more fun using BI‘s vigors than I did with the plasmids from the original game. Still, I didn’t quite love it as much as I did the games in my top four.

KickBeat scratches an itch that has been bothering me since I finally beat “Jumping Jack Flash” on Hard Rock (That would be from Elite Beat Agents if you didn’t know). It’s tough, and simply managing to beat the game on the hardest setting has made me one of the top ranked players on the leaderboards. However, I still find myself far from ready to put the game down. I pick it up at least once or twice a week in order to try and top one of my scores or see if I can finally make it through ten songs on Survival. It’s an incredibly fun, incredibly challenging game that I’ve become completely addicted to.

hatsune2When it comes down to it, I found it pretty hard to decide between KickBeat and Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F for the number three spot. While it seems to me that I’m more likely to pick up the former these days, I can’t deny how much the latter has affected me. I’ve actually grown a fondness for J-Pop music, and a number of the tracks from the game can lift me out of the deepest slumps whenever I hear them. I just feel good when I play the game. On top of that, it’s just plain fun. Sure, it’s a game about dancing anime robot girls, but I’m not the least bit ashamed to say I love it implicitly.

Ni No Kuni is, in my opinion, the best new game of the year. It also happens to be one of the most affecting, as it even managed to warm my cold heart on several occasions. My life became dominated by this game. First, I had to push forward to see how the story would go. Then, I had to push forward in order to see and do everything. This included spending the more than seventy hours required to earn the platinum trophy. There isn’t a single thing about this game that I didn’t love. The art style was arresting, the voice acting was well above the norm for a dub, the combat was both tactical and flexible, and I even didn’t mind having to grind for levels every once and a while. Normally, I avoid JRPGs like the plague. However, this game quickly became one of my all time favorites, and possibly my pick for best PS3 exclusive ever. Still, it couldn’t quite take the number one spot.

Okay, it might seem a bit silly to give my number one spot to an expansion for a game that I picked as my top game for last year, but I really don’t care. No game has taken over my life like XCOM: Enemy Within. Not only have I beaten the game twice, I’ve also got two or three other games going that I routinely play whenever I get the time. In addition, I’ve spent dozens and dozens of hours watching other people play the game online. I can’t get enough. I haven’t even remotely gotten tired of it. I love training up a squad, building them up with meld, and the hoping to hell I don’t get them killed on the battlefield. I’m steadily working myself towards being able to complete the most challenging versions of the game. Once I get Classic down, I’ll try the infamous Iron Man Impossible as well. I’ll be playing this game for years to come. Honestly, by the end, it might just make a run for my personal favorite game of all time. As such, to not give it my top spot for this year would be insanity. Here’s hoping 2014 doesn’t just fade into the shadows of this incredible year.

Ashe Collins’ Top Ten
Staff Writer

1.) Saints Row IV (PC)
2.) Metro: Last Light (PC)
3.) Shadowrun Returns (PC)
4.) Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS)
5.) Tomb Raider (PC)
6.) The Walking Dead Season Two (PC)
7.) The Last of Us (PS3)
8.) Velocity Ultra (Vita)
9.) Mass Effect 3: Citadel (PS3/PC)
10.) Pokémon Y (3DS)

I played a lot of games this year. I’ve also stopped playing a few long term games just because I don’t have the time to play so many games at the same time, review games, have some semblance of a social life and spend time with my wife, the time with the wife actually being the most important given my work schedule around the holidays. So there is a huge list of cut games from my top ten that I just didn’t like as much, didn’t sink nearly as much time into as I could have, or just didn’t feel as strongly about as the games that show up on the list here. There were a bunch of duds this year, but there were some really stellar releases as well. I had thirty games that I was actively considering before I whittled this one down, so let’s take a look at why I picked what I did.

I’m more of a fan of Pokémon through the games than the TV show, and my son has long since abandoned the games and the trading card game in favor of his tabletop RPGs, but my wife and I have picked up every actual Pokémon RPG release. Not the side games, mind you, though we have a few of those as well, and play the hell out of them with each other. While I liked Pokémon Black/White and their sequel, I didn’t get into it enough to really hammer through it nearly as much as my wife did. This year’s release though, I sunk more hours into than both Pokémon White and Black 2 combined. While not entirely revolutionary, Pokémon Y did enough things right for me that it’s definitely high up on my list of Pokémon releases. I liked the jump to 3D with the characters, although I don’t use the actual 3D on the 3DS as much. The world was interesting this time around, and though it lacked much to do after you beat the champion, it stood out and was one of the reasons I picked up a 3DS in the first place.

While I wasn’t thrilled with the ending to Mass Effect 3, I did enjoy the Extended Cut and all the DLC for varying reasons. If I had the option to only buy one DLC for Mass Effect 3, however, Citadel would be it. Citadel isn’t perfect, and it falls on a few clichés from sci-fi over the years, but so does the rest of the Mass Effect Trilogy, honestly. WhatCitadel delivers in spades is the chance to really say good bye to the crew and squad mates that we’ve come to know over the years, and really delivers on some neat character interactions that we’d not really have gotten any other way. The party is brilliant, and the little side interactions leading up to it, along with the mini-games, actually make it one of the DLCs with better return value. To me, it was the perfect send off for Shepard and crew, and I’m glad they chose to make that one their last, as it really helped Mass Effect 3 deliver something far more than it was without it.

Velocity Ultra surprised the hell out of me. I was expecting a top-down shooter that didn’t really do much, and then it came in and completely shattered that idea with a compelling and fun game, a neat teleport mechanic and a strangely compelling, although brief, storyline that unfolded through cinematics as you played. The artwork revamp did Velocity Ultra wonders over the original Mini look, and it played fantastically on the Vita, using the touchscreen to a great effect while keeping the original targeting with the analog stick intact. Futurlab did some great work with this one, and it made it instantly onto any memory stick I pick up for my Vita, as I really do love playing this game.

The Last Of Us took me awhile to get to, and I didn’t think I’d get far enough into it to give it a fair shake, but I snuck in a day off here and there and viola. Naughty Dog took the same formula they used for Uncharted and basically kicked up the bleak factor while focusing on telling a more human story about the end of the world than the world dashing antics of Nathan Drake, and it completely fits. All the little details and ideas they’d been developing with Uncharted really shine in this game, and it feels like a natural evolution of the Naughty Dog engine and an amazing sight to see on the PS3. On top of some amazing visuals, they deliver a compelling and at the same time heart-wrenching tale that didn’t fail to weigh on me as the player from the start. This is going to be sitting on my PS3 for a very long time.

The Walking Dead: 400 Days expansion was okay, but what blew me away this year was The Wolf Among Us… at least until I got my hands on The Walking Dead Season 2 and realized that, while The Wolf Among Us was excellent, The Walking Dead Season 2 nailed its first episode with Clementine almost perfectly. Did it meet every expectation? Not entirely, but it brought the world through a more grown-up Clementine’s point of view n a way that pretty much anyone can relate to, and the voice acting for Clementine alone speaks volumes about how well they’re handling the character moving forward. There is an emotional connection after an entire season with the characters that they’ve managed to carry over nicely into this season that allows them to do a few things they couldn’t have pulled off as well otherwise. It wasn’t perfect, but Season 2 of The Walking Dead looks to be shaping up to be amazing, right along with The Wolf Among Us, and I think Telltale is going to have their hands full going into the new year.

In an interesting move, Crystal Dynamics basically decided to scrap everything that had been done with Lara Croft and start over again with a new Tomb Raider game that had very few ties to the other games and was set way before she was the Lara we knew from the first game back in the 90’s. They brought in a new writer and turned an entire island into the tomb we were raiding, revamping mechanics and adding in a weapon upgrade system, along with tuned combat and a storyline we might see from something like Uncharted that definitely took its inspiration from the Tomb Raider games of the past. What we ended up with was an amazingly well done game that had a few faults, but the overall experience was absolutely amazing and impressive. I had my jaw on the floor a few times while playing and it managed to give me a near panic attack. I don’t like heights. While I will miss the Lara from the previous outings, this new Lara has me intrigued, and I hope to see more of her adventures from here on out.

Part of the reason I bought my 3DS when I did, which was long before Pokémon Y was out, was a special they had on two games where you’d get $30 to use in the eShop. So I picked up my 3DS, Shin Megami Tensei IV and Fire Emblem: Awakening, which I love far more than I should. I like the tactical RPG aspect of the game, the relationships that add to combat, and also the scenes in between the battles and the visuals themselves, other than the lack of feet. I really fell in love with this game from the first time I fired it up, and other than Pokémon Y, it has been in my 3DS, as I’ve swapped between the two. If I had a spare 3DS, and yes some of our staff here do because they’re insane and buy extras just because of the extra exclusive covers and colors, Fire Emblem: Awakening would probably have a permanent home.

I really fell in love with Shadowrun back on the Genesis system. I’d had brief exposure to it through a friend, and then later on my wife’s Genesis system, as she had the game. I’d known about the tabletop version for a long time but never got into it, even in college, as there was a glut of Cyberpunk games including Cyberpunk 2020, Rifts, and a host of others. There were a few fits and starts, but no regular games I could get into. Year later, when they announced Shadowrun Returns though, I flipped. I loved the Genesis game, and here was a game that tied into that, but then took that system and ran with it, combining a tactical aspect to it like the XCOM game and its expansion, but with that Shadowrun look and feel that I loved. On top of that, they gave an added bonus of being able to mod the game with official tools that work well with what already exists. The game plays amazingly well and has a great old school feel to it that I love. This is easily one of my favorite RPGs from this year.

I used to love First Person Shooters. Doom, Duke Nukem 3D, Quake and Quake 2. I devoured them. But I fell out of love with them as they continued to be relatively the same thing over and over again without much change. Doom 3 was a nice surprise, as I found I liked the atmosphere and horror aspects of the game more than the shooting, along with Portal and its sequel, and then Metro happened. Metro: Last Light sparked a renewed love for the genre that Doom 3 and Portal had briefly captured for me. The game was just as much about trying to survive a terrible situation as it was about killing everything in sight, and even then you don’t really want to necessarily waste the ammo trying to take out bad guys. While I didn’t necessarily enjoy the DLC so much, the main game itself was a fantastically put together affair that had just the right pacing and mix of action, blasting, exploration and survival that I thought set this game above most of the others I played this year, easily.

If I loved Metro: Last Light so much though, why isn’t it my number one? Because one game this year remembered that sometimes it’s about just having a good time, and fuck the rules and while they were at it, fuck all those stuffy games that lost their way. Saints Row IV was all about giving everyone the middle finger with a smile while telling a ridiculous story and opening up their sandbox to the point where anything was possible and then capitalizing on that in spades. What fourth wall? From the start of the game, hell, even the trailers, I knew just based on what they’d done with Saints Row The Third that I would absolutely love this game, and whenever I get a spare moment to just pop in and drive, fly, pilot or sprint around the city and take care of business, Saints Row IV is there and ready to deliver, almost always with hilarious consequences. Any game that starts off with riding a nuclear missile and moves to you being the President with the choice to cure cancer or feed everyone in a White House that has stripper poles and pool tables, you know is going to deliver a singular experience. Is it ridiculous? Absolutely. But it was a blast, and I loved every second of it and continue to do so weekly. My only complaint is that it’s kind of ruined my urge to play the previous game in the series, which is not a bad thing at all.

Sean Madson’s Top Ten
Staff Writer

1) The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)
2) Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS)
3) Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (PC)
4) Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (PS3)
5) Dragon’s Crown (PS3)
6) Pandora’s Tower (Wii)
7) Bioshock Infinite (360)
8) Tales of Xillia (PS3)
9) Shin Megami Tensei IV (3DS)
10) Ys: Memories of Celceta

As with last year, 2013 brought with it such a flood of awesome games that narrowing them down to simply ten was unusually stressful. Damn, did the 3DS have a good year. I probably logged in more hours on that than any other console/handheld combined. Before I get into the nitty gritty, I want to mention a handful of quality titles that just barely missed my list for one reason or another: Runner2, Pikmin 3, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance… I love you, but there just wasn’t enough room on the list. I also omitted remakes/updates, otherwise I would be talking about the same games year after year. So no Wind Waker HD or Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. With that out of the way, I now present to you my top ten games of 2013:

The Vita was a late bloomer this year. In fact, I think I only turned the thing on for Muramasa Rebirth and that was it until Ys: Memories of Celceta came out. Even so, I bought a Vita with the hope that someday the latest Ys title would make its way stateside. This incarnation of Ys IV has undergone so many changes, one could hardly call it a remake at this point. It has the combat system from Seven, mixed with a cast of interesting characters, and the best spin on the tired amnesia cliché that I’ve seen in years. I’m really hoping for an update to Ys V or even an eighth entry to come next.

Shin Megami Tensei IV is really the pinnacle of “it hurts so good.” Seriously, I’ve never been so lost in a game so many times as this one, and while that would normally be a huge pet peeve of mine, the setting as well as the combat and demon fusion systems carried me through. Set in medieval Japan, you take control of a samurai with a technologically advanced bracelet and the ability to summon demons as you investigate a knight that’s reportedly turning citizens into demons. Despite taking the more difficult neutral route through the game, the story held its own throughout, and the press turn battle system is as good as it’s ever been with the new “smirk” mechanic. The lack of a well labeled map keeps it from being as high as it could’ve been though.

We’ve gotten a fair number of Tales releases as of late, but Tales of Xillia feels like it brought the most change to the series in quite awhile. The biggest one occurs right from the beginning, as you choose which of the two main protagonists to follow, a decision that slightly alters your path through the game. The new linking mechanic opens up a brand new assortment of moves depending on how you pair your characters up as well. It doesn’t shatter the mold that JRPG’s have crafted for themselves up until now, but it doesn’t disappoint either.

I almost didn’t get a chance to play this before the year was up, but Bioshock Infinite was a pleasant surprise. I did enjoy the original, even if I didn’t see the magic in the story that everyone else seemed to. Infinite, on the other hand, went above my cynical expectations for it and managed to provide a well comprised tale wrapped up in some solid first-person shooting action. Oh, and that sky hook thing. This game should get a spot on the list for that gadget alone.

I never thought this year would land a Wii title on my top ten list, but Pandora’s Tower managed to hit all of the right notes for me. The controls were set up in such a way that the Wii remote/nunchuk combo was preferred (which is rare) and the Oraclos chain was one of the most useful tools in gaming that I had the pleasure of using since Link’s hookshot. You can use it to cross chasms, throw objects at enemies, or even throw the enemies around (or just leave them tied up and beat on them). The simple premise also led to some powerful and disturbing moments that left a lasting impression on me, which is impressive for a game that almost no one talks about.

At the halfway mark we have Dragon’s Crown, a title I suspect I will be playing even in 2014. It was unfortunate that the game launched with no cross play between the PS3 and Vita version, but now this functionality has been patched in along with some new content that was never included with the original release, all free of charge. It plays like a modernized version of the beat-em-up games from the 80’s and 90’s such as Golden Axe and Dungeons & Dragons, but with the fantastic 2D visuals that Vanillaware has built a reputation on. The game’s various characters all also play differently enough that it feels like a different game each time you choose a new one. It’s the ultimate couch co-op game of this year.

While my run-in with Digital River soured my mood before having the chance to play it, Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch might just be one of the most charming RPG’s of this generation. Combining the art of Studio Ghibli with the talent of Level-5 (who had previous done the last couple of Dragon Quest games), it’s no wonder I had such a great time with it. Finding and raising Familiars gives off definite Pokemon vibes, but with the trainers being active participants. The battles also manage to stand apart from other turn-based titles by mixing in real-time movement with computer controlled allies that each have their own roster of Familiars to command right alongside you. I’m hoping next year will give me something even half as good as this.

This next entry might confuse some. I can see the questions now: “Didn’t Final Fantasy XIV come out like three years ago?” or “Doesn’t A Realm Reborn constitute a remake?” Well besides the obvious response of “It’s my list and I’ll do what I want!” the game is so far removed from its original form that it might as well be a whole new game (the same could be said of Ys as long as we’re at it). I’ll be honest, after the crippling disappointment that was FFXIV, I swore that I’d never touch the game again, promises to fix it be damned. Yet here I am, hundreds of hours later, still willingly firing it up. It combines the job system from FFV and Tactics with a narrative that mixes familiar concepts from all of the previous games while taking a few pages out of the World of Warcraft handbook. The fact that I told myself I’d never play another MMO and can’t stop with this one should speak volumes.

My number one spot was a toss up, but in the end, Fire Emblem: Awakening turned out to be the runner-up. This isn’t a bad thing at all, as it goes to show that such a long running franchise is still able to nail a lasting impression with me. Not only did the game offer a way to create your own protagonist and give the option to disable permanent death, but the new marriage mechanic led to some really entertaining conversations and scenes between the various party members in your army. It was also able to take a cliché story mechanic (again with the insomnia) and spin it into an interesting tale throughout. It’s not just the most accessible Fire Emblem game ever made, it’s also one of the best.

While it surprises no one that the latest Zelda entry made it into my top spot, I want to make it clear that it’s not JUST because it’s a Zelda game. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds managed to craft a direct followup to one of my favorite SNES games of all time, and do it well enough that it has an identity of its own rather than just being pure fanservice. In addition, it makes the most creative use of the 3D technology of the 3DS that I’ve ever seen, and the fact that you can rent or buy almost any of Link’s major items right from the beginning means that you can tackle dungeons in whatever order you wish. There has never been this much freedom in a Zelda game before, and the ability to turn into a drawing to solve puzzles just adds another wrinkle to an already robust arsenal. This is without a doubt my best experience of the year.

Matt Yaeger’s Top Ten
Staff Writer

1.) Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
2.) Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien
3.) Fire Emblem Awakening
4.) Serious Sam DD XXL
5.) Hotline Miami (PS3)
6.) Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
7.) GTAV
8.) Call of Juarez: Gunslinger
9.) Charlie Murder
10.) Foul Play

Most of the games on my list weren’t games I was looking forward to, had pre-ordered, or knew very much about aside from GTAV. Most were either portable or downloadable titles, which surprised me, but I think shows just how strong those markets are.

I debated about that last spot, torn between Mario and Luigi: Dream Team and Foul Play. Foul Play won out because, as much as I enjoyed M&L, that game was a little too tutorial heavy, and the pacing got in the way of the game at different moments. Foul Play, on the other hand, was tightly designed and never had a dull moment, and the way the game pulled the story together at the end was one of the better gaming moments I experienced in the last year. Fun, cute, and often laugh out loud funny. It’s not as long as many other games, but it was fun for every single minute I played.

Charlie Murder is a game I would’ve reviewed, and should’ve reviewed, but there was a backlog of other games on the site that we received that I was trying to help out with. From the folks at Ska Studios (whom I’m a fanboy of and have gushed over previous titles they’ve created in the past, such as ZP2KX and The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai) comes a game that is punk rock. I don’t mean that just because the story is about a punk rock band, I mean that the game has this raw sort of energy to it that you don’t see in many commercial games. It manages to be bloody, but with cute touches like chibi animals and fun clothing. It’s a beat-em-up, but there’s strategy involved with how you take enemies out. There’s a number of pop culture references and homages to past video games, while adding in new ideas and mechanics. The game also deserves a lot of credit for showing a story and letting you interact with it rather than just telling it to you, and the end comes of as surprisingly powerful because of how it was told. Charlie Murder is a blood stained love letter to video games, horror movies, music and craft beer, which means that it just about hit every pleasure button in my brain.

I put Call of Juarez: Gunslinger above Charlie Murder only because I was more surprised with how good Gunslinger was. Ska Studios typically makes great games. Techland, on the other hand, have made decent, good, and awful Call of Juarez games, in that order. Call of Juarez: The Cartel was so bad that I’m amazed they didn’t retire the series. I ended up buying Gunslinger despite how bad The Cartel was because it returned to the old west genre, and I’m a sucker for cowboy shit. Amazingly, it is without a doubt the best Call of Juarez game in the series. The graphics are great, the experience point system is well thought out with how it rewards your in game actions, and shooting is excellent. Having the story told by an old gunfighter in a bar telling tall tales about his past and how that narration affected the game was brilliant. There are shooters that have tried to tell bigger stories or better ones than Call of Juarez: Gunslinger, but few have told them as smoothly.

I wrote a long winded gushing review of GTAV, so it might seem strange that it appears so far down my list of favorite titles of the past year. Make no mistake, I love that damn game, but it ain’t perfect. There’s so much to do in Los Santos, I spent fifty hours just playing the game in the first week it was out. The detail Rockstar puts into the worlds they create is still at another level above everyone else. I loved the story and thought the character switching mechanic was extremely well done. The missions were grander than they’ve ever been, some of which I’ve played more than once just because I liked them so much. Still, there’s a lot of the game that seems to be there because someone thought it would be good to add, even if it never really is integrated well into the rest of the game. Rockstar, for some reason, also created this great sandbox, but then locked away most of the toys to play in the sandbox with, like even if you manage to survive breaking into the military base and steal a jet… it will run out of gas. You made the jets, there’s no single player missions in which they’re used, they’re fun to blow shit up with, but they made them useless to even try and obtain. Same with other stuff. I spent a lot of time online, and I don’t know why, because even though it had some compelling ideas, the execution was awful. I loved it, my wife and I still quote Trevor at each other, but I hope the next one is tighter designed and they maybe add some stuff for people who just want to kind of screw around.

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is every 80’s movie rolled into one. I had a blast with every moment of this game, and it by far was one of the more amusing games of the year. I enjoyed the hell out of Far Cry 3 already, but when you take that and throw in a million 80’s references, some stellar voice acting (or at least intentionally bad voice acting) and great audio, you’ve got a winner. The music in the credits from Miami Connection (which I watched around the same time I played the game) just put it even more over the top.

Hotline2Speaking of games with great audio, anytime I hear, read, or think about Hotline Miami I load up the soundtrack and listen to it. I’m listening to it while writing this even. I really dig the music from the game. I never played it when it was released on the PC, and I was wary about how the controls would transfer over to the PS3 Dualshock controller, but it worked just fine. For the first thirty minutes of the game I couldn’t tell what the fuck was going on or what to do, and then at some point, it clicked, and I fell into the hypnotic kill-die-try again rhythm that is Hotline Miami. Even though the graphics are simplistic, there’s something about how quick and tense the game is that makes the violence seem more visceral than most HD games I’ve played. It’s weird and kind of gross, but also engrossing and addictive. I keep hearing about the sequel, and I can’t wait, I’m ready to turn my TV volume up, choose my mask and go on a crazy virtual killing spree all over again.

When it comes to digital murder, it’s hard to top Serious Sam DD XXL. You get a gun, and later you can stack a gun on top of that gun, and then stack another on top of that one, and another. See where this is going? Gun stacking is easily my favorite game mechanic of the year, and carving up enemies with six chainsaws stacked on top of one another is probably the most cathartic thing to do after a day at work. With gun stacking as a central mechanic, the game offers up a bunch of diverse enemies, weapons and locations, and mixes these together to keep a constant stream of blowing shit up in unique ways. There’s always new guns to stack, upgrades to those guns, and the way the different guns compliment each other with how they function and even how they’re stacked keep the game interested all the way through until the end, and then some. If you haven’t played the game yet, then by the Saint of Parallaxing I suggest you do so.

Fire Emblem: Awakening is the first Fire Emblem game I’ve played, and for the first hour I mostly spent it wondering what happened to the characters’ feet. I got over it though, because the game is amazing. The graphics are superb for a portable title, and the game does a great job with utilizing the 3D effects of the system, better than many titles in fact. The 3D isn’t needed, however, it does stuff like make effects like fire embers and so forth really stick out. The tactical combinations and maps are fantastic; often I’d get so lost within a battle map that I would miss my bus stop, and in fact, the game is so absorbing it’s one of the few portable titles I can’t play on the go. It soaks up too much of my attention, to the point of blocking out things I should be aware of around me. The controls are great, the music is fantastic, the interface works extremely well, the character interactions are worth the price of admission alone and the story takes surprising turns as it plays out. If you don’t own a 3DS, it’s a system selling game. If you do have a 3DS, go get it. I dare you not to fall for the charm of these feetless people.

Runner2 was the game I felt was the best game of the year for the longest time, and the game I used as a bar for any other title all year long. It features some of the tightest design of any video game I’ve ever played. Everything is tied together in what is essentially a rhythm/platforming game. The music affects the level, with everything reacting to the beat of the music, the level design and enemies give visual cues as to what you as a player should be doing, and every action you do as a player adds notes to the music. It’s a little deeper than what I just clumsily described, but it all flows together so well. Every game I mentioned so far has parts of it that might not fit into the total package, could’ve been better implemented or even just removed without impacting the game negatively. Runner2 doesn’t have any fat. Maybe the team who created it might see a flaw somewhere, but for me, I was impressed not only by how awesome the game was but how polished it is as well. Gaijin Games deserves a lot of credit for creating such a wonderful game.

Up until a few weeks ago Runner2 would have been my personal Game of the Year. Then Zelda came out, and like Sean said in his review of the game, I went into the game expecting disappointment. A Link To The Past is my favorite Zelda game, and the idea that they were going to make a sequel to it didn’t sit well with me. Too many video games (and movies and books) try to capture the success of something I enjoyed in the past, and usually it turns out poorly. A Link Between Worlds, however, is whatever positive adjective you want to put on it. The user interface is perfect. The graphics make use of the 3D on the 3DS better than any other title on the system. They shook up the typical Zelda formula in a way that works well and still feels true to the series. The ending blew me away, something few Zelda games ever do. Frankly, the best way to describe it is magical. Some games, like A Link Between Worlds, or Runner2, and so on, are put together so well, with a dedication and love to the medium, that they can transcend the kind of emotional engagement that a book or a movie might have. With so many games these days barely covering up the fact that they’re digital cash grabs designed to hook you and keep you paying for them, the fact that A Link Between Worlds was able to make me feel for a second some of the wonder I felt as a younger, and less cynical, gamer is truly amazing to me, and why I feel it’s the best game of 2013.

Michael O’Reilly’s Top Ten
Staff Writer

1.) Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (PS4)
2.) Dead Rising 3 (XBone)
3.) Grand Theft Auto V (PS3)
4.) Saints Row IV (PS3)
5.) The Last of Us (PS3)
6.) Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon (PS3)
7.) BioShock Infinite (PS3)
8.) Total War: Rome II (PC)
9.) Diablo 3 (PS3)
10.) Kerbal Space Program (PC)

2013 was an odd year. So much of it was spent waiting on the new systems coming out that it felt like very little came out that deserved any mention. Thankfully, that proved to not be the case. Part of this was due to my rejoining the PC gaming scene, but part of it was just some damned fun games got released towards the end of the year. I look forward to what 2014 is going to bring us, but here you go, a brief look back at what I thought were the best games of 2013.

Technically, Kerbal Space Program isn’t even finished yet, and it’s getting new updates every few months that add new features. Already in it’s current state, though, the game is a fantastic experience whose only barrier is how much work you have to put in to succeed. It IS rocket science, after all. Dumbed down to be somewhat accessible, but you still have to have a basic understanding of sciency stuff. Sciency stuff like how much thrust is enough, or how much fuel is too much. What makes the game really awesome is how it makes failure so much fun. Launch your latest design and see what happens, then reload the design and fix what you think went wrong. Add in mods like MechJeb (which is basically an Autopilot for your rocket) and you can watch as your designs conquer the solar system in the name of science.

Despite being a big fan of Blizzard for much of my young adulthood, I never got into Diablo. All that mouse clicking seemed like a huge waste of time. I did play the original when it got ported to the PS1, because that seemed like a good idea. Seemed like being the operative word. The game was just too big for the system. So when I saw Diablo 3 was going to be ported, I was excited, but also a little worried. Would the same thing happen again? Thankfully, no, the PS3 was more than capable of running this game, and I was all the happier for it. I really do love a good dungeon crawl, especially when you’re with your buddies. Since the game supported couch play as well as online it was a treat to enjoy. Sure, I didn’t know what happened at the end of the past two games. Who cares? Now it’s coming to the PS4, and I’ll be able to port my character. Yes please. Also maybe think about porting the first two as well?

I reviewed Total War: Rome II, and at release it was not quite ready for prime time. In the time since release, however, the game has been patched and patched, until finally the game can be called something that lives up to the name Total War: Rome. It might not be as good as the games of old, but it is still amongst the top ten games I played this year. Oh, and now with the first expansion Caesar in Gaul available, I might just be playing this well into next year too.

BioShock Infinite was my game of the year for the first ten minutes I played it. It bogged down eventually, but for those initial ten minutes, wow, I was all in. Most games that start off strong and die off in the middle never get me to finish, but everybody I know kept yammering on about how awesome it was, and frankly, those first ten minutes WERE pretty good, so I kept at it. I have to say, I didn’t see that ending coming. Well done Irrational.

I loved Far Cry 3, and it was my game of the year last year, so anything that gave me more Far Cry 3 was going to be purchased and consumed vigorously. What I got with Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon was a bizarre mix of 80s action movies and cartoons, all set in a nightmarish world where it was kill or be killed in a re-skinned version of Far Cry 3. It wasn’t as deep, nor as long lasting, but it succeeded in keeping the experience fresh in my mind. Basically the best DLC I played all year.

tlou1Naughty Dog proved something to me this year when they released The Last of Us. They proved that they know the difference between soulless action adventure and telling a story that really tugs on the old heart strings. The Uncharted games are fantastic, but you are an unstoppable killing machine out to get the money or save the girl or whatever. If you could eat popcorn while playing you’d totally eat popcorn while playing. The Last of Us presented players with a few different missions. Save the world by transporting a somehow immune little girl through hellish apocalyptic wasteland that is the remains of the United States during what amounts to a Zombie Apocalypse. Save the world but sacrifice the girl. Do you? Can you? The game had some silly design decisions that keep it from being my personal Game of the Year, but it deserves every other accolade it gets.

For a game that started life as DLC but was converted to a full game in a panic in order to save a bankrupt company, Saints Row IV does a pretty damned good job of overcoming many of its flaws. It helps that the developers and intellectual property were purchased after THQ finally went bankrupt and the new owners at Deep Silver were willing to let the game be completed before shipping. It also helps that Volition are amongst the best developers in history. Don’t get me wrong, the game could still have very easily been DLC for Saints Row 3. Steelport is very much the same as it was in that game, with only minor tweaks. The addition of superpowers and the story that is told makes all of that meaningless though. The first time you do a super jump and glide across half of the city you won’t care why it wasn’t DLC. You’ll just know that things are going to be AWESOME.

Grand Theft Auto V was an interesting experience. Set once again in the “state” of San Andreas, the game tells the story of three main protagonists: Michael, Franklin and Trevor. You see the flaws of each character as the story goes on, and as it draws to a conclusion, you wonder why did they force me to endure half of that? Why go through all of the crap? Why split the money I make? Here’s a clue Rockstar. One game, one star. So why is this game on the list if I didn’t enjoy it? Well that’s the kicker, I did enjoy it. It’s still a GTA game after all, just one filled with different experiences. Throw in the online multiplayer of GTA Online and you have quite a package. A game that could have been game of the year if they had only thought things through. A GTA game where you can’t steal a car because it costs too much? Really?

I didn’t get to spend a whole lot of time with Dead Rising 3, but the few hours I did get to spend were filled with laughter and cackling glee. No game this year gave me the feeling of “Now we’re in the next gen,” as much as this one did. The first time you step through the burning carcass of a plane that just crashed in front of you and look down at the immense horde of zombies that stand between you and your goal, that’s when you know. Welcome to the next level indeed.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is my very own personal game of the year, if only because it manages to do everything important right. From the sailing to the hand to hand combat to the main character and storyline, everything just works here. Even the required present day storyline manages to not get in the way of you being a pirate for longer than twenty minutes. Though, yes, those twenty minutes do drag on at the time. If you go back after you’ve had your fill of sails and wigs, you might just find yourself enjoying the present day as well. Bring on Pirates Code 2: More Like Guidelines Anyway.

Alex Lucard’s Top Ten

1.) Deadly Premonition: The Director’s Cut (PS3)
2.) Shadowrun Returns (PC)
3.) Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness (PS3)
4.) Dragon’s Crown (PS Vita)
5.) Paper Sorcerer (PC)
6.) Project X Zone (3DS)
7.) The Cave (Multi)
8.) Pokémon Rumble U (Wii U)
9.) Sturmwind (Sega Dreamcast)
10.) Mysterious Cities of Gold: Secret Paths (Wii U)

2013 was an odd year for me. It’s the year I realized I had nothing more to say about video games, and yet, I think it’s the best year the industry has had quality-wise since 2005. I enjoyed most of what I played this year, even if I wasn’t expecting to (Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures), I was told it would be one of the worst games EVER (Time and Eternity), or it was a game I played a dozen or so times before when it was originally released (Shining Force: The Sword of Hayja). I found the 3DS, Vita and PC especially shown this year, which is good, as I made the decision not to invest in either a PS4 or Xbox One. At the same time, it was NOT a good year for one of my favorite genres, the point and click adventure game, and I was extremely disappointed to see Capcom keeps giving Iron Galaxy work so that they can bug up classics despite the constant criticism that dev team gets for how bad their remakes compare to the originals (Darkstalkers, Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara). At least with D&D I was able to import the Japanese only disc based version, which is far superior (but oddly, not quite as good as the Saturn or cabinet versions). Still, the good really outweighed the bad this year, and it’s been some time since I could say that.

Honourable mentions go to things like the aforementioned Japanese version of D&D and the 3DS remake of Soul Hackers, but I don’t feel comfortable putting them in my top ten, because I played them both to death on my Saturn when I was still in my teens and early twenties. Same with DuckTales Remastered, except go back EVEN FURTHER. I also wanted to put 3DS Guide: Louvre on here, as I’ve spent more time with that than some RPGs for my 3DS, but it’s not a game and it feels odd to put it on my top ten games of 2013 list, you know? I definitely think you should all invest in it though. Lastly, both Pokémon X/Y and Fire Emblem: Awakening almost made the list, but in the end, I had to go with the ten games before you, as they are the games I had the most fun with.

Mysterious Cities of Gold: Secret Paths was not a game I expected to like. I never watched the cartoon and I generally eschew licensed titles. I backed in on Kickstarter only because my wife loved the series so much when she was a little girl. Well color me surprised when the game was not only released on time (a rarity for ANY Kickstarter product) but was one of the best puzzle games I’ve played this year. The cut scenes were some of the best I’ve seen for any video game and really blew away anything else for the Wii U. The gameplay, where you controlled all three main characters from the show, each with their own special ability, to navigate a series of puzzles was so exceptionally well done, I burned through the game in two sittings and am eagerly awaiting the eventual DLC (which will be free to all!). If anything, the game has made me want to check out the cartoon series it is based on to see if it is as good. That’s probably the biggest compliment I can pay this thing. It’s fifteen dollars and it’s easily one of the best games released for the Wii U. Is it a system seller? No, but if you own the system (or the 3DS or a PC – it’s available for both of those too), you should probably pick it up.

2013 was supposed to be the big resurgence of the Sega Dreamcast, with a whopping five games planned for release. Unfortunately, only one of those games actually made it out this year. The good news is that that one game, Sturmwind, is not only wonderful, but it was far and away the best shoot ’em up experience of 2013. I know I sound like a crotchety old man still espousing the glories of Sega’s last system and pointing out how the games that still come out for it are pretty fantastic (even if the vast majority are shoot ’em ups), but Sturmwind defied my every expectation, blowing away titles like Dux, Last Hope: Pink Bullets, Radurgy and other post-mortem titles for the Dreamcast. I still can’t believe how much time I put into this game. The gameplay is tight, the graphics are PS3/360 worthy, and the reward system has you coming back for more. There is so much praise to heap on Sturmwind and so little to scorn that it gives me hope that long after the PS4 and Xbox One are dead and buried, indie companies will still be churning out high quality releases for the Sega Dreamcast.

I’ve played through all the interactive figures games. I love the Skylanders titles (but not enough to consider any of them for a top ten spot) and I loathed Disney Infinity. Of course, when Nintendo announced they’d be doing a Pokémon version, I was all over that. I loved the previous two Pokémon Rumble releases and felt that this might be the title that kept my Wii U from gathering dust save for the few times I had to review something for that system. Well, thankfully Pokémon Rumble U turned out to be awesome. It’s a great little beat ’em up that offers every possible Pokémon every conceived of as a playable character. Even better, where most interactive figure games cost between seventy and a hundred USD, Pokémon Rumble U… was only fifteen bucks. Holy crap, that in and of itself was a game changer, but things didn’t end there. Unlike other figure based games, where purchasing extra figures is almost (but not quite) mandatory to get the full effect of the game, you don’t even NEED a figure to play through and beat Pokémon Rumble U. Instead, figures are a 100% optional purchase, and each one has the same effect: unlimited leveling up and customization. Sure, the figures are a blind draw, and you can only get them at Gamestop, but again, Nintendo broke all the barriers with this one by making the figures optional instead of mandatory and by pricing the game for less than a third of its competitors. It’s simply awesome, and even now, months later, I still play the game here and there to level my figs up and see if I can “catch ’em all.”

2013 wasn’t a very good year for point and click adventure games. Many of the promised games, like Mobius, Broken Age, Dreamfall and Asylum were hit with delays. What did come out was generally lackluster, like LIly Looking Through or Dracula IV. The sub-genres like visual novels and hidden object games had a fine year, but it’s very hard to mess those up. Thankfully, one game, The Cave, came out at the very beginning of the year and more than made up for my point and click deficiency. The Cave was designed as a tribute/homage to the all time classic Maniac Mansion, and in fact, the creator of the game is one Ron Gilbert – the very same man who blessed us with Maniac Mansion all those years ago. Gameplay is similar in that you pick a team of three characters out of a motely collection and set them forth upon a wacky adventure, but The Cave eschews the SCUMM engine for something more akin to a classical point and click experience with some light platformer elements. The game is extremely funny, but also a lot darker in tone than you expect going into it. Due to many combinations of playable characters, each with their own specific level and different endings, The Cave offers an amazing amount of replay value, especially for an adventure game. This is one of the best games in the genre that I have played since 2008’s The Lost Crown. It’s definitely something to experience, even if you aren’t a fan of the genre, because the story and allegorical presentation is unlike anything else you’ve probably played.

Project X Zone is just one of those games that was as fun as it was weird. A sequel to Namco X Capcom and Super Robots Taisen OG: Endless Frontier, Project X Zone was a mash up of characters owned by Sega, Namco, Capcom and Bruce Willis. Practically every major and minor character from these companies makes an appearance. Ryu, Demetri, Jill Valentine, Mega Man, the Cast of my beloved Sakura Taisen, Arthur, Dante, Ulala, and more come together to give us a game that isn’t just fan service, but a high quality experience to boot. Overworld maps are done SRPG style, but then actual combat is more akin to Shadow Hearts or Valkyrie Profile, with your team of two or three characters dishing out crazy damage to their enemies. The graphics are great and the soundtrack is perhaps the greatest video game “greatest hits” album of all time. The gameplay is a lot deeper than your average SRPG and it requires actual timing in addition to wargaming strategy. I had a blast playing through this. I never thought this would make it stateside, and the fact the game was actually good in addition to being cracktastic, meant that it stayed in my 3DS more than anything save Soul Hackers this year.

It should be a crime not to own Paper Sorcerer. It’s only five bucks after all, and it’s one of the best Wizardry clones EVER. Hell, it’s better than a lot of the Japanese games that used the name of Sir-Tech’s franchise. The game is exceptionally striking, with visuals that set it apart from the standard first person dungeon crawl experience. The game offers a level of challenge and strategy that wimpy clones like Etrian Odyssey and Class of Heroes fail to deliver on. The game apes the same theme as Wizardry IV, but it nowhere as heartlessly cruel. The sheer number of characters available to pick from is a nice touch too, as the core four you choose at the beginning of the game decides how far you’ll make it. The soundtrack is one of the best for any game this year, and the fact it was all done by A SINGLE PERSON means that this game is a testament to not only how good an indie game can be, but that it can be far superior to games with a budget literally ten thousand times greater than what this one had. If you’re a fan of games like Wizardry, The Dark Spire, Elminage Original and so on, then you need to stop reading this and go download Paper Sorcerer. It’s that good, and thanks to this and the #2 game on my list, I spent more time with my PC than any other gaming system this year.

Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara was a real disappointment to me because Capcom let Iron Galaxy, the master of screwing up classic games into HD re-releases, do the dev for the North American and Europe releases. Aspects of the game were messed up, it was pretty buggy, parts of the game were LEFT OUT and I could play it alongside my arcade cabinets of each game and my Sega Saturn version and see just how poorly this game was compared to the older versions. When a PS3 version of a game is overshadowed by the Saturn version, you know something was badly messed up in the translation. While I got my hands on the good disc-only Japanese import of the game, my time with both D&D games was soured due to the lackluster experience. Well, enter Dragon’s Crown. Not only was this game worked on by some of the original D&D team, but it played like a proper sequel to boot. This side scrolling button mashing affair let me kill all sorts of crazy monsters, first as a roided up dwarf, and later as a buxom magic user, an armoured warrior and a dainty elven ranger. The graphics were top notch, the music phenomenal and it was so hard to put the game down. Even now I pick it up here and there to get a few pieces of art and to test out the new free updates that Vanillaware keeps making for the game. The only negative thing I can say is that it took forever to offer cross-play between the PS3 and PS Vita versions, as Sean had the former and I had the latter, so we never got to play together. Dragon’s Crown is one of the best beat ’em ups I’ve ever played, and it’s definitely a game I will be putting into my Vita even years from now.

I was kind of surprised to see Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness take the #3 position on my list, honestly. After all, I preferred D1 and D4 to this game, and although I liked it better than D3 and D2, I found that as the year went on, I grew to love it more and more. I’ve put well over one hundred hours into this – more than any other game this year – and I still haven’t come close to experiencing everything. I only have fifty percent of the trophies if you want to use that as a benchmark of what I have left to do. I’ve done a ton of the post game content, but I’m not there yet. I could do countless more item worlds and reincarnations so that I can beat Baal. I could download some more DLC (It’s pretty pricey per character though) even though I already have Pram, Rozalin, the main character from The Witch and the Hundred Knight and Razberryl. I could finish off the Cave of Ordeals or get that last pirate ship. The scary thing is, I probably will do all of the above at some point. As it stands, Disagea D2 is just an exceptional SRPG, offering more content than any game in the genre before or since. It’s pretty to look at, has really fun characters, is funny and yet dark at the same time and just becomes impossible to put down at times. I really love A Brighter Darkness and although it’s not the best Disgaea title ever made, it is good enough to crack my top three games of 2013.

Shadowrun Returns is perhaps the most important game to come out this year. It’s the first really big crowdfunded game to actually get released, and the end result was better than most full fledged so called AAA releases. For a budget price, you got an extremely well done SRPG with complete character customization (something never done in this genre before the game) and an amazing game editor, allowing gamers to make their own SRPGs (another first for the industry). The end result has created an extremely large community of gamers pumping out solid (but short) SRPGs set in the Sixth World. Many are even taking actual tabletop adventures and are converting them to video game form. I can’t begin to describe how awesome this is. Add in a story that fits perfectly into Second Edition continuity, an exceptional Anthology of Shadowrun short stories (all of which relate back to the core game’s main plot), and a killer soundtrack and you have a game that is highly reminiscent of the much beloved Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo games from the 90s that helped millions of people to fall in love with the Sixth World. I myself beat this game three times in a row. I haven’t done that since I was in eighth or ninth grade when Shining Force was first released. As a long time Shadowrun fan who has been playing since FASA was putting out books with Larry Elmore and Timothy Bradstreet artwork, Shadowrun Returns did everything it set out to do, and more importantly, everything it needed to do. Years from now we’ll all look back at Shadowrun Returns as a game that is as incredible to play as it is historically important. This game has done so much to revolutionize the industry as well as the SRPG genre, it probably won’t get the recognition it deserves for some time.

My number one game of the year won’t win any awards for technically excellence, but it was the game I became the most emotionally attached to this year. Yes, even in a year where a Shadowrun video game is spawned, somehow Deadly Premonition: The Director’s Cut was the crown jewel of the video games I played this year. Now, the fact the game is a definite improvement over the controls and gameplay of the original Red Seeds Profile is one thing (it’s now built well enough that my wife can enjoy the thing) but for me it’s the characters and story that secured the game as my favorite of 2013. I love Swery65 games, as they tend to be really creative and deep storywise, and it’s a shame that more of them haven’t been released stateside. I also love that the game felt like a mash up of two other things I hold dear to my heart: Twin Peaks and the video game Mizzuma Falls. I love games where you have an actual open world to explore. Where characters go about their daily mundane tasks and you can interact with them via subquests or just do the core main plot if needed. Deadly Premonition does that in spades. I also love really bizarre horror games where the emphasis is on story telling and mood setting rather than “throw a bunch of monsters at the player and let them kill things.” Games like Enemy Zero, Clock Tower, Hellnight, The Lost Crown, Barrow Hill, Darkfall, Still Life and I Have No Mouth but I Must Scream are the types of games that really get my mojo flowing and remind me why I love gaming as passionately as I do. Deadly Premonition is one of those games. The story is extremely dark and horrific, the characters are well defined and you become emotionally attached to them. There are moments of comedy and things I can only describe as, “Oh, Japan…” but the end result is just an amazing collection of everything I love about video games rolled up into one extremely weird and memorable package. Hell, I platinum’ed the game just dicking around. The trophy just dinged and I was like, “Huh. Didn’t see that coming,” and then I went back to playing, even though I had basically 100%’d the game. It was that fun for me. Bits of the dialogue of this game are still quoted in my home to this day. Honestly, as we approach the silver anniversary of Twin Peaks, I can’t think of a better homage or tribute than Deadly Premonition. The game sure isn’t for everyone, but it feels like it was tailor made especially for me, and somehow I’ve ended up with three copies of the game (PS3 physical, PS3 Digital and Steam) and I can’t see myself ever falling out of love with this game. I guess that’s all that really needs to be said.

Aileen Coe’s Top Ten
Staff Writer/Editor

1.) Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS)
2.) Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (PS3)
3.) Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies (3DS)
4.) The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)
5.) Shin Megami Tensei IV (3DS)
6.) Pokemon X/Y (3DS)
7.) Sweet Fuse: At Your Side (PSP)
8.) Shadowrun Returns (PC)
9.) Bit.Trip Presents Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien (PS3)
10.) Corpse Party: Book of Shadows (PSP)

This was the year I got my 3DS, so I was finally able to play some of the games I’ve been eying that were on that system (which I’m sure shows because more than half of my list consists of 3DS games). I’ve also been spending a fair chunk of time with Puzzles and Dragons (and to a lesser extent Marvel Puzzle Quest). There was also Layton Brothers: Mystery Room, which was a Layton spinoff released only on iOS. While it’s a departure from the main Layton series, I felt it was worth paying for all the IAPs (which I rarely do for iOS games). If I could get Saints Row IV to run on my computer (it more than meets the system requirements, so I don’t know what its deal is), I probably would’ve put that on my list as well. It’s a shame, because I enjoyed SR2 and SR3 when they were free on PS+. Hate Plus was a good followup to Analogue: A Hate Story with some convenient interface tweaks, but it basically requires you to play Analogue first for it to have the appropriate impact, and there’s a limit as to how far you can progress in a day. Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsengumi is the PSP game with some extra content, and I enjoyed bother versions, but I didn’t feel right putting it on my list again when I put it on my list last year and there were other games I was trying to decide between when putting together this year’s list.

The first Corpse Party featured some creepy moments and horrible deaths that were vividly described enough that you could fill in the holes left by the visuals. Corpse Party: Book of Shadows went a different route, interface wise, by going to a pure visual novel presentation instead of the 2D sprites of the original. It still featured the aforementioned explicit elaborations of the creepiness and various gory deaths. There were also multiple endings for each chapter, and much like with the last game I was a stickler for getting them all before moving on to the next chapter. Characters that didn’t get much screen time in the original got more here. Binaural sound, which is something I wish more games had, was also included again and provided another element of immersiveness. I played this with earphones and actually turned my head at points in reaction to a sound coming from the game. I hope XSEED brings over the sequel as well.

I had the chance to play Bit.Trip Presents Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien while it was free on PS+ (though I also now own it on Steam), and I was hooked immediately. The music itself was catchy enough that I didn’t even mind having to redo a level or start back again from a checkpoint. There were times where I eventually needed to take a break after not being able to get past a section, but I still wanted to go back to it later and get through that part. While the original’s retro graphics had their charm, the 3D graphics in this game were well done. Checkpoints were a boon in this game, which I missed when I went back to the first game. The synchronicity of the music and actions in the game made this feel like a nice blend of side scrolling platformer and rhythm game.

My only experience with the Shadowrun franchise prior to playing Shadowrun Returns was playing the SNES version (which I’ve heard was inferior to the Genesis version, but I haven’t gotten to play that one). However, I’d played enough that I got excited when Jake showed up and joined my party. There’s plenty of options as to what you want to do with your character build wise – you can even eschew the set classes and make a completely custom character if that’s more your speed. Battles were plenty of fun and can take different turns depending on items in your inventory and skillsets in your party. A lot of flavor text could be found by walking around talking to NPCs, and more conversation options open up depending on what skills you have built up.

The fact that you play as Kenji Inafune’s niece in Sweet Fuse: At your Side alone is a selling point for it (unless you dislike or are indifferent to him, I suppose). It also helps that she herself is likable, and you can even choose to get angry at people at some points (I can’t think of other otome games that let you do that). Not only do you not get penalized for doing so, you can even raise affection if you get angry at one of the romanceable guys. The premise is somewhat reminiscent of 999 or Ever17 in terms of people being trapped in an amusement park and having to participate in a series of games wherein failure can be lethal. The plot has its dramatic and suspenseful moments, but it’s also chock full of humor (complete with references to other games) and character development.

Pokemon X/Y were the first games in the series to be rendered in 3D and allowed you to customize your trainer’s appearance. It also introduced some new features to help streamline some aspects of the gameplay. For example, Super Training made EV training and keeping track of EVs much easier, as you could train EVs without having to hunt down a certain Pokemon over and over and see exactly how many EVs a Pokemon had in what areas. It also introduced a new type, the Fairy-type, which served to balance out the Dragon-type as the Dark-type did for the Psychic-type. Mega Evolutions were also added, which added another element of strategy to battles in deciding which Pokemon would hold a Mega Stone, since only one Pokemon can Mega Evolove per battle. Experience distribution was also altered to allow your Pokemon to gain experience even if you capture a wild Pokemon instead of defeating it, and you could also turn on the EXP Share to allow every Pokemon to gain experience even if they didn’t participate in the battle. There was enough new features added for longtime fans of the series as well as to appeal to newcomers or those who hadn’t played a game in the series for a while.

Shin Megami Tensei IV is the first numbered SMT game since Nocturne, and while it’s on a portable system instead of a console, it doesn’t feel like a lesser experience. The Press Turn System returns, and it provides a nice layer of strategy to battles and is satisfying to exploit (but painful if your enemies do). There’s a blend of modern and archaic elements to the interface and environments that doesn’t feel jarring at all. The 3D environments and character art all look nice. Negotiating with demons and fusing them to get stronger ones is as addictive as ever (even if I’m not always the greatest with the former). There’s also multiple endings and DLC that help lengthen the game and give you more to do within it, so it provides a substantial amount of content.

A Link to the Past is one of my favorite Zelda games, alongside Link’s Awakening (though I can’t make up my mind as to which would be number one), so naturally I got excited when I heard there would be a sequel to the former. As I was playing through A Link Between Worlds, I kept getting bouts of nostalgia while seeing the familiar places rendered in 3D and the music that was also in the previous game. The game also looks nice with the 3D on, even if I still leave it off most of the time to give my eyes a rest. At the same time, there was enough new tweaks that it didn’t feel like just a rehash of A Link to the Past with a new coat of paint. Being able to merge into and move around walls as a painting was an interesting mechanic. The ability to rent items (or buy them outright if you had the rupees) and choose the order in which you completed dungeons was also a nice change.

When Ace Attorney Investigations 2 didn’t get released outside of Japan, I was afraid the first Ace Attorney Investigations would be the last we would see of the Ace Attorney series. Fortunately, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies did get a localization, even if only in digital format and minus the quiz DLC. Nonetheless, I was glad to get more of the series, and Dual Destinies continues the series traditions of murder cases, punny names, wacky characters, and humor that occasionally pokes at the fourth wall. The visuals made the transition to 3D well, and the over-the-top character animations are just as expressive as they were in sprite form (plus I love the panning shots during courtroom sessions). The music both augments the mood of the situations it plays through and is just great to listen to even outside of the context of the game. Investigation sequences have been streamlined so you’re not pixel hunting for the one thing you missed that would allow you to proceed. You can also refer back to the log if you accidentally skip over some dialogue. In addition to the core five cases, there’s also another DLC case that has just as much content as the main cases. I hope this isn’t the last we see of the series.

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch was the product of a collaboration between Level-5 and Studio Ghilbi. The result was a game with the usual JRPG mechanics, albeit mostly well implemented, and a beautifully rendered and charming, colorful world to explore. The soundtrack complements the visuals quite well, and walking through the different environments was both aurally and visually pleasant. I was lucky enough to get the Wizard’s Edition as a late Christmas gift at the beginning of this year, so along with the other goodies, I also got the hardcover version of the Wizard’s Companion. Though I’m afraid to use it too much for fear of damaging it somehow, having a physical version to flip through is convenient (plus the book itself looks nice). While it didn’t break much new ground in terms of either gameplay or story, what it does have is solid in its simplicity and execution.

Fire Emblem: Awakening was basically the game that got me to pick up a 3DS – I even preordered the bundle since it was slightly cheaper than getting a 3DS and the game separately (plus I really liked the design and color). It took features from previous games, polished them, and incorporated them into the classic gameplay the series is known for. The avatar creation system from Heroes of Light and Shadow returned, and while you can’t choose your starting class, you can pick an asset and flaw and use a Second Seal to change into nearly any class. The generation system also returned for the first time since it was introduced in Genealogy of the Holy War. While there was no holy blood this time around, abilities and growths can still be passed down, which made deciding on pairings important both in terms of gameplay and story. There were a lot of support options and ways to develop your characters in terms of classes and abilities. DLC also provided more content to play through, even after getting through the main story, which meant this game could last you a good long while.

Crystal Steltenpohl’s Top Ten
Staff Writer

1) Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies
2) The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
3) Animal Crossing: New Leaf
4) Mass Effect 3: Citadel
5) Fire Emblem: Awakening
6) Bit.Trip Presents Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien
7) Shin Megami Tensei IV
8) Rune Factory 4
9) Hakuōki: Memories of the Shinsengumi
10) Star Wars: The Old Republic – Rise of the Hutt Cartel

While compiling my top ten list this year, I was initially surprised to see so many 3DS games on there. Then I realized three things: 1.) I focused on reducing my backlog for PC and 360 this year (I have easily over 100 games between the two of them that I need to beat still, and I was rather late to both Steam and the 360), 2.) I wanted to build up my 3DS library, and 3.) this was just a damn good year for the 3DS. So without further ado, I’m presenting my top ten list of 2013:

If I’m completely honest, I didn’t get as much time with Star Wars: The Old Republic – Rise of the Hutt Cartel as I wanted to, though what I did play of it was enjoyable. I imagine that I might have placed this higher on the list had my subscription not lapsed. As anyone who has been saddled with The Old Republic’s ridiculous free-to-play system has probably felt, having to deal with not being able to equip certain items, not getting as many rewards as subbed players, and other asinine issues kind of killed the experience for me. The new story arc is pretty great, and I love achievements, but it just felt a bit wasted on me. Still, it was a nice expansion that helped keep the game afloat for a bit longer.

I played Hakuōki: Memories of the Shinsengumi when it was Hakuōki: Demon of the Fleeting Blossom on a friend’s PSP. Memories of the Shinsengumi has some additional content, but is largely just a port for Demon of the Fleeting Blossom. Still, I enjoyed revisiting the story and unlocking the various endings. Having the Limited Edition made it even better; I have the towel hanging up to my apartment, so everyone can enjoy the otome goodness.

Rune Factory 4 was a cute addition to the Rune Factory franchise, and though it had a few visual and gameplay issues, the character design, localization, music, and romance definitely gave you plenty to love. I was unable to put the game down and walk away from doing all the fun activities, like helping people with requests, participating in festivals, and falling in love. The game was incredibly charming and relaxing, and while the plot wasn’t going to sweep anyone away, it was enjoyable to the last, and I recommend people pick it up when they get the chance.

It was difficult for me to find a spot for Shin Megami Tensei IV because, while I loved the game, it was obnoxious at certain parts and had a ridiculous overworld map that got everyone I know who played the game – including myself – lost and annoyed. I preordered the game and got the Limited Edition (which, to be honest, was a little disappointing, with a CD with like 8 tracks and a “strategy and design” book that did not cover the entire game and had very little by way of exploration of the design), and I’ve finished it. The game has a solid plot and interesting choices, and the DLC adds to the game (I’ve purchased almost all of it), but the issues that I had with the game prevent it from going any higher on my list.

I’m not especially good at rhythm games, but Bit.Trip Presents Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien somehow gives me the patience to continue playing. Between the amazing music, the unique graphics, and the great gameplay, this game belongs on the top ten list of 2013 for anyone who played it. As I said in my review, this game isn’t just a conglomeration of a bunch of parts… it’s an entire package. It’s addictive, it’s pleasing to the senses, and overall, it’s just a good time. You will not be disappointed.

I actually don’t like the Fire Emblem franchise, but when Fire Emblem: Awakening was announced, I knew I would pick up the game Day One in order to help the series, since it’s been difficult to gets some of the games over here, and while I don’t like the franchise, I was involved in almost every major fandom forum as a teen and young adult. After spending easily over seventy hours in the game and purchasing almost every DLC pack, I can say this is the strongest Fire Emblem game I’ve played. One major improvement was the ability to choose the difficulty you played at: you can choose whether losing all your HP means that character dies or is just taken out of the chapter, and how difficult the actual battles are. Allowing players to partake in battles between main story events is also a great idea, because people can grind if they choose to. The story was great, even with “false choices,” and the character supports were by and large pretty strong (though a few did leave something to be desired). If the franchise continues to move in this direction, I may end up calling myself a Fire Emblem fan after all.

I was one of those people who, when I beat Mass Effect 3, I was upset about it for a few weeks. In fact, by the time Mass Effect 3: Citadel came out, I wasn’t sure I wanted to pick it up. When I started hearing about how great it was, I went against my better judgement and picked it up, and man, I was not disappointed. This DLC pack was everything I had wanted to see in the actual game. I laughed, I definitely cried, and I enjoyed every second of it. In fact, my only complaint is that, because the main story had glitched out on me and I hadn’t been able to see Kasumi in the main part of the game, I was unable to see her in the DLC, and that’s no fault of the DLC. Every Mass Effect fan should pick this up. In fact, I think that when I play through the game again, I am just going to end at the end of this DLC and leave the ending open to my own headcanons.

When I picked up Animal Crossing: New Leaf, I figured I would just play about a half hour of it a day, if that, based on my previous experience with Animal Crossing games. Four hundred plus hours later, I have over eighty catalog completion, several medals from Phineas, and have been writing “What’s New This Month in Animal Crossing” posts every month to help fellow addicts. The characters are just way too cute, and there are even more options for customization than in the past. Though I hate the game at times, I can’t stop playing, and I keep finding new and interesting things to do, despite the number of hours I’ve put into the game. I think I might have to start going to a self-help group at this point.

While A Link to the Past was not my favorite Zelda game (it was fantastic, though), I was very excited for The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds and incredibly pleased when my boyfriend gifted me a Zelda 3DS XL with the game. (Though, really, a download code? Come on Nintendo.) I was pleasantly surprised when the painting mechanism – which had initially come across as a bit gimmicky – was actually a useful and seemingly natural part of the game. I thought it was fairly easy, but the plot kept me coming back for more. I also felt Nintendo was taking it in the right direction in making the game more “open world” than previous games, in the sense that you can do whatever dungeon in whatever order you want, so long as you have the item for it, and a majority of the items are available from the very beginning of the game. I put eighteen hours into this game and enjoyed every minute.

It really wasn’t that difficult for me to choose a game I liked the most this year. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies (and its DLC case) was a welcome return for the series, with refreshing dialogue (how often do you get Battlestar Galactica references and raps about penguins in the same game?), interesting cases, heartbreaking backstories, and traumatizing prosecutors. I fell in love with the new characters and squealed with fangirl joy at the return of some of my favorite characters (lookin’ at you, Edgeworth). I look forward to seeing what other DLC is produced for the game and I’m praying that Capcom continues to bring the games over here (still waiting on the second Miles Edgeworth game to make it over here, though I doubt that’ll ever happen). Thirty three hours later, and all I know is that I need more Ace Attorney in my life.

Robert Hubbs’ Top Ten
Staff Writer

1)TIE Last of Us & Bioshock Infinite(PC)
3)Shadowrun Returns(PC)
4)Pokemon X/Y(Nintendo 3DS)
5)Super Mario 3D World(Wii U)
6)Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate(PS3 and Xbox 360)
7)The Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures(PC)
8)Resident Evil Revelations(PC)
9)Atelier Ayesha(PS3)
10)Tomb Raider(PC)

In a nutshell, 2013 turned out to be a very good year for gaming. I managed to have played more games than I have in years prior, and I was very mixed by what was going on my list. A few of the games, like The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, Time and Eternity and the excellent Star Trek Online expansion Legacy of Romulus couldn’t make it because I just haven’t had enough time to dedicate fully to playing and exploring these huge, amazing worlds. It turns out, however, that a bunch of the games I played involved huge expansive worlds with lively characters and unique worlds that begged to be explored. Even some of the average games which weren’t close to this making my list, like Remember Me and Defiance, offer wonderful worlds that begged for exploration but fell short in other areas. The games that made my list left a very significant impact on me in many ways. So let’s get started.

My first game on the list was Tomb Raider, and it almost didn’t make the it for a reason that myself and a few other Diehard staffers have complained about. Lara Croft as a character failed on every level to connect with us, but on the other hand, we had such a phenomenal game that it would be a crime to not give it the nod. Tomb Raider is a beautiful game with lots of amazing scenery and locations that captivate you in many ways. The gameplay and action segments were definitely the best I’ve experience in the legendary franchise and ended up being one hell of a ride to the very end. The addition of stealth and level up mechanics added depth and complexity to an already deep game with lots to offer.

Atelier Meruru was one of my biggest and most delightful surprises of 2012, and I became a fan of the series and looked forward to this year’s release, Atelier Ayesha. Upon getting Atelier Ayesha, I immediately dove right in and got sucked into its unique and beautiful world. Our heroine, Ayesha, is a rarity among female leads, where she is very confident in herself and has a cast of allies that surprisingly look rather adult as opposed to the loli nature of past games. The new world of Atelier Ayesha is not the prettiest of the anime RPG’s out there( that honor goes to Time and Eternity) but it still had a style of beauty all its own with its cell shaded look. Even though there isn’t a town building sim, as with the previous entry, Atelier Ayesha’s own gameplay was still highly addicting and still offered a lot of variety with its alchemy system, and it kept me hooked for the game’s entire journey.

Next on my list is a game I didn’t expect to be good by any stretch of the imagination. Resident Evil Revelations is hands down the best game in the franchise I have played in years, because it did the thing that the recent action oriented games stopped doing, which is scaring the crap out of me. In a true return to form, Resident Evil Revelations successfully attempts to recapture the days where you ran screaming from rooms because you were low on ammo and didn’t want to die or encountered a monstrosity that pulled of a successful scare tactic. Even though I missed out on its release on the 3DS, you wouldn’t even know it was made for the handheld with its updated HD visuals and strong gameplay mechanics. The story and voice acting are incredibly stellar as well, and I actually enjoyed how the game is divided into episodes which give the game a very unique flow to its storytelling. The gameplay is just as addicting and fast paced as it was in when introduced in Resident Evil 4 but recaptured the essence of survival horror gameplay with lots of puzzles and terrifying monsters littered everywhere, giving you a sense of hopelessness at times.

Coming completely out of left field, The Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures is the second best indie developed game I played this year, and I played a ton of them. The retro stylized game heavily influenced by ScrewAttack and Cinemassacre’s popular raging internet character is full of great gameplay, amazing music and full of jokes taken from the library of AVGN episodes. The fast paced action and heavy platforming is amongst the best I have played since last year’s Fly’n. Along with tons of hilarious cameos by Cinemassacre characters and amusingly themed levels, AVGN Adventures is also one of the hardest platformers I have played in recent years, which gives the game quite a bit of replay ability from the multiple deaths. Oddly enough, I found myself enjoying this form of punishment.

Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate should really come as no surprise to people who saw my list from last year. It’s leaps and bounds better than any “ultimate” edition fighting game that has released in the past couple of years by giving us five new characters (a couple of returning ones, a couple of new ones and another Virtua Fighter guest character), more stages, reworked gameplay mechanics, an improved online system and more. Dead Or Alive 5 Ultimate is easily the best fighting game release of 2013, which also had some other strong releases this year. Team Ninja didn’t just simply give us more, they gave us a new experience over the previous year’s release of the original Dead or Alive 5.

Creeping into my list at the very last second is Super Mario 3D World. Take one part Super Mario 3D Land from the 3DS two years ago, mix it with a dash of the addicting multiplayer mode of the “New” Super Mario Bros. games and you get not only one of the best platformers of the year, but the best game to be released on Nintendo’s Wii U. The fun is near endless as you conquer Super Mario 3D World either by yourself or along with family and friends. There’s so much to do outside of beating a stage and moving on. There’s some fun star and stamp collecting, Mii ghost races, Miiverse interactivity, and the crown for best score in multiplayer games always makes it a fun competitive game. Super Mario 3D World definitely became one of the biggest stand out games this year in quite a short amount of time.

I’ll admit it, at first I really had no interest in Pokémon X/Y for the 3DS when it was first announced. Over time, I followed the game’s progress and started to get the itch and excitement I used to have when I was anticipating Pokémon Gold/Silver. For the first time ever, we got to play a fully 3D Pokémon game that wasn’t one of the console coliseum games. I loved playing Pokémon X/Y like I did when I was ten years younger. The brand new, fully fleshed out 3D Pokémon looked great, as did the favorites from past games. The adventure is still the same but just as addicting as ever. Capture and then strengthen your Pokémon, then duke it out with friends and family either locally or through the improved internet battle mode. The new modes were also welcome additions, like the training mini games, mega evolutions and wonder trade (when it get ironed out). Pokémon X/Y is the game that renewed my love for the franchise and I look forward to the next entry after I burn myself out on this one.

One of the best indie developed games to come out this year is Shadowrun Returns. In hindsight, Shadowrun Returns has grown to become one of my favorite games of the year, but it’s not because of what came with the game, it’s what has come after its release. While I did state that Shadowrun Returns was a pretty linear game, once you get outside the meat and potatoes of the main storyline, the game opens up. Tons of user created content is what is driving Shadowrun Returns to go beyond what the game’s original premise offered, and now has taken a life of its own. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that there is already an incredibly deep character customization system in place along with a challenging combat system. Shadowrun Returns is a highly addicting and compelling game that rounds out the top three games on my list.

My top two games should come as no surprise to anyone. I have picked The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite as my two favorite games of the year. However I have reached a dilemma, I can’t picked either game over the other. Now, a lot of people have been arguing over which has a better overall experience or had the bigger impact, but I can’t seem to put one over the other, despite how incredibly different each game is. Both have amazing stories and worlds that just ooze with excitement, intrigue and drama. All the characters you interact with are memorable and captivate you in their own ways.

Both games are very unique and different in their own right. Bioshock Infinite is a first person shooter/adventure game with underlying themes and messages with how you interact with the world around you. The sky world of Columbia is breathtakingly captivating and feels unlike anything you have really experienced to this point in gaming. It’s full of amazing depth and interactivity and ripe with exploration. Bioshock‘s combat is very engaging, and with all the tools you can acquire over time you find that you can become a dominating badass, which elevates the amount of pleasure you receive from this game.

The Last of Us, however, gives us a world a bit more familiar, but aged and decrepit. It’s a survival horror game that excels in every merit and has no equal to the amount of content and exploration you can attain in a game of this genre. While the combat is standard duck and cover fair, you have a sense that you can always find a way to take control of the situation. The ability to craft is also a great element to the game, as it fits wonderfully with the game’s theme and adds to the combat and stealth.

The Last of Run is also a wonderful tale of the complexity of human nature and nuture. It shows us the lengths to which humans can go to survive, but also how they can come to depend and rely on each other. The story of Joel and Ellie shows us how each of them can overcome their differences and can grow to support one another, and the lengths they are willing to go, which surprised even me. The ending was one that really had me taken aback, as I had to take a bit to ponder and finally come to the realization of how heavy it was.

In the case of Bioshock Infinite, the game contained a very strong story that was held on the backs of our two heroes Booker DeWitt and Elizabeth as they embrace whatever destiny throws at them. They don’t spend nearly as much time together to grow like Joel and Ellie did, but what we get is bigger in scope. A world of endless possibilities and paradoxes that, once you wrap your head around it, you can’t help but feel slightly overwhelmed. Booker and Elizabeth’s progression as they go through their journey shows how they’ve grow as characters and learn from each other and the world or mysteries around them.

I can’t really put into words how much of an impact the journey and end game for both have impacted me. I haven’t been this touched by a game in years, let alone two of them in one year’s time. The astonishment I felt upon completing both, then trying to pick which one was better, is impossible for me. They both do something completely different and new, and I can’t put one on a higher pedestal over the other, which is why I have to declare The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite a tie for my game of the year.

Mark B.’s Top Ten
Senior Editor

1.) Terraria
2.) XCOM: Enemy Within
3.) Metro: Last Light
4.) Saints Row IV
5.) Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
6.) Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded
7.) Dead Rising 3
9.) Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate
10.) Dead Space 3

2013 wasn’t really a year that had me chomping at the bit to play a lot of games. While I certainly had some personal concerns that made it harder to focus on gaming than I’d have liked, the simple reality came down to the fact that a lot of the games that came out this year didn’t really work for me. The Xbox 360 had an abysmal year for exclusives, most of the PS3 exclusives that came out weren’t things I was immediately into, and the console that pretty much unarguably had the best year, the 3DS, saw a lot of amazing releases that simply weren’t speaking to me at any point. That’s not to say that I didn’t play plenty of games I had fun with, because I certainly did, as noted above. It’s more a point of noting that, while in previous years I’ve had difficulty pairing down my list to ten games, this year wasn’t very difficult at all, and while in previous years I’ve wanted to gush a bit over the games I eliminated, this year… not so much. Still, there were some plenty interesting games that I did have the chance to play, and while I don’t have a list that’s six pages long of games I loved in some way, the games that did make my list were games I absolutely loved quite a bit (for the most part). Even if this wasn’t the year of a thousand and one amazing games for me personally, there was plenty of joy to go around, and really, that’s probably enough.

The Dead Space series, while not EA’s most fiscally lucrative series they produce, has generated some consistently solid games (well, in the core series anyway), taking the mechanics of Resident Evil 4 and cross-breeding them with the concepts of Event Horizon, but this was the first year where one of the games really surpassed Capcom’s survival horror cash cow. Dead Space 3 went in a more action-oriented direction from that of its predecessors, but did so in a way that was surprisingly interesting, between its online co-op that didn’t force the player to lug around an idiotic AI partner and its interesting weapon building systems. On its own, the game doesn’t quite hit the mark for those who were hoping for something more horror-oriented, especially after Dead Space 2 set the bar so high, but with the Awakened expansion pack it more than made its mark as both an action game and a horror game, and that gave it enough of a push to make the list after it came out at the beginning of the year. While EA might not be looking too heavily into making a sequel after the poor performance of Dead Space 3 at retail, I, for one, hope they don’t give up on the series just yet, as it’s clear the franchise is coming into its own, and there’s room for at least one more release in the series, if nothing else, which is reason enough to give it one more kick at the can.

I’m certainly one of the biggest Monster Hunter advocates on staff, so Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate was almost certainly going to make its way onto my list in some form or fashion. To be honest, it probably would have been a lot higher up had the 3DS version offered standalone online play or if the Wii U version hadn’t been an upscaled version of the 3DS version, which will hopefully be resolved when Capcom decides to localize Monster Hunter 4 for the US market (I prefer to be optimistic, shut up). As it stands now, however, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is basically the best possible version of Monster Hunter to come to the US to date, so it’s hard to not be pleased with the experience to one extent or another. The variety of monsters in the game is pretty fantastic, featuring both newcomers and old hands to the series, and the game is a massive amount of fun to play with a full team of hunters on board. The wonky bowgun mechanics from Monster Hunter Tri have been done away with as well, and the weapon variety and count has been massively increased as well, so even if you own Tri you’ll find this to be an excellent upgrade all in all. If you’re not on board with picking up a Wii U at all this might not be the franchise release you’ve been waiting for as the PSP titles made it much easier to play with long distance friends, but for those who have or want a Wii U, this is one of the best games available for it so far, and if nothing else, picking it up might be the push Capcom needs to make that Monster Hunter 4 announcement we’ve been waiting for. One can hope anyway.

It’s not often that a console debuts with a must-have title at launch; while there are often cases where a console launches with a GOOD game in its library, awesome “must have” launch titles are harder to come by. Surprisingly, both Sony and Microsoft managed to make that happen with their launches this year, though in an interesting turn of events, Sony’s must have title wasn’t a physical release, but digital shooter RESOGUN. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that a big part of the appeal comes from Sony offering the game up as a free title for those who signed up for Playstation Plus; since you need the service to go online with the Playstation 4 Sony didn’t really need to make that kind of goodwill gesture, and that’s a big point in their and the game’s favor. Even without the free price tag, however, RESOGUN is one of those rare shooters that reinvents the genre without stripping away things that make the genre fun… or becoming another bullet hell experience, for that matter. Combining elements of Smash TV and Choplifter with two different types of enemy destroying super weapons and a boost for dodging bullets/killing enemies, RESOGUN is surprisingly addictive, and the game is quite accessible to players of all skill levels. To say it’s the best game available on the PS4 might be debatable depending on your tastes, but to say that it’s one of the best available certainly shouldn’t be, and if you’re aiming to pick up a PS4, this is one of the first games you should aim to pick up.

On the other side of the launch competition, Dead Rising 3 is Microsoft’s must have launch title, which has less to do with its price point and addictiveness and more to do with its technical capabilities and the sheer insanity of the experience. While Resident Evil, as a series, has been kind of all over the place (overall and recently), Dead Rising generally tends to be more consistent with its releases, and Dead Rising 3 is no exception. Yes, it’s about a zombie outbreak in a large area. Yes, it’s notably easier than other releases in the series. Yes, it still has a lot of the same Dead Rising flaws the series is known for. That said, it’s honestly one of the best written Capcom games… probably ever if we’re being honest… and any game that lets you create an armored tank out of a car and a backhoe, drive it through town, then jump out and start beheading zombies with a weapon made from a Chinese dragon mask, a katana, a gas can and an umbrella basically will never stop being fun to me. If you don’t find any part of that sentence enjoyable, that’s fine, but I don’t think we play video games for the same reasons, and that’s kind of depressing.

I’ll admit, I’d pretty much given up all hope that the Leisure Suit Larry series was going to get the chance to go out gracefully after Box Office Bust, and with good reason: it sucked out loud. Never let it be said that there isn’t room for hope, however, as Replay Games picked up the license when the option came available, then did the unthinkable by hiring back franchise creator Al Lowe, getting together some cash, and actually making a Larry game that didn’t suck. While Leisure Suit Larry: Reloaded was essentially just a remake of the first game with updated visuals and voice acting, to me, it was honestly great to just see that the franchise wasn’t going to go out on the brown note that was Box Office Bust, and that Al was finally given the chance to do something with the license one more time. It wasn’t a perfect game by any means; the need to earn money to progress was still a little silly, the modified puzzle solutions didn’t add much to the game and the added content was kind of mean spirited to be honest, which is why the game is in the bottom half of the list. Honestly, though, the game did almost everything I could have hoped for: it made me laugh out loud several times, gave Al Lowe one more chance to shine, and reminded me why I loved the series so much even after all the crap that had come out in its name. Even if this is the only Leisure Suit Larry game to come of the Al Lowe/Replay Games partnership, and even if Larry never sees another new game again, Reloaded was one last good kick at the can, and if nothing else, I can be happy about that much.

I know that, for most people, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs was a bit of a disappointment in comparison to the first game and Outlast, but I’m honestly not most people, and I thought that A Machine for Pigs was the best game of the lot. Jump scares don’t do a lot for me, personally; if a game can scare me with one, more power to it, but I generally get taken out of games easily and a jump scare can only do so much if I know that dying isn’t going to accomplish much. Because of that, games like Outlast don’t really have the intended effect on me, since I end up being less “scared witless” and more “annoyed that I’m training a conga line through the stage,” which is probably why A Machine for Pigs resonated with me more than anything else. Honestly, the underlying metaphor in the story of pigs needing a machine to act as their God and how it played into the events of the game was interesting to me, even after I understood what it meant and how it came together, and the story told here ended in a way I appreciated more than, say, Outlast. I didn’t miss the inventory puzzles in the least, since removing them gave me the chance to really appreciate what was going on and why things were the way they were, and the plot resonated a lot more than it did in the prior games in the series because, when I got the chance to think about it, it didn’t seem stupid. If you were scared off from A Machine for Pigs because people seemed to be disappointed in it, you should really go back and give it another look; while it might not have the “I’m going to run out of fuel and die in this dark hole,” scares its predecessor had, it’s honestly still a great game despite (and to me, because of) that.

Saints Row IV, in any other year, would have easily taken the top spot on this list, because it was such an incredible amount of fun that I still kind of want to go back and play it some more, even though I’ve done almost everything one can do with it. I don’t really care much for the standard sandbox game something like GTA5 represents; I don’t care how well the narrative is structured, I need more than the standard genre tropes to really keep me interested. Saints Row IV absolutely has that “non-standard” setup going on in spades, between the plot that cares not even a little bit about being award winning or sensible and the insane super powers it gives you that completely remove the need to use cars or, well, anything else really. It’s nice that the game lets you play the way you feel most comfortable, sort of like Crackdown but with a much better sense of humor about it, and the game has a real personality and style to it that not many games can lay claim to. I mean the sing-along driving sequences, the numerous references to pop culture, the jokes that stand alone on their own merits and the sheer insanity of the game make it easy to love, and being able to give an alien the Stunner or nuke the city with a fistdrop ain’t bad either.

It seems fitting, though, that the game Deep Silver saved from extinction that I would’ve put as my top game in any other year should, itself, be beaten out for a spot by another game that Deep Silver saved from extinction that I would’ve put as my top game in any other year, which is why Metro: Last Light just barely edges into third place. I love post-apocalyptic fiction in general, and Metro 2033 was one of the best games in the genre, mostly because it took the concept and ran like crazy with it. Garbage guns, polluted wastelands, living in the subway tunnels because there is no other possible life, the game had everything I could’ve wanted and more, and it’s no surprise that the sequel did just as much to advance the concept as its predecessor and then some. The Metro feels a lot more like a real world this time around, and the gameplay mechanics work a lot better overall, even if the mystery of the first game is exposed a bit in this installment. Artyom’s relationship with the little Dark One you meet is endearing enough to carry the plot, even with much of the mystery of the world exposed, and the expansion of the political environment and the major players in it adds a lot of personality to the world that the first game only touched on. Hopefully there will be many more entries into the franchise from here, if only because there’s so much more that could be done with the world, but even if that isn’t the case, Deep Silver did us a solid by making sure this game could come out, at least, and I can’t really ask for a lot more than that.

It’s not even a question that XCOM: Enemy Within would make my list in general; given how much I loved the original game, a release that expands the content provided while keeping what made the original so great is obviously going to end up on my list at the end of the year no matter what. It’s still amazing, though, how much the game is improved by the additional content, as everything that was added to the game makes it feel like a bigger, better experience in every possible respect. Sure, there are the big changes, like feuding with a faction of humans in addition to fighting the alien hordes, or the expanded alien roster, or the ability to build Mech Troopers and augment existing troops in new and exciting ways. The little changes make the game really feel like a new experience too, though, like the ability to award Medals that improve your troops, or the ability to choose the language your team members speak in when you’re directing them, and every little bit really helps the game a lot. Honestly, anyone can just add on DLC or release an expanded version of a game and call it a day, but Firaxis really went the extra mile with Enemy Within, and I respect the hell out of that. It might not be a whole new game, but it’s pretty damn close, and it does everything I would have wanted an expansion pack to do, and more.

Honestly, though, the only reason that Enemy Within didn’t take the top spot on my list this year is because I spent far more time and effort playing Terraria, and it would’ve seemed unfair to give it anything but top honors because of that. While the PC version came out a while ago, the console version only launched this year, and in both cases, I’d essentially ignored the game entirely because it didn’t really speak to me from everything I saw about it. It took J. Rose basically shoving a controller into my hand and making me play it to finally get me to understand what the game was all about, and once he did, that was basically it. I find that the console version is the version of the game that really does it for me, mostly because playing with the controller makes my life a lot easier, especially where combat is concerned, but honestly, the combat isn’t really what makes the game so amazing. No, what really drew me into the game is the ability to basically build whatever the hell I wanted however the hell I wanted to do it, to the point that I built a glass bridge across my world, which I then connected to the floating islands on it, on which I built different castles out of rare blocks, just because I could. While more developers are starting to see what the big deal is, as Starbound shows, and while Minecraft is the “big” thing as far as this sort of game goes, to me, Terraria is basically a game I’m going to keep coming back to for years simply because it does what it does very well, and in a way that I’m not likely to tire of it anytime soon. Well, until Terraria 2 comes out anyway.



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4 responses to “Diehard GameFAN 2013 Year in Review Staff Commentaries”

  1. Sean Madson Avatar

    Ashe, I’m not insane, I just like shiny things. >_<

    1. Mark B. Avatar
      Mark B.

      To be fair, Sean, you thought that a next-gen console was a bad investment but you own four different themed 3DS consoles.

      1. Sean Madson Avatar

        I still think I made the right choice. If I were to sell any of those 3DS systems now I’d get more back than what I paid.

        1. Ashe Avatar

          But let’s be real. You won’t sell them. And you were considering getting more themed 3DS!

          I stand by my insanity claim. :P

          Hell I’m the guy who bought Mass Effect Trilogy, The Walking Dead and XCOM for two systems, I know insanity, I just hide it better. Usually.

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