Even though 2014 is upon us, why not take a step back from and have one final look back at 2013. This year is going to get pretty busy with new releases soon enough, so the time is right.
2013 was an interesting year from a reporting standpoint as it marked a transition between the current generation of consoles into the “next gen” world of Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Even though we’re now heading into new and exciting “next-gen” territory, there were a number of very strong and fantastic AAA experiences given last year and I’d like to highlight some of my favorites from the year that was.
As an aside, I also played a ton of downloadable and indie games in 2013, but I kept them off this list because the size of this post would have just been outrageously massive. So in an effort to save some of your time and mine, I kept this list limited to just major retail releases. If you’re curious, let me know in the comments and maybe I’ll throw up a new post for just them.
Honestly, the hardest part of putting a list like this together is remembering just what the hell I played in the first half of the year. Here are my favorite major retail releases from 2013.
The Last of Us
Wow. Talk about taking familiar tropes like “Zombie” and “Post-Apocalyptic” and making people completely forget about what they previously knew. The world has seen better days at this point with an outbreak of a fungus that basically takes control of people’s bodies. You play Joel, a middle aged smuggler, who…well…I’m going to stop there as it’s really a story you need to experience for yourself.
What’s interesting is that The Last of Us puts us in a world that’s pretty bleak and sometimes even depressing, but even with all of this, it’s a game that you just don’t want to put down. Combat is tense and absolutely brutal, with potential death lurking around every corner. You don’t feel good about killing people in this world, it’s done more out out of necessity and survival. On the multiplayer side, I was really presently surprised as it was as intense (and fun) as the main campaign even without the infected humans. The writing is extremely well done, the game tells a story that’s definitely worth experiencing, and the team at Naughty Dog crafted a phenomenally looking title which ranks up there as one of the best of the last generation. Naughty Dog has proven that they’re more than Nathan Drake and Uncharted.
Growing up with Mario in the household has given me a pretty soft spot for “old school” 2D platformers, so naturally, Rayman Origins really hit home when it released. To me Origins was damn near perfect so while Legends looked great, I didn’t think it could top the previous entry. Boy was I wrong. Legends manages to not only continue to push the stunning UbiArt Framework into new heights, but also include 60 levels from Origins just for good measure. It’s pretty much the best of both worlds.
I’m not sure how, but the team at Ubisoft Montpellier somehow made Legends look more vibrant, lush, and visually stunning which I really didn’t think possible. Even as Legends is an absolute joy to look at, the controls are spot on and perfect for the level of precision that is sometimes needed. The music again, hits the mark with fun, engaging, and incredibly catchy melodies that’ll stick in your head long after the console is powered off. I would love the option to play with friends online, but for now, there’s just a ton of content here to keep you busy for quite a while. Seriously, if you’re a fan of platforming games like Super Mario or Ratchet and Clank, you need to give Rayman Legends a shot.
Fun Fact! I’m pretty much a “n00b” when it comes to Tomb Raider. Sure, I’m very familiar with the franchise and it’s (shall we say) top-heavy lead character, but for one reason or another I’ve really never sat down to play one. I guess you could say the game that came out in March of 2013 would be my official entry into the world of Lara Croft and my goodness did Crystal Dynamics completely nail it.
Bringing Lara into the modern generation was a daunting task, so Crystal Dynamics instead sort of rebooted everything. Lara was now fresh out of college ready to embark on her first big adventure into the Devil’s Triangle. Of course, as these things go, disaster strikes and a relatively naive and inexperienced Lara Croft finds herself shipwrecked and stranded on a mysterious island in the Pacific. The game, prior to launch, was compared to Naughty Dog’s Uncharted franchise, but honestly, outside of the fact that they’re both third person action games, the similarities really end there. Lara, in a constant state of survival, has to push herself forward in situations she never thought possible. We’re talking third person action/adventure with a side of puzzles, tomb raiding, and a dash of MetroidVania style gameplay for good measure. All these elements combine into one of the year’s best experiences as we watch Lara grow as a person through the length of the game.
If you’ve been following me for any length of time then you’re probably well aware that I’m a BioShock nut. Entering into Rapture for the first time and seeing that world was an exhilarating experience. So upon hearing what Irrational was working on next with Infinite and what it was planning to offer, my mind raced with the potential things they could be doing in a new toy box.
It’s been a long road since that debut CG trailer from 2010 and the development also had some rough patches with delays, cut content, rewrites, and even people leaving the studio. Through it all though, Infinite still manages to dazzle. Irrational manages to tell an interesting story (one that will probably melt your brain when the reveal is given at the end), introduces a very compelling and beautiful setting, feature fantastic voice acting and is still able to keep the player engaged the length of the game. The biggest achievement in my eyes is Elizabeth herself. She’s helpful in combat and stays out of your way so it doesn’t feel like you’re playing a 10 hour escort quest. It’s amazing to think about all of the technical detail and programming that was needed to get her like this. BioShock Infinite manages to retain the spirit of the franchise while blazing new trails, something that could not have been easy for Irrational considering the high expectations and efforts to match the level of success they found previously.
Splinter Cell Blacklist
After the series took a minor detour with Conviction, the Splinter Cell franchise was handed over to the new studio at Ubisoft Toronto in an effort to reinvigorate Sam Fisher and the stealth action title. What resulted is one of the best games in the series to date that taps directly into that sweet spot for stealth action, Sam Fisher style.
Blacklist manages to pull the best things from games like Conviction and Chaos Theory, blend them together while still infusing new ideas to create one of the best stealth action games to date. Sam Fisher returns to the spy world heading up Fourth Echelon, a kind of special forces group for highly sensitive situations. His team works to stop a terrorist group known as The Engineers who are trying to hit vulnerable American targets in hopes of crippling the country through a series of attacks known as the Blacklist. Unlike other stealth games in the past, Blacklist goes out of it’s way to reward the gamer for how they want to play through three playstyles: Assault (guns blazing), Panther (stealth kills), or Ghost (minimal interaction with the world). Through earned money, you can upgrade Sam Fisher with new gear, op suits, and a whole slew of weapons letting you further tailor your experience to how you see fit. The gameplay and controls are as smooth as butter, and the franchise has never looked or sounded this good. Sure Michael Ironside is no longer involved with the franchise, but his understudy, Eric Johnson, proves he’s more than capable and makes the character is own. The game also uses a combination of campaign, co-op modes, and even brings back the excellent and improved Spies vs Mercs adversarial mode providing a ton of content for players to enjoy.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
This game was a big and pleasant surprise even though I’m a big fan of the franchise. Assassin’s Creed III was a let down for me and resulted in me feeling pretty jaded about future games in this series. It’s because of that I pretty much ignored a lot of the content in the beginning half of the year. Sure enough, as time marched forward, I started playing attention and my interest started to rise. Through impressions, trailers, gameplay, and finally reviews, I knew I had to check Black Flag out. I’m glad that I did because many of my gripes with AC III were fixed, making the game better than ever.
For the most part, Edward Kenway is more a pirate than a Templar or Assassin. He cares more about gold and fortune than any conspiracy or centuries old feud. What I found refreshing is that he’s willing to play both sides to get what he wants. He’s charismatic, he’s fearless, and he’s willing to get his hands dirty. Already off the bat, you have a more compelling character and someone who is definitely more entertaining which is what I really found lacking in the previous game. Black Flag also has a Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker feel to it as you’re given a ship to sail around the Caribbean with as there are a ton of islands and landmasses to explore. There’s just so much content to consume here that you could really ignore the main story and find enough to do to keep you occupied for quite a while. Kudos to Ubisoft for continuing to innovate and make improvements to things that just didn’t work before. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is a breath of fresh air for a franchise that really needed it.
Derek pushes the buttons and flips the switches at www.gamercrash.com where all his cave drawings and ramblings can be found. For a bite sized version, you should also follow him on Twitter via @GamerCrash