Monday, January 13, 2014

2013 Game of the Year

2013 was an incredible year for the video game industry.  There was a heavy emphasis on next gen as information started to spread about the future of the PS4 and XBOX ONE.  That is all good and exciting, but what was really impressive was the fact that there were some absolutely incredible games that dropped this year.  The end of a console era is when some of the biggest and best games come out because the developers have finally pulled out all the stops and have perfected what each of these machines, and their game engines, could do to make a deep and expansive world.  I wouldn't say that 2013 was the greatest year in gaming this generation, but it let these current (now I guess it’s technically last gen?) systems to go out with a bang.  Here are my top three video games made during the swan song year of 2013. 


When a game makes $800,000,000 in its first day on the market, it’s hard to ignore its importance in the history of gaming.  It’s also hard to ignore the hype and the anticipation that was surrounding this game for more than two years.  But if you put aside the incredible sales records, and the unbelievable following that this game had, you will find a truly immersive, deep, and incredibly fun game to be had.   Rockstar has a history of being one of the most detailed driven game developers in the past ten years, and for their magnum opus they surely didn't disappoint.  From the people in the city, to the changes in weather, to the vehicle damage, the way that your shoes make a slosh sound after you come out of the water, to the radio stations, to the….alright you get it, there is so much packed into the smallest details that this is a downright realistic and beautiful game.  The map of Los Santos is huge, and you can explore anywhere from the desert to the inner city itself.   

The game play packed into this title is draw dropping as well.  You can do anything you want in GTAV at any time you want.  Do you like golfing games?  Well, Rockstar put a full fledged golfing game into GTAV where you can increase your character's skills throughout multiple outings.  Do you like racing?  You’re in luck. Rockstar created great driving mechanics in order for you to travel throughout Los Santos, and you can get involved in street races all through the city whenever they show up on your mini-map.  There is also tennis, flying, biking, hiking, scuba diving, jet ski racing, and much, much more to do in GTAV.  There is also an online mode that infuses all of these mechanics and options into a multiplayer experience that (when it works) creates great interactive adventure that you can with your friends.  You can do death matches, bank heists, drug store robberies, and any other illegal activity you want to do all with your partners in crime.  This was a very ambitious feat on Rockstar's part, and unfortunately, it’s had its fair share of hiccups. But when they finally get everything working, this will be a mode that will keep people coming back for months and months to come. 

But the best thing about this game has to be its story and cast of characters. Never have I seen three playable characters in a Grand Theft Auto game, and they made it look so seamless and so fun to play that it worked like gangbusters.  Michael, Trevor, and Franklin are a team of men at different levels of society.  Michael is a rich, successful father of two that is trying as hard as he can to save his family from burning up like a dumpster fire, Franklin is a gangster born and raised on the streets, and Trevor is a drug addicted, redneck psychopath that would love to do nothing more than stab you to death and bang your wife in front of you while you bleed out. Trevor, more than any other character in this game, is one of the best written and intriguing protagonists in gaming history.  All of these guys come together to give you a rich narrative that makes you feel for each one of them. With each character having their own special abilities and attributes, they make playing each character a special experience. 
The story in GTAV is incredible. The characters you come across, the missions you partake in, and the overall ridiculousness of this game is better than any that came before it. 

But what GTAV does well, it is also its greatest downfall.  Once the main story line is done, there really isn’t much else of substance to do in the game.  Sandbox games are something that a certain group of people enjoy.  I’m not one of those people.  I had a blast playing the main story line, the side missions, and doing a few rounds of golf here and there, but the idea of fruitfully fucking around in this world is nothing that I want to waste my time with.  When I game, I like structure and an outcome, and after my final mission is complete, I put the game away and chalk it up as an experience.  I’m sure this is what some of you like to do, but when a lot of the game mechanics are based around these mindless tasks, I would just much rather shoot some goons, rob some cars, pay some strippers, and get out.  This opinion isn’t what is getting this the ranking of third, it’s just something that I would like to bring up. 

GTA is a very important game in relation to success in the gaming industry, and we should all be happy that we got to experience such a raunchy, violent, and overall great game.

Here is a little taste of the glory that is Trevor Phillips

#2.) Bioshock: Infinite

"Booker, are you afraid of God?" "No. But I'm afraid of you." –Elizabeth and Booker Dewitt

Bioshock Infinite is an aesthetics overload.  It's beautiful.  It becomes evident the minute you take your first steps into the city of Columbia.  Buildings and city streets are suspended miles above the ground below in the floating city, and it is spectacular.  But Infinite isn't all looks.  The story behind Bioshock Infinite is wonderful and brings you in with its spectacular main characters, Booker Dewitt and Elizabeth.  The way that these two interact with each other is incredible and you can really feel the chemistry between the voice actors portraying them.

Infinite, just like the first Bioshock, gives you an incredible world to explore that is filled with hidden secrets that turn its absolute beauty into a dark and twisted place.  You can learn everything you need to know about the story playing straight through and not exploring, but the more you explore the more hidden voxophones and kinetoscopes you will find and these items give you a different view on the murky world of Columbia through the eyes of the person you are listening to. 

Using Elizabeth’s special ability to “tear” into alternate dimensions, you will be fighting in alternate worlds and exploring the consequences of your actions.  This tear ability is also a great game mechanic.  When you are in the heat of a fire fight, Elizabeth will aid you by “tearing” in boxes of first aid, ammo, mechanical gun men, or cover to hide behind.  And all the while Elizabeth is with you in the game, she does a great job of not hindering your experience by never getting in your way of your mission at hand.  The game developers did a great job of making sure that this game didn’t feel like one long escort mission with Elizabeth, but instead making her more of a tool for your destruction (Remember Princess Ruto in Ocrarina of Time?  Worst experience ever, right?  Now think about that, but you never see her unless she helps, and you don't break any controllers after you throw her off a cliff for the tenth fucking time). Traversing this floating city is also very, very awesome.  You earn a “Sky-hook” early on in the game, and you can use this sky-hook to attach to sky-lines that connect each floating section together.  It is fun to zip around on these sky hooks while blasting your way through waves of enemies.  It’s a very satisfying mechanic that worked a lot better than I expected.

The combat system in Infinite works fluidly as you can seamlessly use vigors (special powers) and guns simultaneously all while upgrading these weapons and vigors as you go.  There are great RPG elements as far as enhancing your characters shields, health, and vigor capacity, but also in the equipment that you wear and the vigors that you use.  It all works great and is easy to get the hang of right away. 

This gaming experience is one that no one should miss.  It is truly something special, and Irrational Games has found its stride with the third installment of this series. Once the finally curtain closes on your adventure, you will be shocked, confused, and satisfied.  It is such a great game and comes in at number two on my list. 

For those of you that have not played a Bioshock game, but might want to play this...don't.  Make sure you play the first one before you get into this one.  I believe that the PS3 versions of Infinite are bundled with the original.  So there's that.

Here is a clip of the first half hour of game play (really starts at the 1:00 mark).

Infinite was on the top of my GOTY list for a long, long time, but then I had the pleasure to play the single greatest video game experience of the year and maybe...dare I say...ever. This, my friends, is the Game of the Year for 2013…

#1.) The Last of Us

Jesus Christ the fry cook, where do I even start with this game. Simply put…it’s a masterpiece.  There, that should be enough of a reason for you to close this laptop and go out and buy it if you have not played it yet.  Seriously….if you own a PS3, and you have never played of minute of this game, go to goddamn Gamestop and buy it.  You’ll thank me later. 

For those of you who do not know, The Last of Us (which I will refer to as TLOF from now on) is about a man named Joel and a young girl named Ellie that have to travel across the United States.  The only being, is that the United States has been overrun by a deadly parasitic virus that takes control of people’s brains and turns them into fungus zombies that want to nothing more than to eat your face off.   This game is intense.  And when I say intense, I mean FUCKING INTENSE!  My heart was constantly pounding through my chest as I crept through dark bus stations and abandoned apartment buildings.  With a variety of the infected that you will face, nothing is worse than the terrifying “clicker”.  When you hear they’re haunting clicks, you instantly go into crouch mode and feverishly try to find where they are.  But the infected are not the only thing you have to worry about.  The people in TLOF can be just as brutal as the infected are terrifying.  In a world with a zombie-esque breakout, no one can be trusted, and every man is for themselves.  The people you run across are living that motto to the fullest and would love to do nothing more than to shoot your chest out with a shotgun. 

The crafting system that is embedded in this game is brilliant and adds to the suspense and anxiety you experience during game play.  As you realize you have ran out of make shift mines, and you are in the middle of a swarm of clickers, you have a certain amount of time to hide in order to craft items and weapons to help you attack your foes.  And trust me, crafting is the only way to get things done in this game because ammo for your weapons is a rarity to say the least.  You might find a box of shells, but there may only be two left in the box.  It adds a great level of strategy to the ways you approach attacking enemies while also feeding off of that story line feeling of "every man for themselves".

Like I said before, this game is fucking brutal.  There is no other word that could perfectly describe this game.  From stabbing the infected in the neck with a makeshift weapon made out of scissors, a 2 x 4, and some duck tape, to slamming a pipe into a human’s skull 5 times until it is broken are just some of the joyful activities you will partake in.  Normally, when I love a video game, I can play that game for hours at a time. But TLOF was the first game that I had to stop playing just because of the brutality of what I just did for the past hour.  And it was a beautiful thing.   If you are looking for edge of your seat suspense, then this is the game for you.

But hidden beneath all of this brutality and violence, is a beautifully done story that keeps you intrigued throughout the games play time, and really makes you care about the characters you play as.  The way that Ellie and Joel interact with each other is sometimes humors, sometimes sad, and sometimes very heart warming.  You see natural progression with these characters as Joel turns from a rugged asshole to a caring father figure to this young girl he is in charge of protecting.  Ellie, on the other hand, grew up in this dark and twisted world and knows nothing else.  It's incredibly enjoyable to their story intertwine and how they help each other through their adventures.

This, more than any other game, is starting to show how close video games can be to a cinematic experience.  This game makes you feel.  You'll feel scared.  You'll feel heroic.  You'll feel uneasy.  But at least you are feeling.  You feel for characters as if they were actual people sitting next to you.  We need to stop looking at video games as an abhorrent time suck and look at them as a truly interactive cinematic experience.  The sooner we do that, the sooner people will be begin to respect just how perfectly a video game can portray story.  And that is why TLOF is my 2013 game of year.  The bar is set 2014, and it is set pretty damn high. 

Here is the opening scene of The Last of Us. Watch if you have never seen it. If you have, watch it again for the chills.

The Lounge Chair Legends

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