It’s good to see that the top five games we voted for include three of the best releases this year, as well as two hotly anticipated upcoming titles – we were definitely right with our collective predictions!
While I still think GTA V, The Last of Us and BioShock Infinite will prove better when it comes down to Game of the Year voting, it’s nice to see a new franchise in the form of Watch Dogs at the top, followed by a reboot of a long-loved but long gone sour franchise.
Anyway, thank you if you read any of these recaps; we’ll be back towards the end of the year with our Top 100 of 2014. On with the show…
5. Grand Theft Auto V
It’s quite an apt time to write about GTA V as there has been plenty of information released this week, ahead of its release in just over a month’s time, which should be one of the final exciting current-gen releases before PS4 and Xbox One hit.
The marketing now is quite the contrast from what Kris described as a “slow burn” back at the end of last year, with plenty of interviews and previews slipping out among the recent gameplay and GTA Online video reveals.
With three protagonists, it’s certainly stepping into brave territory for an open-world sandbox game, in a way only Rockstar could pull off. It also looks like more of a full world than GTA IV, partly due to it coming at the end of a console generation, featuring planes, bikes, parachutes and pretty much anything else you’d expect from a modern, realistic environment.
I’m not going to spend too long going over what we’ve heard before – let’s look at the recently revealed GTA Online details. It’s going to be an open, persistent world which you can jump straight into simply by switching to a fourth character on the fly, which sounds absolutely incredible.
There will be online missions, co-operative play and plenty of activities including heists, races and even a changing stock market. You’ll have your own apartment, which friends can visit, so there’s a lot more of an attachment to the world here: rather than being simply dropped into a landscape, you’ll live in it. Sound good, eh?
Some other details were recently revealed, too, including that DLC will be coming post-release (with the multiplayer being updated too) though I’m not sure what they could add to the game from everything we’ve seen included so far. Well, aside from more story, but there are no real details on that yet.
Whatever happens, we know that a lot of time, love and money has been poured into this game – which could well be the biggest release of this generation – so we can expect to see something really special on September 17th, with GTA Online launching a few weeks later, on October 1st.
4. The Last of Us
Naughty Dog, PS3 exclusive, post-apocalyptic, new franchise – with all these phrases describing the incredible The Last of Us, I honestly thought that it would take the number one spot on our list with ease, rather than sitting behind Tomb Raider.
It still garnered quite the reception and I’m sure it’ll be top of the running for Game of the Year voting – we scored it ten out of ten in our colossal review, giving it the highest praise:
Nobody doubted Naughty Dog’s technical expertise – and there’s no question that The Last Of Us pushes the aging PlayStation 3 hardware well beyond what we might expect of it in terms of visual fidelity – it’s in the game’s storytelling and scripting that the real surprises lay. Joel and Ellie’s story is a sprawling, often desperate struggle for survival against insurmountable odds and a series of increasing bad rolls of the dice, and it’s expertly told.
But there are moments of beauty in the tale, both physically and emotionally, between a mismatched duo that end up relying on each other far more than either thought they might. The bright moments are overwhelmingly powerfully so, the innocent ignorance of Ellie’s upbringing slotting perfectly between Joel’s dark, barbed decades of his own private hell, and those they meet on the way.
I absolutely loved the story, the characters and the world; the narrative is entirely unmatched in games and really proved how far this industry has come, even just in this generation. A really grounded, incredible narrative with some unbelievable moments.
But, as a game, The Last of Us failed me. It wasn’t bad – still up there with the best, all things considered – but the repetitive nature and the constant stealth gameplay was quite the disappointment after the initial reception. Not my personal game of the year, but my narrative of the year? Perhaps.
Those first fifteen or so minutes are some of the most emotionally impacting moments I’ve ever experienced with a game pad in my hand, aside from that time I watched Schindler’s List while clutching my DualShock controller. And then Winter proved just as good – The Last of Us has perhaps the best third act of any game.
Much to our surprise, the game’s multiplayer was also masterful. In an age where twitch shooters and huge vehicle-laden battles dominate, Naughty Dog’s tactical four-on-four skirmishes left a huge impression on us. Though there weren’t any infected, the sheer sense of intimacy and tension makes The Last of Us an all-round contender, a deadly multi-tool of gaming greatness.
It managed to sell very well, too – it’s now the second best selling game of the year (behind our number two game, Tomb Raider) and stayed at number one in the charts for a good six weeks. Though that could all change when GTA V and Call of Duty Ghosts hit later this year.
A great success for Sony, then, and an even greater success for game storytelling. Definitely the swansong this generation needed, as well as a way to kickstart what should hopefully be a new generation of even greater stories.
3. BioShock Infinite
BioShock Infinite is in my top three games of this generation. It’s an incredible feat, Irrational following up the original BioShock with something even more incredible and shocking.
After playing The Wind Waker, I didn’t think any game would manage to match that, until I played the excellent Uncharted 2 on PS3. The same went for Nathan Drake’s second outing, before Portal 2 smashed all of my expectations and it was then that I thought, for what I assumed would be the last time “nothing is going to match this.”
And then BioShock Infinite happened. After some issues with the debug PS3, I managed to get the game playing, late on a Friday night, with a review due on Monday. The next thing I remember outside of the journey through Columbia was that it was now closing in on seven o’clock in the morning and I had truly experienced something marvellous.
That weekend was spent deliberating over the game, resulting in my review in which I scored Infinite 10/10, the second one (after Rock Band 3 – the perfect music game) I’ve ever given.
And then I realise aside from some superficial issues, there’s really nothing wrong with the game at all – it’s better than BioShock ever was; it’s fully realised and complete. It’s so, so near perfect and the first words Booker hear when he steps into the land of Columbia reflect my thoughts entirely:
“It’s heaven – or as close as we’ll see until judgement day.”
While I’m hardly fond of quoting myself, the above conclusion to my review sums up my thoughts on the game entirely. Heaven.
Elsewhere, BioShock Infinite was met with similar acclaim, with positive reviews across the board on Metacritic and a score of 94, which is very impressive.
There’s more from Infinite on the way, too, which I’m massively excited for. It’s DLC set in Rapture and features alternate versions of Booker and Elizabeth, the two main characters, again penned by masterful Creative Designer, Ken Levine. To tide us all over, they released a combat-focused chunk of challenge DLC, which Greg took a look at for TSA.
The Wind Waker gets a re-release at the start of October, however, so BioShock Infinite might be knocked off of my personal top spot.
2. Tomb Raider
I’ve yet to play the Tomb Raider reboot, so don’t expect a lot from me. It’s not that I haven’t bought the game – it’s sitting, downloaded and unplayed, in my Steam library, with plenty of other content. I didn’t manage to download it before assuming editing duties, so I think you can see why I haven’t had the time.
Anyway, enough of the excuses! Rebooting Tomb Raider proved to be a great move, with the game doing very well both critically, as well as financially (even if Square Enix like to deny that fact), staying at a solid place in the charts for weeks and selling lots of copies in the process.
While we didn’t strictly review the game, Alex wrote a lengthy piece discussing the game, describing it as a “success”:
So whilst it might not look and feel too much like Tomb Raider games of old (although look out for at least one nod in that direction) at first the important thing is that it feels modern enough to play as you’d expect it to whilst still retaining everything that made those games so pivotal in generations lost past. Crystal Dynamics have reinvented Lara whilst sticking to genre staples, with just enough ideas of their own to keep things fresh. From where I’m standing, that’s a success.
It seems as though there’s a follow-up in development, anyway (can we put that on next year’s list?) for next generation consoles, too, which would surely be a great move. I should definitely play the first one before then, if I get some time, as it looks as though it’s a fantastic game.
You all liked it too, with it taking eighteen “Buy It” ratings in our WeView feature, with only a handful of people saying that you should either rent, bargain bin, or avoid it.
1. Watch Dogs
Here we are, our number one game of 2013. And it hasn’t even released quite yet.
Watch Dogs could be a failure, driven by far too much hype and some admirable teasing from Ubisoft, or it could be a complete success story; better than all of the previous games on this list. We won’t really know how it goes until November, though from what I can see, it’s going to be massive.
I’m not sure I know a single person who isn’t anticipating the release of Watch Dogs; the brilliant hacking gameplay which looks almost limitless when combined with the open world. It’s unique, interesting and extremely relevant to the world of gaming. It’s also coming to PS4 and Xbox One – which we didn’t really know anything about until a few months after writing up the initial list, which has made everyone even more hyped for the title.
There was some worry on whether the game would look any good on PS3 due to a botched trailer, though that’s all been clarified now – it seems to have been taken from a low quality developer version of the game.
I’m not really sure what to write about Watch Dogs – we honestly don’t know that much more than we did last year, despite the plethora of trailers and news. It’s still a hacking game set in an open world which looks to be the next big thing, a la Assassin’s Creed.
All eyes on Ubisoft this November, then. Could Watch Dogs be the start of something special?