Monday, 6 January 2014

My Top 5 Games of 2013

      Let’s do this before we get too far into January!

      I was toying with doing a Top 10 but am kind of pressed for time so… here’s my Top 5 favourite games of the year!

      These aren’t necessarily games that were released in 2013 – just ones I played during that year and completed.

      Oh and before you ask “where’s (insert game here)…”, I didn’t get to play GTAV, The Last of Us, Assassin’s Creed IV or finish Telltale’s The Walking Dead… or anything else you think I may have missed, so that’s why they aren’t included. I’ll do some special mentions afterwards too to see what else could have been in if there was a Top 10.

      If you are interested in 2012 and 2011’s best games lists, just click HERE or HERE.

      Anyway, here are my Top 5 games that I played this year.

5. Tomb Raider (Crystal Dynamics)

      Yes, this franchise reboot played very similarly to the Uncharted series - which is probably a big reason why I liked it – but with a more open space to explore, it was different enough to stand on its own. Whilst neither the story, characters or platforming and gun mechanics can quite match up to Nathan Drake’s adventures, there was some terrific verticality involved (with beautiful views across the island) that made much of the exploration a joy.
      I’m not so much a fan of the old Tomb Raider games – they often featured stiff movement and clunky combat and were often bogged down in elaborate puzzles that just killed the pacing. There are tombs to raid in this one, but mercifully their puzzles are often simple, realistic and entirely optional.
      Not amazing but enough to keep me playing to collect 100% of everything and a promising new direction for a previously withering franchise.

4. Lego Marvel Superheroes (TT Games)

      With over 150 playable characters and a fully open sandbox Manhattan to run around in - you spend just as much time running around and mucking about with different characters as you do playing through the story levels. Flying through the city as Iron Man or freefalling down from the S.H.I.E.L.D Helicarrier as the Hulk is surprisingly exciting – despite the relatively simplistic gameplay on offer.
      The story missions themselves are diverse in their locations (the X-Mansion, Deep Sea, Outer Space) and the different characters that you are assigned to use for each one makes every level feel fresh. However the core gameplay doesn't vary that much throughout and remains, as with all the Lego games, fairly shallow (smash everything, hold a button down to build something, use a certain character’s special ability to progress to the next bit, rinse, repeat…).
      If you are a fan of a deeper gameplay experience this probably wont hold that much long-term interest for you, but the sheer level of fan service and references to Marvel properties here is astounding.
      Whilst there are a distinctly fewer levels than other LEGO games out there, the massive hub city (with plenty of collectibles and side missions) more than makes up for it and will keep completionists going for a long while.

3. Dragon’s Crown (Vanillaware)

      So there was a big furore over the art style and character designs when first announced but it didn't bother me at all… A classic fantasy scrolling hack-n-slash from Vanillaware? Sold!
      That being said, the game indeed has a beautiful hand-painted look to the sprites and the backgrounds, the fighting is solid, the six characters all play differently and there are absolutely tons of bosses to fight. The multiple difficulties, side missions, branching levels and co-op play (online and couch)  - all revealed gradually as the game progresses – adds plenty of longevity.
      There are a few gripes to do with the amount of repetition and grinding you will probably have to endure (expect to play each level over A LOT) and there are occasional instances of slowdown when things get a little hectic, but all in all it’s a beautifully presented loot based scrolling beat-em-up RPG.
      I’ll most likely keep sinking more hours into this to further level up despite having finished it with four of the six characters.

2. Rogue Legacy (Cellar Door Games)

      As a fan of the Castlevania games this one was right up my street. It plays very similar in that you explore a huge castle, fight bosses, use magic and sub weapons, and so on.
      The are two main differences here though. Firstly, it has a random ‘rogue lite’ aspect to it – every time you enter the castle, everything is slightly randomised: the rooms, the enemies, the loot. There are a limited amount of presets (which is actually good as it breeds familiarity with what to expect whilst still retaining that randomised feeling) and each different zone of the castle is always roughly in the same direction each time (up, down or right) so it’s not a total stab in the dark each time.
      Gold is the name of the game – it’s used for levelling up and buying upgrades - so after each run you spend it all (you need to relinquish all gold before entering again) which lends the sense of continuous progression – a very addictive trait. Oh, and then there’s the ancestor thing with unique helpful/unhelpful traits (colourblindness? dwarfism? IBS?) that each new generation is randomly assigned which can affect gameplay but is also hilarious in its own right.
      It’s easy to pick up and play, the randomised element keeps things interesting and the progression is highly addictive. There were times I literally couldn't stop playing.
      Just. One. More. Go.

1.Dishonored (Arkane Studios)

      Alright, so it was released in 2012 but who cares - this game was just so impressive to me.
      I was slightly dubious at first that it would live up to the hype (any first person game that is not a shooter is difficult to pull off for a start) but this game just works so well in almost every aspect.
      The story is top notch – a kind of Victorian steam punk alternative universe where you play a wrongfully disgraced assassin attempting to clear his name. The graphics are wonderful – the environments, levels and characters: grim but stylised art similar to Bioshock.
      But the best bit about all of it is how it plays: namely the level of choice it affords the player. If you want to go in all guns blazing you can do that - the game offers guns, crossbows and swords. If you want to go full stealth you can do that also – hide in shadows, put people to sleep, poison them… And that’s even without mentioning the supernatural powers you can acquire: ‘blinking’ (a short range teleportation move), temporarily shifting your consciousness into various animals, knocking people back using windblast and so on.

      Some games that profess to have this level of choice often fall short. Either the 'choices' thy offer are largely meaningless and game progression is the same regardless of what you do (eg: Bioshock - shoot everything, go to the next area), or too free so that everything seems half baked and wobbly (Skyrim - come on let’s be real guys the melee is horrible in that game).
      It's all about balance and Dishonored does that fantastically. The areas are open enough to explore and find alternative paths (multiple entry points into the same building for example), without being too open (so environments can still be incredibly detailed and you always know what you are supposed to be doing or where to go). You have a primary mission to advance the story, but also many side mission to complete should you wish to.
      These can also genuinely affect story points or missions later on in the game (eg: the interactions with Slackjaw and Granny Rags) and are not just token optionals like in other games. The whole place feels alive. There's a real sense of place. Houses are built like houses and not like levels. Scaling the architecture is sublime.

      The PC-like ‘save anywhere’ feature is also a godsend. Despite sounding like it makes the game too easy (it really doesn’t), it allows you to play the game in the way you want without the frustration of having to restart huge sections and allows for experimentation. In fact, it encourages you to play the game differently - for example finish the whole game without being spotted once, without using any supernatural powers or without ever killing anyone – all perfectly achievable and with just the right level of challenge using this saving method.
      That's right – for every assassination mission in the game (there are a handful) not only is there multiple ways of dispatching your target you can even choose a non-lethal way to put them out of commission. You can really play this game how you want to without ever losing direction or focus of the great overall story.

      It's highly liberating - and that's why Dishonored is my game of the year.

If you want to read an earlier article I wrote about Dishonored and the element of choice, click HERE.

      Special mentions (if I was to do a Top 10) would also go to Bioshock Infinite, Catherine, DmC: Devil May Cry, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time.

      Oh, and I recently finished Fez and started Bastion – both good games – but too late to include in this article.

6th Jan 2014


  1. Nice piece, well written and informative. Wonder if you'll do an anticipated games of 2014 article in the future?

  2. There's only one game I'm really looking forward too: DARK SOULS 2!!!