This year has been a strange and harrowing 52 weeks. With the rise of the next-generation of gaming already upon us and a whole slew of new and hotly anticipated titles coming up in the next few months, it seems that now is as good a time as any to give a little reflection of games gone by.
So before the year 2013 rides off into the sunset, let us see what games stood out to me this year.
Hotline Miami was one of the few games that really made me question all the blood I spilled in the digital realm and if what I was doing was actually the mark of a hero or a sociopath. The awesome retro feel of the 8-bit visuals to the supreme soundtrack carried me through this twisted narrative as I butchered my way through every henchman that I crossed, only to kill my target and have the music cut off. I walked back out of the grisly massacre in chilled silence. It's disturbing. It's creepy. It's incredible.
Saints Row 4
Just when you thought that the Saints could not possibly get crazier, they break the mold and enter into an intergalactic odyssey. What made this so fun was not just the balanced super powers, or the huge cast of characters, or even the hilarious parodies and tongue-in-cheek references - it was a combination of all these things together. While Grand Theft Auto had begun to take itself too seriously as the series progressed, Saints Row embraced its craziness and absurdities. And for that, I salute them.
Shin Megami Tensei IV
The original demonic Pokemon hunt fest returned to glory on the 3DS this year. Its overall engrossing story and interesting characters with solid voice acting helped to weave a world of a broken and chaotic Japan with a neat twist of the usual warriors sent to vanquish a great evil. The return of the demon bartering system was just as dangerous and tricky as the battles themselves. A perfect blend of punishing (but not impossible) difficulty and a deep narrative that makes you want to face those challenges makes this game a gem any 3DS owner should have.
The Bioshock series has always been a welcome change from the usual cookie-cutter Call of Duty clones, and Bioshock Infinite hit the mark perfectly. Its action set pieces and small moments of a dystopian American paradise were not only rife with social commentary, but also gave you the power to summon flocks of murderous crows and shoot fireballs at giant steampunk hulk-Frankenstein-monsters. The blend of immersive worlds, beautifully flawed characters, and incredible plot twists leading up to the grand reveal; all make this a shooter for the ages.
Fire Emblem Awakening
In a return to form, Fire Emblem brought back the tough sense of loss in a war torn land. Setting up the punishing permanent death modes and adding a greater focus on bonds and relationships made the party member“s deaths all the more harrowing when you knew that the knight who fell in battle just recently confessed his love to that lovely dark mage.
Pokemon X & Y
What Pokemon X & Y succeeded in accomplishing was bringing back the excitement and wonder that came when I first loaded up Pokemon Blue and Red. Seeing this strange world open up before your eyes and seeing and catching your very first pokemon, training them, watching them evolve, and FINALLY move with full 3D animations – made this the first in the series that I was truly excited to play and experience. And being able to play as a black trainer was a boon for me too.
What clinched this as game of year material for me was Ms. Croft herself. Lara Croft was the quintessential power fantasy of female video game characters in the Playstation era. But as the years went on, she lost her sense of reality and became a novelty of times gone by. In the latest remake, in order for Lara Croft to become that strong central character she had to be broken down and rebuilt – literally and figuratively. Through the terrors she experiences and the various agonizing injuries she absorbs, she slowly sheds the weak layers of herself to unveil the strong and unshaken core of her being by game“s end. It is that blood-soaked, bone-breaking, trauma-inducing journey that makes Lara Croft my character of the year.
DmC: Devil May Cry
When Ninja Theory announced their remake of the Devil May Cry series and Dante“s new look, you could almost hear the sharpening of pitchforks and lighting of torches all over the world. But what came about was a more down-to-earth, emotional, yet thrilling and action-packed take on Dante and company. The fighting system was just as tight and fluid as its predecessors and was even a vast improvement in some areas. It managed to bring out the glory of its past while still cementing a place for its own future. I cannot wait to see what they do for a sequel.
The Last of Us
Does this really come as a great surprise? The Last of Us manages to bring together so many elements – survival horror, action-adventure, strategy, stealth, drama – and makes it work. Its story is top-notch, the cast is a memorable crew of broken souls, and most importantly, it is a blast to play from start to finish.
The beauty of The Last of Us is how the story opens itself to the player as they scavenge the ruins of the world. It never explains how the virus spread, but you can see its effect in everything in the notes and letters you find scattered throughout the game. Desperate notes scrawled on walls and dirty notepads, vandalized street signs, broken toys, and even the bodies of those long dead. These small moments add to the bigger narrative between Joel and Ellie as they travel across America and not only learn about the darkness of the world and themselves, but also the glimmers of light that still remain. And just what limits will you go to keep those glimmers of light alive.
The Last of Us was less about a world overrun by a terrible virus and more about the people left behind: how do they cope? How do they survive? How do they cope with what they had to do in order to survive? The cast, from main characters Joel and Ellie to the standard grunts that you are forced to kill throughout the game, all carry with them gravity and purpose to their digital lives. Each grimace, hushed cry, or exclamation of terror on their face evoke just the right sense of despair and hope whatever little of it they can find. The swansong of the PlayStation 3 definitely left its mark with The Last of Us.