2013 is in the bag, and what a year it was for gamers. The Gaming Nexus staff gathered together and discussed our favorite games of the past year. These aren't definitive game of the year awards, but you can rest assured that if a game appears on this list, then it's special in one way, shape, or form, and helped define our year in gaming. And again, what a year it was.
I've always been a fan of Lara Croft since the early days of the franchise, but the series had taken a major hit and was in desperate need of a reboot. Enter Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix who breathed life into the franchise by going to Lara in her younger years and allowing gamers to watch a survivor being born. The game is excellent and made me remember exactly why I enjoy the Tomb Raider series in the first place: puzzles and danger around every single corner.
Grand Theft Auto V
Ever since I finished my last session of GTA IV and put Niko Bellic on the shelf, I was hoping for a great showing by Rockstar with the next title in the series. We received a gorgeous world of Los Santos and the tale of three characters whose stories all intertwine, leading to a climax at the end that may have fallen short of overall expectations, but even a little bit of a rough ending wasn't enough to take away from a fantastic experience that I keep going back to.
Pokemon X and Y
What else needs to be said about this franchise, other than it's a money-making machine? Incredibly deep, plenty of new pokemon to capture, and the rebirth of testing out friendships in battles locally or online, because if you're going to go head to head with someone, you may as well have it be someone you know so you can rub it in their faces when you win.
Irrational Games recovered nicely after what I thought was a somewhat lackluster second chapter in the series with this masterpiece of both beauty and gameplay. From start to finish, even though the ending was quite predictable up until that last little clip, I enjoyed this game so much. The world of Columbia was done brilliantly and makes me hope that this series hasn't seen its final chapter as we hit the world of next-gen consoles.
Final Fantasy VII
Yeah, here's the fanboy in me saying that this needs a mention. While this is not my favorite game in the franchise's long history (that distinction belongs to Final Fantasy VI), it's the one that truly put it on the map in the CD era of gaming. To see it reborn with cleaned up graphics and full of mods that make a good experience that much better truly made me happy.
Grand Theft Auto V
After being pretty disappointed with Grand Theft Auto IV, I eagerly awaited the next entry in the series. As more news about the game came out, the more excited I became. The game finally came out and my mind was blown. This was the GTA I’d been waiting for. It brought back that feeling of freedom that I felt was lost a bit with GTA IV and it had a great story on top of it. The soundtrack is phenomenal and it really helps the atmosphere of the game. Driving through Los Santos at night with the hip hop station makes me feel like I'm actually in the city. I can only imagine what Rockstar is going to do with GTA VI.
I pretty much lost all interest in Tomb Raider after Last Revelations, and when the new Tomb Raider was announced I still wasn't interested. I watched tons of footage leading up to the launch. Still not interested. Then the game started getting rave reviews and I figured I would give it a chance. I am so glad that I did. Tomb Raider was an amazing game and a great new take on the Lara Croft character. To me, the moment where you reach the top of the massive radio tower was the moment where Lara Croft, the badass adventurer we have all known and loved, was born. An excellent adventure that anyone can enjoy.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf
I have never played an Animal Crossing game before New Leaf, but after watching my sister play the original on GameCube, I was curious. I usually don't blind-buy games but I had an itch -- a feeling that it might be a great game. I took the plunge and bought it digitally on the 3DS store. I am so glad that I did. I couldn't believe how addicting the game was. Day after day I would find as many things as I could to sell for bells. I wanted to make the people in my town as happy as possible, so I did everything I could to get the bells to build more things. I know Nintendo usually doesn't do this but if they released some kind of expansion pack for New Leaf, I would buy it in a heartbeat.
Eighteen long years I have waited for the return of Killer Instinct, and Double Helix finally ended the long wait when the Xbox One launched last month. I am shocked at just how good this game is. Everything, from the music to the mechanics and everything in between, is amazing and I think that they have done the beloved franchise justice. I cannot wait to see what new content we get in 2014.
Smite: Battleground of the Gods
Two years in a row where my favorite game of the year is a MOBA. Last year I spent close to a thousand hours with Super Monday Night Combat. This year I did the same with Smite. The one thing that sets Smite and SMNC apart from other MOBAs like League of Legends and Dota 2 is that the game is played from a third-person perspective with WASD controls. I absolutely love everything about this game. The characters, the game modes, the gameplay. They all come together to deliver a great package that anyone, even those who aren't familiar with MOBAs, can enjoy.
Metro: Last Light
While I doubted that anything could be more of a powerful narrative experience than the original, I was proven wrong with Metro: Last Light. With an even more atmospheric world and the returning gun battles, Metro: Last Light is one of the few occasions in which the sequel was better than the original.
State of Decay
As being a huge fan of zombies, State of Decay nailed the genre perfectly with engrossing survival mechanics along with an open world that was a joy to explore during the day and a truly terrifying experience at night. The game recently received downloadable content that provides gamers with an infinite sandbox mode for those looking to see just how long they can survive against endless hordes of zombies.
Aliens: Colonial Marines
Panned by critics and gamers alike, I went into Aliens: Colonial Marines already knowing the hate -- and somehow still enjoyed the experience no matter the development troubles. While the actual aliens might have had terrible artificial intelligence and certain sections were dreadfully boring, ultimately it was set in one of my beloved movie franchises and nostalgia alone was the rewarding part for me. Oh, and flame throwers are always entertaining in my book.
This was my first introduction into the Tomb Raider franchise and what a grand introduction it was. From beginning to end, I was engrossed in the journey of Lara Croft from a humble researcher to a veteran adventurer. The narrative in Tomb Raider was also one of this year's best experiences in gaming that contained a truly-meaningful progression of a character.
Path of Exile
I'm usually not a fan of free-to-play games, not until this year's Path of Exile which changed my conception completely of the genre. Often described as what Diablo 3 should have been, Path of Exile is a great hack and slash role-playing game that contains interesting character classes to level, loot to collect, and environments to explore.
Sure it's free to play but I spent more money on MWO than I have on any other game in recent memory. The game just gets me as it's a perfect mesh of building a mech, fighting with it, and then tweaking the mech to be a better fit. It's a vicious cycle but it scratches that itch perfectly for me. I also love that with a few clicks of the mouse I can completely change the role and play style of a mech.
The launch was a bit rough and the game still has more bugs than a two-star hotel, but when it works there isn't another game out there than can match the scope and variety of combat in Battlefield 4.
Ryse: Son of Rome
There's no way Ryse should be as much fun as it is. While the combat can get repetitive from time to time, the game is so visceral that it's hard to do anything but smile as you cleave your way through wave after wave of barbarians. It doesn't hurt that this was by far one of the best-looking next-gen launch titles, bar none.
Once again a simple twin-stick shooter is one the best launch games for a platform. Resogun is easy to play but once you dive deeply into the mechanics of the game it becomes addictive as you try to save all the humans while maximizing your score.
Saints Row IV
I only played a bit of this game but I loved every bit of it. The game has a fantastic sense of humor and the action just makes you smile from ear to ear. I'm not sure how Volition delivered such a great game after dealing with a transition in publisher but they should be commended for just getting the game out this year.
The Stanley Parable
Once in a while a game comes along and breaks the proverbial fourth wall, addressing the gaming audience as a whole, or the player specifically. The Stanley Parable takes that much, much further by deconstructing the entire video game genre, and even made me take a good, hard look at my own button-pushing real-life choices.
The Wolf Among Us - Episode 1: Faith
I never realized how badly I needed this series to happen. With a three-year-old, I’m constantly steeped in Once Upon a Times, so anything riffing on classic fairy tales and their shaking-my-head level of cautionary-tale absurdity is a Godsend to me. I’m still not fond of the fact that point-and-click adventure games get a pass when it comes to quick time events, but I’ll take what I can get for this stunning level of world building and character realization.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
Black Flag is so good that Ubisoft, at this moment, is considering turning it into a separate franchise, sans the Assassin’s Creed prefix. Look, I’m not going to lie: I have a preclusion toward anything having to do with nautical life along the Caribbean’s Spanish Main during the Golden Age of Sail. But if Sid Meier was ever going to take a more personal look at his Pirates! series, it’s too late, because Black Flag now has the controls.
Truth is, I have to sneak the occasional browser game at work. I’m not proud. But GeoGuessr was different. It took the ultimate open-world map -- Google Earth -- and made an exploration and where-the-hell-am-I? game out of Google Maps Street View. I scrolled up and down lonely and crowded country roads and boulevards for days. Never had so much fun getting lost.
EVE Online: Rubicon
At ten years old, EVE is the elder statesman of sci-fi MMOs, and Rubicon is its twentieth free expansion. This one’s kind of a big deal. I can’t even list off all its improvements, so, suffice it to say, it’s rekindled my love of skill whoring, exploring, and doing my part as a cog in its smart, intricate, and absolutely mad design.
Considering it was developed by Double Fine Productions and written by Ron Gilbert (who created Maniac Mansion and worked on Monkey Island with Tim Schafer), The Cave should be every 2D adventure-loving indie nerd's wet dream. I have a soft spot for dark humor, and this game hits some hilariously low points in the characters' personalities. It doesn't have infinite replay value, but I found myself playing through it two or three times just to see every character’s story arc.
While the tagline "A Dystopian Document Thriller" is nothing you’d see on a AAA blockbuster title, it's the best description possible for this indie minimalist masterpiece. You play a bureaucrat that stamps passports in a fictional post-war communist country, dealing with terrorists, smugglers, and deserters hiding in the waves upon waves of hopeful immigrants looking to cross the border. If you let someone in with the wrong credentials, you will be fined and may even be responsible for an attack on the state. So get it right. Glory to Arstotzka.
Cellar Door Games' "rogue-lite" title is a highly addictive and hilarious adventure. Journey into a cursed castle to fight monsters and collect as much gold as possible, but make no mistake about it -- you will die. Fortunately, your children live to carry on your legacy -- only to be cut in half two minutes after entering the castle. Fortunately, your children's children live to carry on their legacy (that was once your legacy) -- only to die in a mage's fireball. Fortunately, your children's children's children live to carry on their legacy -- and they were able to make it all the way to a boss before getting impaled on floor spikes. So, y'know, at least they're getting better.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf
I haven't played an Animal Crossing game since the original GameCube version, and while this still feels like the exact same game, there's so much more involved and infinitely more to do in New Leaf that I'm loathe to ever put this game away. If only I was as productive in the real world as I was in Animal Crossing, I might actually get my reviews turned in on time.
The Wolf Among Us - Episode 1: Faith
It's recently been announced that Bill Willingham will be ending his multiple Eisner-winning series with issue #150, so it makes me cherish everything Fables-related that much more when I get my hands on it. The Wolf Among Us is only one episode in, but I'm already heavily invested in the story. I love the new characters Telltale has added to the series, and can't wait to see what happens in the next installment.
The Last of Us
The Last of Us showed gamers that an incredible, mature narrative could be interwoven into engaging and poignant gameplay. Rarely do I feel so disgusted and intrigued with my characters’ morally gray decisions in a game as I have with The Last of Us. I just wanted to keep going to see how cruel and detached from right and wrong Joel truly was. Add to all of this the amazing voice acting of Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson and you get a perfect storm of features that makes this game a can't miss.
Rayman Origins took me by surprise at the end of 2011. Having played the PSone iterations when I was younger, I was pleasantly taken aback at the vast and intricately goofy and charming world of Rayman that Ubisoft had rebuilt. Legends took all of that and amplified it some more. Adding the same type of interesting and challenging levels as before in addition to musical stages and the ability to unlock and play stages from Origins, Legends is a welcome departure from the platforming norms of Mario and the like. It also happens to be incredibly funny.
Pokemon X and Y
Pokemon is a franchise that has stood the test of time better than most Japanese role-playing games. Its ability to both be appealing and accessible to children, as well as complicated enough to form tournaments around, has taken it from generation to generation with immense success. Pokemon X and Y decide to change just enough in the newest catch 'em all saga that it feels fresh and new again, where it was starting to wear thin. Fully 3D graphics and the ability to catch almost all of over 700 creatures means an almost infinite amount of gameplay. Add to that a fully functional online battle and trading systems and you get a game that pumps new life into a franchise I thought I would be done with for quite some time. You know you've found something novel and exciting when you can just spend hours blindly trading pokemon over WonderTrade as well.
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Have you been bored and frustrated with the JRPG offerings of late? I was, until I decided to take a chance on this gem. In a genre saturated with mediocre games and HD remakes, Ni No Kuni breathes new life into one of my favorite types of experiences. Part Pokemon, part Tales, this Level-5 and Studio Ghibli collaboration makes exploring, grinding, and battling as fun as ever. With a ton of creatures, called Familiars, to choose from, each of which have their own special abilities, you could spend hours just fighting, catching, and training your little guys. If you'd rather get straight to the meat of the game, Ni No Kuni offers a touching, sad, and novel story, especially in the realm of JRPGs. It remains the only RPG I have ever grinded, battled, and explored my way to a platinum trophy in.
Batman: Arkham Origins
The Batman Arkham franchise showed us that superhero games don't have to awful. In fact, they can be downright awesome. While Arkham City may be the current crown jewel in the franchise, Origins does bring back the Batman gameplay we've been longing for. Yes, the streets appear deserted and there is not too much in the way of exploration of the overworld, but the combat and stealth feel right at home. If that wasn't enough, the bosses of the game are actually fun to fight; something lacking in the previous two titles. Deathstroke fights like a real professional assassin, Copperhead slithers her way around you with her poisonous tricks, and Bane is a massive powerhouse. It's refreshing to see a game actually take it's villains' powers and personalities seriously and implement them well into a fight. If you've been itching for more adventures with the Dark Knight as I have, Batman: Arkham Origins will give you a more than adequate scratch or two.
Probably my front runner for game of the year right now. Beautiful visuals, some fantastic gameplay, and a lot of post-launch support (including cross platform multiplayer wowee zowee) make Atlus' brawler one of, if not my favorite game this year. I've poured dozens of hours into this one, trying to get all the trophies, and while I'm close, a few elude me. But having this game on the Vita makes it so easy to just pop in and out of a gameplay session, and it easily makes up for some of the slowdown that the handheld version suffers from at times.
Another Vanillaware game that has taken over my Vita, this time by way of Aksys games. I burned through the original title on the Wii in a little over a weekend, and the same held true when I played it again on the Vita. With a revised control scheme, and some DLC in the pipe, it's been a very good year for the Sony handheld in terms of quality content. The twin tales of Momohime and Kisuke still hold up well almost four years after the original, and if you missed your chance to pick it up during the Wii era now is the perfect time to get a quality hack-and-slash title.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
I went into this game completely radio silent, I passed over it at E3, I ignored articles about it, I just wanted to experience this game as if I knew nothing about it. In a way I'm glad I didn't buy into the hype because I think I would have been let down with the way some people were going about this as the second coming of gaming itself. Regardless, A Link Between Worlds is an absolutely fantastic love letter to Link to the Past fans, and Zelda fans in general. I immensely enjoyed this one and I think that this game is a must in every 3DS owner's library. Also I was a total sucker for that 3DS XL model so I had to get this game whether I wanted to or not, but boy am I glad I did.
Ys: Memories of Celceta
Noticing a trend here in my selections? It's been a banner year for the PS Vita, and the latest Ys release is one of the finest games on the handheld. The lightning-fast action and simply fun gameplay make this one of the best action-adventure RPGs to come out in a long while. This game is no slouch visually either, eschewing a lot of the gritty visuals that portable games seem to be going for and sticking with simpler, but somehow more beautiful character models. If you take away anything from my selections, know that at least one of these Vita games needs to be in your own collection. You will not regret it.
The Last of Us
Almost went a whole year with my favorites being on handheld, but this game was too good to ignore. I had originally written off The Last of Us because, again, I've been trying to not climb aboard too many hype trains these days, and let games actually speak for themselves. This is one of those games though where all the hype and praise is well deserved. Naughty Dog has created a generation-defining game with this one, one that can be mentioned with the landmark titles in gaming. The story is perfectly paced, and completely memorable with characters that have set a new standard for storytelling in the medium. Any glowing praise you've read about this game is completely deserved and if you've been holding out on this one, just go, go get it.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
The Legend of Zelda has been my favorite games series for as long as I can remember, so A Link Between Worlds has been at the top of my most wanted list since it was announced. I was already hyping myself up for this game, but it ended up being even better than I could have ever expected. Every new feature (item rental, stamina bar, optional dungeon items) improves on the Zelda formula in an interesting way and I could see every one of these features in all future Zelda titles. The ability to turn into a painting deserves special praise for throwing a wrench in everyone's Zelda knowledge by forcing us to think on multiple planes in a 2D Zelda game. Your knowledge of A Link to the Past will help you in A Link Between Worlds, but it will not save you. Expect to face some new challenges and even get lost from time to time. But getting lost in a big interesting world is one of the things that made the original Zelda games great, so revel in it. A Link Between Worlds is the best of the both old and new Zeldas, and a must play of 2013.
Eight months ago during a conversation about games with some friends, Dota 2 was brought up. They began excitedly discussing their favorite heroes, ultimates, items, and strategies while I sat by listening, terribly confused. Eventually they asked me what I thought of Dota 2 and I remember saying, "MOBAs just aren't my thing," even though I had never played one. These are the same friends that recommended me Dark Souls and Persona 4 Golden, which (despite my initial resistance) quickly became two of my favorite games. So I figured I owed it to them to try Dota 2. Long story short, I have played nearly 300 hours of Dota 2 and plan on playing a whole lot more. Unlike most multiplayer games, Dota 2 requires the participation of your whole team to succeed. One skilled player can definitely make a difference, but one player cannot win a game alone. Your team of five heroes needs all kinds (carries, supports, initiatiors, disablers) in order to succeed. Although there is only one map, there are 104 heroes to master and over 100 items (various weapons, armor, and consumables) to choose from, creating a space with near infinite possibility for interesting things to happen. Get some friends together and download Dota 2 (which is 100 percent free to play by the way). You will be glad you did.
Super Mario 3D World
In the same way that the ideas in Super Mario Galaxy brought us the near perfect Super Mario Galaxy 2, Super Mario 3D Land laid down the foundation for what would become Super Mario 3D World, a game that will likely be regarded as one of the best Mario games of all time. Like most Mario games, 3D World takes simple platforming mechanics with huge level design variety to keep the player playing for a long time without ever feeling like you are going through the motions. There are quite a few great moments that only pop up once or twice, a testament to just how much creativity went into this game. On top of all of that, you have the beautiful Mario graphics and music fans expect, finally in HD. Top it all off with four different characters with unique attributes to choose from (and multiplayer!) and you have a Mario game like none before it.
Not many people seem to be aware of Tearaway (it did come out the same day as Mario, Zelda, and the Xbox One), so as a way of selling it to everyone I know I have been describing it as "LittleBigPlanet, but actually fun." It carries many of the same ideas as Media Molecule’s well-known series. A story involving in the player, a world they influence, player created hero, and unique platforming challenges. The problem with LittleBigPlanet was that it did most of those things badly. Their idea of involving the player in the world was letting you put stickers on the walls. Tearaway's idea of involving the player is letting them use in-game creation tools to build objects that will become part of the world. LittleBigPlanet's platforming was awful, with overly floaty characters and mostly boring stage design. Tearaway (much like Mario) constantly tests the player with new platforming challenges, and even manages to use the rear touchpad, touchscreen, and cameras in interesting, non-gimmicky ways. It's not a difficult game, but it is always fun which to me is most important. Super Mario 3D World is the best platformer of 2013, but Tearaway is the best new platforming IP.
Fire Emblem: Awakening
I know it released all the way back in February, but do not let Fire Emblem: Awakening slip your mind during your best of year talks. I have always preferred the handheld Fire Emblems, and after a few less than stellar entries (Radiant Dawn, Shadow Dragon) Awakening showed up to remind us why Fire Emblem is still one of Nintendo's best franchises. You take the role of a tactician in this grid-based strategy RPG and are given mastery over an army of units of all different classes. Although the fundamentals of the game are simple (sort of a glorified rock, paper, scissors) the encounters, which take place on a variety of maps, always manage to be interesting and will test your prowess, as well as your ability to keep your units alive. This time around you can choose to turn off the perma-death feature, but you shouldn't because it drains a lot of the tension from battles. The best innovation in Awakening is the ability to pair units so they receive mutually beneficial bonuses from each other. Is your Paladin a little slow? Pair him with a high-speed Archer to get some of that speed. These pairs share experience, and any units can be paired, broken up, and paired again at any time. If you own a 3DS you owe it to yourself to go buy a copy of Fire Emblem: Awakening and experience what may be the best strategy game of the year.
DICE has done a good job in improving on the gameplay of the previous game and the Frostbite 3 engine really shines on the PC. Having the second screen option is great and it allows someone to play a different aspect of the game. Server and stability issues need to be ironed out, but when it works it's truly a fun time against others.
Surgeon Simulator 2013
I don't know why I kept gravitating to this game. It can be frustrating and there's not much depth, but it's funny and there are some great updates to this. The alien surgeries were a nice surprise. I can jump in for a few minutes and just have a mindless, good time.
LEGO Marvel Super Heroes
The writers are really what make this game. There's some great references to both Marvel and non-Marvel movies. When you're done with the game there's still a ton more to unlock and boy did they include a great deal of Marvel characters in here to use. From the well known to the obscure, each LEGO Marvel character is done with great attention to detail in regard to their comic counterpart.
A lot of critics talk down about the ending, but the rest of the game is pretty damn good. Gliding around on the rails isn't as fun as it looks in the video, but it does work out well. The story takes some great turns and I love the environment that Irrational Games has crafted. It's certainly a game that leaves a lasting impression,
Injustice: Gods Among Us
Netherealms really upped the ante on fighting games with this great comic based fighter. From the multiple stages to the great super moves that the characters use, I really enjoyed the story and action. Also, the comic book tie-in is an incredible read and produced many "oh my God" moments for me. If you can, pick up the collection and read through it as well as play this great fighting game.
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