Jacob Dadon's Games of the Year 2013

Nitrobeard contributor Jacob Dadon has graced us with his top picks for 2013.

2013 was a difficult year for me. Lots of family drama and life changing events that really made me take stock of who I am and what I’m doing. As a result, I didn’t get to play all of the games I would’ve liked to this year. In fact, I only managed to get to 10 games this year, making for a nice round number, but also meaning some games I might not have included otherwise get on the list. So rather than a traditional “Top Ten Games of This Year” list, this is more of a “Let’s Rank the Games I Managed to Play This Year” list.

That said, each of the games on this list brought something unique and interesting in a year packed defined by developers pushing two aging systems to their absolute limits, refining gameplay to the point of absolute ease, and capping off a generation that redefined the gaming landscape in a drastic way.

2013’s Should-Have-Been-2012’s-Game-of-the-Year: Mass Effect 3: Citadel

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Mass Effect 3 had a lot of problems. The ending, in particular, caused enough of a backlash to almost completely destroy the credibility the name BioWare carried. I even wrote an article about it on this very site! A year after the initial release, BioWare let loose the final bit of DLC for the much maligned game, and proved that not only did they still know how to make a compelling narrative, but they created an experience that bests the original game in almost every way in the course of just a few short hours. For the final outing of Shepard and his/her crew, BioWare chose to give their fans the two things they’d been asking for the most: a noir-esque crime caper/thriller through various locations across the Citadel, and the ever- elusive beach party DLC. By taking a step away from the galactic politics and ultra-grim tone of the main game, BioWare was able to craft a quick and dirty story that might not be as grandiose and galaxy-shattering as  the series is known for, but it remains incredibly entertaining and showcases BioWare’s greatest strength, its character work, better than anything in the main game. Almost every one of Shepard’s crewmates, both past and present, gets a chance to shine, and we’re reminded of just why we invested so much time and emotion in these characters in the first. The DLC even ends with a bittersweet farewell from Shepard that hits all the right notes that the normal ending whiffed, even with the Extended DLC. I feel no hesitation in saying this is what Mass Effect 3 should have been from the outset. I highly recommend this bit of DLC if you are at all still interested in the Mass Effect series.

 

10. Injustice: Gods Among Us

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This is a game that probably doesn’t really belong on a top ten list. I’m a huge comic book fan and I enjoy the Mortal Kombat games well enough, so I guess you could say I was suckered into picking this up. It’s really not a terrible game. To NetherRealm Studios’ credit, they at least had the decency to create a new game entirely, rather than just throwing a DC skin over MK9. The combat is competent and relatively easy to pick up, and a number of the supers are suitably ridiculous enough to be enjoyable, though they begin to wear a little thin somewhere around seeing them for the twentieth time. The real problems come with the general aesthetic of the game itself. Like pretty much everything DC is involved in these days, the game takes itself far too seriously and tries to depict a “mature” and “serious” take on these characters. This extends both to the character designs, which in some cases are far too busy and clunky to look appealing while in others are “realistic” versions of classic looks that just never look quite right, to the story mode, which chooses to tell a “dark and gritty” tale of what would happen if Superman were pushed too far.

The game’s general tone favors darkness and cynicism over fun and pulpiness, with a muted, drab color palette dominating the spectrum even among the more colorful characters. On the plus side, it does boast a fairly robust set of game modes that keeps the replayability high, assuming the gameplay is enough to keep you coming back in the first place.

 

9. Pokémon X

I’m something of a lapsed Pokéfan. I was lucky(?) enough to get in on the Pokémon craze when it first hit with Red, Blue, and Yellow, and I continued playing the games through to the GBA versions, where things finally started feeling a little stale. Skipping the next two big releases, the reveal of Pokémon X and Y, the first 3DS iterations of the popular franchise, finally promised to shake up the formula a bit. Still, I wasn’t entirely sold on it. It wasn’t until I found out about two things that I finally settled on picking it up. The first was the new fossil Pokémon, Tyrantrum. Since the original game the idea of raising a little Tyrannosaurus Rex to fight an electric mouse is one that appealed to me greatly, and I was excited to see it finally coming true. The other was the reveal of Mega Charizard. I’d love to see the reaction my fourth grade self would have to finding out those playground rumors of Charking, the third evolution in the Charmander line, would end up coming true, nearly two decades later. These two trips into childhood ended up being enough for me to give the game a shot, and truth be told, it ended up being a little more of the same than I would’ve liked. But in the end, why fix what isn’t broken? It’s fairly remarkable that the gameplay is relatively unchanged from what it was 15 years ago. Sure, it may be deeper and have a few more moving parts that you need to keep track of, but for the most part, the basics of the one-on-one turn-based battles is still intact and still holds up fairly well. That tried and true system applied to a new set of visuals  adds a decent deal of originality and freshness and creates a pretty solid experience. For new players, it’s a fantastic introduction to a series that shows little sign of slowing down anytime soon. For lapsed players, if they’re able to look past the dated, but still quite engaging, battle system, they might find a bit of that old love reignited.

 

8. Bioshock Infinite

Perhaps the most talked-about game to be released this year, there’s not much that hasn’t already been said about this long-anticipated follow-up, both good and bad. The game is beautiful, stunningly detailed, and extraordinarily ambitious. At the same time, the combat can be incredibly frustrating, the story is confusing and convoluted, and it might be a little too ambitious for its own good. I’ll never fault a game for attempting something new and unique, and, for the most part, Bioshock Infinite succeeds in some great respects. But for all its grandstanding about the nature of narratives and what drives the character of these types of stories to do the kinds of things they do, the game just isn’t that much fun to play.

The final few hours consist almost entirely of crowd controlling enemies that tend to be bullet sponges, and while the Vigors do allow some variation, it’s not really enough to switch up the same basic combat makeup you encounter through the entirety of the game. Bioshock Infinite’s true splendor comes in its’ incredible attention to detail, and thankfully there are plenty of opportunities to really study that facet of the game. It’s just too bad the actual game portion couldn’t have been just a little bit more fun.

 

7. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

I’m a big fan of sci-fi action films. I’m an even bigger fan of the cheesy sci-fi action schlock that dominated the 80’s. This game is a love letter to those movies, and what a letter it is. With everything given a thorough coat of neon and a cyber suffix, an assortment of weapons taking direct inspiration from those same sci-fi action classics, and a protagonist voiced by and modeled after veteran of the era Michael Biehn, Blood Dragon provides a streamlined version of one of 2012’s surprise hits and updates it for the nostalgia freaks out there. I never got a chance to play vanilla Far Cry 3, and truth be told, I have no desire to at this point, as I have very little faith it can top Blood Dragon, which already feels the perfect length for a game of its type. By limiting the game to just a few hours, as soon as an element begins to wear out its welcome, a new one is introduced or takes its place, allowing the game to feel fresh almost the entire way through. It also has the honor of having the second best soundtrack of the year, with the synth dominated score playing directly into the genre it’s so lovingly parodying, while also remaining incredibly thematically appropriate. It’s fun, it’s funny, and if you have any fond memories of goddamn bug hunts, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is more than worth playing.

 

6. Saints Row IV

Saints Row The Third was one of the absolute biggest surprises of 2011, finally taking the open world madness promised by GTA3 to its logical extreme, and doing it in a way that was fun and entertaining, rather than annoying or eye-rollingly bad. It’s a fine line to tread, but Volition tread it gracefully, and the game still ranks among the best of this generation. For the follow-up, they decided to play it a little safe, choosing to refine and expand on what was already there rather than build a new city to traipse around in. Seeing as this fourth installment was originally conceived as an expansion for the previous game, perhaps that shouldn’t be too surprising, but luckily, there’s enough that this proves itself more than just an expansion. Sadly, it does mean that exploring virtual Steelport can get rather stale if you played a lot of the last game. Volition attempts to compensate for this by giving the player a number of superpowers that change the game dramatically and provide a great deal of fun, to boot. With the game’s trademark sense of humor intact, some great new and returning side characters, and more well done pop-culture references than just about any other game this year, Saints Row IV may feel a little familiar, but it’s still well worth your time.


5. Tomb Raider

I’m gonna say it straight out: Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider reboot is a better Uncharted game than Uncharted 3 was. I was never the biggest fan of Lara Croft and her adventures, so I wasn’t exactly looking forward to this pseudo reboot-prequel, especially given the questionable PR the game received pre-release. But to my surprise, the game ended up being a really enjoyable experience. Sure, the plot is a little ridiculous, and the trauma that Lara goes through can occasionally be pretty uncomfortable, but as a video game, Tomb Raider hits all the notes a third-person action-adventure game should, and it hits those notes well. It’s a joy to play, and it looks great, even on the lowly consoles. After the huge disappointment that was Uncharted 3, it’s nice to see that games can still utilize the same formula that it popularized and still make a satisfying experience.


4. Batman: Arkham Origins

Arkham Origins has had an uphill battle pretty much since it was first revealed. Being the first game in a much loved franchise to be developed by someone other than the original developer, the game got a bad rap right from the outset by people upset that series was seemingly being annualized. Is that what actually happened here? It’s hard to say, but regardless of the intentions behind the scenes, this is still a solid Batman game. One of the biggest talking points surrounding the game before release was the replacement of Batman voice acting legends Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as Batman and the Joker, respectively, by Roger Craig Smith and Troy Baker. Luckily, both men deliver stellar performances that live up to the legacies of the characters. While Baker’s Joker is clearly inspired by Hamill’s take and doesn’t stray too far from it, Smith takes a few liberties with his Batman voice, blending Conroy’s trademark delivery with Christian Bale’s now infamous growl, helping to characterize the inexperience that the game focuses on. Voice acting aside, Arkham Origins is a solid entry in the series, and even manages to do a lot of things better than the Rocksteady games. The combat is more challenging, with enemies moving just a hair faster than they did in previous games and Batman occasionally taking on entire hordes of brawlers at once. The storytelling is miles ahead of what Rocksteady accomplished, even if the story itself may be slightly predictable. Additionally, WB Montreal fixed the most glaring issue with these games: the character designs are finally not complete and utter embarrassments, combining the classic comic designs with a slightly more realistic look to create an aesthetic that puts Rocksteady (and DC’s current look in general) to shame. That’s not to say the game is perfect, though, as it has its fair share of bugs. My experience with the game was marred by constant audio issues, failed game triggers, and straight up crashes. But despite all that, I still enjoyed the game more than many others from this year. If you’re a fan of the previous Batman: Arkham games and want more of it, Arkham Origins is well worth the investment.


3. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

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Remember how I lamented the fact that Pokemon X wasn’t as fresh as I would’ve liked for a game with so many games in its franchise? The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is a textbook example of how to do that kind of thing absolutely correctly. Trading on the nostalgic memories of classic Zelda games while introducing mechanics that finally inject an aging franchise with some new energy, A Link Between Worlds creates the perfect fusion of old and new. There’s really not much else to say about this game! It’s fun, it’s intuitive, it looks and sounds great, and it’s bound to go down as a timeless classic in one of gaming’s most lauded franchises.


2. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

I’m gonna confess something that certain folks on this site won’t be happy to hear: I don’t really care about Platinum Games. I respect them as a developer that puts out quality, well-crafted game and that they have a legacy behind them that earns them the love they get, but the simple fact that their name was attached to something never got me instantly excited for a game. I played both Bayonetta and Vanquish, and while they’re both fine games, they didn’t exactly set my world on fire. But when this troubled Metal Gear spinoff was finally re-revealed with Platinum at the reigns, the sheer amount of craziness on display got me genuinely excited. Even then, I wasn’t prepared for the fast-paced, action-infused, completely insane game that awaited me. It took a few moments to get used to the lack of a block button and learn to master the parry technique in its place, but once you do, it’s hard to find a more fun game this year. Perhaps the best aspect of the game is the boss encounter design. Every boss fight takes advantage of the game’s mechanics, as good boss encounters should, but combined with the ridiculous character design, the over-the-top set-piece action, and absolutely phenomenal soundtrack, the experience became unlike anything else this year, perhaps even this generation. I can’t understate how good this soundtrack is. The electronic speed metal already compliments the cyborg-heavy narrative and gameplay in a basic sense, but the boss themes, each one with a vocal track that begins playing toward the climax of the fight, really show how much thought and attention Platinum put into the music and how it affects the game in general. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance deserves a spot on any top Game of the Year list this year, and it made a Platinum fan out of me.


1. Fire Emblem: Awakening

It really couldn’t have been anything else. Anyone familiar with the Fire Emblem games knows how addicting they can be, and Awakening is no exception. The easy to pick up strategy-focused gameplay (that’s easy to scale to your skill level with the multiple difficulties), the large and diverse cast of characters, each with their own unique personalities and set of skills, and the introduction of DLC maps to keep things fresh and challenging, allows for hours of gameplay that rarely gets old. It’s simple yet incredibly deep, easy enough to pick up and play yet complicated enough to lose hours building up the perfect team. There’s not much else I can say about this amazing game other than if you own a 3DS, you owe it to yourself to give this game a shot. It’s easily my favorite game of 2013.