The obligatory ‘Game of the Year’ article 2013

December 29, 2013, Author: The TIMJ Team

It’s the end of another year, so it’s time to see what each member of our team thought was the best game they played in 2013.

Just how many times will The Last of Us get selected? Will anyone throw in any surprises? You know how to find out!

Matt Parker (News Editor) – Gone Home

Gone Home is a game that deals with mature subjects without needing to promote itself as *adult*. It’s a game that has such faith in its tale and its ability to deliver said story that it doesn’t really waste much time or energy on gameplay.

Gone Home spends a good amount of time throwing several red herrings at you, letting your preconceived notions of what ‘video-game stories’ are all about blind you from what’s really happening. You assume that the story will be about ghosts, aliens or a government conspiracy. Heck, at least one person dies, right? (SPOILER) Nope.

Gone Home is a game that doesn’t play like a game, doesn’t have a story you’d normally see in a game and doesn’t treat its player like a ‘gamer’ (i.e. a 13 year old boy). It made me rethink what it is that I want from my games, and that’s why it’s my game of the year.

Runners Up: The Last of Us, Tearaway

Neil Hickton (Podcast Host/Editor) – The Last of Us

Given I threw my “game of the generation” proverbial eggs into The Last of Us proverbial basket, I really have to stick by it as being my game of the year for 2013. No other game this year had me so entranced, thrilled and nervous as TLOU did. Hell, it even made me cry at one point. The want to explore in this masterpiece is huge and while I’ve mentioned some minor bugs before in my last team article and the podcast, it exudes the qualities of gameplay that I look for in any game I invest money and my free time in.

While there are perhaps too many “find a ladder” moments, the puzzles feel natural and combat feels decidedly raw due to the limits in available resources, keeping your ammo and therefore chances to use weaponry low, but not so low it affects the experience. If you’re late to the PS3 party, you couldn’t find a better game to buy alongside your console bundle. It’s as near perfect a game as I’ve ever played.

Runners Up: Puppeteer, Tearaway

Trent Pyro (Staff Writer) – The Last of Us

Check me out, being original. To be honest, 2013 has been an awesome year for games but The Last of Us seems to crack everything I love about them in one shot. It’s a compelling, heart-wrenching and breathless adventure and a stellar example of how games cannot and should not be dismissed as a lesser medium. It’s proof that claiming ‘I don’t like video-games’ in 2013 is about as ignorant as saying ‘I don’t like films’. As a gamer, I feel proud to be part of a culture that can present The Last of Us as its champion. Most of all, I’m now incredibly excited to see how the bar it has raised will be met and exceeded in the coming years. Come on Naughty Dog, let’s see what you’ve really got.

Runners Up:  Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Neverwinter

James Sheppard (Sub Editor) – Guacamelee

It’s happened. I wondered how long it would be. In a year of two major next-gen console releases, not to mention countless blockbusters and sequels within established franchises, my game of the year for 2013 is in fact a humble indie game. On the PS Vita of all places, a console second to only Wii U in its victimisation as a ‘doomed’ system with ‘no games’.

Though thinking back over the games I’ve played this year, none other gives me such a warm, fuzzy feeling inside as Guacamelee. As a Metroidvania-style action adventure, it combines increasingly tricky but rewarding platforming with humour, exploration, charming visuals, fun combat and skills, and a genius mechanic that switches between the world of the living and the dead. Not to mention the astonishingly catchy soundtrack, which is one of the best I’ve heard from a game in some time.

Granted, some of this year’s hits are still on my Christmas list, and others I haven’t yet played enough to make an informed judgement upon. Regardless, nothing can take away from the fact that Guacamelee will go down as a classic in my books, hitting the sweet-spot between modern and retro.

Runners Up:  Bioshock Infinite, GTA V

Phil Ubee (Staff Writer/Sports Specialist) – Football Manager 2014

This year, even more than usual, my gaming has been almost exclusively taken up by sporting franchises. As we all know, changes to yearly iterations are often minimal, so my GOTY choice has not been easy. After some internal debate where the sheer volume of time spent with Madden 25 almost swayed my vote, I am opting for Football Manager 14. If ever there was a time for football fans to prove that we are better than real-life managers and try to fight the tide of short-termism that threatens to destroy the game from within, it’s now. English football needs new managers with new ideas, so I implore you to pick up a copy of Football Manager and begin to get  your CV ready; there will be at least 92 jobs available over the next 12 months.

Runners Up:  Metro: Last Light, Madden 25

Andy Corrigan (Editor/Owner) – Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

Let me just get one thing straight: If Persona 4 Golden was an entirely new game and not a re-release, that would have won my GOTY accolade hands down. With that out of the way, one other game stood out for me more than any other this year, another JRPG in fact, and that was Level 5’s Ni No Kuni. Mechanically a very traditional RPG, Ni No Kuni might seem nothing more than twee on face value, but as with most of Studio Ghibli’s fantastic storytelling, it has strong themes of loss and depression lurking below the surface, themes I explored in both in our review and in a piece I did for IGN.com.

From the moment little Ollie suffered his colossal loss and I saw his initial reaction was to wallow in his self-pity, I felt instantly connected to the young lad thanks to my own history with depression. That connection only grew as I literally and metaphorically explored Ollie’s coping mechanisms for the sadness that had engulfed him, mechanisms that mirrored my own, while the way he helped those he saw suffering around him was absolutely heart-warming and inspiring. This resulted in a protagonist far more interesting to me than your stereotypical genre hero and, because of that, Ni No Kuni proved to be a surprisingly personal and reflective experience.

Runners Up: The Last of Us, Tearaway

Mike Smith (Contributor) – XCOM: Enemy Within

Now, I know that this isn’t technically a standalone game, but more an expansion pack, I still feel that XCOM: Enemy Within thoroughly deserves its top spot on my gaming list for 2013.  Even though I was to Enemy Unknown when it first released, I’ve sunk an unreal amount of hours into it and have even bought it twice now on both PS3 and PC.  Any good XCOM player knows that you get to a certain point in your veterancy when it becomes less of a game and more of a counting exercise, when to start building certain facilities, how many rookies to keep in your squad,  that kind of thing.  With Enemy Within, however, you have even more complexities to keep you on your toes.

The addition of a new resource (Meld) can sometimes drastically change the way you play, and the additional maps offer more unique settings and, of course, the ability to provide your soldiers with cybernetic implants and turn them into super mechs, allowing you to easily dispatch enemy counterparts. Enemy Within helped breathe new life into a favourite of mine, something that hasn’t happened all year.

Runners Up:  GTA V, Rayman Legends

Ariana Hester (Social Media) – Fire Emblem: Awakening

My personal game of the year goes to Fire Emblem: Awakening. This has been the year of the 3DS for me. I’ve never been a major fan of handheld systems or games, but I can truly say this one has lasted the longest in terms of holding my attention. I’m also not the biggest fan of strategy games, so for me to get as completely engrossed in FE:A as I was (I completed two full playthroughs in just 2 months), it truly was a surprise hit for me.

Anything that can change my mind on both gaming genre and medium is a winner in my book.

Runners Up:  Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Pokemon X/Y

Neil Hughes (Site Manager) – Bioshock Infinite

Next Gen might be Now-Gen, but we were spoiled rotten in 2013 as both the PS3 and Xbox 360 went out with a massive bang. Rockstar didn’t disappoint with GTA V and this Xbox owner was gutted to have missed out on The Last of Us, but the game that put me in the position of leaning forward saying “WTF?!” was the beautiful Bioshock Infinite.

The game constantly surprised me and in many ways felt like a piece of artistic and creative genius. “There’s always a lighthouse. Always a man. Always a city.”

Never has a game looked more beautiful, been so incredibly thought-provoking and – not to mention – completely bonkers. There is no style over substance here though as this 3rd instalment is both quirky and intellectual, much like Ico and Shadow of the Colossus from our past.

In 2013 games are rapidly beginning to rival Hollywood Blockbuster Movies and if Call of Duty and Battlefield fans enjoy films like Pacific Rim, it’s equally as exciting that games such as Bioshock Infinite and movies like Gravity exist for those that don’t want everything to be dumbed down.

Runners Up:  Gone Home, GTA V

Andy Buick (Podcast CoHost/Staff Writer) – The Last of Us

My choice is The Last of Us. Despite an unprecedented level of quality across both AAA and Indie this year, The Last of Us stands out as a masterpiece of game design, taking Naughty Dog’s wonderful storytelling ability to a level beyond anything achieved in the excellent Uncharted series. The story is charged with emotion, and in Joel and Ellie it contains two characters that are easy to invest in; their characterisation is at the very top practically unrivalled and huge credit must go to Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson for their work playing the pair.

Not only is the story strong, though, as a game The Last of Us excels as well. Having to traverse areas full of clickers is a tense, fraught experience; I found myself scavenging everywhere for parts to make weapons, bombs etc. This is a rare example of scavenging and collectibles making real sense in the game world too; everything you find makes sense rather than just seeming to have been thrown in to artificially to extend gametime. I haven’t even mentioned the sound or graphics which are both wonderful.

A truly unforgettable game.

Runners Up:  GTA V, Tearaway

Bryony Stewart-Seume (Contributor) – The Last of Us

Naughty Dog has a history of crafting intelligent narratives and coupling them with clever game design and fluid mechanics. The Last of Us continues this tradition without falter. Its gut-punching opening sequence sets the emotional tone, and with the exception of a humourous (if rather mean) conversation about a particular preference in pornography, the mood does not let up.

We are introduced to characters that have been bought to life so vividly and skilfully by a team of character designers, animators, voice actors et al, that we are reduced to tears (in my case) more than once during the game. While tear-count isn’t the only measure of a game’s quality, it is testament to the depth of emotion carved.

If the game mechanics and controls were poor, we would not get to enjoy the story, so thankfully it plays like a dream. It forces you to play slowly and carefully, and to think ahead. Rushing is punished, and therefore progress feels like a genuine accomplishment.

Runners Up:  Tomb Raider, Resogun