Like many (if Nick Hornby is to be believed) we have a soft-spot for lists and as the year’s game release schedule draws to a close it’s time to look back on 2013 in gaming. From seeming indie-dominance to new console launches from the major players, 2013 has been a fantastic year for gamers in many ways, while the more cynical amongst you might be thinking of micro-transactions, buggy releases and u-turns aplenty. So who were the biggest winners and losers of the year?
Best Single Player Game
It seems to make less and less sense to categorise games by platform now as many of the best games are multi-platform, a necessity for many to make money in the industry and nearly always a complete win for gamers. Even the lines between genres are increasingly blurred as evidenced by the FPS/MMO/Survival game DayZ or the enigmas that are The Stanley Parable or Gone Home. With this in mind we’ve tried to think of looking at the experiences that games offer. More often than not we decide between wanting to play a single-player game or something multiplayer. This still faces a lot of issues, but here is our pick for the best single-player experience of 2013:
Winner: Tomb Raider
At the start of the year we would have mocked anyone who expected Tomb Raider to be game of the year. The series had never been stellar, and had been on a downward spiral for a long time with only occasional leaps in quality but 2013’s Tomb Raider was really something special. Yes it had fairly stunning visuals, yes the difficulty was just right and the story was in another league compared to previous Tomb Raiders – but this isn’t what wins the award. What wins the award is the perfect pacing. Tomb Raider was a game you didn’t want to stop playing. It never got tedious, but never felt too fast. Too often games pad out sections needlessly or end before you’re done, Tomb Raider got it just right. The multiplayer was forgettable but that’s exactly why we’ve forgotten it. It was an incredible single-player experience and we can’t wait to see what they can do with the next one.
Runners up: Zelda: Link between Worlds, The Wolf Among Us Episode 1, GTA V
While other genres might be blurring, there’s something of a new renaissance for mods. Modding has never gone away, but this year there’s been some high profile mods turning into full games. Steam has been leading the way with this practice and we’re starting to see some real creativity from people who never would have been able to release anything without these pathways.
Winner: Just Cause 2 Multiplayer
Mods generally alter the experience that’s already there, adding new stories or skins or sometimes even powers. The Just Cause 2 multiplayer mod added not only a new game-mode to an already excellent game, it added a game mode that I don’t think has ever been accomplished in this way before. You can load up the mod directly from Steam now and jump onto a server with up to 9999 other players. We were playing earlier today with over a thousand players and there was no lag, no real issues at all, just absolute mayhem. If you ever enjoyed Just Cause 2 and you have a capable PC (somehow it runs on even ageing machine and looks beautiful) you owe it to yourself to pick this up, it’s like nothing you’ve ever played before.
Runners Up: The Stanley Parable, Starcraft MMO, Crusader Kings II Game of Thrones
Best Multi-Player Game
Nearly every game is moving to multi-player because finally they can. Network connections are getting fast, systems like Microsoft’s Azure provide dedicated servers at a fraction of the cost and PC online gaming is getting easier with things like Steam. This is a hard category to pick from – there’s so much quality out there.
Winner: Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm
This might be an expansion pack, but Heart of the Swarm did everything an expansion pack should do and changed an already amazingly balanced game witthout breaking it. From watching WCS at Gamescom and on Twitch to laddering and playing team games, no other gams has drawn us in like Starcraft has this year. We can’t wait for Legacy of the Void, but Heart still feels fresh thanks to the outstanding support that Blizzard shows the game and the scene. There’s a lot of fun games to play, but few can hold your attention for so long even if you’re just watching.
Runners up: Starbound, Lego: Marvel Super Heroes, Super Mario 3D World
There’s been a lot of surprises this year, particularly with the new consoles and Microsoft and Sony’s focuses moving in to the next-generation, but our biggest surprise wasn’t based on the consoles, it was a game that we thought we knew was dead.
We’re not big fans of Final Fantasy, we’re not big fans of cookie-cutter MMOs trying to emulate World of Warcraft. We had also written off FFXIV due to the appalling first version that was released. Imagine our surprise when ARR launched and it wasn’t just good, it was the most engaging MMO since WoW. While it may not have toppled WoW’s crown, it was enough to keep us interested for a few months and expansions might bring us back for more. It was clear evidence of developer listening to the fans and making worthwhile changes even if it meant hurting the bottom line. They weren’t the only ones to do so, but they might have been the most surprising.
Runners up: Killer Instinct, Ryse, Super Mario 3D World
Sadly along with the surprises, some things weren’t so great. Between delays, backing down and poor releases, we were surprised in a bad way more often than not. With any art form this is going to happen, but 2013 seemed to have a few big ones.
Winner: Aliens: Colonial Marines
Sega publish some amazing games, Gearbox made Borderlands, Aliens was my first real introduction into sci-fi and Giger’s beasts have even made for some great video games in the past. Finally a game actually based on the best film in the series, with a high-class developer behind it. They ruined it, they really spectacularly ruined it. There was a lot of shadiness going on with the game, the trailer made it look ok and the final version was so poor it was brought up as arguably false advertising. There was terrible AI (or a lack thereof), an awful story, some last gen graphics and some terrible misuses of the licence. There might have been some worse games, but this one hurt the most.
Runners up: SimCity, Xbox One U-Turn, Battlefield 4 Glitches
Most Anticipated Game
Despite the highs and the lows, we’re always looking forwards, always getting excited for the next big thing. This year we’ve been lucky enough to get a few sneaky plays of upcoming games and there’s a lot of good stuff coming next year.
If you’ve heard all the hype around Titanfall you might be forgiven for wondering what the fuss is about. Play it for five minutes and you’ll know. It’s the makers of the good Call of Duty games creating something with mechs and parkour and it’s almost perfect already. Titanfall is very likely to be the next big thing in FPS games and as much of a game changer as Goldeneye, Halo or Modern Warfare. Hopefully we won’t be waiting too long to get our hands on the finished game and we can’t wait to review it. If we ever get around to reviewing it that is, it might be hard to put the controller down.
Runners up: Watchdogs, Destiny, Infamous: Second Son