It's time to take a look back at my favorite console games from 2013
X-Box 360, X-Box One and PS4 2013 Awards
Game of the Year
Bioshock Infinite is the easy choice for me. This game not only stands as one of the best games of the year but one of the best games of the generation period. It's a perfect example of when great game mechanics meet great writing. The floating city of Columbia is a brilliant fantastical setting but to me it's Ken Levine's willingness to take on difficult issues such as racism that were prevalent during the time period the game takes place in that makes it a memorable experience. I credit Levine in taking a massive risk with the twist ending but it's one that is executed well and made perfect sense to me. The was definitely a possibly precarious choice that could have sent the entire game down a never-ending drain of controversy (ala Mass Effect 3) but Levine nailed it and the game is more memorable for it. This game made bold choices and discussed difficult topics with care and respect and this type of hard work deserves recognition.
Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag
After a couple of hours with Assassins Creed IV I was ready to sail for the horn myself. I have a feeling you'll be seeing this one again soon.
Next-Gen Game of the Year
Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag
Black Flag is an easy choice as the Next Gen game of the year. Black Flag stands head and shoulders above anything on the PS4 and X-Box One right now. Black Flag features a brilliant sailing mechanic, the best protagonist in series history and delivers an open world full of life and variety. The naval battles are fun and the on foot combat has never been better. I'm usually not one for wandering off the beaten path but I find myself doing just that constantly with this game. The fact that the present day story as well as the historical conflict between the Templars and the Assassin's blends more into the background makes it even more enjoyable. I was slightly worried about the series after Assassin's Creed III but this game shows there is plenty of magic left. Game director Ashraf Ismail and his crew have set a very high bar and it will be interesting to see if the other studios working on this series will be able to clear it.
Lego Marvel Superheroes
Combine the solid Lego game formula with nearly every character in the Marvel Universe and you have one of the best games of 2013.
Action Game of the Year
It was a down year for this category but the console version of Diablo III was certainly a bright spot. The lack of the auction house and the generous drop rates made this version superior to the one found currently on the PC. The combat is satisfying and the dungeons are well designed. The story is forgettable but the desire to find better gear, gems and weapons kept me mashing buttons throughout the night. Buy this game on consoles with confidence.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist
I liked this entry into the Splinter Cell series but I didn't love it. The story is bland and I didn't like the scoring system but the great visuals and the mark and execute feature kept me coming back for a while.
Action-Adventure Game of the Year
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
Plenty of solid action and exploration to be found here as I mentioned above.
Grand Theft Auto V
GTA V is a technical marvel but I enjoyed it less than Black Flag as whole. The story drags badly near the end and I found the ending itself to be less than satisfactory compared to Rockstar's previous efforts. I'll take the endings to Red Dead Redemption or Max Payne 3 any day of the week. It's a gorgous city with a lot of things to do but the joy of getting from point A to point B in the Jackdaw in Black Flag set that game apart. Traveling is a necessary evil in GTA V and not necessarily an enjoyable activity.
Fighting Game of the Year
Injustice: Gods Among Us
Combining Mortal Kombat's bone crunching combat with the heroes and villains of the DC Universe turned out to be a dream combination. Few moments have been as satisfying this year as triggering Superman's full meter move and literally punching an opponent into orbit and then smashing them back down to earth. I thoroughly enjoyed the story and I enjoyed the fact that Superman was handled with better care here than he was in Man of Steel this Summer. The developers did a great job of showing what a world with a Superman that wasn't afraid to kill would look like as well as what makes the original such a heroic character. I didn't like Star Labs and at times it feels as though the CPU is flat out cheating you but the positives far outweigh the negatives. Great roster, great combat, great story, great game.
Killer Instinct is back and in great form. The title is free to download and it looks great on the X-Box One. The roster is small and the game lacks a story mode but it is still a great deal of fun. The dojo is a great place to learn how to play Killer Instinct and fighting games in general. This game is a blast even if all you like to do is mash buttons. This is probably the most accessible fighter I've played since Marvel vs. Capcom 3 so give it a download and give it a try.
Shooter of the Year
Infinite looks great and has one of the few single player experiences in a first person shooter that wasn't a direct insult to my intelligence this year.
Killzone: Shadow Fall
I'm absolutely stunned this is the way things turned out. When I played Shadow Fall I found it to be a good game but I expected Ghosts and Battlefield 4 to blow it out of the water. I was wrong on that. Ghosts is awful and Battlefield 4 doesn't work. The Killzone campaign is competent although the story gets less interesting as you play. It isn't great but it generally treats you like an adult. The campaign is longer than the campaigns found in Ghosts or Battlefield 4 as well. Multiplayer is functional. Future multiplayer maps are supposed to be free so that is a big plus. This is more about Guerilla Games being able to make a component, functional shooter whereas Infinity Ward and DICE were not. Ghosts is a disappointment on every level. Battlefield 4 had the potential to win this category and be one of the year's best games but I can't recommend a game that has barely worked for me in the month I've owned it. I've also had my campaign progress wiped in Battlefield 4 so not even the singleplayer experience is safe from crippling bugs. I'm not rewarding a company that seems to have knowingly shipped a broken game no matter how fun it is when it works.
All Ages Game of the Year
Lego Marvel Super Heroes
This is by far the best Lego game I've played. I enjoyed the Lego Batman games but this takes things to a whole new level. More than 100 Marvel characters from the expected (Iron Man) to the obscure (Howard The Duck) make appearances in a well designed open world. We may never get to see a movie where the Avengers join forces with Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and the X-Men but you can see that exact scenario in this game. The voice acting is great (including Clark Cregg reprising his role as agent Phil Coulson) and the classic Lego formula shines bright. This game is perfect for Marvel fans of any age.
I hesitate to classify this PS4 exclusive as an all ages game because of its difficulty. This game is hard but at the same time I find it rewarding. The story is a bit bland early but improves later and there is really no objectionable content to be found. The game may need to be played on easy for younger gamers. I think even older gamers will find a challenge here. I've been playing games for a long time and this action brawler definitely makes me sweat. It's frustrating when things are going wrong and enemies kill you in one hit but it is tremendously rewarding when you get on a roll and cleave through three or four areas in a row filled with those enemies. This may not be for everybody but I liked it better than most.
Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon's Keep
The final major DLC installment for Borderlands 2 takes this award easily. This download added several more hours of gameplay and featured several completely new enemy types. This was essentially a victory lap for Gearbox as nearly every major character in the series returned for a moment in the sun. The story was humorous but it did have a heart to it as well. A lot of work went into this update and it shows.
Lobo for Injustice: Gods Among Us
If there was ever a character in the DC Universe that was tailor made for a fighting game it was the Main Man himself. While he didn't make the cut for the initial release, he was the first character that Neatherrealm added to the game. The cigar chomping galactic bounty hunter and his floating motorcycle made a mark on my memory this year. His super move is also not to be missed and includes some clever censorship that captures Lobo's personality perfectly. If you only buy one extra character for this game this is the guy to get. If you have another $5 though I also highly recommend the Martian Manhunter DLC for Injustice. J'onn J'onzz nearly edged out Lobo for this spot but I enjoyed Lobo's super move just a bit better so he got the nod.
Best Voice Actor
Saying Baker had a breakout year may be understating his success. Baker played lead rolls in Bioshio Infinite, The Last of Us, and Saints Row IV. He also played iconic villains in both the DC Universe (Joker in Arkham Origins) and Marvel Universe (Loki in Lego Marvel Super Heroes). Not only did he play the Joker and Loki but he played them well. Stepping in for Mark Hamill after his near two-decade run as the Joker would make nearly any voice actor nervous but Baker did a better job than I thought anyone could possibly do under those circumstances. This may be the best year a voice actor has ever had period.
I give the perennial winner North the nod as runner up for his stellar work in Deadpool. Having to portray an insane character with multiple personalities who all speak in different voices could turn out to be a mess but North makes it a joy. A strong script makes this a cult favorite. Marvel fans looking for a more mature take on Deadpool as well as Wolverine, Cable and Mister Sinister should check this out immediately. This definitely isn't a game for kids but older fans should enjoy the solid writing.
Best Voice Actress
Courtnee Draper (Bioshock Infinite)
In many ways Draper is the key to Bioshock Infinite. If she turns in a bad performance you are stuck with an annoying character who follows you everywhere for nearly eight hours. Fortunately she turns in perhaps the best supporting performance I've seen in a game. Draper's Elizabeth is likeable, charming and far from one-dimensional. The fact that at times Draper has to play different versions of the same character that may be older or younger make the job she did more impressive. Draper was the easy choice for this award.
Natalie Lander (Saints Row IV)
You hear Lander's voice more than any other supporting character in Saints Row IV so thankfully it's always an enjoyable one to hear. Lander plays an uber-smart former FBI hacker that always seems to have the answer for everything. The enjoyable part is when the boss of the Saints (voiced by Troy Baker in my game) doesn't understand those answers which often results in some enjoyable exchanges. I particularly enjoyed the argument over what constituted a robot and what constituted power armor. It's a long running joke with a hysterical payoff set to the music of Stan Bush's The Touch that made it one of the most memorable moments of the year for me. This is a character that could come off as really annoying but it never does which is a credit to Lander's strong work.
Best Dramatic Writing
Bold, daring and intelligent. It's no wonder Hollywood wants Ken Levine to start scripting movies.
Batman: Arkham Origins
This story has a great setup and it pays off throughout the game. Watching a young, cocky, angry Bruce Wayne take on some of the baddest assassin's in the DC Universe was a memorable journey from beginning to end. Watching Bruce's relationships with Alfred and Jim Gordon evolve over the course of the game was actually engrossing. You know where things are going to end up between all of the parties involved but Arkham Origins makes you wonder if these characters are every truly going to get to that point. Watching assassin's come out of the woodwork to claim a 50 million dollar bounty on Batman's head throughout the game on Christmas Eve is also enjoyable. I found Batman's interactions with Deathstroke, Bane, Black Mask and the Joker to be particularly compelling.
Best Comedic Writing
Saints Row IV
This is the funniest game I've played in a long time. The team over at Volition really outdid themselves to incredible results. This game has several laugh out loud moments and features some of the best pop culture gags I've seen in a long time. The humor extends to the gameplay. Who can forget the power that shrinks enemies and allows you to step on them like ants? Or the side activity known as Insurance Fraud where you try to do as much damage to yourself as possible with the time limit? The humor is brilliant on every level and this is honestly the most pure fun I had with a game this year. Grand Theft Auto may be more impressive on a technical level but it's not as fun as Saints Row IV. You could be a lot worse things than most fun game of the year.
Deadpool is a tough character to bring to life but High Moon Studios did it and did it well. Deadpool's multiple voices, hilarious quips and arguments with the development team about the budget made this game a joy to play through. I wish the gameplay had been a little smoother and there had been more visual variety in the levels but I can't deny the game was funny and one of the year's best written games.