Top 10 Games for 2013

05. GTA V

This almost did not make the list - in fact it wasn't on my first draft of the list. But my son happened to come in and glance at the list and remark: 'Wait, how can GTA V not be on your list, you really enjoyed the story in that?'

And he was absolutely spot-on right.

The story in GTA V is special, not due to its plot - the plot is not that special - and not because of issues like originality (was it?) or even depth of play (though there is that in the game).

No, the true stand-out elements for Five come down to the characters who make up the protagonist in the game. Did you see what I did there? Took a plural and changed it to a singular? That warrants a deeper examination...

First if you played through the story mode and did not consciously notice this, don't feel too bad -- if I had not dated three different Psych Majors in University chances are I would not have noticed it either. But I did, and I did, and I want to share it with you because whether you noticed it or not, it probably has a lot to do with how much you enjoyed the game.

The past pattern for games in the GTA series has always been to focus the game play experience (and naturally to focus the game immersion experience) on one single protagonist, and then give them a few supporting characters to fill in the gaps and help keep the story moving and interesting. Which is what they did in Five.

There, I did it again - you are doubtlessly saying to yourself, what is he smoking (and where can I get some?) because GTA V has THREE protagonists in it! Does it? Does it really? I think not.

Will it really shock you, when you think about it, that the characters of Michael, Trevor, and Franklin are not really three fully-formed characters, but are actually three sides to a single character? And that your indulging in various activities causes you to subconsciously seek out the most appropriate character for that activity?

When the subject was money, most players chose Michael, when it was pulling off crazy it was Trevor (who let us be honest here, is not so much crazy as he is willing to indulge the various impulses that the rest of us have a little voice in our head we actually listen to that cautions us about the likely consequences of indulging those urges), and when they chose show-offy moves like racing, gang battles and the like and anything having to do with sports, went with Franklin (no that is NOT a racial thing).

The reason for that is that each of those three characters pretty much represent the Need, Want, and Action elements of a single protagonist for the story in GTA V!

It was largely that gimmick that drew me into the story and kept me there, and certainly that part of the story that made it far more entertaining than it would otherwise have been.

Trevor tops the list, both with his core philosophy which I can only describe as 'do what makes you feel good, and don't feel guilty about it!' The wisdom that he willingly shares with all on how to live your life based upon past lessons? Clearly he made a vow at some point not to repeat past mistakes, but even so, his appreciation for the finer things in life, the true hedonistic aspects, and his willingness to not only live in the moment but to BE in the moment firmly settles just what side of the character HE represents.

Franklin brought the presence of youth and enthusiasm, of being able to live like there is no tomorrow while you know that there IS a tomorrow and you will be there for it! The fact that he was the physical side of the character was obvious in more than simply his fitness in appearance, it was present in his attitude as well. He also happened to be the most manipulated side of the character, with the other two sides getting him to do the things that they wanted him to do for them, and that is totally in-synch with the role that he filled!

Michael was the scheming brain and the side of the shared personality who looked at and then dismissed the consequences, but was fully aware of them and chose to manage them nonetheless! He was more than simply a brain guiding the shared being, he was the emotional side of the character in every respect.

If you must put labels on it, then Michael was the Super Ego, Trevor was the Id, and Franklin the Ego. If you are not familiar with the definitions for these, look them up. I promise you are going to slap your forehead and say, 'Oh yeah! I see it now!'

04. Forza Motorsport 5

When a game ends up surrounded in controversy shortly after it is launched, it must be Battlefield 4, right? Actually that wasn't the only title that managed to get gamers heatedly arguing online, though in the case of Battlefield 4 it was the bugs that made it the topic of conversation. With Forza Motorsport 5 it is the game itself, or more specifically the size of the game itself, that caused tongues to wag.

To be fair the run-up to the release of the next generation of Forza was largely illustrated with fond memories of the previous generations, with their huge car stable and wide selection of tracks causing more than a few -- gamer, fan, and critic alike -- to speculate about subjects like what Germany’s fabled 'Ring would be like under the new graphics engine, and just how wide the selection would be for each of the auto makers? Would Porsche be present this time around as a base car?

All that speculation seemed to run into a wall of shock when, upon release, the game turned out to have the smallest number of cars than recent memory can equal, and what is more, a very intimate (that means small) selection of tracks!

Oddly enough when you consider that the game has an amazingly realistic world, incredibly diverse and challenging tracks (despite the small number), and a long list of new elements and features built into it -- among which that stand out particularly well is the forced-feedback that has been added to the TRIGGERS on the controller so that the player can get a feel -- quite literally a feel mind you -- for the traction state of the tires while both braking AND accelerating!

Some of the Forza Faithful, either recognizing the massive quality that resulted from the development work on the title and speculating about down-the-road expansion, or perhaps they were gamers who, like us, had been to E3 and experienced the game over the course of the past two years and so were aware that the launch version would be something much more intimate but also much more advanced than most were anticipating...

Either way in the end a core of the Forza Faithful pointed out that while the game state is certainly not equal in actual numbers to the cars and tracks of Forza 4, it happens to be a far more advanced and pleasant simulation than Four, and more to the point, there may be a reason for the fewer tracks and cars. And indeed there is!

The folks who make the game, Turn 10, have made it clear that there will be more tracks and a lot more cars added down the road as expansion packs and DLC. While they have not said that any of that will be free, on the other hand they have not said it will not.

What they have said is that the reason for the smaller track number in the game had more to do with changes both in the tracks in the real-world and the level of scanning tech that is required to bring those tracks into the game-world. In a nutshell, they included the tracks for which they had the proper data with which to deploy them with the level of realism that the fans both deserve and, quite frankly, we know will expect. To a certain degree the same is true for the cars.

Setting aside the issue of expectations, it is not as if the players were short-changed and in fact the Forza 5 that we received is worth every penny paid for it. There is no finer driving simulation available and in addition to that, while we admit that we, too, are eager to see what it will be like to race at oh-my-God-fast speeds on Germany's infamous 'Ring, the anticipation of waiting for it will certainly make that experience all the keener when we have it.

If it sounds like we are making excuses for including Forza Motorsport 5 on our list, you read this wrong. While we felt it was important to address the 800-pound gorilla that the issues of the smaller car stable and track count raised, at the same time it is equally important to point out that the development team for Five did not let us down.

Forza 5 is without question the best auto racing simulation available for modern console gaming, and what is more the new additions to the game -- including open-wheel racing for the first time -- are such that our appetite is not satisfied even after a month of solid racing!

03. XCom: Enemy Unknown

Forget games of the year, in a given decade there are few games that have the ability to take us back to childhood quite like the effect that a turn-based, squad-shooter can have, and when you come to that sort of experience in a game whose earlier offerings you played and distinctly recall (with fondness) that allows you to declare with great satisfaction that they 'Did it up right!'?

What XCom: Enemy Unknown does in a nutshell is capture the original feel -- though not so much the style -- of game play in the original series. But it does this with a level of immersion that is nearly instant, and a level of entertainment that quickly links your imagination to the plot in such a way that you wince when a member of your squad is wounded in action, and you cannot bear to think of them dying!

Which may be why all of your squads have multiple members equipped with first aid kits come to think on it...

The story that is being told is perhaps one of the oldest in the realm of science fiction: it is the tale of the answer to the question, are we alone in the universe? Ah, but the answer in this case is the worse possible one, because far from appearing as benevolent visitors, these bug-eyed-monsters are the sort that wish to dominate and destroy humanity!

Being very resourceful and smart bipedal humanoid creatures ourselves, we are easily able to see through the ineffective camouflage that they use to disguise their alien agents and, what is more, after we pool our resources with practically every nation on the planet kicking in to stop this alien menace either with resources, wealth, or just well-trained warm bodies, we resist!

Naturally part of that resistance is to study the invader and, salvaging their technology, turn it to and adapt it for our own use -- in fact that is a major element in the strategy for game play in Enemy and you cannot win the battle if you fail to do it!

You will recall that I mention that the game has the ability to harken us back to childhood? To warm summer afternoons around Christmas time when your years were still single-digits, and your older sibs were at the beach or doing all the older sib things there is to do before Santa shows up in his Holden Ute, passing out the prezzies?

What I meant by that was the way that we as children tended to think of all of our toys as equally important -- and so the loss of a single toy soldier from the good (green) side was difficult to accept -- while the loss of any number of enemy soldiers (the tan ones) was perfectly acceptable? That same instinctual and protective mentality seems to appear in Enemy, which means that in addition to being a turn-based strategy game it also adds resource management to its list of genres.

It's all good though, because just like when we battled the enemy on the shores around Darwin and Cape York and repelled them from our beaches, we'll see to it these pesky aliens are sent packing because hey, that's what we do!

02. BioShock Infinite

One of the elements that sets the BioShock games apart from other games in the shooter and action-adventure genres is the need to tack an extra qualifier to any genre list that you apply to them, and that is the word 'Mystery' in front of 'Action-Adventure' simply because the entire foundation for the plot and the drive for the story lines in each of the games in the series is the underlying mystery that you can only solve by finishing the game.

To be crystal clear, I am not saying that you did not figure out part (or maybe all if you are a clever little devil) of the mystery for each of the stories -- and I will say that at least with BioShock II the pay-off at the end was not as big a surprise to me as it might have been if I had not been paying close attention to the things that were being said during the taunts, but what unfolds in Infinite is pure classic BioShock all the way around.

The fact that the game begins and largely progresses all the way to the end with certain answers withheld is not as big a surprise as is the realization that you really and truly do not know who you are and the case can be made that you never fully do. The conflict that this creates, when you multiply it by the introduction of obviously key but fleeting characters whose support of the story only really becomes obvious after it has largely unfolded is an element that multiplies the meaning of the few clues we do receive.

One of the shames in the creation of game-stories like that of Infinite is that despite the fact that the game and its world are literally packed with clues and hints, the player really only comes to appreciate them -- and in many cases even recognize them -- after the fact.

That is not a reason to complain mind you -- in fact it makes replaying the game all the sweeter an experience as a result!

Ironically as you play through Infinite you should not be surprised if you start to think that maybe the game would have been so much deeper and so much better if more emphasis had been placed on the special powers, and less emphasis upon guns...

Seriously, there is so much depth to the game and so much oomph to the powers you can obtain in it that during our second play-through we decided it would be interesting to do it without using guns. At all. What did we discover?

We discovered that BioShock Infinite is so solidly developed that we could actually ignore a major component of game play entirely and still end up having a full and rewarding game play experience, and that says a lot about this game.

01. Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag

The Assassin's Creed series tapped into a sense of history and science-fantasy that struck a chord with gamers not so much because it was common history that they were familiar with, so much as that it tells the story of the events through the Crusades from a point of view other than that of the French, English, and German Knights who made up the forces that invaded the region.

The first few games in the series likely exposed gamers all over the world to a part of history that they only knew if at all in a general sense, but considering that it is a rich area and era, that packs a lot of unique elements in to the story of the Assassin's guild.

The transition to Western Europe as the stage for the ongoing story ended up being a stepping stone to England and then to the New World, where the previous game in the series actually placed the player in the midst of some of the most decisive events, and even battles, in what would eventually became known as the American Revolutionary War.

Part of that experience included, for the first time, the control of large armed sailing vessels and game play as a privateer, which as it turned out when combined and intermixed with the adventures on land resonated with the players in a way that the previous games simply had not managed to do.

Perhaps part of the popularity was the quickening pace that the other side -- the modern day side -- of the story also experienced, but either way it was evident that the players really liked and enjoyed that mixture of game play.

It is likely for that reason that this offering in the series again packs it on, splitting up the game play roughly 40/60 sea and land, being something of a prequel in that the protagonist this time around is none other than the grizzled privateer Edward Kenway (Connor's grandfather) who takes his crew of swashbucklers and makes the Caribbean Sea his own!

It should be noted that Edward eventually becomes a member of the Assassin's Guild - as does his son Haytham though regulars of the series will recall that Haytham betrays both his father and the Assassin's by switching sides...

The adventure on land in the game moves around quite a bit but largely is focused upon the major port cities of Havana, Kingston, and Nassau. The shipboard action is really all over the region, but the important aspect of that is that unlike the previous game, which seemed to be bloated with extra content and make-work, Black Flag flows very smoothly through its story without having to resort to that sort of filler.

One aspect of this newest offering that makes it stand out in the series is that it downplays all of the mystical lore, tradition, and rites of the Assassin's and instead focuses the player and game play on a much meatier and more gratifying adventure in which there is much less mystery about just what it is that the player needs to do in order to accomplish their goals!

And that is one of the reasons why the game is my pick for Game of the Year -- because in re-imagining the very heart of the story and the focus away from the mythology and spiritualism of the Assassin's while still retaining their identity and purpose, the game ends up breathing new life into a series that, frankly, was getting a little weird.


Well there you have it -- my Top 10 Games of the Year for 2013 and pick for Game of the Year. I have no doubt that a lot of gamers are going to be wondering where the games that they think are better candidates went or how they did not end up on this list. Games like The Last of Us, and Borderlands 2, or Batman: Arkham Origins. I won't be surprised if some of the games I picked -- games that were selected because of their entertainment value over all other considerations -- seem out of place.

The important thing is for you to add your list in the comments! Share your picks -- particularly for Game of the Year (the game that lands in the Numero Uno position on your list). That way when the official Game of the Year title gets announced, we can see how we did!
Posted: 24th Dec 2013 by CMBF