Team Joystiq is barging into 2014 with a celebration of last year's best games. Keep reading throughout the week to see our assembly of ingenious indies and triple-A triumphs.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist was my Game of the Year for 2013. It's hard to name another game that offers so many different experiences in one box as Blacklist, and even more arduous to name those that have hit the nail so squarely on the head as Ubisoft Toronto (and others) did with Sam Fisher's latest escapade. For franchise fanatics – of which I am one – Blacklist delivered an explosive concoction of everything: the exemplary action of Conviction, the tense stealth of Chaos Theory, and the sublime multiplayer of Pandora Tomorrow.
Though its action-movie storytelling can't compete with the likes of other narrative successes launched this year, Blacklist continually entertains throughout its campaign. Its co-op modes are outstanding and its competitive multiplayer is frantic. It's gorgeous, addictive, and, for all these reasons and more, it's my favorite game of the year.
In my review for BioShock Infinite I called the game "one of the best told stories of this generation," and I stand firmly behind that. Experiencing Columbia from its peak of power to its fall from grace is still one of my favorite memories of the year. Watching the relationship between Elizabeth and Booker evolve over time was both beautiful and heartbreaking. Time seems to have been unkind to BioShock Infinite – and the tepid response to the game's story-based DLC did memory no favors – but Irrational's latest remains, in my eyes, an outstanding production.
Its detractors poke holes in its logic, which is fair, but hardly isolated to Irrational Games' ambitious narrative. It takes risks with its storytelling, some work and some don't, but I loved it from start to finish. Perhaps BioShock Infinite's major flaw is that it stood in the shadow of 2007's BioShock, a game that, for some, defined what made the previous generation special. Despite this apparently audacious position, BioShock Infinite was one of my favorite games of 2013.
It was in 2013, ten years after it first launched, that I finally delved into the world of EVE Online. Just before E3 2013, a friend convinced me to give the game a shot. For years I had heard snippets of stories from the world of EVE Online, some of which featured such intrigue and tragedy that they could only be referred to as Shakespearean, but I kept my distance. Finally, I entered the single-shard world of EVE Online at the launch of Odyssey in June and I still play it to this day.
The Odyssey expansion cleaned up some of the game's clunkier UI design, offering fascinating overlays that made me fall in love with the simplest of tasks, like sending probes into space in search of anomalies. I've barely scratched the surface, but EVE Online offers a distinct challenge few games afford players. You will die. You may be backstabbed, scammed, hustled, and trapped ... but you could do the same. Or go out and make your millions mining ore, or as a trader, merchant, manufacturer, information agent. It's a world that lives in the grey, a world you make and a place that truly pits everyone against everyone/thing/body.
What can I say about Gunpoint that I didn't already say in my glowing review? Other than the fact that I'm bummed it didn't make the site's overall top ten and how inspiring it is to see someone make the bold leap from reporter to game maker, there isn't much to add. Gunpoint had fantastic, simple mechanics that were a joy to play with. The game still lives on with user-made missions, but I'll always remember Gunpoint for its hilarious and inventive writing and characters.
From falling in love with Dark Souls to becoming addicted to EVE Online, 2013 was the year I expanded my genre interests. ARMA 3 – and ARMA 2's DayZ mod – kickstarted my expansion into more intricately designed (read: classically unforgiving) video game experiences. ARMA 3 is absolutely gorgeous, perhaps the best looking game of the year, with a complex design by Bohemia Interactive that can only be described as fearless. You want hand-holding? That's cute of you.
ARMA is daunting to play with countless options for the most basic video game concepts ... like stances. STANCES! It has all the stances. When you successfully hold a position and silently take out an adversary, you're hit by a wave of pride because you've accomplished a difficult task. You know when you've progressed without the need of sensory depriving UI explosions and overproduced guitar riffs. It's easy to fail in ARMA 3, especially if you play it like any other shooter on the market, but it's one of the most rewarding franchises I've ever had the pleasure to explore. I just wish I played more.
When the Kickstarter campaign for Shadowrun Returns was announced, my heart skipped a beat. I fell in love with the world of Shadowrun when I stumbled upon the classic SNES game (sorry, I prefer it over the Genesis version!) and have loved it ever since. The mix of magic and tech, the dark story and world; I love everything about it. Shadowrun's first-person shooter debut in 2007 was an epic misstep and I thought I'd never see the series return to video games. Harebrained Schemes did it, though. Not only did they bring the series back to video games, but they did so with care and affection. It's the same affection I have for the franchise, translated lovingly into a game that I adored experiencing. It's a beautiful title with outstanding mechanics that remind me of a time I thought I'd never relive. It couldn't possibly hit the peak status of the original games for me, but it's finally a video game deserving of the Shadowrun moniker.
The tasks you perform throughout the campaign in Papers, Please are not fun. You go to work, follow strict instructions from a draconian government, choosing the fate of an oppressed people, often forced to choose between your morals and your family. But the act of playing Papers, Please is infectious. The game has this amazing "carrot on a stick" structure that makes it seem like you're just within reach of solving everyone's problems. You think you have so much control over everything because it's you that makes the decisions, but ultimately you're another puppet. It's a great game with a fascinating story and it's something that I loved (and sometimes loved to hate) in 2013.
Console launch lineups are mostly awful. I mean, let's not even kid ourselves. Trust me, I recently played most of the PS3 and Xbox 360's launch titles. They have some highlights, but they rarely scratch the surface of a console's ability. Dead Rising 3 – which launched alongside the Xbox One – isn't perfect: It's ugly in spots, has frame rate issues, and often mistakes random noises as Kinect commands. But Dead Rising 3 is also a stupid amount of fun.
I once heard someone, I think it was Mark McDonald, describe the original Dead Rising as "the best shitty game." And it was, it really was. Dead Rising 3 continues to carry that torch with its asinine systems returning for old fans of the shittiest parts and unabashedly deleting those dumb ideas for newer players. There's no greater joy than mixing a steamroller and motorbike and driving the concoction through an insanely dense crowd of zombies. Neither one of the systems blew us away with their launch titles. The "console war" is far from over, but Dead Rising 3 gave the "launch game battle" win to the Xbox One in my eyes.
Transitioning from the outstanding 400 Days DLC to the first episode of Season Two illustrated how deep a hold Telltale's series has on me. It's not the action mechanics I enjoy, it's the ability to shape the narrative. Both of the episodes that arrived in 2013 pushed players to make more choices: Some seemingly innocuous, but will no doubt carry massive weight in the unforeseeable future. Episodes and DLC aren't eligible for our year-end awards, but if Season 2, Episode 1 is any indication, this won't be the last time we talk about Telltale's ongoing saga come "Game of the Year" time.
The Room Two only just launched on iOS, but it quickly leapt to the top of my favorite games of 2013 list. While the majority of the puzzles found in Fireproof Games' first entry were relegated to small areas and environments, the sequel expands its vision exponentially. You'll be solving multiple puzzles at once throughout various chapters, examining each on-screen element closely in an attempt to find subtle clues to your next task. Every time I completed a puzzle, I wanted the ability to wipe my memory of its solution so I could experience it again. The Room Two, sadly, doesn't stay with you too long, but I loved spending time with it.
I wasn't in love with the characters and the story started to slip for me at the end, but there's no denying the quality of work Grand Theft Auto 5 is as an open world. Rockstar North delivered something pretty darn special. I wish some of it took more risks – like the online mode, which is still trying to find its footing – but it's a massive world with an impressive collection of activities to keep you entertained, deftly mixing creativity and reality without becoming just slapstick.
That. Last. Damn. Boss fight. Amazing.
Joystiq is highlighting its 10 favorite games of 2013 throughout the week. Keep reading for more top selections and every writer's personal picks in Best of the Rest roundups.