What’s up folks, it’s that time of the year again. The time where everybody indulges in a vast bout of navel-gazing over the past year of video games. Last year, I presented to you the games I thought were totally alright that year, so naturally it’s time to do that again. Like last year, these are in absolutely no particular order and need only have been released in 2013 (and played and enjoyed by me) to be listed here.

BioShock Infinite

Might as well get some of the big hitters out of the way first. Crazy to think that it was all the back in March that Irrational’s most recent masterpiece hit the shelves. While a lot of people, for a multitude of reasons haven’t been particularly kind to the game in hindsight, I maintain the same opinion of Infinite that I held when I first played it: A greatly atmospheric, well-paced game, with combat that was as fun as ever (albeit, a little streamlined), with among the best characterisation I’ve seen in a video game. A worthy successor to ’07’s BioShock, I just prey we don’t have to wait as long for the next major offering from Ken Levine and company.

Diablo III (Console Version)

I’ll admit, this one is a little bit of a cop-out, since Diablo III originally came to us on PC back in 2012. But the shiny new console versions only released a couple of months ago, back in September, and a 2013 release is the only qualification a game needs to be here, dammit! The consolised version of the premier clicking-stuff-until-it-dies simulator actually surprised me by how well it played. Having direct control of your character on an analogue stick is fantastic, and even aiming the more precise spells the game offers you works pretty well with a loose lock-on type system. Add on to that a revamped loot system that made it so you got better gear, more tailored to your character, more often, made the sections of the game that would otherwise be a bit of a grind a lot more compelling to play. The moment I managed to find 3 seperate legendary items within 30 seconds of one another will stick with me for a while.

Persona 4 Arena

We got it here in Europe in May, so that’s all the excuse I need to put it here! A fighting game I picked up mostly because the original Persona 4 sits among my favourite games ever, so the opportunity to enjoy some new content in that world with those characters was absolutely something I couldn’t pass up. It just happened that because of that love of the source material, P4A ended up being the first fighter I ever made any real attempt to not play by simply mashing buttons. I’ve sinced moved on to Street Fighter 4, but I like to think it was Persona 4 Arena that sparked my now greater interest in fighting games as a whole.

Fire Emblem: Awakening

So, I’ve never really been into strategy RPGs. Back in the day, I played (and fucking loved) Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, but that game didn’t spur me on to try others in the genre, and I’d certainly never played a Fire Emblem game before. But something about FE:A’s blend of somewhat loose, but still deep and rewarding gameplay and good storytelling intrigued me. And while I’ll admit it’s a game I need to get back to at some point (I never said I had to have completed the games featured here!), I’ve played enough of it to know that yes, I would like some more, please.

Grand Theft Auto V

I think at this point it would be impossible for a Grand Theft Auto game to release and not be featured in some sort of end-of-year best of. Every major title in the series since 2001’s GTA3 has been fantastic and Rockstar’s latest offering certainly doesn’t buck that trend. The decision to include three seperate protagonists that can be switched between (almost) at will was nothing short of genius. The grey and serious tone that defined GTA4 was toned down significantly (though not to levels of the PS2 games’ silliness) with the result being I almost couldn’t put the game down until I reached its conclusion. Shame the online component turned out to be a bit shit.

Tomb Raider

I was never a fan of Tomb Raider. Gunning down a t-rex with pistols akimbo and locking your butler in the freezer was cool, sure, but the games were mostly awkward platforming, with awkward combat and a bunch of awkward puzzles, and a main character who had less depth than a couple of watermelons glued to a broomstick. So when Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics decided to reboot the franchise and make a game that didn’t control like arse and had a sympathetic and (mostly) believable character, I was down like a clown. Sure, the roughly 5 minute transition from unarmed, badly wounded, innocent young woman to shooting a bunch of dudes in their faces can be a little hard to swallow, the result is a cinematic experience that rivals Uncharted, with a larger world that is actually enjoyable to explore. Not sure how Lara’s boobs manage to stay so perfectly in place with just a tanktop throughout all the beatings the game just loves to give her though.

Broken Sword 5: The Serpents Curse (Episode 1)

Although the final part isn’t out until early next year, The Serpents Curse, the latest, kickstarted entry into one of my most beloved series is a return to the more classic point-and-click style of the first two games, rather than the 3D ones that put a bit of a stain on the franchise. While it ends just as the story really starts to get going, everything up to that is filled with the funny, well written (and acted) dialogue that made me so fond of the original games. With a perhaps over-reliance of returning characters that don’t hit home as well as they should due to different voice actors, George and Nico are, however as great as they’ve ever been. Just a shame it won’t be till 2014 until we see how the plot is really going to shape up.

The Last of Us

I struggle to think of any game that was so anticipated before release, and then actually lived up to all the hype, but if there’s any developer that can do that, it’s Naughty Dog. 2013 was a fucking great year for video game storytelling, and Joel and Ellie’s story is up there with the best of them. Great plot, great pacing, great cast of characters, one of the most memorable openings to a game I can think of and a satisfying ending. As well as that, the gameplay wasn’t just another Uncharted, but a more methodical game that required you to slow down and plan ahead. Even the multiplayer was really fun. Hell, the only gripe I really had with the game was that the achievements sucked.

BIT.TRIP Presents… Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien

Challenging, yet completely rewarding gameplay, great music, and a fantastically goofy sense of style. Not bad for £12.

Pokémon X/Y

There’s something that always gets me giddy at the thought of a new generation of Pokémon games, yet I always play less and less of them as they go on. Not because they’re getting worse, but because I have less time to play single games, and more money to buy other games. Spending a couple hundred hours filling up my pokédex in Silver was feasible, because I was just a kid, with a lot more free time, but no dosh to buy all those other rad games I wanted. X and Y had me particularly excited, because it’s the first set of mainline Pokémon games to be released on new hardware in what seems like forever. It was only 2007 that Diamond and Pearl released, but it still feels like they dwelled too long on the same hardware. Just something about having two seperate generations of Pokémon on the same system didn’t sit well with me. You could argue that Gold and Silver were still Gameboy games, but c’mon: Those games were designed for the Gameboy Color. X and Y to me feels like the first major step up in quality in a long, long time, especially so since these are the first ones to transition to full 3D, as opposed to using character sprites. Almost everything about it just feels super well made. The new region is awesome to explore for the first time, the new Pokémon are well designed for the most part, and the soundtrack contains some of the best pieces in the entire series, in my opinion. And there’s also a bunch of changes to the battle system that should affect the metagame in interesting ways, you know, if you’re into that. They added a new pokémon type! They haven’t done that in over a decade!

Honourable Mention: Persona 4 Golden

Because we didn’t get it here until February lol. Some day, I will spend a few thousand words here gushing about that game like I did Final Fantasy X.

So there you have it: the 10 games from this year that I deem to be totally okay. I’ll be honest, I struggled towards the end there. Not because there weren’t that many good games that came out this year, but simply because I just didn’t play a lot of them. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and Gone Home are the two that stick out most in my mind, and I didn’t play enough of Papers, Please to formulate much of an opinion on it. I always have a huge backlog of games, and this certainly wasn’t the year where I made strides to try and improve that. Maybe next year? Probably not.

As for future content, I have a fairly big idea swirling about in my head, and should it come to fruition, you’ll likely find it over at GAEMZnet. If that does happen, that site will be reborn with a name that isn’t GAEMZnet because that name is totally dumb and I hate it now. This content idea will likely require the co-operation of a few mates and by putting it here in writing, maybe I can inspire some motivation into a few of them, since I’m not sure I could do it alone. So watch this space. Or that space. Whatever. VAGUE ALLUSIONS TO FUTURE CONTENT THAT PROBABLY WON’T HAPPEN YEAH.

Note: This review contains spoilers for the 2007 game, BioShock.

It’s almost six whole years since Irrational Games came out with the fairly ground-breaking BioShock, way back in August of 2007. That game, billed as a spiritual sequel to Irrational’s PC classic System Shock 2, took somewhat of a step back in the RPG department, but for console gamers, there wasn’t anything quite like it at the time. Skipping over the wholly unnecessary sequel developed by 2K Marin, and it seems fitting that Irrational will be closing out this console generation similar to how they opened it.

You play as Booker DeWitt, an actual voiced and developed character, unlike the previous game’s blank slate, Jack. The underwater city of Rapture is swapped out for the floating city of Columbia, where you are seemingly tasked to “bring back the girl, and wipe away the debt.” Gameplay-wise, it’s business as usual; if you’ve played BioShock before, you’ll feel right at home, though there have been a few significant changes to the way the combat works in Infinite. There are a standard array of weapons, which all fall into the typical shooter archetypes: a pistol, machine gun, carbine, shotgun, etc. However, this time around, you can only hold two weapons at once, meaning you might want to think more carefully about how you enter an engagement, and be mindful of your ammo counts a bit more often than you necessarily would be in the first game.

It's pretty in Columbia.

It’s pretty in Columbia.

The magical powers, called “vigors” this time around (which require salt, as opposed to EVE), are pretty similar, with the biggest change being able to hold down the button to make a trap version of most of them. Traps were their own specific plasmids in the original BioShock, so being able to easily create traps with the regular fire and lightning vigors in Infinite lead me to using traps a hell of a lot more than in the previous game. There’s some decent variety in the vigors available, though I found myself sticking to a core few more often than not. The lightning vigor, or “Shock Jockey” is always useful, and the Bucking Bronco vigor lets you easily hit and briefly incapacitate large groups of enemies quickly, and with a few exceptions here and there, I didn’t find myself deviating from this all too often.

Combat is as interesting as always.

Combat is as interesting as always.

Gone are the gene tonics from before, with character buffs coming in the form of gear, pieces of loot that you can find that provide a variety of random effects. Having a 70% chance to ignite enemies with a meleé attack, receiving brief invulnerability whenever you use a health recovery item, or your weapon having a 40% chance to instantly have its magazine refill without reloading are some of the effects which can definitely help you out of a sticky situation. Using the Charge vigor to instantly lunge into an enemy from a good distance away, then have him explode into flames upon impact never ceases to be incredibly satisfying. Also, available to buff yourself are Infusions, which are usually found a off the beaten path and each one allows you to increase your shield,  health or salt capacity, giving you a little more option for your character than in the older games. You could be like me and try and evenly spread them across each stat, or you could min-max your character and raise your shields super high, at the expense of your health and salt reserves.

The only thing I found to be disappointing about the combat in Infinite was the weapon upgrades. Each weapon has a number of upgrades available to them that can be bought freely from vending machines throughout the game, but the only upgrades available for any of the weapons are standard damage, magazine-size, reload and recoil buffs. Compared to some of the more interesting upgrades in the previous games, as well as the fact the appearance of your weapons don’t change after each upgrade, there’s no real feeling of progression here. It’s only a minor gripe, however, and the combat in Infinite is as fun as ever. It’s interesting and there’s enough breaks throughout the game that it never starts to feel overwhelming or repetitive.

The story is absolutely where BioShock Infinite shines, however. I obviously can’t delve too much into details without encroaching on spoiler territory, but if you go through Infinite expecting a massive plot twist (this is a Ken Levine game, after all), you’re not going to have that one particular “would you kindly?” moment from the first game. Although there is a particular twist that stands out, it’s a combination of a number of things that come together to create a fantastic and absolutely satisfying conclusion to the story. The game is also absolutely littered with references and foreshadowing, which can make a subsequent playthrough an almost equally great experience.

Elizabeth is one of the best companions in video games. Ever.

Elizabeth is one of the best companions in video games. Ever.

The characterisation is also top-tier, with Elizabeth being one of the best and most realised video games companions of… well, ever. After first meeting her about an hour or so into the game, she remains by your side for the majority of the rest of your 10-12 hour experience. Outside of combat, she will occasionally find and give you money, and can also be used to lockpick various safes and doors that lead to hidden areas. The game will often remind you that in-combat, you won’t have to deal with her as she can “take care of herself”. This is because the enemy AI simply ignores her, which can lead to somewhat of a disconnect with that game, but it’s something I managed to get over fairly quickly. She will often find and throw you health, salt and ammo in battle, and her special ability lets her use “tears” to call in objects from… somewhere. Again, spoilers. These can range from turrets and cover as well as just general supplies like ammo or med kits. As useful as she in combat though, she’s also just a joy to be around. Irrational have very successfully crafted a character that you grow attached to and care about throughout the course of the game.

Irrational Games have created absolute masterclass in video game storytelling with fantastically crafted character arcs that leave you wanting so, so much more. This alongside gameplay that is as competent as ever means that BioShock Infinite is not only going to be one of, if not the best game this year, but one of the best games this entire generation.