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2013 GOTY List

WARNING-This list has major spoilers for MGS Rising, GTA 5, The Last of Us, and Bioshock Infinite.

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10. Splinter Cell: Blacklist

I'm one of the few who really enjoyed Splinter Cell Conviction, and Blacklist achieves an ideal medium between old and new Splinter Cell.. Everything I loved about Conviction is still in Blacklist, but it also has the gadgets from the other games in the series. The gadgets add a lot of variety because they give you a wide range of options in how you can tackle a scenario. This is the first Splinter Cell where I actually feel like I can tackle a scenario in multiple ways and each way is viable strategy. That alone makes Blacklist my favorite Splinter Cell.

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9. Dead Space 3

Yes, Dead Space 3 is a disappointment coming from Dead Space 2. And out of all the games on my 2013 list, Dead Space 3 has the most problems. It regularly recycles environments, has a disappointing story, and it just feels uneven as a whole. But holy shit, does it have some fantastic gameplay.

The combat feels just as good as it did in Dead Space 2, and it has a new layer of customization that gives you almost complete control over your weaponry. I loved experimenting with weapons and, mind you this is a compliment, you would feel like you were almost breaking the game by making a particular powerful weapon. By the end of the game, I had a sniper rifle/rocket launcher that shot acid covered bullet/rockets and an assault rifle that fired so fast that the actual game sound couldn't keep up with it. I haven’t experienced a game that had this level of customization since maybe Banjo Kazooie:Nuts & Bolts. The new customization elements almost completely overshadow DS 3's faults, and they also made it one of my favorite games this year.

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8. Metro: Last Light

I was not expecting to enjoy Metro: Last Light half as much as I ultimately did. Metro 2033 was very flawed but unique game, and I thought Last Light would be a slightly more polished sequel that would run into similar problems. To my surprise, it's the closest thing to a new Half Life we have gotten in years.

It's hard to pinpoint the exact reason why Last Light reminds me of Half Life 2 so much. Most likely, it comes from how every encounter, in both games, feels unique from the rest. It's a game that excels at storytelling but not exactly in a narrative sense. For example, it's exactly like Half Life 2 in the sense that when talking to others about these games you almost never talk about the narrative. You instead describe scenarios such as the spider bug section of Last Light or the Ravenholm sequence in Half Life 2.

The narrative is fine for what it is, but the focus always seems to be on immersing you in this world, and making you feel like you are this actual character. The only time it falters in that respect, is in the stealth sections where it seems like almost everyone went blind once the bombs fell. In these sections, if you're in a slightly shady area, you can do almost anything. Whether that is knock out the guy who is right next to them, or even kill the guy who they are talking to. To be fair, I'm glad they didn't go with the near omniscient AI of Metro 2033.

Since 2008, shooters have seemed like they are trying to emulate three particular games, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Crysis, or Bioshock. I've never played a shooter that felt like it was trying to nail what made Half Life 2 great though. But the fact that Last Light was reminiscent of Half Life 2 to me at all, is the greatest compliment I can give it.

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7. Gone Home

Since it's announcement, I have been eagerly awaiting Gone Home. One of my favorite aspects of Bioshock (my favorite game of all time), was how it thrusts you into a decrepit city and it was up to you to figure out what happened to it. That is basically Gone Home's premise. You enter a house that seems like whoever lived there left in a hurry, and it's up to you to figure out what exactly happened.

Very few games trust that the player will try to piece together the information that's given to them, and Gone Home does that exceptionally well. Most of the notes you find are out of order and it's up to you to compile them into a time line of events so that you can fully understand the story. The main story of Gone Home isn't particularly unique but the way in which it's told is. My favorite element of Gone Home is that it doesn't need to put it's characters into extreme situations to evoke emotion out of the player, almost every game on this list suffers from that. The developers know that stories in games can be infinitely more relate-able, not to mention just as interesting, if they revolve around everyday choices and the consequences they bring.

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6. DOTA 2

DOTA 2 is easily the most complex multiplayer game I've ever played, but it's also the most rewarding. I've only played around a 100 hours so far (yes I said “only 100 hours”) so I can't say more than what's already been said by others. With over 100 heroes, every match feels different and in turn you learn something new. It's one of the few games I would describe as timeless, and just writing about it now makes me want to play another match.

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5. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is completely and utterly dumb, in the best possible way. Everything from the story to the gameplay is absolutely absurd, and I loved it from beginning to end. I want Platinum to write every MGS game from now on. They know how dumb the story in the MGS series has gotten, and they revel in it in a way I can't see Kojima doing anytime soon. I mean the final boss is an American senator who is almost entirely made of nanomachines. He also says things like “Don't fuck with this senator!” and “Nanomachines son!”. If there was an Senator Armstrong action figure with those catch phrases, I would buy it in an instant.

As great as the story is in Revengeance, it wouldn’t be anywhere near this list if it's game play wasn't up to snuff. It fixes some problems I've had with character action games of late and it doesn't get mired in hundreds of move sets like Bayonetta does. I've always hated having to block in character action games. It always feels like I'm taking the easy way out, but the parrying system in Revengeance fixes that. You have to block every individual hit instead of just holding a block button until the enemy stops attacking. It takes time to master and blocking a string of attacks from one of the many bosses is insanely satisfying.

Revengeance has some of , if not, the best boss fights of any game I've played. That's mostly because of the soundtrack. Don't get me wrong, Revengeance's combat system is fantastic but the music amplifies the boss fights to an almost insurmountable degree. The soundtrack brought me back to the PS2 and Dreamcast era, when it wasn't uncommon for a game to have a ridiculous soundtrack. They were terrible if you listened to them outside the game, but they really did add a lot to the game. If you took a look at all of Revengeance's elements separately, whether it was the gameplay, story, or soundtrack, it wouldn't seem mind blowing. But, the way in which all of it's elements work together make it the best character action game I've ever played.

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4. Saints Row 4

Speaking of dumb games, Saints Row 4 manages to somehow be even dumber than Revengeance. After Saint's Row 3, I thought Voliton had maybe wrote themselves into a corner for the future of the franchise, because there seemed to be no way it could get crazier. I was wrong. Obviously, the next step for the sequel was to add superpowers and make your character the president of the United States.

My main problem with Saint's Row The Third was the unsatisfying shooting, and with the addition of superpowers it allows you to avoid it whenever possible. They add a lot of variety to the combat, and that's something that the Saint's Row series has been missing for a while now. As fun as the combat super power's are, the new traversal powers are even better. Even after completing Saint's Row 4, I will jump back in on occasion just to have some more fun sprinting and jumping through the city. I've never really done that with a Saint's Row game.

This is the most confident Saint's Row yet, not only gameplay wise but also in the story department. Volition makes writing likeable characters and snappy dialogue seem effortless. It's a lot less hit or miss than Saint's Row The Third was, and by the end I grew to enjoy every single character. I hope this isn't the last we see of these characters but even if it is I absolutely can't see what Volition will do next.

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3. Grand Theft Auto 5

GTA 5 is the culmination of all of the progress Rockstar has made over the previous generation. It has the shooting of Max Payne 3, the wilderness and random missions of Red Dead, and the special abilities and the feel of Midnight Club: LA's driving. None of it's parts are equal to or better than the game in which they're aping, but together they make GTA 5 one of the best open world games of the generation.

The GTA series may very well be my favorite game series of all time. Each game is radically different from the last, whether graphically or mechanically. In that respect, GTA 5 slightly disappointed me. It doesn't feel like it has it's own identity compared to the rest of the series, and that's because it feels like a combination of GTA 4 and San Andreas. This combination works out wonderfully, but anytime a new game play mechanic was introduced I couldn't help but think about how this was already in a previous game in the series. The introduction of the multiple protagonists was a nice change of pace, but it didn't impact the actual gameplay very much. Don't get me wrong though, I love GTA 5.

It's the best playing GTA by a mile. The shooting is not quite to the level of Rockstar's other efforts yet, but it's still the best of any other open world game. And now that a GTA game finally has competent shooting, the missions improve drastically as a result. It has the best missions of the series by far, due to it having the crazier San Andreas type missions while also having the shooting mechanics to back them up. The missions at some points get even crazier than GTA: SA's missions. I mean in one mission you steal a plane, and fly it into the back of a cargo plane. YOU THEN PROCEED TO DRIVE A JEEP OUT OF THE BACK OF THE CARGO PLANE AND PARACHUTE DOWN TO THE GROUND! That would be pretty cool in a cutscene, but almost all of that sequence is done in actual gameplay.

On a story level, GTA 5 learns from previous iterations but it runs into some of the same problems. It starts off with promise, the dynamic between Trevor and Michael is interesting, but it wraps up a little too nicely. The conflict between these characters should have never ended “nicely”, because they're both completely crazy. They're also the most interesting protagonists, if not characters, to be in a GTA game. They're both psychopaths, and the story doesn't treat them as anything but. At first, Trevor seems like any other “ordinary” psychopath you would see in any other GTA game, but the longer the game goes on the more you in turn start to enjoy his crazy antics. That is until a turn towards the second half ,where you remember that you really shouldn't be rooting for him at all. By the end of the game, He actually ends up being a complex character. Michael is similar, but he's in denial as to how messed up and self centered he truly is. They're both some of the most interesting characters I've seen in a game all year. The writers just don't know what to do with them, and the story suffers as a result.

Even with all of the issues I had with GTA 5, it's still one of the best games I've played all year and it's definitely going to be my go-to open world game for just fucking around in from now on.

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2. The Last of Us

The Last of Us is a fantastic game. It's not the second coming, but it is easily the most well rounded game I've played all year. The gameplay actually ended up being my favorite aspect of it, and that's saying a lot considering the story is fantastic. It somehow nails the feeling of being weak, while still having competent and fun combat. When I first saw gameplay of The Last of Us at E3 2012, I thought the combat encounter looked amazing but I couldn't see every encounter being that dynamic. None of the encounters are as dynamic as that presentation was, but they are closer than to it than I thought it would be. I could play through most of the human encounters in the Pittsburgh chapter over and over because they almost always play out different.

Looking at the response it got online, the Last of Us' story didn't have anywhere near as big of an impact on me as it did others. The story is great, and I think it is the closest a game has gotten to matching the level of quality that's set in a great movie. It's the first game I can think of that that has amazing voice acting, spectacular animation, and great writing to back it up. Most story focused games will have one of those facets and skimp out on the others. But at the end of the day, it's another post apocalyptic zombie story. It's maybe my favorite post apocalyptic zombie story, but I could guess what was going to happen at almost every single story beat. The ending is the only time it strays from the norm.

Joel's dark turn at the end was earned, and I love how Naughty Dog didn't give you a choice in that last chapter. I love how it messes with player expectations after the winter chapter. You've seen enough stories about a parent and son/daughter going on a journey and the parent usually dies along the way, and it's up to the son or daughter to finish the journey. One of the most notable games released last year even had a story like that. Signs start to point towards that happening in TLOU the closer you get to the end, due to certain lines of dialogue and the giraffe moment. You as a viewer most likely love these characters, and in turn will do anything to save them from their fate. Surprisingly the writers give you that, but at the expense of countless innocent lives and a cure for the infection.

When Joel was carrying Ellie through the hospital at the end, I was disappointed in him. I've never been disappointed with a character before, because most games now a days want you to love their characters and are afraid of alienating you from the character you are actively playing as. You rarely see ballsy decisions like that in AAA games, and I'm grateful that one best and biggest developers out there went down that route. Although, I didn't love every aspect of the ending.

The issue I have with it is that it ends with Ellie starting to realize that Joel is not completely telling the truth regarding the fireflies, but she decides to stay with him regardless and then it cuts to black. The decision she makes is important, but there is almost no sense of finality to the game in my opinion. Are we supposed to think that they will happily live ever after at Tommy's dam until they eventually die, or that she will somehow find out the lengths to which Joel went to rescue her and in turn leave him? It follows the direction that most shows use to end a season. They finish the conflict, but that solution has ramifications that continue to affect the rest of the series. The writers have come out and said that they're not sure if they want to end Joel and Ellie's story there or if they want to make a sequel. Even if Naughty Dog makes a sequel about these characters, I feel that I will most likely look back at this ending as unsatisfying. I don't have a problem with stories that end on the main character making a huge choice, some of my favorite movies even end this way (Gone Baby Gone), but you need to give the viewer a sense of where the story will go next. All in all, even though I had problems with the ending they're only a small blemish on one of the best games I've played in years.

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1. Bioshock Infinite

This is the first time I've ever not been able to think of a clear frontrunner for my game of the year. I was almost constantly flip flopping between this and The Last of Us as my GOTY. I eventually settled on The Last of Us after getting sucked back in for a brief stint about a week ago. But then I started to think about which game had more of an impact on me, and which game I will remember more 5 years from now. That's when I came to the conclusion that Bioshock Infinite is the best game I've played all year.

I can see why someone would enjoy The Last of Us more than Infinite. TLOU is a more well rounded game. It maintains a very high level of quality throughout, and almost every storyline is somehow related to the themes of the overall plot. Not to mention, that there is just more going on in the gameplay of TLOU compared to Infinite. But Infinite's highs are higher than anything in TLOU.

The beginning and ending sections of Infinite might be my favorite beginning and ending to any game I've ever played. It's no secret that Infinite had a long and troubled development period. You can see examples of that in the game, but if Levine had said he spent most of that time perfecting the ending, I probably would have believed him. I know a lot of people have problems with the way Infinite ended, but it worked so well for me. Maybe it's because I had the “twist” spoiled for me before playing, but I was able to follow every single story beat in those last scenes and I enjoyed every single second of it. I love how the “twist” isn't about the shock value, it's about how it affects the characters and how having it all revealed has/will impact Elizabeth.

Her transformation across the game is drastic and I feel that it's earned. She starts off as a damsel in distress, but by the end she transforms into someone who is only propelled by vengeance and who will do anything to get it. She even threatens Booker's life at one point when he threatens to stop her from going through with it. That's not even the end of her transformation either. Once she destroys the siphon, she basically becomes a god and almost entirely emotionless as a result. I can't even remember the last game I played where a character changed so much from beginning to end, let alone one that felt earned.

Infinite's main plot is fascinating to me and it's my favorite story in a game this year, but the secondary storylines have some issues. Ghost mom is dumb, there's no doubt about that, and the Chen Lin storyline in the middle is too confusing to even follow. Infinite's uneven plot is another reason why I was leaning towards TLOU as my GOTY. TLOU's main plot is also fantastic and it's side stories, while completely predictable, usually leave an impact on you especially the storyline in Winter. But I enjoyed the beginning and ending of infinite more than any section in TLOU.

I'll admit that TLOU has better gameplay than Infinite. I'd take it's human combat encounters over any “regular” combat encounter in Infinite. That's not to say that Infinite doesn't have satisfying gameplay, but the best sections of TLOU use the same gameplay mechanics as the rest of the game while Infinite's best sections don't. The sky rails are the best part of Infinite's combat, but they're few and far between. Off the top of my head there are maybe 4 or 5 notable ones out of the whole game. When not in those sections, that gameplay is still solid. The shooting feels great and the vigors let you tackle encounters in some interesting ways. But they seem almost conventional compared to any combat encounter that involve a skyrail. The skyrail allows you to always be mobile, in a way that is unlike any other FPS I’ve played before. Encounters that include a skyrail, are designed in a way that you are almost always able to jump to a one no matter where you're at. That gives you the option to always run away from an enemy or flank them.

The skyrails and vigors allow you to decide how to initiate a combat situation and they give you a wide choice of options on how to handle that situation after it starts. Here's an example of that, when I was playing the Emporia chapter I ran into some firemen and a bunch of soldiers. After jumping to higher ground via a grappling point, I proceeded to drag the firemen to me with undertow so that I wasn't in the other enemy's sight line. I started to shoot the firemen, but then I remembered that they explode when close to death. So instead of shooting them, I pushed them off the building using undertow and the drop ended up killing them. From then on, I kept repeating that strategy until everyone was dead. I can't think of any other game I've played this year that let me do anything as cool as that.

Ultimately, this has been a fantastic year for games and the fact that I couldn't decide what my GOTY was is a testament to that. But the reason why Infinite is is at the top of this list is because it managed to somehow not disappoint me, even though it is the sequel to my favorite game of all time. Mind you, there are elements of Infinite that are disappointing compared to the original. I wish the game was less linear and that the levels were designed to be more like the original for one, but it had a world and atmosphere that was unlike any other game I've played, and it's story will stick with me for a while. Not to mention that, it's the most fun I've had with a FPS all year. As I've mentioned here there are aspects of Infinite I find disappointing, but when I look back at this year no game was as memorable or thrilling as Infinite was.

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