Game of the Year 2013: 5-1
We round-up our look back at 2013 with our final Game of the Year article. Agree or disagree with our rankings? Sound off in the comments.
5th. Grand Theft Auto V
The Grand Theft Auto franchise has nothing left to prove. Rockstar North could have easily rested on the laurels of its previous success, churned out a prettier version of its flagship franchise, and likely would have still received universal acclaim. However they decided to take a number of big risks with Grand Theft Auto V and it paid off huge dividends for gamers.
The decision to let players switch between three different protagonists added more depth not only in terms of gameplay but it also enhanced a heist story in a way that couldn’t have been achieved by a single hero. It continues to be the gold standard in unique, over the top, hilarious side characters and missions. And finally, despite of all its post launch issues, GTA Online is still an impressive piece of work that delivers a free MMO-like online experience to GTA, included in with the price of admission without compromising the quality of the excellent single-player campaign. A lead that many developers these days could stand to follow.
The independent debut from studio Red Barrels, Outlast provides a rather large overdose of squeaky bum time. Philippe Morin’s camera design plays a large part in pitting you directly into this asylum-gone-wrong affair. Told from a first-person perspective, utilising full body awareness so our protagonist leans and uses his hands as guidance, harking back to Monolith’s excellent design work in Condemned, with a night vision HD camera put to excellent use when the lights go out.
It’s easy to make an audience jump with the now cynical, Hollywood rinsed quiet-quiet-quiet-bang! approach of schlock such as Paranormal Activity and The Conjuring. What the team has managed to do in their first attempt should be praised -creating a vivid and frightening tale. Sure, tropes and cliches are used occasionally but intelligent use of such devices makes them fresh once more. Further evidence – if more be needed – that independent studios are keeping the horror genre alive.
3rd. Gone Home
Gone Home has been and will remain a focal point of discussions about the potential of this medium for two main reasons – what the game is about and how it is about that. The Fullbright Company’s vision – to tell a simple story about human relationships and family life – is one admirable for just how rare it is in this industry of guns, guts and Gamerscores. And almost every aspect of the game’s design – be it its length, the detail of its world, the way you interact with that world or how its story unravels – works harmoniously to deliver that vision.
2nd. BioShock Infinite
There’s no setting more difficult to get right than the fragile utopia. BioShock Infinite may be our new primary example. The world of Columbia is full of color and detail, expertly expressing the zeitgeist of old America. It’s a shooter that’s brought the genre to its natural conclusion, where we find that the function begins to hold back the form. Everything is conveyed so exceptionally well and in a new way, we begin to resent that the playing part is so familiar. The highs overcome the standard parts and certainly justify Infinite as one of the year’s best.
1st. The Last of Us
The Last of Us is a game of minute details. Of a world and an environment that conveys storytelling without ever saying a single word. It might be a piece of incidental graffiti, or an irrelevant bedroom in a ramshackle house, leveraging reality and a sense of place to absorb us in this harrowing world. It lends weight to the very human tale of Joel and Ellie, their superb characterisations and nuanced motivations providing the crux of a heartfelt and sombre narrative. You care about them and death feels consequential, never falling into a basic routine of one mindless kill after another. Combat is visceral but necessary, forming a cohesion with Joel’s unforgiving will to survive. The Last of Us feels complete in almost every single way, presenting a meaningful tale the medium rarely achieves. An astounding accomplishment and worthy winner of Thunderbolt’s Game of the Year 2013.