It’s been an interesting year, to say the least. We’re at the beginning of a whole new console generation, proper expansions are making a comeback, and Steam Boxes are an actual thing that some people have in their houses right now. Exciting things are happening, and more are just around the corner.
So, as 2013 draws to a close, I find myself thinking less about the year that’s just happened, and more about the possibilities that 2014 might have in store. Still, it’s December, and as such I must follow suit with the rest of the internet and come up with a list of things I liked, in some vague order of preference.
A few quick notes: I won’t be talking about any games for my new 3DS XL, as I haven’t had it anywhere near long enough. Additionally, there are quite a few big games this year that I haven’t played, so don’t expect any mention of Assassin’s Creed 4, Battlefield 4, The Last Of Us, or pretty much any of the big AAA titles from the last couple of months.
Oh, and this is all my personal opinion, so try not to cry if I don’t like your favourite game.
All clear? Good. Let’s get on with it.
A tall, dark stranger strides into the saloon. It’s…
#10 – Call of Juarez: Gunslinger (Xbox 360)
I picked this up for a fiver, assuming it’d be a quick laugh, and ended up having more fun with it than a lot of shooters this year. Despite the 360 controller being far from my favourite way to control an FPS, this game plays like an absolute dream. It’s almost an arcade shooter, awarding more and more points the faster, quicker and cooler your kills are. Shoot a man in the chest? That’ll get you a few points. Shoot two men in the head, then airburst a stick of dynamite over two more? That’s more like it. Add to that a slow-mo aiming mechanic that’s more responsive than even Red Dead Redemption‘s DeadEye mode, and you’re definitely on to something.
The plot is a fairly straightforward tale of revenge, following ageing assassin Silas Greaves as he recounts his life story, and his quest to avenge his brother’s death. Voice acting is excellent throughout, and the old trick of the unreliable narrator leads to enemies changing form half-way through a fight, as Silas remembers who he was actually fighting that day, or entire sections of the level rewinding, only to play out in a completely different way.
Above all, CoJ: Gunslinger is just plain old good fun. Shoot a few guys, blow up some stuff, come back later and do it again. It’s short, sweet, and very much worth your time.
A beautiful rampage through the streets…
#9 – Grand Theft Auto V (Xbox 360)
GTA V is an absolute technological marvel. Bearing in mind there are now children at school who are younger than the Xbox 360, the fact that Rockstar have managed to squeeze a game as big, as detailed, as beautiful as this onto the decrepit old system is nothing short of wizardry. Taking a bike ride up the Vinewood hills and looking back over the city at sunset is completely breathtaking.
Gameplay wise, it’s amongst Rockstar’s best. Taking the shooting and cover mechanics from the aforementioned Red Dead, they’ve also upgraded the vehicle handling in a way that feels leagues better than GTA IV. Except for the helicopters, which are impossible to hold in a straight line. They’ve even managed to freshen up the storytelling, allowing instant switching between the three main characters at will. This works surprisingly well, making for a well-rounded experience whilst simultaneously dealing with the slightly schizophrenic tendencies of previous GTA characters, whose moralities and goals could change dramatically on a mission-by-mission basis. The story itself is not too surprising, but the characters within it are deep enough to maintain interest.
It doesn’t have anything clever to say, and it’s certainly not what critics would call ‘art’, but Grand Theft Auto V is the best game in the series by a country mile, and deserves all the praise it gets.
An impossible city, a mysterious girl, infinite worlds…
#8 – Bioshock: Infinite (PC)
If I’d been writing a draft of this list back in March, when Bioshock: Infinite came out, I’d probably have put it near the top. The fact that it now sits down here at #8 is more of a testament to just how good a year 2013 has been for gaming than it is an insult towards Infinite itself. Easily one of the most visually beautiful games I’ve ever played, with a real sense of heart to it, particularly in the case of Elizabeth. Every scene has clearly been crafted with love, imagination and care.
A shame, then, that such a beautiful world is so full of missed opportunities. Colombia, the floating city of magical sky racists, is a wonderful concept, and the Bioshock franchise is known for its inventive and emergent combat systems – yet Infinite does neither of these things justice. It lacks the feeling of a living ecosystem that the original Bioshock did so well, and it turns the beautiful city that begs to be explored peacefully into a relatively mundane shooting gallery.
Still, I enjoyed my time with Bioshock: Infinite. There’s a lot I would change, if I had the chance, but it’s still a worthy game in its own right.
So, that’s part one out of the way. Keep an eye out for part two, which I’m sure contains more decisions that’ll piss you off even more.
See you then!