2013 has been a stupendous year for gaming. The next console generation is finally upon us. Handhelds bloomed and blossomed, resulting in a truly golden year for the Nintendo 3DS and a great start for the PlayStation Vita. And as always, the PC was on hand to offer a wild and exciting range of games in every genre you could possibly imagine.
Mind you, this has also been a year of extremes. Lofty highs were matched with painful, often-embarrassing lows; games that absolutely failed to reach our lofty expectations alongside controversies aplenty.
But looking back, 2013's biggest problem was that there were just too many great games to play and nowhere near enough time to play them.
Game Of The Year | Fire Emblem Awakening
Fire Emblem Awakening is a game of rare quality.
The series' trademark strategic gameplay is as gripping, taxing and tense as ever; newly revitalised by a gloriously flexible class system and numerous smart tweaks to the formula. Awakening looks fantastic, plays brilliantly in short commutes or hand-cramping marathons, lasts for dozens of hours and opens itself up to more casual players with its generous newcomer mode, which removes the compulsive desire to reset the game every few minutes when a character dies. Let's be honest: we all do it.
But for me, Fire Emblem Awakening trounces is competition thanks to the characters, its roster of unforgettable soldiers who lived, loved, fought and died on the battlefield. It was a personal story full of little quirks and big personalities. Frederick, Sully, Panne, Tharja, Lon'qu, Chrom, Libra, Gaius, Owain and so many more besides are more memorable - more real and human - than any number of motion-captured 3D models. I revelled in their victories, punched the air when they fell in love through gameplay rather than pre-ordained cutscenes, and genuinely despaired when they fell due to my tactical mistakes.
Whether you're looking for sublime strategy or impeccable roleplaying, you owe it to yourself to experience this magnificent saga of love and death.
Favourite Game Of 2013 | Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Picking a favourite game of the year has rarely been more difficult. From big boxed titles like GTA V and The Wonderful 101 to indie delights such as Bionic Dues, MirrorMoon EP, The Stanley Parable and Desktop Dungeons, I've played an astonishing range of compelling games in a wild variety of genres. Even Planetside 2 and The Secret World finally sunk their claws into me, the latter hoovering up more days of my life than I'd like to admit. Bravo, Funcom. You know I can't resist anything vaguely Lovecraftian.
If I'm honest, though, most of my free time has been spent collecting fossils for an owl and paying back a ruinous loan to an avaricious raccoon.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf is my home away from home, whether I'm building glorious public works on the train, making new friends via StreetPass or planting beautiful flower arrangements in front of the telly. Another superb game in a golden year for Nintendo's handheld.
Biggest Surprise Of The Year | "Xbox, On!"
Back in May, Microsoft revealed a console that no sane consumer would ever want to buy: a ridiculous DRM-infested tellybox that abused and alienated its core audience, all while demanding silly money for a silly camera. As you'd expect, I spent most of my time either
mercilessly mocking constructively criticising the Xbox One or ignoring its existence entirely.
Six months and a billion U-turns later, however, the finished article is sitting in my lounge. To my great surprise, I'm absolutely loving it.
Xbox One's exclusive launch lineup is undeniably excellent, but personally, that silly camera is the biggest pleasant surprise of the year. Kinect's voice commands have naturally slotted into my gaming routine, making the user experience more convenient while adding some futuristic pizazz and childlike magic to even the simplest things. It feels "next-gen," perhaps more than any game or feature we've yet seen on Microsoft and Sony's machines. "Xbox, on!"
Microsoft still have a mountain to climb, no question about that. UI issues need to be ironed out in the short term, while Xbox One's telly features already face the very real threat of obsolescence from smart TVs. I'll start worrying about that once Dead Rising 3 runs out of zombies.
Biggest Disappointment Of The Year |
My most anticipated game of 2013 launched straight into infamy. The concept was sound, its promise of an "always-connected" utopia was so compelling, yet the fall was hard and heartbreaking. SimCity simply wasn't fit for purpose, not just because its online infrastructure was built on flimsy foundations, but because the all-important simulation itself was broken in numerous fundamental ways. As such it obviously has to be my biggest disappointment of the year. Hands-down. We're done here. Except...
At least Maxis made an attempt to put things right. I could have done with less DLC and more patching, but there's no denying that SimCity noticeably improved over the months since release. In stark contrast to a certain Kickstarted silver cube.
I still see potential in the OUYA as a backer and early exponent of the platform, but after a shaky start, OUYA has done little to silence its critics. Instead of transparently identifying flaws and putting them right, such as their criminal lack of positive marketing and exciting exclusive software, its deluded executives decided to tread water and embark on some truly silly initiatives; mistaking glib evasion for public relations and Kickstarter competitions for A&R. All while the mass market continued to stalwartly not give a damn one way or the other. What I described as a "punt" at launch is now best described as a "paperweight" for all but a handful of emulation and XBMC enthusiasts.
Most Anticipated For 2014 | Transistor
I fell in love with Transistor the moment I saw that trailer. Perhaps the moment I heard it. Transfixed by its exquisite beauty, I stared at the looping footage over and over again, drinking in every subtle nuance of Supergiant's visual masterpiece and every note of the haunting soundtrack.
The creators of Bastion are working on something truly special. I can feel it. Transistor's fusion of time-pausing turn-based mechanics with brutal action and soul-searching pensive atmosphere promises to be absolutely wonderful; a delight for the eyes, brain, thumbs and ears.
Mind you, Defender's Quest 2: Mists Of Ruin will have a turtle tank. He's called 'Bitey.' Sorry Transistor, but we have to get our priorities right...