Hot damn, this year's had some fine titles already. It's a testament to the strength of the output over the last six months, that no two choices here are the same. Do stay tuned for our rundown of the top ten games of the year so far in our democratically-sourced list later in the week, but in the meantime, here are our personal shouts for the best games of the year thus far...
Jonathan -- Fire Emblem: Awakening
The first half of 2013 has seen any number of great games hit home consoles and the PC, but for my money, the best game of 2013 released on the Nintendo 3DS. Fire Emblem: Awakening may not have the clout of BioShock Infinite or The Last Of Us, yet it delivers perhaps the most exquisite gaming experience of many a long year.
The tactics and tough decisions are as solid as you'd expect from the venerable series, but Awakening upped the ante with a tragic yet uplifting storyline and a cast of truly unforgettable characters. Over the course of the massive campaign, you'll laugh along with your newfound friends, shed a tear when they die in combat, and punch the air with delight as they fall in love right there on the battlefield. Dynamically. Through gameplay. Eventually, their offspring joins your army, building an emotional attachment that makes permanent deaths all the more difficult to bear. Sure, the strategy was top-notch, but the glorious happy highs and stomach-churning emotional lows made Fire Emblem Awakening something truly special and unique.
I will be very surprised if it doesn't become my overall game of the year all told once December rolls around. Your move, 2013.
Carl -- The Last of Us
It will no doubt be in many a GOTY list when the end of the year does arrive, and I wouldn’t blame you if you rolled your eyes at my pick considering the lavish praise it has received from some corners of the internet, but when I really, really try to think of a game that has left a lasting impression in terms of both its narrative and the intensity of its gameplay, only one game came to mind - The Last Of Us. Once again the team at Naughty Dog gave us a brilliantly crafted story that had the player follow the journey of Joel and Ellie across the former USA.
The nerve-wracking decisions of when to use a shiv or to let an enemy go by, along with deciding if you have the time to risk crafting an item while clicker lurks the other side if a counter, had me on edge throughout the entire experience. As Matt rightly stated in his review, TLOU didn’t really give us any innovation with its design, and its linear path of progression may have rubbed some the wrong way when you consider how the survival horror genre has empowered the playing with choice in recent years, but because I went in expecting it to be a Naughty Dog experience (ie. An entertaining A-to-B romp like Uncharted, but with more fungus) I ended up enjoying every second of it. Hell, I’m currently putting myself through the hell that is the Survivor difficulty because I’m a glutton for punishment.
The Last Of Us also gets major points for having majestic beards that my virtual alter-ego McGarnagle would be proud of.
Brendan -- Tomb Raider
Six months ago, I thought this would be a close contest between The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite. Both were great games, butBioshock in particular misses out thanks to not including most of the scenes we’d been shown at numerous E3 shows. Saving the postman, healing the horse, the rainy fight with the Songbird, tears affecting Elizabeth’s wellbeing (a concept that never made it into the final game) -all missing. They may end up coming back as DLC or maybe it was all target footage. Either way, I felt like I’d been lead astray. We go on about Aliens: Colonial Marines bullshitting us pre-release, but nobody seems to mind Infinite put a different game on the shelf than the one they hyped.
Tomb Raider on the other hand managed to be one of the finest reboots we’re ever likely to see. Crystal Dynamics nailed the adventuring action with a fantastic explorable setting. Every time I loaded up my save file I was blown away by the game’s looks. Lara’s character arc from newbie to a brutal killer wasn’t exactly smooth, but this was never going to be a game about story. It was about losing yourself in a game that wasn’t going to be over in a few hours and one we all secretly never wanted to end. The end-game is excellent too, as I really enjoyed going back and looking for the hidden treasures with Lara’s now-enhanced skillset. As I’ve not had to review the game, I haven’t bothered to check out the multiplayer, but even if it’s as ‘meh’ as everyone’s says, I don’t feel its addition has detracted from the single-player experience.
Lara’s back; your move, Nathan Drake.
There were plenty of hyped-up games that emerged over the course of the first half of this year, and although many of those games proved to be very good indeed, I can't help but feel that few matched the weight of expectation on their shoulders. Bioshock Infinite was a cracking title that many of us were discussing long after the credits had rolled, The Last of Us proved once again that Naughty Dog do cinematic storytelling better than pretty much anyone else in the industry, but both had their flaws.
The 3DS has been the best console of 2013 by far. Hit after hit, quality game after quality game, and the road ahead looks fantastic too. Animal Crossing: New Leaf came within a shout of being my pick for the best game of the year thus far thanks to its easy charm and greater connection now that you're Mr. Mayor. My social networking feeds have been an ever-changing tapestry of trade markets and tropical island invitations, and this game in particular has blown the 3DS wide open to a massive audience this year.
But my pick of the year so far has to be Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. We said that Level-5 and Studio Ghibli were a match made in heaven, and so it has proven. I can't think of a game that has filled me with so much joy so very easily. One of the best Japanese exports in years, it combined the creature collection and evolutionary elements of Pokemon with a grand-scale, epic JRPG in the mould of classic Final Fantasy titles, combine with the phenomenal aesthetics and emotional storyline that we've come to expect from a production house that gave us Totoro, Ponyo, and Spirited Away.
Oh, and it had the best localisation I've ever witnessed.
What have been your picks for the best game of the year so far? Let us know in the comments box below!