The Top Ten Games of 2013

First, because there were too many games to cover here, here’s a supercut I put together of some of the best games of 2013.

I feel that everyone putting together a best of 2013 list that truly cares about gaming only does so after slamming a recently emptied bottle of whiskey down on their desk and sighing deeply.

2013 was one of the most packed years in gaming history. From every available outlet poured titles that are without comparison, even when weighed against the entirety of gaming history. Sure, there was the usual flood of crap and frustration, but it seemed that bi-weekly we were getting one of those games that you just had to play. Of course, that’s because we were.

Even if you don’t take into account the launch of two next-gen systems and all the other major industry occurrences and just focus on the quality of the games themselves, you’d be hard-pressed to name to many other years ahead of 2013.

A lot of hard decisions had to be made when putting together this list, but I feel that this is as comfortable with the honors as I’m ever going to be. Just note that if you don’t see your favorite game, it’s either because I didn’t play it, painfully had to cut it, or just didn’t like it. The curious can ask in the comments below.

Without further ado, here are the best games of 2013.

10. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

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Let me get “Assassin’s Creed IV’s” biggest problem out of the way first. It’s still an “Assassin’s Creed” game. Therefore, it carries all of the faults of that series, including a far too simplified combat system, some seriously uneven mission quality and obligatory futuristic plot elements that are getting more and more superfluous.

But, sweet Jesus, this game is just pure fun. A lot of that fun derives from the perfect implementation of its pirate elements. “AC:IV” is the absolute greatest pirate game ever made. It gives you nearly everything you could ever want from the romanticized pirate experience many of us are familiar with, and does it with sheer glee. It certainly doesn’t hurt that this is also one of the best written and best acted games I’ve played in some time.

Were this game developed from the ground up as an entirely new series called “Black Flag,” it may be even higher on this list. As it is, though, there are few games more entertaining than “AC:IV” regardless of your feelings towards the series up until this point, or any specific video gaming turn-ons and peeves you may have.

9. Outlast

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The age of the true survival horror game seems to be coming to a close as a growing number of developers pussy out and implement more and more action elements into the genre in order to make it more appealing to a larger crowd.

That’s a true shame, as a game like “Outlast” shows the tremendous amount of life left in the traditional horror style. This is quite simply one of the most terrifying games ever released, and at no point does it give a damn if you are enjoying yourself while playing it or whether or not you feel safe. It’s an uncompromising realization of the potential gaming has in terms of conveying pure horror, and you’ll love every minute you hate playing it.

I’m so very thankful the new generation of YouTube players have spread the gossip of “Outlast” and all its terrible wonders and helped let the people know that for all the waves of shitty action games with occasional jump scares that dare label themselves horror, there are still some games that do it right.

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EB Games Employee Hands Out Fake Cocaine;Wins the Internet

On the eve of what has quickly become the most anticipated video game launch of all time, millions of gamers wait with bated breath for their chance to play Grand Theft Auto V. Given the massive size of the game (Rockstar has said a 100 hour playtime through the story is not unreasonable), many of those same gamers will soon be skipping assignments, missing work, and destroying relationships at a capacity considered admirable by the game’s own detestable protagonists as they welcome a fresh new addiction into their lives.

It looks like the addiction may be stronger for some gamers in Australia though, as a user on Reddit has provided a screenshot of an EB Games there where an employee was filling up little ziplock bags of “cocaine” to hand out as a pre-order bonus.

Though what exactly the powdered substance is in these bags is unknown, this is a story that is particularly bizarre when you take into account the strict regulation of video game content in Australia. As such, if this story is true (this is the internet overall where the deception flows like wine), it represents a humorous and risque rebellion against proposed moral decency that the GTA series itself would be proud of, even if it is likely the singular action of a soon to be fired employee.

Regardless of whether you received a bag of faux Columbian marching powder with it or not, I hope everyone gets their GTA copies without issue, and finds a way to set a little time aside in their lives for a game that looks to have the ability to consume all of it with ease.

The “Official” GTA V Trailer is Live

“GTA V” watch continues, with the official “GTA V” trailer, Rockstar has been teasing available for your viewing pleasure above.

Interestingly there isn’t much in the way of new reveals here (the trailer itself only clocks in at about a minute long), but eagle eyed gamers will spot a handheld minigun (being held by a man in what appears to be a heavy armor suit), as well as some pretty incredible storm effects in action for the first time. While not necessarily reveals, the bigger takeaways from this release are some tasty story tidbits (it’s becoming very clear that this is going to be the “GTA” series most involved story yet), as well as snippets of more of the game’s heists, at least one of which appears to involve that submarine shown in a few screenshots.

No it’s not exactly anything that set the world on fire like the “GTA Online” reveal, but as “GTA V’s” release date nears, its becoming clearer and clearer that we are all due for something very special, that may just be taking the game of the year crown in a year with more potential contenders than the iron throne of Westeros.

Grand Theft Auto V Soundtrack Leaked; Vice City Still the Soundtrack King

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Full disclosure here, as this list of leaked GTA V songs are “unconfirmed” and were all snagged through a recent PSN update which apparently gave away the majority of the game’s tracks.

It’s a big list complete with some station names, DJ reveals (series regular Lazlow returns, because dude apparently can’t hold a job), and of course a crapload of songs that run a gamut that includes  big names (N.W.A, Queen, Johnny Cash…umm…Britney Spears), one hit wonders, and some painfully bad obligatory choices (pretty much the entire Pop station).

While it doesn’t feel like a complete list (there’s not near enough radio stations), it is a list that gives the impression that the series will follow the “GTA IV” route of cutting down on big names and instantly recognizable tracks, to instead offer up more of a variety of genres with bands you may not necessarily be familiar with immediately.

Or maybe I’m just really out of touch with modern music.

In either case, it’s looking like “Vice City” will remain king of “GTA” soundtracks with its incredible variety of 80s’ classics. That’s not really a dig at this music selection, but more of a personal preference as the nature of “GTA’s” chaotic gameplay doesn’t really allow me to focus on the music much while driving and therefore makes the whole “discovering new music angle” kind of a moot point. This could be alleviated if Rockstar allows you to listen to music outside of vehicles this time around, but so far there is no word on cribbing that feature from “Saint’s Row.”

Still it’s going to take more than Fergie to derail the “GTA V” hype train, and if this is a slice of the real track list, there are certainly more hits than misses, meaning the “GTA V” hype train keeps rolling, now blasting some pretty sweet tunes as it chugs along to its September 17th release date.

When Looking for Proof the Hype is Real About the Next Grand Theft Auto, Look at the Little Things

“Grand Theft Auto IV” almost had to be called “Grand Theft Auto IV.”

What I mean is, considering it was for a new generation of consoles, and featured an exceptionally long development cycle, calling it “GTA: Liberty City” or something similar would have never gone over well with the folks at Rockstar, nor the fans.

However obligatory the name might have been though, the final product never really felt right as being the true evolution to the world changing “GTA III.” It was abundantly clear that all of the focus went into creating Liberty City, and even though that still stands as one of the most impressive accomplishments of video game engineering, the rest of the game suffered from half-baked or just plain bad gameplay ideas.

While it’s true then that “GTA IV” pleased many fans and critics, there were an equal number of people waiting for the real successor to the series.

Based on the recent internet stopping footage that Rockstar released of “GTA V,” that may be soon upon us.

You’d think that there wouldn’t be anything more to say about the next “GTA” until it actually comes out, but the first gameplay trailer of the series proved that as much as we may think we know about the game based on previous information, hearing about the features and seeing them actually come together are completely different things.

Because when you see the game truly in action, it’s clear that Rockstar is aiming to create a game that doesn’t just appear to be alive on the surface, but is a living, breathing, and (most importantly) evolving thing. Sure major aspects like the three character approach appear to work better than we could have anticipated, and new or returning core gameplay features like hunting and purchasing property/stock look incredible, but what really amazes are the little touches.

It’s the things that only the most eagle-eyed of viewers caught like individual weapon stats, or how the mini-map changes based on your current transportation. It’s the new pot shop you can patron, it’s the clever names of the tattoos, and it’s definitely the fact your hand shaped mouse cursor in the game is in fact a middle finger.

Those are the things that “GTA IV” was missing. It’s those aspects that show Rockstar knows how to make a sandbox game on advanced hardware, and are now working to perfect an actual “GTA” experience, and not a tech demo wearing its mask but possessing none of its heart and soul.

When looking for proof that “GTA V” is going to be a game-changer, you may be tempted to point to the tantalizing seconds of footage that reveal a true “GTA” style multiplayer mode. However, for me, the fact the NASDAQ parody stock market is called BAWSAQ is real proof that Rockstar is back to having fun with the series, and in the process advancing its identity.

Five Things That I’m Excited About in “GTA: V” (and One That I’m Not)

Like the rest of you I’ve been following every morsel of information that has come from the many previews of that “GTA:V” demo, and like many of you, I’ve started to form my own impressions based on what has been shown so far.

While my overall impression is that I really need to start scheduling some serious free time come September, more specifically I’ve noticed at least five things from all of those previews that really excite me…and at least one that does not.

Five things I’m Excited For…

The Fun is Back

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“GTA:IV” had a lot of things going for it, but one aspect that irked me the longer I played is how much Rockstar veered from the wild, anything goes, comically deranged world of previous “Grand Theft Auto” games and instead aimed for something more grounded, and serious.

“GTA:V” looks to be a glorious return to those old ways, but also has clearly retained an aspect or two from its immediate predecessor. So while the trailers show things like deranged rednecks highjacking helicopters in flannel, cars chasing planes while pulling off insane maneuvers, and the glorious return of miniguns, it also takes a moment to reflect on the serious motivations that drive each of the three main characters, and to show that Rockstar is crafting a world every bit as jaw dropping as “GTA: IV’s” Liberty City.

In other words, it’s looks the way “GTA” should. A wildly fun game that’s not afraid to get serious.

Improved Combat

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One thing that I saw mentioned in several previews is that the combat is smoother than ever, with some comparing it to “Max Payne 3.”

“GTA’s” combat has been steadily improving over the years, but it still feels clunky for a game where there is a lot of it. It’s good to know that Rockstar looks to be making a concentrated effort to provide full coverage to the series Achilles heel, especially in a game that is already adding ambition to the system thanks to the three man system.

Which actually segues nicely to…

The Three Man Band

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The subject of who will be the next main character in “Grand Theft Auto” is always a hot one, as it usually sets the tone for the rest of the game.

When Rockstar first announced that there would be three main characters who can all be controlled at any time, it was hard not to think of it as gimmicky, and a bit of a reach. The more that’s revealed about it though, the easier it is to see that this is indeed the most exciting change to come to the series, possibly ever.

From unique but intersecting plot lines, to the ability for characters to “do their own thing” while not being under control, to the amazing way that combat and heist scenarios make use of every character individually, this sounds like the first “Grand Theft Auto” in a while that is going to have people re-thinking how they play the series.

Money Matters

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In a misstep so big I still question if it was an error by the designers, money in “GTA:IV” was more or less useless. It didn’t take long to acquire enough dough to keep you rolling in suits and guns for the rest of your days, and even though money was always brought up as a plot point (more on that later) you always ended up with too much of it, and nothing to do about it.

Rockstar must have been aware of this, as they have confirmed that “GTA:V” will require you to have a constant cash flow in order to purchase all of the clothing, vehicles, and (most importantly) properties the title has to offer.

That means that no longer will you be able to buy a $3000 suit you already own just because the store is closer than your closet, and I for one am excited to start earning with purpose again.

A Driven Story

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If I sound like I’m hating on “GTA:IV” here, it’s because I am. While by no means a bad game, it is by far the most overrated game of this console generation, and a big part of that is due to a meandering story that dragged on and on without any real focus, or compelling reasons to keep pushing ahead besides the satisfaction of beating it.

“GTA: V” seems to be resolving this by focusing the majority of its story on a series of high profile heists. The mission highlight of “GTA:IV” is, of course, the brilliant bank job in three leaf clover, and it’s clear that Rockstar thought so too, as this time many missions will revolve around prepping for, or executing, heists as part of your three man crew.

It’s not a guarantee for a greater plot, but it sounds a lot more promising than working for a series of cardboard cutout thugs with vague notions of revenge and some superfluous cash being your only driving force.

…And the One I’m Not

You Can’t Shoot the Paparazzi

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What?

See during the IGN rundown of the demo it was brought up that there is a side mission where you escort a spoiled starlet and try to escape the paparazzi. When the questions was brought up if you could just kill them instead of escaping them, the answer was a surprising “no” as that causes you to fail.

I understand that Rockstar is aiming for a much more cinematic experience than before, but I’m really bummed out that in something so minor as a simple side mission, the game will limit your options for the benefits of that goal.

Games like “The Walking Dead” show that choice can be a huge benefit to storytelling, while titles like “Saint’s Row The Third” exemplify how creating a truly open world lends so much more to sandbox games. I just hope that in a game that promises to be the series biggest and boldest yet, there aren’t a series of similar limits that keep it from reaching that lofty height.

The New “GTA: V” Trailer – What to Expect

After being delayed by Hurricane Sandy, Rockstar has announced today that the new “GTA V” trailer will debut on Nov. 14th.

While previews are upcoming for the game itself, we’ve been teased with screenshots for months, and we’ve already been treated to the debut trailer for the game, if you think about it we know surprisingly little about what looks to be the biggest title of 2013.

However, if the previous second trailers for the series are any indication, that should all change by the 14th. In fact, in viewing the second trailers for the last few “GTA” games (of which both the “GTA: Vice City” and “GTA: San Andreas” trailers are phenomenal if you need a refresher) there are a few things we can expect to see on Nov. 14th.

A Major Music Track From the Game:

 

It may be obvious, but Rockstar loves to show off their incredible video editing skills by using a big name track from the game set against their typically awesome previews. Hopefully they will do the same here and give us some idea of the type of soundtrack we can expect (or at least one major track they’e acquired) , even if it will be typically diverse. I always felt that “GTA: IV” had the weakest soundtrack of the series, so I’ll be particularly interested in this part to really hype me up.

Important Characters in Minor Parts:

 

The first “GTA: V” trailer had a lot of people in it, but it was hard to tell which of them were actually relevant, and which were just there. This should change with trailer #2 as you can expect a barrage of clearly important characters, even if they do not have speaking roles. By the end of the trailer, we should all have a better idea of what sordid types we’ll be working for, and against, in “GTA: V.”

Weapons:

 

This one is a little more debatable, but since the second trailers tend to be more action packed, expect to see a greater variety of weapons then has previously been revealed. The real question here is will Rockstar go closer to the insane weapon range of “San Andreas,” or stick to something more grounded as in “GTA: IV?”

Customization:

 

Another major aspect missing in “GTA: IV” from “San Andreas” was the customization options for your main character. Looking back at the early previews of “San Andreas,” you could tell differences in the main character’s clothing and hairstyles, hinting the expansion of this aspect. Considering how much this has been talked about, I believe Rockstar may do something similar here.

Counties:

 

So we know the game will take place in the pseudo-LA city of Lost Santos and, based on the country side moments from the first trailer, the surrounding areas. The question is, what surrounding areas? The best idea I’ve heard in relation to this is the theory that we will be exploring various counties in the area. The easiest way to tell this would be to look out for changes in weather, or general geography of the areas shown. Perhaps with a little help from eagle eyed Californians, we should have an idea of the layout.

The main character…s?:

 

I’m fairly certain I’ve heard every theory regarding who the main character was from the first “GTA: V” trailer, and I’m confident that I don’t want to hear anymore. I will say that the one that does intrigue me the most is the idea of multiple main characters. While this could prove tricky in an open world game, it would certainly be a new direction for Rockstar in a game that is a true “GTA” sequel. Nevertheless, we should soon know the answer to this.

Choices:

 

Keep an very sharp eye out for this one. “GTA: IV” hinted at giving you choices in the game via some very minor decisions. If the series gameplay is going to expand, I’d look for this to be the first place it does so. Look for a careful line of dialogue, or a visual of two people at gunpoint, or anything that might just give away if the game that revolutionized open gameplay truly gives players real options. If Rockstar does go this way, they may be tempted to tease it here.

Tone:

 

Maybe the most important, but sure to be most overlooked, aspect of the new trailer will be the tone of it. It was hard to figure out for sure from the first trailer, but looking back on the old “GTA” previews, it’s easy to see in retrospect that we could tell a lot from the tone of them. This particularly applies to “GTA: IV” where the darker, grittier vibe was immediately apparent. Will Rockstar stick to that same style, go back to the more lighthearted nature of the originals, or give us something in-between?

The plot:

 

Usually by trailer number two we are left with little doubt about the overall game. The first trailer gave a pretty big hint to this in what would appear to be a criminal trying to retire, so what we should look for here are the circumstances. In other words, the who, what, when, where, and why. With “GTA: V” drawing ever closer, we should expect these large points to be covered.

Gameplay:

 

We end with what should hopefully be the biggest given for this trailer, the gameplay. Considering how beautiful “GTA:IV” is and was, you couldn’t easily tell what was real gameplay from the first “GTA: V” trailer and what wasn’t. We probably won’t see what the game looks like during the actual gameplay, but I would be shocked if we don’t get snippets of missions, distractions, or something equally tantalizing that will actually show us the most important part of the game…the game itself.

 

Also, as announced today, you can now officially pre-order “GTA:V.” Considering the franchise this still is, this is one time I’d recommend doing just that.

The First GTA:V Details Are On The Way

I’m sure Game Informer editor in chief Andy McNamara is a good guy. Hard working, clean nosed, beloved by friends and small animals, etc.

But today he’s also a real bastard.

According to McNamara’s Twitter account, he is in New York today ready to sit down with a playable version of GTA:V at the invitation of Rockstar. Also according to the feed, this is in preparation for Game Informer’s upcoming December issue where they will most likely blow the lid off of the game with the first real details including, fingers crossed, a possible release date.

GTA is one of those series that has the rare “Beatles” effect where it enjoys the luxury of being both one of the most artistically impressive entrants in its field, as well as one of the most popular. It’s not hard to make the case that it is the definitive game of this generation, and every morsel we’ve gotten about the newest entrant into the series (including those incredible screenshots) has been more tantalizing than the ones that came before it.  To think that we will soon know hard information on the game is really giving me that kid at Christmas feeling.

Level 10: “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas”

I feel like the most consistently underrated element of video game design is level design. Whether you call them levels, segments, missions, or whatever, the parts of our favorite video games that make up our favorite video games deserve the proper recognition, and it’s the purpose of this column to make sure they get that.

And since the recently released “GTA V” screens have got me reminiscing about the last time the “GTA” series paid a visit to the west coast, I’ve decided to start with my favorite entry in the “Grand Theft Auto” series for this column, by looking back at the best missions from “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.”

10. Drive-By

One of the great thrills of the GTA series is how it allows you to live out all of those great crime fantasies that film and possibly literature has instilled in you. In “GTA: III” is was planting a bomb on a car mob style. In “GTA: Vice City” it was intercepting a coke deal with a speed boat like Crocket and Tubbs on “Miami Vice.”

Since “San Andreas” was inspired by the west coast gangta films, like “Boys in the Hood,” one of the great thrills is living out inner-ghetto turf wars, and any good inner-ghetto turf war needs a drive-by. Drive-by’s are so common in “GTA” that there is a feature on the control for it, but here is the only place where you get to roll up on enemy gangs with your friends and rain ammunition on them while listening to N.W.A. just like most of us modern suburbanites figured happened all the time in the early 90’s. It’s as simple as a mission in “GTA gets,” but it’s so satisfying.

9. Fender Ketchup

So you’re working for the Triads and the Italian mafia has been messing with their operations in the “San Andreas” equivalent of Las Vegas, Las Venturas. One of the thugs have been caught, and to make him talk your friends decide to strap him onto a car which you are to drive at top speed until he gets scared enough to figuratively spill his guts ( or not and literally do so).

Driving around in a convertible at night on the Venturas strip is always a fun experience, but doing so in the most reckless way at your disposal so that a mob thug will rat his gang out makes it all the sweeter. Much like Drive-By this is one of those missions that takes a simple gangland pleasure and lets you run wild with it.

8. Amphibious Assault

When most non-stealth games try to have stealth sections, they tend to suck almost without exception. Of course, this being “GTA,” it’s not like other games and therefore enjoys the distinct advantage of defying normal conventions.

Of course to be fair, this isn’t a strict stealth mission as you are tasked with infiltrating a boat, planting a bug, and making your way off, but are free to kill at will as long as you do it quietly. However, the atmosphere the mission sets is just perfect, and the approach to the boat itself is very dramatic. The “GTA” series has always had an incredible sense of scale, and the ship makes for this perfectly ominous opposing figure in the distance, that makes this mission feel like a true accomplishment for having finished.
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What is “Infinite” Minus Two?

News is slowly pouring in today that two of the biggest developers on “Bioshock: Infinite“ are leaving Irrational Games.

Director of product development Tim Gerritsen and art director (and designer of the series’ iconic Big Daddies) Nate Wells have both updated their LinkedIn profiles to indicate that their employment with Irrational Games is now done. While no further official announcement has been made, Nate Wells also made a Twitter post earlier that read “New Job…Details to follow.” That tweet has since been removed. For those who don’t remember, “Bioshock: Infinite” was also delayed earlier this year until 2013, in order to give it “specific tweaks and improvements” that would make the game “into something even more extraordinary,” according to lead designer and Irrational founding member Ken Levine.

Now some sites are already panicking about this pretty hard. I’m not quite there yet myself. For one thing, it’s a sad but true fact that developers at all levels will often leave a studio before a project is completed. Moves of this nature traditionally have no bearing on the quality of the final product on any consistent level.

No the real news here is that there is no real news. Ever since the delay of “Bioshock: Infinite” was announced, updates on on the game have gone ice cold. This is okay if you’re a title like “Grand Theft Auto V” (another Take-Two production). It’s “GTA”, and everyone knows there’s going to be a lot of secrecy involved leading up to the release. But “Bioshock: Infinite” didn’t even bother to poke its head in at E3 this year. Plus, even though “Bioshock” was possibly the game of the decade, the fact that the only news on its true successor in the last year has been a delay and the departure of your manager of content creators (Gerritsen) and a 13-year veteran of your studio (Wells), makes even the most level headed gamer start to wonder what’s really going on at Irrational.

Ultimately, “Bioshock: Infinite” will still sell millions, and I don’t believe that its overall quality will have anything to do with these departures. However, I’m curious how Irrational addresses this news. Do they remain silent and let speculation rule, or do they make a move as bold and innovative as “Bioshock” itself and actually shed some light on this situation, beyond the typical PR release?

Simply put, if there’s no fire to report, then why fan the flames?

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