Top 10 Video Games of 2013

Last year was another terrific one for gaming, as no less than three games received perfect scores from me. It was another strong year for indies as well, especially on the PC and PS Vita. There were still plenty of titles that I didn’t get to play (Assassin’s Creed IV, Saints Row IV, XCom: Enemy Within, and pretty much every Nintendo game), so this may have to be updated at some point. For now, here are my top 10 video games of 2013:

Honorable mentions: Tomb Raider, BattleBlock Theater, The Stanley Parable, Killzone: Mercenary, Muramasa Rebirth

#10 – Rogue Legacy
Rogue Legacy
#9 – Tearaway
Tearaway [2013, PS Vita]
#8 – Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons [Xbox 360]
#7 – Defiance
Defiance [Xbox 360, 2013]
#6 – Outlast
Outlast [PC]
#5 – Dragon’s Crown
Dragon's Crown [PS Vita/PS3, 2013]
#4 – Gone Home
Gone Home [PC]
#3 – Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto V [Xbox 360]
#2 – Bioshock Infinite
Bioshock Infinite [Xbox 360, 2013]
#1 – The Last of Us
The Last of Us [PS3]

What was your favorite game of 2013?

The Best of 2013 in Movies, Video Games and Music — So Far

It’s hard to believe that 2013 is already halfway over. It has been a bit of a slow year for movies so far (as expected), but there have been huge breakthroughs in the gaming and music scenes. Here are my favorites so far:

MOVIES

This is the End [2013]
5) This Is the End
The funniest movie (and biggest surprise) of the year, hands down.

Stoker [2013]
4) Stoker
Business as usual for Chan-wook Park’s first English language film.

Mud [2013]
3) Mud
Jeff Nichols is 3-for-3 in my book. This is his most likable film yet.

The Place Beyond the Pines [2013]
2) The Place Beyond the Pines
This ambitious, sprawling epic is one film I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

Before Midnight [2013]
1) Before Midnight
Could it be anything else? It’s so great to see Celine and Jesse once again, warts and all.

VIDEO GAMES

Hotline Miami [PS Vita, 2013]
5) Hotline Miami [PS Vita/PS3]
Only listing this at #5 since it is a port of a 2012 title, but this ultra-violent game is even more addictive on the Vita.

Guacamelee! [PS Vita/PS3]
4) Guacamelee! [PS Vita/PS3]
A Metroidvania Lucha Libre-themed adventure from the makers of Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack — it’s as good as it sounds.

Tomb Raider [Xbox 360]
3) Tomb Raider [Xbox 360/PS3]
I was never excited about the Tomb Raider series before, but this reboot hit all the right notes.

Bioshock Infinite [Xbox 360, 2013]
2) Bioshock Infinite [Xbox 360/PS3/PC]
I got goosebumps the first time I stepped foot on the city in the clouds, Columbia, and the experience never let up from there.

The Last of Us [PS3]
1) The Last of Us [PS3]
Has there been a more immersive atmosphere in a video game? This will serve as a gaming benchmark for years to come.

MUSIC

5) Mikal Cronin “MCII”

4) Kanye West “Yeezus”

3) Boards of Canada “Tomorrow’s Harvest”

2) Daft Punk “Random Access Memories”

1) The National “Trouble Will Find Me”

What are your favorites so far this year?

Month in Review [June 2013]

In order of viewing:
1) Before Midnight [2013] – 9/10
Before Midnight [2013]

2) Two-Lane Blacktop [1971] – 7/10
Two-Lane Blacktop [1971]

3) Sinister [2012] – 6/10
Sinister [2012]

4) Mama [2013] – 3/10
Mama [2013]

5) V/H/S [2012] – 4/10
V/H/S/ [2012]

6) This is the End [2013] – 8/10
This is the End [2013]

7) Three Colors: Blue [1993] – 9/10
Three Colors: Blue

8) Three Colors: White [1994] – 8/10
Three Colors: White [1994]

9) Three Colors: Red [1994] – 8/10
Three Colors: Red [1994]

10) The Bling Ring [2013] – 7/10
The Bling Ring [2013]

11) The Kings of Summer [2013] – 8/10
The Kings of Summer [2013]

12) Rififi [1955] – 9/10
Rififi [1955]

Video Games Completed:
1) Killzone 2 [PS3, 2009] – 7/10
Killzone 2 [PS3, 2009]

2) The Last of Us [PS3, 2013] – 10/10
The Last of Us [PS3, 2013]

3) Hotline Miami [PS Vita, 2013] – 9/10
Hotline Miami [PS Vita, 2013]

TV Shows Finished:
1) Girls [Season 2] – 6/10
Girls [Season 2]

2) Game of Thrones [Season 3] – 9/10
Game of Thrones [Season 3]

3) Hung [Season 2] – 6/10
Hung [Season 2]

Best of the Month: The Last of Us is the best piece of media I consumed last month, hands down. It is a monumental video game, the likes of which we haven’t seen before. As for movies, Before Midnight has quickly become my favorite of the year so far. Three Colors: Blue and Rififi were both excellent additions to my project.

Worst of the Month: Mama and V/H/S are both terrible horror movies, with the former being the slightly worse of the two. I’ll likely be sharing mini-reviews of them sometime soon.

Video Game Review: The Last of Us [PS3]

The Last of Us [PS3]

The Last of Us
System: Playstation 3
Genre: Action-Adventure/Survival Horror
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: June 14, 2013

The Last of Us is the type of game that seemingly comes around only once per console cycle. Naughty Dog, creators of Crash Bandicoot, Jak & Daxter and Uncharted, have perfected their craft over the years, and this is their most mature effort yet.

It is also their magnum opus.

Set in a post-apocalyptic United States in 2033, the game revolves around two central characters: a grizzled Texan named Joel, and a 14-year-old girl named Ellie. A nasty disease (similar to the real-life cordyceps fungi) has spread across the country, turning humans into Infected. The two of them are brought together by forces outside of their control, and Joel is given the responsibility of protecting young Ellie as they attempt to survive amidst the chaos of the wasteland.

The game shares many tropes with those of post-apocalyptic films and books (Cormac McCarthy’s work in particular is a big influence), but everything is brought together in a way that makes the overall experience still feel fresh and engaging.

The Last of Us [PS3]

It starts with the Infected.

These aren’t your average “zombies”, however. They run through four stages of infection, with each one getting progressively worse. Some attack in bunches, while others stalk you in the dark, waiting for the right moment to attack.

It’s stage three where the Infected — called Clickers at this point — get *really* sickening. This is when the fungus completely take over the human face, rendering them blind while also extremely sensitive to sound. One hit from them is insta-death. Their grotesque appearance is only enhanced by their constant “clicking” sounds — this is the stuff of nightmares.

Stage four is even more horrifying. I won’t ruin the surprise there.

The Last of Us [PS3]

Coming across a large area filled with various stages of Infected is often downright scary. I found myself dying — a lot — and would frequently have to re-think my strategy for surviving that section. Should I take out one or two Clickers and then run like hell? Should I throw a couple of nail bombs on the ground and then try to lure a large group into the subsequent explosion? Or should I just avoid combat altogether and try to sneak past everyone?

The latter quickly became my preferred method of fighting. Combat is not easy, especially since ammo and other tools are scarce. This game is all about survival, and there will be many times that require improvisation in order to get to the next area. This becomes especially important once non-infected human enemies enter the picture — they are arguably even more dangerous since many carry shotguns and other lethal weapons. On multiple occasions (when I was unable to sneak past), I would run out of ammo only to frantically attempt to craft a nail bomb or other device to help even the odds. This really makes you maximize all potential resources.

The Last of Us [PS3]

I suspect that avoiding most combat will be the preferred method of some gamers simply because of the ghastly displays of violence that ensue. Finishing off an enemy can be absolutely brutal, and the violence is very matter-of-fact. There were countless times when my jaw would drop simply because I could not believe the game got that graphic.

Then again, it’s in this brutality that some of Naughty Dog’s attention to detail shines through. There are a number of little things that impressed me throughout the campaign, such as Ellie’s teenage ramblings or her random whistling, or the subtle Southern terminology from Joel.

Perhaps most impressive is just how immersive The Last of Us truly is. There is minimal loading, and the transitions between cutscenes and actual gameplay are seamless. There are also no obnoxious trophy pop-ups to remind you that you’re playing a game — most of them are related to finishing the campaign, and they pop up after the credits. This, in particular, was an excellent touch.

This is a game that relies heavily on its narrative, and its characters are incredibly well-written — an impressive achievement, considering how much dialogue there is in the game. The voice acting (with Troy Baker as Joel, and Ashley Johnson as Ellie) is fantastic, and when the game is at its peak, this feels like a high quality TV show or movie. At the very least, this is a frank reminder that video games sure have come a hell of a long way over the years.

The Last of Us [PS3]

The single player campaign — which lasts around 15 hours, give or take a couple depending on how much you explore — is one of the best in years, but as an added bonus there is also a surprisingly enticing multiplayer feature. Rather than feeling tacked-on like many, many other like-minded games, it seems a significant amount of effort was put into this.

The multiplayer mode has you pick from one of two factions — Hunters or Fireflies (both of whom are integral to the single player campaign) — and then forces you to stay in that group until you either finish the multiplayer story or have your clan entirely wiped out. Clans can be built up by winning matches (in variations of Team Deathmatch), collecting supplies and completing objectives.

Teamwork is imperative to success online. Attempting to “run and gun” your way to the top of the leaderboards is a recipe for disaster. Just like in the single player campaign, ammo and supplies are scarce. It is important to work together as a team, especially since everyone shares the same goal: to improve their faction.

But really, the multiplayer is just the icing on the cake. It’s a fun little diversion, but the single player campaign is where the game truly shines.

Simply put, The Last of Us is a major accomplishment in the world of gaming, and it has effectively set a benchmark for all games to come. When people look back at this console cycle, this is one of the select few games that will be labeled as the best of its generation.

10/10