2013 was, by and large, a pretty good year for games. There was more stuff that challenged the medium, as well as the usual polished, established stand-bys that gave audiences exactly what they wanted. Then there were games that managed to do both. The Last of Us is my game of the year because it did that. I’m a huge fan of Grand Theft Auto, and I’ve always loved the satire of the series (possibly more than the actual gameplay itself), but GTA V is “more of the same, but bigger and better.” The Last of Us, however, is a unique title that doesn’t just appeal to survival horror fans, but literally ANYONE looking for an engaging narrative that leaves you emotionally drained at the end of the experience.
The Last of Us is one of those rare games entered into the history book of the medium as a significant title, a touchstone, a reference point. The gameplay is polished to an astonishing level of quality, with never a dull moment, even when you’re just exploring, but it’s the overall experience, the characters, the world, the story they find themselves in that sets the game apart from everything else out there. The Last of Us is not just one of the best dramatic experiences in games, it’s one of the best of the year, holding its own against the best that cinema, novels and comics offered this year as well. It is a game that I would tell anyone—even people that don’t play games—to just sit down and experience whether as a player or a spectator. Either way, the trials of Joel and Ellie, and the divisive conclusion to their journey will provoke the same level of thought, feeling and debate that substantial works of art should. This has raised the bar for what games can be, and I’m recognizing that.
Disappointment: Aliens: Colonial Marines
What an utter waste of potential. Gearbox is a developer that has proven they can craft a quality first person shooter, and the Alien franchise has been a fan favourite for decades. The combination of the two could have been a watershed moment in the same way everyone doubted a decent comic book game could exist until Rocksteady proved everyone wrong with Arkham Asylum. Aliens: Colonial Marines looked like it was on track to do the same thing, especially after the promising demo that was shown at E3 in 2012.
Instead, we found out after the fact that the demo was never made with real gaming specs in mind, that Gearbox handed off the majority of the development to TimeGate studios, (Gearbox was too busy making the amazing Borderlands 2) and there was simply not enough time, or resources to actually MAKE the game the 2013 demo had promised. Aliens: Colonial Marines was a buggy mess that failed to capitalize on the respected franchise that had been handed to it. There are occasional moments of Alien promise, like seeing the “space jockey” or even the unique multiplayer that pit marines and aliens against each other. But overall, it was simply another nail in the coffin of the franchise, leaving even more about Alien: Isolation and the fact that Creative Assembly, a company best known for RTS games, is now making a first person horror game. I love the Alien franchise and wanted this to be great. It wasn’t.