Game of the Year Awards 2013 - The Winners
Written Tuesday, December 31, 2013 By XBA Staff
Here we go, after weeks of build-up and 12 months of playing the very best and worst titles available on Xbox, it’s finally time to reveal our Game of the Year Awards 2013.
From digital gems to AAA juggernauts, moments of brilliant invention, wonderful surprises, crushing disappointments, a new console launch, artistic triumphs and awesome adventures, 2013 has had something for everyone. It’s been a great year.
The most coveted award of the lot though? It’s the XBA Game of the Year winner. This time out every single member of staff agreed upon it unanimously. And trust me, that doesn’t happen often. But anyway, enough waffle from us, let the awards begin!
Games are nothing without a premise, and these are the year's best.
Parodying The Matrix and a whole array of other video games and movies, Saints Row IV unchained the series' formula, granting its protagonist ludicrous super powers. It turned out to be a stroke of genius, enabling the hero to bound over skyscrapers, run faster than any vehicle, shatter the ground and punch a baddie into the sky. Saints Row IV's premise not only allows for a barrel full of tongue-in-cheek fun poking and pastiche, it’s also arguably one of the most recklessly fun open-world games ever conceived. A simple enough premise, chucking super powers into Saints Row IV was a very smart move.
Sci-fi as a genre has been mined to death, so hats off to Dontnod for coming up with something a little different for Remember Me. You play as Nilin, a memory hunter able to remix the memories of people and alter their behaviour within the futuristic Neo-Paris of 2084. A recognisable city that's transformed in a way that's wholly believable, it's a place of contrasts, and the perfect backdrop for Nilin's journey of self rediscovery. A neat combat system, smart memory remixing sequences and a dark future in which memories are manufactured as a purchasable commodity, Remember Me's premise raises a host of questions, just like any great sci-fi.
Inverting BioShock's premise of an underwater dystopia, BioShock Infinite takes its own tale of the American Dream gone devastatingly awry to the clouds of Columbia. Here, things are every bit as messed up as Rapture, albeit in an altogether different way. Amid all of this turmoil, Booker DeWitt has a debt to pay, starting with the rescue of the captive Elizabeth.
Upon meeting Elizabeth, a whole host of new possibilities open up, enabling Booker to access useful objects through tears she's able to conjure at will, while being able to gracefully traverse to otherwise inaccessible areas via Skylines. BioShock Infinite's premise unlocks a whole array of unique gameplay mechanics, and as an anchor point for its memorable story, it's unparalleled. BioShock Infinite's premise is simply masterful.
The year's most ripping yarns!
Up until 2013, Tomb Raider games were rarely known for their stories – heck, we can’t actually remember the plot for one, despite having played them all! – but that all changed when Lara got the reboot treatment this past year. Video game writer Rhianna Pratchett was drafted in to bring Lara Croft into the 20th century, and that she did, painting her as a much more fragile and likeable character, and letting the player watch her grow into an increasingly confident and resilient character. Yes, ladies and gents, it’s an origins story, but don’t let that put you off. Throw in a creepy island with its own rich history, and this year’s Tomb Raider was one hell of a story that’s worth sinking your teeth into… if only the game had more actual tomb raiding.
Initially, the notion of three protagonists sharing the limelight for Grand Theft Auto V seemed like a recipe for disaster, but in Rockstar's more than capable hands, it flourished into what is arguably one of the greatest GTA yarns of all time. It's all about the characters. Michael is the retired career criminal, his old friend Trevor is a psychotic pariah with (sort of) big dreams, and Franklin is the moral centre, someone inexorably drawn into the madness as he escapes a life of petty crime in the Los Santos ghetto. With a series of memorable set-pieces and moments, framed by the most immersive and detailed open-world landscape imaginable, GTA V’s story excels.
A floating cloud city, seething with intolerance and hatred, as Booker DeWitt you're subjected to relentless hostility throughout BioShock Infinite. The citizens of Columbia are terrifyingly indoctrinated by the teachings of Comstock, and the Vox Populi are the only ones attempting an uprising. There's a lot going on in BioShock Infinite, and if you scratch beneath the surface, there's so much more than you might actually realise at face value.
Taking in the metaphysical, toying with the idea of infinite realities, Irrational's narrative expertise succeeds in crafting something that lives long in the memory after its astonishing coda. BioShock Infinite's story is like an onion, comprised of numerous layers. Attempting to unravel it all might also reduce you to tears, but even at its most basic level, BioShock Infinite's narrative is pure and unadulterated brilliance. That it grows even more complex and deeply intricate under scrutiny is part and parcel of what makes it truly fantastic.
Because everything is always better with friends. And enemies.
Every year, Call of Duty delivers one of the most robust multiplayer experiences around, and Ghosts is no different. Where Battlefield 4 has floundered with its litany of bugs, glitches and other issues, Ghosts has worked from day one. It's the same tried and tested CoD that players have come to love or loathe, but there's no disputing just how damn accomplished Ghosts' multiplayer offering is. Co-op fans get the Extinction mode, while those seeking a fast-paced shooty challenge can always rely on Call of Duty: Ghosts' generous suite of multiplayer modes. Love it or hate it, there's no denying Call of Duty: Ghosts delivers. Again.
From Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood to Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, the multiplayer mode that no one initially wanted has been getting quietly, incrementally better with each iteration. As such, Black Flag's multiplayer is the best version currently available, taking the formula and honing it to within an inch of its life. Tracking your target and moving in for the kill is immensely gratifying, the slow and considered approach always winning out over the maniacs who choose to run around haphazard. The prospect of Ubisoft Montreal one day marrying the campaign and multiplayer – Watch_Dogs possibly being the first step – is an enticing one.
Transposing a tightly-scripted single-player story to the expansive urban sprawl of Los Santos and the dusty plains and trailer parks of Blaine County, Grand Theft Auto Online lets you loose and asks only that you enjoy yourself. It's the ultimate expression of sandbox freedom, even if it does sometimes descend into wild west shootouts on the streets with strangers.
Boasting a series of Jobs to tackle if you want a little structure, GTA Online really comes alive when you're messing around with a group of like-minded friends, rolling around as a posse. You can buy property, rob stores, purchase weapons, vehicles and clothing, granting you criminal cachet in GTA Online's world. With planes, helicopters and automobiles zipping around, the possibility to wreak havoc in GTA Online is also nigh-on limitless. With the new Content Creator and the promise of more to come, GTA Online is only going to get better too.
In which we celebrate the prettiest games from the past year.
Forza Motorsport 5 is probably the most technically impressive game on this list, from a visual perspective. Running at 60 frames-per-second and 1080p it represents the closest any developer has come to photorealism on console. And on the game’s city tracks it combines this with spectacular detail to create some jaw-dropping moments. The opening alone is enough to make you dribble. Losing out only thanks to the nature of its slightly sterile showroom sheen, it's nevertheless the most beautiful racing game ever created.
Squeezing every last drop out of the ageing Xbox 360, Grand Theft Auto V is so pretty it should be a crime. To build a game on this scale, yet deliver a world as detailed and rich as the one provided by Rockstar games is testament to the developer's talents, not just in terms of power but in artistry too. Watching the sun set over Mount Chiliad is one of the prettiest sights we’ve seen this year. It’s uncommonly gorgeous.
Ryse: Son of Rome feels like the true arrival of next-generation visuals on Xbox One, cramming every frame with detail. From the wilds of Scotland to Rome itself, it’s a juggernaut. Not just the best-looking game on Xbox One, it’s one of the most visually impressive titles ever produced on a console, combining spectacular lighting, character modelling and environmental design to make an experience good enough to melt your eyeballs. Alright, so that’s an exaggeration, your eyeballs will be fine, but it is undeniably really, really, really bloody pretty. Just imagine what developers will be coming up with in a couple of years time.
Capable of living long in the mind as memories of visuals fade into darkness, scores are a big part of what makes games great. Here’s some of the best.
It was always going to take second-billing to the licensed track-filled radio stations, but GTA V’s score is full of understated brilliance. With over 20 hours of original, dynamic music from German electronica legends Tangerine Dream and featuring all the low-key funk you would expect, the score fills the gaps left by the likes of West Coast Classics and Soulwax FM to offer a brilliantly atmospheric alternative.
Olivier Deriviere’s score for Remember Me delivers a brilliant twist on the traditional orchestral fare. Performed by the London Philharmonia it has all the rousing string arrangements would expect, but true to the themes of the game it cuts it up, remixes it and glitches it up to make for an entirely unique sound. It’s the prefect fit for Dontnod’s futuristic vision and a standout effort from 2013.
An ode to cheesy 80s and 90s action movies, Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon’s soundtrack, just like the game itself, wouldn’t be out of place on a scuffed up old VHS tape. It’s steeped in retro-futurism, at turns brooding and pulsing, dramatic and suspenseful, building from sparse soundscapes to pounding rhythmic crescendos. A relieving step away from samey swirling orchestral strings, it’s a brilliant diversions into synthy electronica. It’s also the most distinctive, and best, soundtrack this year.
In an industry dominated by sequels, spin-offs and prequels, we champion the very best in new experiences.
Remember Me may not have fully lived up to its potential, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t enjoy exploring Neo-Paris with protagonist Nilin. In terms of its world, some of its characters, its premise and its mechanics, Remember Me lays the foundations for any number of fantastic follow-ups. It’s all there waiting to be built upon. Let’s just hope that Capcom affords Dontnod the opportunity to do just that.
It’s always silly to write off zombies. Every year, without fail, when it looks like the undead have become tired and boring, someone uses them to fashion something new and exciting. This year it was the turn of State of Decay, a brilliant survive-‘em-up that’s crawling with the stinking, decaying, shuffling blighters. It was popular too, shifting half a million copies in less than two weeks before going on to sell in excess of a million. Work is already underway on a sequel. We can’t wait.
News Editor Rich has an idea for a Ryse: Son of Rome sequel. It’s set in feudal Japan and the protagonist is a Samurai capable of chopping off limbs at the click of a button as cherry blossoms fall delicately around him. Editor Dan has a name for it. It’s called SamuRyse. Now as much as we’d love it to, that game will probably never happen. Regardless, although we don’t know developer Crytek’s plans, there’s no denying that there’s plenty of scope for further, exciting titles in what we hope will become a series OF Ryse games. And if they do make a game called SamuRyse, we totally want a slice of the profits.
We pick this year’s best digital-only delights.
What a unique thing Blood Dragon is. Spinning off from Far Cry 3 in the most tangential of ways, it’s a ridiculously, knowingly cheesy romp filled with lasers, neon and dinosaurs, drawing on the 1980s action movie VHS collection of its developers. Tongue-in-cheek yet kinda reverential to its inspirations, the adventures of cyber commando Rex Power Colt (as voiced by the legendary Michael Biehn) came out of nowhere to light up XBLA with dodgy one-liners and geysers of purple blood.
Over the years Starbreeze had established themselves as one of the industry’s top European developers, but their debut on the Xbox Live Arcade, well, we’re not sure anyone was expecting that. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is exactly what we want in an Xbox Live Arcade title – or just digital titles for that matter, as they’ll forever be known – a treat on the eyes and the ears, a unique mechanic, and a bit of emotion. And when we say a bit of emotion, we mean a lot. A. Lot! Much emotions! In fact, it makes us cry just thinking about it now, meaning Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a more than worthy runner up.
State of Decay is something of a diamond in the rough. Lumbered with a slightly wonky game engine, which developer Undead Labs has attempted to fix with a series of patches, it’s nevertheless a gloriously grim struggle for survival in a town boasting sparse resources and plentiful zombies. The addition of the Breakdown DLC later in the year strengthened the game’s core appeal too, where just staying alive and getting the hell out of dodge are your goals, contributing to a brilliant experience that values ideas over polish. Undead Labs’ State of Decay is a cracking game, our favourite XBLA title of the year.
Innovation is the key to fresh gameplay experiences, and 2013 was chock full of great ideas. Here’s the best.
What’s so innovative about a rollercoaster in the sky, you may ask, but if you do, you’re missing the point. IT’S A ROLLERCOASTER IN THE SKY! Okay, so it’s a little bit more complex than that. BioShock Infinite’s Sky-Hooks and Sky-Lines not only allowed the player to navigate the glorious Columbia with ease and trepidation, but it allowed you to get some incredibly awe-inspiring sights at the same time. Mix it into the combat and there’s a level of freedom and satisfaction that you wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s like the first time the training wheels on the bike are off… so freeing and exhilarating. A worthy runner up.
The first time we laid our eyes upon Remember Me’s ‘Memory Remixing’ way back when it was announced, we were hooked. Not only was this something completely new and exciting, but it truly was unique and innovative, opening up a portal to Remember Me’s sci-fi roots that truly allowed the game to shine. Just being able to go into someone’s memories and change how they perceived them, that’s magic right there, but being able to get them wrong, play with various different alternatives and what not, that’s the cherry on the cake. Developers need to look to new experiences like this in 2014, otherwise we’ll get our dads on them.
Destruction is nothing new in video games, especially in the Battlefield franchise, but destruction that changed the maps completely? That’s fresh, new and exciting, especially considering the sheer size of Battlefield 4’s maps. Yes, Battefield 4’s horrifically cheesy named ‘Levolution’ is this year’s winner. Being able to flood levels, bring down skyscrapers, cause huge tankers to crash into islands and the like, all in the name of changing the shape of the landscape, that’s what next-gen is all about. Not only is it the most innovative use of destructibility since Red Faction’s see-anything-blow-it-up, it’s also the most satisfying, which earns it extra kudos points.
The games came out of nowhere or defied expectation by actually turning out to be a bit good.
Let’s be honest, we all thought Ryse: Son of Rome was going to be a bit balls didn’t we? Beset by development problems as the game dropped Kinect motion controls and transitioned from one console to another, then accused of being a dull QTE-fest, Ryse didn’t have the best of pre-release build-ups. What a brilliant surprise then to encounter a game that defies its limitations by offering one of the most enjoyable campaigns on Xbox One, with some incredibly satisfying combat. The doubters were wrong, Ryse is great fun.
Rebooting Devil May Cry was never going to be a popular decision, but Ninja Theory pulled it off with aplomb, deftly preserving the series' trademark combat while introducing a bunch of its own ideas into the mix. DmC charted the origins of the usually white-barneted Dante, from his time as a wise-cracking punk to his rebirth as a kick-ass demon hunter, taking the player on one hell of a ride through an imaginative landscape in which the real world and demon realm clash. Retaining the spirit of Devil May Cry, DmC was not just a surprise, but hopefully a tantalising taste of what's to come.
Being able to cut almost anything with Raiden's high-frequency katana sounded like a leap too far, and after making a transition to a new studio following a troubled development cycle, things didn't look too good for poor old Metal Gear Rising. Yet all it took was a bit of a name change and the ever reliable Platinum Games to whip Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance into shape.
Even more surprising was that Metal Gear Rising's promise of slicing stuff into pieces made it into the game wholly intact, unlocking an array of achingly cool gameplay moments care of Raiden's spectacular Zandatsu finishing moves. Unleashing a combo and then tearing out your foe's spine for its precious life force is among the year's most gratifying and downright awesome gaming moments. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance was a very pleasant surprise indeed.
Sometimes they’re a waste of potential, sometimes they’re just plain crap. All of them are disappointments.
The original Dead Space was one of our favourite games of the last generation, a kind of terrifying magpie that stole from numerous sources to create something that felt fresh and more importantly, scary. That may have been eroded a little with Dead Space 2, but we still had hope. However, Dead Space ripped the limbs off our dreams and put the series in a coffin for the foreseeable future. From glory to ignominy in three titles? That’s hugely disappointing.
It controls like ass, looks like a bog-standard XBLA game despite appearing on Xbox One, suffers from wonky systems that undermine each other, features grubby microtransactions, is presented awfully, has a silly story and fails to live up to its billing as a successor to Panzeer Dragoon, despite all the talent being in place. We were reasonably excited about Crimson Dragon. But then we played it. It’s a crushing disappointment.
This year’s biggest disappointment by a country mile, Aliens: Colonial Marines fails on so many levels we don’t know where to start. It’s controversial, poorly made, a waste of a great license, not even slightly scary, at turns generic, dull and laughable… it’s just pants. The Aliens franchise has wonderful potential, with all the ingredients needed for a stone cold classic. Aliens: Colonial Marines is criminally wasteful with all of it, contributing to a mess of a game that’s a huge waste of potential. That’s why it’s so frustrating. It could have been great. Instead it’s our biggest disappointment of the year.
Video games require video game developers to make them, so it’s only fitting that we give an award to the best one of the year. Duh.
It’s easy to sit here and say, “if you make the best game, you get the best developer award,” but the truth is, it doesn’t work like that. It helps, but budgets, other unforeseeable events and support, that’s what can really sway the vote. That’s why you’re seeing Rockstar North only snapping up the runner up this year. Having churned out arguably one of the year’s best games, their budget and resources are probably second to none in the games industry. That’s not to say they didn’t do a fantastic job – they did, they did GTA V – but they only did enough to grab the runner’s up award, which, by the way, is no easy feat.
Also grabbing a place on the runner’s up podium is none of than Irrational Games, one of two developers that’s been granted the elusive 100% score – the other was Rockstar North… the other runner up. Despite creating one of the year’s – nay, generation’s – best experiences, they did something that probably actually did their game more of a service than you care to realise: they delayed it. Not only that, but they got on board experienced Executive Producer Rod Fergusson, who was probably instrumental in helping Irrational ship the polished product that was Infinite. A wise move, and one that we as gamers benefited from.
The winner this year is none other than Saint’s Row IV developer, Volition. Not because they created the best game of the year – they didn’t, not by a long shot – but because they made a game that was true to their vision, one that was massively divergent from the series' typical fare, all without reservation or fear. That paid off in the end. Despite everything that was going on around them at THQ, and the uncertainty that surrounded the title and its publishers, they still managed to create the product they wanted while remianing completely undistracted by it all. It was a truly mammoth effort by all involved, and one that should be praised across the industry.
There’s more to games than just making them, a lot goes into market strategies, customer support and bringing the games to market. It’s only right we shine the light on them at least once a year.
Not only did Rockstar create one of the greatest single-player experiences of this generation with Grand Theft Auto V, but what they attempted to do in the multiplayer world sent a few ripples throughout the rest of the industry – let’s just say this, GTA Online was a revelation. Had it not been for the teething issues of said mode and maybe Rockstar’s inexperience with reacting quickly to what’s going on in said world, they might have even been in for a chance of winning it this year. Alas, that wasn’t the case, but Rockstar should nevertheless be commended for not only creating one of the generation’s greatest games and one of the hottest multiplayer experiences.
Microsoft would’ve been a shoo-in for this award usually, you know, had they not completely screwed up their original message with the Xbox One and have to backtrack on most – if not all – of their policies. They recovered admirably, however, although some would say that they’re still picking up the pieces now. At the end of the day though, not only did they launch a fantastic piece of hardware, but they launched a great launch line-up of first-party titles, from Dead Rising 3 and Forza 5, to Ryse (which isn’t as bad as some critics are making out) and a selection of smaller digital titles. They also revealed what 2014 had in-store for Xbox One owners, and it all looks very exciting. Very exciting indeed.
When selecting the winner this year, we looked at not just quality over quantity, but at consistency as well. For us, there was a clear winner: 2K Games. 2K had a fantastic year for a variety of different reasons. Not only did they publish one of the greatest games of the generation, BioShock Infinite, and also create an excellent spin-off-of sorts in XCOM: Enemy Within, but they dazzled on next-gen with the visual masterpiece that was NBA 2K14 and helped Gearbox in supporting one of last year’s great titles, Borderlands 2, with a slew of great downloadable content. In fact, there isn’t much they did wrong last year and are thus worthy winners of the Publisher of the Year award. That’s actually two in two now!
The biggie. The main prize. The one that everyone wants to win. It’s that time ladies and gents, the time to announce 2013’s Game of the Year!
Way back in 2007 Irrational Games delighted audiences worldwide with unique brand of storytelling and fantastically realised world of Rapture in the original BioShock, and here we are, six years later, and they did exactly the same. Taking place in the skies this time in the wonderfully eerie Columbia, players followed Booker and Elizabeth on one hell of a journey, chock full of brilliant moments and one hell of an ending. Had it been any other year BioShock Infinite would have almost certainly taken home the Game of the Year crown, but alas, they had one colossus in their way this year.
Launch titles for new consoles rarely set the world on fire, so it is with great delight that we announce that Dead Rising 3 joins BioShock Infinite as the other runner up this year. Sure, it might not have won awards for storytelling and character development – although it did have its own harrowing moments – what it did was truly show the power of next-gen in the best light ever: killing zombies. You may look at Dead Rising 3 just being another hack ‘n’ slash zombie game with no soul, but not only are the combo weapons insane fun, but the seamless and expansive zombie-infested Los Perdidos was a world that told its own stories. With hundreds of interior environments, no load times, hundreds and hundreds of on-screen zombies, Dead Rising 3 showed us that the future is bright. Very bright… and gory!
Critics and gamers might have had polarising opinions when it came to Grand Theft Auto IV, but all of that was forgotten when Rockstar finally shipped Grand Theft Auto 5, the winner of our most coveted award this year, and rightfully so. Rockstar truly outdid themselves with GTA V, delivering a brilliant cast of characters, some stunning set-pieces, a gripping story and one of the most mind-boggling video game worlds ever. Ever! Los Santos and Blaine County was everything you could want and more, with fighter jets, tanks, mountains, lakes, forests, skyscrapers and it even had its own ecosystem, it’s quite easily the greatest game world of all time. Combined with the brilliant GTA Online and the usual trademark humour, and it’s a world that you’re more than happy to spend hundreds of hours in. We did, and if you haven’t, you should too.