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And My 2013 Game of the Year Winner Is…

goty

As the year has gone on, the tide has turned again and again as new games were released. Now that the dust has settled there are three clear contenders for the coveted title of 2013’s Game of the Year. Let’s start off by reviewing the chronology of 2013’s three best releases to establish the contenders.

March 26: Irrational Games unleashes the oft-delayed BioShock Infinite after years of waiting and months of hype, breathtaking trailers, and even changes to a core character model based on community feedback.

It not only lives up to the legendary standards of the original game, it exceeds them. Many accolades follow and it seems as though the path to the title is clear and unobstructed. But it is not so.

After a spring spent pondering the epicness of it all, the summer gaming doldrums are smashed to pieces on June 14 when PlayStation development heavyweights Naughty Dog hit a home run with the post-apocalyptic zombieness that is The Last of Us, proving once again that there are no tired concepts, only tired executions of those concepts.

The game is declared by many the best game ever released on the PS3, and the debates begin about which game will hold up and be crowned at the end of the year. But a modern classic series still had something to say on the matter.

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Rockstar brought Grand Theft Auto V to the party on September 17, and fans of the series began the argument anew. The latest game had three protagonists to explore the sandbox insanity, awesome heists to beef up the action in the story, and one of the best-realized worlds in a video game to date.  Game on.

So here’s how we are going to do this. I’m going to rate each title’s attributes on a 1-10 scale according to the six most important traits a modern Game of the Year should possess and, for the sake of objectivity, I’m going to award the title mathematically based on the average score of those ratings.

Then you are going to abuse me in the comments section. I am basing the scores according to the single player narrative on normal difficulty. Let’s do this.

Setting

gta v los santos

This is the most hotly contested category for me as all three games featured absolutely amazing locales. Let’s look at what our contenders had to offer.

BioShock Infinite:

The game was set primarily in the alternate history utopia of Columbia; an airborne city suspended over the United States. The moment you arrive is one of the most visually arresting moments of this generation. Absolutely breathtaking.

From the giant angel statue overlooking the city to the hummingbirds buzzing around the lush flower gardens and the overall steampunk/classic Americana atmosphere, it doesn’t really get any better. Add to it the seedy underbelly of classism, racism, and religion gone bad, and you’ve got powerful allegory to back the visuals.

Score: 10

 

The Last of Us:

Most post-apocalyptic landscapes are bleak and barren. Well, screw that. The Last of Us gives us a world where the crumbling of civilization led to Mother Nature taking her planet back.

Overgrown vegetation creeps over every structure and pools of water flood our formerly irrigated communities where plumbing used to be. It’s just as bleak in its own way, but it’s also refreshingly beautiful to look at.

Score: 9

Grand Theft Auto V:

Say whatever you want about the wanton senseless violence, the abusive swearing, and the general sleaziness that the series is known for; there is no denying that Rockstar made Los Santos an amazing place to be and one of the best-realized open worlds ever.

In addition to hours of original television, radio, and internet sites dripping with satirical venom and myriad activities ranging from jet-skiing, mountain biking, and parachuting to golf, tennis, and even interactive lap dances, this was the first game I can think of that made digital site-seeing an art unto itself.

Players could take and share selfies of their exploits and there were a ton of amazing locations to do so.

Score: 10

Music

bioshock infinite quartet

Music is an underrated aspect of the gaming experience in that it can take a good scene and make it unforgettable. These three games had wildly different approaches to their use of it in-game.

BioShock Infinite:

In terms of sheer creativity, it’s hard to top this one. While exploring Columbia, the player happens upon many familiar tunes presented in very unfamiliar ways.

Whether a barbershop quartet channeling the Beach Boys, a resistance freedom fighter transforming a Creedence classic into a slave spiritual, or a mysterious portal emitting the strains of Girls Just Want to Have Fun, the music featured in the game adds to the story and the setting and adds to the story’s themes in ways that you don’t realize until later.

The game’s most arrestingly poignant moment comes as an impromptu partial performance of traditional folk song, Can the Circle Be Unbroken, between the leads. The chorus sounds like it was literally written about this game. Just amazing.

Score: 10

The Last of Us:

This one goes for a minimalist approach, utilizing the classic stoic depression of good ol’ Hank Williams to excellent effect a few times and sparsely scoring the rest of the game to add to the effect of a dead world, only occasionally kicking key scenes into emotional overdrive. It’s an effective approach from a storytelling standpoint, but it doesn’t give me much to rate either.

Score: 7

Grand Theft Auto V:

GTA always rocks the house in this area. The game, as always, gives the player a massive choice of radio stations covering many genres and fills them with an eclectic parade of awesomeness. Taking place in this fictional Southern California stand-in, the choices accordingly range from gangsta rap, hardcore punk, classic country, reggae, and pop music to name a few.

Select songs are occasionally playing as part of the story at opportune moments, which is pretty humorous. As always, GTA’s army of licensed classics impresses, although it doesn’t necessarily have the emotional punch of a proper score.

Score: 9

Graphics

the last of us ellie

Like it or not, gaming is often relegated to a beauty contest. If you want to get people’s attention right off the bat, you’ve got to look gooooood. None of these games had a big problem in that area.

BioShock Infinite:

This is easily the cartooniest of the three. This allowed the game to stylize itself far beyond games that are trying for photorealism and as a result the look is very unique, but at the same time it’s hard to show it side-by-side with those games and say the graphics are superior. It all comes down to personal preference. I personally think it looks glorious, but I won’t say it’s a graphical revolution either.

Score: 8

The Last of Us:

If you are looking for graphics that serve both as eye candy and allow for emotional nuance in the characters, than this is one of the best games of this generation in terms of visuals.

In addition to the impressive landscapes, the motion-capped actors definitely paid dividends as Joel and Ellie are impressively rendered with faces that convey a great depth of emotion.

Score: 10

Grand Theft Auto V:

To be fair, it is an amazing feat to have built a world as massive and detailed as Los Santos. It looks incredible, and there are so many amazing little things that you may not even notice that make the world feel authentic.

That said, the character models could be better. I’m chalking this up to the massive amount of work put into keeping the persistent map rolling, but any way you look at it, GTA V wasn’t the prettiest game of the year.      

Score: 8

Characters

gta v trevor

If there’s one thing that all three of these games have in common, it’s memorable characters. But whose protagonists are the best?

Bioshock Infinite:

The player takes on the role of Booker DeWitt, tasked with bringing them the girl to wipe away his debt. Booker is the badass mercenary type, but it is “the girl”, Elizabeth, who carries this game.

All formal charm and innocence at first when you free her from her tower prison, Elizabeth becomes an indispensable asset as an ally and has her own coming of age arc, reflected in her changes of attire as the game progresses.

As the climax approaches, it becomes increasingly apparent who is really in charge of this story. Elizabeth is the best non-playable protagonist in a game since Half-Life’s Alyx Vance, and Alyx can’t open interdimensional portals.

Score: 9

The Last of Us:

Another gruff badass/young girl two-person show, Ellie and Joel mirror Booker and Elizabeth pretty well; but while the latter two are in a figurative Heaven, these two dwell in Hell. Their adoptive father/daughter dynamic drives the entire story and is the emotional center, and once again, it’s the girl who steals the show.

While Elizabeth is all sheltered sweetness and sunshine, Ellie reflects the world she grew up in as a swearing, angry young woman who won’t hesitate to throw herself onto a threat and stab it until it stops moving.

But in the absence of stabable baddies, her endearing habits of teaching herself to whistle and telling terrible jokes make her downright adorable in spite of her capacity for violence. Again: product of her world.

Score: 9

Grand Theft Auto V:

This game features not one nor two, but three protagonists with the bonus of switching between them at will. Given Rockstar’s ability to write excellent characters and their huge success with the story in the last installment, you’d think this would be an instant victory.

But there’s a catch. GTA V has been accused of misogyny for its multitude of negative portrayals of female characters. But that’s only half the story. The male characters are also universally shitheads, so the word they are looking for is actually misanthropy.

Franklyn is the gangsta from the hood trying to move up in the world, Michael is the wretched family man with anger issues and a midlife crisis looming, and Trevor is…..well, Trevor is Trevor. While Frank is pretty cool but nondescript and Michael is kind of miserable son of a bitch, Trevor makes the narrative sing with his bizarre anti-social antics.

What’s he doing right now? Maybe he’s riding a scooter down the highway following a stranger (also on a scooter) and shouting “scooter brother” at him. Maybe he’s sleeping in a dumpster in his underwear. Or maybe he’s massacring hipsters in front of a coffee shop. You never know.

Score: 9

Gameplay

the last of us zombies

Now this is where it’s at.  How a game handles and how fun it is to play is arguably the single most important aspect of any game. Many a game has been made or broken based on this alone. No slouches here, though.

BioShock Infinite:

Well, if you’ve played one first person shooter, you’ve played them all. Okay not really, but the most frequent complaint with this one was that the combat detracted from the story.

I disagree with that assertion strongly as I feel that the combat in BioShock Infinite is as good as it gets in the genre and was brilliantly handled and varied from its predecessors. The use of the Sky Hook was really great, the guns had a nice feel to them, and the vigors were awesome to use. Murder of Crows for the goddamn win.

Score: 9

The Last of Us:

Stealth-based survival horror? It actually seems odd that this hasn’t been done before. Or maybe it was; just not as well. Sporting some of the best stealth mechanics ever and pretty damn great combat to boot while leaving the options of which to use and when in the hands of the player, The Last of Us was absolutely built for success.

My only major complaint is the linear nature and the annoyingly clear distinctions between danger and non-danger zones. It would have been a lot more intense if the game didn’t warn you every time enemies were nearby, but in terms of mechanics this game is almost perfect.

Score: 10

Grand Theft Auto V:

The gameplay of the series is tried and true if it’s anything. Players can run, jump, and shoot their way through Los Santos to take part in dozens of activities, most of which have their own mechanics; all of which function pretty damn well.

I am, however, going to take exception to the driving in the game with its weightless cars spinning out left and right and flipping at the slightest provocation. It’s an old GTA complaint, but it hasn’t been addressed yet, either. Some really cool features seem to have been diminished or cut in this installment as well, which was an issue for me.

Score: 8

Story

bioshock infinite elizabeth

In the past console generation, stories have made the biggest jump in quality. The argument about whether games can be art has been rendered obsolete by the quality of storytelling we’ve been blessed with these last several years. Here’s how the heavyweights stack up.

BioShock Infinite:

When I think of definitive conceptual science fiction narratives I think of works like Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell or Fahrenheit 451. I can safely add BioShock Infinite to that list of stories that literally changed the way I look at the possibilities of the world around me. This story is stunning in its construction yet emotional and filled to the brim with socially conscious allegory.

By the time you reach the end it is utterly mind-blowing in the truest sense of the expression. Simply one of the greatest games I’ve ever played with an elegant and sophisticated story that oozes originality from every pore.  I like.

Score: 10

The Last of Us:

While not attempting anything on BioShock’s level, The Last of Us is easily the most cinematic of the three and the easiest to follow. The narrative draws from sources like 28 Days Later and The Road to craft a definitive post-apocalyptic journey to save mankind from the plague that destroyed civilization.

It pulls no punches in presenting the ugliness of the struggle for survival and you happen upon grotesque corpses everywhere you go and create quite a few yourself.

But the real core of the story is the relationship between Joel and Ellie, which has a very natural feel to it that fuels the game’s delightfully controversial climax and ending. I imagine several message boards are hosting virtual screaming matches complete with hair pulling and name calling about it as you read this.

Score: 9

Grand Theft Auto V:

While the themes of the three divergent characters all struggling to get the things they desire in life are good ones, I can’t help but feel that GTA V let me down on the story front. GTA IV’s narrative was an excellent departure from previous entries and the theme of disillusionment and death of the American dream was extremely well-executed from top to bottom.

This latest entry kind of lagged at times, repeated itself often, and relied heavily on Trevor’s insane antics to carry it through. A great supporting cast helped out a lot, but the main narrative was just too shallow to make it a true contender.

Score: 7

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So who wins? Let’s add up the scores.

BioShock Infinite:

Setting- 10

Music – 10

Graphics- 8

Characters- 9

Gameplay- 9

Story- 10

Average- 9.33

The Last of Us:

Setting- 9

Music – 7

Graphics- 10

Characters- 9

Gameplay- 10

Story- 9

Average- 9

Grand Theft Auto V:

Setting- 10

Music – 9

Graphics- 8

Characters- 9

Gameplay- 8

Story- 7

Average- 8.5

And the winner is….

story

GTA V’s lack of a truly compelling narrative and the absence of memorable music during most of The Last of Us put them behind BioShock Infinite so there you have it: my favorite game of 2013 from a single-player perspective.

It makes sense because honestly that video game affected me not only more than any other game of its type that I’ve ever played, but more than any other work of fiction released this past year.

Video games have officially proven themselves as a viable art form that can stand next to literature and film as expressions of human thoughts and emotions and BioShock Infinite is one of the best examples of how this has been accomplished. See you next year and feel free to drop your two cents in.

We should all have a healthy respect for UK television by now. Sure, their seasons are like six episodes tops, but they often get more done is those six episodes than some American shows do in sixty. On top of that, they are occasionally willing to go where our shows simply won’t. Some of them find an audience like Orphan Black, some of them get remade like Being Human, some get lost in the shuffle like Hex, and some of them are just too awesome and confrontational to ever swim in the mainstream as they are like Dead Set or Black Mirror. But more often than not, you can count on UK horror/fantasy/sci-fi to deliver the goods in spades.

Utopia, I think, is a show that could fall in between all of the above categories. It’s got most of the elements that make for a successful modern series, and chief among those elements is shadowy conspiracies complete with betrayal, grey morality debates, and distrust of authority in favor of individual rights. This one is a bit too hardcore to lump with Orphan Black, nor is it as brilliantly satirical as Black Mirror. It could end up being forgotten on this end, but it’s a definite contender for an Americanized remake provided they tone down the violence.

Okay, the premise: a group of online friends who bonded over their appreciation of a rare comic book named The Utopia Experiments decide to meet in real life. The comic turns out to be the key to a horrific conspiracy and our heroes end up being hunted relentlessly for their copy by an organization called The Network that has zero qualms about torturing and killing anyone who has seen it. And god help you if you don’t know where Jessica Hyde is.
Read more at http://unrealitymag.com/index.php/2014/01/02/utopia-has-your-uk-sci-fi-conspiracy-thriller-television-fix/#7CsIbf6

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About Nick Verboon

I am a guy on the internet who writes stuff sometimes. Try and keep up. I used to write reviews Amazon and other sites under the moniker trashcanman before semi-retiring from my unpaid career for a while. But now I'm back in action writing columns for Unreality and Gamemoir. Enjoy. I

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