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OnlySP’s Game of the Year 2013

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Few will argue that 2013 was an excellent year for gaming, with some of the most widely acclaimed games ever released, as well as two shiny new consoles. However, it now draws to a close as all things must and today, on the cusp of 2014, we bring you OnlySP’s Game of the Year Awards 2013. Which games will stand tall? Which will fall short? Our staff have deliberated and debated for the past month, finally coming together as a whole to deliver our faithful readers our picks for the best of 2013.

Most Disappointing

Honorable Mentions: Fuse, Star Trek, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified
Runner-Up: SimCity

Winner

Aliens: Colonial Marines

Originally featured in a GameInformer cover story in 2008 and followed by a now infamous tech demo a few years later, Aliens: Colonial Marines was hotly anticipated from Gearbox Software, developers of Borderlands, especially as it was positioned as an integral piece of the wider Alien franchise. Sadly, the game turned out to be infuriatingly bug-ridden with graphics that failed to match up to expectations. This, coupled with bog-standard gameplay and a story lacking any impact saw it justifiably hammered in reviews and is easily marked out as the most disappointing game of the year with several very convincing contenders for the award.

Most Surprising

Honorable Mentions: Gone Home, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, The Wonderful 101
Runner-Up:  Tomb Raider

Winner

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

There are several ways in which Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is analogous to the last year’s phenomenal Journey. The game came out of nowhere with almost no hype or advertising and managed to capture the hearts and imagination of thousands of players. The unforgettable adventure found in Brothers makes it a downloadable title that nobody should miss and the fact that this is achieved all without legible voicework makes it all the more impressive. It features a beautiful soundtrack and a unique control scheme that, while it can take some getting used to, works well and creates an emotional attachment between you and the characters as you traverse a beautifully crafted world.

Best Voice Acting

Honorable Mentions: Batman: Arkham Origins, Beyond: Two Souls, Grand Theft Auto V
Runner-Up: Bioshock Infinite

Winner

The Last of Us

The Last of Us takes Naughty Dog’s vaunted voice acting quality to the next level. The main characters, Joel and Ellie, voiced by Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson respectively, are the stars of the show. With the events unfolding around them, they were genuine and provocative thanks to their talents, making them the true stars. The supporting characters are voiced just as well however, with each having his or her own personality. Characters like Tess, David, Tommy and Bill, among others are all acted perfectly by their respective actors. Though the voice acting was not faultless, it was consistently fantastic throughout and that is why The Last of Us wins this award.

Best Original Soundtrack

Honorable Mentions: Grand Theft Auto V, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Runner-Up: Beyond: Two Souls

Winner

The Last of Us

Composer Gustavo Santaolalla has created a soundtrack that perfectly fits the world of The Last of Us. Adhering to a minimalist ideal, it evokes the fear, sadness and desolation that the world of The Last of Us is all about. Every emotional moment, action sequence and dialogue section is backed by a piece of music that magnificently captures the tone that the game seeks. It is the kind of soundtrack that can be listened to time and again to relive the memorable moments that the individual tracks accompany. Without a doubt it is a major reason that the game is so incredibly memorable and the way that it never feels dissonant only makes it a more convincing winner for this award.

Best Visuals – Technical

Honorable Mentions: Beyond: Two Souls, Crysis 3, Killzone: Shadow Fall
Runner-Up: Ryse: Son of Rome

Winner

Battlefield 4

The visuals of our games are always getting better and we can certainly expect a leap in the near future with the Playstation 4 and Xbox One on store shelves. For this year, though, the most technically impressive graphics came from a game most associated with the PC. Battlefield 4 pushed the limits of realism and spectacle further than any other game, and although it wasn’t quite as impressive on the consoles, at 1080p and 60 frames per second, it was a treat. What truly elevates it beyond the competition, however, is its destruction engine. Once again, Frostbite has given big things falling a majesty that is simply unmatched and when combined with the incredible level of detail found in the rest of the game, Battlefield 4 shines brighter than aught else.

Best Visuals – Artistic

Honorable Mentions: Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, Resogun, The Wolf Among Us,
Runner-Up: Tearaway

Winner

Bioshock Infinite

Bioshock gained its reputation, in part, thanks to its distinctive art style. The 50s-era art deco combined with the dark and dank atmosphere of post-fall Rapture is a style that has distinguished itself from most games since. But Infinite takes this to a whole new level. The gloriously rich colours of the sky-city Columbia, combined with the sweeping clouds and shining sunbeams, stand out as a captivating vista from the moment the rocket gets into the city to the moment you leave. The style of the areas change to represent the tone Irrational are creating in a superb way, from contrasting the opulence of the upper city to the cramped slums below. It offers an unforgettable landscape that will remain a hallmark of artistic vision for years to come.

Best Villain

Honorable Mentions: Rorke (Call of Duty: Ghosts), Majid Sadiq (Splinter Cell: Blacklist), Zinyak (Saints Row IV)
Runner-Up: David (The Last of Us)

Winner

Vendra Prog (Ratchet and Clank: Into The Nexus)

Vendra Prog may have started off as the kind of caricature villain that the Ratchet and Clank series has become almost synonymous with over its eleven year run, but her character really grows and evolves as Into The Nexus progresses. You come to realise that her actions are not driven by an inherent tendency towards evil but from loneliness and a desire to belong. Her history shares similarities with those of Ratchet and the way that the differences in their personalities is displayed, as well as the juxtaposition between their actions, makes their connection personal and powerful. It is the sympathetic nature of Vendra, as much as her villainy, that wins her this award.

Best Protagonist(s)

Honorable Mentions: Dante (DmC Devil may Cry), Oliver (Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch), Samantha Greenbriar (Gone Home)
Runner-Up: Booker/Elizabeth (Bioshock Infinite)

Winner

Joel/Ellie (The Last of Us)

This year was home to more than a few memorable lead characters, but there were none that the gaming community, as a whole, connected with quite as much as the duo of Joel and Ellie from The Last of Us. Joel, a hardened survivor and haunted father doing a duty thrusted upon him. His ward, Ellie, a sarcastic young girl that has never truly known a family. Very different characters, these two, but neither would have been near as memorable without the other acting as a foil. Most importantly, however, is the way that the two grow, both independently and together, to become stronger and overcome the faults that they are born with. From a shaky trust as strangers, to a rapport akin, to that of a father and daughter, Joel and Ellie will remain with us for a long, long time.

Best Story Setting

Honorable Mentions: 1 Arbor Hill (Gone Home), Ancient Rome (Ryse: Son of Rome), The Caribbean (Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag)
Runner-Up: Post-America (The Last of Us)

Winner

Columbia (Bioshock Infinite)

It begins with water, but Bioshock Infinite quickly ascends above the deluge and peaks above the clouds. Columbia — the floating city. Light and air. And water. Everything about Columbia floats and flows. From the baptismal fonts, to the floating sea, to the drowning rain, Columbia streams adrift. Just writing about it makes me wistful and Big “R” Romantic. Irrational created a world built on contradictions and opposing forces — air and gravity, peace and enslavement — wrapping it all in a breathtaking, beautifully designed architectural space. It’s telling that so many critics of Infinite hated the combat and just wished for more time to explore the cloudy realms of Columbia. Columbia is a fascinating game space, a great piece of fictional architecture, yet so firmly based in the extremes of modern ideology. It is a world that connected with so many and allowed one of the most genuinely kind and optimistic game stories of the year, and for that it wins our story setting of the year award.

Best Story

Honorable Mentions: Beyond: Two Souls, Gone Home, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Runner-Up: Bioshock Infinite

Winner

The Last of Us

The premise of The Last of Us draws deeply from the post-apocalypse/zombie genre that has become so popular in recent years, but it elevates itself beyond the norm with the characterisation and its fearlessness of delving into thematic territory. The most powerful scenes in the game come in the form of one of the most thought-provoking endings in gaming. Rather than simply controlling Joel, you become him, doing as he does and experiencing his emotions and the strength of his bond with Ellie. It is an incredibly powerful and personal moment that captures a rawness of emotion and empathy that could not be experienced in any other format than a video game.

Best Sandbox World

Honorable Mentions: Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon’s Island, Steelport (Saints Row IV), Yamatai (Tomb Raider)
Runner-Up: The Caribbean (Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag)

Winner

Los Santos (Grand Theft Auto V)

The open world of San Andreas in Grand Theft Auto V offers an incredible amount of content, easily matching almost any other game out there. From the urban sprawl of the Los Santos, to the desert of Blaine County, the dizzying heights of Mount Chiliad, to the depths of the Pacific Ocean, there is a huge amount of variety in the landscapes and it is filled to the brim with activities to partake in. Sports including tennis and golf, all manner of races, hanging out with mates, scuba diving, street brawling or walking into a convenience store for a casual hold-up, there is something for everyone and the game is entirely capable of offering hundreds of hours of entertainment for someone seeking to do it all.

Most Unique Gameplay Elements

Honorable Mentions: Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (Dual Character Controls), Grand Theft Auto V (On-The-Fly Character Switch), rain (Character Only Visible In Rain)
Runner-Up: Remember Me (Memory Remixes)

Winner

Beyond: Two Souls (Aiden/Contextual Controls)

The previous game from Quantic Dream, Heavy Rain, was criticised in some circles by seeming to be little more than a never-ending series of quicktime events. The team took this into consideration for Beyond: Two Souls, implementing a control scheme that feels far more natural and intuitive. It offers a fine balance between gameplay and Quantic Dream’s insistence on every action being part of a wider narrative. In concert with this was being able to play as Aiden, a disembodied entity with the ability to pass through walls (some of them, anyway) and get up to all sorts of mischief. Beyond: Two Souls was a daring game in many ways and it is the unique controls that make it so as much as any other aspect.

Best New IP

Honorable Mentions: Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, Outlast, Ryse: Son of Rome
Runner-Up: Tearaway

Winner

The Last of Us

From the grandiose tale of our protagonists, Joel and Ellie, to the self-contained story of Ish the Sailor, The Last of Us is a game filled with stories. There is so much potential for storytelling in the  post-apocalyptic world that Naughty Dog has created that we feel it has the strongest foundations for some great potential titles. Not only this, but the combination of brutal combat, the verisimilitude of the crafting and superior level design shows how Naughty Dog has laid the plans perfectly for what could easily become a powerhouse franchise for Sony’s Playstation 4. The Last Of Us wholeheartedly succeeds as a new IP by showcasing a world we are itching to learn more about while still having a complete and outstanding experience on its own.

Best Family Game

Honorable Mentions: Disney Infinity, Knack, Skylanders: Swap Force
Runner-Up: Super Mario 3D World

Winner

Zoo Tycoon

Too many “family” games adhere to a worn-out idea of what appeals to both adults and children, and so we came to settle on Zoo Tycoon. It is a game where parents can take their family to a digital park full of all sorts of charming animals. Adults will enjoy being able to manage how the park looks and feels with its selection of animals and entertainment while being challenged with objectives to keep the zoo afloat. Children will squeal at the delight of being able to get up close and personal with the animals by using Kinect as a window into their imagination, granting them the ability to make faces at monkeys, shoot water at hippos or feed a baby giraffe by hand. Zoo Tycoon is the kind of game that will capture the imaginations of the entire living room.

Best Racer

Honorable Mentions: GRID 2, Need for Speed: Rivals, Real Racing 3
Runner-Up: Gran Turismo 6

Winner

Forza Motorsport 5

Forza Motorsport 5 has been described by some as “car porn”, and for very good reason. Each vehicle in its 200-plus car roster has been recreated with incredible detail, both within and without, which really comes into its own in Forza Vista, which allows you to get up close and personal with them as well as discovering information including how much they cost, brief histories and performance records. As a simulator, it is fantastic; easy to learn, difficult to master with each car having its own traits to provide a sense of balance and realism. On top of all this is the introductions to all race types by the Top Gear UK hosts and special races against The Stig and it all adds up to be an amazing package for car lovers everywhere.

Best “Thinker’s Game”

Honorable Mentions: Europa Universalis IV, Gunpoint, Total War: Rome II
Runner-Up: Antichamber

Winner

Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm

Heart of the Swarm is an excellent follow up to Wings of Liberty. It follows the revenge story of Sarah Kerrigan as she struggles to find her place in the galaxy, but what will appeal most to the thinkers out there is the gameplay. The campaign puts you into control of the Zerg and gives you the ability to customise and optimise your units to suit your play style between levels. From a rapidly spawning swarm of Zerglings, to a mobile, high-speed assault force, the choice is entirely in the hands of the player. Further complexity is added by the inclusion of the Queen of Blades as a persistent hero throughout the story with a huge number of customisation options available to her. It is an admirable extension to the Starcraft II saga that is sure to leave fans salivating for the third and final part, Legacy of the Void.

Best Role-Playing Game

Honorable Mentions: Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, Tales of Xillia
Runner-Up: Pokemon X/Y

Winner

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is the JRPG that we have waited a generation for. The combat system is fun and incredibly deep, which proves difficult to master even after dozens of hours. The visuals are delightfully charming thanks to the work done by acclaimed anime house Studio Ghibli, and the soundtrack, performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, is amazing. For all that, the real reason that Ni no Kuni wins best RPG of 2013 is its heartfelt story. It takes our protagonist, Oliver, and his friends on a journey to another world so that he can save his mother. It is an exciting story that never gets boring throughout its 40 hour-plus length. Thanks to all this, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch absolutely deserves this accolade.

Best Action Game

Honorable Mentions: Grand Theft Auto V, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, The Wonderful 101
Runner-Up: DmC Devil may Cry

Winner

Splinter Cell: Blacklist

Merging elements from past titles like Chaos Theory and Conviction, Blacklist gave us open environments with multiple paths to complete objectives, the ability to hide bodies and Sam Fisher back with his signature knife and goggles. It was also made more accessible by awarding players points for adhering to different play styles, ranging between stealth, hand-to-hand combat and gunplay. The arsenal in the game was highly customisable, as was Sam himself. What it offers is a spy game that takes players around the world in an attempt to stop a global terrorism threat while not being afraid to show its teeth at the same time. Blacklist gets bonus points for giving players the option to take a lethal or non-lethal approach as well.

Best Adventure Game

Honorable Mentions: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag Batman: Arkham Origins, Dead Space 3
Runner-Up: Tomb Raider

Winner

The Last of Us

A journey from Boston across a United States ravaged by a plague forms the backdrop of the most interesting and engaging adventure game of 2013. Every moment of high tension was offset by one of blessed calm; every new environment begged to be scoured for every scrap of detail; and every combat scenario presented the player with enough options to make their own game a unique experience. Working in concert with that is a set of gameplay elements that have been constructed with supreme confidence to offer an experience that is as polished and responsive as anything else out there. The Last of Us may not have had the grandest scope or the deepest gameplay to be offered this year past, but taken as a complete package, it outstrips even the most convincing competition.

Best Shooter

Honorable Mentions: Battlefield 4, Call of Duty: Ghosts, Gears of War: Judgment
Runner-Up: Bioshock Infinite

Winner

Metro: Last Light

Dark, damp, oppressive, strange, complex. The setting itself is indicative of the experience you are about to have. Less supernatural than 2033, Last Light focuses on a wholly more human struggle. War has come to the denizens of the deep — a civil war razing whole stations, setting the Metro ablaze. The strength and uniqueness of the setting alone is enough to make it a contender. But what makes Last Light our shooter of the year is the streamlined mechanics that elevated it above its predecessor. Every element of gameplay has been tweaked and improved. From a cleaner UI, a more intuitive gas mask filter system, sleeker shooting, fairer stealth, to just being able to wipe your mask, Last Light was a great single player shooter experience. Top it off with mind-blowing graphics and you’ve got yourself an award winning package.

Game of the Year

Honorable Mentions: Beyond: Two Souls, Gone Home, Grand Theft Auto V
Runner-Up: Bioshock Infinite

Winner

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The Last of Us

And then there was one. The Last of Us is a game that tells a gripping story, stocked to the brim with brilliantly written and diverse characters as it follows an ageing man and youthful girl across a wasted world. Every environment has a story to tell, making you want to uncover them, even if they are tragic or brutal. Much of the game allows you to explore at your own pace and relish in the level of attention that has been paid to even the smallest detail and find some relaxation and enjoyment in a world where such can get you killed. For every moment of calm introspection however, there is one where you are placed face-to-face with danger, and your heart rate rises while you try to decide on the best approach to dispatch the foes in your way. Third person shooter gameplay forms the core, bolstered by brutal, yet oddly enjoyable, melee combat, improvised weaponry, wonderfully executed stealth mechanics and a steady drip of new crafting options. The many different factors of The Last of Us culminate to create a game that was simply unmatched in the excellence of its execution throughout 2013, however it was not this that won it Game of the Year.

Playing through The Last of Us, you realise that this is a labour of love and this has imbued it with a soul that is entirely its own. Joel and Ellie are more than avatars. They become friends and you become more than just the omnipotent being pulling the strings of a marionette. The connection that is formed with these characters makes you want to protect them at all costs, and having them die causes a twinge of pain and regret. There are few other games that can claim to evoke the same kind of emotions as The Last of Us, and fewer still that can do so as powerfully. You may laugh, you may cry and you may just sit back as a whole range of emotions washes over you in an irrepressible tide.

Here at OnlySP, we believe that games should provide players with an experience and The Last of Us was the grandest, most complete gaming experience of 2013. An achievement that will not soon be forgotten and a shining example of exactly what the medium is capable of in the right hands.

Damien Lawardorn is an aspiring novelist, journalist, and essayist. His goal in writing is to inspire readers to engage and think, rather than simply consume and enjoy. With broad interests ranging from literature and video games to fringe science and social movements, his work tends to touch on the unexpected. Damien is the former Editor-in-Chief of OnlySP. More of his work can be found at https://open.abc.net.au/people/21767

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198X Review — A Nostalgia Trip Without a Destination

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198X

Some short stories feel more like chapters—snipped out of a larger work—that struggle to make sense on their own. 198X represents a translation of that ethos to video game form. As a result, the game feels unfulfilling, though that does not detract from the overall quality on offer. Ultimately, the player’s appraisal of 198X will depend on whether they place more stock in story or gameplay because while the former leaves much to be desired, the latter will be a hit for anyone with fond memories of the 8- and 16-bit classics.

In the framing and overall structure, 198X is decidedly modern, but everything else pulses with a retro vibe. At its core, the game is a compilation, weaving together five distinct experiences under the auspice of a story of personal development. From the Double Dragon-infused ‘Beating Heart’ to the turn-based dungeon RPG ‘Kill Screen’, each title feels slick, if a little undercooked. Those old-school originals could only dream of being as smooth as these throwbacks. However, the two-button input methodology results in the games feeling just a touch too simple, though their brevity—each clocking in at a maximum of 15 minutes (depending on the player’s skill level and muscle memory)—makes that less of an issue than it might have been. If more depth is present, it is hidden well, as the game lacks any sort of tutorial to guide players. Nevertheless, the stellar presentation goes a long way towards papering over the cracks.

The pixel art aesthetic of 198X is staggering. Each of the worlds that players make their way through is pitched perfectly to fit the mood it evokes. From the grungy brawler of the first game to the more melancholic mood of the open-road racer, the screen is drenched in lavish colour and far more detail than one might expect from such a seemingly simple art style.

Easily a match for the visuals is the audio. The in-game sounds of a car engine or bone-crunching strike are low-key, which allows the music to come to the fore. Those tunes are all from the electronic genre, simple, yet layered with enough depth to not feel tedious or tiring. Easily overshadowing all the rest though is Maya Tuttle’s voice-over narration as The Kid. Her tone is one of pervasive resignation that works to reinforce the same mood within the script.

That melancholia will surely strike a chord with anyone who has grown up on the fringes. The Kid speaks of once loving and now hating the Suburbia of their childhood, where memories of happiness collide with a contemporary feeling of entrapment. The words and lines are powerfully evocative—made even more so by the connection between the gameworlds and the prevailing emotion at that point. The problem is that they amount to nothing. The story comprises of these snippets—these freestanding scenes of life lived lonely—that never coalesce into anything. The Kid may find an arcade and speak of finding some sort of home and a source of strength, but it goes nowhere. The game ends just as things start to get interesting. Setting up for a sequel is no sin. Plenty of other games and media products—from Dante’s Inferno to Harry Potter—have done just that. However, to be effective, such first parts need to offer a story in and of themselves, not just the promise of a story to come, and that is where 198X falls apart.

With each game in the compilation being a straightforward, one-and-done affair and the overarching narrative feeling like a prologue at best, 198X is wafer-thin. The presentation is simply remarkable, and the package has enough variety to be worth a look, but the unmistakable impression is that something is missing.

OnlySP Review Score 2 Pass

Reviewed on PC. Coming soon to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

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