2013 was an interesting year for me. Despite the 2013 Backlog Challenge, I still played quite a few new video games. I got to experience the best that the year had to offer thanks to my very generous friends and family. I won’t be doing the Challenge again in 2014: There’s too much variety and quality being offered in gaming these days. To that end, I think 2013 stands as one of the best years in gaming history when you consider the titles and trends on my list, as well as the fact that we saw 2 new console launches, and 1 other new console begin to come into it’s own. 

So, cheers 2013! Thanks for the memories. 

Best indie game (smaller priced games that we loved (i.e. no more than $20)

Winner: The Stanley Parable

I never played the original mod, but I did play the full release, and I’m so very happy I did. This game is clever, funny, and creative in all of the right places. I spent a few hours with it exploring its secrets and uncovering dialogue, and I couldn’t think of a better, more light-hearted way to spend an afternoon. Games that can pull off this kind of approach – fun and lighthearted without being immature – are rare, so it’s best to hold onto them when you can.

Runners up: Gone Home and Game Dev Tycoon

Best game that’s available through early access (games that are not quite finished but are fun so far)

Winner: Starbound

Fine, I only played this one in 2014 , but it gripped me immediately. It’s the only “craft everything” type game that has successfully put its hooks in me. Co-oping this game with friends was great, and I’ve been told by said friends that I’ve only just scratched the surface of what makes this game awesome. I’m looking forward to expansions and additions that will add in a story campaign, and of course, more cool things to discover.

Runner up: Insurgency

Most Interesting Gaming Moment

Winner: Seeing the living, breathing world of Columbia

Gamer confession time: I never played Bioshock 1 or 2 myself. I watch others play 1, but never played it myself. So, when Bioshock Infinite was gifted to me for my birthday this past year, I jumped in a bit worried that I wouldn’t “get it”, that I’d miss the references or story beats from the other games.

Boy, was I wrong.

The opening sequence to Bioshock Infinite is one of the most breathtaking and awe-inspiring moments in my gaming life. I felt like I’d this city in the clouds lived and breathed on my screen, and it enveloped me to make me a part of it. I wanted to explore every nook and cranny, meet every character, see every sight, and just live in that moment forever. Well done, Bioshock. Well done.

Runners up: Receiving a PS4 as a wedding gift and Learning to livestream my gaming

Best Character

Winner: Trevor Phillips

Love him or hate him, Trevor was the most interesting character to appear in a video game this year. He was well voiced, well acted, and painted in the right light: Always walking the line of being charismatic, sympathetic, pathetic, and psychopathic. He drove the story in one of the biggest budget games of all time, and thanks to him, we got to go back to the chaotic roots of Grand Theft Auto while still having that chaos “mesh” with the game.

Runners up: Elizabeth from Bioshock Infinite and Silas Grieves from Call of Juarez: Gunslinger

Best Art Style/Graphics/Prettiest/Nicest Looking

Winner: Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag (PC)

Dat water. Sure, I’m using a recently upgrade PC rig that costs more than 3 new consoles combined, but I’ll be damned if this isn’t the best looking Assassin’s Creed game I’ve ever played. The PHYSX effects on the Jackdaw’s sails and Edward Kenway’s clothing make me so happy that I’m still playing video games. Seeing this kind of stuff makes me realize we’re in the future, and it’s glorious here. Couple the PHYSX stuff with fog and smoke from the cannons, the best weather system I’ve seen since Red Dead Redemption, and an ocean that rocks, rolls and feels alive, and you’ve got an open-world game that feels alive and real.

Runners up: Call of Juarez: Gunslinger and Bioshock: Infinite

Funniest Gaming Moment

Winner: “Breaking” the Stanley Parable

I’m not going to spoil this one for you. Let me just saw that if you’ve provided feedback on Portal and Minecraft, and you’ve stared at a screaming baby, you’ve experienced one of the best endings to the game.

Runners up: Michael accusing Trevor of being a hipster in Grand Theft Auto V and Watching pirates try to play through pirated copies of Game Dev Tycoon

Game I want to see a sequel to

Winner: Tomb Raider

Again, confession time: I’ve only ever played a handful of Tomb Raider games. The original, the anniversary edition, and the guardians co-op one. So, this Tomb Raider origin story was tailored for me to enjoy and immerse myself in.

I never could get into Uncharted, but Tomb Raider scratched all the right exploration/sneaky third person/open space combat itches. The game looked great on XBOX 360, and I’d recommend folks who skipped it pick up the “definitive edition” releasing for PS4 and Xbone later this month. Standouts include the way cover was treated and implemented, the use of sound and colour during stealth, and the bow and arrow. Arguably the best bow and arrow in a game since Skyrim.

Runners up: Bioshock Infinite and To The Moon

Game I never want to see again

Winner: Call of Duty

You know what Activision? It’s done. Through. Finished. Time to move on. We need you (or someone else) to reimagine or reinvent the online shooter for this new generation of consoles. Maybe Titanfall is it, or maybe Destiny or The Division will pick up the mantle. But I can’t stand to play another Call of Duty game.

Runner up: Maybe SimCity – I really need to go back to it and see what it’s like almost a year after release.

Best Audio

Winner: Battlefield 4

DICE does sound right. I’ve never heard better sound effects in a game than those from the Battlefield series. With every release, it just seems to get more real and visceral. Sure, they botched the launch of the game something fierce (though admittedly, I never had any issues), but they’ve stabilized the game and, in my mind, have taken the series to a whole new level. I can’t wait to get into my new house and set this game up with my new surround sound system. I might end up with PTSD, but it’ll be worth it.

Runners up: Starbound, Grand Theft Auto 5 and Bioshock Infinite

Biggest disappointment

Winner: SimCity

No surprise here: This game really fell flat on its face. After experiencing the pre-release livestreams and hype, I felt duped when I “ran out of space” in my city. Cars were not able to navigate my roads, the city I built couldn’t hold all the services I needed to be self-sustaining, and the online regions were broken for weeks after release. As I mentioned above, I don’t want to see this series go away, and I do want to go back and give it another shot. But for now, SimCity is the biggest disappointment of the year.

Runner up: Sales numbers for Tomb Raider and The delay of Watchdogs to 2014

Biggest surprise (in games in general or a specific game)

Winner: PS4 outsells Wii U’s lifetime sales

Nintendo, I love you. You’ll always have a place in my heart. And I do love the Wii U – it will be my next console purchase when Mario Kart and/or Super Smash Bros. drop this year. But man did you fuck things up with this console. It’s been over a year since launch, and in December 2013, a console that had been on the market less than a month surpassed the lifetime sales of the Wii U.

I get that the PS4 had all of the hype, but I’m genuinely shocked that the Wii U is selling this poorly. Sure, there are lots of things or people to blame, and I’m not all doom-and-gloom about the future of Nintendo. Still, out of all of the surprises this year, that one is a shocker.

Runners up: Free games from PS+ continue and keep getting better, Livestreaming becomes massive in 2013 and People are willing to pay for incomplete games (early access/alphas/betas)

Game I’m most looking forward to in 2014

Winner: Watchdogs

Yep, it’s a 2014 game now. I was pretty concerned when Ubisoft pushed the game back – what’s wrong with it? Is it incomplete? Will it suck? Then I realized: Pushing back a game is awesome. It means that the publisher is committed to it’s success, and that they’re willing to give the developer more time to make the game great. So, I’m not afraid of Watchdogs anymore. I know Ubisoft has a great track record and will put out a good, if not great series premier. Remember the first Assassin’s Creed? Just look where we are now.

Runners up: South Park: The Stick of Truth, The Crew, The Division, and Destiny

Best co-op game

Winner: Payday 2

Sure, I only just played this game in 2014, but it released in 2013 so shuddupayoface. The rush of casing a bank, donning a mask, tie-wrapping hostages, cracking safes, making escapes and getting that payday couldn’t be matched this year. I played quite a few co-op games, but this is the one that most closely compared with the gold standard in my mind: Left 4 Dead 2. It’s 4 of you against the world in Payday 2, and there’s a lot to see and do. Fun for the whole crew guaranteed.

Runner up: Starbound

Best multi-player game

Winner: Battlefield 4

Just like previous Battlefield games, nothing compares to getting a squad of friends in a match and sticking together across an epic battlefield filled with planes, tanks and ships. Those “battlefield moments” that occur have gotten bigger, better and flashier, but they’re still so organic to the experience that don’t act or feel scripted or forced. This game is why I’m so excited for Star Wars: Battlefront, whenever it may arrive. DICE just knows how to create large-scale multiplayer games. It’s their thing.

Runner ups: FIFA 14 and Grand Theft Auto Online

Most addictive game

Winner: Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag

It’s been a long time since I’ve woken up early to play a video game. For a good solid couple weeks before the holidays, I woke up early to play AC4, and I didn’t mind the fact that I was tired earlier in the day than normal. Usually, I wake up early to exercise, but this was an exercise in fun. AC4 is also one of the few games I’ve thought about even when I wasn’t playing, and thanks to the app they created, I was able to “play” without playing the game, and still get in-game benefits. Assassin’s Creed games always hook me, but none have ever hooked me so completely as AC4.

Runners up: Grand Theft Auto 5, Payday 2 and Starbound

My dirty little secret game (which game were you most ashamed of liking?)

Winner: Game Dev Tycoon

There was a bit of controversy surrounding this game: The developer – Greenheart Games – leaked a gimped copy of the game to torrent sites, and when players tried to play the illegal copy of the game, they would inevitably go out of business due to piracy of their games… in the game. It was meta and clever and I really liked how they pulled it off, so I supported them by making their game one of the three I purchased during the year.

However, following this news, people began to rag on Game Dev Tycoon for ripping off other game development simulators, most notably Kairosoft’s Game Dev Story. They certainly shared a lot of similarities, and the early release of the game was remarkably similar to GDS.

Flash forward a few months to the last quarter of the year, and I’m still playing Game Dev Tycoon, now on Steam and fully-realized. The game is great, it’s deep, has interesting systems and mechanics, and has way more to it than Game Dev Story. Still, I feel like that initial black mark has stuck with the game, and my support could still be misconstrued as being gullible. I don’t care. I really like this game, and will continue to play and support the dev team. Take that, Internet.

Runner up: Tiny Death Star

Best handheld / mobile game

Winner: Star Wars Pinball

Who doesn’t like pinball? Everybody loves pinball, of course! Put it together with Star Wars and you literally cannot go wrong. Though Star Wars Pinball doesn’t exactly provide faithful, realistic table recreations (it’s loaded full of CG and special effects), it checks all the right boxes. It’s easy to pick-up and play, it’s challenging, it has leaderboards and scores to beat, and it has Star Wars stuff. So much Star Wars stuff.

Runners up: Tiny Death Star and Sid Meir’s Ace Patrol

The Inaugural Wall Punch Award (which game made you so frustrated that you wanted to throw a controller or punch a hole in a wall?)

Winner: The Last of Us

Yup. I’m saying it: The Last of Us has frustrated me. I want to sit down and just “watch” the game, but unfortunately, the clunky stealth and gameplay mechanics have been getting in the way of that. It feels like a stealth game that forgot it was a stealth game, so it built action game levels, controls and cover mechanics. I’m still going to play the game, and I’m definitely going to finish it, but I can’t guarantee I’ll have the same number of PS3 remotes in good working order as when I started.

Runner up: FTL

Best Game I played this year (can be a game released from any year, but that you played this year)

Winner: To The Moon

I laughed. I cried. I thoroughly enjoyed my 4 hours spent with this video game. In a year in which I finished The Walking Dead and Spec Ops: The Line, this game still took my breath away and left me with a lasting impression. It’s tough to find a game that does storytelling and gameplay well. Often, we have to settle for one or the other. I’m not saying that To The Moon had the best gameplay, but it’s puzzles, art style and presentation, couple with the incredible story and characters, made this my 2013 Game of 2012 winner.

Runners up: The Walking Dead and Spec Ops: The Line

Best 2013 Game

Winner: Bioshock Infinite

I find myself trying to convince myself why Infinite shouldn’t be my Game of the Year, or why one of my runners up should be… and I can’t. Infinite had the right mixture of story beats, mystery, gunplay/combat and genuine mouth-hanging-open moments. No other game delivered at Infinite’s level on all of those fronts. I’ll remember my time in Columbia forever, and I’ll remember Booker and Elizabeth forever, too. They’re there now, imprinted on my gaming memory for all time.

So, rather than convince myself not to make it my Game of the Year, I’d like to convince you to play it and make up your own mind. It’s was recently on sale for $10 on Steam, and it’ll be one of the free games this month (January) with Playstation Plus. Throughout 2014, you’ll have lots of opportunities to play great games: This needs to be one of them. Play it for the story. Play it for the characters. Play it to experience a lovingly crafted game world. If none of this appeals to you, play it to mess around with vigors (magic), awesome guns and great enemy types. There’s something for everybody, but the whole package delivers on another level.

Hyperbole aside, I can’t wait to visit the DLC for Infinite, and to see what Ken Levine and team come out with next. I’ll be there to throw money at my screen.

Runners up: Grand Theft Auto 5, Tomb Raider, Assassin’s Creed 4 and Battlefield 4