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Monday, January 20, 2014

The Best Video Games of 2013

A lot of video gamers were probably looking forward to finding a shiny new Sony PlayStation 4 or a Microsoft Xbox One under the tree last year. If Santa failed to deliver, don't be discouraged. The truth is that while each of those new systems do have some games worth playing, the really big games of 2013 will run just fine on Sony's PlayStation 3 and Microsoft's Xbox 360.

In fact, it's likely that gamers won't see the truly must-have titles appearing exclusively on the next-generation consoles until the 2014 holiday season.

More importantly, 2013 was a very good year for games. There were plenty of titles that offered a true cinematic experience with compelling storylines, excellent graphics, and gameplay that kept us coming back from more. Here is our recap of the best that last year had to offer.

Grand Theft Auto V (PS3/Xbox 360)

Back in September, this game generated $800 million in sales in the first 24 hours of its release, so clearly the developers did something right. It's also worth noting that Grand Theft Auto V garnered some of the best ratings of the year. In this one, the player also gets to be bad to the bone and play from the perspective of a trio of career criminals.

 This third-person, single-player action game features an open world, in which players can take the adventure at their own pace, deciding what jobs to pull and how to pull them off. Set in the fictional state of San Andreas (based on Los Angeles), there are six large heists in and around the game's main city, which play out in multi-part missions. Each requires careful preparation, recruiting, and then precise execution. In addition, players can opt to explore the world at their leisure, play mini-games, and even take part in the open world of Grand Theft Auto Online, where they can join virtual crews to take down even more scores.

About the only complaint that we might have is that the game does glorify crime and violence, so this one certainly isn't for the kiddies! However, if it proves anything, it's that for video game developers, crime pays in a very big way! (Rockstar Games)

Rated: M (Mature)

Call of Duty: Ghosts (PC/PS3/PS4/Wii U/Xbox 360/Xbox One)

The Call of Duty series has been setting the bar very high for a very long time. With this newest game, the first-person shooter franchise has raised the bar yet again.

 This time, the story takes a notable turn. Instead of returning for more modern day action exploits with American and British Special Forces, the player now finds him/herself on the outside looking in. The game begins with a flashback of how the "Ghosts" first appeared. The United States was overwhelmed via a cyber attack conducted from a powerful coalition of South American oil producing nations (made powerful after the Middle East was engulfed in a nuclear war). This overwhelmed the U.S. military and parts occupied. Instead of working to keep America safe, the Ghosts emerged as a way to take the country back and take the war to the enemy. This provides players with less familiar settings and creates new twists and turns.

In addition to the compelling single-player story, Call of Duty: Ghosts also features an online/offline squad player and online multiplayer options. It is truly the Ghosts with the most. (Activision/Infinity Ward)

Rated: M (Mature)

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag (PC/PS3/PS4/Wii U/Xbox 360/Xbox One)

The Assassins certainly left their mark in history and almost like Forest Gump, if something important happened, chances are the Assassins were there. So why don't we remember? Well, according to this video game, the role that this secret guild played in world events has largely been covered up. That is just part of the fiendish plot that is revealed in Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag.

 Despite the title, this is actually the sixth installment in the history bending franchise, which began in the medieval Crusades. This time, the action also apparently goes back in time, as the most previous title was set during the American Revolution. However, this franchise has always played fast and loose with history -- and in fact, it isn't so much set back in the days of pirates and buccaneers as it is set in the minds of the seemingly deceased main character Desmond (how's that for a plot twist for you?).

Once again, he goes deep into his DNA to uncover the role his family (who just happened to be deadly Assassins) played in these historic events. This action adventure game offers yet another compelling storyline, with plenty of twists and turns, as well as even more fun on the high seas. (Ubisoft)

Rated: M (Mature)

Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition (Xbox 360)

 This year, a brand new version of Minecraft was crafted just for the Xbox 360. The game about breaking and placing blocks now includes features designed specifically for the console, including a new interface that offers a new way to build Minecraft worlds, as well as a tutorial mode and split-screen features so up to eight players can build together via Xbox LIVE.

In Minecraft, you can build your worlds and go off on adventures. The beauty of Minecraft is that it's a blank canvas, so you get to make the game.

While Minecraft has been the domain of PCs for the past few years, this year Xbox 360 was added to the platforms, along with pocket editions for iOS and Android. You may question why a blocky game makes the list, but the big screen displays a better resolution and opens up new possibilities for the game. The world is yours. (Microsoft)

Rating: E (Everyone)

Tomb Raider (PS3/Xbox 360/PC)

 Pixels have always been an important part of Tomb Raider, and the newest version of this insanely popular franchise is no exception. Standard and Collector's Editions for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 (with versions for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 due out late January) offer the grittiest Tomb Raider to date, in its high-definition glory.

This new version reboots the game, with Lara Croft ready to tackle anything that's thrown at her. It also allows you to visit the origins of the Tomb Raider series, which begins even before the first Tomb Raider way back when.

That action begins on the shores of a distant location, as a heavy storm destroys the boat on which Lara Croft was traveling. As the story progresses and Lara gets her hands on a number of weapons, such as a bow and arrow, shotgun, handgun, and a climbing axe, it's easy to see the path she travels from socialite to toughened archeologist ready for action. (Square Enix)

Rating: M (Mature)

The Last of Us (PS3)

There are plenty of games that drop the players into a post-apocalyptic world, but few are as gritty or as intense as The Last of Us. While it does offer the usual (and frankly stale) concept of infected humans -- in this case zombie-like creatures infected by a mutated strain of Cordyceps fungus -- that is far from the only threat.

 The player takes on the role of Joel, a jaded member of a human resistance group, who is charged with leading a girl named Ellie to safety. The reason Ellie is such precious cargo is because she could be the key to curing the infection and saving the ravaged world. The problem is that the infected humans aren't the only thing standing in the way. Bandits and cannibals pose just as much of a threat and The Last of Us is far from a run and gun experience. In this third-person action game, stealth and cover are keys to survival. It is more akin to The Road, where direct confrontation isn't a good idea -- at least if staying alive is part of the plan.

In addition to the dark, yet enjoyably intense single-player story, the game features a multiplayer mode that pits "hunters" against "fireflies," which calls on teamwork to survive in a world gone truly wild. (Sony Computer Entertainment)

Rating: M (Mature)

BioShock Infinite (PS3/Xbox 360/PC)

 The ragtime years of the early 20th century were ones when there was a feeling of great anticipation. It was a time of progress, repression,  and enlightenment, yet one with the looming fears of war. BioShock Infinite uses this backdrop and combines it with the fantasy of a steampunk world. Where the original BioShock was set in a utopia under the sea (until something truly horrific happen), this time around the action -- set in 1912 -- heads to the clouds in a floating sky city known as Columbia.

The player takes the role of a private detective looking for a lost girl. He finds much more in the idyllic Columbia, which is on the verge of a class war. At times, the first-person action shooter is a little too linear, but because of the vastness of the setting, feels far more open.

Many game developers strive to create something different and unique, and Irrational  Games and publisher 2K Games have delivered it from the sky in BioShock Infinite. (2K Games)

Rating: M (Mature)

Battlefield 4 (PS3/PS4/Xbox 360/Xbox One/PC)

 The blockbuster first-person shooter series returns to action once again. It features a single-player, character-driven campaign that allows players to jet set across the world in a near future conflict. But as with past games, it is the multiplayer and online co-op action that really brings the house down.

It isn't just the house either, but much of the landscape can be altered as the game's Frostbite engine makes great use out of the concept of destructible environments, which once again includes the ability to blow up buildings and take out structures. Battlefield 4 also once again provides not only an arsenal of small arms, but a plethora of vehicles -- from tanks to jet aircraft  -- that can be driven and piloted into battle.

The commander mode, last seen in Battlefield 2, makes a return here and provides players with options to take charge, issue orders, drop supplies and in a pinch, launch cruise missiles at enemy positions. Love is a battlefield, but this is a Battlefield to truly love. (Electronic Arts)

Rating: M (Mature)

Dead Rising 3 (Xbox One)

 While you wait to get your weekly fill of AMC's The Walking Dead, you can take on some zombies in Dead Rising 3, an Xbox One exclusive and perhaps the sole reason to actually try to snatch Microsoft's next-generation console this year.

Dead Rising should be played by anyone who says, "I'm ready for the zombie apocalypse," because the truth is that no one really ever would be. As Nick Ramos, a mechanic by trade before the world went to hell, you'll have to rely on improvised weapons to escape the city of Los Periddos before a military strike wipes it out for good.

This survival horror video game utilizes the Xbox Kinect to allow the zombie horde to "hear" the noises in your room, while gamers can also take advantage of devices compatible with Microsoft's Xbox SmartGlass to gain access to exclusive missions and new weapons. The end of the world isn't so bad, at least on the Xbox One. (Capcom)

Rating: M (Mature)

Batman: Arkham Origins (PS3/PS4/Xbox 360/Xbox One/Wii U)

 Batman has had more than a few origin stories over the years, but don't think of Batman: Arkham Origins so much as a reboot. It's really more of a prequel to the Arkham game franchise from Warner Bros. This time around, Batman players will get to meet many of his greatest enemies for the very first time -- and it is very much a punch at first sight sort of meet and beat.

Set five years before the hit Batman: Arkham Asylum, players get to don the "bat suit" as a younger and spryer, but less refined Batman. The game fittingly begins on Christmas Eve, when Batman stops Black Mask's attempts to escape from prison, and then encounters various other classic villains, including the Joker and Bane.

The third-person action game focuses on Batman's combat and stealth abilities, but calls in his skills as the great detective as well. And what would a Batman game be without cool gadgets? (Warner Bros.)

Rating: T (Teen)

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