Chandler Kilgore-Parshall ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Many folks see video games as interactive entertainment, or generalize it as “mindless shooters,” and some even considered it “art.” There were a handful of titles that received great praise and accolades for their innovation in gameplay, narrative and/or aesthetics. Some games were jam-packed with explosive blockbuster action while others possessed gripping stories and interesting characters that brought storytelling to fascinating new heights in the medium. 2013 has been a momentous year for video games. Emertainment Monthly has its pick on the five best console games of the year.
5. Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag
Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed has become a household name in the video game industry. The series has explored historical eras like the Italian Renaissance and the American Revolution through the eyes of Assassins like Ezio and Altair fighting a secret war against the Templar Order. There was so much love and attention into reimagining complex and detailed events throughout history while adding a dash of conspiracy and creative fiction into the mix.
Gameplay-wise, Assassin’s Creed has been a stellar hit in the stealth and action-adventure genre. Want to infiltrate the Vatican without being seen? How about engaging in an intense swordfight with a patrol of Templar guards? All of the Assassins are armed to the teeth with guns, swords, and hidden knives to handle such daring tasks. In 2012, Assassin’s Creed III lost the innovation that made its games so refreshingly different as it continued to play with the same deck of cards from the past. Now, Black Flag has reinvented the formula and brought life back into the series.
Black Flag protagonist Edward Kenway is not only just an assassin; he’s a pirate too! Set in the Caribbean during the Golden Age of Piracy, Kenway stumbles upon the invisible war amongst the Assassins and Templars, while encountering famous historical pirates like Blackbeard. The amount of flexibility in exploring the rich open world Ubisoft created is immense. Edward Kenway can build a crew, hoister the sails of the Jackdaw and venture into unknown waters. Through the deep jungles and lively port towns, Edward can uncover treasures thought to be long lost and build his reputation as a pirate. Black Flag is the first game in the series to fully incorporate not only naval exploration, but also deep sea diving and whaling. The Caribbean’s yours for the taking. Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag fully gives players the opportunity to live the life as a swashbuckling pirate.
4. Bioshock Infinite
Bioshock Infinite took us to new heights in both gameplay and storytelling. It was a breathtaking and magnificent moment to ascend to the gorgeous sky city of Columbia; although it’s certainly no paradise. In the shoes of former Pinkerton detective Booker Dewitt, you fight your way to save Elizabeth, a mysterious girl with the power to open tears into other worlds. Who runs Columbia? Why does Elizabeth possess these god-like gifts? And how did a civil war break out in this seemingly perfect utopia by the time Booker arrives? Infinite is like a riveting novel: as you uncover Columbia’s darkest secrets, there are more questions than answers to explore.
The game also opens up discussion on civilization’s attitude on racism and religious extremism, and how our history (Infinite’s set in 1912) set the groundwork for civil rights and social change years later. It’s jarring how dark and gritty these themes of bigotry, religious fanaticism, and fatalism are incorporated into what could have been another, ordinary first-person shooter. That’s what makes Infinite all the more enriching and meaningful. While it doesn’t shove these topics and issues in the player’s face, it takes only a few minutes of exploration and reflection on Infinite’s understated moments. Columbia’s a sandbox of discussion as everything that is morally and socially wrong is evident. It allows the players to decide to either immerse themselves in all that the game has to say, or strictly enjoy the fast-paced, roller-coaster-like gunfights within the game. The choice is up to the player.
Infinite is a game that’s destined to be a classic and will be remembered as a piece of interactive art that examined the downfalls of society and how far a utopia in the sky could fall.
3. Grand Theft Auto V
Tongue-in-cheek. Eccentric. Pugnacious. All of these words sum up the thuggish grandeur that is Grand Theft Auto V.
Rockstar has hit another home run with its biggest and grandest installment in the series to date. It satirizes the superficial glam and lifestyles of contemporary America while maintaining its hectic and destructive gameplay.
GTA V tells a dark, violent and comical story through three very different protagonists: Michael, Franklin and Trevor. Michael is a retired con man who lives in luxury but has a family that hates his guts. Franklin is a young thrill seeker from downtown Los Santos, finding any shortcut to escape a life of gangbanging in the hood. And Trevor, a bloodthirsty psychopath that lives on a mixture of drugs, inexplicable beliefs, and memories of one seriously screwed up childhood. All three are constantly interweaved into the main storyline about achieving the life of extravagance through crazy heists and robberies. The game’s filled with crass and sardonic quips on the millennial generation’s shallowness and obsession with celebrity, sex and extravagance. Michael and the huge cast of characters bring such tongue-in-cheek and raging outbursts of cynicism that Grand Theft Auto V feels more like a bizarre crime caper full of dark humor than just a game.
Playing in the world of Los Santos is amazing. You can switch off one of the three characters in a pinch and take to the streets, playing out their lives. What is extremely cool is there’s a transition effect that when switching characters, the player gets to see what the other character was up to. For example, if you’re switching from Michael to Trevor, you could end up watching Trevor wake up from a blackout on the train tracks seconds before a train almost runs you over.
Small details like that really add a sense of realism to this world; that these personalities actually have lives beyond accomplishing main objectives, and we’re living it with them. Grand Theft Auto has given the players the wheel in how they make their own misadventures. Drive fast cars, rob a bank, cycling up the winding hills that overlook the city, hook up with an escort behind the strip club. And much, much, much more! Indulge in everything that Los Santos has to offer; you won’t regret it.
2. Gone Home
Gone Home is one of the most original games that brings narrative storytelling to a new level that’s both personal and compelling. While it doesn’t have explosive rocket launchers, leveling up, or stealth kills, this uncanny mystery has raised a lot of eyebrows if this is really a video game or a piece of interactive fiction. Either way, Gone Home is so unique and captivating, that the game doesn’t compromise what it’s trying to say.
It takes place in June 1995 at a house in Oregon, with Kaitlin Greenbrair returning home to the family mansion to find her family gone without any signs to their whereabouts. The story sounds straightforward, but the way it’s unraveled is engrossing and complex. Kaitlin goes through every nook and cranny of the mansion to find clues about her family. The devil is in the details. Books, voicemails, posters and environmental clues, secrets are unearthed about Kaitlin’s folks and relatives that piece bigger puzzles together. Gone Home’s biggest strength is how it gives players the ability to deduce what happened and who these characters really are through subtle clues and hints.
The game is so powerful in its interactive storytelling because it’s relatable. We all have families and friends, and stories to tell about the lives we lived, so does Kaitlin and her own family. It’s so real and honest that it feels surreal, even for a video game. Gone Home needs to be experienced at least once.
1. The Last of Us
The Last of Us is a brutal, heartbreaking and astounding masterpiece. Plain and simple. The United States is on the verge of extinction as a sudden outbreak of a mutant Cordyceps fungus ravages the country and its human population. It’s a bleak and dangerous world that deals with the themes of sacrifice, loyalty, fate and hope. An immersive journey that explores the darkest corners of humanity as Joel, a brutal survivor has to escort the young Ellie (who might be the solution to curing the infection) across post-apocalyptic America.
The chemistry between the two characters is captivating and interesting to watch. Joel, who has lived by the motto “kill or be killed” and has witnessed acts of human cruelty, must teach this young girl how to survive. In a world where Cordyceps spread their viral disease with a single bite, and desperate humans are willing to kill, you have to be comfortable in pulling the trigger. Ellie’s so spunky and foul-mouthed that it seems apparent that she has seen some dark stuff in her own personal journey before the start of the game. The two make an excellent team as venturing through the ruins of a city or breathing the foul air in a flooded sewer is filled with interesting banter and snarky one-liners. From both the subtle and overt, the dialogue brings a sense of liveliness and humanity to this incredibly dark journey. You can’t help but root for Joel and Ellie. They’re so likable and reliable, that you’ll be thinking about them when the game’s over.
The Last of Us brings so much to the table gameplay-wise. All of the bloody violence and intense life-and-death scenarios are wrapped in vigorous passion, and interwoven into the powerful storytelling. Since this is set in a post-apocalyptic scene, survival is key but weapons and resources are limited. Joel will fight humans and fungi monsters alike with firearms, axes, and Molotov cocktails. Inventorying and savaging for ammo, parts, and ingredients is extremely crucial to keep Joel fully stocked for ambushes and gunfights. Make every shot count. As enemies are clever and brutally aggressive enough to not let Joel or Ellie get a second chance at them. Stealth is another option as the duo can be outnumbered and outgunned in dire situations. Use bottles, bricks, and other environment objects to distract the pursuers then sneak up on them, place them in a chokehold or slit their throat with a brandished knife. Seeing that to win is to survive in The Last of Us, the game offers many ways to breathe another day.
Exploration is another gem. While civilization has gone down the gutter, it’s a beautiful disaster to gawk at. Nature has ensnared the once-populated cities and certain pockets of the US are trying to civilize again. It’s tragic to see how cities like Boston and Pittsburgh have become derelicts of the pandemic, yet the detail and arrangement makes it all visually beautiful. The voice acting and motion capturing of Joel and Ellie’s actors is spot on. Every minor detail from facial movements to eye twitches makes these fictional characters all the more human. Game developer Naughty Dog put so much love and effort into the presentation that it’s one of the most glorious PS3 games to date, and one final hurrah of this console generation before the PlayStation 4 takes center stage.
The Last of Us is a testament to how video games can be a powerful medium. It’s not just entertainment; it’s a gripping tale about the human condition and what people like Joel and Ellie do to find peace. While it can be bloody and gory, the game is also poignant and profound with its world, characters, and mature themes. The Last of Us will tug at heartstrings and resonate with players once the credits roll…
2013 was a fantastic year for video games. It proved how games are able to deliver compelling stories with interesting characters along with originality in how we play. As the New Year approaches, Emertainment Monthly made sure to celebrate this year’s achievements like The Last of Us and Gone Home before we go forward into 2014.