The end of the year is a time for reflection. We put bookends at the front of January and end of December, then begin the inevitable process of sorting through everything in between to sift out the best. It’s human nature, and we here at Digital Trends embrace it.
For the last few years we have our winners and nominees for the best games of the year in an assortment of categories, generally focusing on the best of each genre. This year though, we tried something a bit different. The lines between genres blurs more and more each year, which makes some of the assignments of where a game “belongs” almost arbitrary. That’s only going to get worse, as phrases like “massively multiplayer online” lose all meaning, since they may soon describe the bulk of the games coming on PC and through the next-gen consoles.
Instead, we looked at what it was about the games we liked this year, and broke it down by categories. Selecting some of these nominees were more difficult than others, as were some of the omissions.
We also tried to take “bigger picture” factors into account, so – just for example – if a game had major issues with the online, and those issues are still ongoing, it is not one of the best games of the year. It may have the potential to be, and it may outstrip other nominees, but we can only deal with games as they are right now. There will no doubt be disagreement, and we encourage that. If you think a game should be on the list but wasn’t, make you case in the comments below (respectfully).
Check back on Sunday, December 22 for a list of the winners.
This category isn’t quite the same as best “action game,” which typically refers to the action/adventure genre. Instead, these nominees are the games that feature the best simulated action. You could also call this category “Best combat,” but that wouldn’t be entirely accurate either. They are the games that got us to grip our controller tightly and lean forward towards our TV/monitor, oblivious to the world around.
This was one of the most difficult and varied categories to nail down, because there were so many games this year that helped bolster the fact that games are, in fact, art. For this category though, we specifically looked at the art in terms of the artwork, the design. Graphics are improving to the point that photo-realism is just around the corner, but that will always be trumped by art that can move you, awe, you, and make you take a moment to stop playing and just appreciate what you’re seeing.
Not to be confused with best downloadable games, a category that is increasingly hard to define, these are the additional content DLCs that truly impressed us. Each of these picks is a supplement to another game, but in each instance it actually made the game better as a result.
Best Small Studio Game
This category was originally called “Best Indie Game,” but that doesn’t carry as much meaning as it used to. Studios are self-publishing more and more, and the line between what we used to define as an independent studio and a more traditional development team continues to blur. That will only continue in the future, making the designation “indie” harder to pin down. So instead we decided to honor the spirit of the award and nominate outstanding games developed outside of the traditional system, and created by a handful of people.
This category is a vital one for gaming. Good mechanics are almost taken for granted these days. If a game fails on this front, it fails completely. The games in this category though go beyond just being polished though, they help us to consider new ways to play.
Best Online game
This category exists to honor the games that really went above and beyond when it came to existing in the online space. This category was open for everything from competitive shooters to racing games, but these games stood as the richest online experiences.
With new technology comes new ways to breathe life into older, previously released game. The games in this category all had strong foundations to build on, but they were made even better, or at least offered a new experience thanks to their re-release.
Best Real Life Simulator
While most games offer a fantastic and heavily dramatized look at some aspect of life that could never really happen, this category is for the games that simulate real world things, including sports and racing simulations. It may not be realistic for the average gamer to be able to dunk on LeBron James, but it’s more realistic than fighting aliens.
Best Team Game
People like to play games with their friends. That bombshell revelation should come as no surprise to anyone that has ever gamed, and more and more developers are moving away from the well-trodden competitive multiplayer fields in favor of a slightly more social experience. The games in these categories all offer the best co-op play around, creating a mixture of objectives, action, teamwork, and maybe even a hint of good natured competition.
As the gaming industry continues to mature, so too do the stories told using the games as a medium. This year continued to feature more and more sophisticated stories, so much so that this was a very difficult category to select. It isn’t just the general plot either, it’s the dialogue, the tone, even the atmosphere. The medium is growing up, and the writing plays a big part of that.
Most Thought Provoking
The games in this category all have an aspect or a twist that went beyond the frequently narrow confines of entertainment, and offered something that stayed with us. It shocked us in the best way possible, and sent us running to talk to our friends that had experienced it online and off. It’s difficult to go into more detail about this category without giving specifics, and therefore spoiling the very thing we loved, but if you played the nominees, you probably know exactly why these games were nominated.
The handheld systems were responsible for some exceptional games this year, and that is a trend that is likely to continue. The 3DS and PS Vita are getting stronger and stronger, and this year proved that. The nominees are for the best handheld game, but they could just as easily be for the best game, period.
Best PC Game
Although the consoles are stealing all the headlines this year, the PC exclusive market had several excellent titles. Nothing new in that. Here are our choices for the best of the year.
Best Sony Exclusive
The exclusive launch games for the PlayStation 4 may not have blown the gaming world away, but Sony still had an incredibly strong year when it came to exclusive titles – and not just on the PS3. It was a big year for Sony on all fronts, and much of that was fueled by exclusives.
Best Xbox Exclusive
The battle of the next-gen systems has barely begun, but when it comes to next-gen launch titles, Microsoft came out swinging. For the launch of the Xbox One, Microsoft released more exclusive games than it had throughout the rest of the year. Thankfully for gamers, they were all solid titles.
Best Nintendo Exclusive
One of the problems with Nintendo recently is a lack of software, especially when it comes to the Wii U. But when it does release a game, Nintendo doesn’t mess around. There may not have been a ton of Nintendo titles released this year, but there were some very good ones.
Game of the Year
And finally we come to the Game of the Year. The nominees this year all offered something a little different, something a little more than their counterparts. Some of the games on this list may not be the most graphically impressive or have the best audio. They may not redefine gaming mechanics. But they all offered something new and unique, and they all surpassed all expectations. These are the best of the best, and they remind us why 2013 was a great year for gaming.