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While it's probably too early to be deciding on a pick for game of the year I've decided to take a look back at the best I've played so far. There will certainly be contenders besides the three I've chosen with major releases coming later this summer and going into the holiday season for all of the systems available. Grand Theft Auto 5 is an early pick for many despite the fact that we've just recently seen actual gameplay footage. Assassins Creed 4 could stun with re-worked mechanics that didn't quite fit 3 as well as they could have and some attention spent dealing with the legacy issues the series is known for. Quantic Dream's Beyond: Two Souls could finally be the title that pushes their work out of the realm of 'niche' titles and into mainstream gamers vocabularies. Others besides these few could come out of nowhere and wow me but something about the three I've chosen so far resonate with me in ways that I don't think the newness of the fall releases will dim.
I could say that the story is what sets these games above the rest. It'd be a disservice to the developers to not also mention the great game mechanics and well done atmospheres the programmers and graphic designers brought to the table. Great games and great stories come together rarely enough and we've had three so far this year. It also happens that all three games feature major female roles. All of whom are extraordinarily well written.
I'm not one to step into the ring in regards to the portrayal of women in video games. I think we've all seen the poorly done caricatures and balloon figures enough times to agree that while many areas exist that still need some attention, at least some developers are doing things right via womankind. Putting these strong, independent (if still vulnerable) women into lead or major roles is the right way to go about addressing the long-standing respect issues the industry is known for.
So will it be a ladies night at the GotY cafe this year?
The first amazing title I played this year was the long awaited Tomb Raider reboot. I'll admit that I hadn't played all of Lara's previous adventures but I was still eager to try this one out. I'm glad I did because it ended up being one of the most personal tales I've ever played and despite the setting and odds against, somehow pulled off an optimistic ending without devolving too much into feeling forced.
Playing as Lara during her first formative exploring experience was just about everything I wanted it to be. The island setting was beautifully rendered, the combat was polished but still managed to feel 'raw', and the story did wonders to show both her indomitable will to push on mingled with the vulnerability of youth and inexperience. Add some upgrades and collectibles as well as secret locations galore and it already looked like we had a GotY contender in February.
Then March rolled around and Bioshock Infinite dropped to worldwide applause. While I finished the original I passed on the sequel and it wasn't until Twitter blew up with praise that I went out and picked this one up. It ended up being one of the finer shooters I've ever played while also surprising me on at least a few occasions as the story twisted and turned. It's not often that I find myself immediately wanting to talk about the ending of a game but this one had me looking left and right for someone who was willing/able to talk spoilers.
Escorting Elizabeth through the wounded city of Columbia was a sometimes surreal, sometimes frantic experience that ended up being so much more than the sum of it's parts. Between the fully realized city and the factions and characters that made it up to the finely tuned combat and exploration segments, Bioshock Infinite hit all the high water marks for immaculate game design. Add in the stellar performance by the unlikely star of the game, Elizabeth, and the game ends up winning on levels most games don't even compete at. It's rare that I end up caring about characters in games and here I find myself thinking about two of them long after the credits have rolled. At this point it's still only March.
The Last of Us
I finished up The Last of Us a few nights back and have been playing through new game+ to see how being fully upgraded affects the game (it's still awesome). Like the other two mentioned before, TLoU ended up being a fantastic ride that I'm still thinking and talking about. I'm a sucker for character upgrades and all three of these titles feature it pretty heavily. While the gameplay in TLoU shines in it's own way with a visceral take on the Uncharted mechanics, it's once again the story that takes center stage in this, my final (so far) GotY pick.
This game probably ended up frustrating me more than either of the other two as some of the stealth mechanics didn't always play out as I expected them to. Minor gripe aside, this game somehow managed to raise the bar higher even than Infinite when it comes to telling a compelling story in a video game. I knew this game was going to be dark going into the experience, but I was still stunned as the credits started to roll. It takes a lot for a game to get me to almost immediately restart it to see what 'tells' the early cutscenes show and Naughty Dog pulled it off for sure.
So here we are midway through July with me having already chosen three valid GotY contenders. All three are fantastic games with mechanics that differ in some areas and show similarities in others. All three also offer fantastic tales for the player to experience although none of them manage to tread on the same ground as each other. Finally, all three feature some of the most well written, emotive, and realistically portrayed female characters I've ever gotten the chance to play as (or escort). It's still early, but any of these games could easily sit atop the charts when it comes time to tally who was the best later in the year.
So far it's looking like ladies night indeed!
Booker and Joel will have seats at the table and Michael and the gang from GTA5 may crash the party, but we all know Lara, Elizabeth, and Ellie are the 'real' heroes this year!
Any other early picks I may have missed?
Thanks for reading boys and girls!