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Cream of The Crop: 2013

      As I've looked for a new subject to tackle for a blog post, I decided to take a gander back at what I've written over the past couple of years. One particular article I noticed is "Cream of The Crop: 2012," which has been my most viewed article. I also remembered that I published it last year during the month of March, and then I had the kind of epiphany writers rejoice over. Since there's a whole crop of fresh games coming our way in the coming months, why not write a follow-up to last year's cream of the crop on what I believe will be the most pristine games from this year's batch?

Man...I should have written this several months ago. Well, at least the options are narrowed down.

       The 2013 E3 conference also spurred this idea in my head with all the fantastic trailers and gameplay that have come from it. Kingdom Hearts 3, Titanfall, Mirror's Edge, Star Wars: Battlefront...these are but a fraction of the incredible games that have recently been unveiled. However, the ones I've mentioned (along with many more I'm anticipating) are not coming out this year. I was honestly surprised when I found this out, and it has caused me to be significantly more analytical in regard to what ten games I've chosen for this list and what general order they should be in.

      Now, I can't say I'm being entirely accurate with my opinions. I might've glanced over a game that's actually coming out this year, or perhaps my level of excitement for any given game will alter in a small or drastic fluctuation. Regardless, my picks here are mainly on target and highlight the majority of the games I'm certainly looking forward to getting my hands on.

Let's get started!

 

10. Outlast

~Genre: Survival-Horror

~Developer: Red Barrel Games

~Platforms: PC, PS4

~Release Date: TBA 2013

      Red Barrels is a developer that's recently walked on the scene, and they're making an unexpectedly bold entrance with their first game called "Outlast." Inspired by Amnesia: The Dark Descent and horror films such as [REC], this survival-horror game is played from a first person perspective that involves the constant use of a camcorder with night vision capabilities. The reason why is that a journalist, Miles Upshur, has been given the opportunity to go undercover and find out what's occurring in a recently re-opened asylum under the inconspicuous control of the Murkoff Corporation. However, once he enters the asylum, he finds himself in a horrifyingly gruesome nightmare, where he's thrust into running for his life. It's pitch black everywhere, grotesque and deranged humans lurk around unexpected corners, and hope is dwindling. If he's to outlast this onslaught of terror, it's going to take some courage from players to guide him along.

      Basically, I look at Outlast as a modern take on Amnesia: The Dark Descent with smarter and more varied enemies, tighter and less linear level design, advanced gameplay (in regard to being able to do more, like hide under beds, climb into ducts, etc.), and a slightly more intriguing, mysterious story. Red Barrels is going all in with their game; the graphical fidelity of and goals for Outlast must be a risky investment for them. However, from what I've seen, I believe this is going to be a successful survival-horror title that'll offer plenty of scares throughout a hellish asylum with a perturbing story to tell.

 

9. rain


~Genre: Adventure

~Developer: SCE Japan Studio, Acquire, and Playstation C.A.M.P.

~Platform: PS3

~Release Date: Fall 2013

      If you saw the silhouette of an invisible girl in a state of distress during a downpour, what would you do? Would you shake off your perception of her as a hallucination, or believe that your vision's in tip-top perspicacity and follow her? The latter is what the protagonist of "rain" chooses to do, but as a result of this boy's actions, he also turns invisible! After this shocking transformation, he soon discovers that strange, transparent creatures have been chasing the girl, and now they are coming for him as well. During this torrential night in this beautiful city, it's up to the boy to discover why this is happening by pursuing her, while avoiding your unknown attackers.

      The concepts of rain's story and gameplay are quite unique and interesting. Who is this girl? What's happened to her and why? What are the creatures and what do they want with her? The story has the potential to entice players to intently analyze and be intrigued by the plot as it moves forward. This also opens up for emotional character attachment (despite the fact that there will probably be no dialogue) as exemplified in other projects by SCE Japan Studios like ICO and Shadow of the Colossus. Somehow, these games have an uncanny magic to captivate players' hearts for characters that barely say a word to each other. It's a marvel in any form of entertainment media to accomplish something like this, and rain just might do it. When it comes to the gameplay, it looks like simple platforming and (perhaps) some puzzle solving will be involved, but I'm waiting to see how big of a role the rain (the wet kind, not the game) will play as a game mechanic. When the boy or girl steps out of the rain, they disappear from view. However, they become visible once more as water flows down their bodies. Doing the former in the game confuses enemies and sends them away, but they come right after the player once he's in the rain again. This dynamic could open up for some clever and tricky sections that involve precise timing with movement, a challenging puzzle here and there that really makes you think, and more. I'm anxious to see how this game turns out and hope it will be another big hit amongst Sony's excellent downloadable games library.


8. Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag


~Genre: Action-Adventure

~Developer: Ubisoft Montreal

~Platforms: PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii U, PC

~Release Date: October 29, 2013

      Considering that I'm a massive fan of Assassin's Creed, I have a sense of self-loathing pity for not having the perseverance to get past the terrible introduction of Assassin's Creed 3. It left such a bad impression due to its awkwardly paced and boring missions, jarring (but not frequent) glitches, painful loading screens, and dragged out story intro. That's not to say I noticed many of the impressive aspects of this game (such as the beautifully crafted environments, excellent soundtrack, improved gameplay, etc.), but the problems I mentioned disturbed the high expectations I had for it, and I've kept it up on my shelf for months while paying attention to my large backlog of games. I bet I'll enjoy it more once I get into it, but I haven't had the time to do so.

      Therefore, I'm not really qualified to speak on "Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag" yet (especially since it seems heavily built off of its predecessor). However, there are some additions being made to the game that warrant my attention. For example, I haven't touched the naval combat in AC3 yet, but I think I will certainly enjoy it. In AC4, this is going to occur more often with epic boarding of ships and swordfights. There appears to be a larger focus on exploration and freedom this time around with meaningful side quests, like being able to dive into the sea to find booty and scavenge for treasure on tropical islands. And the fact that this is an Assassin's Creed game that takes place in the Caribbean with pirates is awesome in itself. The story and settings have always been the key aspects of the franchise I adore the most, so exploring this section of history with a plethora of legendary pirates and exotic locations to see will hopefully prove to be awesome. I'm a bit wary due to the disappointing beginning of AC3, but since I haven't gone through the whole game and am hearing about all the improvements being made to AC4, I have more than enough reasons to anticipate this blockbuster title.


7. Killzone: Mercenary


~Genre: First Person Shooter

~Developer: Guerrilla Cambridge

~Platform: PS Vita

~Release Date: September 10, 2013

      The Vita is a fantastic piece of handheld hardware with so much potential. It blows the 3DS away in terms of graphics, has a touch screen (with a touch pad on the back), and a comfortable, attractive build. However, it's still stuck in the same situation the 3DS was in during its first year on the market, which is having a lack of worthwhile games. The 3DS has since then increased its library of games exponentially, whereas the Vita still struggles to get to that point. For example, Call of Duty: Black Ops - Declassified was hyped up to be the first person shooter that would prove the power and capabilities of the system. Unfortunately, the game fell flat on its face, and everyone continued waiting for the Vita to have its killer FPS game. I think "Killzone: Mercenary" is finally going to be that game.

      One thing anyone will notice upon first seeing the game is that it's stunningly beautiful and detailed for being on a handheld system. It literally looks comparable to Killzone 2's graphics...that's saying something. The gameplay also remains largely the same as its console brethren (due to the awesome layout of the buttons and analog sticks), with some additional features using the touch screen to carry out melee events or small actions like throwing a grenade by swiping the screen. As the player goes throughout the game, he/she will have opportunities to complete challenges and missions to earn currency, which can be spent on all sorts of equipment in the campaign or multiplayer. And speaking of the campaign, the story will be providing a unique look at the Killzone universe through the eyes of neutral characters. In other words, they are a group of mercenaries that are willing to work for the ISA or Helghast...it depends on who pays what. This could open up for insightful looks into the motivations of key political and military leaders of both factions, explain why certain events happened in other Killzone titles, and add drama to the lives of the mercenaries by having them question where they draw the line in terms of morality and who can trust who. The point is that this game is basically the console experience of Killzone in a portable package. There's no other way to put it, and that's why Mercenaries is so appealing.


6. Tearaway


~Genre: Adventure

~Developer: Media Molecule

~Platform: PS Vita

~Release Date: October 22, 2013

      If any developer can bring out the gameplay possibilities of the Vita, I believe that would be Media Molecule. Their excellent and adorable LittleBigPlanet games brought out the creativity of gamers' imaginations with a simple, yet extremely deep level creation system. When it comes to "Tearaway," this developer is looking to impress gamers once more with an intuitive, light-hearted experience.

      Watching people play Tearaway brings a smile to my face at how interactive and personal the game is to the player. Media Molecule has stressed that this is the most important part of the game, which constantly allows the player to affect the world they see in a variety of ways courtesy of the abilities of the Vita. This is possible due to the vibrant, colorful, and visually pleasing art style, which is entirely composed of paper. Everything is made out of it, such as the ground, flowers, bridges...you name it! Going back to how this works with the gameplay, we'll start with the front camera. It's used to display someone's face in certain objects throughout the game that the characters will frequently react to. The real world is tethered to the very fabric of the story, and the player is one of the central characters. The touchpad on the back of the Vita is cleverly utilized to serve multiple purposes. One such example is poking the touchpad to destroy enemies, which acts as very thin paper on the screen, so when you poke it, it ruptures and brings your finger(s) into the world. The touchpad also acts as a trampoline for Iota (the main character) that can be tapped to make him jump when he stands on surfaces marked with the design of the touchpad. The touch screen is more complex because it can be used to alter the shape of objects, move around obstacles, create new pathways, and so forth. I'm sure the mic and motion senser will play important roles as well. So, as you can see, Tearaway is a breath of fresh air in the realm of video game creativity. I've never seen a game that works so well and naturally with a crazy amount of emphasis on the player's meaningful involvement with the experience. The Kinect's slogan maybe "you are the controller," but I think that applies to what Tearaway will be like on the Vita in a more profound manner. I'm eagerly waiting to see more of it in action because it could be one of the sparks that starts the invigoration of the Vita's slow sales and popularity.


5. Wolfenstein: The New Order


~Genre: First Person Shooter

~Developer: MachineGames

~Platforms: PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC

~Release Date: Q4 2013

      I've always been a big sucker for alternate history, especially if it involves World War 2. Therefore, whenever I see any form of media explore a hypothetical scenario in regard to fiction or real life history, my interest is always piqued. "Turning Point: Fall of Liberty" was one such game that caught my attention a few years ago, but after playing a demo of it, I was disappointed by the drab graphics, boring gameplay, and mediocre level design. The story was there: what if Churchill had died before his inspiring speeches to the British? Would they have prevailed? The game explores the events that could have occurred if this had happened, and the United States is under siege because of it. This is an enticing premise, but it's just too bad the game itself wasn't great.

      Another game I checked out is the Wolfenstein released in 2009. While it was better in every way compared to Turning Point, it wasn't amazing, but only a little above average. The game didn't have the adrenaline-pumping gameplay, epic scale, intelligent story, and graphical fidelity that I knew it could have had. Fast-forward about four years and "Wolfenstein: The New Order" is announced by Bethesda (acting as publisher) and MachineGames (developer). And boy, does this game look like the one I've been waiting for so long to exist.

      MachineGames is passionate about the classic Wolfenstein 3D, which is considered the "grandfather of first person shooters." However, they also love modern FPS games and what they've accomplished. MachineGames hopes to combine the old and new in a reimagining of this iconic franchise. The gameplay calls back to older shooters with the necessity of acquiring health packs and armor, but there's a bit of health regeneration thrown in too. The gameplay is explosive and frantic during combat, but a diversity of weapons, multiple ways to dispose of enemies, and scenarios that require unique approaches add a level of depth compared to the wanton abandon that takes place in Wolfenstein 3D's gameplay. The environmental settings are very true to the original game's style with everything receiving a retro sci-fi theme combined with Nazi-inspired weapons, buildings, culture, and robots. Yes, there are terrifying robots (and other out-of-this-world technology) that look like they were drawn straight from hell and modified to fit the sharp, militaristic, and downright evil-looking design of Nazi influence. The story, while adopting some of the comical themes of Wolfenstein 3D, is aiming to shoot for something that not only has B.J. Blaskowicz slaughtering Nazis for the sake of, well, slaughtering Nazis, but is also going to try and establish memorable heroes and villains with noticeable character development. The story will also venture into serious themes such as anti-Semitism, the horrific violence of World War 2, and what a world have been like if Hitler succeeded with his agenda. Although The New Order could turn out to be a flop, I know for a fact that MachineGames is working hard to bring about the triumphant return of a revered FPS for a new generation of video games. Here's hoping they succeed.


4. Mario and Luigi: Dream Team


~Genre: Action RPG

~Developer: AlphaDream

~Platform: Nintendo 3DS

~Release Date: August 11, 2013

      The Mario and Luigi RPG games are something you wouldn't expect from your average Mario game. There are actual stories present (not that that's a bad thing in most Mario games) with surprisingly great character development, compelling villains, and well-written, hilarious dialogue. There's an awesome fusion of turn-based RPG and action gameplay elements that not only create battles that involve strategy, but reflexes and constant engagement to avoid attacks with certain button presses, charging up attacks by repeatedly pressing a button, etc. And lastly, to put it in a seemingly odd sort of way, the art style gives off an aura of joy; the environments in the games are cheerfully colorful, vivid, and gorgeous.

      I've played Partners in Time and Bowser's Inside Story, which are both fantastic experiences no one should miss out on. With Dream Team, the developer, AlphaDream, is looking to shake up the gameplay due to the direction of the story. In a nutshell, Mario is sucked into the dreams of Luigi and has to find a way to escape from this Inception-esque situation. On a side note before I move on, I absolutely love the plot. This game will finally give Luigi the opportunity to have his personality, feelings, and life expounded upon. I believe his jealousy of Mario is going to make for a more serious and even dark tale to tell, and if that's the case, this might end up being one of the best Mario stories told thus far. Anyway, to get back on track, the story ties into the gameplay by allowing the player to do certain things to Luigi's body to progress through levels. For example, if Mario sees Luigi's moustache in the dream world and must get to a high platform, the player can look at the 3DS touchscreen and pull on his real moustache in a certain direction. This elongates the moustache in the dreamscape, which allows Mario to jump up on it so he can get where he needs to go. There is a plethora of other ways Luigi's body will come into play, so it's going to be fun to see how that turns out.

      ...What? This sounds creepy? It's morbid to mess around with peoples' bodies while they're asleep? Yeah, maybe just a bit...


3. Batman: Arkham Origins


~Genre: Action-Adventure

~Developer: Warner Bros. Games Montreal

~Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U, PC

~Release Date: October 25, 2013

      With a shockingly great underdog game in 2009 to a smash hit sequel in 2011, Rocksteady Studios has crafted the best superhero game franchise yet with the dark knight known 'round the world: Batman. They have their own interesting, compelling tale rooted in the DC universe that revolves around Arkham Asylum, characters that are wonderfully realized from their comic book counterparts, and a mix of stealthy and combat-centered gameplay that work alongside each other quite well. The stealth consists of taking down villains one by one by striking at the right moment, using the right equipment, and waiting patiently. The combat, on the other hand, involves the implementation of a simple control scheme that grows more complex (in a beneficial way) over the course of the game. Not only does Batman attack, counterattack, stun, and dodge enemies. He also uses a variety of gadgets at his disposal while stringing together combos that make each battle a chaotically fast, but still manageable, challenge almost each and every time. Arkham City is the sequel to the game that began it all, and how did it improve upon the first game? It brought forth a more accessible and open world to explore, meaningful side content more than worth coming back to, and a story with some of the most unexpected plot twists and grave consequences I've seen in a game.

      How can "Batman: Arkham Origins" - a unique spin on how Batman evolved into a hardened, unparalleled fighter and detective - top what Rocksteady already has on the table? Leave that up to Warner Bros. Games Montreal: the first developer outside of Rocksteady to handle the Arkham franchise. Their love for it, as well as their passion for the DC universe, is easily evident. With supposed deeper character development, new and diversified quests and side content to delve into, a much bigger world, and an exciting tale on how Batman learns, adapts, and survives against the world's greatest assassins, just might help Warner Bros. Games Montreal top Rocksteady at their own game.


2. Knack


~Genre: Action-Adventure Platformer

~Developer: SCE Japan Studios

~Platform: PS4

~Release Date: Q4 2013

      Imagine if Pixar and game developers like Insomniac Games and Naughty Dog got together and collaborated on a project. If you take the light-hearted stories, fun characters, and eye-popping animation of the movie-making magic of Pixar and the gameplay of the aforementioned developers' past works like Spyro the Dragon and Crash Bandicoot, you end up with "Knack." Under the direction of Mark Cerny (a legendary game developer and the lead architect of the PS4), he's looking to bring a family-friendly game to the PS4 with callbacks to classic, platformer Playstation games that have long been dormant.  

      The basic premise of the game is that a city is under siege by the fearsome army of goblins, and the military and political leaders of the human civilization aren't entirely sure what to do. However, a scientist comes forth to reveal a secret weapon at their disposal: Knack. This creature is made up of ancient relic pieces that have been put together in such a way that they form a living conscious. He is the humans' last resort and only hope against defeating the goblins. As for his abilities, all of his pieces (or body parts) float in midair to replicate a humanoid body, but that's not all. He can also incorporate other pieces and elements (such as wood and ice) into his body to drastically increase or decrease in size, which enables him to get through the smallest of spaces or crush a legion of goblins with a swipe of his hand. Just by reading this, it's easy to tell that there are numerous ways that the gameplay can change on the fly due to the amount of forms Knack could take.  This will definitely keep the game from becoming repetitive, which is also remedied by easy platforming, short puzzle solving, and simple combat. This isn't a game that's gritty, tough, or complex. It's shaping up to be an unadulterated, fun, and purely enjoyable and innocent experience that anyone can play or watch. The reason why this is so high up on my list is that my first games were Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon. I recall those games with fond nostalgia and happy memories, and I can't wait to be reminded of the good, old days of the PS1 in addition to experiencing the feel-good aura of a Pixar movie.


1. Pokémon X and Y


Genre: RPG

Developer: Game Freak

Platform: Nintendo 3DS

Release Date: October 12, 2013

      I remember when my sister got Pokémon Crystal for one of her birthdays from my grandmother. She had bought her a couple of games at Gamestop, if I remember correctly, and was most likely told that, among other games, she would like that one. Naturally, my sister doesn't really care for video games that much, so I decided to take this Nintendo game for a spin. I had heard of Pokémon before, but my parents didn't want me to watch the show or play the games due to its  "focus" on evolution. Now, this is certainly understandable because, for one, they are religious (I am as well) and had no knowledge on the context of evolution in the TV show and game. This occurred many years before I got Crystal, so now that I knew how harmless Pokémon was, I jumped into something that captivated my imagination and full attention for a very long time.

      I was immediately drawn into what Crystal had to offer. RPGs had never been my thing, but with Pokémon, it was simple to grasp and yet had an incredibly convoluted system in the best kind of way. The charm of the game to grow, battle, and learn with evolving creatures I can make my own by giving them unique names and outfitting them with diverse movesets gave the experience a personal touch where, to paraphrase the Pokémon theme song, "they taught me and I taught them." There were so many battles to win, side content to explore, and Pokémon to catch. It was quite the addictive game, and subsequently resulted in me playing every main Pokémon game that has come out ever since Crystal. Leafgreen, Emerald, Diamond, you name it. However, after logging in 300 hours in Diamond (yes, I know that's excessive), I played about 40-50 hours of SoulSilver and didn't check out Pokémon for almost two years. This means I dismissed the releases of Black and White and their sequels. Until recently, that changed. I unexpectedly had a fire rekindled one day for the franchise when I randomly decided to draw my favorite Pokémon: Feraligatr (which is my profile picture). I realized how long it had been since I played one of my most beloved game series...I had to get back into Pokémon!

      I purchased Black 2 a little less than two months ago to satiate my nostalgia. I love the graphical improvements achieved compared to SoulSilver, the moving animations during Pokémon battles (really makes a difference), and the obligatory new region, Pokémon to catch, and adventure to embark on. It's simply good fun, which is why I'll always love these games. However, I haven't been able to shake off the back-of-my-head warning that Pokémon can't last like this forever. There has to be an unprecedented leap into massively better 3D graphics, significant and creatively new changes to the incredibly solid (but slowly waning) gameplay, and a story with meaningful characters and events that are just as engaging as the gameplay. In other words, the franchise needs to grow up just a bit, because if it does, I think it will realize a potential that Game Freak might be skeptical and wary of pursuing. Although all of these suggestions won't make it, Pokémon X and Y are the games that will unite old and new fans to a wonderful advancement of the franchise as a whole. The long-awaited new generation of Pokémon is upon us.

      I've rambled on for too long without actually discussing what X and Y are like, so to summarize some of the major changes and additions, the graphical fidelity is much improved, character customization is finally possible, a mode called "Pokémon-Amie" allows players to pet and interact with their Pokémon (think Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance's interaction with Dream Eaters, but better), more cinematic and varied battles such as Sky battles (self-explanatory) and Horde battles (battling up to five Pokémon at once are ways to avoid repetitive encounters), and so forth.

      My love for Pokémon is strong, and I'm honestly surprised and impressed with what Game Freak is doing to (hopefully) radically reinvigorate it to a degree. Come this October, I'm going on an adventure that might just become one of my favorite gaming experiences of 2013.

- - - -

      Thank you very much for reading my top ten picks for the latter half of 2013's games. I had a lot of fun writing this, and hope you enjoyed it! So, what are the games you're anticipating the most for the rest of the year? Do you find yourself agreeing with my list for the most part, or are there some major revisions you would personally give it? How about 2014? Many of the games I wanted to include on this list are mostly releasing from winter to the end of spring next year. What are some of the games you've got your eye on, and why?

       Please post in the comments section below with your thoughts, opinions, and criticisms if you like. I'll be certainly sure to respond if you do. Thanks again, and until next time!

 

Dr. J

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