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Last week, we revealed the winners of The Escapist Awards of 2013, awarding what we felt were the best games of their respective genres in the calendar year. There were some doozies: The Bridge won Best Platformer while we turned heads naming Pokemon X & Y Best RPG of 2013. The Escapist editors then had the arduous task of narrowing down the five best games of the year, and then choosing the one to honor with our highest award of 2013.

The Escapist Award Game of the Year 2013 Nominees are:

Pokemon X & Y
Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag
The Last of Us
XCOM: Enemy Within
BioShock Infinite

The decision was tough, but in the end there could be only one Game of the Year. Still, we chose a runner-up that will not surprise anyone.

Runner Up – Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Assassin's Creed iV: Black Flag

Greg Tito, Editor in Chief of The Escapist: I am a pirate, and I love it. Sailing the open seas, capturing pitiless cogs and magnificent brigs alike in Black Flag is a glorious experience. It feels as authentic to the Golden Age of Piracy as possible while delivering the fantastically refined stealth-action mechanics Ubisoft has perfected over the years. In other words, it’s freaking fun and came a spore’s width away from winning The Escapist Award for Game of the Year 2014.

Here’s the thing, after all the Johnny Depp movies and the pirates vs. ninja memes, I didn’t even know that I wanted a pirate-themed game in 2013. I certainly enjoyed the naval side-missions in Assassin’s Creed III, and probably wasted too much time investing money in upgrading my ship instead of the Homestead. And when I heard AC4 was going to be based on the open seas, I thought that sounded like a great idea.

Was it ever! Every isolated cove, palm tree-encrusted beach, and rogue wave in the Caribbean is yours to explore. Assassin’s Creed IV is so full of entertaining collectibles and interesting challenges like defeating island fortresses and elite ship captains that it sometimes feels like you have to pull yourself away to advance the story.

But once you do, the narrative of Edward Kenway slowly learning about the ancient conflict between Assassins and Templars is a refreshing romp compared to the series’ other protagonists. Kenway is a pirate first, and he respects the freedom that life affords him more than the peasant life awaiting him back home in Wales. The artifact the forces are chasing – the Observatory which allows you to view anyone anywhere – even has thematic implications in our own era. A pirate game that makes me consider the NSA and Edward Snowden? Well played, Ubisoft.

Black Flag worked great on next generation systems as well as the current consoles. In fact, Ubisoft released it on nearly major every platform available (including PC!) nearly simultaneously and each version worked swimmingly with virtually no bugs. Sure some glitches exist, but overall the number of reports have been low. It’s sad such a feat is so remarkable, but I don’t know of another title which has straddled so many different consoles (and generations) with so few complaints from the user base on bugginess, lost framerates, or lag.

If only the technical wizards at Abstergo Entertainment, er Ubisoft, would release a save game converter those for us who wanted to upgrade to the Xbox One/PS4 version, we’d all be a lot happier.

Now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for. The Escapist Award for Game of the Year 2013 goes to …

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Game of the Year 2013 – The Last of Us

The Last of Us Screen 09

Josh Vanderwall, Managing Editor of The Escapist: There have been a lot of words written about Naughty Dog’s PS3-exclusive The Last of Us since its release last June. Jim Sterling talked about it recently, calling it “A beautiful and engrossing story of redemption… The Last of Us is touching, disgusting, and often times scary.” It naturally won The Escapist Award for Best Action-Adventure, where we said “The Last of Us sets the player up to not only play the game, but genuinely experience the drama as the adventure unfolds.” Naughty Dog’s game defeated the fan-favorite Papers, Please in The Escapist‘s Reader’s Choice Game of the Year bracket, Even Yahtzee found something to appreciate , calling the story “well presented,” which is actually quite the bit of praise coming from The Escapist‘s most curmudgeonly personality.

If you haven’t puzzled it out yet, we really like The Last of Us.

With expertly-crafted characters, with their humanity on display at all times, The Last of Us told a heartbreaking story from the tragic introduction to the controversial end. Whichever side of the debate you find yourself on, it’s hard to argue that the ending of The Last of Us was anything less than poetic, even if it’s poetic in the saddest kind of way. It asks – and answers – uncomfortable questions. “What would you do?” It could be argued that Joel’s actions in the closing scenes show more character development than some other games’ protagonists get throughout their story. Then, there was the musical alternate ending, which is worthy of its own award.

It’s not the gameplay so much that made us pick The Last of Us as Game of the Year 2013. It’s the wholeness of the experience. It’s the fact that, despite playing dozens of games this year, the characters, the story, and the interactions in The Last of Us persist through the noise. I played Ryse: Son of Rome less than two months ago, and yet The Last of Us is what I remember from the year, despite playing through it back in June. So, regardless of how played out Zombies may be, or how passé post-apocalyptic settings are these days, The Last of Us does more than just end the world in a perpetual tide of ravenous undead. It offers an inimitable glimpse at the lives and motivations of survivors, of humans, of genuine people that you can truly understand and, with that, associate yourself with as you play.

You don’t have to take our word for it, The Escapist community also finally chose The Last of Us for the Reader’s Choice Game of the Year in our bracket tournament. It’s rare for both critics and audience to match up so closely – look at the discrepancy between Metacritic user scores and critics – but it’s a testament to the design of The Last of Us for both the press and the audience to be so aligned in their praise. Read more about the results of the Reader’s Choice bracket here.

The Escapist is proud to present our Game of the Year 2013 Award to The Last of Us! Congratulations to game directors Bruce Straley, Neil Druckmann, designer Jacob Minkoff, and the whole team at Naughty Dog Studios for delivering an excellent game experience. KUDOS!

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