Whether you’re a member of the PC Gaming Master Race or a couch-based console junkie, 2013 had a lot to offer in the gaming space. From darling indie titles like Papers, Please to triple-A juggernauts like GTA V, gameplay, story, graphics, and soundtracks came together to create some of the most immersive and impressive videogame experiences to date.
When The Escapist editors put our heads together, we discovered that there were simply too many great games this year to just pick one, so we’ve split them up by genre and crowned a winner for each category. There were a few titles that stood out in their field enough to consider for the overall Game of the Year award. You can find the nominees for Game of the Year today, with the winner being announced next week.
Without further ado, here are the winners of The Escapist Awards 2013:
And if you just want to jump to our overall Game of the Year 2013 nominees, click here and bask in the glory of one of the best years in gaming history.
The Nominees for the Escapist Award for Best Shooter of 2013 are:
Runner-Up for Best Shooter of 2013 –
Metro: Last Light
Justin says: In my opinion, no shooter this year so closely mirrored setting and gameplay as Metro: Last Light, and it proved that the post-apocalypse setting still had some life left in it. Set in the metro underground beneath Moscow after the population escaped there from a nuclear bombing, Metro: Last Light followed up and improved upon nearly every aspect of the series’ first outing with Metro: 2033. It’s a game steeped in a richly detailed atmosphere, with the packed subway stations having a life and lived in feel that’s seldom seen in games. You start to feel for its inhabitants all trying to irk out a meager existence while facing the threat of rival factions vying for resources and the various mutated abominations the fallout has spawned. The game is perhaps at its best and most immersive when enabling its harder difficulty modes, a reduction of resources like ammunition and removal of the HUD and crosshairs puts the whole experience into a different light. Stealth becomes a major facet of gameplay as resource conservation becomes increasingly important. These quiet tense moments are in their own way more enjoyable than the bombastic rollercoasters most shooters have gravitated towards.
And The Escapist Award for Best Shooter of 2013 goes to …
Janelle says: Few games manage to get everything right. BioShock Infinite is the game that did. In a time where it can seem like we are doomed to constantly sacrifice story for game play or intuitive UI for immersion, BioShock Infinite showed every one that, yes, we can have it all. With your first small choice, what starts off like an RPG immediately explodes into an edge-of-your-seat first person shooter that refuses to leave story, action and an endless sense of discovery behind.
From the moment you find yourself ripped from the ground through a rocket blasting lighthouse and thrust into the beautiful skies of Colombia, you are immersed in a beautifully designed experience, each of its many facets expertly polished. Floating through the skies, alone and confused, you discover a world blanketed in nostalgic American themes where a dream inspired by roads paved with gold has been perverted into a nightmare. As Booker Dewitt, you find “the girl” as you slowly uncover the secrets hidden within the underbelly of this seemingly prosperous utopia protected by the frightening Songbird and mechanized defense units created in the image of the United States’ founding heroes. Yet, this is not a journey built for the protagonist alone, but for the player too. As you Murder of Crows your way to redemption, you will be personally confronted by an alternate realty where isolationist-bred extremism shaped an American nationalist society. Bioshock dares you to question your morals and beliefs with controversial themes we are currently struggling with in our modern world.
Any game that manages to do it all deserved to be recognized as one of the best in any line-up of this year’s past games. BioShock Infinite is as perfect as games currently get and sets the bar for what all games should strive to achieve.
The Escapist Award Nominees for Best Platformer of 2013 are:
Runner-Up for Best Platformer of 2013 –
Heather says: We’ve all heard it before. “With great power comes great responsibility.” And while it makes sense for many scenarios, I have a hard time not attributing it to Tearaway. Yes, you’ve been gifted godlike powers and sure, you can use your almighty strengths to change the tiny, paper ecosystem of the game to your liking, but Tearaway also provides a positive outlet for all of your benevolent-god needs: helping a courier deliver a very important message.
Developed by Media Molecule exclusively for PlayStation Vita, Tearaway is an ingenious platformer that fully immerses you into a beautiful and lovingly crafted paper world. There you’ll experience the true meaning of partnership when you pair up with your messenger and help them traverse through the world to bring you their all-important letter.
The mechanics in this game are delightful l and full of integrated options to allow you to help your messenger reach their final goal. Being able to tap the back touchscreen and send your messenger gliding through the air via a trampoline is almost as fun as sending your enemies flying by poking your finger through the construction paper barrier beneath them. It’s mechanics like these, fresh and new and fully woven into the core narrative of the game, that make Tearway such a fun and unique platforming experience.
Tearaway is so full of bright scenery, quirky enemies, and fresh game mechanics that playing it without a smile on your face is impossible. A buddy game that can be played entirely by one person, Tearaway brings a breath of fresh air to the platformer genre, provides a new definition for co-op games, and takes The Escapist‘s Platformer of the Year 2013 – Runner Up.
And The Escapist Award for Best Platformer of 2013 goes to …
Josh says: We didn’t catch wind of The Bridge until a few weeks after launch, but I was instantly in love with the Escher aesthetic and mind-bending physics puzzles front and center with the game. Being late to the party, The Escapist missed the review window, as did practically every other publication out there. This just goes to show that not every stellar release will have the hype machine working overtime.
Developed entirely by a pair of graduate students – one artist and one programmer – The Bridge is the epitome of Indie. Published by The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild, a company with virtually no internet footprint, it’s no wonder nobody knew of the title when it launched. The Bridge has since been picked up by Majesco’s indie publishing arm, Midnight City, and eventually made its way to consoles via Xbox Live in November.
What it lacks in hype, The Bridge more than makes up for in unique gameplay and stunning visuals. Forging a world inspired largely by the works of M.C. Escher, this game will have your head spinning from the outset. Each level takes you into another Escher-like puzzle room, where you’ll have to manipulate the world around you to complete the objectives. It’s not a traditional platformer – there’s not even a jump button – but The Bridge offers more innovation to the genre than I’ve seen in recent memory.
The Bridge takes The Escapist‘s Platformer of the Year 2013 title because of how masterfully it blends the mechanics and aesthetics at the core of the game. The confusion created when you’re spinning the world around you, reversing gravity, and crossing back and forth between shadow and light is complemented by the utter chaos of its Escher-esque environment.
The Escapist Award Nominees for Best RPG of 2013 are:
Runner-Up for Best RPG of 2013 –
Path of Exile
Jon says: Cutting through the crust of distaste for hack-and-slash that Diablo III baked into my mind, Path of Exile has captured the crown for the genre. Removing strange, skeuomorphic design elements like gold from the game and adding in, instead, an economy based on the real things of value – creating random magic items – made PoE into a distillation of what made games like Diablo II and Torchlight great. At the same time, adding the ranked and score-driven play that defines the free-to-play genre gives fresh goals to what would otherwise be an endless grind. But what really sets Path of Exile apart is how it explodes the concept of class and skill. Allowing you to build on one giant skill tree, and combine gems that change how your skills work and your playstyle in radical ways, lets you really build whatever kind of character pleases you – one that’s functionally unique from others of your particular class. Whether you play alone or with friends, ranked or not, Path of Exile is one of the best hardcore RPG experiences you can have this year.
And The Escapist Award for Best RPG of 2013 goes to …
Pokemon X & Y
Justin says: Nothing I could say about Pokemon X & Y more poignantly sums it up than the following: A couple of weeks back I was actually looking forward to the prospect and procedure of heading to the airport, dealing with TSA security and being locked up in a speeding metal tube for a hours on end. This was because if for no other reason I knew I would have stretches of unadultered time to devout to training up my latest team of Pokemon. At its core it’s still the same addicting game I last played all those years back with Red and Blue, but that’s not to say that nothing has improved though. Obviously the big selling point this time around is the upgrade into 3D. Certainly we’ve seen Pokemon in the 3D in other games, but this is the first time it’s been in the big world RPG focused releases. There’s also been a bunch of changes to not necessarily dumb down the experience, but it makes some of Pokemon’s more arcane mechanics more forward facing. I still believe that Pokemon‘s best feature is how scalable it is. That the game can be fun and engaging for brand new players and those who are studying the stats and meta to craft the most competitive team speaks volumes of how much depth is hidden behind its colorful facade.
The Escapist Award Nominees for Best Strategy Game of 2013 are:
Runner-Up for Best Strategy Game of 2013 –
Europa Universalis IV
Jon says: While a concept like “Age of Enlightenment Historical Nation-Building Sandbox” might seem like a nice concept – and should be by all rights – Paradox did a fantastic job widening the audience for it. Taking the Holy Roman Empire to a unified German state, or creating a Japanese empire than can resist European colonization, are some of the most satisfying long-term planning experiences you can have in gaming this year. The real-time grand strategy is an odd duck, but maneuvering your armies across multiple fronts, deciding where to siege the enemy and where to flee, and knowing your limits when invading Russia (Hint: You will lose) are the kinds of gameplay that only time and dedication to a genre can bring. This game knows its strengths and plays to them, taking no risks with flashy new mechanics, but simplifying what it must in order to present a strong contender as one of the most finely crafted games of the year.
The grand strategy, as a genre, requires the time and dedication. It also requires, more often than not, spending hours on the internet reading about how the game mechanics actually work as opposed to the vague descriptions the game gives about why they’re happening to you. Paradox Interactive’s Europa Universalis IV took a huge step away from that kind of gameplay, making many aspects of the game transparent and available from menus and tooltips. While there’s still a bit of learning to do, the developers have shown consistent commitment to updating and releasing new content – both DLC and free – for the game over time.
And The Escapist Award for Best Strategy Game of 2013 goes to …
XCOM: Enemy Within
Greg says: I feel like I’ve written more words about Enemy Within than I have about any other game this year. Building on the excellent blend of tactics and strategy in the original, Enemy Within adds a plethora of layered choices that make the overall experience richer and more robust. It’s not as valuable for every sniper to have the same build, for example, or to rush to plasma weapons at the cost of everything else any more. There’s also the danger of a third faction of human terrorists called EXALT, which adds another annoying wrinkle in your crusade to save the world from the aliens. There’s more maps and special council missions to play through, and more items to research and build which change your tactics drastically.
Not every decision made by Firaxis was a success, but The Escapist editors have collectively spent more than 300 hours playing the game since its launch in November, and that kind of devotion is a testament to the design. XCOM: Enemy Within may yet have reached the legendary status its inspiration from the 90s series has engendered, but the expansion of the storied strategy franchise is clearly in good hands.
The Escapist Award Nominees for Best Action-Adventure Game of 2013 are:
Runner-Up for Best Action-Adventure Game of 2013 –
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
Greg says: We’ve reached the point where you could shout out random historical eras and chances are Ubisoft has already considered making an Assassin’s Creed set during that time. The Golden Age of Pirates is probably the best of those choices, and the team did an amazing job of recreating the Caribbean Sea as an open “ocean” experience. You can track and sink any ship you encounter with easy-to-learn and yet challenging naval combat mechanics, as well as jump off your pirate ship to swim ashore on any island to find collectible items. Add that to refined action-stealth gameplay, and a rousing soundtrack of sea shanties (which are also a collectible) and you’ve got a recipe for hours of fun. Ubisoft thankfully has moved on from Desmond’s story, and AC4 is better off with only brief forays into the modern world framing the adventures within the Animus. AC4 is a fun, deep game that you can play for a few hours or a few lifetimes.
And The Escapist Award for Best Action-Adventure Game of 2013 goes to …
The Last of Us
Josh says: Storytelling in games has come a long way since the text-based adventures and the likes of Zork. With realistic graphics, full voice over acting, and dedicated writers whose sole job is to craft a compelling narrative, gaming has never before had the tools at its disposal that it does right now to tell a genuinely impactful tale. Nothing showcases this fact more than The Last of Us.
On its own, the opening scene is a heart wrenching introduction to Joel, the game’s protagonist, giving the player sufficient insight to understand his motivation throughout the story. From the very beginning, The Last of Us sets the player up to not only play the game, but genuinely experience the drama as the adventure unfolds. You might not care much for Ellie when she’s first introduced, but she grows on you quickly thanks to her all-too-real interactions with Joel, and their cooperative struggles through the zombie-infested wastelands of America.
Given that it was all done with 8-year-old technology, Naughty Dog set the bar high for next-gen with The Last of Us. While none of the games currently available for the new consoles really aim to unseat The Last of Us as the benchmark for in-game stories, it’s painfully obvious that they’re going to need more than hyper realistic facial expressions (which are already visible in titles like Ryse: Son of Rome) to make players care this much about characters in a game.
The Escapist Award Nominees for Best Adventure Game of 2013 are:
Runner-Up for Best Adventure Game of 2013 –
Jon says: Occasionally, a game comes along that will forcibly remind you that mechanics, graphics, and controls have nothing to do with direct, narrative storytelling. Papers, Please was one of those games. While it deftly utilized the strengths of the videogame as a form to present a branching, multifaceted story that was deeper than it immediately appeared. That story was an intensely personal one in a game all about alienation and disconnection from other people. At the same time, the game constantly bombarded you with micronarratives in the form of all the people seeking entry into Arztotska. Every one of them had a story, and deciding whether or not to help a few rebels, or a woman who wanted to meet her grandson, across the border was rough – especially when you had to weigh their own narratives against your own family’s needs.
Something about the oddly addictive gameplay, the pervasive grey coloring of it all, and the pride you get from slowly building up your skill at checking for errors and scanning bodies. It is an experience altogether unlike anything you’ve done in a game before. It is, meanwhile, fantastically simple and wholly quotidian. If you are interested in where games stretch the boundaries of what they can do, and in where they execute very specific ideas from the minds of auteur designers, Papers, Please was the cannot miss game from this year.
And The Escapist Award for Best Adventure Game of 2013 goes to …
Heather says: It’s 1995 and you’ve returned to your family home from a trip abroad. Your old, creepy, mega-mansion-in-the-Northwestern-forests family home. That’s essentially all the information you’re given as you begin exploring the world of Gone Home and it’s just enough to propel you through the house in search of your family’s whereabouts and any other secrets you pick up along the way.
Developed by the four person team at The Fullbright Company, Gone Home is a story-exploration game that places an emphasis on discovering the details. In order to put together the details of your missing family, you must take the time to explore, read, and reread the clues present in this house. And although discovering your family’s location is the main objective, the more I dug into the house and its many unsettling pathways, the more I was sucked into the secrets buried even deeper.
The microcosm of this household perfectly encapsulates the mid 90s. Anyone who lived through this decade will leave this game with an unforgettable sense of nostalgia. And not only is it great to see 1995 as a setting for a game that came out this year, but the fact that Gone Home is set in the 90’s only supports your snooping objectives. You can’t just pick up your cell phone and play phone tag to find your family; you have to actually take the time to look for them. What a concept!
Gone Home takes The Escapist‘s Best Adventure of 2013 because it is just the right mix of uncanny and enigmatic to keep you desperately searching for every last scrap of information you can find in that huge, family home.
The Escapist Award Nominees for Best Horror Game of 2013 are:
Runner-Up for Best Horror Game of 2013 –
Slender: The Arrival
The original Slender was a freeware horror title released in the summer of 2012, featuring one of the internet’s most infamous mythos – the tall, imposing Slender Man – as he chased players around an abandoned park. A reimaging of this proof of concept, Blue Isle Studios’ Slender: the Arrival featured a much more robust story and an impressive visual overhaul, but most importantly, improved upon Slender‘s foreboding atmosphere, delivering a much more intense horror experience. From hunting down pages covered with mysterious messages in a darkened park, to frantically charging through an abandoned mining facility and scrambling to safety in a forest fire, Slender did an excellent job ensuring you rarely felt safe enough to stop and catch your breath. While a short game, Slender: the Arrival provided a solid horror experience that any fan of the genre can appreciate.
And The Escapist Award for Best Adventure Game of 2013 goes to …
A masterclass in building up dread before converting it into highly effective scares, Outlast is an atmospheric, demented, often disturbing first-person horror adventure. Set in the grisly Mount Massive Asylum, where maniacs run the show, players take on the role of a gullible and borderline-suicidal journalist, armed only with their wits and video camera.
The video camera is a fantastic touch – holding it to one’s face, it can be used to record and make observations about the world, as well as utilize a night-vision mode for navigating the asylum’s darkest crevices in an eerie green hue. The result of this feature is a vibe not dissimilar to The Blair Witch Project and other “found footage” movies – a genre of horror with its share fair of critics, but just as many slavering fans.
It’s the little details that really make Outlast what it is. The environments are packed with incidental details, littered with non-hostile NPCs who perform all manner of unnerving activity. Subtle animations – such as the protagonist holding onto door frames as players move near them – craft an elegant, believable world. There are items and dialog that one could easily miss, but uncovering them are wholly rewarding.
The bigger things, however, are just as appealing. The game has a distinct Clock Tower influence, with characters like the insane Dr. Richard Trager chasing players relentlessly through the blood-soaked corridors. One of those games designed to constantly oppress, to turn players into frightened, hiding children, Outlast is a slickly designed horror game that, in spite of a few technical limitations, remains in the memory long after completion.
Congratulations to the winners of the The Escapist Awards 2013. In light of those winners, we narrowed down the best games of the year to a short list for our consideration for The Escapist Award for Game of the Year 2013. Getting to the core of what makes a game that plays completely different from another as “better” or “more deserving” of an award is always tough. But we judged all of these titles not only on their individual excellence, but how they impacted the industry as a whole.
The Escapist Award Game of the Year 2013 Nominees are:
Check back next week to see what the Game of the Year 2013 is! Happy Holidays!