We’ve launched into a new console generation, but the older Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are bowing out with games of such quality and diversity that you could happily play their back catalogues for another year before you get bored.
Meanwhile, the struggling Wii-U is slowly building out a respectable list of titles, the mobile and handheld scenes are flourishing, and the PC is still home to the richest strategy games and sims as well as the most offbeat indies. Here’s our look back on the games of the year.
GAME OF THE YEAR
The Last of Us PS3
Having set the bar for cinematic storytelling and visual wizardry in the current console generation with the PS3-exclusive Uncharted series, Sony’s godlike Naughty Dog studio this year reinvented the survival horror game with The Last of Us. Borrowing more from Cormac McCathy’s novel The Road than from Resident Evil, The Last of Us is crammed with unforgettable characters and encounters. The stealth and resource management mechanics are robust, but it is the delicate characterisation of player character Joel and his surrogate daughter Ellie as well as its subtle and believable world that set the game apart from your average zombie thriller.
Bioshock Infinite PS3, Xbox 360, Windows PC
Ken Levine’s spiritual successor to Bioshock is a game of breathtaking ambition with hefty philosophical themes and deeply satisfying first-person shooter (FPS) mechanics. The game’s city in the sky setting of Columbia is nuanced slice of world building, while the player character Booker DeWitt and his companion Elizabeth are among gaming’s most memorable characters.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons PS3, Xbox 360, Windows PC
Starbreeze’s adventure game, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons , is a work of dark whimsy, as filled with terror and beauty as a fairy tale. It uses dreamy visuals and a unique control scheme — each brother is assigned a stick on a standard controller for movement in and interaction with the world — to wordlessly tell a moving story of sibling love. Its happy marriage of meaning and mechanics make it one of the best games of the year.
Device 6 iOS
Part puzzle game, part interactive novel, Simogo’s text adventure is a wonderfully surreal thriller with sharp writing and devious codes to crack. This literary adventure feels a bit like a gaming equivalent of Mark Z. Danielewski’s experimental horror novel House of Leaves – something completely different to anything else you’ll find in the App Store.
Europa Universalis IV Windows PC
Almost bewildering in the complexity of the systems that underpin its gameplay, Europa Universalis IV is a textured and engrossing grand strategy game. Paradox Interactive has crafted a world history sim of warfare, trade and diplomacy that deftly balances approachability for newbies and depth for genre veterans.
Grand Theft Auto V PS3, Xbox 360
GTA V — probably the top-selling console game of the year — is a stunning accomplishment, despite a rough multiplayer launch, some clumsy storytelling and a lack of innovation. Generous in content, technically impressive and enormous fun to play, the game is one of the major achievements of this console generation. The sheer variety of things to do and the emergent possibilities they offer mean that it’s hard to be bored in the game’s fictionalised Los Angeles stand-in of Los Santos.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds Nintendo 2DS/3DS
A boatload of great games shipped for the Nintendo 3DS this year, but the new Zelda game is the best of the bunch. It remains true to the franchise’s storied history while introducing new ideas that give the series a much-needed shake-up. Under its simplistic visuals, A Link Between Worlds is packed with cunning puzzles and surprising twists to an old formula.
Metro: Last Light PS3, Xbox 360, Windows PC, Linux, OS X
In a world full of dull, generic shooters, this post-apocalyptic FPS from Ukrainian studio 4A Games has heart, and soul to spare. The game resumes the adventures of player character Artyom in a futuristic Moscow where its predecessor, Metro 2033 left off. Like Metro 2033, it plunges you head first into a world of suffocating despair. Despite some shaky voice acting and a few jagged edges in its gameplay, this is one of the best FPS titles of the year.
Path of Exile Windows PC
A small team from New Zealand created this free-to-play Diablo-beater. Though it initially feels like a generic and unpolished Diablo clone, Path of Exile soon widens into a dense forest of character customisation options with a breadth and depth that put Diablo 3 to shame. In addition to a strong campaign, the title also offers a barter-based online item economy and competitive player versus player. Best of all, the game is truly free to play rather than pay to win since you don’t need to pony up for microtransactions to make the most of its core features.
Rayman Legends PS3, PS Vita, Xbox 360, Windows PC, Wii-U; coming soon for PS4, Xbox One
The exuberant and charming Rayman Legends is 2D platforming perfection — a whirl of colourful visuals, boisterous music and tight mechanics that gives fresh life to the subgenre. Under its deceptive simplicity, it’s full of madcap ideas that tweak its classic gameplay into new and unexpected shapes.
The Stanley Parable Windows PC
You can’t say much about The Stanley Parable — one of the critically acclaimed indie games of the year — without moving deep into spoiler territory. It’s enough to say that it’s one of the most mischievous and thoughtful examples of the flourishing first-person exploration genre. It’s a meditation on player agency in videogames and perhaps in life itself. (Gone Home, a different take on the same genre is also good.)
Super Mario 3D World Wii-U
The Wii-U might be selling like ice cream on a freezing day, but Nintendo’s console built out its catalogue this year with some excellent titles that have no equivalents on the other platforms. Among them are The Wonderful 101, Pikmin 3 and of course, the new 3D Mario platform game. With its precise mechanics, inventive visuals, artful design and ingenious gameplay, this joyful celebration of classic videogaming is almost enough on its own to justify the purchase of a Wii-U console.
Tomb Raider PS3, Xbox 360, Windows PC; coming soon for PS4, Xbox One, OS X
Tomb Raider eschews the precision platforming and the gently teasing environmental puzzles of its predecessors in favour of cinematic action. Though the exploration and puzzle solving of the Lara Croft games of old are missed, this reinvention of an ageing franchise is a superbly executed third-person shooter.