1. “The Last of Us” (Naughty Dog)
This should come as no surprise to anyone who even holds a mild interest in the video games that were released this year. Seamlessly blending gameplay and narrative into one cohesive yarn is no easy feat, but to experience what it means to survive is something else entirely.
Joel and Ellie’s adventure is one of subtle parallels and tense revelations, and the presentation of “The Last of Us” is one of the most detailed and gorgeous games compared to launch titles on both the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4. The story alone was worth the admission price and the nerve-racking multiplayer is the icing on the proverbial cake. Smashing a brick into your opponent’s skull after whittling down his health is a visceral experience. Game writer and creative director Neil Druckmann deserves special recognition for this game. Anticipation is high for what Naughty Dog will do next for “The Last of Us.”
2. “Grand Theft Auto V” (Rockstar Games)
Just barely missing the top spot sits Rockstar’s return to Los Santos — a fictionalized Los Angeles. The map is bigger, and the story is appropriately grandiose in scale with three main characters rather than one. There was not a single mission in GTA V that was either derivative or banal. Each mission had weight and importance to getting the characters where they needed to be.
Nearly every facet of the GTA formula has been improved: from the shooting to the car handling to the side activities. GTA V’s companion piece, GTA Online, had a tumultuous start with crashes and bugs aplenty. Once those were quickly taken care of, however, the game run dabbles in what makes the online space so riveting, which is failure and the thrill of success. While a few niggling details kept itching in the back of my head pertaining to the GTA Online mission structure and GTA V story, it’s still a fantastic game.
3. “XCOM: Enemy Within” (Firaxis Games)
OK, sue me. “XCOM: Enemy Unknown” was my favorite game of last year and for good reason. It was a strategy game that made the threat present, but largely forgotten, with no magic spray or pill. Dead is dead in XCOM, and with the world at stake, all you can do is count your losses and move on. Enemy Within improves on the formula by giving the player divergent pathways of upgrades. Do you want a bio-engineered soldier who can leap tall buildings in a single bound, or do you want a robot that can punch aliens through walls? With a $40 price tag, there is no longer an excuse to not partake in XCOM.
4. “Rayman: Legends” (Ubisoft Montpellier)
“Rayman: Legends” is the little game that gamers continue to underestimate, but holds hours of fun and entertainment for those chomping at the bit for 2-D platforming action. “Rayman: Legends” continues the gameplay and aesthetics of its predecessor and engages with the responsive gameplay that is par for the course in 2-D side-scrolling platforms akin to “Super Meat Boy” and “Ms. ‘Splosion Man.” The eye-popping visuals present a childlike whimsy but punishes foolish errors with some of the best 2-D level design this side of the Xbox 360 and PS3. Once you hit the level that is played to the beat of Ram Jam’s “Black Betty,” “Rayman: Legends” becomes a truly special game.
5. “Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag” (Ubisoft Montreal)
Set in the Golden Age of Piracy, “Assassin’s Creed IV” presents one of the most gorgeous visage of the Caribbean and the outlying islands. The sea is open to explore with various side missions and activities to perform that will certainly keep you going until the next iteration in the Assassin’s Creed franchise. The journey through the open ocean is made that much more enjoyable by your crew singing sea shanties and boats that you can pillage or plunder. Ubisoft Montreal continues the authentic and, more than likely, time consuming research to ensure that the clothing and vernacular of the time period is retained. Even with the droll B-story, “Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag” impresses once again and the anticipation for the next setting and story could not be higher.
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