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Game of the Year Award: 2013 Edition

December 21, 2013 Written by Sebastian Moss

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You’re not meant to, but as a games journalist, it’s easy to have a few preconceived notions as to which games will be in the running for the GOTY award even at the start of the year. You can try to be objective, to give every game the same mental blank state when you start it, but knowledge of a developer’s past, a series’ scores and a title’s ambition will draw you towards certain games.

This January, I suffered from this affliction, and began to mentally predict which games I thought had a chance of winning the big award.

  • BioShock Infinite: A narrative led, thought provoking shooter set in the incredible BioShock universe, but with a radically different location – the skies.
  • Grand Theft Auto V: The biggest, most ambitious entry in the biggest AAA gaming franchise. Each GTA is a cultural event, and sales always redefine the phrase ‘smashed records’. Rockstar’s aim is never just to create a game, but a world. Vast vistas, towering skyscrapers and a multitude of realistic characters that form a huge interwoven story that has you right slap bang in the middle. GTA always sets the bar that other open world games have to try to catch up to.
  • The Last of Us: From Sony’s most consistently awesome developer, Naughty Dog, comes a brand new IP. Visually stunning, breathtakingly brutal, and surprisingly dark, it was clear that TLOU would be Naughty Dog’s most mature title yet – and if their switch from Jak to Uncharted was anything to go by, creating a more mature character was well within their grasp.
  • Beyond: Two Souls: Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain was phenomenal, and Beyond looked like it hoped to build upon the basic branching mechanic, refining it further, and adapting it for an even more ambitious title. Beyond hoped to explore the limits of every human emotion in a plot that you had control over, and this time the actors were actually people everyone had heard of.
  • Tearaway: Media Molecule, the guys and gals behind the incredible LittleBigPlanet, announced that they were focusing their talent on a Vita title – the first time one of Sony’s ‘A Team’ studios had expressed an interest in the struggling handheld. A new IP, a beautiful setting, and creative gameplay that aimed to actually use all the Vita’s features. What’s not to love?

I tried to push the thoughts out of my head, hoping instead to be pleasantly surprised by a game I wasn’t already confident would be a hit – and luckily, there were tons of incredible titles that managed to astound me, from the near-perfectly handled Tomb Raider reboot to the hypnotically violent Hotline Miami. But the winner was one of my predictions, and, given that we have already awarded the game four times, probably your prediction for our GOTY.

The Last of Us.

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Considering we have praised it again and again, and again and again this award week, it’s hard for me to say anything original about this year’s masterpiece. In short, it is a work of art.

Naughty Dog entered a genre that has far too many entries as it is and casually blew them all out of the water. This is what a post apocalyptic title was always meant to be like. This is how you portray a linear narrative in a powerful and meaningful way. This is how you make a game.

What interested me most was how powerful scenes from the game affected me, a single man, differently to my colleague and family man, Anthony Severino. We both were moved by what happened, but our unique experiences allowed the game to pull at our emotions in a different way. The title dealt with powerful subjects in a beautiful manner, managing not to make them feel gimmicky or tacked on.

While not having a particularly original setting or a complicated layered plot, The Last of Us set itself apart from inferior works of fiction due to its fantastic pacing, unforgettable performances by Troy Baker, Ashley Johnson et al, and riveting scenes that made blinking seem unnecessary.

But even if you stripped that all away, if you ignored the plot and narrative entirely, you’d be left with a strong GOTY contender. Visually, TLOU gives PS4 games a run for their money, with unparalleled backdrops and mindboggling levels of detail. Ignore that, and you still have a game with groundbreaking AI, an addictive online component and a mesmerizing musical score.

Ignore all of that and what’s left is the core of an incredibly fun game that will get your adrenaline flowing and your heart pumping. The third person shooter mechanic, the realistic climbing, the stealth and the hand-to-hand fighting – oh god, the gorgeous fighting – are all as close to perfect as one could expect of a PS3 title.

That’s why The Last of Us wins the award. It’s not because of any one thing, it’s because it manages to be everything. The Last of Us has been described as a ‘cinematic game’, but it is far more than that, it is what cinema should aspire to be, it is the latest evolution in mankind’s quest to tell the greatest story in the best way possible.

And I’m honored to have been able to take part.