I’ve never been one for arcade-style fighting games. Trust me, I’ve been through the works: Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Tekken, Dead or Alive… They all had their specific differences, but the gameplay was consistent. I had high hopes for Injustice: Gods Among Us because, much like Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe, the use of super heroes and super villains finding a way to work together was a concept that was intriguing to most of us. But, as much as I hate to say it, Injustice didn’t quite do it for me.
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There were things that worked for this game. Each character had a distinctly different fighting style that was consistent with the moves that have traditionally been used in their comics. Not to mention the specific special move of each one that gave you a reason to take the time to see them all. The range of Black Adam and Green Arrow were very different than the heavy pounding of Solomon Grundy and Doomsday; the mobility of Batman and Catwoman different from the quickness of Aquaman and The Joker. Every character had their benefits and setbacks, and you had a reason to explore those.

This game was designed to be an excellent multiplayer experience. Its arcade style made it an excellent house party gem, but the story mode was weak. The completion time was exceptionally short and the story itself was confusing and bizarre, to say the least. When a game has to rely on crossing dimensions in order to justify some of its key plot points, it is never a good sign. I understand that we had to have a logical reason for Batman to fight Batman and Superman to fight Superman, but it made it extremely difficult to keep up with who had sided with who and what was going on. The vocal cast was well done though, with entertainment favorites such as Alan Tudyk (A Knight’s Tale, I Robot), Adam Baldwin (Serenity, Chuck), and Kevin Conroy (any Batman animation every), but the weak dialogue didn’t give them much to work with. I do want to take this time to mourn the absence of Mark Hamill’s Joker interpretation. Come back to us anytime, Mr. Skywalker. We will always welcome you.
Although it wasn’t for me, that doesn’t go to say that it’s not for anybody. If these kind of games are your style, then you may just enjoy it. But, from my experience, Mortal Kombat seems to be the reigning champ of this style, and it continues to be after this installment in the genre. There was a lot of potential here, but it definitely could have been better.   

 
 
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Reboots. The very thought of them makes me nervous simply because there is no outcome that can be reached but one that isn’t an extreme. You either have one like what Bethesda made out of Fallout 3, which made an incredible leap in the progression of both the gameplay and cinematic style of the franchise. Or, you get something along the lines of Duke Nukem Forever, which basically slapped everyone who held out hope for the iconic franchise right in the face. There is no in between. Because of that idea, I was mortified when the Tomb Raider reboot was announced. My first: “No. I refuse to let you defile the sexiest gaming character in the history of the world.” But, like anybody else in that boat, I had to give it a shot. I had to hold out on the slim chance that it could turn out on the better side of the spectrum.

And it did.

The first impression you get of Lara Croft is very different from what tradition tells us. She is young and naïve, eager to get another innocent adventure under her belt (not that she has many to this point). Of course, it didn't take long for the story to shed the harmonious aura around it and plunge Lara and her friends deep into a situation that forces them into one choice: survive or die. This was done in a way that was extremely player friendly. That opening cinematic wasn't on the lengthy side, sending us into a dire situation to help Lara out of very quickly.

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From then on, every twist and turn in what was presumed to be Lara first big adventure was one that brought on some sort of possible outcome that was extremely gruesome and not so healthy in Lara’s regard, from have a rock climbing pick lodged in her sternum to being impaled by a metal rod through her chin while being carried away by rushing rapids. Although I would have to play it over again in order to progress, at times I found myself voluntarily missing a jump or intentionally missing a prompted button-press just to see how creative the developers had gotten in that particular instance. Call me crazy or disturbed, but Square Enix took some serious time in crafting the multitude of demises of the great Lara Croft in this installment.

This game differed from its ancestors in a lot of ways. Particularly, this one felt a lot like an RPG, with its skill tree builds and open world atmosphere. Although the main storyline could be completed in somewhere between 10 and 12 hours, there is still a lot of Tomb Raider to play, with hidden tombs, challenges, and collectibles scattered throughout the world for your enjoyment. So for all you gamers out there who are so OCD that you can’t stand to depart from a game without that 100% next to your save file, set some SERIOUS time aside for Tomb Raider. You’re gonna need it.

Tomb Raider, much like Farcry 3, was driven by emotion. It explored that idea of morphing from innocent victim to hardened survivor in order to continue to exist, and that was beautifully portrayed by the vocal cast. Leading that cast was the beautiful Camilla Luddington (True Blood, Greys Anatomy), whom Lara Croft resembled physically as well. There was a natural sense of panic that was brought forth through Luddington’s work that allowed us to care for everything Lara cared about. It was extremely organic and realistic, and, in my opinion, one of the best performances of the year thus far. Among the rest of the cast were video game veterans Robin Atkin Downes (Bioshock Infinite, Assassins Creed III) and Kristof Konrad (Metal of Honor: Warfighter, Call of Duty: Black Ops).


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Needless to say, my nerves were calmed by the latest installment in the Tomb Raider franchise, and I am extremely open to this version of Lara Croft and any endeavor that Square Enix decides to throw her way. She’s tough, hott, a deadly shot with those dual-45’s, and she’s not going anywhere for a long time.

Lara Croft is back.



 
 
    RPG’s have without a doubt become the crack cocaine of the gaming world. No matter what massively engrossing environment Bethesda or Bioware throws our way, we just cannot get enough. Satisfaction is not in our biological makeup, and we will always be demanding more to dive into. But, despite this overwhelming urge for another adventure, there tends to be one obstacle that keeps us from getting the full effect from each previous one: creative ADD.
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    How many times have we done it? Get a good 10-20 hours of rich Skyrim exploration in and then, out of nowhere, our minds begin to wonder what life would be like as a monstrously jacked Orc instead of a nimbly bow-savvy Dark Elf. And just like that, a new game has begun and we are escaping from Helgen again, this time with the Stormcloak follower instead of the Imperial guard, hacking down opponents with warhammer rather than picking them off from a distance.

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    Now don’t get me wrong, I am immensely grateful for the ever-evolving possibilities that games like Skyrim and Mass Effect provide us with. My only dilemma comes when there is so much to do that I get side tracked and never end up completing the main storyline of the game because the next big thing comes out, and these titles fall to the wayside without ever being fully explored. I think both the developers and my fellow gamers alike would agree with me on the following: THIS IS A TRAVESTY!

    Yet, the big question is who is to blame and how do we fix it? The amount of unfinished games among the common gamer is staggering and I can’t help but mourn the loss of so many epic and satisfying conclusions. So where do we alter the process: on the end of the consumer or producer? Should we simply find ways to stay focused on each game we play and stick it out until the end? Or is it going to be more efficient for the developers to give us less food to chew? But the beauty of gaming is that it is up to us to decide, so…. You tell me.

 
 
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Across the vast and beautiful terrain of chaos that was Rook Island, hours upon hours of my life were invested in the liberation of pirate camps and the scaling of radio towers. At the substantial 15-hour mark, I had thoroughly completed the main storyline and the game’s intent for me was to continue on with the plethora of shenanigans that the island still had to offer. Yet, there was a motivation that was needed to do so, and the resolution of Jason Brody’s experience on Rook Island left me without it. Why? What was it that was so unsatisfactory that I couldn’t find it in myself to complete the adventurous tasks that seemed to have drawn me very easily before?

A soul search was in order. This game was, without a doubt, my favorite of the year (judging from my 2012 award selections). It integrated everything needed to hoist the Farcry franchise into stardom, and to take a step further, the vocal performances were absolutely off the charts. Was it the mechanics? No. Every action was achieved with relatively simple and smooth controller-work and was pretty commonplace and familiar among FPS’s. Was it the boring “go fetch this many of this and bring them back to me” quest structure? Nope. Every mission seemed to have a goal that set itself apart from the others (i.e. the burning of the huge marijuana fields to the tune of Skrillex/Damien Marley collaboration. Awesome.). Oh, it must have been the linear design of the quests that didn’t give me freedom to achieve the objectives in whatever manner I saw fit… WRONG! There we so many ways that each mission could have been accomplished that I spent most of my time debating which one would be the most satisfying/efficient.

But then, I found it. The one and only aspect of Farcry 3 that shot for a target and missed completely was its execution of the highest points of the story. The deaths of Buck, Hoyt, and, dare I say it, Vaas. The departure from Rook Island that could not be achieved without disaster within the Rakyat tribe or, if you chose to do so, your remaining on the island to provide a new leader to the tribe. These were points in the game that I had poured my gorgeous hi-definition blood, sweat, and tears into reaching, only to be robbed of the satisfaction by weird and trippy sequences that left more questions than answers. For example, Hoyt was the source of every bit of Jason’s suffering. He was the Ganon to Jason’s Link, the Bowser to his Mario, and his demise had been a prize to achieve. So, as Jason has finally infiltrated his ranks and had enough with his monkey business, the time was upon him to die. So, what do I as a worthy gamer get to participate in? An obscure mind-trip that blacks out everything except for Jason and Hoyt, a sequence button-punch-in-time mechanics, and the revealing of everyone in the room dead with blood everywhere. Uhh…. What just happened?

In another instance, with our buddy Buck having done God-knows-what to one of the friends we had set out to rescue, his life needed to end. So instead of having this epic battle that you get to fully experience as it is happening, Hulk-mode ensues, and we wake up to see him on the floor. You can’t be serious….

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The biggest and most terrible of these travesties, though, came with the death of arguably the best executed character of all time from a writing/designing/acting standpoint. Vaas Montenegro embodied everything that Rook Island was and what Jason Brody was becoming. His unpredictable nature and, quite frankly, the “definition of insanity” monologue created an atmosphere that was addicting and I couldn’t wait to see the next scene he was in. So, first of all, when he ended up not being the main antagonist, I was a little disturbed considering the cover art and advertising, but it’s ok. I was ready to forgive. Until my final pursuit of this psychopath ensued and concluded. And how did that go? Let me try to explain this: Hulk-mode, TV screens, glowing knife in my chest, dead man opens his eyes and smiles. Confused? YEAH ME TOO! 

So what was going on during these sequences, I was wondering? Continued to wonder. Am still wondering. Is Vaas dead? Is he not? Is that really it? So I did what all video game junkies do when something doesn’t seem to go how they expected it. I took to the internet, only to find that I wasn’t the only one with this issue. What were the designers thinking with using this trippy tactic? Ok, I understand the whole island experience was a little surreal and hippy-fied, but I need closure, people.

And just like that, I became disappointed in the game that, in my opinion, took the top spot this year. Do I still feel that way? Absolutely. Don’t get me wrong, the game was amazing. This aspect was annoying and will forever leave a sense of dissatisfaction in my mind, but that’s ok. Ubisoft will correct it. If I’m lucky, which I certainly hope I am, Vaas will come waltzing back onto the screen in one of Farcry’s future installments and I’ll be absolutely ok with the questions I was left with. But, in the end, there was a better way to go about this and the other key plot points as well.

So there you are, Ubisoft. You’ll think twice before crossing Jacob again, now won’t ya?

 
 
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Surprise of the Year    -    Borderlands 2     
There was a lot of anticipation leading up to the release of this sequel. The first of the Borderlands family was well reviewed and received, and its shoot-and-loot gameplay quickly took the title of “best” within the category. But early looks at its predecessor suggested something that plagues many sequels within the industry to date: stagnation. A sequel without progress from the first game leaves us as gamers will little to sink our creative teeth with short attention spans into. Yet Borderlands 2 surprised us all with a sense of evolution that put its name up there with the best games of the year. And, somehow, Claptrap got interesting. Shocker.


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Best Sports Game    -    NBA 2K13
Now, I’m not a basketball guy, per say. I enjoy playing the sport, but I haven’t really been interested in its video game installments for years, and my first instinct was to give this award to Madden 13 (God bless football). But the visuals alone shoot this game above any other sports game of the year, and when coupled with its gameplay and mechanics, consider hours upon hours of your life gone. Bye bye.


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Most Notably Absent    -    Skyrim DLC for PS3
AAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!! How long do I have to sit here and watch Ben Saffle dive into Dawnguard and Hearthfire on his Xbox 360 without the ability to do the same?! Do I own an Xbox? Yes. But when you’re on a college budget, free online play looks wonderful. So hustle up, Sony! Skyrim is screaming my name!


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Most Anticipated Game (2013)    -    The Phantom Pain
Like everybody else, all I know about this game is what I saw in the trailer. But there is a hope in me that runs deep, and that stems from sheer speculation: NEW METAL GEAR!!!!!! Being that there is, indeed, a bias that pumps through my blood when it comes to this franchise, this may be more of a personal award than a popular one. But if this does turn out to be the next installment in Hideo Kojima’s legendary franchise, this award is a no brainer



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Sleeper Hit    -    The Walking Dead
There just seems to be a consistent trait among games based directly on TV shows that turns me away. They just never seem to live up to the content they’re based on (Game of Thrones, anyone?). Apparently, the fellas behind The Walking Dead were ready to change that. Of course, the recent craze surrounding a zombie apocalypse fueled the success of this particular title, but its integration of RPG elements and decent voice acting was pleasantly unexpected.


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Worst Character (Female)    -    Kaniehtiio (Assassin's Creed III)
Sure, she’s the big momma of the main character and she doesn’t meet a nice end, but this lady had zero personality. Apart from that, she was supposed to be somewhat attractive as she catches the eye of good ole Haythum in order to make Conner. Was she hott? NO! So, in conclusion, she didn’t actually fulfill much of her characters purpose. Plus, she never wore much clothing in the snow. Are Indians immune to coldness? That’s
new…

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Worst Character (Male)    -    Geralt of Rivia (The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings)
One thing that this franchise did succeed in was making the protagonist look really badass in the promotions and game art for its latest installment. Buddy G here really did look awesome, and we were looking forward to taking on a part of that as we played through his journey. Unfortunately, that fell short. The game was interesting, and it caught a lot of attention for pushing the envelope on video game sex scenes. Unfortunately, making him a hit with video game ladies wasn’t enough to convince gamers that Geralt was cool….


Performance of the Year (Female)    -    Faye Kingslee (Citra, Far Cry 3)
Ubisoft went ten extra miles when getting the best out of their voice actors for Farcry 3. For the first time ever, I felt like these people were real. Citra was an excellent example of that. She commanded the scenes that she was in and there was a sense of power within her voice and movements that is uncharacteristic of video game females. It was a masterpiece of the craft of voice acting, and did exactly what it is supposed to do for the gamer: enhanced the experience immensely.

Performance of the Year (Male)    -    Michael Mando (Vaas, Far Cry 3)
Although Citra was great, Vaas exemplified vocal talent and acting within video games. Apart from the voice, Vaas was modeled after Mando’s appearance and movement, so the amount of time this actor put into creating Vaas was well used. Each reaction was organic and the insanity that is Vaas came out in every comment he made without becoming redundant. This is without a doubt the performance of the year.


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Studio of the Year    -    Ubisoft
Every studio in the industry that has achieved notoriety releases their big project from October to December. This is their pride and glory, their moneymaker. These are the games that establish these studios as big dogs within an increasingly competitive industry. The amount of success that they have in that “hotspot” within the year determines whether or not they can remain on top. This year, Ubisoft did this. Twice.




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Best RPG    -    Mass Effect 3
This game was textbook. Role-playing games call for just that: an experience that the gamer can change and morph the game depending on the role they choose to fill. Mass Effect 3 just built on the player’s ability
to achieve countless outcomes in countless instances of the game, which has been a great staple of the franchise. Granted, the ending left many upset, but the DLC fixed that problem for the most part. As far as achieving the goal that RPG’s have set out to achieve from the dawn of their existence, though, Mass Effect 3 pushed the mark further. Who’s the next contender?



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Best Shooter    -    Call of Duty: Black Ops II
Up until the original Black Ops, Infinity Ward seemed to produce the better installments of the franchise. Modern Warfare 1 & 2 took the industry by storm and clearly took the cake over World at War. Treyarch changed that with the Black Ops storyline. And to further accent the great
storytelling abilities and action sequences, they integrated RPG elements that changed the ending as well as the fate of multiple beloved characters. Great achievement, Treyarch. I’m ready for the next one.


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Character of the Year    -    Vaas (Far Cry 3)
What a badass. Vaas made you hate him while loving him simultaneously. He brought the Joker effect into video gaming better than any character to date. He embodied the insanity that characterized your experience on Rook Island, and what you would become if the island took you. Vaas had no limitations and he created an atmosphere of evil that, for some reason, left you wanting more and more of him. It was wise of Ubisoft to choose him as the games posterboy. Jason is kinda whimpy…


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Game of the Year    -    Far Cry 3
This. Is. Gaming. Farcry 3 couldn’t be placed into a single category because it is a perfect marriage of all of them. It was an RPG when it needed to be. It was a shooter in its nature. There was sport within its side quests. It approached storytelling in a very realistic fashion. We watched as Jason Brody morphed from a terrified and helpless victim into a bloodthirsty and powerful warrior that enjoys each and every kill. He becomes who the island wants to him to become. Add these elements with the customization features and the voice acting and you have yourself a gaming masterpiece.