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Dec 26 2013

The Beardies 2013! HalfBeard’s HUD’s Game of the Year Awards

Xmas HUDWell the day is finally here, our much-anticipated Game of the Year awards! We’ve spent the whole of 2013 watching all sorts of exciting and interesting new titles come down the pipe of wildly varying genres, platforms, and budgets. You’ve spent the better part of this week reading our personal top tens and getting a barometer for how we felt about 2013 but now it’s time for the real deal, our official awards, the Beardies!
[Ed’s note: If any of our choices seem a little strange to you, check back tomorrow for the unedited audio of our debate so you can understand exactly where we were coming from.]

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FPS Game of the Year: Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

header_292x136Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon may seem an odd choice but this fun little love letter to the past perfectly balanced the two major styles of the First Person Shooter genre, stealth and overkill. As Rex Powercolt you can silently proceed through the bushes, dispatching enemies at long-range with your bow until you close in on the last few soldiers, still completely unaware of the carnage you have wrought, and eliminate them in a flurry of blades and shurikens. But just as effectively you can just walk into a base with a massive mini-gun being followed by a large laser breathing dragon and absolutely turn that place inside out. Both methods are deeply satisfying and experimentation is encouraged, mix that with a surprisingly sizable open world full of chrome covered robot animals to kill and you’ve got yourself a god damn winner.

 Runner Up: Call of Juarez: Gunslinger

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Puzzle Game of the Year: Papers, Please

header_292x136 (1)Papers, Please is essentially the most depressing and heart wrenching version of “Bop it!” you’ve ever played. The objective and the actions needed to complete it are simple, process immigrants by checking their passports against the supplied reference material. As time goes on though more things need to be checked with each passport however the time limit remains the same and the wage earned for each person processed does not increase. The puzzle comes in learning how to organize yourself and your workspace in such a way as to process people as efficiently as possible while still maintaining enough focus to catch any curveballs that fly your way (sorry Jorji, Cobrastan is still not a country). And of course all that gameplay is interwoven perfectly with the personal struggle of trying to feed your family while still trying to keep your moral compass aligned in a job that abhors empathy.

Runner Up: Monaco

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Action Game of the Year: Bioshock Infinite

header_292x136 (2)You’re probably asking why we’re considering Bioshock Infinite as an action game rather than FPS and the answer is simple, the majority of the true fun stuff you’ll be doing in Infinite, doesn’t involve shooting, at least not in any traditional FPS kind of way. Guns play more of a support role in Infinite, the true meat of the game comes from using your tonics, the skylines, and Elizabeth’s tears to bend the battlefield to your will. While you can certainly just go through the game in an FPS mindset, simply going for headshots and treating tonics as nothing more than specialized grenades, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Playing as the dashing rogue, leaping from skyline to skyline to deliver a devastating blow from on high before speeding across the battlefield with the Charge tonic to get a better vantage point so you can set up Undertow traps to reel in enemies for the motorized patriot Elizabeth just summoned, that’s how you play the game.

Runner Up: Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

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 Platformer of the Year: Rayman Legends

header_292x136 (3)Rayman Legends is a platformer that has been polished to a mirror sheen. While the game is clearly designed for a specific platform (the Wii U) , all the versions are very playable and it’s a lot of fun no matter where you experience it. While it may not innovate too much gameplay-wise, it refines the tried and true 2D platformer formula to degree of beautiful precision that makes platforming feel equivalent to skillfully playing an instrument, quite literally in the case of its musical levels. You ain’t heard the song Black Betty until you’ve heard it played out by jumping on the heads of screaming monsters.

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Runner Up: Super Mario 3D World

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Adventure Game of the Year: Stick it to the Man!

header_292x136 (4)To be quite frank, I’ve become a little numb to the idea of the traditional adventure game, which is why Stick it to the Man! was such a breath of fresh air to me. It mixes the classic Lucasarts style adventure game trope of rubbing items against the environment with just the right amount of platforming and a presentation straight out ’90s Nickelodeon cartoons. It takes the unique idea of stealing physical items out of people’s thoughts and runs with it by having all those thoughts be written to have that same kind of aloof off-kilter wit we saw out of shows like Rocko’s Modern Life back in the day. It feels like the modern-day version of the things that made the Secret of Monkey Island so good and it does so with such unique sense of style that it’s impossible to ignore.

Runner Up: The Wolf Among Us

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Strategy Game of the Year: Fire Emblem: Awakening

Fire_Emblem_Awakening_US_Boxart-300x272[Ed’s Note: Alright not to spoil anything but we kind of really liked Fire Emblem, so we ended up giving it a lot of awards. It’s hard enough to write one paragraph of true succinct praise for something, let alone three, so I’m just going to cut and paste the following paragraph for every subsequent award we give it. In fact, if you see quite a bit of repeated content in these awards don’t be surprised, there was a lot of text I had to put down here in a very short span of time, so I took a lot of shortcuts.]

Obviously Fire Emblem is a long-lived franchise with roots all the way back to the NES but this latest game, Fire Emblem: Awakening, may just be the best entry in the series. It takes the strategy formula Fire Emblem has always used but refines it even further, opens it up for new audiences, and finds a way to combine its well-loved “support” system with its story in a way that will drive even the most casual of players to obsessive insanity. Basically it takes all the best parts of a dating game and manages to pair them up with the deep engaging arithmetic of a strategy game. Put simply you’ll care about your units; it doesn’t matter whether it’s because of the series standard (but now thankfully optional) permadeath, a hard-earned numerical advantage, or a deep emotional connection; no matter what you’ll end up caring about each soldier in your army.

Runner Up: Sang-Froid: A Tale of Werewolves

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RPG of the Year: Fire Emblem: Awakening

Fire_Emblem_Awakening_US_Boxart-300x272[Ed’s note: See I told you we liked it] 

Obviously Fire Emblem is a long-lived franchise with roots all the way back to the NES but this latest game, Fire Emblem: Awakening, may just be the best entry in the series. It takes the strategy formula Fire Emblem has always used but refines it even further, opens it up for new audiences, and finds a way to combine its well-loved “support” system with its story in a way that will drive even the most casual of players to obsessive insanity. Basically it takes all the best parts of a dating game and manages to pair them up with the deep engaging arithmetic of a strategy game. Put simply you’ll care about your units; it doesn’t matter whether it’s because of the series standard (but now thankfully optional) permadeath, a hard-earned numerical advantage, or a deep emotional connection; no matter what you’ll end up caring about each soldier in your army.

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Runner Up: Pokemon X/Y

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DLC of the Year: XCOM: Enemy Within

header_292x136 (5)It just wouldn’t be the Beardies if we didn’t find a way to give Firaxis some sort of award. This year we’re praising them for their excellent expansion to our 2012 Game of the Year, XCOM: Enemy Unknown. What does this expansion add that makes it so good? Stuff, just lots of god damn stuff. You want to genetically enhance your soldiers? Go nuts. How about turn them into cyborgs? Have a ball. Sick of being sent to missions at the same forest/mini-mall? Here’s a ton of new arenas. How about a whole new resource to manage and extra story intrigue, you want that? Sure you do, it’s in the box. Basically, Enemy Within just improves upon or expands every facet of game, just like a good Firaxis expansion should, and makes the commander’s chair feel new and cozy again.

Runner Up: Dishonored: The Knife of Dunwall

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Fighting Game of the Year: Injustice: Gods Among Us

header_292x136 (6)Let me preface this award by stating that none of us are really all that deep into fighting games or the FGC, so our opinions here are focused on the single player experience. Such is why a game like Injustice won this award from us, it just does the single player thing better than pretty much any other fighting game. Now obviously the story is really dumb (super pills anyone?) but the fact that you get both the standard arcade “fight a ladder of dudes then receive an ending” mode in addition to a full and cohesive narrative means a lot. This is especially because that narrative regularly switches perspective between characters which not only allows you to get a feel for each character before deciding a main but  also lets you get a deeper sense of the game’s overall mechanics and nuances. While Mortal Kombat 9 did this as well (which of course makes sense as it’s also by NetherRealm) that dedication to providing a proper single player experience in a fighting game really hits home. Combine that with a fun and well-balanced cast (I never thought I would say it, but Green Arrow and Aquaman fucking rule!) and a deep respect for the DC canon and you’ve got a comic fan’s wet dream,

Runner Up: Skullgirls

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Early Access Game of the Year: Starbound

header_292x136 (7)[Ed’s note: This is a tricky award, as it’s hard to give proper accolades to something that isn’t done yet. But with the recent trend of releasing things early for paid betas and Early Access we wanted to be able to honor those prematures games somehow.] 

Starbound has only been out for a few short weeks but it has taken Steam by storm. While it is essentially just Terraria in space, it takes a lot of those mechanics that the 2D Minecraft genre is built upon and really streamlines the hell out of them. The addition of a single tool that can mine every resource but do it really slowly compared to the proper tool means that you no longer have to pass up on awesome stuff if you’re willing to spend the extra time. Similarly, it combines walls and building blocks together into a single item that you just decide to put into the foreground or the background which makes construction and prepping for construction so much simpler. Starbound is chock full of awesome little tweaks like this which make playing it feel very smooth and enjoyable. The game is still quite early on and they’re constantly adding stuff but they’re on a great path and we’re all very excited to see what the final product is going  to look like.

Runner Up: Grim Dawn

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Roguelike of the Year: Risk of Rain

header_292x136 (8)When Brutal Legend came out, it was the video game equivalent of a Heavy Metal album cover, Risk of Rain is that but for trippy experimental prog rock. At its heart you have the fairly simple concept of combining an action platformer with roguelike sensibilities but it quickly extends past that. The game provides you massive enemies, powerful items, and plenty of chances to gamble away your hard-fought wealth and it’s beautifully random. The build up is paced perfectly and the dreamy music and glorious pixel imagery help gel all the disparate craziness together. No run of Risk of Rain is the same and the changes in each run are drastic enough to keep you playing forever.

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Runner Up: Sword of the Stars: The Pit

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Indie Game of the Year: Papers, Please

header_292x136 (1)Papers, please is quite simply the quintessential indie game. It’s built by a single guy, Lucas Pope, with not a ton of money behind it. Its concept is one that no large-scale developer or publisher would ever dare try to make, you’ll never see EA pick up a game who’s byline might as well be “Paperwork and Depression: the Future of Games”. But the game is fun, and it’s meaningful, it’s a masterpiece in fact and it’s the sort of thing that could only have come out of the independent scene.

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Runner Up:
Risk of Rain

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Sports Game of the Year: WWE 2K14

20909Hotspot-SingStar-80:Layout 1

“But it wasn’t made by THQ-“
“IT DOESN’T MATTER IF IT WASN’T MADE BY THQ!”

2K Sports gets tagged in for their first time with WWE 2K14, and it appears like they’re not looking to give up the belt for quite a while. With two new campaigns dedicated to 30 years of WrestleMania goodness, and another that allows you to uphold or end the Undertaker’s undefeated streak, it’s the best single player we’ve seen from a wrestling game in quite a while. The current roster and many of the legends are all there, including a thankfully unshaved Triple H from back in the day, and the create-your-universe mode is back and bigger than ever. The actual wrestling has some of the most fluid combat in the series’ history, and with 2K wearing the tights, the future of WWE games is bright.

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Runner Up: Madden 25

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Best Open World: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

header_292x136 (9)Forget the Assassins, forget the Templars, forget Desmond, and forget Abstergo, all that’s important is that ♪♫you are a pirate♪♫. More importantly you are a pirate in a massive world full of fun pirate things to do. Be it chasing down Spanish treasure ships, practicing the fine art of whaling, or trekking across the Caribbean to unlock the secrets of a treasure map found on the long dead corpse of a fellow scallywag, you’re always having fun and feeling like a pirate. There are two things though that make AC4’s open world truly great; the fact that all this side stuff actually matters and the fact that it all feels like things the main character would actually want to do. To survive on the open seas you need a powerful ship and upgrades are very costly, so unlike the past few AC games, money actually means something. More importantly though, all these side ventures feel exactly like the sort of thing our dear Mr. Kenway would actually want to do being a scumbag opportunistic pirate and all. Being able to ignore the main story in favor of reckless and raucous profiteering while still staying in character, that’s just getting to have your rum and drink it too.

Runner Up: Grand Theft Auto V

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Best Story: Bioshock Infinite

header_292x136 (2)We’ve already talked about how Bioshock Infinite excels in gameplay but the story is what really sells this title. Obviously acting as a follow-up to the original Bioshock, people were expecting a twist and man did this game deliver. Personally I never saw it coming and it’s one of those really meaningful twists that redefines the whole story and how you interpret it. On that note, interpretation is a huge part of this game, the choices they present are less about actual consequence so much as they are about you defining the character of Booker Dewitt and his personality. The game lends itself to multiple playthroughs as each time you play it you’ll catch more and more nods to the theories you develop. But it’s all still based around that very strong core narrative of Booker and Elizabeth’s escape,  those characters and their journey help solidify an adventure that is something very different to every person.

Runner Up: Call of Juarez: Gunslinger

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Best Writing: The Stanley Parable

header_292x136 (10)The Stanley Parable ends up being so much more than you would ever expect, it is not a tale you’re being told or a story you experience, instead it is both. This is a game that tries to tell you a story but lets you disobey that narrative at any turn and adjusts itself when you makes those changes. The ever-present narrator goes beyond being a simple framing device and ends up becoming more of a character than Stanley, filling the role of friend, antagonist, and sometimes even protagonist depending on what the story requires. While there isn’t really much of a “game” here, The Stanley Parable sets a new precedent for video game storytelling and what can be done with the medium in terms of writing.

Runner Up: Call of Juarez: Gunslinger

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Best Visuals (Technical): Metro: Last Light

header_292x136 (11)While Metro: Last Light isn’t necessarily the absolute best looking game of the year (though it is certainly up there), it is the one that uses all those fancy visuals to the most meaningful effect, specifically when it comes to atmosphere building.  God rays and insane dust particle physics are used to show the absolute desolation and age of the decaying metros. Jiggle physics are used to give the last burlesque show on earth a feeling of hopeful desperation as the masses clamber into a ruined theater to escape the utter depression of living underground. Everything on display in Last Light matters to the scene and helps to tell the story underneath the story.

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Runner Up: Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

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Best Visuals (Artistic): Bioshock Infinite

header_292x136 (2)While Bioshock Infinite is certainly a good-looking game, it’s the art direction that really sells it. The game really takes the concept of American exceptionalism and the consequences to such a dizzying extreme and the visuals represent that so well. When it’s peaceful, everything looks like the late 1800’s version of a Norman Rockwell painting, but even those clean streets belie a darker undertone that helps things feel off even before the game starts getting deep into its themes. And of course as those themes of racism and religious zealotry start to leak out, the game reflects them perfectly. The museum of war is particularly unsettling example with its depictions of Asians and Native Americans that seem to come straight out of WW2 propaganda posters. One piece though that particularly stuck with me was in a later part of the game when you head down to where all oppressed minorities live; there’s a tailoring machine with a mannequin on it that’s been made to look like a stereotypical Hasidic Jewish tailor and the machine has been brutally vandalized and covered in anti-Semitic epithets. It helped show that the negativity of the society above was so absolute that even down in this squalor where everyone was at the bottom, bigotry was still rampant showing that Columbia was beyond saving.

Runner Up: Guacamelee

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Best Soundtrack (Original): Mighty Switch Force 2

msf2_main-300x143During our debates Scott and Matthew listened to only 20 seconds of this game’s theme song before they both immediately agreed that this should win best original soundtrack, that alone should be more than enough endorsement. If you’re wondering why it’s so good though, well the answer is quite simple: it was composed by Jake Kaufman. Some of you may remember that name from the 2012 Beardies when his soundtrack to last year’s Double Dragon Neon won this same award. The man just knows what he’s doing and Mighty Switch Force 2’s upbeat “disco meets Genesis era Sonic” soundtrack is an absolute joy to hear.

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Runner Up: Risk of Rain

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Best Soundtrack (Licensed): Sang-Froid: A Tale of Werewolves

header_292x136 (12)We normally give this award to a game that uses licensed music to truly represent itself but Sang-Froid does so much more with its music choices, it represents a culture and an era. The entrancing classic Quebec folk music that runs throughout this game sets a tone of mystery and magic. It brings to mind defending one’s home against an adversary whom you struggle to see through the snow and the fog. It gives a sense of ennui and exhaustion during the quiet moments as you catch your breath for another assault. When your lupine foes show themselves and the battle is joined, the music stokes your soul to burning with determination and ferocity. The songs in this game create a wonderful swell of emotion and pride and just like the story, perfectly mix influences of the (at the time) wilderness of Quebec and the strong catholic roots of its settlers.

Runner Up: Saints Row IV

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PS3 Game of the Year: The Last of Us

thelastofus1Leave it to the Naughty Dog to close out Sony’s big black monolith with a dark and haunting swan song. A masterstroke in visuals and storytelling, the struggle of Joel and Ellie was a fitting journey to close out the PS3 before we all got excited to move onto the next generation of hardware. While the game may not have captured our attention the way some of the other games we’ve talked about today did, it is a genius work and wholly deserving of praise.
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Runner Up: Guacamelee

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Xbox 360 Game of the Year: State of Decay

header_292x136 (13)While Sony clearly made an effort to give the PS3 a few last gems before moving on, Microsoft seemed completely focused on the Xbox One this year. This means the slate of Xbox exclusives was sadly pretty light but one game did shine out, the downloadable zombie sandbox, State of Decay. To put it quite simply, this is the zombie game people have been wanting for a while. It has a deep survival aspect that sees you tending to the physical mental health of yourself and your fellow survivors, keeping a strong mind on diplomacy, and doling out hard-fought resources. Zombies are deadly in a group and the stealthy gameplay that allows for necessary spurts of tense action finally gives us a true Romero style zombie apocalypse to deal with. None of Dead Rising’s jelly zombies who take you on with the tenacity of Dynasty Warrior troops and none of Resident Evil’s crazy non-zombie zombies or giant zombie animals; State of Decay feels like the real deal.

Runner Up: Gears of War: Judgement

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Best Wii U Game of the Year: Super Mario 3D World

i_40624-300x205Super Mario 3D World is easily the best Mario game I’ve played in quite a while, it develops really well upon the concepts introduced in Super Mario 3D Land and at the same time goes back to its roots in a lot of ways, evoking the feel of Super Mario World to a degree. It is a love letter to the history of Mario and therefore Nintendo as a whole and puts to use the Wii U’s power in a fantastic way. With marvelously designed levels which balance secrets and speed running as well as an absolute deluge of content, this is a must have game for the Wii U.
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Runner Up: Pikmin 3

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3DS Game of the Year: Fire Emblem

Fire_Emblem_Awakening_US_Boxart-300x272[Ed’s note: We seriously really liked it.]

Obviously Fire Emblem is a long-lived franchise with roots all the way back to the NES but this latest game, Fire Emblem: Awakening, may just be the best entry in the series. It takes the strategy formula Fire Emblem has always used but refines it even further, opens it up for new audiences, and finds a way to combine its well-loved “support” system with its story in a way that will drive even the most casual of players to obsessive insanity. Basically it takes all the best parts of a dating game and manages to pair them up with the deep engaging arithmetic of a strategy game. Put simply you’ll care about your units; it doesn’t matter whether it’s because of the series standard (but now thankfully optional) permadeath, a hard-earned numerical advantage, or a deep emotional connection;no matter what you’ll end up caring about each soldier in your army.

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Runner Up: Pokemon X/Y

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PSVITA Game of the Year: Dragon’s Crown

imageWhile the game’s art style may have been controversial, the high quality of its gameplay could not be argued. It’s a fast paced and fluid brawler with tons of loot and deep RPG elements that draw heavily from the romanticized view of medieval mythology. More importantly, it’s a brawler that is actually fun to play on your own thanks to the addition of earnable NPC allies who are genuinely competent.  There is oodles of content here with just a normal difficulty run of a single character taking a good 15 hours or so. More importantly there is a lot of variety and flexibility to the characters and a good addictive RPG edge to make spending those 15 hours (and probably a good 100 more after it) worthwhile. I think this just might be the VITA’s killer app and if you’ve already invested in Sony’s oft misaligned handheld then you owe it to yourself to pick this one up.

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Runner Up: Guacamelee

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Worst Game of the Year: Ride to Hell: Retribution

ride-to-hell-retribution-ps3There is no discussion here, Ride to Hell is a horrible broken offensive mess of a game and no one in their right mind should play it. On that note, here’s video of me playing through the entire thing.

Runner Up: SimCity

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Game of the Year: Bioshock Infinite

header_292x136 (2)[Ed’s Note: You knew it was going to win, it’s on all our GOTY lists and we’ve given it three awards already today. That being said, below is the paragraph I used to describe it on my personal top ten list yesterday as I feel that describes it perfectly.]

The thing about Bioshock Infinite is that it’s exactly what you make of it. If you go in dead set on simply getting through it, using just a single tried and true weapon/tonic combo and taking the story straight, you’ll have a bad time. However if you go into it with the idea of exploring a world, making the effort to experiment with every option the game gives you, and spending lots of time pondering the story and it’s meaning, it becomes a deeply enjoyable and philosophical experience. Playing with the various tonics, guns, and the combinations therein is incredibly engaging; I’ve played through it twice now and each time I found myself switching things up constantly, finding new depth in each method of death. Similarly the story is one that lends itself to multiple playthroughs and deep consideration as the choices and observations you make not only define the story and the world but the protagonist. Is Booker a scumbag merc who happily slaughters innocents for money or is he a man ashamed of his coloured past and forced into terrible decisions while only looking for redemption? The answer is both and it depends upon your interpretation of the choices you make for him; it’s just another cog in the wonderful multiverse narrative Irrational has formed here. The decision of what is true and what is not falls as much on the player as it does the writer, once again showing the merit of video games as a platform for amazing storytelling.

Runner Up: Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

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Well folks that’s it for us this year, join us again in the new year for all sorts of new HalfBeard’s HUD content. We have a lot of plans for 2014 and we’re looking forward to having you join us for them.

HBHUD holiday card 2011

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