Every Man Jack Tech Reviews: Best Console Video Games of Last Year

The Ending of an Era

This past year saw a slew of big-time releases in the video game industry; game developers banded together to help the last generation consoles go out with a triumphant bang. New iterations of long standing series, unique and new originals and even a couple of current gen versions of next gen games flooded the market creating one of the most competitive gaming races of the last nine years. After having my hands on nearly all of them, I think its time to announce the top five releases of this past season!

Battlefield 4 box art.
Battlefield 4 box art.

Gaming News Update

DICE has just released Battlefield 4's third map pack, adding brand new maps, reinventions of Battlefield 3 classics and now a completely new gameplay mode called Carrier Assault. In the New game, players must take hold of objectives that unleash rocket attacks on enemy carriers. Once a carrier is struck enough, the attacking team must board the enemy vessel taking out objectives or simply exhausting enough of the enemy ships resources. The new mode and additional maps have all been fantastic, adding an amazing amount of re-playability to the title. More importantly, a major glitch that had derailed BF4 after the Second Assault release has been fixed and thankfully the amount of bugs have lessened significantly.

5. Battlefield 4

When it comes modern warfare shooters, the market has no shortage of titles. Between the Call of Duty and Battlefield franchises, gamers have seen over twenty different titles, having set themselves as industry standards for the genre. Still, up until this year, Call of Duty has reigned supreme beckoning fans year in and year out to purchase their newest versions. Finally, however, the folks over at DICE have figured out the formula to topple Activation’s juggernaut gaming series.

Battlefield has always striven to heighten the realism and scale of warfare for gamers. Map packs include expansive locations with the use of a myriad of vehicles as well as stand foot infantry fighting. The limitless options for gamers when tackling one of BF4's various game-modes, provides for a much more immersing game-play experience than any modern warfare shooter has ever allowed.

But Every Man, Bad Company 2 and Battlefield 3 both allowed for such gaming, what is so different and special about this new edition? Yes, while this may true, the people over at DICE have managed to change one key factor. Call of Duty gamers became attracted to the title for the fast-paced, run-and-gun game-play style. In previous Battlefield titles, the pace of gaming was much slower, not allowing for the same level of adrenaline-fueled matches. Though the maps are still much larger then Call of Duty, they have been scaled down just enough to allow for a quicker game-play experience. In addition, weapons have been completely reworked to add to this fast-paced experience.

Having captured some of what Call of Duty has done so well, the developers used this momentum as a spring board for stealing the mantle of industry standard. Maps now include terrain changing events that can be triggered in various ways. On Siege of Shanghai, a towering skyscraper that holds one of the conquest objectives can literally be toppled, covering the landscape in an ashy fog; in Paracel Storm, the island scenery is suddenly struck with a major tsunami, and even a wayward boat can crash into one of the island objectives. These massive triggered events recreate multiplayer game-play evolving each and every match into a brand new experience every time.

DICE has also reinstated an old game variant known as Commander Mode. In Commander Mode, players have the ability to join as a commander, using their smart devices to sway the tide of any battle. Issuing orders, calling in air strikes, spotting enemy units and dropping much needed resources allows for teams to have a much more intense gaming experience. Battlelog, the smart feature for BF4, has also been revamped, allowing for the ability to not only track stats, but also set weapon load outs and start specific mission challenges for friends to tackle along with you.

The downfalls this game suffers from are mostly campaign based. The storyline is a bit too linear and is often predictable. Many story lines seem to simply get lost in a haste to get to the final outcome. Clearly the guys over at DICE had multiplayer as their top priority, but I do wish they would have taken the extra time to produce a more complete campaign experience. Still, the multiplayer isn't perfect. Much like any release, there are bugs and freezing issues that I can only hope are dealt with over the next couple months.

Game Trailer

GTA V box art.
GTA V box art.

4. Grand Theft Auto V

While, personally, I am not a massive fan of Rockstar's flagship franchise, it would have been dishonest and ill-advised for me not to include this years top grossing game on this list. Grand Theft Auto V puts you in the shoes of three criminals trying to balance family, crime and a haunted past. Throughout the single-player campaign there is a slew of mission options available, some based on the main storyline while others act as filler. For sheer scale, GTA V is a masterpiece providing both an expansive and changing landscape, while also providing hours of content to play through.

The writers definitely did their jobs gifting us with an amazing storyline with memorable dialogue. In addition, the various atmospheric conversations, television broadcasts and radio talk shows are all brilliantly hilarious. Detail was definitely a priority as road signs, graffiti and advertisements all play a role in creating one of the most immersing settings any game has ever had. Witty and clever parodies of real life products, celebrities and political issues allow the humor to be more then just a series of crude jokes, but instead smart satire for our modern society.

The controls are simplistic allowing for easy access for any gamer, and the level challenge each mission provides is able to be tailored to your specific gaming ability. The multitude of car variations, weapon options and upgrades and character attributes is impressive allowing for a Role-playing game type feel to this ultra-mature action shooter. Scale is everything for GTA V, and they have done an admirable job in delivering on their massive budget.

Adding onto the already solid single-player experience, Rockstar has launched and online multiplayer option as well. While online, players are able to create a character and build them up as crime-lords of their own. Various mission types allow for money and experienced to be gained including fun mini-game variants like darts and golf, team based and player vs. player matches like TDM and CTF and even races which allow better cars and upgrades to become available. As you gain money from missions, random map events and the occasional hold up at a convenience store, the ability to purchase your own home becomes available. With your own home you have the ability to change clothes, store cars in your garage and even invite friends over to visit.

Still, GTA V has a long way to go. Rampant player hacking and bugs have held back the online feature from true greatness. Players have also been promised the ability to plan and enact major bank heists with friends and fellow gang members. Still, there is no word on when this feature will become available. I hope to see it soon, and promise to update when it goes live.

Game Trailer

Halo 4 box art.
Halo 4 box art.

3. Halo 4

Reaching back to November of 2012, the seventh installment in the Halo series may not be considered a game of last year; however, the action-packed title was at the beginning of this past years last wave of titles, and still has more then earned its spot amongst these greats. At the end of Halo 3, gamers were left with a glimmer of hope that Bungie's flagship franchise would someday make a triumphant return. Still, when Bungie released a statement saying they were finished with the series and moving on to new endeavors, fans everywhere were worried that Halo was finally over.

343 Industries, a mostly unheard of group of game-developers, was announced in 2007 to be contracted by Microsoft studios to continue developing Halo games in wake of an imminent break with Bungie. After 2010's Halo: Reach, Bungie officially made the split, and 343 Industries became the official developer for the Halo franchise. Understandably, the gaming community, including myself, was skeptical that another developer could properly handle the series. Ever since the release of Halo 2, the games were becoming considerably worse with more and more bad critiques tarnishing the series (Not including Halo: Reach, which was actually a great title).

Fortunately for us all, 343 Industries countered a skeptical community by releasing one of the best, if not the best game of the entire franchise. The opening scene displays a series of medical officers discussing the Spartan program. At first glance, the cinematic looks like a live-action video, and immediately drew me in. While the rest of graphics aren't quite to this amazing caliber, they are still miles above everything else on the market. Admittedly, the graphic achievements of 343's brainchild are not all that surprising seeing as they had the full resources of Microsoft Studios backing them.

Where Halo 4 truly proves itself was in the story and game-play. Halo 4 starts in the wreckage of a naval vessel caught in orbit over a mysterious planet. Covenant vessels appear out of slip space and begin boarding the wreckage. Master-chief is awaken by Cortana to handle the incoming threat. The two heroes soon find out that the planet below is scanning the ship and preparing to use a tractor beam to reel them in. What ensues is an emotional and action-packed romp-around across, what you discover to be, a Forerunner planet.

Met with the most terrifying adaptations of Covenant enemies and the new Forerunner threat, Master-chief has never looked more bad ass. Employing the same simplified set of controls we have come to know from the previous Halo installments, as well as similar vehicular combat systems, Halo 4 is a breeze to pick up. Nonetheless, the game it self is a major improvement from the last couple games. Character creation, visually stunning landscapes and lighting, impressive and often brutal AI and a streamlined mix of old and new weapons created one of the most fun campaign play through experiences I have ever.

The story itself is expertly told through a combination cinematic cut-scenes and in-game dialogue. Each character is beautifully voiced allowing for a game that has almost Hollywood level production value. The story itself is an emotional roller coaster that had me fighting off tears through out. The game is decently long for a first person shooter, and I have to tip my hats to 343 for placing so much emphasis on the single player campaign rather then focusing to heavily on the multiplayer.

In regards to the multiplayer feature, gamers are given much of what they have come to know and love from the Halo series; over the top and fast paced battle royale's, stretching across numerous alien locales, with some of the coolest tech made in a gaming setting. The drawback for 343 is that they did little to put their own names on the Halo multiplayer. Still, there is enough good between the campaign, the solid multiplayer and interesting coop missions, to secure this installment as one of the best of the series. If you have resisted, please stop and pick this game up asap!

Game Trailer

The Last of Us box art.
The Last of Us box art.

2. The Last of Us

The Last of Us is an action-adventure from Naughty Dog studios, that has reinvented the post apocalyptic zombie genre. Titles like Dead Rising and Left 4 Dead have give us solid entrances into the genre, however, their focus has always been on the action and over the top gore. The Last of Us, in comparison, has placed a major focus on story telling, a refreshing change to the ultra popular genre.

Now, to be fair, this is not necessarily a game about zombie; yet the comparisons are close enough to warrant the connection. The story begins at the very beginning of the plague, in which a fungal spore begins infecting the world. Joel, the main character, quickly loses his daughter due to the government's attempt to contain the disease and in the process is thrown into a cynical depression. The story reconvenes 20 years later in one of the many government refugee outposts. Joel is tasked with helping a girl, Ellie, escape the quarantine zone by a rebel leader.

In order to refrain from any spoilers, I will not go any further into the plot, however, the meeting of these two characters ignites a very emotional bond that grows into the center of the story. Joel, a former father, fights with dutiful feelings over protecting her and his desire to simply survive. Be ready for many plot twists and moments that will make it hard for you as a player to continue playing the game.

Graphically the game is unique. Unlike your Battlefield's or Call of Duty titles, polished realism isn't necessarily the game-developers focus, but instead they have created a gritty artistic look and feel which works well with the dread of a post apocalyptic setting. Lighting and shadows do a brilliant job of mixing beautiful sun bathed landscapes and terrifying dark cavities. One of the titles resounding achievements is in the convincing depictions of character faces; Joel's wrinkles, Ellie's smooth faced innocence and everyone's genuine empathetic responses to emotional triggers. The voice acting adds to this genius array of graphics and is definitely has some major production value.

Sound plays a major role in creating a horrific ambiance as you make your way through the game; guttural grunts and growls echo off of walls and can be heard from long distances away; random dropping of stones and other objects keep you on your feet as you try to sneak your way past the various infected enemies; and even the expertly chosen music helps to add a subtle level of terror. Realistic, gut wrenching and in all perfectly placed, the sound really helps to drive the play through experience.

Game play wise, The Last of Us is pretty basic, mixing stealth with your standard run and gun mechanics. In addition, the developers have done a good job in utilizing Ellie as a viable secondary character. Lighter and smaller, she as able to reach areas that the much older Joel cannot, and in turn becomes vital to accessing many different locales throughout the game. The environment offers additional strategy options, as you'll find yourself building make-shift bridges and bypassing deadly boob-traps as the game progresses. My only complaint is that at times the unique aspects of the title become hidden in between repetitive tasks. Still, in all the story is enough to support The Last of Us as one of the most unique and brilliantly produced titles of this past year.

Game Trailer

Bioshock Infinite box art.
Bioshock Infinite box art.

Gaming News Update

On February 18th, Irrational Games co-founder Ken Levine, announced. that after 17 years. Irrational Studios would be closing shop in order to pursue a smaller, more hands-on venture called Take-Two. He and 15 other members of his former staff will work tirelessly to create new, original games, like he had originally done with Irrational when he first helped start the company. Ken Levine explained;

“Seventeen years is a long time to do any job, even the best one. And working with the incredible team at Irrational Games is indeed the best job I’ve ever had. While I’m deeply proud of what we’ve accomplished together, my passion has turned to making a different kind of game than we’ve done before. To meet the challenge ahead, I need to refocus my energy on a smaller team with a flatter structure and a more direct relationship with gamers. In many ways, it will be a return to how we started: a small team making games for the core gaming audience.”

Though this doesn't definitively end the Bioshock series, I would be more then surprised to see Ken and his team revisit their flagship gaming series. Rest in peace Irrational Games, and we thank you all for your contributions to the gaming industry.


1. Bioshock Infinite

Bioshock has stood tall as the most unique gaming series in the FPS genre since its conception in 2007. Forgoing the standard mechanics that had made titles like Call of Duty and Battlefield so appealing, the folks over at Irrational Games decided to create a deep, story driven series with RPG hybrid game play. Though the first installment in the series was mesmerizing, bringing gamers into a setting they had never seen before, and telling a story like no other game had ever done, the sequel disappointed fans everywhere.

When Bioshock Infinite was announced the community was understandably skeptical; the trailers displayed a massive departure from the underwater setting of Rapture and depicted a cloud-like city. As a game that had thrived in the shadows, using aspects of horror and suspense, the newer, brighter setting had proved to be hard for fans to accept. In addition, numerous delays on the release date had fans thinking their was trouble at Irrational.

Despite the odds, Irrational Games delivered their finished product in March of 2013 and boy, were we all wrong. The departure from the previous setting was just what the Bioshock series needed. As enthralling and original as Rapture was, it had the lost the ability to tell a new story after the iconic conclusion of the first title. This is why Bioshock 2 was unable to live up to the hype of the first, and ultimately fell flat.

Bioshock Infinite puts you in the shoes of Booker Dewitt, a PI forced to find a girl named Elizabeth and bring her back to New York in order to wipe away his debt. Brought out to sea and dropped off at a gigantic lighthouse, much like the first title, you soon investigate and find yourself whisked away by a strange flying craft to a magnificent cloud city in the sky. Just as players pass through the last layer of clouds, gamers are given their first glimpse at the amazingly designed Columbia; bright colors, vivid skyscrapers and statues, detailed street vendors, barbershop quartets, the scenery goes on and on.

Irrational did a fantastic job with the art in this installment, completely building a brand new world from the ground up. Every aspect of every street, building and sidewalk is intricately drawn, leaving nothing in the scenery as an afterthought. Even the far off horizon has its own beauty as clouds, towering building, airships and a massive angel shaped statue hover off in the distance. The artistic genius extends to the characters as well, with each and every person adorned in authentic early 1900's steam punk garb, their faces cartoonishly animated, though somehow still able to display amazing, believable emotion.

The art is only augmented by the amazing graphic achievements. Perfect lighting, shadows, colors and animations create an unmatched experience. The movements of hulking metallic enemies, the way Elizabeth tosses you a weapon, the way the shadows appear in just the right places, able to bring horror into an otherwise fantastic setting; every aspect of the visual presentation is spot on, from the small nuances of flickering lights, to the massive set pieces like shattering windows and crashing airships.

Voice acting, as well as every other sound, is as always one of the series' strong suits. Booker and Elizabeth should have been nominated for an Oscar after this emotive, heart-wrenching performance, with characters like Comstock finding ways to bring their characters to life, despite how truly despicable they are. It is this acting that allowed Bioshock Infinite to tell such an amazing and unique story.

When it all comes down to it, the reason Bioshock Infinite is so endearing isn't the game play, though the use of vigors and Elizabeth's additional game play options were the best of the series; its not the graphics, as mesmerizing as they are; or even the artistic achievements; Bioshock Infinite will be remembered, instead, for its story. Unlike any other video game, Bioshock Infinite has created a story that has no right ending. Each and every player that takes a journey with Booker and Elizabeth will find some different and yet always valid meaning to the conclusion. Theories will buzz around the internet for years, followed by heated debate and discussion, yet somehow no one will ever truly be wrong. All we will ever agree on, is that we all have had a blast with Booker and Elizabeth, that we have witnessed storytelling at its finest and that none of us ever wanted it to end.

Game Trailer

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Final Thoughts

These are just five of an innumerable amount of amazing releases during the final wave of last generation console games. Others deserved spots on this list as well; Assassin's Creed IV, which reinvented the series, bringing its original spark back; Tomb Raider, a re-imagining that was able to save a franchise from irrelevance; Diablo III, a long awaited edition to an amazing RPG dynasty; and even Fire Emblem Awakening, a fluid and in-depth strategy role playing game for the 3DS. There are many others that deserve honors as well, but for the sake of this list, I could only choose five. Now that all three next generation consoles have been fully released, we as a community, can only hope that developers look to better their product even more then what has released this past year. Its been an amazing run, last gen tech, you will always have a spot on my television stand. Please feel free to comment, debate, or ask questions below. Cheers, folks!

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