Over the course of a year, we test a lot of tech products, from laptops through tablets to mobiles, along with a range of other hardware from routers to external hard disks, and of course an abundance of software from office suites to security utilities.
And every year, products make improvements on the previous year’s offerings, both in terms of quality and value. Indeed, many product categories have a number of excellent offerings among their ranks – but sometimes you want things really narrowed down. Sometimes, you want to know the winner among the winners – and that’s what this series of articles is all about.
We’ve already looked at a number of categories thus far, including the best laptops of 2013, the top tablets, the best smartphone and mobile devices. In each category, we’ve highlighted the top product for 2013 across all the main sub-categories within. Today, we’re looking at the best video games.
Each game mentioned is the top of its class for 2013, and as such comes with an unreserved recommendation.
So, what are our favourite PlayStation, Xbox and PC games of the year? Read on to find out… and note that as a little bonus, we’ve also thrown in one final entry which is our favourite toy of 2013.
Best Xbox Game: Grand Theft Auto V (£42)
GTA V represents the pinnacle of Rockstar Games' design talent. Neighbourhoods, mini-games, animations, voiceovers, radio stations – anything you can think of – are wonderfully realised in the fictional city of Los Santos. Grand Theft Auto V even has multiple protagonists you can switch between at nearly any time – a first for the series.
As always, Rockstar Games delivers a killer GTA soundtrack, one that contains a satisfying mix of pop, rock, rap, and other genres. Factor in a gang-centric online mode and Grand Theft Auto V becomes the ultimate crime caper of this console generation—Jeffrey L. Wilson.
Best portable gaming device: Nintendo 2DS (£99)
Nintendo's newest handheld is a scaled-back, kid-friendly version of the excellent 3DS and 3DS XL systems. It can't display 3D images, but it can play every game and run every app that the 3DS can. The lower price and hinge-free design makes Nintendo’s 2DS very tempting for gamers on a budget or parents who don't want to spend £135-£150 on a more potentially breakable device their kids will throw around—Will Greenwald.
Best PC game: Bioshock Infinite (£20)
The third instalment in Irrational Games' impressive saga exploring the devastating effects of isolation (and isolationism) on the human psyche, BioShock Infinite combines familiar gameplay elements with exciting new mechanics, an engrossing story, and stunning graphics that make it surprisingly complex and powerful even by the high standards of the BioShock series—Matthew Murray.
Best PlayStation game: The Last of Us (£28)
Naughty Dog, the development house behind the Uncharted and Jax and Daxter franchises, has created what many have hailed as "the last great PlayStation 3 game." The Last of Us combines action and survival gameplay to tell a character-driven tale about a world destroyed by the Cordyceps fungus, a growth that transforms humanity into zombie-like monsters. (The fungus actually exists in the real world and has unusual effects on its hosts). Moving and action-packed, The Last of Us deserves to be in all PlayStation 3 gamers' libraries—JLW.
Best 3DS/Vita game: Fire Emblem: Awakening (£32)
Fire Emblem: Awakening for Nintendo’s 3DS isn't radically different from the other games in the strategy RPG series, but there's a refinement on display that makes the title worth picking up. Awakening, like other Fire Emblem games before it, focuses on tactics more so than the grind-heavy gameplay of the Final Fantasy Tactics and Disgaea series. Combat units have their own unique classes, and almost every fighter in your squad has a name, unique art style, personality, and story. A big part of the Fire Emblem experience is perma-death; when your units die, they die for good, so don't get too attached to any one character—JLW.
Best Android game: Spaceteam (free)
Originally an iPhone-only title, Spaceteam debuted this year on Android and simply blew away the competition with its sheer oddity. You play over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth with people in the same room, and the game centres around shouting things aloud to your teammates. Things like "jiggle emergency whittler!" or "set shiftsanitiser to one!" It's a very silly game, and the lively nature of the experience makes it a joy to play. Bust it out any time you're around others with cell phones (i.e. all the time)—Max Eddy.
Best iPhone/iPod touch game: Year Walk (£2.49)
Year Walk is not like most other mobile games. Instead of brief, almost disposable interactions, this Swedish horror game pulls you in and challenges you with devilish puzzles that require you to use your phone in unusual ways. With starkly beautiful cut-out graphics, the game does a great job of establishing a moody atmosphere. It has a few cheap (though effective!) scares, but it feels like a self-conscious effort to make the game scarier. And don't forget to investigate the Year Walk Companion app, it’s free and certainly adds to the experience—ME.
Best iPad game: XCOM: Enemy Unknown (£14)
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a hit console game about a paramilitary organisation tasked with defending Earth from an alien invasion. It made its mobile debut this year and it's as good as its bigger brother (minus the detailed graphics of course). You recruit new troops, discover new high-tech weaponry for vanquishing the enemy, and battle it out in randomly generated levels. A recent update added an asynchronous multiplayer mode for mixing it up with friends on the digital battlefield—JLW.
Best toy: LEGO Mindstorms EV3 (£235)
The newest version of LEGO's Mindstorms robotics kit is also the best, with a more powerful brain you can program to do anything. The sample robots start deceptively simple and become increasingly complex, and soon you'll find yourself (or your kids) building unique creations and programming them from the ground up. It's an excellent tech toy for adults and a fantastic science and learning toy for children. (Incidentally, this one appears in our top ten best Christmas gifts for kids feature, which you might want to take a look at)—WG.