Welcome to another Game of the Year ceremony from the only true game critics in existence! Although a number of 2013 releases were delayed, it still turned out to be a great year overall, with the likes of Metro: Last Light, Grand Theft Auto V, Wasteland 2, and other great games. To accommodate all of this year’s releases, we will have many separate awards. Every nominee and winner is chosen carefully by our gaming staff, the most critical and fair reviewers in the world.
The gaming industry seriously lacks good, critical reviewers with good judgement. Most other media outlets will give out awards to games that they simply enjoyed the most, but GND-Tech is the one exception. This industry is backwards with many of the highest rated games being inferior, and often terrible games designed for people with no intellect and no attention span. But here at GND-Tech, we recognize and value effort, good ideas, thought-provoking and challenging games. We scold rehashed, generic, low quality games which dominate the industry. Only the very best games are winners here.
So come forward and witness the number one game awards ceremony in the world!
Before getting into the actual games, we’d like to start off this ceremony with our Mod of the Year choice. For this award, we’re looking specifically at normal, but large scale mods designed to drastically improve a game. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Misery 2.0 is the clear winner here, giving Misery two consecutive wins in a row.
Misery 1.0 won this award in 2012, and 2.0 builds upon the already excellent mod. It stands out as one of the most impressive overhaul mods of all time. It’s a hardcore, realistic addon for S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat, designed to make the Zone a much more dangerous and immersive place. A-Life has been overhauled, making it more dynamic. AI was given many new never-before-seen features, many innovative survival gameplay mechanics were added, hundreds of new items/weapons/outfits were added, visuals were overhauled to the point where it exceeds most games, the list goes on. See our overview of Misery 2.0 here.
- S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl Mod Pack 2013
- S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Autumn Aurora 2
- Thief Gold HD Texture Mod
Total conversion mods aren’t built for games, they’re essentially full standalone games. Some of them do require a game to be owned, but our winner does not. Underhell wins this award with ease. To put it in perspective, I rank it more highly than our Game of the Year winner this year.
Underhell is a unique, episodic story driven psychological horror, survival horror, and survival stealth mod, though calling it a game would be most appropriate. It’s about 20 hours long, and we’re only up to chapter 1 out of 4 (and there will be an epilogue too). See our review here.
It’s one of the greatest horror experiences out there, excelling in both survival horror and psychological horror aspects. It’s also a very good and very challenging stealth game. Underhell also benefits from solid and creative writing, a very impressive soundtrack, decent voice acting, and excellent attention to detail. Things will only get better from here.
- Baldur’s Gate: Reloaded
- The Dark Mod
Best Voice Acting
It’s no surprise that The Last of Us gets the win here. Ever since 2007, Naughty Dog has consistently excelled in this category, providing some of the greatest voice acting in video game history. The Last of Us is no exception.
- Grand Theft Auto V
A game’s soundtrack is very important when it comes to immersion, and it can make or break the effectiveness of certain parts of a game. It was a close call, but the winner here is Underhell. The distinct soundtrack for Underhell is so good that it joins our list of one of the elite soundtracks in video game history.
- Anna: Extended Edition
- Metro: Last Light
- Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Best Soundtrack, Original Song
This award goes to an individual track or song from a game’s soundtrack. Underneath this Hell” by Tom Stoffel, which is played during the credits of Underhell, wins this award.
Tom Stoffel has done a variety of video game soundtracks in the past and Underhell’s is absolutely spectacular, seeing as how it won our previous award. “Underneath this Hell” is a brilliant and badass way to close off the game, and the vocals draw a nice parallel to the game’s plot and story.
- Underhell – Waiting trailer music
Best Sound Effects
Sound effects can make or break a game. They’re some of the biggest factors when it comes to immersion. Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs wins but only after you update its OpenAL DLL files by following this simple and quick procedure:
- Download and run the Windows installer here
- Navigate to C:\Windows\SysWOW64 (or C:\Windows\system32 on 32-bit Windows) and copy the OpenAL32.dll and wrap_oal.dll files.
- Paste said files into your Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs directory.
This procedure enables surround sound potential, which also improves things for stereo users using virtual surround or binaural audio simulation via Creative sound cards, OpenAL Soft, or Rapture3D (which is only about equal to OpenAL Soft).
Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs surpasses the sound effects recording/mastering quality of the original game, which were already outstanding. Only the Crysis series and Cryostasis: Sleep of Reason can compete with this game in this regard. The sound of footsteps, basic objects interacting, a monster’s roar echoing down a long corridor, and everything in between are all perfect for an atmospheric horror game. Doors even appropriately block out noises.
Thanks to the use of OpenAL, after updating it following the procedure listed above, the game provides the most realistic 3D HRTF, tied with its predecessor and Penumbra. This means it has superior, utmost realistic directional and distance-based sound, most evident on a surround sound system of course but the benefits are also felt with a stereo/2.1 system with a Creative sound card or by simplyr following this procedure.
With these tweaks, EFX (Effects Extensions) are also enabled, leading to dynamic reverb with full 3D positional sound for the reverberations, as well as other advanced environmental sound effects.
- Crysis 3
- Rising Storm
- Metro: Last Light
- No More Room in Hell
- Assetto Corsa
- Battlefield 4
Graphics are a bit overhyped in today’s industry, but nonetheless an award for this section is needed. We focus a bit more strongly on the technical aspects of a game’s graphics, but art style goes into consideration as well. Metro: Last Light wins a close decision and takes home the gold.
It’s one of two real DX11 games, the other being Crysis 3. It really showcases DX11 effects, with tessellation being found everywhere. Attention to detail is just excellent, with above average texture quality all around, good use of parallax mapping, excellent vegetation quality (both in polygon count and textures), amazing shader quality, soft water, particle effects, great anti-aliasing (even with external MSAA), the list goes on. Metro: Last Light almost looks like CGI, opposed to real time graphics.
Crysis 3 is nearly as good on a technical level, providing the best character models and even better usage of parallax mapping and a few other effects, but its lackluster anti-aliasing keeps it from winning this award. Metro: Last Light not only has great anti-aliasing compatibility, but the visual style is stunning as well, unlike the bloomfest/glarefest that Crysis 3 is.
- Crysis 3
This award goes to games with remarkable level design and attention to detail: games that provide a world that really feels alive, locations that look and feel like people have actually been there. Here, we have to go with Grand Theft Auto V, the most authentic suburban open world level ever made for a video game.
The set pieces and the detail greatly exceed all previous games in the franchise. Especially the detail… they’ve packed so many things, especially hidden things, into this massive open world map. When playing the game, it doesn’t feel like you’re wandering through video game maps; it feels like you’re wandering through real places.
GTA V wasn’t the only game to excel in this regard however, with the other two nominees having amazing attention to detail too. They aren’t really comparable to GTA V due to the scale difference, so it was a close call between all of them.
- Metro: Last Light
Although multiplayer tends to be the lowest form of gaming, aimed at the least common denominator and providing nothing more than a mindless repetitive experience, there are other games that seek to provide more. A few of such games came out this year, with the winner being PAYDAY 2. It’s an innovative 4-player cooperative heist game. Each player has their own unique class and capabilities, and have to really work together in order to succeed. It’s very tactical and requires a lot of planning, which can’t be said for most multiplayer games.
This was a close call, since three other great multiplayer games came out this year. We were looking closely at Arma 3, but in the end we decided it didn’t bring enough new features compared to the previous games, while PAYDAY 2 is a very unique game.
There’s also Rising Storm, a PvP WWII shooter that’s similar to the Battlefield games in terms of game modes, but it’s better in just about every possible way. It’s a much more hardcore, realistic, and tactical shooter, bridging the gap between casual arcade shooters like Battlefield, and mil-sims like Arma. For a mere $20, it has about as much multiplayer content as BF4 and BF3 combined, better hit detection, complete in-game server browser, mod support, actual hardcore mechanics that force tactics and teamwork, and more. It demonstrates where the Battlefield franchise should have gone, almost like a proper sequel to Battlefield 1942 and it exceeds BF4 in just about every aspect.
Let’s not forget No More Room in Hell, a free hardcore co-op zombie survival game. It’s what L4D’s realism mode should be.
- Arma 3
- Rising Storm
- No More Room in Hell
We had some excellent stories this year, but the one that stands out the most is Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. It’s like a short story come to life. It’s one of the finest demonstrations of how good a video game’s story can be.
You’ll see the game symbolically, metaphorically, but also more directly touch upon themes such as grief: how one deals with it and how it can push them over the edge. It also brings up technology and how it can be abused, and where it will lead us. A Nazi-like view of “perfected” human beings and a Utopian perfect world is also brought up constantly. Classes/rich vs poor in society is also brought up during the game. And much, much more. Play the game and see for yourself.
All of these ideas are touched upon perfectly. Some are explored more than others, and despite the game’s short length, it never overwhelms itself with ideology. Nor does it raise a bunch of questions and try to answer them all; Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs provides a story that will really make you think and analyze, like great films do, like great novels do. Few games provide this, but here is one that does. Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs goes down as one of the finest examples of writing in video game history.
- The Walking Dead: Season 2
- The Wolf Among Us
- Bioshock Infinite
- Metro: Last Light
The shooter genre is one of the most popular in the gaming industry today, despite the fact that the most popular shooters tend to offer nothing more than repetitive mindless entertainment. But we have a huge exception in Underhell, a free standalone 20 hour episodic Source mod available here.
Underhell is one of the most multifaceted linear games ever made, not even totally linear as it is partially hub based. It excels as a psychological horror, survival horror, stealth, and shooter game. As a shooter, it features mechanics like aiming deadzone, picture-in-picture scopes, and outstanding authenticity in shooting mechanics. The shooter gameplay is bolstered significantly by its survival mechanics, such as its advanced stamina/endurance simulation system and bleeding mechanic. The sound effects and physics also add to the awesomeness of Underhell as a shooter.
- Metro: Last Light
- Arma 3
- Shadow Warrior
Best Studio of the Year
Here we have another new award, giving credit to the best game development studio of the year. We look at studios who went out of their way to do something good for gamers, a studio who actually communicates. A few studios really stood out, but in the end we decided to choose Overkill Software.
They gave us PAYDAY 2, one of the most innovative co-op games in years, and they’re always communicating with their fanbase. Overkill Software released quite a bit of free content for PAYDAY 2, they’re quick to fix any issues with the game, they respond to feedback, they ask for input, but they don’t take any of the awful suggestions they’re given.
They also prioritize PC gaming above all; since it’s the best platform and it’s their most profitable platform. No catering to 10 year olds here! PAYDAY 2 also happens to be an amazing sequel; in a world of copy-paste sequels, PAYDAY 2 stands out for its innovation and numerous improvements. Thank you, Overkill Software, for rising to the occasion.
Firaxis Games was a nominee for this award, for having released XCOM: Enemy Within, an expansion for Enemy Unknown. Firaxis is really receptive to feedback and they’re constantly looking to improve, and they always do so with amazing expansions. XCOM: Enemy Within is one of these expansions.
Undead Labs deserves a mention too. They released State of Decay. As with the other studios mentioned here, they’re very receptive to feedback and they really want to work with the community in order to improve the game.
Tripwire Interactive went from being a very good studio to an even better one. This year they released Rising Storm, an authentic/realistic PvP shooter that’s basically what Battlefield should be. Not only did they release this game for a mere $20, but they also include all Red Orchestra 2 multiplayer content in that very same package, merging them into one game. $20 for two industry-leading games? That sounds mighty nice. In addition, they always host events and competitions in their games, specifically Rising Storm and Killing Floor. They release so many new free maps for Killing Floor in addition to hosting these awesome events, and they really encourage modding. Again, no catering to the masses here. They’re loyal to their fanbase, and they take advantage of the greatly superior PC platform much like Overkill Software does, though Tripwire has been doing it for even longer.
Unknown Worlds is a nominee for similar reasons; they’re so involved with Natural Selection 2, last year’s best multiplayer game (and the best PvP shooter in years), and also its community. They have constant updates and they’re very receptive to feedback, and they’re doing the right thing; trying to achieve perfect balance with the game. This year they’ve released lots of new maps and content for the game, something few other developers do.
Eidos Montreal didn’t disappoint either, releasing Deus Ex: Human Revolution Director’s Cut on PC. Many feared it would be a Wii U exclusive, but they knew better. The game is the result of user feedback, leading to improved boss battles, AI, visuals, and more. It was our runner up for Best Game of 2011, and it just got better. Best of all, on Steam the game only costs $5 for those who own both Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Deus Ex: Human Revolution – The Missing Link. Those who don’t own The Missing Link still get a big discount, and those who don’t own either simply get a better version of the game for $20. Not a bad deal for a 40-50 hour industry-leading stealth-RPG. Obviously the publisher had a lot to do with this at well, but Square Enix has been doing some very bizarre things within the last year.
But Overkill Software showed their true colors this year, releasing an innovative sequel in PAYDAY 2 and continuing to support it with free DLC and community interaction.
- Tripwire Interactive
- Undead Labs
- Firaxis Games
- Unknown Worlds
- Eidos Montreal
Biggest Letdown of the Year
Before getting to our Game of the Year award, let’s do the opposite. For this category, we look at the most disappointing game of the year: a game that could have and should have offered more. A game that didn’t live up to its hype or its potential. And for that, we choose Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs.
To give some perspective, this game is the indirect sequel to Amnesia: The Dark Descent, one of the best horror games ever made. A Machine for Pigs was made by a different studio, the same one that created Dear Esther which is a minimalistic story experience. Unfortunately, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is closer to Dear Esther than it is to the first Amnesia. It’s not a good horror game at all: the player is rarely in any danger, the game is not tense (save for a few moments), enemy encounters are far more scripted and not memorable at all. It feels as if enemy encounters were included only because they were forced to, not because they wanted to scare the player.
Most of the survival gameplay elements are gone, such as the lantern requiring oil to operate, a manual healing system, sanity system, and the entire inventory is gone. Object interaction was reduced greatly. All the developers wanted to make was to make a good story. They succeeded, but it seems that the developers failed to notice that Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is listed as a horror game, and that the predecessor is known for being extremely scary. This game could have been so much more… it could have surpassed the original ever so slightly, due to the storytelling talent possessed by the studio. But instead, they failed to deliver.
There were plenty of other disappointments this year, like Battlefield 4, Call of Duty: Ghosts, and Crysis 3. But after their terrible predecessors, it’s really not surprising that those games are also terrible. Battlefield 4 amounts to nothing more than Battlefield 3 plus two features from BF2. Most of the big flaws are still present, like forced Origin and Battlelog requirements (they force Battlelog onto the player even more now), lack of teamwork emphasis, poor level design that discourages teamwork for the most part, and uninspired copy-paste gameplay. Though it was a bit unexpected that BF4 turned out to be one of the most unstable crashfests ever released on PC. It’s an insult in every possible way.
Call of Duty: Ghosts is simply more of the same.
Those three games aren’t even worth a nomination, because nobody should have expected them to be any different than the turds they are now.
We did, however, look at Outlast as a candidate for this award. Everyone is calling it one of the scariest games ever, an absolutely mind-blowing horror game! In reality, Outlast is nothing more than cheap Hollywood horror making a push into the gaming scene. It’s the “Wrong Turn” of gaming, it’s what you’d find on SyFy channel late at night. The writing is cringe-worthy, the setting is boring and uninspired, and it’s full of scripted and predictable jump-scares and enemy encounters. A number of Amnesia total conversion mods made by teenagers are more creative and original than this.
Aliens: Colonial Marines is another obvious pick here, but it never had the potential these other disappointments had.
But nobody expected Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs to be such a letdown. It could have been extraordinary and horrifying, but sadly it’s barely even a horror game.
- Aliens: Colonial Marines
- Battlefield 4
- Call of Duty: Ghosts
The best video game (not mod or expansion) released this year was Metro: Last Light, once again raising the bar for shooters as story driven immersive games like its predecessor does. The dynamic narrative that revolves around the player’s actions (within a very limited, clearly defined moral scope that is, not with the flexibility and ambiguity of Deus Ex) combined with the incredibly detailed level design with a surprising amount of exploration which elaborates on themes and adds mood to the game (huge improvements over Metro 2033 in this regard) make for one of the absolute most immersive shooter games of all time. Only Underhell, the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchise, and perhaps Metro 2033 can compete with Metro: Last Light for that title.
There are some pacing issues in the story, particularly throughout the first half of the game, and it attempts more than it can handle, but the good certainly outweighs the bad. As a shooter game it has some of the best shooting mechanics you will ever find, with the weapons themselves being gameplay systems via multiple functionalities and even maintenance for pneumatic weapons. Last Light also features some of the finest weapon customization of any game, and to make things even better it also expands upon the advanced but logical survival mechanics from Metro 2033.
Metro: Last Light is also a full fledged stealth game, being able to avoid the vast majority of encounters with the only exceptions being “boss” like encounters. The level design is improved and expanded on greatly compared to Metro 2033 for this purpose as well. All around mechanical bliss describes the gameplay of Metro: Last Light, on top of genre defining immersion and storytelling.
- Grand Theft Auto V
- State of Decay
Most Anticipated Game of Next Year
Yes, we’ve added a new award. We at GND-Tech are always looking ahead. 2014 looks like the best year for gaming since 2010. But the game everyone should be most excited for is Dragon Age: Inquisition. It will be the third installation in this franchise, with the first game, Dragon Age: Origins, being one of BioWare’s finest games ever crafted.
Dragon Age II was a bit of a letdown, due to EA forcing ridiculous deadlines (it had about an 18 month development cycle, despite being a 50 hour RPG), but it is safe to say that Inquisition has not suffered this fate. It has been in development for longer.
Bioware wants to get back on track with Dragon Age: Inquisition. They’ve widened their scope: they seem to be aiming even higher than Dragon Age: Origins, which is already the best game ever made. They want to beat that, and so far everything they’ve shown suggests that this is a possibility. DA:I will be a much larger scale game with huge maps and vast exploration, influenced by The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim due to its success and industry leading open world design.
They’re adding some more gameplay complexity too: the player can dynamically capture areas, and build them into fortresses and strongpoints. These can then be managed and expanded upon, much like Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening or Neverwinter Nights 2. The ability to choose player race was also restored, and now they’re letting you choose Qunari! This should allow for even more player diversity.
They’re also returning to more tactical and strategic combat, which is what RPGs were once known for. They have introduced an isometric tactical camera for combat purposes.
Our other nominees for this award include S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Lost Alpha, which is a free-roam story-driven survival shooter with role-playing elements. The franchise already has a strong following, and Lost Alpha looks like it will be by far the best of them all.
Project C.A.R.S. and Assetto Corsa are slated for a 2014 release as well, and they look like they could be the greatest racing games ever made. These are two racing simulators and much more, also featuring a lineup of production cars and more freedom in terms of races available, seemingly providing the PC racing simulator experience as well as the Forza/Gran Turismo experience.
Watch Dogs is another interesting 2014 release. It looks innovative; which is something you don’t see in most games these days. The full releases of Divinity: Original Sin and Wasteland 2 are scheduled for 2014 as well.
- S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Lost Alpha
- Divinity: Original Sin
- Wasteland 2
- Watch Dogs
- Project C.A.R.S.
- Assetto Corsa