At this stage of the calendar year, with the transition to new hardware and the current onslaught of software, it’s easy to get swept up in the annual gaming maelstrom. ’Tis the season, after all. Having said that, although this year may not signal the curtain call for the seventh generation of consoles per se — with Dark Souls II et al slated to release in 2014 — 2013 will still go down as a notable twelve months for the industry at large. Amid the build-up to the next cycle of home consoles, we’ve explored the xenophobic heights of Columbia in BioShock: Infinite, traversed a post-apocalyptic wasteland in The Last of Us, and took control of a criminal trifecta within Grand Theft Auto V. Undoubtedly, this pixelated trio stole much of the industry limelight during the course of the year, garnering overly positive approval from critics and gamers alike.
In the current climate, however, it seems a video game can either sweep the critical board like the aforementioned threesome with close to unanimous approval, or, more alarmingly, fall off the radar due to good, but not quite excellent ratings. These are the games that perhaps didn’t light up the Metacritic rating system upon launch and were instead forced to carve out a niche audience despite their innate quality. It’s a palpable issue; one which directly handicaps the staying power and overall longevity of any given release. Ultimately, though, it usually comes down to a lack of media coverage or advertising; particularly with smaller companies tethered with appropriately limited budgets.
As a result, these titles can become lost amongst the crowd; flash in the pan moments that sell moderately before nosediving down the chart rankings. Of course, this happens within every gaming year. For every critical darling like 2012’s The Walking Dead there exists the under-appreciated titles such as United Front Games’ Sleeping Dogs. It’s simply the nature of the medium; or any creative platform, for that matter. What strikes a chord with the majority of gamers may not appeal to certain demographics and vice versa. But, crucially, this enthusiasm, or lack thereof, doesn’t necessarily represent the quality of the software. The titles in question can fall victim to tumultuous launch windows, passionate fan bases or general franchise fatigue that can undermine their overall impact on the gaming community.
Undoubtedly, there have been several surprises this year: Crystal Dynamics’ bold visualisation of the Tomb Raider franchise, for instance, along with the revitalised Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, which steered the once ailing MMO back on course expertly. Nevertheless, given the spectrum between triple-A titles and the thriving indie community — which has seemingly widened with each passing year — there are numerous games from the last twelve months that weren’t quite given the attention they deserved.
With that said, let’s uncover the hidden, critically underrated gems of 2013.
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