JOPLIN, Mo. —
This is a rough year to try and pick the year's best video game.
Three strong contenders were released: "Bioshock Infinite," "The Last of Us" and "Grand Theft Auto 5." Each one was groundbreaking in its own way, and each one is truly epic.
How can you pick between those three? I've been wondering how a lot of the video game sites do it. They have complicated ratings systems, of course, and they do this kind of thing for a living.
But really, I have no idea.
My vote would be for "Bioshock." The gameplay mechanics were incredible, the challenges were monumental, the weapons were engaging and the story -- that story was phenomenal. Such great writing: Elizabeth is portrayed so well (And she's the most intelligent, helpful AI character in any game ever. Lydia from "Skyrim" could learn a thing or two.), and her involvement with Booker is heartbreaking.
The game's environment, the floating city of Columbia, is also gorgeous, and one of the most fully fleshed-out worlds I've played. From beautiful vistas to perfectly placed flavor text, Columbia has all the detail of a real city.
But even though I haven't finished the other two yet, I've seen enough to know that both of them deserve the title of Year's Best Game.
"GTA5" has a vastness that makes "Skyrim" look like "Ratchet and Clank." There is so much to do in that game that boredom appears impossible. The gameplay is smooth as silk, and the ability to switch between characters makes the story interesting. Plus, Trevor gets my vote for craziest character in a video game ever.
"The Last of Us" redefines close-quarters combat in a video game. Battles require careful thought and cannot be won by plowing through with guns ablazin'. The story is also well done -- the intro alone almost brought tears to my eyes.
Any one of these could clean up in the major game awards programs, and I'd be just fine. It's indicative of a great year of gaming, from the release of next-gen consoles to the simplest touch-screen tablet games. Here's a short list of games that blew me away this year:
"Badland," developed by Frogmind Studios. "Badland" is a simple variation of the old helicopter game. Press the screen to fly, let go to drop. The obstacles in each level are challenging and require myriad skills, and the power-ups change strategies dramatically. Achievements for each level enhance replay value.
But the game's main strength is its simplistic design. All the main elements are cast in silhouettes, which makes the colorful backgrounds stand out. As the player progresses, the things revealed in those backgrounds start to become hints of a story -- enough to drive curiosity crazy.
"Beyond Two Souls." I haven't played it yet, but I want to badly.
"Batman: Arkham Origins." Another game I haven't played yet but desperately want to. Each of the "Arkham" games are solid.
I did more than play video games this year, however. Here's what geeked me out this year and earned my nod for the year's best:
On TV: 'Orphan Black'
Everyone knows about "Breaking Bad" and "Walking Dead." But "Orphan Black" came out of nowhere, surprised me and made me a die-hard member of Clone Club.
The central premise of the story was revealed early on: Sarah, in trying to redeem a life of conning and drug sales, is attempting to earn back custody of her daughter. But when she bumps into a woman who is a virtual carbon copy, things change dramatically.
Tatiana Maslany takes on all the different clones and does a fantastic job making each one stand out. The writing is clever, the drama is compelling, and the action is insane. This was easily my favorite TV show of the year, and I'm geeked beyond belief to watch the second season, which debuts in April.
In music: 'The Ides,' Me Like Bees
Sure, call me a homer for giving my best album of the year award to a local band. Then listen to "The Ides," and decide for yourself how epic this album is.
I listened to no other album more than "The Ides." It's an addicting powerhouse of songwriting and emotion. It's provoking and relatable at the same time. The musicians of the band play out of their minds in a variety of styles that keep the album fresh.
I wrote a pretty glowing, almost too nice review of this album back in the summer. But I stand by every word six months later.
In books: 'NOS4A2,' Joe Hill
Joe Hill has created some of the scariest villains I've ever read, mainly because he writes them as competent characters. And Charles Talent Manx is one of the nastiest.
Though the title hints at what kind of character Manx has, he isn't the typical vampire. He uses his powers to abduct children, and he has his eyes set on Wayne, the son of Victoria McQueen. But Vic has some powers of her own and isn't afraid to fight back.
A long book, "NOS4A2" keeps a hectic pace throughout. I was always amazed at how the book rushed along with such strong energy throughout. But Hill is a master storyteller, and the horror he writes is unmatched right now.
On Netflix: 'House of Cards'
Technically, "House of Cards" is a TV show, but Netflix's new production method of releasing an entire season at once kind of changes things. Its offerings have gotten great reviews, especially "Orange is the New Black."
But "House of Cards" stands alone at the top, and for good reason. Frank Underwood is a Congressman who appears to be a shoo-in for secretary of state, but when the whip's services are still needed in the House, Underwood goes full Machiavelli and wreaks havoc as large as his ambition.
The cast features heavyweights such as Kate Mara, Robin Wright and Corey Stoll. But Kevin Spacey as Underwood completely owns the role. With a silky drawl a la "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," Spacey's quest for power is hypnotic, and his fourth wall-breaking asides are delicious. He's not likable in the least, and he redefines the anti-hero.
This show is actually harmed by Netflix's season delivery, though. Aside from the episode where Underwood returns to his school, it's hard to point to a single strong episode. The result is a show that feels more like a movie marathon.
But this movie marathon is a lot better than most TV shows, so I'm in. And I'm ready for the second season, which debuts in February.