The Top Ten Games of 2013

First, because there were too many games to cover here, here’s a supercut I put together of some of the best games of 2013.

I feel that everyone putting together a best of 2013 list that truly cares about gaming only does so after slamming a recently emptied bottle of whiskey down on their desk and sighing deeply.

2013 was one of the most packed years in gaming history. From every available outlet poured titles that are without comparison, even when weighed against the entirety of gaming history. Sure, there was the usual flood of crap and frustration, but it seemed that bi-weekly we were getting one of those games that you just had to play. Of course, that’s because we were.

Even if you don’t take into account the launch of two next-gen systems and all the other major industry occurrences and just focus on the quality of the games themselves, you’d be hard-pressed to name to many other years ahead of 2013.

A lot of hard decisions had to be made when putting together this list, but I feel that this is as comfortable with the honors as I’m ever going to be. Just note that if you don’t see your favorite game, it’s either because I didn’t play it, painfully had to cut it, or just didn’t like it. The curious can ask in the comments below.

Without further ado, here are the best games of 2013.

10. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag


Let me get “Assassin’s Creed IV’s” biggest problem out of the way first. It’s still an “Assassin’s Creed” game. Therefore, it carries all of the faults of that series, including a far too simplified combat system, some seriously uneven mission quality and obligatory futuristic plot elements that are getting more and more superfluous.

But, sweet Jesus, this game is just pure fun. A lot of that fun derives from the perfect implementation of its pirate elements. “AC:IV” is the absolute greatest pirate game ever made. It gives you nearly everything you could ever want from the romanticized pirate experience many of us are familiar with, and does it with sheer glee. It certainly doesn’t hurt that this is also one of the best written and best acted games I’ve played in some time.

Were this game developed from the ground up as an entirely new series called “Black Flag,” it may be even higher on this list. As it is, though, there are few games more entertaining than “AC:IV” regardless of your feelings towards the series up until this point, or any specific video gaming turn-ons and peeves you may have.

9. Outlast


The age of the true survival horror game seems to be coming to a close as a growing number of developers pussy out and implement more and more action elements into the genre in order to make it more appealing to a larger crowd.

That’s a true shame, as a game like “Outlast” shows the tremendous amount of life left in the traditional horror style. This is quite simply one of the most terrifying games ever released, and at no point does it give a damn if you are enjoying yourself while playing it or whether or not you feel safe. It’s an uncompromising realization of the potential gaming has in terms of conveying pure horror, and you’ll love every minute you hate playing it.

I’m so very thankful the new generation of YouTube players have spread the gossip of “Outlast” and all its terrible wonders and helped let the people know that for all the waves of shitty action games with occasional jump scares that dare label themselves horror, there are still some games that do it right.

8. The Last of Us


Developer Naughty Dog earned a reputation among gamers as a developer that can, at times, seemingly do no wrong. It’s a reputation built upon a history of titles ranging from incredibly fun, to all-time classic, with very few misses on any level. It’s a reputation that made “The Last of Us” almost destined to be a success.

That “The Last of Us” ascended to the throne before its release by virtue of its birth right could have been its undoing, but the game easily carves a legacy of its own dependent on nothing else but the quality of the final product. Its blend of stealth action, environment, character development, and above all else, story, is so effortless at times that you really have to step back from the title to force yourself to appreciate the work that went into making “The Last of Us” possible.

I do have some complaints about certain elements of “The Last of Us” as it pertains to decisions made in its gameplay and storytelling (which is very important to distinguish from just the pure story) that keep it from being game of the year, but the sheer craftsmanship of the game makes it impossible to not distinguish as a highlight in a year absolutely full of them.

7. Super Mario 3D World


Have you ever stopped to consider the nigh impossible level of consistent quality that is the “Mario” series? The natural cynic in me keeps expecting every major release to finally be the one that doesn’t get it right, but without fail, once I actually play the game, I hang my head in shame for daring to doubt it.

“Super Mario 3D World” is a celebration of everything that makes the series great. It’s colorful and lively, it’s got some of the best level design you’ll see in any game this year (or any other), and it’s capable of pumping an almost childish level of joy into your entire being that you thought the world had stomped out long ago.

You’ll find that an important characteristic I use in distinguishing which of the many great games available this year are worthy of being singled out for this list is just how much fun they are. That’s important because, far more important than any critical analysis I can divulge regarding “Super Mario 3D World” is the simple fact that it is just great fun from beginning to end.

6. BioShock Infinite


The original “BioShock” was just such a punch-in-the-gut great game that you were forced to bow to it out of mere reaction. In the world of 24-hour gaming coverage, it’s rare that you play a game that catches you off guard with its excellence, but such was the case with “BioShock.”

Many (rightfully) questioned how you follow up such an experience considering that everyone is now anticipating greatness. “BioShock Infinite” answered that question by providing a game that felt every bit worthy of the “BioShock” name in terms of its mechanics and style, but at no point felt like a $60 retread down memory lane. It used the best parts of “BioShock” as a foundation (because why wouldn’t it?), but really only took advantage of them to allow the team to focus more on creating a story and world worthy of the “BioShock” universe, but never derivative of it.

In that regard, it is a wall-to-wall triumph, and one of the best examples of how to do a proper video game sequel.

5. Gunpoint


Put a gun to my head and force me to classify “Gunpoint” as one specific genre, and I suppose I’d label it a puzzle game. After all, it gives you a series of levels that you are asked to manipulate and navigate through in order to succeed, similar to a game like “Portal,” which I’d also tentatively consider a puzzler.

Where “Gunpoint” gets the idea so very right, though, is in its organic approach to the puzzler genre. Puzzles in “Gunpoint” are not there as mere obligations and hurdles, but rather as genuinely interesting challenges with multiple solutions. The usual satisfaction in any puzzle game is when you finally solve the puzzle. In “Gunpoint,” the satisfaction comes from the process of solving the puzzle, and finding all the different ways to approach it. It makes the work you put into it as thrilling, if not more thrilling, than the eventual payoff.

“Gunpoint” became a runaway indie hit and deserves every dollar thrown its way. There are few games that manage to balance visceral satisfaction and genuine cleverness in equal measure, and “Gunpoint” does it with ease.

4. The Stanley Parable


I’ve never heard an explanation of “The Stanley Parable” that I’ve ever been completely satisfied with when it comes to conveying the full idea of the thing. After all, how do you describe a game that so openly defies nearly every gaming convention?

Fortunately, there is a free “Stanley Parable” demo available that does far better justice to the experience than words ever could. While I’d like to say to just go play that, and come back if you don’t agree with its placement here, in the interest of defending its lofty ranking over other high-profile titles, I feel compelled to tell you that every kind word you’ve heard about this game and how it is smarter, more engaging and more surprising than just about every other game out there is 100% the truth.

“The Stanley Parable” questions the very structure of gaming as we know it and presents a fully realized visual walkthrough of an alternative to those tropes. Once you are done with it, you’ll never catch yourself saying you played it, but rather that you experienced it.

3. Gone Home


As a fan of gaming my whole life, I tend to feel that the medium is capable of anything. However, before “Gone Home,” I never would have thought the next great American novel would come in the form of a video game.

However, lets not call “Gone Home” a video game, because that doesn’t really give an accurate indication of it. It’s an interactive digital expression of humanity and family. It turns the camera on the user, so to speak, and asks us to really take a look at our shared community and everything that makes us, well, us. Not as gamers, mind you, but as people.

A subtle yet profound look at family, life and all the little things that make up the bigger picture, “Gone Home” won’t last you long, but it’ll cling to your soul and forever alter the expectations you have concerning this medium and storytelling.

2. Papers, Please


Can you imagine the looks developer Lucas Pope must have gotten when telling people about “Papers, Please?” How many awkward silences and bit lips followed the explanation of a game where you, from a gameplay perspective, do little more than review paperwork for discrepancies?

Clearly, though, Pope was a man with a clear vision and I’ll be damned if he didn’t make the perfect realization of it. Let’s put aside how strangely compelling it is to go over documents and try to single out any of a number of errors while under a strict time limit, and talk about the real contribution of “Papers, Please?,” which is its unique approach to morality in gaming. Rather than doing what most other games do and give you cut and dry choices on which moral path to pursue, “Papers, Please?” presents one unified experience that is driven by your natural instincts and personality morality. This is in opposition to those other games which solicit morality from you point blank and give you plenty of chances to consciously examine your choices before making them.

“Papers, Please?” is certainly entertaining, but I would in no way call it fun. I understand that goes against an earlier outlined philosophy regarding the selection of this list, but “Papers, Please?” is the type of game that causes you to reexamine a lot of preconceptions you have regarding not only gaming, but yourself. It is one of the most immersive experiences in the history of gaming.

1. Grand Theft Auto V


The beauty of “GTA” selling millions and making billions is that I don’t have to go into too many details about it here, since you’ve probably played it. Instead, I only need justify its appearance at the top spot ahead of some very worthy competition.

Here’s the thing: AAA gaming is in seriously bad shape. Far too many of them have become this sort of futuristic nutrition paste. All of the substance, none of the flavor, and beneficial only for survival. Worse than that, they are becoming plagued with such horrors as micro transactions, an over-reliance on outdated gameplay mechanics, and a growing interest in filling the coffers of their publishers as opposed to using the considerable resources at their disposal to pursue something a little different and take the occasional risk.

Into that world comes a game like “GTA V.” It’s a game that cost somewhere north of $200 million to make, and feels like it. In exchange for $60, it gives you hundreds and hundreds of hours of well-produced content. It feels like nothing was left on the cutting room floor in order to save for a future DLC you’ll be charged for, or to save for the next yearly installment.

It is, in so many ways, the polar opposite of nearly everything that makes AAA gaming so incredibly frustrating these days. Yes, it has its problems, but none of them feel like they were put in the game with malicious intent or out of laziness. It’s a game that shows what happens when a large studio with a considerable budget aims to make a game that the developers can genuinely be proud of — not because of how much money it made, but because of the the quality of the thing itself.

Of course, it would also go on to make all the money in the world anyway. Go figure.

At the end of the day, though, “GTA V” is simply more entertaining and packed with more content than any other game released this year, which is why it snags this honor.


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