Top Ten Games of 2013
Best of 2013: Games

As 2013 comes to an end, so ends a generation, with the Wii, PS3, and Xbox360 all taking backseats to the WiiU, PS4, and XboxOne. With the new systems just hitting shelves, 2013 marked a coda year for the previous gen’s systems to make their final statements. Some developers chose to showcase the last gen’s seemingly impossible technical capabilities; others highlighted the last gen’s ability to leave emotional impacts long after the credits rolled. These games all made perfect closing statements for the end of this gaming generation, and as such are the Top Ten Games of 2013:

10. Super Mario 3D World- Nintendo (WiiU)

The only next gen title to grace this list, and for a reason. 3D World comes across as a love letter to the fan as it does an actual game, celebrating all previous iterations of the mustachioed plumber’s outings. The game’s creativity, easily adaptable gameplay, and smartly implemented multiplayer provided for some crazy one-off gameplay mechanics that appear stage after stage, each one paying homage to a previous Mario installment. In one level, you’re platforming across a Super Mario Galaxy-esque surface- in another, you’re racing go-karts. 3D World’s simplistic charm and willingness to blatantly showcase clever innovations of video games past shows that sometimes, more is actually more.

9. Legend of Zelda: Link Between Worlds- Nintendo (3DS)

The more than 20-years-later sequel to A Link to the Past no one knew they’d be getting, Link Between Worlds takes place several generations after the first game, but still utilizes a dual world system to craft endlessly creative puzzles. While the story is nothing outstanding like Skyward Sword’s story, the game DOES make startling innovations in gameplay, allowing you to, right from the start, rent almost all of the important items Link needs to traverse the game’s dungeons. This makes playing the game’s dungeons in ANY order possible, destroying the linear experience in favor of a more open world affair that encourages exploration. The new “key power” Link gets in this game, the ability to turn into a wall-crawling painting, changes the camera to a 3D stereoscopic angle that opens up the dungeon visually and mechanically. Link Between Worlds doesn’t attempt to shatter our expectations in story, like Skyward Sword sought to do, but instead, it challenges the Zelda formula itself with what is quite possibly the most creative, open-ended Zelda in years.

8. Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch- Level-5 Studio Ghibli (DS, PS3)

The beautiful animation of Studio Ghibli, inspired by the naturist surrealism of Hayao Miyazaki, was the tour de force of Ni No Kuni, but what was most impressive about the game was how its seemingly Japanese pandering appealed to a western audience’s sense of plot structure. With a surprisingly dark storyline focusing on loss and the human struggle to overcome, Ni No Kuni utilized imaginative gameplay, combining attributes found in Pokémon and more action based games. As Oliver gains more and more friends, the void left by his mother’s death is slowly filled not just in fighting power, but emotional fortitude. Ni No Kuni is a phenomenal game not only for its unending imagination, but for it’s ability to tell a mature tale without resorting to sillier Japanese tropes, all while under the guise of a child-like animation style.

7. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag- Ubisoft (PS3, PS4, Xbox360, XboxOne, WiiU, PC)

Black Flag started off sounding like a joke, with jaunty, scallywaggin’ pirates taking center stage over the more complex historical conspiracies. However, it quickly proved doubters wrong by correctly implementing everything Assassin’s Creed 3 failed to do, and improving 3’s already phenomenal features. Everything you do, be it assassinating famous naval generals or simply boarding enemy ships, provides meaningful implications on the story. The boat you plunder may be packed with supplies you can use on your own boat to traverse farther distances, providing you the ability to assassinate that naval general and take over a small island. This “gameplay assists the storyline” model is a stark contrast to the Assassin Creed series’ past model of “storyline motivating gameplay”, and provides a fresh new spin on an aging franchise.

6. Grand Theft Auto V- Rockstar North (PS3, Xbox 360)

Grand Theft Auto V could grace this list, and deserve it, based on sheer size alone. This overly ambitious installment included features found in almost every genre known to gaming, and had them at staggeringly well-built and customizable levels. The instant-swap mechanic between 3 lead protagonists was a stroke of genius, providing not only gameplay innovations, but also tons of humorous potential. Had the story’s subject material matured like the gameplay, and gave us a tangible reason to traverse the world of San Andreas (instead of providing every asset from the get-go), Grand Theft Auto would’ve easily topped this year.

5. Tomb Raider- Crystal Dynamics (PS3, PS4, Xbox360, XboxOne, PC)

The re-imagining of Lara Croft was a resounding success not only for the latest Tomb Raider iteration, but for Lara Croft and all other female protagonists in gaming. By stripping down the character to her core, developer Crystal Dynamics made the character less “LOOK AT MY BOOBS”, and more vulnerably sympathetic. Lara, now portrayed as a reluctant archaeologist thrust into an unfortunate situation, was pushed to brutality in the most graphic and painful ways possible. The visceral combat emphasized Lara’s new characterization, and provided a third person shooter experience that focused on quiet moments rather than bombastic setpieces. In the end, Tomb Raider set out to do what it wanted to do, and more, as Lara Croft may once again stand as one of the most respected protagonists of video game history.

4. Bioshock: Infinite- Irrational Games (PS3, Xbox360, PC)

Columbia, Bioshock’s floating city equivalent to its underwater city Rapture, had to live up to the high bar set by Irrational Game's original BioShock. Fortunately, the city in the clouds soars high above expectations, with not only a brilliantly imaginative utopian setting, but a dark, racially charged underbelly waiting for players to scratch its surface. The true draw of the game, though, comes in its mindboggling storyline, with a damsel-in-distress plot suddenly barreling into parallel universes, paradoxes, and twists that will send players reeling for decades to come. What “save the girl, wipe away the debt” becomes towards the end of the story is like comparing two totally separate storylines, and yet Irrational has found a way to tie not only those two stories together, but also the entire universe of their Bioshock series, in no small part due to their captivating leads in the sharp witted rogue Booker DeWitt and playfully cute Elizabeth. Had it not been for a slightly jarring combat design filled with repetitive pacing and destructive magic that conflicts with the lore (it was seemingly integrated just to spice up combat), Bioshock: Infinite would’ve been a flawless game in almost every asset.

3. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons- Starbreeze Studios (PSN, Xbox live, Steam)

Brothers takes a simple concept and stretches it to unfathomable mental and emotional capacities. Two brothers, after losing their mother, must quest for the Tree of Life to save their now ailing father. The atmosphere is strikingly storybook, combining a wondrous world with surprisingly nuanced heroes (they speak in gibberish, but their traits and emotions come across all too well). Cooperation is the drive of the story, for although both brothers provide unique strengths, the two brothers are stronger as a whole. The player, meanwhile, is asked to control both brothers simultaneously, with the left half controlling Older Brother, and the right half controlling Younger. This simple tone of cooperation resonates so perfectly with the almost Disney fantasy atmosphere, as the player feels the emotional stress of Younger brother as Older brother hangs dangerously off a cliff. The beautiful efficiency Brothers operates at in its narrative and structure, while STILL maintaining the emotional punch other much more complicated games strive to achieve, is a worthy accomplishment for Starbreeze Studios.

2. Gone Home- Fullbright Company (PC)

Video games have the ability to take you to locations and stories that would be impossible to realize in the real world. Gone Home, on the other hand, takes this idea and shoves it up its own ass, instead opting to take the player to a simple suburban home from the 90s. While seemingly mundane in concept, Gone Home finds a way to appeal greatly to our pathos, as a young girl comes home from her first year at college. Instead of being embraced by the warming comfort of her house, she’s met by an abandoned dwelling sapped of all signs of life. Gone Home takes a realistic approach on exploration, as you navigate Kaitlin in the darkened house to learn more than she ever expected about her family. The game has some puzzles to solve in order to advance further in its house, but Gone Home is truly at its strongest when it forces the player to sit back and absorb the soberingly depressive tale story of a real American family in crisis. Gone Home's simple, no flash nor dazzle approach to storytelling does wonders to successfully tug at heartstrings, all while foregoing more seemingly exciting gaming standards.

1. The Last of Us- Naughty Dog (PS3)

The Last of Us is the most disgustingly depressing AND endlessly uplifting take on a post-apocalyptic zombie world ever produced. Ellie and Joel’s journey to save a decaying world takes a backseat to the true story: the developing relationship between them. In Ellie lies a cure for the outbreak, but more importantly, innocence; she’s a small but powerful hope for a better future in both function and philosophy. In Joel we have a stern, pessimistic guardian who’s lost his real daughter and just about given up on life. These two plotlines—saving the world and Ellie and Joel’s relationship—is inversely proportional in terms of player sympathy. What starts off as a world worth saving slowly deteriorates into a world you can’t wait to see burn, just as Joel and Ellie’s strictly business attitude towards each other slowly evolves into something worth fighting for. The true magic of The Last of Us, though, is that each action the player takes actually POWERS this inverse proportionality. Every Clicker (superpowered zombie) you kill pushes you closer to saving the world, but Ellie farther away from innocence. Every Hunter (super-asshole human) you evade gets you one step closer towards the end, but Joel closer to unflinching determination to keep Ellie away from everything. This perfect unison of consequential gameplay and gripping storyline leaves an unforgettable emotional impression, and it’s the reason The Last of Us is the best game of 2013.

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