So I need to preface this list by saying that I do not have a Wii U, a 3DS, or a PS Vita, nor do I have any of the new generation of consoles. I therefore cannot include multiple games that will no doubt make the majority of sites’ best of lists. I someday hope to play Super Mario 3D World and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, but sadly, at this time I have not, hence their absence.
You will notice the list is a Top 7. That is because I cannot muster putting any of the other games I played from this year into the list as a ‘Best of…’ That is due to the fact that while I thought some games were great and I enjoyed them for what they were, I did not feel that they were ‘important’ for people to play. Games like this include Splinter Cell: Blacklist, Arkham Origins, Crysis 3; none of these are horrible games by any standard. In fact they are very technically proficient, pretty, and from a gameplay standpoint, very strong. But none of those games are necessary. Crysis 3, in fact, had me kind of bored about two-thirds in. Arkham Origins, while somewhat repetitive, was still an incredible story (and in no way deserved the level of cynicism levied at it). And Splinter Cell: Black list, while fantastic, had a few too many silly things that just broke the immersion I had in the game. All of these games are great, and I think should be played, but the games I have included in this list, I feel, are must play games.
So without further ado…
7. State of Decay
Yes this game is buggy, and yes this game is ugly, but I challenge you to find a deeper zombie apocalypse simulator in gaming. The systems in this game are incredibly complex and the rpg elements are strong and deep. And the perma-death… oh, the permadeath. I love this game and I sunk many hours into it, often having to re-track the path to find a dropped backpack left by one of my fallen. It only took a few overly-bold jumps into danger to realize that facing a giant horde of zombies is by no means an easy task. Even when you make it, you could come back extremely injured which basically knocks your character out of commission for friggin’ ages. Oh the rage I experienced, but it was only because of my stupidity. Every character that died on my watch was because of a dumb choice I made and I felt the impact of that loss almost immediately.
6. Tomb Raider
When Tomb Raider came out, I was addicted. It took absolutely no time at all for this game to grab me. The mechanics are so solid, and the game is sooo pretty. The story is well-written, and the voice acting is top-notch (for the most part… I thought the sassy black woman was a little ham-fisted and stereotypical). Sure, some of the complaints regarding the almost masochistic approach to violence are well-placed, but at no time did I feel that it was excessive. This was a reboot done right and I can’t wait to see what Crystal Dynamics brings us with the next Tomb Raider game.
5. The Wolf Among Us, Episode 1: Faith
Telltale Games are on a role. After 2012’s critical darling The Walking Dead, Telltale looks to be hitting another home run with The Wolf Among Us. Yes, we have only had one episode so far, but never has an hour and a half of content grabbed me so much (far more than the intro to The Walking Dead). This game is ferociously adult. It is steeped in a weird pseudo-80’s Noire mix and it just works perfectly. I love the idea of a hard-boiled fairy-tale detective wandering the streets of a pre-Giuliani New York. And what has me super-happy is the fact that they have so incredibly improved their combat system over The Walking Dead’s. This is Telltale at the top of their game, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next in this series.
4. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
Playing through Brothers is about 3 and a half hours of pure emotional perseverance. This game is by far the prettiest game of 2013. It is very reminiscent of Microsoft’s Fable series from a visual standpoint, but its two character perspective allows for a camera angle that continuously highlights some of the most gorgeous vistas in gaming. If you were watching straight gameplay, you could be forgiven for thinking that this was a co-op game. In fact, it is a single player co-op game where you control two independent characters with your left hand and your right. At times it can be incredibly confusing, but as you work toward the ending, you see just how essential this control scheme is. And what a shot to the gut this ending is. I don’t want to give anything away. All I can ask is that you please play this game. Starbreeze needs to be commended for what they put together in Brothers. This is a studio that has brought us some of the most viscerally violent games of this past generation in Riddick and The Darkness, and here they are producing one of the most emotionally sensitive and beautiful games since Ico. This game is a tour-de-force.
3. The Last of Us
So some may consider this sacrilege, that The Last of Us is not in the number one spot. I must admit, depending on my mood any given day, my list of the top three games could interchange positions constantly. That said, while I think The Last of Us is the culmination of the almost 7 years of video game development in the last generation, perfectly honed into one of the tightest gameplay experiences you will ever have; there are moments in this game that had me feeling considerably less enthusiastic. While one of the most pure, narratively strong, games ever created, I felt that the middle of the game (the last half of autumn in particular) dragged on significantly. So much so, that I found it almost hard to complete because I was losing my drive to keep going. I am sooo glad that I did, however, because that ending is so emotionally charged and made the grind entirely worth while. That said, I did find it to be a grind. Now this is me just jumping pre-emptively into defensive mode because I know how special this game is. And it is that, SPECIAL. It has pushed the games industry forward and has received much needed accolade because of it. Naughty Dog can safely claim the title of “strongest console developer working” after this one. I can only hope its success, in turn, causes developers and publishers of AAA games to look at their own content with a bit more perspective, and in doing so, causes them to ensure that the products they release reflect a quality The Last of Us has demonstrated
2. Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto V is such a remarkable achievement, I really do not know where to begin. To start off, this world is absolutely huge. It is staggering how much space, and how much content Rockstar has been able to work into GTAV. Los Santos is beautifully rendered, the deserts are endless and packed with some of the most amazing vistas when one leaves the path for greater exploration, and the mountains and oceans are just so jaw-droppingly beautiful that one could be forgiven for wanting to spend hours simply hiking or swimming around. And the skybox? I have never seen sunsets, starry nights, and beautiful sunny days look so gorgeous in an open world game before. I touch on that some more in an earlier post that I encourage you to read. But then what makes this game, and any Rockstar game really, is the writing. The characters are brilliant. I think I can say, with little hyperbole, that Trevor Phillips is the greatest anti-hero in the history of games to date. And then there is the snarky, biting commentary throughout the game world, sarcastically lampooning all that is American culture spread throughout every facet of the game world, be it the radio stations, the dialogue, in-game websites, television shows, billboards, and even the chit chat you hear from random NPCs as they walk down the street. And then there are the little things. Those things that you can’t believe Rockstar took the time to add, but just show that this is a development team that goes the extra mile ever time. This is such a mind-blowing achievement in gaming that every person with a console (and hopefully later PCs as well) must play this game… as long as they are over 18!
And that leaves… drum roll please…
1. Bioshock Infinite
As I said under The Last of Us, these top three games could all equally be number one, and I had so much internal debate over this. Days, if not weeks, of bouncing back and forth, but when it all comes down to it, the world of Columbia is one of the purest examples of why I enjoy games as a medium. This is a world that could never exist under the normal rules of physics. We will never see a city in the sky. The forces and augmentations of what we consider real that would require are just too numerous to count, but in video games we are not limited by applied sciences and experimental physics where what is observed is law. In video games, we can play with notions of reality and theory and what is possible in a way that we can enjoy experiences wholly new and unseen. Sure the shooting mechanics are somewhat old school, and yes there are issues of ludonarritive dissonance that can at times break the immersion. But Bioshock Infinite sits within the pantheon of games that force us to look at the world we live in and demand more. I can only think of a handful of games that created this intangible feeling: the original Bioshock being one.
Now I must also talk about how fantastic the actual writing is in this game. This is a theme within my top three. All of these games are so expertly scripted that on can no longer argue against games as a narrative art form. Elizabeth and Booker are incredibly well-written, and the level of detail given to Elizabeth as an NPC companion, in her dialogue, her mannerisms, her programming, make her one of the richest non-playable characters in the medium. Robert and Rosalind Lutece are also insanely entertaining. And then, as I was mentioning before, there are the plays on physics. This game, more than any other piece of fiction, has gotten me hooked on the concepts that make up theoretical physics. I bought text books and works of popular science. I have read books from Leonard Susskind and Brian Greene, and gotten into conversations about string theory that I have no right being in, all thanks to Bioshock Infinite. No game has ever done this to me. Ken Levine is, in my mind, one of the pre-eminent fixtures in escapist fiction, and escape I did. Bioshock Infinite has left me dreaming of even grander possibilities, and that is why Bioshock Infinite is my number one game of 2013.
So that is the list. If you liked it, I encourage you to check out a conversation that Mike and I had regarding some of our biggest surprises and disappointments in gaming in 2013. It is not a wrap up of our top games of the year, but does add some further insight into the games we liked and disliked.
Mike will also be contributing a list of his favourite games of 2013 soon, so please look out for that in the near future. Also, what games did I miss this year? Please let me know. I already have a strong backlog of must play games from 2013 that includes the aforementioned Nintendo titles as well as Rayman Legends, and a host of PC games. Feel free to write in the comments anything that comes to mind, but please keep it civil.
Follow Tom on Twitter @thomaskagar