Between reboots, shiny-new Next Gen consoles, and some of the most intricate storylines the gaming world has ever seen, 2013 has been an absolute crusher for our favorite digital artform. Nerds like me have been on high alert all year long, and after serious deliberation, I’ve come up with my favorite games of 2013. As with my previous 5 Favorite Comedy Albums list, I prefer the term “favorite” as opposed to “best”, as I am just one man. And however intelligent, charming and hung I might be, my opinions remain my opinions.
First, some runners up:
NCAA Football 2014 — Given my unquenchable love for role-playing games and storyline-heavy titles, this pick might come as a surprise. But college football has always been a small weakness of mine, and the NCAA games have been something I’ve returned to year after year. So with the announcement that EA would no longer be working with NCAA for any officially licensed games, it was fortunate that this franchise ended on a bang.
Tomb Raider — I was tremendously wordy earlier this year when Crystal Dynamics re-envisioned gaming’s best known pair of… guns. And a whole year of games later, this glorious reboot still holds plenty of water. Shining with a cacophony of gorgeous brutality, Tomb Raider did everything right when it came to living up to the impossible hype that it had created for itself. The creators of Tomb Raider made sure that this release was more than an amazing remake–they made sure that it was an amazing game. The latest Lara Croft is one of the most beautifully rendered characters in video game history. The choice to tone down her cartoonish sexuality to something more lifelike and mature is what makes Tomb Raider something that 2013 will be remembered for.
Deadpool — Flawed? Sure. Short as hell for a $60 release? Uncannily so. A bit grindy and “same old shit” when it comes to its beat-em-up mechanics? Hell yes. But I honestly can’t think of a single game that made me laugh more. Deadpool caught the voice and feel of Marvel’s favorite Merc With The Mouth flawlessly, and to me that counts for something.
And now onto my glorious favorites:
5. The Stanley Parable — Moody, grim, and effortlessly simple, The Stanley Parable is a masterpiece of minimalist existentialism. You play Stanley, essentially facing off against what fate has set in store for you. It’s been said by other reviews, but it’s true: any more information would spoil it for you.
At about an hour a play, this is a very short game, but I think that makes it that much more miraculous. Various endings and various fates suggest that you try your hand at guessing where you’ll end up, just so the fates can show how wrong you’d be. I sincerely hope that the popularity of this game will lead to more from developer Galactic Café. Think of what they could do with more than an hour.
4. Grand Theft Auto 5 — I know! After my 1,500 word stream-of-consciousness manifesto, many of you were unclear as to whether I enjoyed this game or not. And I absolutely did. Between its humorous moments, high energy shootouts, and endless grab bag of random events to take part in (my thumb was crippled after a half hour triathlon that I foolishly believed I would be done with in five minutes), this game is just flat out fun as hell.
While it might have a pretty cookiecutter plotline and still hit the same stereotypical notes its previous incarnations have hit, Grand Theft Auto 5 will keep you coming back like a heartless ex-girlfriend. A heartless ex-girlfriend who loves dick jokes.
3. Papers, Please
If other games on this list are representative of what a game is able to show in this day and age, then Papers, Please is an amazing example of what games can tell us. Set in a fictional communist dystopia in the 80’s, Papers, Please turns you into a border worker–complete with all of the banal ins and outs that such a position entails. There is something massively wrong with the world around you, and you are forced to make difficult decisions that could hurt you, strangers, and people you love.
Unlike other games, however, you are in no position to save the world. You are not a hero. You are a tiny cog in the grand mechanisms of the world, and your choices only effect the machine in the smallest of ways. The 8-bit style graphics only serve to heighten the dull paranoia you feel in this story of drudgery and fear. Papers, Please is for anyone who believes that video games can be counted as an art form.
2. Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons
I caught this one last minute, and boy was I glad I did. The effect this game had on me was profound. Not just through its beautiful and tragic narrative or its grandiose, sometimes frightening visuals. But through Starbreeze Studios’ use of gameplay mechanic as storyteller. It’s amazing how hard a single thumbstick can tug at the heartstrings.
This was definitely a year for indie titles, and more than any other, I’d say Brothers deserves the most praise. It is an epic adventure and fairy tale, told in the span of a mere five or six hours. It’s gorgeous, thrilling, and immensely sad–all adjectives that make it heavily worth your time.
1. Bioshock: Infinite
I’m at a loss as to express my fullest feelings about this game. Never before has a game so fully enveloped me and toyed with my emotions. The characters, the storyline, and the gorgeously evil world all around you–all of it adds up to something memorable and spectacular.
Continuing with the franchise’s themes of free will and our deepest desires, Bioshock: Infinite struck me with an emotional case of the feelies that no other game has ever been capable of. It’s a game that sucks you in, and then when it’s finished with you, forces you to take pause and reflect. Elizabeth is easily the most fleshed out and sympathetic supporting character I have yet seen, and the story she takes you on is grand, grand, grand.
I have more to say about Bioshock: Infinite–more to ruminate on. And perhaps I’ll eventually get to that point. But for the time being, you must trust me that this is a must-own for gamers–easily my favorite game of 2013.