You might not know this, but we were planning our Game of the Year feature since June of 2013. It wasn’t because we already knew what was going to win, but instead we wanted to make sure that we gave 2013’s games a fair shake when they came out. Too many video game websites and magazines give out their Game of the Year nominations and winners too soon prior to the end of the year, ensuring that games like Far Cry 3 and anything coming out of December get lost and unrecognized. That’s why we decided to hold our Game of the Year feature until the New Year hit, to ensure that our lists truly reflected the whole of 2013 and not just part of it. I mean, if the Golden Globes, Academy Awards, and Grammies do it, why not Game of the Year awards?
As with my Top Ten Games of the Generation list, my list is purely reflective of my personal opinion of the games I’ve played this year. With a full time job that demands lots of overtime, coupled with working on writing articles and being the Editor-in-Chief at Gamer Horizon, what’s left of my day doesn’t leave much for game time. Still, the passion for playing incredible games and finding new and exciting experiences is what makes me spend so many hours playing video games, even though I’m tired and beaten up from work or sometimes even burnt out with managing a video game website.
I can only sum up 2013 as the year that developers and publishers are sending off the previous generation with a huge bang, and a lot of the games on my list will reflect each of these companies’ desires to deliver a fantastic gaming experience before moving on to more powerful machines. Truthfully, it’s going to take some time until we see games get to the level of exploration in gameplay as how it is now–as it always is in previous generations–but the promise of even bigger, better gameplay with the next gen systems is exciting and it’s guaranteed that many gamers will use the games released in 2013 as benchmarks for what they should expect when they finally pick up a next gen console in the weeks to come.
That being said, here’s my Top Ten Games of the Year list for 2013!
10. Diablo III
I missed the whole hullabaloo with Diablo III when it came out on the PC because of the simple fact that I didn’t have a gaming PC to play it on. Sure, I could’ve played it on a Mac, but I’ve always loved the idea of playing dungeon crawlers like these on a couch with three other people, communicating in the same room and divvying up the loot. Fortunately, Blizzard was thinking the same thing and decided to release Diablo III for consoles.
When Diablo III was announced for consoles, plenty of PC gamers reacted with fury and anger. Even moreso when said gamers realized that the console version would not feature the much maligned Real Money Auction House that horribly unbalanced Diablo III’s gameplay on PC.
Diablo III on consoles wasn’t just a simple port of the PC original. Because of the nature of HDTV screens and the controller medium, the entire game had to be rebalanced all the way up to the loot system so much that, for all intents and purposes, it inspired Blizzard to rebalance the PC version and convinced them that the RMAH was a bad idea. And while there will forever be this controversy as to whether or not a console version was planned from the beginning, one thing is absolutely clear: Diablo III on consoles is one of the few couch experiences in this generation that delivers so much depth and replayability that you’d be hard-pressed to find another game this engaging and this deep out there.
9. Animal Crossing: New Leaf
I can’t tell you how many hours I sank into this game with Ari since June, but I can tell you one thing: this is the game that broke my 3DS Analog nub because I played it so damned much. At first glance, Animal Crossing: New Leaf looks like other Animal Crossing games before it, but it managed to improve upon the formula by adding things that enhanced the gameplay even for a tiny bit. Being able to set ordinances for your town which allowed you to either be rich, not have to worry about gardening were quite helpful in helping maintain your town. Better yet, the improvements made with the graphics, sound, and the various things that occur in town ensured that Animal Crossing: New Leaf was going to be one of those games that you’d constantly check every single day for the rest of your life.
In all honesty, if my 3DS nub wasn’t broken, I’d still be playing this game. And this is coming from a person who skipped the Wii and DS versions of Animal Crossing. Animal Crossing: New Leaf is THAT fun of a game, and worthy of joining the other titles I’ve listed here. And that’s despite owing Tom Nook a ton of mortgage fees… again.
8. Saints Row IV
This game’s review has been a running joke on Gamer Horizon since I finished the game, and yet to this day I fail to grasp what words I should use to even describe a game so crazy that every single part of its narrative is considered to be a spoiler.
Truthfully, nothing. But one thing is for sure: All the things you’ve seen of Saints Row IV, including its crazy plot line of the Boss being voted into the Oval Office and becoming the President of the United States, coupled with Matrix-inspired super powers and a cast of characters comprised of villains from prior games and Keith David, of all people, are representative of a game that is set to blow every expectation or preconceived notion you have of the series left and right. And that’s not even talking about the time they released an expansion where the Saints saved Christmas.
The series might have completely departed from your typical city-based Grand Theft Auto clone and made driving a useless skill, but what the game turned into–effectively, a superhero game–blows away every other open world super power based game out there. I’m looking at you, Prototype and Infamous.
7. Gone Home
Ever since this generation started, I predicted that adventure games would have a resurgence. The genre would be revived and turned profitable, thanks to opportunities in the episodic gaming space, and we would see some innovation in the form of advancing the gameplay in different directions, and minimizing the pixel hunting that sent adventure games to die in the late 90s. The realization of this prediction was when Telltale’s The Walking Dead won critical acclaim last year.
That being said, I feel that Gone Home is a step towards an interesting direction, where the depiction of the game world masks the fact that the whole plot itself is incredibly banal. And yet, even though the direction where it leads is slightly obvious, the way that Gone Home presents it is so intimate and unlike any of its contemporaries that it grips you and immerses you into the world itself. What you get in the end is a complete story, representative of a time since past where Gone Home’s story could have been the story for many others as well.
6. Super Mario 3D World
When Super Mario 3D Land came out, I was one of the biggest doubters of the game. Sure, it’s made by the same folks who brought us the wonderful and awesome Super Mario Galaxy which, to me, was one of the best games on the Wii, but what could they really do in that game that they haven’t already delivered in Super Mario Galaxy? The answer was obvious when I began playing it: It was THE 3D Mario game I’ve always wanted since Super Mario 64 was announced.
Super Mario 3D Land turned into one of my favorite Mario games of all time and heralded the return of the Raccoon Tail Leaf and Tanooki Suit that I so fondly remembered from playing Super Mario Bros 3. It featured a 2.5D rendition of the Mushroom Kingdom that blended what the developers learned from creating Super Mario Galaxy and mixed it with traditional 2D platforming challenges. Super Mario 3D World for the Wii U is an elaboration of this idea, now allowing up to four players to engage in the platforming and easily creating mayhem for the other players involved. This orchestrated chaos is unlike what we’ve seen before in New Super Mario Bros. U, however, if only because we can now move towards and away from the screen and not have to share a 2D plane. And it’s icing on the cake that we’re now able to actually play as Luigi, Toad, and Princess Peach, just like we were able to in Super Mario Bros 2 ages ago.
5. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
After last year’s Assassin’s Creed III, I had completely written of the entire Assassin’s Creed series. Ubisoft had sacrificed our engagement with its protagonists for a highly detailed world that mostly had nothing happening and was a pain to traverse. So imagine my surprise then that they redeemed themselves in my eyes with this year’s offering, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.
The surprising thing about Assassin’s Creed IV is that while it is a bigger game than Assassin’s Creed III, it is a far more enjoyable of an experience jumping onto your ship, doing ship to ship battles, boarding other ships, and finding hidden treasure than most of what Assassin’s Creed III had to offer. It also helped that the main protagonist, Edward Kenway, had far more of a personality than Assassin’s Creed III’s Connor. In fact, the game is so much more than just a regular Assassin’s Creed game that Ubisoft is even thinking of using these gameplay elements in a separate title, if the surveys floating around are to be believed. You’ve got my attention again, Ubisoft. And well played on delaying Watch_Dogs so that our attention would be focused on this incredible reinvention of the series.
4. DmC Devil May Cry
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not really a huge fan of Ninja Theory’s games. I do own Heavenly Sword, their first offering on the PlayStation 3, but never got fond of Enslaved and their recent exploration into iPhone gaming territory. But somehow, DmC Devil May Cry piqued my interest. Maybe it’s because I’ve been a long time fan of the series and I felt that the whole thing just needed a whole different perspective, but the things they did with Dante, apart from changing his hair color to black, made things fresh for me again. The game’s levels were filled with great music, fantastic sound and effects, and a character whose brash demeanor became something long time series fans loved to hate.
And yet I couldn’t help but enjoy myself when I was slashing demons and trying out some of the new talents that this Dante had. His style, animation, and the level of creativity that was involved was nothing short of stunning, and it was the perfect game for me to have started 2013. And even though the game didn’t perform well in terms of sales, I’m still secretly hoping that Capcom looks at the work Ninja Theory did with the series and allow them to create another game with this interpretation of Dante. After all, haters gonna hate.
3. The Last of Us
When The Last of Us was revealed to be developed by the folks who were responsible for the highly praised Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, my ears perked up and I was immediately excited. Naughty Dog has grown by leaps and bounds within the past few years in terms of their experimentation with the shooter genre, so much that it was even surprising to me that they were even attempting a project of this scale so late in the console cycle in an entirely different genre. And yet, here it is and the game even managed to deliver a unique stealth experience that’s quite unlike anything we’ve seen before, at the same time managing to inject some innovation in a genre that’s been thought to be ailing.
It’s interesting to me that the game even lasted in the length that it did. Typical survival horror games never last past 15 hours and yet The Last of Us got us hook line and sinker through this entire 19+ hour journey. And while I won’t be able to remember every single moment of the game, the fact of the matter is that Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us left an indelible mark this year in me that I can only describe as one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had all year. And that’s saying a lot.
2. Bioshock Infinite
Not many games have been given the same amount of time to be developed as Bioshock Infinite, and its fruits of this development time bore immediately when I stepped onto the streets of Columbia. It’s true that the gameplay is only slightly better than Bioshock, but what the game actually did was to expand upon the conventions that the series built and establish an expectation of what future Bioshock games would be.
One of the most enjoyable things in Bioshock Infinite for me is the mythology behind the existence of Columbia and why Booker has to actually save Elizabeth. And while the game didn’t have a ton of characters you interacted with, Elizabeth’s constant presence was something you looked for as the game progressed, with her demeanor mirroring players’ sense of wonderment and curiosity as you went through the whole of Columbia together. It’s not often that I play a game where I actually care about the NPCs who are tagging along with me, and Elizabeth was certainly a character that I had completely identified with and really wanted to rescue.
In terms of its art direction, narrative, and its fantastic voice acting, Bioshock Infinite for me represents the pinnacle of these aspects of game design and it’s one of the reasons why I foresee a come back to Columbia in the near future.
1. Tomb Raider
Tomb Raider became one of my most anticipated games when they announced the game’s existence so many E3’s ago, and its inclusion as the top game on this list is a testament of the hard work and dedication the team at Crystal Dynamics have put into the game since the series was given a second lease in life. This reimagining of Lara Croft is probably the most ambitious and most amazing yet, as it allowed Lara to explore a fictional abandoned island in the Pacific that was highly touted as being similar to Batman: Arkham Asylum and, going even further back, the Metroid games with the term “gear gating” actually being marketed as a feature in some of its promotional materials.
But it wouldn’t be enough that it was Crystal Dynamics’ rendition of a gameplay mechanic that’s been implemented in many games since. The way the developer laid out the whole island, in addition to telling an engaging story that mixed both legend and surprisingly well developed characters was never something that I expected from a Tomb Raider game. And yet, here I am, lauding the game with praises verifying that the game was, in fact, able to deliver an engaging experience that really took me on a journey that would define what this year would be. It was tough picking between Bioshock Infinite and this, but ultimately, Tomb Raider won out by being really good at everything it sought out to do and surprising me with its incredible amount of detail and fun gameplay. And yes, I still have nightmares of the horrors of Lara Croft controlling like a tank in earlier games. *shudders*
If you haven’t yet, go play this game. Seriously. You need to. Like right now.