From beginning to end, 2013 was an exciting year for the video game industry. Unlike past years, 2013 was highlighted by the launch of two highly anticipated next-gen consoles, the PS4 and the Xbox One. However, although Sony and Microsoft's latest home entertainment devices dominated the conversation, their lack of quality launch titles left us a little disappointed. Moreover, the transition between console generations resulted in a year with few first party exclusives, especially from Microsoft.
That said, there were still plenty of games worth playing this year, some familiar franchises but a healthy dose of new IPs as well. Indie games also saw further growth and acceptance among casual gamers, thanks to titles like The Swapper and Outlast (see our list of best indies of 2013). There were some good gaming experiences to be had, you just had to look a little harder this year.
Without further ado, here are our 10 favorite games of 2013.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
What we said: "With so much crammed into the cartridge, one might think a game as big as this would be better suited on a home console, but this could not be further from the truth. The three-dimensional experience made possible by the 3DS is an essential part of the game itself, providing the best use of the effect on the console to date. The entire world and its inhabitants are molded with this experience in mind, and the result is a flawless addition to the Legend of Zelda series, and arguably the best in many years."Why you should play it: As the first direct sequel in the Zelda franchise, A Link Between Worlds represented a pretty substantial risk for Nintendo. It was an obvious play for gamers' nostalgia and a title that few could have expected, but one that ultimately worked thanks to great music, a wildly detailed overworld, and some clever new mechanics. Spend just a few minutes in the game and you'll understand why this is a must for any Nintendo fans' 3DS collection. A Link Between Worlds has established a new blueprint for how to update a classic while still keep it feeling fresh and exciting.
Available on: 3DS
What we said:"There's no guarantee that you will love Gone Home, but one thing is sure, you will want to talk about it when you finish. For those with an open heart, there is a touching story about themes gaming rarely tackles hidden in that lonesome house. For those more jaded, they will find a maddening bait and switch that raises the debate of interactive narrative vs. gameplay."Why you should play it: Gone Home is yet another example that video games are one of the most unique storytelling mediums. Set in a decrepit, potentially haunted house, Gone Home's tale unfolds methodically, with plenty of misdirection, and is ultimately informed by the player's willingness to explore and poke around. Admittedly, that will be off-putting to some, and might even call into question Gone Home's place as a "game," but enough of us found the experience moving enough to recognize The Fullbright Company's achievement.
Available on: PC
The Stanley Parable
What we said:"Early on it becomes clear that The Stanley Parable is something special — a game that wants to entertain players just as much as it wants them to think. Moreover, it reinforces the belief that the real innovation and experimentation in games is taking place in the independent development community."Why you should play it: The Stanley Parable knows gamers love to mess around inside any virtual world. But instead of building invisible walls to keep players on a set path, this game doesn't just encourage deviation, it embraces it. From the gleefully sardonic narration to the ingenious achievement system, The Stanley Parable plays with the very nature of video games as an interactive medium, to the point it becomes a meta-commentary. It's wholly unique — if you haven't played the mod, that is — but doesn't try to do too much; it's simply an entertaining experience from beginning to…well, beginning again.
Available on: PC, Mac
Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag
What we said: "‘Refreshing’ could be applied to several aspects of the game’s design, with performances and an attention to detail that place it among — if not ahead — of the franchise’s best. And with no discernible shortcomings when placed next to its American-Revolution-predecessor, Black Flag is the step into next-gen that many fans have been waiting for."
Why you should play it: Although Assassin's Creed 3 made our top 10 list last year, it was mostly seen as a disappointment by fans. And so, rather smartly, Ubisoft decided to deliver an Assassin's Creed 4 that still has many of the key features of its predecessor, namely the naval combat and fluid movement, but feels like a completely different game. Most importantly, though, Assassin's Creed 4 offers a protagonist in Edward Kenway who embodies the franchise's playful spirit, a pirate assassin who deserves a place right alongside Ezio. Assassin's Creed 4 reminds us why the series' sandbox is so much fun to play around in.
Available on: PC, PS3, PS4, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Super Mario 3D World
What we said: "Super Mario 3D World is evidence that Nintendo knows how to make a true high definition game and make it well. The length of the game itself will vary depending on how much time is spent gathering collectibles or fooling around with friends, but even after the main story comes to an end there are a few other goodies that players can look forward to."Why you should play it: Where Super Mario 3D Land refined the platformer's gameplay for the handheld space, Super Mario 3D World does the same thing for consoles. The game looks gorgeous in HD, with a style all its own and plenty of tiny flourishes that only Nintendo would think of. Granted, the developers don't stray too far from the popular conventions of past Mario games, but they never show a lack of innovation when it comes to platforming either. Super Mario 3D World is simply a joyous experience that's perfect for the whole family — it's refined, a bit hectic, and playful. And the cat suit is a revelation.
Available on: Wii U
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
What we said: "By keeping the story tight, the controls intuitive, the gameplay fresh and inspired, and the game worlds as dutifully-crafted as any in the triple-A space, Starbreeze has proven without a doubt that less is more. And by understanding that events can be small and prescribed, so long as the players experiencing them are emotionally invested, the studio has delivered one of our favorite downloadable titles in years."Why you should play it: In a year when great stories dominated the conversation, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons stands out as one of the best. For starters, the game's story is told without a single line of dialogue. Instead, Brothers' story is communicated by its on-screen action and gameplay. In fact, the game's unique twin-stick mechanic actually becomes part of the storytelling, which only further exemplifies the game's brilliance. Brothers' overarching narrativeultimately follows a fairly predictable path, but its conclusion is one we found extremely hard to shake. Needless to say, if you have a sibling this game is a must-play.
Available on: PC, PSN, Xbox Live
What we said:Like the many successful origin stories of contemporary film franchises, Tomb Raider grasps the notion that with great risk comes great pliability. The reward only comes after molding a character (or characters) who reconciles with their frailties and emerges from adversity both stronger and more sincere. Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix are justified in calling Tomb Raider a rebirth, not a reboot, and it’s just as fun to play as it is to comprehend.Why you should play it: It should come as no surprise that Tomb Raider was one of our favorite games of the year, as the title was all over our end-of-year lists. We didn't expect much from the game going in, but what Crystal Dynamics delivered was something truly special. The platforming is dynamic and exciting, the gunplay is tighter than most shooters, but most importantly Tomb Raider is a fantastic origin story for an iconic video game character. Players not only witness Lara Croft become the tomb raider, they have some agency in her metamorphosis. We can't wait to see this iteration of Lara again.
Available on: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
The Last of Us
What we said: "The narrative and characters to the gameplay and level design, combined with mindblowing presentation values, all help raise the bar from what players should expect from narrative-driven video games. Releases of this level of quality are hard to come by and Naughty Dog deserves applause for crafting this epic. It’s not only a contender for game of the year, but a contender for the best game to release on the PlayStation 3."Why you should play it: The Last of Us is further proof that Naughty Dog has perfected the art of video game storytelling, to the point they make all others look bad. From the way subtle facial expressions give away character motivations to the morally grey subject matter, ND's work on The Last of Us is top notch. Sure, the gameplay still features a surprisingly high body count, and the survival mechanics offered less freedom than we'd hoped, but those are small gripes for a game whose narrative deeply affected us. The story of Joel and Ellie isn't an easy one to get through, but it's an important piece of the PS3's legacy.
Available on: PS3
Grand Theft Auto 5
What we said:"Grand Theft Auto 5 is a journey well worth taking. It displays an astonishing amount of variety, a real ambition to innovate previous gameplay, and a narrative about three people trying to find friendship in their messed up and broken worlds, making it one of the most emotionally impactful in the series. Rockstar Games has offered an experience with a few flaws — but flaws that don’t break the core (and extremely enjoyable) gameplay."Why you should play it: To say that Grand Theft Auto 5 was a rousing success would be an outright lie — the game was plagued by many problems, especially in Grand Theft Auto Online. But while those problems might have soured an average game, Rockstar's latest sequel was able to overcome any misgivings thanks to an ambitious story, a sprawling open world, and some bombastic missions. Few developers can achieve what Rockstar has here, and they do so with a confidence that never wavers. And of course we can't forget the character of Trevor, a true embodiment of GTA if there ever was one.
Available on: PS3, Xbox 360
What we said: "BioShock: Infinite is built from story and atmosphere first, which alone makes it a must-play experience for any self-respecting shooter fan. Providing an adventure that is as memorable as it is inspired, we’re willing to accept combat that tries to offer an endlessly entertaining and visually stunning experience instead of reinventing the wheel."Why you should play it: BioShock Infinite was easily one of the most contentious releases of 2013, but it was also one of our favorites. It took several years for the game to finally hit store shelves, but once it did we couldn't help but fall in love with Columbia, Elizabeth, and all that Irrational Games had created. The combat is varied and exciting, the visuals have a style all their own, and the story is one we're still debating 9 months later. Ultimately, BioShock Infinite is an experience that enraptured us from that fateful lighthouse ascent and never let go.
Available on: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Top 10 Games of 2013
There you have it, Game Rant's 10 Favorite Games of 2013. While some will look back on 2013 as a lighter year, there were still several high profile releases, and a ton of indies, worth checking out. Some will eventually inform the future of game development and storytelling, while others were fleeting experiences that, in the moment, left an impression. Either way, we'd happily replay any of these games if it meant recapturing that initial magic.
Now, however, we look to 2014 and all the new releases it will bring - titles like Titanfall, Destiny, and Watch Dogs - but more importantly we can't help but wonder what surprises are in store for us this year. We anticipate the big three have some blockbuster announcements planned for E3 2014.
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