I’ll be the first to admit that 2013 sucked. Between crap happening in life, a huge workload at both work and school, and lots of other things popping up that just made 2013 a garbage year. It seems to be a sentiment shared by a lot of people I’ve talked to – not much good came out of 2013.
Thankfully, the year’s shittiness didn’t transfer into the world of games. 2013 was one of the better years for gaming we’ve had in a while, and even though I didn’t have time to play a lot of the year’s games until later in the year (or even the beginning of this year!) I had some truly great experiences on all systems.
So without further delay, here are my top 10 games of 2013!
10. The Stanley Parable
The Stanley Parable is one big satire of modern game design and player choice, and it’s one of the most hilarious games I played all year. Pretty much anything you do has an impact on what happens, and you’re not only able but actively encouraged to break things. You might wind up in an endless loop of doors, or blow yourself up, or set a baby on fire…yeah, all that really happened. There are so many possible paths through the game, some of which take some cleverness to find, and all the while you’ll have a witty British narrator snarking at every choice you make. The game deliberately tries to screw with you, and that’s what makes it so great.
9. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Let’s get this out of the way first: I have no great love for A Link to the Past. It’s a really good game, but I think the Zelda formula has been greatly improved upon several times over since it originally released. A Link Between Worlds has some interesting ideas – the wall mechanic is ingenious and by far the best part of the game, and it has some of the best use of 3D of any title on the system. But ultimately it relies way too heavily on nostalgia for its predecessor and feels more like an enhanced remake rather than a sequel. While I’ll save a full critique for my review (coming in the next week or so), steps forward for the series such as the item rental system and non-linear structure are clunkily executed, and the dungeon design is lackluster at best, especially after the strong dungeons of games like Skyward Sword and The Minish Cap.
With that said, it’s still a Zelda game, even if not a particularly great one. But even a lackluster Zelda is a really good game, and for all my complaining I did enjoy my time with A Link Between Worlds enough for it to make this list. The puzzles, especially utilizing the wall-merging mechanic, are really good, the game’s use of 3DS functionality is some of the best on the system, and the NPCs are much more memorable and the game is better overall than A Link to the Past. And it was a nice change of pace to not be treated like a braindead toddler throughout the game!
8. Tomb Raider
Confession time: I’ve never played a Tomb Raider before. But this game has made me want to go back and experience what I’ve missed. The whole thing is a roller coaster ride from start to finish, with some seriously impressive set pieces and a twisted sci-fi plot that will raise eyebrows at every turn. The game has a great balance of exploration and gunfights with some impressive shooting mechanics – seriously, the bow is one of the best weapons I’ve ever used in any game – and though the middle delves into “perpetual pew-pew” territory, things ramp back up afterwards to a strong conclusion.
It’s also an emotionally taxing and downright dark game. Lara’s entire adventure is a downward spiral – just when you think things can’t get worse for her, they do, and the constant abuse she endures will most certainly affect you on an emotional level. Tomb Raider is sadistic with some of the things it puts Lara through, and some of the death animations are so gruesome that you wonder if they were simply added for shock value. Wading through rivers of blood and human corpses for long stretches of the game doesn’t help either. But the emotional response of Lara’s first human kill, the death of crew mates that you grow to care about, the psychotic ramblings of the antagonist, and the sinister secrets of the island and its inhabitants all serve to make Tomb Raider a dark, sometimes depressing emotional roller coaster that does a good job of showing how Lara Croft came to be.
7. Papers, Please
Papers, Please is misery and tedium in game form. Except it’s fun. Yeah, that’s kind of an oxymoron, but no other game has made bureaucratic red tape so enjoyable. With all the added criteria that you have to watch for as the game goes on, becoming efficient at spotting minute details while under a timer is actually rewarding.
What truly makes it great, though, is the amount of choice you have and the moral implications of those choices. As a border inspector, your job is to only let people with the right paperwork in, no exceptions. So when a woman who hasn’t seen her husband for years comes up to your booth without a passport and begs to be let in, do you turn a blind eye and risk retribution from your superiors, or do you stand firm in your duty and turn her away, likely separating her and her husband for life? Do you allow the underground group continue their operations to depose the oppressive regime, putting your family in danger in the process, or do you crack down on them and let things continue as they are? There are so many possible outcomes in Papers, Please, and there’s no way you’ll make it through the game without regretting at least some of your choices.
6. Pokémon X & Y
I’m an unashamed Gen 4 fanboy – I know, I know, I’m in the minority when I say that, but Platinum and Heart Gold/Soul Silver are my favorite games in the franchise. After the disappointment that was Gen 5, I was hoping for a return to form for the series I’ve been playing longer than any other.
And for the most part, I got it. The balance of old and new Pokémon was welcome after the initial Gen 5 games limited them until the postgame, and Kalos was a huge region with a lot of personality. The new monsters, though few in number, are a step up from Gen 5 designs as well, though there are some true abominations (I’m looking at you, Aromatisse). The streamlining of things like EV training and breeding was hugely welcome, and trainer customization, no matter how basic, is something that’s been a long time coming. Yes, the lack of a postgame is disappointing, and the plot advances made in Gen 5 (seriously the best thing about that generation) are thrown out the window in favor of a rote Pokémon plot with a godawful evil team, but X and Y are a great evolution for the series. Gen 6 hasn’t displaced Gen 4 as my favorite generation of Pokémon, but GameFreak has made a nice foundation to build upon in the inevitable third entry in the series.