With 2013 in the books, it’s left me plenty of time to ponder my five favorite titles that I played last year. 2013 was filled with some of the most innovative and groundbreaking games we’ve ever seen, and it’s propelling the video game medium into one of the most compelling ways you can experience entertainment. Not only did we see great titles from AAA studios, we saw smaller “indie” developers (I hate using that term, but I digress) push their titles to be just as innovative and meaningful. 2013 marked a year of originality, innovation, and growth in the video games, and it produced some of my favorite games I’ve ever played. So here it is: my five favorite games of 2013.
5. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
If you would have told me in the beginning of 2013 that an Assassin’s Creed game was going to be one of my favorites from the entire year, I would have never believed you. After the mediocre turn from Assassin’s Creed 3, I had little expectations for the Assassin’s Creed series at all, but I was proven wrong, and I’m happy that I was.
While AC4 still has some of the tropes that have plagued the Assassin’s Creed series like frustrating climbing mechanics and some undesirable sneaking missions, the emphasis on open world and sailing around the seas in your very own ship turned out to be nothing less than exhilarating. Ship to ship combat is an absolute blast, and gathering various collectibles was actually fun.
The more light-hearted story told was a nice change of pace from the often too serious and convoluted plot we’ve been given in series past, and being Captain Edward Kenway, who’s initial goals of women, rum, and money were a very humorous context that made AC4, for lack of a better word: fun. Sailing around in the Jackdaw for hours and hours never gets old, and it’ll be interesting to see how much the ship gameplay becomes a focus in Assassin’s Creed titles to come.
The inherit risks Ubisoft took were bold for AC4, but did they ever pay off. AC3 was a step back for the franchise, but AC4 is a very positive step in the right direction, and where the animus takes us next is hopefully more steps just like this.
The PlayStation Vita hadn’t really received its own unique exclusive that really utilized the handheld’s various functions, and when some games did use them, they often felt forced, broken, or just tedious. Media Molecule embraced the handheld in almost every foreseeable way, and delivered an experience that truly could only be produced on the Vita.
Tearaway involved the player in ways only a video game could, by not only involving your environment and creativity, but also by making you, the player, a character in the game. While the game wasn’t inherently challenging on any level, the game knew its only goal was to harbor a enjoyable experience that is more of a journey rather than a obstacle.
Tearaway is the kind of game Vita owners had been hoping for, and Media Molecule didn’t disappoint. The ingenuity displayed by the developers isn’t just a nice surprise for gamers, it’s an exciting realization that video games can always go farther in immersion, cleverness, and enjoyment.
3. Bioshock Infinite
Bioshock is rightfully seen as a modern video game classic, so replicating the same magic found in the original is no feat easily obtained. Bioshock Infinite invokes not only the same formula that made Bioshock fantastic, it positioned itself as an excellent companion piece and contrast to what the first title delivered. While the original Bioshock instilled claustrophobia, horror, and isolation, Bioshock Infinite painted openness, possibilities, and reliance on your companion, Elizabeth.
Upon completion of Infinite, it not only left me with my jaw firmly dropped to the floor, it left me thinking about the game’s ending for weeks. The story of Booker and Elizabeth on Columbia is a beautiful puzzle that mends itself back together in front of your eyes only to shatter once again into a countless stream of possibilities, keeping with the game’s namesake of Infinite.
One of the greatest feats achieved in Infinite is the lore created of Columbia. Attention to detail is astounding, and those looking to feast upon the history of Columbia and its citizens won’t be dissapointed. Looking for voxaphones of recorded dialogue were always pleasant discoveries, and I’d often put down my controller and listen to the excellent stories told through them.
While enemies may not be as memorable and iconic as the Big Daddy, the mix of gunplay and vigors is still undeniably fun. Traversing through the bright, colorful, and pristine land of Columbia was heavenly, making the inhabitants that poisoned it with their racism, selfishness, and violence all the more gripping.
Living up to the original Bioshock is an impossible feat, but Bioshock Infinite came as close to matching its predecessor as possible while still feeling new and unique.
2. Super Mario 3D World
I hadn’t been captivated by a Mario title since Super Mario Galaxy, and I wasn’t entirely keen on Super Mario 3D World when it was first revealed. I bought the game on a whim, and I just happened to experience some of the most fun I’ve had playing a video game ever. My purchase wasn’t planned, but I’m glad destiny had brought me into contact with my new favorite Mario game.
I played Super Mario 3D World with my girlfriend and one of my best friends, and I can’t remember laughing as hard as I did since giant head, slappers only matches in Goldeneye for N64. With many of the classic suits of previous Mario entries, you’ll travel through worlds, per norm, while fighting the hoards of enemies Bowser throws at you. The enemies aren’t necessarily cunning, but they rely on your own shortcoming and capitalize on them.
Meshing together competitive scoring with cooperative progression is a difficult task, and Super Mario 3D World nails it with finesse. I’d never experienced wanting to throw my friend off a cliff so they wouldn’t get more points than me, but yet still needing their assistance to beat the level. The contrast it provides is so strange and different, yet it raises a bar for how games can still innovate with multiplayer.
Super Mario 3D World is a testament that when a Mario game is at its best, it can be unrivaled by any other game in enjoyment and challenge. Period. Mixing together the old style Mario platforming with new, innovative level designs unchained by narrative creates experiences like non other, and it takes gaming back to its roots with its lone objective: being fun.
Oh, and cat suits for life. Meow.
1. The Last of Us
Naughty Dog had already become one of the most premier studios in the previous generation of consoles, and they sent the PS3 out on a high note, and in turn gave the console its perfect swan song.
What makes The Last of Us so special is its ability to deliver an amazing, violent, and entertaining game while still sticking to the rules of the narrative. At no point does any aspect of the game feel too much like a game, and even the crafting mechanism feels like it’d be realistic given the setting. Each kill is unabashedly violent, uneasy, and tense. Every time you enter an encounter as Joel, you have to be smart. You’re not a bullet sponge for humans, as one or two bullets can fatally wound you, and you’re easier dinner for the infected if your actions are unplanned. Every action must be meticulous, and every misstep could place your life in jeopardy.
The relationship between Joel and Ellie has a powerful arc, and it deals with two broken characters finding solace in each other while trying to survive in a world that has all but died, itself. Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson have now set the standard for acting in video games and helped make Joel and Ellie’s relationship not only compelling, but authentic. These aren’t characters driven by some higher duty or greater good, they’re driven by human nature, necessity, and selfishness.
The Last of Us is an absolute achievement for the video game medium. Perfectly combining a powerful narrative with excellent gameplay, The Last of Us delivers a complete package that few games can stack up to. Naughty Dog not only delivered the best game of 2013, but one of the best games ever made.
Honorable Mentions: Grand Theft Auto V, Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, Pokemon X and Y, MLB 13: The Show, Papers, Please, Tomb Raider, Rogue Legacy, and Guacamelee.