The 10 Best Video Games of 2013
By Dan Casey on December 26, 2013
You’ve heard what Jessica Chobot and the Nerdist News team had to say, but now it’s the Nerdist.com editorial team’s turn to chime in on what games we enjoyed most this year. It wasn’t an easy decision and, undoubtedly, some spectacular titles were left out in the cold, but what would be the point of a year-end best-of list without some controversy for the comments section? In any event, press pause and take a moment to celebrate with us our ten favorite games of 2013.
10. Rogue Legacy
Developer/publisher: Cellar Door Games
Release Date: June 27, 2013
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
Sure it may not be as deep or well-rounded as other games like Spelunky, but Rogue Legacy is just the kind of relentlessly difficult yet easy to dive into, continually compelling rogue-like platforming fun that keeps us coming back death after death after death to its ever-changing castle of horrors. With a killer sense of humor and its delightfully deviant family tree character creation system, Rogue Legacy is the most fun you can have sending generation after generation of dungeon-crawling adventurers to their likely and untimely deaths short of being a third-world dictator.
9. Injustice: Gods Among Us
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Wii U, Android, iOS, Windows
Release Date: April 16, 2013
Years of arguments over who would win in a fight between Superman and Batman were definitively settled with the excellent, surprisingly deep fan service slugfest that was Injustice: Gods Among Us. Other fighters like Divekick or the recently released Killer Instinct might hold more sway with hardcore fighting game fans, but the sheer amount of time we’ve sunk into this game during lunch hours or sitting on the couch with friends makes it worthy of inclusion on our year-end list.
With its pick-up-and-play control scheme, the game is friendly to genre newbies while rewarding to those willing to put in the time to learn the system’s intricacies. Few things compare to the thrill of kicking your opponent through the first part of the level to the next or unleashing a devastating super-move that sends your enemy into the stratosphere with a single punch. It’s the kind of good old-fashioned, knockdown, drag-out fighting game fun you’d expect from the team who brought you Mortal Kombat, but brought to the next level by the immense joy that comes along with knocking the snot out of your friends with your favorite DC Universe characters.
And even though we love him dearly, Aquaman is overpowered. Sorry, but it had to be said.
8. Tomb Raider
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, Windows
Release Date: March 5, 2013
Taking their cues from Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series, Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix sought to rejuvenate the floundering Tomb Raider franchise by rebuilding the game play from the ground up and going back to what made the series so special in the first place. No, not locking your butler in the freezer — Tomb Raider, at its core, is a game about survival, both in the wilderness and against impossible odds, as Lara discovers the island’s terrible secrets. The game’s opening hours are among some of the most memorable and harrowing we’ve played this year, and the seemingly endless (and endlessly grisly) death animations remind us of just how fragile our ass-kicking heroine can be. This is an origin story worthy of the Indiana Jones in hot pants that she would later become, but more importantly, for the first time, Lara Croft didn’t just feel like a video game character; she felt like a real person, and that is something worthy of celebration in and of itself.
Developer/publisher: Matt Makes Games, Inc.
Release Date: June 25, 2013
Of the various and sundry offerings on the Ouya, the only one I purchased immediately and without regret after playing a single round of the demo was Towerfall. With its pared-down control scheme, excellent level design, and simply jump-and-attack multiplayer arena combat, Towerfall is about as simple and addictive as it gets, folks, and therein lies the beauty. Some of the best multiplayer combat craziness you can have this side of Super Smash Bros., Towerfall will keep you and up to three other friends engaged for hours as you try to outsmart each other, lay traps, and generally lay waste to your opponents in increasingly exciting fashion as the screen fills with bombs, arrows, and all manner of dastardly power-ups. While the Ouya version omits things like an online mode — something promised for the forthcoming PS4 and PC versions — you’ll be hard pressed to find a better bang for your buck than Towerfall.
6. Papers, Please
Platforms: Windows, Mac
Release Date: August 8, 2013
The prospect of playing a game in which you work a grueling 9-to-5 job as a border patrol agent in a fictional Soviet-bloc country checking passports for authenticity doesn’t sound all that appealing, but 3909’s Papers, Please proved that thesis resoundingly wrong. The game plays out like a puzzler, similar in parts to the investigation portions of titles like Ace Attorney, in which you have to detect discrepancies and errors on prospective immigrants’ passports, but the black-and-white core mechanic quickly finds itself in a moral gray area, as you must make decisions like whether or not to separate a husband and wife, one of whom has a falsified passport. If you let them in, you keep a war-torn family together, but your pay will get docked, which in turn means you won’t be able to afford medicine for your sick child. These are the types of moral quandaries that Papers, Please constantly forces the player to face. Still, in the face of such serious subject matter, Papers, Please doesn’t forget that it is still a game, and it manages to deliver both a compelling gameplay experience as well as forcing the player to make truly tough decisions. This passport definitely gets our stamp of approval.
5. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Release Date: November 22, 2013
Coming in just under the wire, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds was exactly what the doctor ordered for Zelda-starved gamers. And what better way to make the hours of holiday travel go by than with another adventure into the heart of Hyrule? Longtime series fans will immediately notice similarities to A Link to the Past, which is widely regarded as one of the best in the series, but the addition of elements like transforming into a wall painting and tool rental prove that Nintendo didn’t just reheat old game play with a new coat of paint. So, go ahead and let loose a victorious “HAAAGHP!,” because any Zelda is good Zelda, but good Zelda is great Zelda, and that’s exactly the case for A Link Between Worlds.
4. Gone Home
Developer/publisher: The Fullbright Company
Release Date: August 15, 2013
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
Few games managed to achieve the same sense of tense, nail-biting unease that The Fullbright Company’s Gone Home created through having the player simply exploring his or her own, darkened house. Every door opened, every floorboard creaked, every staircase descended filled us with the same sense of impending dread that rang all too true. More so, the game’s surprisingly heartfelt, hauntingly real tale of young love which the player discovers through letters, notes, and various knick-knacks, made it one of the most compelling and humanizing gameplay experiences of 2013. Much like last year’s The Walking Dead: Season One, this is one of those games that sticks with you long after the credits roll.
3. Grand Theft Auto V
Developer: Rockstar North
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Release Date: September 18, 2013
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360
If the fact that the game made 1 billion dollars in 24 hours didn’t give you an inkling as to the cultural force Grand Theft Auto V has become, then spend a moment walking, driving, jet-skiing – you name it – around Los Santos and soak up the vibrant, living metropolis that Rockstar managed to create. Sure, all the familiar game play elements are there along with the sophomoric sense of humor, but the sheer scale of Grand Theft Auto V is what makes it stand out from the pack. Truly an embarrassment of riches, Grand Theft Auto V is the kind of persistent, virtual world in which we can lose ourselves in complex, interweaving storylines just as easily as we can taking selfies down by the bizarro version of the Santa Monica Pier. For a series that blew the lid off of open-world gaming backing in 2003, this is an extremely high note for the current generation of consoles to go out on.
2. Bioshock Infinite
Developer: Irrational Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date: March 26, 2013
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, Windows
Ken Levine and his merry band of gamemakers brought us from the ruinous depths of Rapture to the soaring heights of Columbia, a pristine metropolis floating above the clouds, on a mind-bending journey through the fabric of space and time that ignited message boards across the land and had fans plugging their ears and yelling, “Bring us the girl, Dewitt” to avoid spoilers all summer long. As a first-person shooter, the game may be unexceptional, but it more than makes up for its shortcomings with its storytelling.
Just as the original Bioshock presented us with a fallen Objectivist paradise, Bioshock Infinite shows us an alternate history of American exceptionalism that rings all too true. Like biting into a Good N’ Plenty, Columbia’s utopian candy coating belies a horrific center of racism, patriotic jingoism, and zealotry (which is roughly the equivalent of black licorice), which the player experiences through snatches of overheard conversation, propaganda posters, and some seriously stomach-churning cutscenes.
The game’s core mission is simple: rescue the corseted Elizabeth from her tower prison and make good your escape. Yet, as you explore Columbia and get to know its denizens, you find yourself entrenched in the class warfare roiling under the surface and caught in the middle of a political powder keg mid-explosion. Unlike many other NPCs that we have been tasked with guarding over the years, Elizabeth can handle herself. Whether she’s whipping a coin at your head or opening a tear in the space-time continuum to create a pool of water for you to electrocute as you whizz past at breakneck speed on your Skyhook.
And the floor sandwiches. We’ll always have the floor sandwiches, Elizabeth.
1. The Last of Us (Naughty Dog)
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: June 14, 2013
I don’t even really want to write about The Last of Us; I’d rather that you just stop what you’re doing and go play it, because it is such an immersive, towering achievement. Survival horror has slowly metamorphosed into the realm of loud, dumb action movies over the last several years, but Naughty Dog’s slice of apocalyptic Americana is a breath of fresh air. Much like in the Call of Cthulu. Yet unlike other survival horror games, in the Last of Us, it isn’t the monsters that are the scariest threats lurking around the corner; it’s other people and the evil of which they’re capable.
If 2013 is the year of the “escort quest”, then I’m fine with that, because this is the year that developers managed to make us not just see our traveling companion as a burden waiting to be protected from wave after wave of bad guys, but rather as people about whom we cared and wanted to protect out of a sense of duty. The emotional bond forged between Joel and Ellie as they make their way across the country in search of the Fireflies would make a fine film, but it is in the interactive element that only comes with video games that the story is elevated from entertainment to art.
Plus, it has some of the tensest, most nerve-wracking 4-on-4 multiplayer I’ve ever experienced, which is always a good thing.
Honorable mentions: The Stanley Parable, Spelunky, Fire Emblem: Awakening, The Wolf Among Us, Guacamelee, Super Mario World 3D, X-Com: Enemy Within, and too many more to count.
What were your favorite games of 2013? Let us know in the quemments below or tell me on Twitter.