Ladies and gentlemen, the Xbox One is hungry, and it can only be satiated by devouring all of your discs. Many, including myself, knew they had made the correct budget-friendly next-gen console launch-day decision when videos like that started appearing, a satisfying send-off to the previous gaming cycle for Sony fanboys and fangirls who put all their stock in the PlayStation 4 and let the chips fall where they may. With the PS3 and Xbox 360 entering the halls of gaming relics, 2013 will likely come to be known as the year of forward movement filibustered by a final burst of impressive current-gen titles. The PS3 arguably received its two most defining games in the form of The Last of Us and Grand Theft Auto V, both master classes in maxing out the hardware before it becomes obsolete.
It’s impossible to argue with the fact that, even with the too-close-for-comfort November releases of the PS4 and Xbox One, 2013 was extraordinarily frontloaded in terms of top-notch product flooding into the marketplace. The first quarter alone brought the likes of DmC: Devil May Cry, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, Antichamber, Fire Emblem: Awakening, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan, Tomb Raider, God of War: Ascension, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, and BioShock Infinite. All terrific games that either landed on our annual best-of list or were in firm contention. In the aftermath, there was a mild drought that made the summer somewhat of a letdown for gamers, so it was off to the cinema with the lot of them until August, when the skies opened up and Pikmin 3 hit the scene, charismatically watering the parched gaming landscape. Leave it to Nintendo to save the day, right? It’s kind of their thing now.
This could also be seen as the year video games and movies faced off in no uncertain terms. Planning a release schedule for interactive media is different than doing so for films. Purchasing games is more costly than buying a movie ticket, and absorbing the material takes longer than sitting down and viewing a two-hour film—well, most of the time. So, it raises the question, will—or, rather, can—playing video games eventually overtake watching movies as the universally accepted pastime of choice? Have they done so already? The new generation, with all its attractive bells and whistles (sans disc-munching), should provide a fair amount of answers to these questions. Let the games begin. Mike LeChevallier
Metro: Last Light
I could have shot the neo-Nazi (he probably deserved it), but there were worse things lurking in the reclaimed subway tunnels of the Russian Metro (and not just the communists). Besides, bullets were currency, and you never knew when you’d need to upgrade your equipment—or, more importantly, buy additional air filters for your gas mask. Hours later, as a winged beast ripped me across a rooftop, I was glad for the extra ammunition, though my thoughts were more immediately occupied with strafing into cover in order to recharge my hand-pumped electrical generator. Later, I’d chance it, running blindly through swamps toward what my compass and the faint hint of torches promised was a human settlement, my Geiger counter pounding like my heart. Perhaps I’m a masochist, but the less ideal my in-game circumstances became, the better Metro: Last Light seemed. Has desperation ever been so perfectly programmed? Aaron Riccio
Splinter Cell: Blacklist
Sam Fisher used a tranquilizer on the innocent dog, and when the animal’s trainer wandered over to investigate, he snapped the man’s neck. Or perhaps he threw off his scent by dropping down a series of faux waterfalls, shimmying alongside the railings. Or, then again, maybe he just equipped his rifle and a few frag grenades and killed them all. Whichever play style you adopted (Ghost, Panther, or Assault), you’d eventually find yourself controlling a Trirotor drone in order to knock out the power, using infrared goggles to locate your target’s panic room, and then triggering a series of distractions in order to sneak the man off his estate. Next time, defending an aircraft, breaking up a hostage situation, or disarming bombs in a water-treatment facility, you might try something entirely different. The joy of Splinter Cell: Blacklist was in the variety and verisimilitude of each mission. Riccio
Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure
The latest in the Scribblenauts series continues the tradition of rewarding creative thinking, and appealing to adults and children simultaneously, injecting its core gameplay into an entirely new and rich setting to great effect. Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure holds equal appeal for DC newcomers and diehards alike, featuring a clever and engaging narrative introducing and involving the entire DC universe. Set in a freely accessible 2D open world, every DC character and every locale serves as part of a giant interactive toy box. It’s equally engaging to drop favorite super villains into an arena to watch them spar as it is to take on the lengthy campaign, with its multitude of randomly generated puzzles and side activities. Scribblenauts Unmasked strikes the perfect balance between compelling narrative and gratifying plaything. It’s art that can only exist as a video game. Ryan Aston
A tantalizing conglomeration of ravishing hand-drawn artwork and approachable yet deceptively devious 2D side-scrolling beat-’em-up mayhem, Vanillaware and Atlus’s Dragon’s Crown just about singlehandedly resurrects the arcade-style four-player cooperative couch game in a quietly grand fashion. Put aside the overly voluptuous bosoms and backside lady parts bouncing around without much restraint or good taste in mind and what’s left is an action RPG that invites numerous replayings of its gorgeously designed, seamlessly controlled hack-and-slash havoc. Not since the quarter-eating golden age of Streets of Rage and Double Dragon has a game been able to capture the symbiotic alchemy that comes along with barreling through a dungeon with three friends by your side. Score another solidified win for Vanillaware, an outfit that’s made a name for itself with a résumé of eye-popping titles; their track record remains as clean as a freshly forged battleaxe. LeChevallier
Of all the properties crying out for a reboot in 2013, Tomb Raider was one of the most deserving. As a series that has stagnated since its earliest sequels, the time was right to see the iconic Lara Croft reborn, and Crystal Dynamics took exactly the right approach: hiring an experienced female video-game writer to craft a strong, realistic character within a gripping narrative, and updating the classic gameplay with current mechanics. Rhianna Pratchett’s terrific writing reinvents Lara as an actual human being instead of avatar eye candy, enduring her first adventure on the dangerous island of Yamatai with modern action-adventure and stealth gameplay elements. The game combines exploration with desperate survival to make a particularly compelling, intense experience, one enriched with startling and beautiful visuals. At times empowering and thrilling, at times cruel and grueling, this new Tomb Raider shows the evolution of both the series and the medium. Aston