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The 25 Best Video Games of 2013

This year will be known for its forward movement filibustered by a final burst of impressive current-gen titles.

The 25 Best Video Games of 2013
Photo: 2K Games

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


The 25 Best Video Games of 2013

25. 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


The 25 Best Video Games of 2013

24. 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


The 25 Best Video Games of 2013

23. 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


The 25 Best Video Games of 2013

22. Dragon’s Crown

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


The 25 Best Video Games of 2013

21. Tomb Raider

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


The 25 Best Video Games of 2013

20. Rayman Legends

Rayman Legends is like that really weird and wonderful dream you had last night, the one you can only half-remember. To help keep things straight, Michel Ancel has given Rayman an exceedingly solid platform to stand on—literally, the game’s a platformer—and thrown every other rule out the window. Perhaps Rayman becomes a duck in this level. Maybe his aide, Murphy, can be used to throw up temporary guacamole platforms or to eat a path through a giant, reconstituting birthday cake. How about a sequence that’s perfectly choreographed to a remix of “Eye of the Tiger”? The game’s relentlessly wacky and inventive: the medieval world has an entirely different feel from the undersea one (which throws in spy mechanics); tapping Greek mythology is merely interesting, whereas a Dia de los Muertos theme is eclectic. With the constant addition of new content in daily/weekly challenges, appearance of timed (and super-challenging) invasion levels, and inclusion of levels from Rayman Origins, Legends easily lives up to its name. Riccio


The 25 Best Video Games of 2013

19. Pikmin 3

The nearly decade-long gap between Pikmin 2 and the series’s third installment proved to be a wait well worth suffering through, as Pikmin 3’s one-of-a-kind charm, deeply entrenched in nature’s small pleasures and the whimsicality of exploring quasi-alien landscapes with cutesy minions in tow, represented the cardinal must-have Wii U title since the system’s slow rollout in late 2012. By not tampering with the established plant creature-prodding formula and instead deepening it to the point of an ingrained science, Nintendo has not only created a game that provided undeniably unique experiences of microscopic reconnaissance, but one that brings upon an unshakable sense of childhood glee at every turn. Call it accidental nostalgia, but distant memories of traversing local parks, collecting pill bugs on scattered stones, and uprooting various flora for the first time surged to the surface as planet PNF-404’s many mysteries candidly reveal themselves. LeChevallier


The 25 Best Video Games of 2013

18. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

“Revengeance” is a nonsense word, but to be fair, the average Metal Gear Solid game is filled with nonsense. It’s a pleasure, then, to see a developer like Platinum Games—which has never bothered to hide its madcap passions—temporarily get its hands on the franchise. Now, whenever there’s a codec discussion on the morality of cybernetic enhancements or the legality of privatizing the world’s military forces, it’s followed up by action that’s equally ridiculous, like a shot of protagonist Raiden in, say, a sombrero, or talking with his robotic canine companion. A philosophical debate is punctuated by a multi-stage boss battle that climaxes with Raiden running down a giant Metal Gear’s spine, hacking it apart while dodging missiles. There’s no time to debate how an enemy is able to throw a tank at you when you’re busy using a bullet-time effect to slow it down and chop it into a million pieces. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance gets insane, but never erratic; when it chooses to become a western, complete with tumbleweed, it’s refined and precise about it. Riccio


The 25 Best Video Games of 2013

17. Beyond: Two Souls

The follow-up to Quantic Dream’s fascinating Heavy Rain is an episodic narrative spanning the life of Jodie Holmes, an ordinary woman tethered to a psychic entity named Aiden. Beyond: Two Souls is the most unusual of video games: one favoring cinematics over gameplay, and one with a realistic, sympathetic female protagonist. The player experiences Jodie’s life, from her youth as a test subject to her employment with the C.I.A., from her dishonorable discharge and life as a homeless person to a ludicrous sci-fi climax in which she saves the world. Beyond: Two Souls is about consequences, and it deals with both smaller and larger conflicts across Jodie’s life that are bolstered by a stellar performance from motion-captured Ellen Page. The best chapters of the game are the more relatable episodes (one of the tensest sequences has a twentysomething Jodie preparing for a date), but despite scattershot storytelling and some unfortunate design decisions, it remains an unforgettable and unique experience. Aston


The 25 Best Video Games of 2013

16. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Yes, I know that I was supposed to head to the Caribbean island of Grand Inagua, meeting with James Kidd to unite my fellow pirates of Nassau, but out of the corner of my spyglass, I saw a ship laden with metals and rum. After firing mortars to slow it down, I pulled up beside it, gave it a full blast from my broadside, and then swung aboard and slaughtered her captain. I then had every intention of going to my main-mission meeting at Inagua, but I happened upon a stray bull shark and figured I might as well try my hand at harpooning it. I swear, I tried going to Inagua next, but how could anyone resist exploring such an inviting island, especially with a treasure map linked to those coordinates? I’m sure once I finish raiding this plantation, I’ll be ready, assuming I’m not first distracted by some multiplayer. In any case, blame Ubisoft, for finally—after all their baby-step improvements—perfecting the Assassin’s Creed formula. Riccio


The 25 Best Video Games of 2013

15. The Stanley Parable

The Stanley Parable appears obvious: The player takes on the role of Stanley, whose job has been—for the last several years—to follow the exact directions of a computer. You can then either follow the Narrator’s directions, and figure out why the office is suddenly empty, or defy him and hide in a broom closet. Then again, as the Narrator’s tone shifts from gentle to peevish, one has to wonder if it’s even possible to defy the basic scripting, considering that now he’s talking about how stupid it is to stand in a broom closet. In fact, the game’s so well-programmed that even those who fool around with debugging the underlying source code may find that they’re still playing the game, albeit on different terms. Even the list of The Stanley Parable’s achievements is a joke designed to point out how arbitrary in-game awards are (one is more or less rightly labeled Unachievable). Nothing in this comic tour de force is sacred, or to quote the game: “The end is never the end is never the end.” Riccio


The 25 Best Video Games of 2013

14. Pokémon X and Y

With the introduction of Pokémon’s sixth generation, Game Freak made a monumental leap forward with one of the most bankable franchises in Nintendo’s coveted arsenal. Rather than simply churning out an incrementally prettier Pokémon game on the 3DS, a considerable overhaul of the core presentation was enacted. Admittedly, it’s at first a bit jarring, probing the expansive region of Kalos from a 3D perspective, but soon the updated visuals grow just as familiar as the enduring mechanics that have delighted Poké-fanatics for years. With the more-than-welcome debut of a new type, Fairy, and a veritable flood of revelatory features, including the flawlessly integrated ability to be constantly connected to other players around the world, making trades and battling to your heart’s content, X and Y declare themselves as the beginning of an endlessly profitable next-gen life for the series, adapting to the times while still giving diehard fans everything they desire. LeChevallier


The 25 Best Video Games of 2013

13. Dead Rising 3

Dead Rising 3 is a sequel that builds on its series’s strengths and narrative while refining core mechanics to render it accessible to newcomers as well as fans. Set across several days in an open world overrun by the undead, the game introduces survivor Nick Ramos racing to escape the city with other B-movie stereotypes. The game retains its infamous difficulty in a “Nightmare” mode for series veterans while the core Story Mode foregoes the difficult time limits and cutthroat RPG elements of the previous games for a much more manageable (and, for my money, enjoyable) experience. The game’s hilariously, bewilderingly awful writing adds to the B-grade joy, as does a terrifically implemented co-op mode and inventive use of the Xbox Smartglass ap. Witnessing literally thousands upon thousands of zombies on screen at once is breathtaking, as is charging through them with muscle cars or absurd super-powered weaponry. Dead Rising 3 is a technical achievement and currently the best argument for owning a next-gen console. Aston


The 25 Best Video Games of 2013

12. Saints Row IV

The natural evolution of the hyperactive, subversive Saints Row series is superpowers: With Saints Row IV, the “auto” part of what was once a mere Grand Theft Auto clone is no longer relevant because the player can run faster than all of the cars. Going even further off the grid than the previous series entries, the game makes the protagonist the president of the United States, then blow up the Earth and relocate the Third Street Saints to a dystopian cyberscape run by aliens. Saints Row IV retains the inventive RPG elements and enjoyable mission/side-mission structure of the series while giving players the ability to shoot fire from their hands. The result is addictively anarchic entertainment, in which the chaotic freedom of the open world gameplay is matched with smart, funny writing and occasional pot shots at other popular video games. I have no idea where Saints Row can go from here, but I can’t wait to find out. Aston


The 25 Best Video Games of 2013

11. Fire Emblem: Awakening

Proving that extending an olive branch to the less hardcore demographic of strategy RPG enthusiasts doesn’t mean sacrificing overall quality, Fire Emblem: Awakening secured itself as one of the best games on the 3DS by making a revered series accessible to everyone. With the eternal threat of perma-death vanquished in the game’s secondary casual mode, novice Fire Emblem players could experience what is unquestionably Intelligent Systems’ masterpiece: an unblemished combination of tactical role-playing craftsmanship and a surprisingly involving narrative that not only serves to push characters toward their goal, but develop them as real people worth caring about. Building relationships gives way to supreme confidence, and such determination, coupled with the fact that losing a party member in combat means saying sayonara to them forever, is what makes quickly switching over to Awakening’s classic setting a must, even for newbies. No other game this year put your hard work on the line as much, and it’s all more memorable for doing so. LeChevallier


The 25 Best Video Games of 2013

10. Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

In all the fanfare over Hayao Miyazaki’s cinematic swan song, many overlooked perhaps the greatest project Studio Ghibli was involved with in the gap between their last bona-fide triumph, Spirited Away, and The Wind Rises. A majestic celebration of sweeping RPG wizardry and the magic of epic storytelling, Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch gives anyone with a pulse and hand-eye coordination the chance to navigate their way through a Ghibli film. The tale of young Oliver, his pint-sized big-nosed comrade, Drippy, and the cast of colorful characters they meet along their visionary journey through an imaginative, dreamlike universe stands alongside the most notable works of both Ghibli and stalwart developer Level-5. With an immaculate battle system that melds the addictive monster training of Pokémon with the real-time intricacies of late-era Final Fantasy, protracted sessions of grinding have never been more of a guilty pleasure. LeChevallier


The 25 Best Video Games of 2013

9. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

Final Fantasy is too big to fail, and when Final Fantasy XIV tanked, Square Enix took it offline and rebooted the entire thing. The refinished product, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, is no longer just filled with moogles, cactaurs, chocobos, and all the other mainstays; it’s bursting with love, right down to the punny titles of the various FATE events. It’s also teeming with content, and thanks to the sheer variety of landscapes, even the most menial tasks—harvesting and crafting—feel like adventures. In fact, feeling as if you’re tired of something is a sure sign that something new is just around the corner: The Lancer, for instance, gains the ability to transform into the Dragoon. Dungeons epitomize this variety: New boss mechanics are constantly being introduced, so even if you’ve learned how to play as all 11 characters, you’ll still need to do more than hack and slash your way through combat. Even the story—rarely the point of an MMORPG—feels satisfying, especially to the longtime fans it caters to. Riccio


The 25 Best Video Games of 2013

8. DmC: Devil May Cry

Of all the things that required rebooting in the Devil May Cry franchise, one could argue that its original protagonist would be relatively low on that tabulation. Yet developer Ninja Theory went ahead and did so anyway, morphing the dapper, white-haired, silver-tongued Dante into a brooding brunette slacker who simply doesn’t give a fuck unless it’s absolutely necessary. Shockingly, their plan, initially met with much face-palming when details of the game were made public, worked. The backbone of DmC: Devil May Cry’s magnificence is its amplification of the demon-hunter extraordinaire’s character flaws, and in a strange and mystifying sort of way, the game taps into what it’s like to be the black sheep in a profoundly dysfunctional family. The Dante of this game is inherently an asshole, to be sure, but his motivations are gradually made clear in a spotlight that isn’t forceful or trite. He’s haunted by his past, but instead of dwelling on his demons he ruthlessly slaughters the ones that stand in the way of personal salvation. An admirable cause, for a no-good half-hellspawn punk. LeChevallier


The 25 Best Video Games of 2013

7. Antichamber

Alexander Bruce’s superb Antichamber is a riddle wrapped up in an enigma, an elaborate first-person puzzle-platformer like Portal or QUBE that challenges the player to forget their preexisting knowledge about the world and discover entirely new rules about how the universe ticks. Little is as it seems in the game, as its deceptive, lucid cel-shaded appearance masks a series of conundrums that compound in intricacy and complexity the deeper one travels. The setting is littered with signs that give abstract philosophy as to how to traverse the non-Euclidean levels of the titular chamber, which simultaneously guide the player and complement the vibrant Zen-like atmosphere. Antichamber juggles so many interesting ideas at once and successfully marries them with its gameplay that while the finale lacks impact, the prior journey continues to resonate long after completion. Rarely is having one’s mind bent so satisfying. Aston


The 25 Best Video Games of 2013

6. Gone Home

Two thousand thirteen has seen a necessary and hasty maturing of video games as a medium, led in part by Anita Sarkeesian and her terrific web series on sexist video-game tropes, without whom we might never have seen a game like Gone Home. Set in 1995 Oregon, Kaitlin returns from a year-long pre-college trip through Europe to find her family’s house derelict and in a state of disarray, with only a foreboding message left from her little sister that she will never see her again. What appears to be the setup for a horror game is instead misdirection for a powerful coming-of-age story; Kaitlin’s house is indeed haunted, but by the sadness and longing of its inhabitants instead of the supernatural. Exploring each room reveals more about each member of her family and builds the unique narrative, ending in a wonderful inclusionary climax that speaks to the maturation of the medium as a whole. Aston


The 25 Best Video Games of 2013

5. The Last of Us

Come for the zombies, stay for the giraffes. Dead Space fans will smile as they navigate claustrophobic sewage tunnels, Metal Gear Solid vets will have a blast outmaneuvering a psychotic cannibal, Resident Evil junkies will enjoy trying to sneak past noise-sensitive Clickers, Fallout experts will find every scrap of material to scavenge, Dead Rising pros will put Joel’s limited ammunition and makeshift shivs to good use, and Walking Dead fans will be instantly charmed by the evolving relationship between grizzled Joel and the tough young girl, Ellie, he’s protecting. But The Last of Us stands decaying heads and rotting shoulders above its peers because it’s not just about the relentless struggle to survive, but the beauty that remains: the sun sparkling off a distant hydroelectric dam; the banks of pure, unsullied snow; even the wispy elegance of otherwise toxic spores. Oh, and giraffes, carelessly walking through vegetative cities, the long-necked light at the end of the tunnel that’s worth surviving for. Riccio


The 25 Best Video Games of 2013

4. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

Another Zelda game, another new gimmick. But whereas the twist is that Link can turn himself into a two-dimensional painting and walk along walls, A Link Between Worlds is anything but flat. More of a reinvention than a mere return to the revered world of A Link to the Past, every sprite is now bursting with color, every nook of Hyrule (and its flipside, Lorule) is filled with hidden, collectible animals, and each dungeon—while familiar—comes with a new and unique mechanic, which can include collaborating with a friendly thief to reach safety, finding ways to traverse see-sawing platforms, or manipulating the lights in order to reveal hidden passages and dissipate walls. Visually and aurally immersive (three-dimensional effects bring the multi-floored dungeons to life while the gripping soundtrack is simultaneously nostalgic and modern), A Link Between Worlds makes the series feel legendary once more. Riccio


The 25 Best Video Games of 2013

3. Super Mario 3D World

Well, lesson learned. Never doubt Nintendo when it comes to first-party IPs. There was such consistent mastery on display throughout both Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Super Mario 3D Land that the thought of the company running out of inventive ideas weighed heavily on the minds of many a Mario loyalist. Yet, somehow, even with the shaky sales and quality software output of the Wii U hanging over their heads, Miyamoto and his team produced a fundamentally spotless tour de force of platforming composition. Every nook and cranny of Super Mario 3D World unconditionally exudes an air of high-spirited amusement coupled with a hearty rise in dexterity-testing challenge that sneaks in like a gingerly tip-toeing Goomba. With brilliant implementation of the Wii U’s hardware (unarguably the best use of the GamePad to date), boasting graphics that finally make the system stand out among the current wave of premier consoles, Super Mario 3D World is Nintendo firing on all cylinders and clearly having a blast in the process. LeChevallier


The 25 Best Video Games of 2013

2. BioShock Infinite

BioShock Infinite is a visceral experience about an irredeemable psychopath murdering a city of despicable fundamentalists. Booker Dewitt is tasked with saving a reality-tearing woman from a floating white-supremacist paradise, leading to the interactive slaughter of its inhabitants; so much was made of the game’s violence that many overlooked that the repugnant brutality was exactly the point. While most shooters shy away from grue or any consequences to the player’s actions, BioShock Infinite vividly depicts these rippling across universes, where a single choice can carry disastrous results. The horrifying “Romney/Ryan 1912” setting of Columbia and its “damsel in distress” serve as an elaborate MacGuffin for the game’s deeper ideas about the nature of choice and consequences. This is an astonishing game that philosophizes on the human condition (consider that the opponents of Columbia’s segregation aren’t interested in equality, rather suppressing their suppressors) while critiquing its entire genre, concluding that the protagonist of a first-person shooter shouldn’t be allowed to live in any universe. Aston


The 25 Best Video Games of 2013

1. Grand Theft Auto V

It’s only been available for roughly three months, but Grand Theft Auto V has already approached Breaking Bad levels of “What else is needed to be said about how amazing this is?” ovation, and rightfully so. Rockstar North has accomplished something no other developer has ever done with such utter faultlessness, crafting an ancillary version of our own modern America, where veracious appetites for virtually every breed of sin or virtue can be brought to life in an authentic, meaningful manner. Michael De Santa, Franklin Clinton, and Trevor Philips are a trio of protagonists for the ages, each of their individual personalities and fully realized stories meshing together to paint a stunningly broad portrait of how the drive to succeed and attain self-worth can be unknowingly coupled with the internal craving to cause mass chaos and destruction. There were so many days this year when I inadvertently responded to the question of “What did you do today?” with a detailed retelling of my latest exploits in San Andreas. This is as possessive a game as has ever been made, bewitching not only in its remarkable design, but in its prodigious capacity to integrate the player into its sublime alternative cosmos without so much as a hint of unwanted turbulence. LeChevallier

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