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Carrie Gouskos' Top 10 Games of 2013

Longtime friend to Giant Bomb (and all things video games, really) Carrie Gouskos drops in to recall her most memorable 2013 experiences.

Carrie Gouskos is the Director of Studio Operations at Mythic Entertainment, an Electronic Arts studio. She has been working in or around the games industry for nearly 15 years, but many of her fondest memories come from just under 2 years working with the “dream team” of game journalism at GameSpot from 2004-2006. Twitter!

2013 was a memorable and emotional year for me. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to “get back on track” with playing video games for fun. As a game developer, I have gone through some shamefully long stretches without playing games after long days at work, and those are the only times that I regret that my career dovetails with my favorite hobby. Happily, I was able to play many of 2012’s and 2013’s best games this year.

Looking back on the year, I spent 90% of my game playing time on mobile, a huge change from previous years. Almost none of these games make my top ten list, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that changes soon. Mobile games are getting increasingly complex and interesting and showcase a remarkable range of mechanics--from retro cool to modern and game-changing.

Most of my professional achievements this year were bittersweet, releasing our studio’s first foray into mobile, Ultima Forever: Quest for the Avatar, which Jonathan Blow tweeted about (he said the first two minutes sucked). That has to be some kind of achievement. But I’m proud of the incredibly hard work the team put into the game, how ambitious it was, and that it received a blessing from Lord British himself, Richard Garriott. This year (on December 18th) we also shut down Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, a game that I spent nearly seven years working on or involved with in some way. It was an incredible game to be a part of, and the memories of working on and playing it have changed me as a person and a developer, forever.

Finally, and most importantly, a word about Ryan Davis. Ryan was an incredible talent, a steadfast friend, and a great drinking buddy. The years I lived in San Francisco, I am grateful for the amount of time I got to spend with him both personally and professionally. And I wish, deeply, that I had spent more time with him in the years since. It is no surprise to me that so many people who didn’t know him felt like they did. Those feelings are legitimate, because they’re everything that Ryan was--real, honest, and fun to be around. It’s a devastating loss, but his work was prolific and will most certainly live on. Thank you for everything, Ryan.

And now my favorite games of 2013.

10. Hundreds (iOS)

Of all the mobile games I played this year, Hundreds had the best combination of aesthetics, simplicity, novelty, challenge, and replayability. There are others that I considered for this list: Device 6 (if House of Leaves were a mobile game) or Tiny Death Star (a reskin of Tiny Tower that made it vastly compelling) or Covet Fashion (the game I swore I would never admit to playing) or Pocket Mine (which I played more frequently, but also more mindlessly)--but none of them had all of those attributes combined like Hundreds does. Simple, beautiful, hard, and cool.

9. Battleblock Theater (XBLA)

I don’t know if the term “platform hell” will take off like “bullet hell” but I know that I love these games with a hand aching passion. There have been quite a few in the past few years, but Battleblock Theater is one of the most elegant. From the art style to the truly murderous challenges, there were levels that I never wanted to play again, and then couldn’t stop myself. I think it will be awhile before we see “makes you hate everything” as one of the scoring criteria for a great game, but Battleblock Theater does that better than most and should be commended for it.

8. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (XBONE)

Admittedly, I have not played very much Assassin’s Creed, so I feel a bit guilty including it on the list. I had more time with Dead Rising 3 this year, but where Dead Rising 3 is another great entry that doesn’t progress its franchise too much, Assassin’s Creed IV is to Assassin’s Creed III what the AC2 trilogy was to the original game. That is to say, it took some good ideas and evolved the series. The most recent AC games may not have (to borrow a Brad Shoemaker word) the majesty of running around big beautiful Italian cities, but they’ve captured a new magic in its place. And while I can’t speak yet for how long this remains compelling, I can say that all I want to do right now is wrap up this list so I can get back to playing it. That’s probably a good thing.

7. BioShock Infinite (X360)

Like other sequels this year, and despite the visual difference, BioShock is not markedly evolved from previous versions of the game. In this case however, that’s okay. A great game makes you want to keep playing it, and since the original BioShock released, I’ve been looking for another great mix of action and dystopian story. Infinite does its series incredible justice and may very well be the best one yet.

6. The Stanley Parable (PC)

In a year of new consoles, it’s not surprising that some of the best games came out on the PC and 3DS. There were a remarkable number of thought-provoking independent games on the PC this year. I had considered including Gone Home, which is a beautiful story that is emotionally evocative--but in hindsight Stanley Parable does great emotional story telling better (though admittedly via a much different emotion). Funny and clever, The Stanley Parable is not a long game, but it’s a game you can keep playing to find all of its hidden moments. Just when I thought I had found them all, I watched someone else play and find completely different endings. If someone had pitched “a video game version of Stranger Than Fiction”, I wouldn’t have believed it could be pulled off, but The Stanley Parable does it perfectly.

5. Animal Crossing: New Leaf (3DS)

New Leaf is a lot like the other Animal Crossing games, and yet it doesn’t seem to matter. It’s the same and yet it’s better, and I couldn’t stop playing it.

4. Beyond: Two Souls (PS3)

After I beat Beyond: Two Souls, I immediately wanted to replay certain moments to see how they might turn out differently. As a self-professed "non-reader," I find myself most compelled by games that do storytelling in a way that speaks to me without forcing me to read pages and pages of text. It could (and has been) argued that the game doesn’t have enough mechanics, but like Heavy Rain before it, Beyond: Two Souls generates some really strong emotional experiences that are memorable. Despite some dubious plot elements, the game was interesting, evocative, and new. It may not be like many other games in the traditional sense, but I love the idea that the genre continues to evolve with experiences that don’t subscribe to traditional definitions.

3. Tomb Raider (X360)

Tomb Raider was the best reboot to come out this year. From a franchise that has seen both highs and lows, the new Tomb Raider is the best of what made the series classic, and yet different in many ways. In thinking about my favorite games this year, I have commended games for being the same but better, and for being completely different. Tomb Raider manages to fuse both into one experience, and finally I don’t feel quite so guilty admitting what a fan I am of the franchise.

2. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)

After reading commentary that included such hyperbole as "the best Zelda since A Link to the Past," I’ll admit that I didn’t want to like it. Nobody puts Ocarina of Time in the corner. But A Link Between Worlds managed to pull off a great feat: It felt and played so much like a 2D Zelda (and not just any 2D Zelda, but the BEST 2D Zelda) and it also is the first game where the 3D camera felt useful and made sense. As far as gameplay mechanics goes, this is a tremendous accomplishment. It feels both retro and evolved, and every Zelda fan, even those crazy people who like Majora’s Mask should stop what they’re doing and play it right now.

1. The Last of Us (PS3)

The Last of Us is tremendous. With rich characters and a story that is not a stereotype but actually very complex, The Last of Us pushes our medium forward by leaps and bounds. My only criticism of the game is that after playing it everything else felt so last generation. Its visuals, game mechanics, story, and narrative are a true testimony to the power of video games. At times it made me laugh and cry, made me scared and angry, and ran me through all the paces of the storytellers’ great imaginations. It may very well be one of the best games ever made.

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Posted by Jayzilla

Carrie's the best.

Posted by mintyice

I like Carrie more now because Gone Home wasn't on her list.

Posted by jimmyfenix
Posted by Krabonq

Being an important figure at Mythic, but not playing the better PC versions... ?

I'm not sure how I feel about that...

Edited by AlexanderSheen
Posted by Shaka999

All of these pictures of Ryan man… :'(

Posted by Milkman

@mintyice: really? Did you even read the list?

Anyway, Hundreds really is a fun little game that more people should check out. I don't play many mobile games but that's a great one.

Edited by Hassun

Could it be true? Has Carrie not acquired a PS4 yet? This must be the first time ever I've seen someone recommend or even talk about Assassin's Creed IV on the Xbox 180/XBONE/XONE.

The thing she listed about not being able to play a lot of games for fun anymore is one of the reasons why I have never been even remotely interested in developing games. (Or films, for that matter.)

Posted by Kraznor

Oh yeah, Battleblock Theater. Kind of deliberately avoided that so I can pick up the inevitable Steam version. That is going to happen, right?

Edited by csl316

Good list, Carrie.

Posted by Dross
Posted by NoobSauceG7
Posted by Mathey


Posted by Cretaceous_Bob

God bless us, Ryan Davis.

Posted by White

=< Ryan...

Posted by TimesHero

@krabonq: I play Battlefield 4 with my 360 controller. I get a signifitantly better K/D spread, and always come out positive. Fuck the keyboard.

Posted by tamriilin

@mintyice: Man. You guys just won't let up with that stuff. lmao. Why are you so offended by that game, jeez.

Merry christmas.

Edited by Phuturist
Posted by whatisdelicious
Posted by erhard

Carrie knows what's up.

Posted by bkbroiler

I like this list

Posted by TessaWracked

I wish Carrie had more of a presence on the site, she's super cool. Also I totally forgot about Hundreds, I'll have to make that a 2014 game to beat.

Posted by Animasta

yeah tomb raider!

Posted by peritus

No love for Majora's Mask Carrie? :( Its so good! :D

Posted by CaLe

Nay, it is the best game ever made.

Posted by Metal_Mills

Dat first pic. :(

Posted by Sydlanel

I also like this list.. although.. I would have omitted Beyond... it's narrative was just not up to par with the technology.
BUT! anyway I approve!

Posted by radioactivez0r

@timeshero: That's because you are playing against other people with controllers.

Posted by jred250

Yay it's Carrie!

I'm happy that people are showing Beyond some love on these lists.

Posted by KaneRobot
Posted by Rekt_Hed

ohhh god dammit another awesome photo of Ryan and a member of the team....these lists are suddenly making it really hard for me to not be teary eyed :'/

Posted by AMyggen

Great list!

Ryan :(

Posted by Andorski

Carrie and Patrick bringing the feels with their pictures.

Posted by lennyy
Posted by NumberThree

Cool list, though your "criticism" of TLOU reminds me of this classic :)

Posted by BillyMaysRIP

Carrie didn't like Metal Gear Rising?! Where is the love for anything Kojima-San related?!

Posted by Wilshere

Carrie at GB, when?

Posted by Brazzle

Carrie we've missed you so.

Edited by kippers

I haven't even read the article and I know it'll be awesome. So much Gamespot nostalgia for Carrie.

Edited by bybeach

Carrie Gouskos is a person I do know, albeit a one-way direction of knowing. I was really impressed by her while she was at GS . And once again it is The last of Us. I think I am getting the point, lol.

Posted by Claude

Great list, miss Ryan :(

Posted by automatontribe

Oh man, I still remember that on the spot episode. Always good hearing from ya Carrie!

Posted by Winternet

Carrie didn't like Metal Gear Rising?! Where is the love for anything Kojima-San related?!

We need more dramatic readings on Kojima and his love for leather jackets.

Posted by GaspoweR
Posted by wohlf
Edited by lennyy
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