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Jeff Gerstmann's Top 10 Games of 2013

These are Jeff Gerstmann's 10 freshest games of 2013.

Jeff Gerstmann is a professional bull-rider and certified Zumba instructor working out of Northern California. When asked to rank his favorite video games for us, his initial response was "heck, I'm game for anything, but I'll tell you kids up front, I haven't played a video game since they got rid of the Total Carnage machine down at the 7-11 on Baywood." We figured that was good enough to come up with a list of 2013's best games. You can follow Jeff on Twitter or Tumblr, if you like. The newly redesigned "jeff gerstmann dot com" is expected to launch in 2014.

Video games were released in 2013. I have attempted to take 10 of the games I liked the most and fashion them into some sort of ordered list. Normally, this isn't an especially difficult process. But, then, very few things that went down in 2013 could be classified as "easy," so why should this list be any different?

If we look back on this year, I think we'll remember it as a year when the big games got bigger and safer while the small games started feeling, well, bigger. That's not to say that this is the first year for "indie" gaming to come into its own. That happened years ago. But those smaller games are getting tighter and sharper and better. The big games aren't exactly slouching, either, but with new consoles pounding their way into stores this year, the games that were forced to straddle the generational line suffered a bit. Also, the big games felt safer. Even Naughty Dog's bold end-of-the-generation send-off, The Last of Us, was built around the well-worn trope of "zombie fun." Obviously, it did a whole lot more with that concept than most games would.

Even with all that in mind, the gap between the big publishers' stuff and the small-team, self-published business felt narrower than before. Is that good or bad? That probably has to do with your own personal interests. I like big games, I like small games. My list ended up having some of each. It almost had Marvel Heroes on it, which I really enjoyed at the time and, upon returning to it recently to check in on its updates, it still seems to be moving in the right direction. Also, I really liked Papers, Please, but I couldn't find a way to get it onto this list ahead of any of these other games. Grand Theft Auto V damn near poked its way onto the list, too.

10. The Stanley Parable

The Stanley Parable is intensely charming, with enough different paths and endings to make you believe that literally anything you did might have a meaningful impact on where you can go and what you can do. You might stumble into something that resets the game, or you might find yourself trapped in a seemingly endless loop of doors. Something even (sort of) happens if you do nothing. If they'd added a divorce, a treasure map, and karaoke instead of a baby, a fire, and a bomb then we might be looking at a twisted remake of Takeshi no Chousenjou. As someone who can get behind a game that deliberately fucks with the people playing it, The Stanley Parable is absolutely fantastic.

9. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

Sometimes, right before you doze off at night, you think little thoughts like "man, wouldn't it be cool if Nintendo stopped crappin' up the Zelda franchise and just made a direct sequel to an old Zelda game instead?" Then you fall asleep and tend to forget that your brain ever cooked up such a dumb idea. Nintendo has finally listened to those little impulses in the back of your brain by releasing a game that, in Japan, literally has the Japanese name for A Link to the Past ("Triforce of the Gods") with a fat "2" written after it. It builds on that world in inventive ways and lays out some of its progression in a very un-Zelda-like way.

It's weird to think that a throwback to the 16-bit days may be the most forward-looking Zelda in years, but... well, that's exactly what A Link Between Worlds is.

8. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

It's short and a little on the simple side once you learn a few different attack timings, but Revengeance shreds through the world of Metal Gear with a zest that feels directly opposite Kojima's standard plodding and contemplative pace. It practically serves up a gigantic walking tank for you to fight during its tutorial, letting you carve up a Metal Gear and setting the tone for a wild and weird adventure through the wilder and weirder world of American politics. By the time you get to the conclusion you'll probably have seen the insides of hundreds of different robot soldiers and you'll definitely have seen Raiden wearing a sombrero.

For a game that went through such a troubled early production, even the late hand-off to Platinum seemed risky. But everything comes together nicely.

7. Gunpoint

The moments right before you start actively working your way through a level are the best parts of Gunpoint. Getting a moment to glance at a level and start to work out what you're going to need to do to infiltrate, rewire, and escape from a given building makes all the difference. Of course, you can eventually just start rushing through things and making up solutions on the fly, and the game implements extremely frequent auto-saves to let you experiment without any real punishment. This helps make the stealth bits go down smoothly.

Also, diving on a guy from above and just punching the shit out of him is really satisfying.

6. Divekick

Divekick shouldn't be as good as it is. The jokes get a little too inside, the characters get a little too weird, and it's entirely reliant on you finding people to play against, which isn't always guaranteed these days. But it's so incredibly intense that every single hit feels like a shock from a taser. Every loss has you immediately rerunning the events in your head to figure out where you went wrong. And it does all this with two buttons. The dumb gimmick ends up being beautiful in its simplicity and way more involved than you'd expect.

In a way, Divekick feels like the sort of game that couldn't really exist as a commercial product until relatively recently. It's just the kind of tough sell that you'd expect to remain as some free, obscure hidden PC treasure that only a small handful of people ever feasibly play. It'd probably only have keyboard support and the graphics would, somehow, be even worse. That it was actually released onto proper digital storefronts and sold for actual money in hopes of finding an actual audience speaks volumes about the variety of games available to today's game-loving public.

I like Divekick a lot and should probably play more of it.

5. Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag

How about this for a hell of a turnaround, huh? After Assassin's Creed III it felt like the franchise was just about finished: The last Ezio game sort of stunk up the joint and AC3 came through to finish the job by introducing a bunch of new, bad characters and a bunch of boring tree climbing systems that were probably really hard to build. Meanwhile, Watch Dogs was rolling down the pike with a ton of buzz. It looked like the open world cyber fantasy that I sort of always hoped that Assassin's Creed would properly address someday. Then Watch Dogs apparently didn't come together properly and got pushed way back and an even funnier thing happened: The Assassin's Creed IV team totally turned things around.

AC4 gives you a character you can get interested in and a world that you want to see. It gets close to the light and likable moments of Assassin's Creed II and Brotherhood while giving you a big-ass ship with which to explore a vast world of piratical fun. It mixes in a little hunting and crafting, Far Cry 3-style. And it delivers solid cities with climbable points and enough different gadgets and items to make you feel intensely powerful. Not that you'd need much help in that department, since the combat is really just a flashy set of easily followed prompts designed to make you feel like some kind of raw, murdering machine. You know what? It works.

Wrap that all up in a world that manages to make fun of all the Desmond stuff in a way that almost makes me forgive them for messing up all the Desmond stuff as badly as they did and yeah. I'm back on board, Assassin's Creed. Congrats to the development team (all 20,000 of you) for picking up the ACIII mess and making something useful out of it.

4. Rogue Legacy

In a year filled with games that made you say "rogue" without actually talking about Rogue, only one had the sheer audacity to put the word "Rogue" in its title. Actually, I don't know if that's true. Rogue Legacy's ties to proper rogue-likes are tenuous at best, but considering we've reached a point where every single game with any sort of consequence for death ever is now billed as a "roguelike" or perhaps even a "roguelike-like," Rogue Legacy is as roguish as it needs to be... and then some.

The skill tree and item system provides the hooks that keep you going and keep you feeling like you're making forward progress in your true quest of beating all of the castle's big, dumb bosses and winning. The random nature of the castle design leads to some wonderful surprises, including an explicit reference to the Konami arcade classic, Pooyan.

The tight control and different character options kept me obsessed with Rogue Legacy until I had completed it a couple of times and it's some of the most enjoyable time I've had with a game this year.

3. Saints Row IV

Is it weird that I have come to care about the characters in a game that treats its characters almost totally carelessly as a core part of its design? In some ways, the cast of Saints Row has become the video game equivalent of the cast of Ocean's Eleven. At this point, I'd probably play just about any game that had those characters in it and trust that the developers behind it would find a way to make it "the right kind of dumb."

Saints Row IV leans a little too heavily on its predecessor and, as a result, doesn't hit as hard as The Third did. But it was still an open-world game done with a fun-first attitude, rather than focusing on various AI behaviors and different ways to make its clockwork city more intricate. It's the Crackdown sequel I thought I very much didn't actually want anymore, cut with a pile of great interactions and left-turns that, these days, only Saints Row can get away with.

2. Antichamber

For me, the best puzzle games use up your brain like a resource. At some point, that resource is fully extinguished and you can't rely on it to help you solve any more parts of the puzzle. You're going to have to step away for a night (or, at least, a few hours) and come back refreshed to proceed. And, when I did that, the parts of Antichamber that tripped me up suddenly became easy, like the answer was rattling around in my stupid head the entire time. Like great puzzle games before it, Antichamber makes you feel smart when you're making progress without making you feel like a complete idiot every time you get stuck.

It also has a great visual style, for the most part, right down to the way it integrates its menus and map into the game's brain-kinking environment. And the various bricklaying tools you acquire and upgrade over the course of the game are simply fun to use. The puzzles are, largely, a joy to solve, and that made me stick with it until I'd seen as much of the game as I could possibly see. Was it 100% of the game? Heck, I don't know. Maybe I should jump back in there and check around, just to make sure I didn't miss anything...

1. BioShock Infinite

I feel like the people who pick at BioShock Infinite's various paradoxes probably aren't much fun to be around. Those sorts of plot holes pop up in plenty of great multiverse and time-travel fiction. Did you sit outside a theater in 1989 to picket Back to the Future Part II, too?

But whatever, I'm not here to make excuses for BioShock Infinite. It stands on its own just fine. It creates a great-looking, interesting world that's full of mystery and fun to explore. It flips you around to different universes and realities with reckless abandon, letting you work to figure out what, exactly, has changed. It stitches together its story with combat that is, for the most part, fun to engage with, with the game's fast-moving skylines letting you outmaneuver the opposition in some pretty exciting ways. It's an escort mission that doesn't require you to babysit the person you're escorting. And the whole thing comes together in a series of interesting revelations that manage to reframe both the story you just witnessed as well as the BioShock franchise at large. It's a pretty cool trick that left me quite satisfied. It also opens the door for either a million more BioShocks or kills the franchise completely by revealing the universe's One Weird Trick. As weird as this may sound, I hope this leads to the end of BioShock. It's a great way to go out, and it'd be cool to see the team at Irrational create a different type of game.

Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
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Posted by AlexGBRO

men no GTA 5 in the list wow

Edited by Ronald

One problem Bioshock Infinite haters have is that they don't see the separate universes as separate. So Daisy would always be this murderous psychopath in the original universe if you gave her guns. But by this point you are across several possible timelines and into one where Booker helped lead the revolution. It was the part that got to me, is this your Songbird or Comstock? Just like at the end, my Elizabeth wasn't even there for the ending. But more than anything, Irrational told a PULP story that people want to see as "high art" and are disappointed by it for not living up to those lofty standards. Me, I'll take my Doc Savage any day.

Posted by FoxMulder

Man, GTA Online must have really soured Jeff on GTA V.

Posted by Cold_Wolven

I really wasn't expecting Bioshock Infinite as #1 for Jeff, I too enjoyed the combat for the most part as the vigors were exciting to use but I got the impression that the other games on his list he had more fun playing.

Edited by Chicken008

The absence of Animal Crossing and GTA V is surprising. Great list.

Online
Posted by MandrewSandwich

A great list pleasantly surprised not to see the last of us at the top.

Posted by Marokai

Even Naughty Dog's bold end-of-the-generation send-off, The Last of Us, was built around the well-worn trope of "zombie fun."

If you boil games down that much, I don't know how you can possibly critically analyze damn near anything.

A very interesting list, otherwise. Very Jeff. Which makes sense!

Online
Posted by andrewd34n

Finally, a list where Bioshock:Infinite is unabashedly number one; this is the only list matters.

Posted by Crushed

@viciousbearmauling said:

I think your list is genius, except I'm not the biggest Bioshock fan.

It's really nice to see Metal Gear Rising on this list, too many people played DmC and passed up on MGR

I played DmC and passed on Revengeance because it's apparently only 4 hours long. I recently pre-ordered it on PC for $20, which seems like the right price for it. It's just a hard sell, coming off of DmC which is 10-15 hours.

You've been deceived. MGR is kinda short, but it's like 7-9 hours, not 4 hours. The "four hours" figure came from people running through the game on the easier difficulties, while the in-game timer only counts the successful gameplay runs between checkpoints. If you die or restart to get a better score, then all the time since the last checkpoint isn't counted, cutscenes aren't counted, and the really extensive optional Codec conversations might not be counted either.

Edited by orborborb

I've had strangely opposite taste to Jeff since the late 90s. I played all those games and none of his top 8 even make my top 20 this year. At least he wasn't fooled by the sentimental Brothers or Gone Home.

tier 1: New Super Luigi U, GTA V, The Last of Us, Super Mario 3D World

tier 2: Tearaway, Zelda A Link Between Worlds, Pikmin 3, Animal Crossing New Leaf

tier 3: Eldritch, Volgarr the Viking, Final Fantasy XIV, The Stanley Parable

tier 4: Papers Please, Year Walk, Pandora's Tower, Luigi's Mansion Dark Moon

tier 5: The Swapper, Proteus, Monaco, Towerfall

Edited by chilibean_3

Bioshock number 1. No appearance by Last of Us. Best list.

Posted by CreepingDeath0

Why do people keep saying A Link Between Worlds is the first direct Zelda sequel? It's all becoming rather distressing for me :/

Edited by cb1115

Really surprised by the absence of GTA V.

Edited by Jayzilla

A list.

Posted by McQuinn

@wukong said:

Jeff is right. Patrick isn't much fun to be around.

Edited by Honkalot

Happy to see Bioshock: Infinite at first.

Posted by JJBSterling

For a second there I thought Jeff was cosplaying Chie in that picture.

Posted by Scotto

I put a ton of time into Marvel Heroes, for about two months. Probably over 100 hours, and spent way too much money on characters and shit.

Edited by doesnoevil

I actually never had any problems with B:I's story. Had fun with it, got the plat, maybe it isn't on my list because I played the PS3 version that came with the original Bioshock and ended playing that more and finally got around finishing Bioshock 2. Come to think of it I played a lot of that franchise this year... great games...

I digress... the reason B:I is not on my GOTY list is because having played the full three games to completion this year (got the 3 platinums) I feel the weakest in the gameplay mechanics and how well the story worked with the game was actually B:I... yet i think the story was VERY GOOD... and a disney movie (yes, you read that right) featuring this story is something I would pay to see. This actually makes me wonder why Jeff was so jaded toward stories of video games in the day 2 deliberations (I'm siding with Vinny on that one) I feel this nomination and the "people who pick apart stories are not fun to be around" comes off as kind of ironic here.

Last of Us took me completely by surprise, finally was able to get a copy in December and finished my first playthrough right before GB's GOTY thing started. I'm on the same page as almost everyone else in that it is pretty high on my list but not on top. It most definitely is the "universal" GOTY because of this... the emotions, man, i've got a beautiful 4yo baby girl, and when I finished the prologue tears where rolling down my cheeks (akin to the "pinky" scene in B:I, just not as intense).I think the genius of the last of us is exactly how it takes the most tired and cliched story ever and makes you care(!), I'm old and very jaded myself and it shook me. I find it odd it didn't make Mr. Gerstmann's list, would like to hear more on his rationalization for that other than: "Fucking zombie story? Again?" But if it's just that I respect it, as I said it's not MY GOTY either.

GTAV: finished the story twice, had a great time playing it. Burned myself on it... haven't touched it since. It'll be on my list next year when it comes out for PC/PS4/XBONE and wows me again with its technical excellence.

Cheers Everyone!

Edited by ThePickle

I really want to love BioShock as much as everyone else. It's such an awesome world with such an interesting story. But the part where you played it just didn't live up to all the great stuff that surrounded it. Great game, but can't help but feel it could have been one of the greatest ever had it played a little better.

Also, to everyone saying "BioShock finally getting the attention it deserves!" you're an idiot. It was Drew's GOTY too and the only list it didn't appear on was Patrick's.

Posted by Branthog

FUCK YOU.

I AM FUN TO BE AROUND, JEFF GERSTMAN!

Posted by radioactivez0r

I often don't have the same taste as Jeff and sometimes I can get really frustrated by some of the stuff he says - and then he can write up a list like this with his explanations and I can go "Yeah, OK."

Posted by Humanity

@viciousbearmauling said:

I think your list is genius, except I'm not the biggest Bioshock fan.

It's really nice to see Metal Gear Rising on this list, too many people played DmC and passed up on MGR

I played DmC and passed on Revengeance because it's apparently only 4 hours long. I recently pre-ordered it on PC for $20, which seems like the right price for it. It's just a hard sell, coming off of DmC which is 10-15 hours.

Same for me. After DmC I wanted to keep playing character action, especially since despite all the silly nonsense surrounding DmC it's a fantastic game. At the time though I didn't want to pay full price for what people kept saying is roughly a 4-5 hr experience. Now that it's coming out for PC with increased cutting technology I'm down to give it a shot.

Posted by HerbieBug

Antichamber, huh? Jeff didn't say much about that one this year.

And hell yeah Gunpoint! Quality pick!

Posted by Brodehouse

I would picket Back to the Future Part 2. The original is an American classic and you're gonna shit all over it with that?!

Posted by CustomOtto

dang someone finally agreed with some of my picks, all of my opinions are now completely validated

Posted by morecowbell24

I love me some Antichamber

Edited by GaspoweR

@cb1115: i think it had a lot to do with GTA Online and Jeff mentioned that he wantes to take the entire game into consideration and not just the single player and it made him think lesser of the game due to the online component.

Also I'm a bit disappointed at number one...because I KNOW IN @JEFF'S HEART OF HEARTS that motherfucking WINDJAMMERS is his TRUE NUMBER ONE GAME. I just know it...

Posted by Skytylz

I've had strangely opposite taste to Jeff since the late 90s. I played all those games and none of his top 8 even make my top 20 this year. At least he wasn't fooled by the sentimental Brothers or Gone Home.

tier 1: New Super Luigi U, GTA V, The Last of Us, Super Mario 3D World

tier 2: Tearaway, Zelda A Link Between Worlds, Pikmin 3, Animal Crossing New Leaf

tier 3: Eldritch, Volgarr the Viking, Final Fantasy XIV, The Stanley Parable

tier 4: Papers Please, Year Walk, Pandora's Tower, Luigi's Mansion Dark Moon

tier 5: The Swapper, Proteus, Monaco, Towerfall

Liking great games is being fooled?

Posted by Slaegar

Jeff Gerstmann is my spirit animal.

I like that Jeff still looks for a good time in video games instead of sappy drama pieces.

Posted by 8Bit_Archer

@slaegar said:

Jeff Gerstmann is my spirit animal.

I like that Jeff still looks for a good time in video games instead of sappy drama pieces.

WORD!

Posted by TotalHenshin

Heck yeah Antichamber! Underappreciated.

Posted by KillDeer

@gokumane said:

back to the future is a comedy that doesnt shove its terrible story and hamfisted politics down your gullet

Posted by AlexGBRO
Edited by fairlylush

please write more!

Posted by MormonWarrior

I'm surprised Animal Crossing: New Leaf didn't make it on here since he played it so much this year. But hey. Glad to finally see a list without Gone Home on it just for a change of pace, even though I know Jeff liked it.

Posted by fusion42

Good list Jeff. Bioshock Infinite was the best game of this year for me as well:

The ending was incredible ( i didnt read all those multiverse / time travel novels), the gfx (played on pc) were amazing and the music with the faux old songs was brilliant. :D

PS: dunno about the 'last Bioshock' thing. What about a Bioshock 4 set on the moon?? kinda wanna see that...

Posted by DarthOrange

I've had strangely opposite taste to Jeff since the late 90s. I played all those games and none of his top 8 even make my top 20 this year. At least he wasn't fooled by the sentimental Brothers or Gone Home.

tier 1: New Super Luigi U, GTA V, The Last of Us, Super Mario 3D World

tier 2: Tearaway, Zelda A Link Between Worlds, Pikmin 3, Animal Crossing New Leaf

tier 3: Eldritch, Volgarr the Viking, Final Fantasy XIV, The Stanley Parable

tier 4: Papers Please, Year Walk, Pandora's Tower, Luigi's Mansion Dark Moon

tier 5: The Swapper, Proteus, Monaco, Towerfall

Holy shit that tier 1. Replace GTA V with The Wonderful 101 and Pokemon X and you have my top 5.

Look at this @jasonr86, @mariachimacabre, and @enigma777! I'm not the only one!!!!!! New Super Luigi U is great!

Posted by Vrikk

I wonder if The Last of Us would have made Jeff's list if the... event in July hadn't of happened.

Posted by xXHesekielXx

The best top 3-list!! Thanks Jeff.., and thanks for all content this year. Keep it up!! :)

Edited by TheMasterDS

I feel like the people who pick at BioShock Infinite's various paradoxes probably aren't much fun to be around.

This is a solid sentence which sums up what I think of the opposition to Bioshock aptly.

Edited by McGray90

Fully expecting GTA Online to come into its own next year with the addition of heists, one can dream. Personally don't understand how the addition of something for free can have such a detriment on such a quality game. Good list though.

Edited by walterbennet

Totally surprised by his #1!

Also "I feel like the people who pick at BioShock Infinite's various paradoxes probably aren't much fun to be around." Indirectly calling Brad and Patrick out. Love it =)

Posted by Brackynews

NEVER NOT PUNCHING.

Posted by xaLieNxGrEyx

Thank you for a perfect list.

It's missing The Last of Us

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