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Patrick Klepek's Top 10 Games of 2013

It's been a weird year for games, but a pretty amazing one, too. But there can only be 10 games, so let's do this thing.

2012 was a trying year, and so was 2013. They were both years filled with loss, and it's not a surprise that I looked for comfort in my medium of choice, video games. Not long ago, I would have simply been looking for an escape valve, a chance to run around in worlds that were unlike my own, far away from my thoughts and problems. But these days, games have diversified in some truly incredible ways, and games now allow me to face and deal with the trying parts of real-life, too. 2013 was a truly weird year for games, but for me, it was a wonderful one.

10. Rayman Legends

I'm still fuming over Brad's comparison of Rayman Origins to Bubsy from a few years ago, but one criticism from that conversation still rings true: the controls were too loose. Controls are everything to a platformer, and while Origins played well, there was room for improvement in Ubisoft Montpellier's first foray into 2D jumping. Rayman Legends tightens things up perfectly, resulting in a much better playing platformer that's, somehow, even crazier, funnier, and surprising than Origins. The music-themed stages are reason enough to play Legends, in which playing to the beat becomes more important than taking in the gorgeous artwork. While Rayman Origins was a bit too hard, Rayman Legends might be a bit too easy. But in a genre that's seen so many terrific entries over the years, it's legitimately amazing when another one can come along and surprise you again. At this point, it's clear Michel Ancel is capable of being assigned any project and he'll find a way to thrive. So what's next, Michel?

9. The Swapper

Puzzle games are so personal. If a puzzle doesn't click, if the answer never comes, who is to blame? Are you too stupid to figure it out? Did the designer simply craft a crappy puzzle? It's hard to know, but it helps when puzzle games have other motivating factors to keep digging. The Swapper's hand-crafted aesthetic manages to create a more oppressive and isolationist sci-fi atmosphere than games wielding a budget a million times larger. A weird world of clones and psychic rocks makes a compelling setting, one that contextualizes the player's reasons for pushing forward, even when a solution seems so, so far away. Even the puzzle solutions feel personalized. So many times, I'd finish a puzzle and glance around. "Did anyone see that?" The way you can futz around the edges of the game rules convinces you that you're pulling off things that shouldn't be possible, and it's sickeningly satisfying. At the end, as the game presents one final, wild choice, you can't help but laugh at the darkness.

8. Fire Emblem: Awakening

Trying new things is hard. It's so much easier to stick with the familiar because it makes sense. But XCOM: Enemy Unknown opened my eyes to the strategy genre, even if I'm a long ways away from spending an afternoon with Total War. Fire Emblem: Awakening is a perfect entry into the franchise. It still surprises me Nintendo is producing a long-running strategy series, but this all feels so very Nintendo, too. Learning how to play Fire Emblem isn't the hard part, it's learning how to play it well. More to the point, keeping units alive. Unlike XCOM, Fire Emblem makes you care about units as characters, not stacks of earned stats. I didn't let a single character die in Fire Emblem, but unlike XCOM, it didn't come through abuse of save states. No, when a character went down, I'd start the whole mission over. And over. And over. And over. Ridiculous? Totally. Worth it? Yeah. But when I've spent hours building ol' farm boy Donnel into a war machine with his children also in my ranks, it's no unit left behind.

7. The Stanley Parable

Most video games are not very funny, and there are even fewer games with a biting sense of humor about the very medium it's based in. Though it's probably possible to enjoy The Stanley Parable without having a deep and lengthy relationship with games, it's all the more enjoyable with one. The Stanley Parable is both a celebration and scathing indictment of video games in 2013, playfully dancing around the inherent weirdness of them. It's a game that embraces the tense relationship between designer and player, asking the player to subvert and betray expectations, while quickly doing the same back to you. It's a game that dares to ask why games are the way they are. And doing so with comedy, it allows us to feel comfortable asking some very uncomfortable questions out loud: is all of this just a giant waste of time?

6. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

In a year with inexplicable loss, a year that followed another year of personal tragedy, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons was a story that rang all too true. Starbreeze dared to make a game about the lengths we go to for loved ones, and the deep, unspoken bonds we create with family and friends over a lifetime. More than that, Brothers audaciously chose to integrate its themes into the controls scheme. No, the controls in Brothers weren't perfect. Yeah, I mixed up which brother I was controlling all the time. But the sense of connection it created with each of them was worth the emotional payoff that sprung from it. When the final story beats play out, as it becomes clear that everything was leading up to this moment, an otherwise fairly traditional story became elevated by gaming's defining trait: interactivity.

5. Year Walk

There are some games that feel destined for certain platforms, and Year Walk is one of those games. Even though Year Walk is coming to PC in 2014, those players are going to miss out with a mouse. Touch is part of the Year Walk experience, especially when the game asks you to rethink what you've been trained to do when interacting with these touch screen devices. Having the iPhone or iPad so close to your face, especially when the game dishes out a jump scare, is an intimate element that helps make Year Walk so deeply effective. It's a horror game, but one that transcends the genre, and becomes a good story that just so happen to be scary as hell, too. And, man, that's forgetting Year Walk Companion, a secondary app that masquerades as a source of mythology...right before it's found to be much more. Along with Device 6, Simogo is doing nothing less than performing magic on iOS right now.

4. Gone Home

Even until the final moments of Gone Home, I was expecting a serial killer to show up. Gone Home is not a horror game, but it has all the trappings of one, and it uses that to mess with your head. I mean, you're exploring an empty house in the middle of the night during a thunderstorm--what could go wrong? Nothing, as it turns out, but that doesn't mean everything is right in this house. Gone Home has an awfully unique story to tell, and by the end, it's not a spoiler to say the world hasn't been saved. The characters in Gone Home go through truly incredible twists and turns, but compared to your average video game, it's just a blip. And that's exactly what makes Gone Home special. By not betraying expectations, it betrays our expectations of how video games are supposed to act, especially when it comes to storytelling. The stacks of X-Files VHS tapes on the shelves certainly helped, too.

3. The Last of Us

There aren't supposed to be any more good zombie games, yet game developers keep finding ways to make the well-worn dopes useful. Like The Walking Dead before it, The Last of Us takes familiar narrative ground for games and mines emotional depth from the human drama. Joel is not a good guy, but he's one hell of a survivor. The Last of Us makes this clear in its combat, and is probably the first game to earn the descriptor "visceral" in a long time. The violence is justified because Joel is a violent person, and we can't help but cheer for him a bit, especially if means Ellie's able to survive longer. I've become increasingly disenchanted with games clinging to realism as a way to make games "better," but The Last of Us leverages technology in a way to help you buy into a world that's uncomfortably like ours. It's a dark place, and it's not hard to see some of ourselves in Joel.

2. Super Mario 3D World

Cat cat cat. Cat cat cat. Cat cat cat cat cat cat. Look, I'm not joking! The cat suit in Super Mario 3D World is actually revelatory, and makes you think about the levels in a completely new way. It's also really cute, and I couldn't help but listen for the occasional "meow" from the characters when a level would end. But seriously, the Mario series continues to reinvent itself in ways that shouldn't be possible for a franchise that's been trotted out this many times. Yet EAD Tokyo has proven it's not afraid to use nostalgia as a tool, not a crutch. Super Mario 3D World is a finely tuned take on the hybrid 2D/3D formula explored in Super Mario 3D Land, and it continues to put most of Nintendo's attempts to remix its other franchises to shame.

1. Papers, Please

There was a long time where Super Mario 3D World was in this spot, as it's the game I had the most fun with in 2013. But it's not the game I found myself thinking about the most, and it's not the game that made me feel the most distressed about my choices. Papers, Please takes the bureaucracy we bitch about daily and turns it into a game, forcing you to face the multi-headed rule monster head-on. Bureaucracy is given a face, reason. Set in the fictional country of Arstotzka, the game has you deciding the fate of those hoping to enter the country. You have good reason to let them in: it means you get paid. But if you break the rules, if they aren't supposed to be let in, your bosses will dock your pay. Get paid less, have less for your family. Have less for your family, maybe you son gets sick and dies. Maybe you're letting a bad person who's going to exploit people into the country? You're just doing your job, no reason to feel bad. What if this mother hasn't seen her son in years? She doesn't have the right paperwork. Come back tomorrow, lady. It's easy to rationalize these choices in the moment, knowing it's part of a game that you're trying to "win," but there is no real winning in Papers, Please. And when the game is over, you're left with your choices. Not all of them are easy to stomach, and not all of them are easy to explain away as just part of the game.

146 Comments
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Posted by Mercury45

Damn, that first picture.

Thanks for the list, Patrick, looking forward to the rest of the week to come.

Posted by johnbakosh

Where are all the scary games?

Edited by zombiesarepimps

That photo is so touching. Man RIP Ryan.

Posted by trixnfx

That pic. Makes me sad yet there's joy in it.

Posted by Cloneslayer

Paper, Please is an amazing game. Bravo Patrick!

Posted by CactusJack

That photo got me real good. Touching. Great list, too

Posted by FrontierWhiskey

Wow...that pic. I'm so sorry you guys lost your friend. He's missed by a ton of people. Here's to 2014!

Posted by jimmyfenix

Bubsy....BUBSY.....I will buy Bubsy 3D you mark my word.

Happy Holidays Patrick and Thank You for the content you have provided this year.

Miss you Ryan.

Posted by 5eNintendan

I somehow was expecting this list to be much worst, but I loved all of these games.

Posted by goldenmnk

Cats? cats! cats.

Posted by IshimuraD

Was not expecting that as the number 1! I'm waiting for most of these games to go on deeper sale on Steam so I can pick them up. Great list Patrick.

Posted by BillyMaysRIP

Fucking great list Patrick! I'm glad that Papers, Please and Fire Emblem are getting the props they deserve.

That photo, man... hope 2014 won't be as shitty as this year.

Posted by kerse

Nice to see Fire Emblem on some lists, also reminds me I still need to finish it.

Posted by AckbarTheGreat

It's fantastic to see Year Walk get some well deserved love!

Posted by CoinMatze

This is a great list. Glory to it.

Posted by ghostyTrickster

Great list! Glad to see FE getting some love. This list also reminds me I should pick up Year Walk now that I have an iOS device!

Posted by GioVANNI

I didn't really think of Papers, Please as a #1 kind of game, but after reading Patrick's reasoning it's hard to disagree with him.

Posted by jiggajoe14

Surprised not to see Outlast on here. Glad to see The Swapper on there. Brilliant game.

Posted by beard_of_zeus

Sad and happy picture at the same time. Man.

Surprised to see Papers, Please in the top spot. Awesome game, twas number 4 on my personal list. And glad to see you enjoyed Fire Emblem enough for it to make your list. Donnel is the man, for sure!

Edited by RobotHamster

That is such a great photo, we miss you Ryan.

And yet another great 2013 list, and having Papers Please at 1 is awesome!

Posted by mellotronrules

is that photo from his wedding? god DAMN the man looked handsome!

Edited by Deathpooky

It is both crazy and awesome that a random freeware game on an Unprofessional Friday turned into one of the best games of the year.

Edited by Thoseposers

The problem with papers please for me is that it's just a game, none of your choices have actual repercussions because they're not real people so why should i care?

In the words of Ice T: "Yo dude there's no nudity in video games, they're not real people"

Posted by thainatos

Awesome picture. Awesome list.

Posted by patrickklepek

is that photo from his wedding? god DAMN the man looked handsome!

Nope, Dave.

Edited by mbdoeden

@thoseposers said:

The problem with papers please for me is that it's just a game, none of your choices have actual repercussions because they're not real people so why should i care?

In the words of Ice T: "Yo dude there's no nudity in video games, they're not real people"

For me it's not that I cared about the people in the game, it's that the game put me into a specifically fucked up thought process that I've never experienced before. Stepping back and realizing the justifications I'm coming up with to deal with the awful decisions I'm making was a really cool moment for me.

Posted by RookTakesPawn

Great list, #1, and work this year with the Xbox One-80 story and the morning show, Patrick.

And yet it's hard to remember this year without thinking about Ryan. I'm glad you included that photo - reminds me of how much fun and energy he brought to the job and with his friends.

Posted by noboners

Man, that picture is beyond words.

Kind of surprised no Rogue Legacy after how much he talked about it on Twitter and the like. Not complaining as I didn't get the hype of that game, just surprised.

Posted by Vrikk

Good list. RIP Ryan.

Posted by ninkendo

Patrick with a list like this how is A Link Between Worlds going to with GotY?!

Posted by Video_Game_King

I didn't let a single character die in Fire Emblem, but unlike XCOM, it didn't come through abuse of save states. No, when a character went down, I'd start the whole mission over. And over. And over. And over. Ridiculous?

Not at all. That's the Fire Emblem way, son.

Posted by gbrading

Yep, Papers, Please is a great game. Nice choice.

Edited by MikeFerrari7

So happy that Year Walk got some love. Overall, interesting list.

Posted by Phatmac

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Posted by Fredchuckdave

No ACIV, however you do also not have Bioshock on the list; therefore it must at least be above average (10 blank spaces and no Bioshock constitutes a good list).

Edited by PerfidiousSinn

You keep reminding me that I gotta play Year Walk, Rayman Legends, and The Swapper before making my list. I thank you but my wallet doesn't.

And I could cry looking at that picture but thank you for sharing it.

Posted by Sammo21

I really liked Year Walk but I wish there was more to it.

Edited by Claude

Time to play.

Edited by SlightlyTriangularRectangle

I had the opposite reaction to Fire Emblem. Both Enemy Unknown and Awakening were the first games I played in their corresponding series, and while I very much enjoyed EU, I couldn't stand Awakening.

EU's combat was tense, strategic, and challenging without feeling drawn out. Awakening, however, combined all the bad elements of JRPGs into a portable, strategic form. The story was nonsensical; the characters, annoying and poorly written. Even the combat didn't seem that noteworthy; it was difficult at the beginning of the game but eventually became much easier after the characters leveled up and obtained better equipment (EU, regardless of levels/equipment, was always challenging--especially on Classic Ironman).

As for you not caring about units in EU, I think that is directly a result of save abuse. In my opinion, EU is best played without ever reloading, whether that means playing on Ironman or conditioning yourself not to reload on regular mode after missions go poorly. When you are three-fourths of the way through EU on Classic Ironman, with no hope of training up a new recruit, you certainly care when the sniper who has been supporting your team throughout the entire game is killed. Conversely, I disliked the characters in Awakening so much that I did not care what happened to them. New units were given out so much in the game that if one character died, my opinion was along the lines of, "Oh well, one annoying character down; might as well use another."

I am curious to hear what exactly appealed to you about Awakening's gameplay/story, aside from attachment to units, that made you appreciate the game enough to include it on your list. I wish I could have had the same experience with the game, but after having heard from many that the game was unparalleled in the strategy genre, I was disappointed.

Posted by dr_mantas

I like the Papers, Please part. Not quite anything else, I suppose, but I haven't played most of it.

Posted by DevourerOfTime

I love that picture. So, so much.

And I also love that someone on staff had the true Game of the Year (Fire Emblem: Awakening) on their list. ;)

Posted by mracoon

I didn't think any of the staff would pick Papers, Please as their number one but I'm happy to be proven wrong. This list just highlights how many games from this year I've yet to play.

Moderator
Posted by DevourerOfTime
@noboners said:
Kind of surprised no Rogue Legacy after how much he talked about it on Twitter and the like. Not complaining as I didn't get the hype of that game, just surprised.

Woah, yeah. Now that you mention it, I thought Rogue Legacy was a shoe-in for Patrick's list out of anyone on staff. I think it just ended up being a fantastic game in a year with much, much more than 10 fantastic games. Have to cut something... :\

Edited by csl316

I didn't expect to agree so much with Patrick's list. I haven't played Year Walk or Papers, Please because they terrify me for different reasons, but cool!

Posted by HatKing

Man, you guys are putting out some solid lists. I mean, I don't agree with them entirely, but I get where you're coming from. Which is way more important anyway. Good work.

Posted by civid

That picture made me shed a tear, and it's Christmas, god damn you Klepek :'D

Very intersting list, it speaks volumes of how amazing a gaming year 2013 has been that Metro Last Light, Zelda and/or Bioshock isn't anywhere on this list. Also I need to go play Papers Please like right now!

Posted by McLargepants

I obviously follow Giant Bomb closer than anything else, but I do follow Polygon's Besties too. They love 3D World too but Griffin says it should only be played as a party game not a platformer, and you should only ever play with friends. I just think its interesting how Patrick and them can have the exact opposite opinions. I didn't really dig the game that much, so I guess thats a third opinion!

Good list and well justified as always, that's a hell of a picture too.

Posted by gerrid

Wow no zelda, must have not played enough of it I guess, like ac4. Well that will be a treat for 2014 anyway

Edited by Humanity

This list really highlights the fact that quality can be an entirely subjective matter.

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