The best of 2013
The big titles swung and missed more often than not but there were still a reasonable number of engaging and enjoyable games out this year. After really poor showings from previous franchise titles, I expected little from Assassin's Creed 4 and Splinter Cell Blacklist. In the end these franchises really turned things around from a gaming experience point of view. Not all franchises fared so well however, and even though both the GTA and Bioshock releases this year made my top 10, they didn't meet my expectations. Of these two, I was more let down by Bioshock Infinite. The ride was a fun one but such a high-brow story invited analysis. Once the loose ends were pulled at, the whole thing seemed to unravel in a really unsatisfying way.
The follow up to my favorite game of the previous year (XCOM Enemy Unknown) actually turned out to be a re-working of that very same game.... but in the same way that latter versions of Civilization have incrementally improved a game without the core premise or game objectives changing, Firaxis managed to improved Enemy Unknown to such an extent that Enemy Within was 2nd on my list.
Gone Home, Metro, Rogue Legacy, and Shadowrun Returns also make my list. Of these Gone Home really underscored the capacity for video games to tell very human and emotive stories without once animating a character on the screen. Along with The Last of Us, Gone Home had the purest and most effective form of 'Show Don't Tell' storytelling in games via great environmental design this year.
Metro used this same mechanism to effectively convey a wonderfully bleak atmosphere (something it didn't do quite as well as its predecessor) but it ultimately didn't quite succeed with telling its story. Too much was conveyed through unmemorable characters. The result was a fairly unmemorable plot... but damn if it wasn't an excellent game nonetheless. Nothing matched the feeling of roaming the surface with a cracked gas mask and worn out filter, desperately trying to get back underground.
In many ways, The Last of Us, Metro, and Infinite were all very similarly themed stories about the relationship between child and parent but ultimately when we think back to the games of 2013 we'll remember the story, and the experience of The Last of Us over all others. It was the game that got everything almost perfectly right; and I'm pretty sure it'll be the one that I'll look back on and remember as my best of generation.