1. Papers, Please
On the surface a simple bureaucracy simulator, Papers, Please manages to weave narrative and gameplay together seamlessly to create a game that is challenging both in terms of the actions it has you undertake and the moral consequences of those actions.
The continual raising of the stakes as each day passed kept me in a constant state of tension as I tried to earn enough money to feed my family, prevent them from getting sick, and keep our house warm.
Papers, Please's premise is clear: you are a cog in a machine. What makes the game so great is that it asks whether as a cog in an oppressive, authoritarian regime you are implicitly responsible for the evils it commits. Does stamping 'DENIED' on the incorrect paperwork of a lady whose husband was just approved entry make you a bad person? Well, that's for you to decide.
2. The Last of Us
Finally, a AAA game willing to take some narrative risks. The Last of Us is a difficult game to get through. Not in terms of gameplay but the story it tells, which is hard to watch at several points. Bad things happen to good people and good people do bad things. Joel and Ellie grow as characters but not necessarily in a positive direction. Like Papers, Please, TLoU treats its audience as adults and lets them form their own conclusions as to whether the characters are justified in their actions or not.
Gameplaywise, I mostly enjoyed the combat and stealth situations the game presented. After forcing myself to slowdown and think about each encounter, I was able to approach them more tactically and had more success.
Also, the game has a surprisingly robust multiplayer mode. The slower pace compared to most other multiplayer shooters made me feel like I could actually be competitive rather than constantly being killed the moment I respawned.
3. Cart Life
*Technically came out last year but most people didn't play until 2013.*
Oh hey, another game which makes you feel like crap while playing it. The best description of Cart Life I've head is that it's an empathy simulator and goddamn does it make you feel sorry for the characters you play. They begin the game in a crappy situation and the best result you can hope for at the end of the game is that they're barely able to make ends meet. It's not the most uplifting gaming experience you can have but it certainly an important one.
4. Kentucky Route Zero
Only two of the planned five episodes have been released so far but already Kentucky Route Zero has left me with a lasting impression. The game has such a strong sense of style and mystery. That's what I enjoyed most about KRZ, things are not always what they seem to be and the game raises more questions than answers. Sometimes not knowing is more interesting that having everything explained and Kentucky Route Zero epitomises that school of thought.
5. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
I was worried that gimmick of controlling each Brother with a separate analogue stick would get old fast but Brothers manages to keep it interesting the whole way through. The game has you constantly moving from one fairytale location to another with just enough time to soak in the beauty of it all. At the end of your journey, Brothers hits you with an emotional punch to the stomach and then follows it up with one of the most touching moments I've experienced in a game this year. Truly wonderful.
6. Gone Home
Lovely. That's the best way I can describe Gone Home. Games don't often do stories about people's day to lives and struggle but when they do (see Cart Life) then it can be incredibly effective. Exploring your parents new house and finding out what they and your sister have been up to while you've been gone felt incredibly natural. I wanted to explore more because I cared about that characters and not because of some shocking twist or some outside threat. And in the end Gone Home rewards you with a lovely conclusion that can only leave with a smile on your face.
7. Pokémon X/Y
Having not really played a Pokemon game since Yellow, Pokemon X/Y made enough changes to the core formula to keep me going until I'd defeated the Elite Four. The addition of the Exp Share and Roller Skates/Bicycle early on sped up a lot of the tedious elements of the game so that you could focus on the important parts: creating and levelling your team of Pokemon. Also, I was able to get team of six Vulpixes and that automatically makes the game amazing.
8. Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
A late entry to the list and one which I haven't completed yet but I know already that Ni No Kuni has a place in my top 10. The plot may be your typical JRPG kid saves the world story but the imagination and creativity displayed in the design of the characters and settings makes it stand out. Level 5 have created a gorgeous game and the involvement of Studio Ghibli is readily apparent - your rally do get the same sense of wonder that their best films evoke.
9. BioShock Infinite
Although it's dropped down as the year has gone by, I still had a lot of fun with my time with BioShock Infinite. Compared to most other people, I found the combat to be incredibly enjoyable so much so that I played through the game entirely on hard. Using your weapons together with your vigours and skyrails brought a lot variety to most encounters. Flying around with the skyrails in a combat arena was exhilarating and something I hadn't experienced before in an FPS.
As for the story, while I found several aspects to be under-explored and poorly handled, I thought all the parts about the Lutece twins and the sci-fi were very cool. Also, I appreciated that the twist ending was not completely out of left field and was actually set up beforehand.
10. Ridiculous Fishing - A Tale of Redemption
It's just damn fun.
I horribly underrated this game last year and I feel terrible about it. After spending a lot of time with the game it's now my Game of the Generation.