There are way too many games that I couldn't get to in 2013, but of the games that I played this year, here are 10 that I enjoyed the most.
I love fighting games, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’m absolutely terrible at them. Honing my combos and pulling off one frame links is something I’ll never be able to do, so the two button pleasure that is Divekick was my calling card. At first blush, Divekick is a laughably straightforward 2-D fighter, making it easy for newcomers to pick up and play. But after digging in a little, it becomes apparent that the diverse roster and the different properties of the characters give Divekick a level of complexity that you wouldn’t expect from a two button fighting game.
9. Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
I didn’t hate Assassin’s Creed III as much as everybody else, but I can clearly see why so many people fell off the franchise after the third installment. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, on the other hand, is a swashbuckling good time, fixing the most glaring problems with AC III while offering an expansive setting filled with treasures to plunder and shanties to sing. I loved traversing the world so much that before every story mission, I would explore all of the islands that were available and get every single collectible until I hit a boundary that would only be removed after I progress further in the story. And when I wasn’t terrorizing British frigates inside the animus, I was grinning ear to ear outside the animus, as those first person segments working at Abstergo Entertainment were just meta and goofy enough to make them supremely enjoyable.
8. Gone Home
If Gone Home isn’t a game, then celery isn’t a vegetable. Okay, I might’ve lifted that joke straight off of Tim Rogers, but that’s beside the point. Gone Home does such an exceptional job in its storytelling that it doesn’t really matter if it’s a game, movie, or vegetable. The seemingly normal items you would find in any household are created with such an incredible amount of detail, with textures so pristine and handwriting so neatly done. The references to the 90’s were great as well, as my daily life often requires me to remember what Chun-Li’s move list was in Street Fighter II. The short and sweet story may be simple in nature, but it’s a narrative so rarely told in video games that it deserves commendation.
7. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
Even if I didn’t have an older brother, Brothers would’ve been an emotional gut punch. But the fact that my older brother and I are extremely close made Brothers an emotional haymaker that left me dazed. It’s astounding how the game conveys the personalities of the two brothers without any spoken language, and the fairy tale locales the game presents to you are stunning to look at. I felt as through the control scheme was built in service of the last gameplay puzzle, where the gameplay and story align in such a way that left an indelible mark on me.
6. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Although I’ve never played A Link to the Past on the SNES (I’m sorry!), Link’s Awakening on the Game Boy is one of my all time favorite games, so playing this new 2-D Zelda was simultaneously a nostalgic and fresh experience. But even without the nostalgia factor, A Link Between Worlds is an amazing game on its own. The game takes some big steps in altering the standard Zelda formula, like letting you tackle the dungeons in any order you want and making all the items available from the very beginning. But make no mistake--this is a Zelda game through and through, all the way from its ingenious puzzles to its beautiful soundtrack.
5. Fire Emblem Awakening
I don’t consider myself a strategy savant, but after playing and loving XCOM: Enemy Unknown, I knew that I had to give Fire Emblem Awakening a try, and I’m glad I did. The only Fire Emblem experience I had was with the very first game on GBA, and I remember I couldn’t finish it because I wasn’t able to beat one specific chapter. Fortunately for me, Awakening makes great strides in helping newer players learn the ropes while keeping the in-depth strategy intact for longtime fans. But my favorite aspect of the game had to be building relationships through support conversations. This might not be very manly for me to say, but I had way too much fun playing cupid and debating which spouse was a best fit for each of the characters. Being able to recruit your children into your party was an awesome moment as well. Wait, I could marry my best friend's daughter and have children with her?! Now that is seriously messed up.
4. Bioshock Infinite
Leave it to the creators of Rapture to craft another wondrous, mysterious, and ultimately sinister world that is Columbia. Right off the bat, it’s obvious that this beautiful land in the sky hides a plethora of secrets waiting to be unearthed, and the process of discovering the true nature of Columbia was a fantastic adventure. Although the ending may suffer from a bit from the Chrono Cross syndrome (when a game has a massive information dump at the end), I thought the totality of the conclusion was really well done. Oddly enough, I also vastly enjoyed doing research and reading up on theories after I beat the game. Many lamented the shooting and gameplay, but I thought the assortment of different powers spiced up the combat, as I often cycled through powers depending on the situation at hand.
3. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies
The Ace Attorney franchise is one of my all time favorite series, and I'm pleased to say that Dual Destinies successfully continues the series' tradition of meshing together a charming setting with profound, heartfelt moments. The gameplay formula isn’t all that different from previous games, but there are plenty of seemingly minor, but intelligent tweaks to streamline the courtroom and investigation procedures. The excellent writing is a huge reason why the story is so effective, as in an adventure game like this, the crux of the game lies in its narrative and characters. And the final case, with its unexpected plot twists and insane revelations, might be one of my favorite cases in the entire series.
2. Grand Theft Auto V
The ridiculous amount of detail that Rockstar packed into Los Santos is mind boggling. As a Los Angeles resident, I’d rather avoid the horrific, real life traffic and stay home to simulate cruising the streets at my leisure. Whether it’s Grove Street, Little Seoul, or even the boonies of Sandy Shores, the city of Los Santos is truly a marvel. The crime fueled story involving Michael, Trevor, and Franklin is engaging as well, and the heists that you’re pulling off by the end of the game were some of the most exciting gaming moments of the year. Actually, Lamar Davis alone guarantees GTA V a spot on this list.
1. The Last of Us
It’s fitting that one of the best games of the generation came out the year that new consoles were released. The Last of Us manages to tell a superb narrative utilizing one of the most worn out tropes in media, the zombie apocalypse. Joel and Ellie’s intensely personal story hits an emotional mark that most stories in games have never even come close to approaching, and the way Naughty Dog shows the evolution of their personalities as well as the justification of their actions is simply exquisite. The stealth based gameplay was extremely satisfying as well, encouraging a variety of different play styles. From top to bottom, this is a transcendent game that I wish I can erase from my memory so I can experience it again for the first time.