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Vinny Caravella's Top Ten Games of 2013

You can keep your 2013 just as long as I still get to hang onto these 10 games.

Games are still a safe place for me. They are my tree in the woods that I can climb and hide from the world, even if just for awhile. Maybe hiding is the wrong word. I can go there to see new things too, it can be a place of discovery, but most of all its main purpose is to lift and remove me from whatever turbulence is shaking my world at the moment. Sometimes it even allows me time and perspective to clear my senses when all I see and hear is noise. This year had too much of that and I found myself needing to climb higher and higher and demanding more of my time with my favorite past time. Here are the top ten games that didn’t let me down.

10. The Stanley Parable

As communities continue to debate, and fail to define, what a game is or is not The Stanley Parable and I joined hands and drove off the cliff. We laughed the whole way down. I’m pretty sure at one point Parable flipped the bird. We lived happily ever after.

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09. Dead Rising 3

Dead Rising 3 is probably the only game that even resembles a next-generation title to me. Technically, it’s by no means perfect, but as I wade into the hordes of on-screen zombies and my internal frame-rate organ begins to spasm Dead Rising 3 more often than not keeps up and it feels pretty magical. So magical in fact, that I spent the majority of my time mowing them down instead of moving the plot forward. There are a bunch of other tweaks to the Dead Rising recipe, but you know what? Thumbs up for getting a ton of zombies on the damn screen, you did it!

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08. DmC Devil May Cry

I’m a pretty easy target for a third-person action game. Honestly, Tomb Raider was a hair’s breadth from making this list but is instead surrounded by great friends in the number 11 spot. DmC sits here because of how relentless it is. Be it level designs, characters, pacing, or that sweet “stylish action” it never backed down and neither did I, completing it in just a few, and increasingly rare, extended play sessions.

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07. Grand Theft Auto V

Saying GTA V is here mostly because it is another solid Grand Theft Auto game might seems like a slight, and in a way maybe it is. To me, it doesn’t really improve on the formula but the formula is still working for me. The fresh characters were a treat and a majority of the missions had enough of an interesting story hook to keep me going until completion. At times the game can seem too in love with itself and its amazing rendering of Los Santos, but it’s a navel gazing I can put up with. The pedestrians are the real victims here as I’m forced to apply my amazing driving skills over and over again between missions.

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06. Saints Row IV

It didn’t have the impact on me that Saints Row: The Third did, but I still found Saints Row IV to be dumb enough in smart ways to keep me going. The story beats are fun, if a little hit and miss this time around, but I found the pace to be fast and rewarding enough that I was always moving onto the next thing. There’s enough backstory and exposition packed in to make for a surprisingly insightful addition to the fiction. I’m not sure if we’ll see more full installments of the Saints, but if we must say farewell then this is as good a sendoff as any.

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05. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

I honestly thought the dream was over for me. The Assassin’s Creed series has really captured me over the years. While I didn’t hate the last game it felt like we just weren’t having fun or connecting anymore. It’s like the series had gone off to college, made new friends who were way into Rilke and Baudrillard, and all I wanted to do was talk about the good times you, me, and Ezio used to have stabbing fools. Well, I’m glad to see my old friend is back in action and remembering it’s not such a sin to have a little fun while you’re making the world your slaughterhouse / playground. Heck, I’ll even admit that I really enjoy their crazy story, both inside and outside the animus.

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04. Bioshock Infinite

I didn’t love the combat in Infinite, but that doesn’t mean I hated it. It just wasn’t my favorite part. The story and characters were great and delivered on everything I wanted out of the series. The atmosphere and realization of its rich world is so thick that it’s hard not to poke around every nook and cranny hoping to uncover a secret that will fill in even more narrative. Sure, finding recorded audio logs might be passé and clunky, but if that’s how Daddy needs to get his sugar, so be it. At some point you reach the crest of the hill and the narrative roller coaster starts roaring towards the credits. You hit some major loops, maybe even go off the rails for a bit, but by the time you settle and take off your seatbelt your head will be spinning and you won’t even remember all that tedious time standing in the line.

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03. Gone Home

Remember back at number ten when I mentioned people like debating what a game is and is not? Well, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. It’s kind of a big one, but feel free to share it. All games are art. It’s true! But that’s not the secret. The secret is… all art is not good. You can have bad art. So while all games might be art, that doesn’t mean all of them are good or succeed. Gone Home succeeds. Gone Home has a strong message and narrative and marries that to its gameplay. It’s one of the very unique things that only games can do. It’s also one of the reasons I hate when people bemoan the lack of “good story compared to movies.” Comparing a game to a movie is like comparing a painting to a book. They have to go about their business in different ways. Gone Home is one of my favorite examples of how games can stand tall among other mediums and hopefully broaden the understanding of how special their story-telling can be.

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02. The Last of Us

If Gone Home is my coffee bar dissertation on how we need to think differently about how games tell stories, The Last of Us is my summer blockbuster that you’ll enjoy as much as anything Hollywood has put out this year. While I found some of the gameplay repetitive, especially near the end, the narrative just did not quit. It’s a grim, dark tale that tells a very human story. You may not agree with all of the actions your surrogate in the world will take but, sadly, you’ll understand the motivations. It’s a world that deals in greys where the sun never really seems to shine through. It’s masterful storytelling that seems epic in scale but is really a very personal journey shared between two fantastic characters.

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01. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

The only Zelda game I really didn’t enjoy was Skyward Sword. Maybe I finally got tired of the formula, or maybe I got tired of being treated like it was my first Zelda game. Either way, I found it to be more tedious than fun. A Link Between Worlds builds on the foundation of an already great game in A Link to the Past, arguably just giving the entire thing a modern facelift, but in my eyes that doesn’t make the final product any less exciting or enjoyable. My terrible memory might help with my wonderment over every rearranged piece of music my little 3DS was kicking out. Sure, the melody might not be completely original but the tune is familiar enough while being novel and entertaining. Really, that’s what I want out of a Zelda. Just enough of a familiar melody embedded in a creative, new composition. I can’t deny that that there is nostalgia at play here, but is it so wrong to make me feel like a kid again?

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Vinny Caravella on Google+

128 Comments

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Edited By RonGalaxy • 

Im starting to think zelda is going to win GOTY from GB.

Edit: I dont know though. The love for the last of us is the only consistency between the top 10 lists (so far). 2 for both vinny and drew and 3 for patrick.

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Edited By dr_mantas • 

That's a pretty good list, I guess. Not really played the top half of it, but from what I hear all solid games.

I just really hope Zelda isn't going to take overall game of the year for the site, as someone with no nostalgia for it and no nintendo platforms.

The Last of Us seems right up my alley, if I ever bought the console it's on.

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Mercury45

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Mercury45 • 

I like getting to read what Vinny writes. He's a pretty well-spoken dude.

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DeadeyeMcCoy • 

GOTY is making it apparent that I probably should've finished The Last of Us.

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JYoung

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JYoung • 

Great writing, great list, V-Bomb!

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Neurotic

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Neurotic • 

Vinny should write some articles sometime, he writes well.

The 3DS has had a killer year, I've spent a lot of time on that thing. I guess I'll make A Link Between Worlds my first Zelda game.

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g0ld3sun • 

Dude, you are a fantastic writer. I've only been a fan for about a year now so this is the first time I've seen your wit applied to a written piece. Loved your picks and especially your reasoning for them. Top drawer sir!

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JJBSterling

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JJBSterling • 

I really need to pick up Zelda in the next few days, apparently.

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Darro

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Darro • 

Nostalgia is a part of why my No 1 choice is also your No 1 choice since ALTTP is my favourite game of all time. But it made me love Zelda again since I did not enjoy Skyward Sword for the time I spent with it. I didn't finish Skyward Sword since I got bored of it after the 3rd dungeon for several reasons like bland world to explore, constant hand-holding etc.

And nice to see some DmC: Devil May Cry love since most people want to forget about that game for silly reasons but I thought that game was excellent even if it was a bit on the easy side (didn't die once during my Normal playthrough).

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Matoyak • 

As communities continue to debate, and fail to define, what a game is or is not The Stanley Parable and I joined hands and drove off the cliff. We laughed the whole way down. I’m pretty sure at one point Parable flipped the bird. We lived happily ever after.

Goddammit Vinny if that isn't the most brilliant thing. :D!

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zdgro

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zdgro • 

It bugs me that so many people have this as their number one because I have no desire to buy a 3ds. Would love to play it though...

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Borp

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Edited By Borp • 

Very good list even though Zelda does absolutely nothing for me. Now getting ready to listen to the latest podcast...

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jmood88

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jmood88 • 

Vinny is the greatest.

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SlightlyTriangularRectangle

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SlightlyTriangularRectangle • 

I'll never buy into the argument that games are art. Video games are products, whether sold by small studios or corporations, meant primarily--and often solely--for profit. Because Call of Duty exists merely for profit, it cannot be art. And, likewise, because games such as Gone Home wouldn't exist if not for the primary purpose of profit, they too cannot be art.

That is, of course, all dependent upon whether you share my definition of art, that that which is monetarily driven cannot be art.

More importantly, though, it troubles me that the question of whether games are art even has to come up. Vinny, I think you had the right idea when you described yourself having fun with The Stanley Parable because you enjoyed it, not because you engaged in some deep philosophical question of whether the game was actually a game, art, or whatever. Why does it seem more and more often these days that video games have to have meaning in order to have value? Is it so hard for people to seek enjoyment in something merely for the sake of enjoyment alone? My theory is thus: As people who frequently play video games grow older, they seek to add meaning to those games in order to validate what has occupied a large portion of their lives, in order not to feel as though time has been wasted.

I personally feel that time is more wasted spent on trying to elevate video games to a status they need not occupy. But, who knows, maybe I am wrong; maybe a few thousand years from now, when the human race no longer exists, space aliens will look back at our civilization and thank their gods that glorious art such as Gone Home was preserved. Or perhaps in a few years, Gone Home, like so many other games before it, will be forgotten, and we will all move onto the next big thing.

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Humanity • 

As a person that never had any fond memories for any Nintendo products I just can't comprehend the love and nostalgia for Zelda and Mario games - which to me essentially look like the same game over and over again.

As long as you're having fun I guess. Don't know how Tomb Raider didn't make the list that game is excellent.

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Edited By Vrikk • 

I'm surprised at Zelda, mainly because... well, it's Zelda. We've all played the series.

I've not played the 3DS one, but it sounds like I need to rectify that.

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Milkman • 

That first paragraph was really nice, Vinny. I'm going to get a 3DS soon, I promise and I'll figure out what this whole "Zelda" thing is all about.

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Novis • 

Wow Vinny. SHort but sweet. Really like this Top Ten.

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KentonClay • 

@slightlytriangularrectangle: Movies get made for profit, too. No studio is going to invest in a project they don't think they can make a return on.

You're essentially saying that it can't be art if it's what pays the bills.

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rargy • 

Woo, same top 3 as me.

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Novis • 

@slightlytriangularrectangle: I actually kinda agree with you. As we get older, we try to put more meaning into the things we love so it validates why we love them. But I'm sure that has happened to all forms of media. As games grow, it can't be just about the fun, because it was already that from the beginning, and the people that enjoy games because they are fun are already buying games or bought games at got bored (look at the casuals with the Wii and then look at the sales of the WiiU). There has to be something more meaningful and deep to keep people involved and going.

Also, I agree with you as well that games are quite art just yet. They are trying too hard to be like books and movies to be it's own form of art. This year, we are seeing more games doing things only games can, and that, in my opinion, is a step in the right direction. But it still isn't there yet.

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Edited By Zlimness • 

I'll never buy into the argument that games are art. Video games are products, whether sold by small studios or corporations, meant primarily--and often solely--for profit. Because Call of Duty exists merely for profit, it cannot be art. And, likewise, because games such as Gone Home wouldn't exist if not for the primary purpose of profit, they too cannot be art.

That is, of course, all dependent upon whether you share my definition of art, that that which is monetarily driven cannot be art.

More importantly, though, it troubles me that the question of whether games are art even has to come up. Vinny, I think you had the right idea when you described yourself having fun with The Stanley Parable because you enjoyed it, not because you engaged in some deep philosophical question of whether the game was actually a game, art, or whatever. Why does it seem more and more often these days that video games have to have meaning in order to have value? Is it so hard for people to seek enjoyment in something merely for the sake of enjoyment alone? My theory is thus: As people who frequently play video games grow older, they seek to add meaning to those games in order to validate what has occupied a large portion of their lives, in order not to feel as though time has been wasted.

I personally feel that time is more wasted spent on trying to elevate video games to a status they need not occupy. But, who knows, maybe I am wrong; maybe a few thousand years from now, when the human race no longer exists, space aliens will look back at our civilization and thank their gods that glorious art such as Gone Home was preserved. Or perhaps in a few years, Gone Home, like so many other games before it, will be forgotten, and we will all move onto the next big thing.

So, pretty much every pre-19th century painter didn't make art, is what you're saying? I think some people might challenge you on that.

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lylebot • 

"All games are art. ... all art is not good. You can have bad art. So while all games might be art, that doesn’t mean all of them are good or succeed."

Exactly! All games are art. Most are bad art. Some are good. A few might even be transcendental (which I think is what most people mean when they use the term "art"). But another secret is that we'll never know if our favorite modern games are transcendental, because that's something that can only be revealed with time.. it's something for our great-grandchildren to decide, not us.

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Edited By Cronstintein • 

"art - works produced by human creative skill and imagination."

Yup, games are art.

Btw artists still have to eat. Many recognized pieces of art were commissioned (ie: made for money). Now if you want to make the case that Call of Duty is devoid of creativity and imagination I'd be willing to make that concession.

Great post Vinny!

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csl316 • 

Well, this list justified my decision to order Zelda yesterday.

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Edited By Krockett • 

YAY Vinny! Nice List!

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Asmo917 • 

I love this list but it also makes me very very sad we don't get more written editorial content from Vinny. What a great read.

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mezmero • 

Awesome list Vin-dog. Personally I liked both AC4 and Saints Row 4 more than Bioshock Infinite but that's probably because I played on hard my first time through Bioshock and had a less than stellar experience. I plan on getting around to finishing Gone Home, the framerate just isn't great on my current setup so I'm not exactly chomping at the bit for it. Thanks for all the great work this year duder.

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TadThuggish • 

"All games are art. It’s true! But that’s not the secret. The secret is… all art is not good. You can have bad art. So while all games might be art, that doesn’t mean all of them are good or succeed."

What I've been saying for YEARS.

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white • 

With so many people putting Zelda as their personal GotY, I think I know what game will be GB's GotY...

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mrfluke • 

"It’s also one of the reasons I hate when people bemoan the lack of “good story compared to movies.” Comparing a game to a movie is like comparing a painting to a book. They have to go about their business in different ways"

YES

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Edited By ShadyPingu • 

Vinny needs to write more! His relentless optimism in written form is just so much fun to read.

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bybeach • 

Where was Dark Souls??? Oh that was before last year, I'm just playing it now. Watching Vinny's effort both inspires me to push on, and intrinsically what a skilled gamer is compared to me.

That, and I am going to have to play The last of Us. At least give it a chance. I'd actually would play Zelda, but I do not have the platform. The rest of the list has comprehensible reasons to me, and logic.

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spankingaddict • 

Nice list . But I wish more people played The Swapper .

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Duffyside • 

Vinny needs to write more! His relentless optimism in written form is just so much fun to read.

Definitely... except for that bummer of an opening. Woof.

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wukong • 

As these picks show us that we can expect more from video game stories, @vinny shows us that we can expect more from game website writing.

Bravo.

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Edited By Scratch • 

Safe to assume there are no negative comments in here? Everybody loves Vinny!