GOTY 2013

I previously thought 2012 was a weird year for games, but 2013 was even more so. There somehow managed to be a whole lot of really good games this year without many clear standouts, which made coming up with (and especially ordering) this list a much more difficult and trying process than usual. But rank them I must, and I eventually narrowed 2013’s large and diverse crop down to these 10 excellent games. There were well more than 10 games I really liked this year, but these are the ones I ultimately enjoyed and will remember the most. They’re also all better than Brothers. Sorry Brad.

List items

  • A Link Between Worlds harkens back to the days when Zelda was focused purely on the adventure, staging a refreshing return to form for a series that was starting to lose its way. It sets you loose to explore its wondrous world and all its secrets as you see fit, and even manages to successfully implement a few new twists of its own. That it happens to look, sound (that soundtrack!) and play as well as the series ever has cements its quality. A Link Between Worlds has not only reinvigorated me on a beloved franchise, it’s also the most fun I had playing a video game in 2013.

  • The Swapper connected with me on every single level. This tightly woven puzzle game combines its many equally polished pieces beautifully, each one as critical to the experience as the last. The fun central mechanic is put to great use in a large array of well considered, satisfying puzzles, and exploring the atmospheric Theseus is a pleasure. It looks fantastic, sounds even better, and its subtly integrated narrative left me pondering its philosophical musings well after the credits rolled. The Swapper is a rare and special game, and it left quite an impression.

  • By introducing effective, customizable difficulty options, Fire Emblem: Awakening manages to open up this traditionally niche franchise to a broader audience while also bolstering its hardcore appeal. It’s easier than ever to enjoy the series’ wonderful blend of tactics, role-playing and storytelling at your prefered pace, and further tweaks and improvements keep it at the forefront of its genre. Top it off with more ways to interact with and get attached to the game’s large cast of lovable characters, and Awakening proves to be one of the better entries in one of my favorite franchises.

  • Real world jobs don’t often make great video game material, but working as an immigration officer in Papers, Please is downright mesmerizing. What starts out as a weirdly entrancing game of checking documents slowly unravels into a thrilling narrative of political tension and personal drama. Papers, Please had me carefully and nervously considering every single action I took, and not solely for gameplay reasons; there’s a moral heft to your choices that’s genuinely gripping. It also looks and sounds amazing, and the writing is endearing as hell. Glory to Arstotzka!

  • The Last of Us hits like a brick. This relentlessly intense, emotionally wrenching game never lets up as it follows its downtrodden characters from one grim story beat to the next. It’s perhaps the most well written and well acted story I’ve witnessed in a video game to date, and those relatable characters are the grounding that makes it all stick. The stealth action hits just as hard, with suspenseful encounters and effective scavenging mechanics supplementing the tone wonderfully. Harrowing and unforgettable, The Last of Us is Naughty Dog’s definitive epic.

  • Gone Home’s “house on Arbor Hill” is a place with a story to tell. These rooms and hallways are filled to the brim with worthwhile details about its inhabitants and their lives, and exploring every nook and cranny to piece it all together is a highly satisfying process. It’s a more natural way to experience a story too, making an already well constructed and emotional tale even more affecting. Gone Home embraces the sense of discovery inherent to the medium to fuel its excellent storytelling, and it’s one that will stick with me for a long time.

  • For all the grief Nintendo gets for relying on its core franchises (some of it deserved), it sure is nice to have Pikmin back after a nine year absence. There’s nothing else quite like its infectious mix of strategy, action and puzzle solving, and Pikmin 3 is as good as any in the series. Using the variety of Pikmin at your disposal to work through each carefully crafted stage in pursuit of delicious fruit is a delight, and there’s a high level of polish to every aspect of its design. Pikmin 3 is a joy to play, and I couldn’t put it down until I completed every task it put before me.

  • StarCraft II continues to be one of the best strategy games around, and one of my multiplayer favorites. Heart of the Swarm adds a host of exciting content to every part of the package, infusing new life into something that wasn’t dead at all. A lengthy, expertly crafted campaign continues the series’ long-running saga, and numerous unit changes and additions tinker with the multiplayer in smart ways that expand its scope without breaking its balance. Heart of the Swarm makes a great game better, ensuring that I’ll continue to play it for years to come.

  • If M.C. Escher made games, Antichamber would be his latest masterpiece. This abstract puzzle game frequently bends the rules of physical space, yet it always stops just short of collapsing in on itself entirely. Your ability to interact with its mind-bending challenges is drastically dependent on your own perception of the world around you, leading to a unique and thoughtful puzzle game that seemingly never runs out of surprises. Exploring Antichamber’s elaborate hallways is a fresh and interesting mental exercise that also happens to be a whole lot of fun.

  • I have no desire to “catch them all,” but there remains a simple allure to Pokemon’s charming world of bizarre creatures that keeps me coming back. Pokemon X/Y makes that return better than ever, thanks to some subtle but welcome enhancements. Shared leveling and more expedient traversal make exploring the game breezier, while an improved online infrastructure and Super Training make serious competition more welcoming. Top it off with an impressive audiovisual overhaul, and Pokemon X/Y might be the best entry in the series yet.