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GOTY 2013

Another year, another batch of games for a top ten list. While this year had some stellar releases, I had a hard time crafting this list. There were a lot of good games that I enjoyed a great deal but not a lot of great games that really meant something to me. Odds are, the shift to a new console generation is to blame. Still, I can't deny that some truly amazing games came out this year. Here's what I enjoyed the most:

List items

  • There was no way in hell that anything but Gone Home could have topped my list. No other game this year hit me as hard as it did, sticking in my mind and forcing me to think about it for days after completing it. I love games that do something different, and this is a perfect example of how amazing a game can be if it is willing to experiment. While the gameplay is simple, it just serves to keep you engaged with the simple story that unfolds in a very natural way. The game also features what is easily the best voice acting performance of the year, a fact made even more impressive by the knowledge that the voice actress was the only one in the entire game. Games like this are the ones that excite me the most with hopes of forward progress in the stories and characters of video games, finally turning the medium into a mature one after all these years. I hope that something from 2014 can be even half as defining to me as Gone Home.

  • I enjoyed Saints Row the Third as much as everyone else, but it didn’t hit me as hard as I thought it would. It may have been the fact that I knew most of the surprises before I played it, robbing them of their impact. For this reason, I played Saints Row IV entirely blind; finally, I had the experience I had wanted with the last game. No game this year made me laugh as hard, or as loud, as this game did. Surprisingly, Volition also managed to have some interesting character moments that I wasn’t expecting, giving them meaning where they previously had little. Best of all, I loved flying around the city with my crazy superpowers; it was the most fun I’ve had with traversal since InFamous. The gunplay and setting are a little stale, but I played through the entire twenty hours with a voracious hunger that rarely afflicts me.

  • I was as skeptical as everyone about The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. Why was Nintendo crafting an actual sequel to one of the most beloved games of all time? It sounded like a terrible idea. The final product not only exceeded my expectations, but it gave me great hope for future titles and the possibility for vast changes in the Zelda franchise. This game is just enjoyable to play, hands-down. I had a blast running around Hyrule and Lorule, chopping away at enemies and discovering the game’s many secrets. It also features some of the best dungeon designs in the series and some fantastic boss fights. And that music! So great.

  • The Last of Us is an intense ride with some of the greatest video game characters I’ve ever seen and heard. Joel is the most realistic protagonist in a video game to date, able to break from the dissonance usually found between a character’s cutscene presence and in-game presence. Troy Baker’s performance (which I didn’t even realize was him at first), paired with Ashley’s Johnson’s superb Ellie, crafted a very real relationship, something you don’t see in games that often. Best of all, the ending feels like it came out of a movie: not final or plain in any way but open to interpretation and meaning. While I really didn’t enjoy playing it, the experience was still memorable.

  • Some people are going to wonder how I put Remember Me on my list. It’s a rough game filled with terrible voice acting, sketchy combat, and glitch moments. I can agree on those counts, but I still loved this game. More than any game this year, the visual style and design grabbed me with its fantastic rendering of a futuristic, computerized Paris. The world that was presented is fascinating and had me digging for as much information about it that I could. Its score was intense and electronic, rising and falling with the combat and plot moments. I even think the combat had some potential, with a bit more work. As someone who often ignores visual elements in games, I knew this was special when I couldn’t look away.

  • Papers, Please is a very depressing game, which I actually enjoy. Too many games focus on upbeat moments and eventual victory; this game choose to show you how fucked its world is and never lets up. It made me think about what I was doing in ways that I have never thought about my actions in a game before. Was it morally right to full-body scan these people to check for explosives? Do I put the needs of my family above the pleas of those just trying to reach family across the border? What really made this game stick on my list, however, was the gameplay. It may be monotonous and secretarial, but I find it oddly satisfying. There’s a rhythm to it that is unlike anything else.

  • I feel bad for Ninja Theory and all the shit they got for DmC. All those diehard fans of previous games in the series turned their noses up at it just because it was different and not as refined. While I can understand those frustrated with the simpler combat, this game is still a magnificent action game. Every environment, cutscene, and even boss battle drips with style and attitude. This world is creative in a way that few games manage to pull off. The combat may not be as diverse, but it’s still great fun to execute and looks flashy as hell. It’s sad to think that a sequel to this game is never going to happen.

  • Pure enjoyment in video game form, Super Mario 3D World reminds me why I love these games. Made by the team who crafted the superb Galaxy titles, this game drips with creativity and unabashed joy in every moment. The new power-ups are adorable, the levels are interesting and fun, and the music is extraordinarily catchy. The only issue I have with it is the clear design for multiplayer in the levels; I would love to see a game focused more on a tight, refined single-player experience. Still, I had a blast with this title.

  • I don’t care what people say: Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen counts as a 2013 release for me. My brief time with the original was met with disdain and boredom. On a whim, I picked it up again to give it a second shot. After some 100 hours sunk into the title, I realized what everyone had loved about it. While it does have its problems, particularly in the boring world and uninspired characters, the combat is easily some of the best the genre has seen. There are so many options to choose from, with each of them being fun in their own way. I can’t wait to see what a sequel to this can pull off—maybe on next-gen hardware?

  • I played a bit of Cook, Serve, Delicious back on the PC but didn’t enjoy playing it on the keyboard. It was a game I knew would be better served on a tablet; unfortunately, all I had at the time was a Nexus 7. Anxiously, I waited for it to be ported. The day it was released, I downloaded it and finally understood. I spent hours and hours clearing all the objectives and unlocking the final restaurant. There’s something so satisfying about filling the orders quickly and keeping everyone happy. It was a simple experience but one of pure enjoyment.