In 2013, as video games continued to blossom into an accepted form of media expression and art, the meta conversation of "what is a game?" was explored in increasingly creative ways within the medium itself. But with the release of the Xbox One and PS4, one of the greatest years in software history was slightly overshadowed by a few momentous months in hardware. The consoles of the past went out with a bang (and the PC threw some exclusive contenders in the mix as well), and 2013 featured sequels, reboots and stand-alones that set the bar high for the coming console war. So say goodbye to your PS3 and Xbox 360 and hello to the best titles of the year. By Jesse Brukman
Sadly overshadowing the sexy single-player experience, GTA V's multiplayer problems threw a shadow over what should honestly be considered one of the greatest games of all time, never mind the year. Despite microtransactions and a dearth of dollars online, the offline experience has never been better. By combining GTA IV's serious storyline and the insane style and massively detailed worlds of prior entries, Rockstar managed to bring the series back to its unconventional roots without treading into the purely farcical realm that Saint's Row has taken over. For its sheer unmatched scope, V is an unbelievable hit in a series that's never missed.
Strikingly beautiful and intricately imaginative, Bioshock Infinite introduced gamers to a steam punk city in the sky. Weaving quantum realities and multiple tangled timelines into a coherent and emotionally thrilling tale, Infinite represents a huge leap in storytelling and sets the bar high for every narrative to come.
Rogue Legacy is a Castlevania-esque crawl that features a hero who levels up in a unique way. He (or she) dies. A lot. Each subsequent trial features your descendent, improved with purchases made with your sire's loot. With simple yet deeply rewarding gameplay, Rogue Legacy combines the familiar with enough interesting twists to stand out as a classic of the genre.
Odd dialogue, frustrating controls and a story that's best described as a bad acid trip. . . Deadly Premonition isn't that enjoyable, but its charm is absolutely undeniable. Like Tommy Wiseau's The Room, everyone should experience Premonition not because it's good, but because it's so bizarre you'll marvel at how (and why) it was ever made in the first place.
The post-apocalypse is a popular setting in games, books, TV and. . . well, everywhere. But we've mostly been exposed to the American take on what comes after. Not so with Metro. Based on the titular Russian novels, the series somehow adds eastern fatalism with the desperation of the end times but manages to not depress gamers into self-mutilation. The second entry in the series, Last Light tightens up on the mechanics of its predecessor (2010's Metro 2033) and creates a grim but surprisingly beautiful world of the Moscow train system, humanity's only home fallen into ruin.
Whether this is a great Assassin's Creed game is debatable. But Black Flag is the best pirate game to come out since Sid Meier's 1987 classic Pirates. Whaling, naval battles and diving shipwrecks. . . few games have ever had just so much to do. Hell, you can hunt Moby Dick – multiple times! Besides being one of the best games of the year, Black Flag proves you can pump out a sequel (to Assassin's Creed III) just a year later and it can still be great.
All games are, in a sense, smoke and mirrors: Like a movie or novel, there's usually only one path through the narrative. Players are often presented the illusion of choice, but like a choose-your-own-adventure book, the options only exist to tease a few more hours of gameplay, not present an alternative story that radically changes the experience. The Stanley Parable begs players from the beginning to fight an omniscient narrator – not with swords and spells or guns and bullets, but with contrarian choice. While there are six "endings," exploring the consequences of turning left when you're told to turn right – of choosing to do what you want instead of what the game tells you between start and finish – creates dozens of minor yet interesting changes. The Stanley Parable is a must-have for anyone compelled by the future of gaming. Trust us – you've never played anything like it before.
So it's another post-apocalyptic shooter? Oh, the zombies are fungal instead of undead? It doesn't sound all that interesting, until you pick up The Last of Us and realize its Cormac McCarthy's The Road retold. Combat, scavenging, crafting. . . it feels rough and desperate because that's exactly what this game is. You're supposed to experience The Last of Us not as some pick-up-and-play shooter, but an emotional experience with so much darkness that every happy moment feels like a revelation. Talking about the greatness of The Last of Us in terms of gameplay is like speaking about grammar in The Road – it misses the point entirely.
In a list designed to pull at your heart-strings, Devil May Cry asks to pump adrenaline straight to your sweaty palms as you fight, fight and fight some more. Just as there's a welcome place for Michael Bay and his explosions at the cinema, there's more than enough room for mindless and pure fun in your console with DMC. After all, there's a boss that's a giant stand-in for Fox's Bill O'Reilly.
Despite a number of bugs, including one that caused single-shot kills, BF4 is a triumph of a multiplayer orgy. And with helicopters firing missiles, tanks rumbling across fields, jets screaming overhead and the snap of sniper fire blistering the rocks next to your head – all with 64 players simultaneously – it's enough to give a grown man PTSD.